In This Issue
This week, Congress took up a six month continuing resolution (CR), an omnibus appropriations measure (H. J. Res. 117) that would fund government agencies through the end of March 2013. The funding is necessary as the current fiscal year 2012 ends on Sept. 30. The bill passed the House Sept. 13 by a vote of 329-91. Seventy Republicans and 21 Democrats opposed the measure.
The agreement between House and Senate leaders of both parties uses funding based on the original Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25) agreement, the ceiling level of $1.047 trillion. Among its provisions, the bill adds about $800 million in funding for the Department of Interior (DOI) and the US Forest Service for wildfire suppression. The bill also continues a provision to deny funding for a provision in a 2007 energy law that would enforce light bulb efficiency standards. The measure also extends the current pay freeze for federal workers.
The spending bill is free of any new partisan riders, though House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rodgers (R-KY) has indicated that any spending measures taken up during the post-election lame duck session may include such riders. Interior and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Jim Moran (D-VA) indicated he was pleased with how DOI and the Environmental Protection Agency made out in the bill and praised the increased spending to mitigate wildfires.
Sequestration threat still looms
While passage of the measure will ensure that government programs can continue to be funded through the opening months of the new calendar year, whether or not these funding levels will be sustained remains in limbo due to another provision of the Budget Control Act which would initiate a budget sequestration in January. The sequestration would mean an eight percent cut to all discretionary programs (defense and non-defense) unless Congress takes action after the election to either find an alternative $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction or pass legislation to postpone or nullify the proposed discretionary spending cuts.
Budget sequestration was enacted as an incentive to get lawmakers from both parties to develop a meaningful plan to address the burgeoning federal deficit. However, it is expected that lawmakers will not take on the politically contentious issue until after the November elections, at the earliest. Among prospective proposals in the works, a group of bipartisan Senators including Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) are working on a plan to delay the sequester for six months by providing a “down payment” of a $55 billion deficit-reduction plan to allow Congress more time to come up with the full $1.2 trillion mandated by the Budget Control Act.
On Sept. 14, the White House released a detailed account of how sequestration will impact federal agencies, as mandated by the Sequestration Transparency Act, passed by Congress last month. Read the report here: http://media.bloomberg.com/bb/avfile/rlocIUABWbr0
A few weeks ago, the Ecological Society of America, the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the American Mathematical Society teamed up to craft an action alert to their respective members, encouraging them to make their voices heard to their congressional representatives. To go to the AIBS Legislative Action page where you’ll find more information on the fiscal cliff and budget sequestration as well as a letter to Members of Congress, click here: http://capwiz.com/aibs/issues/alert/?alertid=61759666
On Aug. 31, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that gray wolves in Wyoming no longer require protection under the Endangered Species Act.
According to FWS, there are 328 wolves in Wyoming, 230 of which live outside the park. Under the delisting plan, Wyoming has agreed to maintain at least 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs in a trophy game area near Yellowstone covering 10 percent to 15 percent of the state. Wolves will be labeled predators in the rest of the state and could be shot without a hunting license. Existing federal law prohibits hunting in Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, the National Elk Refuge, and the Wind River Reservation in 2012, though hunting could occur in future seasons. There are currently over 1,774 wolves throughout the greater Yellowstone National Park region and these numbers have exceeded recovery goals for 10 straight years.
Several environmental organizations, including Earthjustice, Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council, have filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the Department of Interior over the decision. The groups contend that the delisting plan fails to ensure genetic viability of wolves in and around Yellowstone National Park and that Wyoming has not guaranteed it will maintain a viable population of the species. FWS contends Wyoming’s wolf management plan sufficiently addresses these concerns.
Wyoming is the last state in the region to delist the animals because of legal challenges to its management plan. The animals were delisted by Congress in April 2011 with passage of a rider to an appropriations bill that let Idaho, Montana and parts of three other states establish their own management plans. The rider was championed by House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT).
FWS will continue monitoring the state’s wolves for a minimum of five years and can consider an emergency relisting, if data demonstrate sustainment efforts are in jeopardy. The rule becomes effective Sept. 30, 2012.
To view the official Federal Register notice, click here:
For more information on FWS’s wolf conservation efforts, click here: http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/wolf/
On Sept. 5, TransCanada submitted a supplemental report to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) that would propose a new route for the Keystone pipeline.
The newly proposed route would avoid the Sandhills region, which sits atop the Ogalla Aquifer, an important drinking water source for Nebraskans. According to TransCanada, the new route avoids areas similar to the Sand Hills, areas with erodible soils that put public drinking water resources at risk. Nonetheless, environmentalists and some local landowners along the proposed route remain opposed to the pipeline.
