August 19, 2011

In This Issue

NATIONAL DEBT: CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS NAME DEFICIT COMMITTEE MEMBERS

In accordance with the Aug. 16 deadline, Congressional leaders have announced their appointments for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, commonly known as the debt “supercommittee.” The joint committee was established under the recently enacted Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) appointees include Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT), John Kerry (D-MA), and Patty Murray (D-WA). Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) appointed Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Rob Portman (R-OH) and Pat Toomey (R-PA). House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) appointees include Reps. David Camp (R-MI), Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Fred Upton (R-MI). House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi appointed Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). Sen. Murray and Rep. Hensarling will serve as co-chairs. Both are close to the party leadership in their respective bodies. A simple majority (seven) among the committee’s 12 members is required to approve a compromise measure.

While there are few true centrists among the appointees on either side of the aisle, many of the committee’s members have a history of working respectfully with members of the other party to pass bipartisan legislation, including Rep. Upton and Sens. Portman and Kerry. Baucus, Camp and Hensarling also served on the president’s bipartisan deficit reduction commission.

Some environmentalists have concern with the appointment of Rep. Upton, a frequent critic of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiatives and sponsor of legislation to prohibit the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. However, efforts to slash EPA funding would likely be opposed by a majority of the Democrats on the committee. All three House Democrats hold a 100 percent voting rating with the League of Conservation Voters. Both Sens. Kerry and Murray hold an 86 percent score while Baucus is rated at a more moderate 43 percent.

Additionally, while Rep. Upton may currently be seen as “anti-environment” by some, it was Upton himself who worked across the aisle with Democrats to include the incandescent light-bulb ban in comprehensive energy legislation, passed by a Democratic Congress and signed into law by President Bush in 2007. He also worked with staunch liberal Rep. Ed Markey on the most recent Daylight Savings Time, included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58).

EPA: AGENCY DEFENDS ‘ENDANGERMENT’ FINDING IN FEDERAL COURT

On August 18, the Environmental Protection Agency filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit defending its Dec. 2009 ‘endangerment’ finding that carbon dioxide emissions threaten public health. The finding resulted in the first-ever federal limits on greenhouse gases from large industrial plants.

The brief is being challenged by various conservative states and industry organizations, including the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who contend that EPA’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gases are a burden on the nation’s economy. The Obama administration maintains that it relied on “thorough and peer-reviewed assessments of climate change science” from the U.N.-affiliated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the National Research Council.

The brief was the first federal response in three related cases on the rules that are being considered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia concerning the legal fight over the “endangerment” finding, in which EPA concluded that carbon emissions are harmful and therefore could be regulated. EPA is scheduled to defend its rules for cars in a Sept. 1 brief and follow that up with a defense of the rules for industrial plants on Sept. 16.

To view the EPA brief, click here:
http://junksciencecom.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/epa-endangerment-brief.pdf

EPA: CONGRESSIONAL FIELD HEARING EXAMINES FL WATER QUALITY RULES

On Aug. 9, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations convened a field hearing at the University of Central Florida in Orlando on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new rules for water pollution in Florida. The hearing, entitled “EPA’s Takeover of Florida’s Nutrient Water Quality Standard Setting: Impact on Communities and Job Creation,” is the sixth in the subcommittee’s Regulatory Reform Series.

The EPA rules, which take effect next year, target nitrogen and phosphorus compounds that are in treated sewage, storm water and industrial discharges and are linked to harmful algae growth in Florida waterways. Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-FL) asserts the rules will have a detrimental impact on Florida’s economy.

In his opening statement, Chairman Stearns said “nutrient pollution presents unique challenges that are difficult to remedy through the EPA’s non-site specific approach of setting numerical water quality standards. This approach is not universally appropriate for substances like nutrients that are both widely variable, naturally occurring, and a necessary component of healthy ecosystems, according to Stearns. 

Richard Budell of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services maintained that Florida should set its own standards, stating that implementation costs for agricultural land uses alone were between $900 million and $1.6 billion annually and could result in the loss of over 14,000 jobs. The National Research Council is currently conducting a study on the expected annual cost of implementing the rules. Estimates from other organizations vary from a few hundred million dollars to billions of dollars.

After pointing out  that Florida’s beach and park tourists and local fishers contribute billion’s to Florida’s economy, EPA Southeast Regional Administrator Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming noted that levels of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the state’s waterways has risen significantly over the past two years. In her written statement, she noted that “about 1,918 miles of rivers and streams are currently impaired for nutrients.  The number of miles increased from approximately 1000 miles in 2008 to approximately 1900 miles in 2010.  Impaired acres of lakes increased from 350,000 acres in 2008 to 378,000 in 2010.”

Fleming added that excessive nutrient pollution leads to a proliferation of harmful algal blooms, which can have a detrimental impact on recreational activities and shellfish consumption. Fleming maintained that the EPA’s rules were flexible and took into account that some of Florida’s waters are unique. She said that Florida could ask for exceptions for individual water bodies as long as it submitted the scientific data to warrant the exception.