According to Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska, a leading local organization opposing the pipeline, allaying the environmental concerns of any route in the northern portion of the state is nearly impossible. Kleeb asserts that if a pipeline must be built, it should run parallel to an existing TransCanada pipeline in eastern Nebraska. However, rerouting the Keystone pipeline as Kleeb suggests would force TransCanada to modify its route through South Dakota, necessitating additional reviews as well as cost increases.
The Nebraska DEQ intends to send a finalized report to Gov. Dave Heineman (R-NE) by the end of the year. The governor will have 30 days to then rule on the new route. The Obama administration delayed a decision on approving the Keystone pipeline until early next year, citing a need for an alternative route to undergo the proper environmental review process.
In contrast to the White House, Congressional Republicans have repeatedly put forth legislation to expedite the approval of the pipeline and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has declared that he would approve the pipeline immediately upon taking office.
For more information on the TransCanada report, click here: https://ecmp.nebraska.gov/deq-seis/
On Sept. 12, Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe announced that the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission has approved nearly $11 million in revenue from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to add an estimated 10,640 wetland acres to seven units of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
The purchase and lease of wetland habitat parcels are funded in part with proceeds from sales of the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, commonly known as the Federal Duck Stamp. The commission also approved $18.4 million in federal funding to conserve more than 95,000 acres of wetlands and associated habitat in the United States under the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA). The combined acreage includes the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and numerous species of waterfowl.
The seven units of protected wetlands include Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (MT), San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge (TX), Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge (TX), Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge (NY), Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge (OR), Tulare Basin Wildlife Management Area, (CA), Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge (SC), Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (MT), San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge (TX) and Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge (TX).
The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission includes Senators Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Mark Pryor (D-AR), Representatives John Dingell (D-MI) and Robert Wittman (R-VA), Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, as well as state representatives as ex officio members who vote on projects located within their respective states. Additional information on NAWCA grant projects and wetland conservation grant opportunities is available here:
On Sept. 11, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced $880 million in new Everglades restoration projects agreed to earlier this year in negotiations with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The projects build on the $1.8 billion Florida has invested to clean up Everglades waters and pushes back the deadline to clean up the waters to 2025, a move state and federal officials assert is more realistic. The move was prompted in part by a Sept. 2010 federal judge order for the state of Florida to act on long-stalled clean-up plans. According to DEP, core project components are intended to be designed, constructed and operational within six years.
According to Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL), the $880 million will come from a combination of revenues from the state and the South Florida Water Management District. The district manages water for 16 counties running from Orlando to the Keys and collects a share of property taxes. The investments will go toward efforts that include expansions to the state’s 45,000-acre network of artificial, pollution-filtration marshes and new water-storage features designed to combat pollution in the Everglades caused by farm and urban runoff.
Last October, Gov. Scott directed DEP Sec. Vinyard and South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Melissa Meeker to work collaboratively with EPA to expand water quality improvement projects necessary to achieve the state water quality standard established for the Everglades.
More information on the initiative can be found here: http://content.govdelivery.com/bulletins/gd/FLDEP-516d48
PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: FWS PROPOSES CRITICAL HABITAT DESIGNATIONS FOR SALAMANDER, SAN FRANCISCO SHRUB
The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently announced it is seeking comments on critical habitat designations for a New Mexico Salamander and a San Francisco plant long thought to be extinct. Both species were recently designated as ‘endangered’ under the Endangered Species Act.
Jemez Mountains salamander
On Sept. 12, FWS announced the Jemez Mountains salamander (Plethodon neomexicanus) was given federal protection and has proposed a rule to designate 90,789 acres in Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, and Sandoval Counties, NM as critical habitat for the species.
The Jemez Mountains salamander is one of two North American plethodontid salamander species geographically isolated from all other salamander species, the other being the Sacramento Mountains salamander. Threats to the salamander cited by FWS include wildland fires, forest silvicultural practices, livestock grazing, habitat fragmentation as well as residential and recreational development. According to WildEarth Guardians, which petitioned the listing, the species is now found in only 38 percent of historically occupied sites.
Comments will be accepted until November 13, 2012 and can be submitted online at the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov (Docket Number FWS-R2-ES-2012-0063) or by mail to:
Public Comments Processing
Division of Policy and Directives Management
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM
Arlington, VA 22203.
To view the full Federal Register notice for the Jemez Mountains salamander, click here: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-09-12/pdf/2012-21882.pdf
On Sept. 5, FWS announced the Franciscan manzanita (Arctostaphylos franciscana) was given federal protection and the agency has published a proposed rule to designate approximately 318 acres as critical habitat for the plant in San Francisco City and county.