Until recently, Florida used primarily qualitative standards to decide whether its waters were polluted, meaning that if the water and its associated wildlife and vegetation appeared healthy, then the water body met Florida’s standards, regardless of the level of its nutrients. However, Florida environmental groups sued the EPA in 2008, saying that without the state having quantitative standards, the federal agency was failing to enforce the Clean Water Act.  The EPA subsequently came to an agreement with the environmental groups in 2009 to set new standards.

Rep. Corrine Brown (FL), the sole Democrat lawmaker in attendance, stated that she was troubled that key Florida officials had declined to appear for the hearing. A Florida Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson said that the agency opted not to attend because it is developing a proposed alternative rule. Environmentalists also contended the witness list was unbalanced, comprised mostly of individuals opposed to the EPA rules.

To view written testimony from the hearing, see:
http://energycommerce.house.gov/hearings/hearingdetail.aspx?NewsID=8861

ENERGY RESOURCES: SUBCOMMITTEE TO CONVENE FIELD HEARING ON OIL DRILLING REGS

On Aug. 24 at 9:00 a.m., the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources will hold an oversight hearing entitled “American Jobs and Energy Security: Domestic Oil Shale the Status of Research, Regulation and Roadblocks.” The hearing will be held at the Grand Junction Civic Center 250 N. 5th Street, Grand Junction, Colorado.

According to Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-CO), the hearing will seek to examine federal regulations for oil exploration on federal lands. Specifically, it will focus on oil shale located in a 16,000-square mile area in the Green River formation in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.  

The committee cites that the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the region may hold more than 1.5 trillion barrels of oil – six times that of Saudi Arabia’s proven resources, and enough to provide the United States with energy for the next 200 years. 
For additional information on the hearing, see:
http://naturalresources.house.gov/Calendar/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=255532

FWS: RECOVERY DECLARED FOR LAKE ERIE WATER SNAKE

On August 15, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced the removal of the Lake Erie water snake from the endangered and threatened species list after a nearly decade long recovery from threats including human killings and habitat loss. The snake, found on offshore islands in western Lake Erie in Ohio and Ontario, is the 23rd species to be delisted due to recovery.

The species was first listed as threatened in 1999. In 2003, FWS finalized a recovery plan that called for protecting the animal’s shoreline habitat and increasing cooperation with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife and other partners.

Recovery criteria include a combined population of at least 5,555 snakes on the U.S. islands, sustained for six years, and protection of key habitat. According to the Department of Interior, through continued habitat protection and public education, the Lake Erie water snake population grew to about 11,980 in 2009, and has exceeded the minimum recovery level since 2002. About 300 acres of inland habitat and 11 miles of shoreline have been protected for the snake since it was listed.

Partners in the efforts to recover the Lake Erie water snake include the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), Northern Illinois University, Lake Erie Islands Chapter of the Black Swamp Conservancy, Western Reserve Land Conservancy, Put-in-Bay Township Park District, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Ohio State University Stone Laboratory.

The Endangered Species Act mandates that a species be monitored for at least five years after delisting to ensure that the species remains stable after its protections are removed. FWS and the ODNR have developed a post-delisting monitoring plan to verify that the species is able to self-sustain after the five year period. Lake Erie water snakes remain listed as endangered by the state of Ohio, so killing them is still illegal under state law.

The final rule was published in the Federal Register on August 16, 2011, and will become effective on September 15, 2011. A copy of the final rule and other information about the Lake Erie water snake are available by contacting the Columbus Ohio Field Office at 4625 Morse Road, Suite 104, Columbus, Ohio 43230 at 614-416-8993 or online at:
http://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/reptiles/lews/index.html

To review a Department of Interior factsheet on the Lake Erie water snake, see: http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&pageid=255809

AIR POLLUTION: EPA ISSUES RULE MAINTATINING CARBON MONOXIDE STANDARDS

On August 12, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a rule to continue its existing national air quality standards for carbon monoxide (CO).

According to EPA, since 1980, levels of CO in the air have fallen by 80 percent, mostly as a result of motor vehicle emissions controls. The gas can cause harmful (even fatal) health effects by reducing oxygen delivery to the body’s organs (like the heart and brain) and tissues. The standards, first set in 1971, allow nine parts carbon monoxide per million to be emitted over an eight-hour period.

Under the new rule, EPA is also revising its air monitoring requirements. The changes will require states and local governments to put air quality monitors near roads in 52 urban areas with populations of one million or more.  Monitors in areas with populations of 2.5 million or more are required to be operational by January 1, 2015 and monitors required in areas with populations of one million or more are required to be operational by January 1, 2017. The new monitoring sites will give EPA data to inform future reviews of the standard. 

The current health standards are nine parts per million (ppm) measured over eight hours, and 35 ppm measured over one hour. EPA maintains that current CO levels at monitors across the country are “quite low and are well within the standards, showing that federal, state and local efforts to reduce CO pollution have been successful and are providing important public health protections to all Americans.” 

For additional information on the new EPA rule, see:
http://www.epa.gov/airquality/carbonmonoxide/actions.html

For more information on EPA’s carbon monoxide activities, see:
http://www.epa.gov/airquality/carbonmonoxide

GREAT LAKES: EPA DISTRIBUTES RESTORATION GRANTS

On August 8, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the first of several awards towards totaling nearly $30 million for Great Lakes Restoration.

The awards are distributed through the administration’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), first proposed by President Obama in Feb. 2009 and funded in Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 at $475 million. EPA distributes the bulk of the initiative’s annual appropriation to other federal agencies, which oversee regional environmental initiatives, including the effort to keep invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, where experts say could destroy a multi-billion dollar fishery.

Funding for the GLRI has suffered greatly under the recent budget battles on the Hill. Congress funded the initiative at $300 million for FY 2011. Most recently, the House approved only $250 in funding for FY 2012. This dollar amount must be negotiated and agreed upon with the Senate and signed by the president, however, before it becomes law.

The first 11 grants, totaling $4.5 million were awarded to organizations, agencies and universities working in Ohio under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).  The largest single grant awarded thus far, $1.3 million gift to the University of Toledo, will be used to construct a 10-acre, terraced wetland and flood plain in the Maumee River watershed to reduce bacteria, nutrient and sediment pollution flowing into Lake Erie, according to EPA.

FY 2011 awards are published on the multi-agency website at http://www.glri.us

To check for news releases about other EPA events that may be happening in your area, see:
http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/Press%20Releases%20By%20Date!OpenView

INTERIOR: NEVADA SECURES $43M FOR CONSERVATION EFFORTS

On August 16, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the agency will spend over $43 million on conservation and recreational improvement projects throughout the state of Nevada, primarily in Lake Tahoe.

The funding is a result of the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act (P.L. 105-263), which uses proceeds from sales of federal land in Clark County, Nevada, to fund environmental restoration, conservation and public recreational projects within the state. According to Interior, the projects “will generate more than 645 permanent full-time jobs over nine years, including 125 jobs by the end of 2012.”

Over $34 million of the $43 million in funding will go toward restoration projects in Lake Tahoe. Other efforts funded by the new expenditure include $1.5 million for wildfire prevention and hazardous fuel reduction initiatives around the state; $1.3 million to improve Nevada parks, trails and natural areas; and $878,000 for land acquisitions in environmentally sensitive areas.

DOI has contributed more than $2.6 billion to key restoration projects throughout Nevada, including more than $300 million for Lake Tahoe Basin restoration since the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act was enacted in 1998.

BIOFUELS: USDA, DOE FUND RESEARCH TO ACCELERATE BIOENERGY CROP PRODUCTION

On August 11, the U.S. Departments of Energy (DOE) and Agriculture (USDA) awarded 10 grants of $12.2 million to spur research into improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of growing biofuel and bioenergy crops.

The investments are part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to develop domestic renewable energy and advanced biofuels to reduce dependence on foreign oil and promote economic growth in the farming industry. The research will be conducted on switchgrass, poplar, Miscanthus and Brachypodium, among other plants. DOE’s Office of Science will provide $10.2 million in funding for eight projects, while USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture will award $2 million to fund two projects. Initial funding will support research projects for up to three years.

Because these crops will be optimized to tolerate conditions such as drought and poor soils, they can be grown on marginal lands unsuitable for food crops, thereby avoiding competition with food production.  Farmers will have the option to grow bioenergy crops in addition to other existing crop choices.

The 10 projects are located in California, Colorado, Illinois, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia. To view the full list, see:
http://genomicscience.energy.gov/research/DOEUSDA/#page=news  

For additional information on the joint DOE-USDA program, see:
http://genomicscience.energy.gov/research/DOEUSDA/index.shtml

PUBLIC POLICY: ESA UNVEILS NEW POLICY HANDBOOK

During the 96th Annual Meeting in Austin, TX, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) released its new handbook, “An Ecologist’s Guide to Policy Engagement.”This new ESA publication is intended to outline opportunities and methods for ecological scientists to engage in public policy.

The book gives an overview of how Congress works and key committees with jurisdiction over environmental issues. It also provides an overview of federal agencies that deal in environmental regulation and resource management, including links to local area offices where applicable. The federal agency section also includes an overview of key environmental  laws and the agencies charged with implementing them.

The book also includes a list of ‘Dos’ and ‘Don’ts’ for engaging with public officials, applicable when meeting with lawmakers and agency officials at the federal, state and local levels. It also highlights opportunities and methods to effectively communicate with the media. Coupled with this are insights from ecologists who have engaged in policy or are themselves part of a policymaking entity, which can be found throughout the document.

Finally, the book includes a multitude of resources, including policy publications, opportunities to gain policy experience, and scientific society resources, including those provided by ESA itself.

To order a copy of the handbook, either as an e-book or print copy, see:
http://eservices.esa.org/services/source/Orders/index.cfm?section=unknown&task=1&CATEGORY=POLPUBS&DESCRIPTION=Policy%20Publications&CFTOKEN=36703557&continue=1&SEARCH_TYPE=find


Sources: the Christian Science Monitor, Department of Energy, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Gainesville Sun, Greenwire, the Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Natural Resources Committee, Junkscience.com, the League of Conservation Voters, the Orlando Sentinel

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