According to the agency, the last known wild Franciscan manzanita, a low-growing evergreen shrub, was discovered in 2009 during a road renovation project and moved to the grounds of the Presidio for protection. Specifically, the FWS is seeking historical information on the past range of the plant as well as probable economic impacts of designating critical habitat for the plant to help the agency reach a final determination on the proposed rule.
Comments will be accepted until November 5, 2012 and can be submitted online at the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov (Docket Number FWS-R8-ES-2012-0067) or by mail to:
Public Comments Processing
Division of Policy and Directives Management
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM
Arlington, VA 22203.
To view the full Federal Register notice for Franciscan Manzanita, click here: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-09-05/pdf/2012-21744.pdf
Introduced in House
H.R. 6362, the Revitalizing the Economy of Fisheries in the (REFI) Pacific Act of 2012 – Introduced Sept. 10 by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) the bill would direct the Secretary of Commerce to issue a fishing capacity reduction loan to refinance the existing loan funding the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Fishing Capacity Reduction Program. The bill has been referred to the Natural Resources Committee. The bill has 10 bipartisan original cosponsors.
Considered by House Committee/Subcommittee
On Sept. 11, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power held a hearing on the following bill:
H.R. 4255, the Accountability in Grants Act – Introduced by Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY), the bill would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from awarding grants, contracts or partnerships in foreign countries to deal with air pollution. The legislation’s advocates believe spending money on projects abroad goes beyond the scope of EPA’s core mission and is not fiscally sound policy in light of the growing federal deficit.
Passed by House
S. 710, Hazardous Waste Electronic Manifest Establishment Act – Introduced by Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the bill would shift EPA from using paper manifests to an electronic manifest system for the tracking of hazardous waste. The bill has five bipartisan cosponsors, including Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK). It passed on Sept. 11 by voice vote after having passed the Senate early last month by unanimous consent.
H.R. 4631, the Government Spending Accountability Act – Introduced by Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), the bill would require agencies to publicly post reports on their conference spending every three months, including details on travel expenses, justification for the locations and an explanation of how they furthered the agencies’ missions. The bill also would prevent federal agencies from spending over $500,000 on a single conference and would reduce federal travel budgets to 30 percent below Fiscal Year 2010 levels. The bill defines a conference as an event that an employee travels 25 miles or more to attend, whether for consulting, education, discussion, or training. The bill passed by voice vote on Sept. 11.
H.R. 5544, the Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act - Introduced by Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN) the bill would authorize the exchange of 86,000 acres of land in the Superior National Forest in Northern Minnesota for educational trust lands owned by the State of Minnesota that are located within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The bill passed Sept. 12 by a mostly partisan vote of 225-189 with two Democrats joining all but eight Republicans in supporting the measure.
The exchange would allow the state to manage these lands to generate revenue for local schools by allowing mining and logging, but the legislation’s opponents contend that the bill fails to acknowledge that Minnesota counties are already compensated for the presence of federal land within their boundaries. Opponents of the bill are also concerned that the exchange could impair recreation opportunities in the Superior National Forest. They also point out that the bill does not identify the specific lands that would be traded and opened for development.
H.R. 6213, the No More Solyndras Act – Introduced by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), the bill would set a cutoff date on applications for new loans, place greater reporting requirements on DOE for existing loans, spell out administrative penalties for violating the 2005 Energy Policy Act and disallow the practice of loan subordination when managing struggling loans. The bill passed Sept. 14 by a vote of 245-161 with 22 Democrats joining all but four Republicans in supporting the bill.
Considered by Senate Committee
On Sept. 12, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the following bill:
S. 3469, the Nuclear Waste Administration Act – Introduced by Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), the bill would reform the nation’s nuclear waste program through the establishment of a new organization to manage nuclear waste, provide a consensual process to oversee the siting of nuclear waste facilities and ensure adequate funding for managing such waste.
Approved by Senate Committee
On Sept. 13, the Select Committee on Indian Affairs approved the following bill:
S. 1684 – Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments of 2011 – Introduced by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the bill would direct the Secretary of the Interior to provide Indian tribes with technical assistance in planning their energy resource development programs. Specifically, the legislation would streamline the approval process for tribal energy resource agreements, which are meant to give tribes direct authority over lease reviews, approvals and business agreements. Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-HI) is an original cosponsor of the measure.
Sources: American Association for the Advancement of Science, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Greenwire, the Hill, POLITICO, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House