June 03, 2011

In This Issue

COMMERCE: FORMER ENERGY CEO, NRDC COFOUNDER, NOMINATED TO LEAD DEPARTMENT

On May 31, President Obama announced his intention to nominate John Bryson to the post of Secretary of the Department of Commerce. Bryson would bring a lengthy resume working on energy and environmental issues to the department that includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Bryson is one of the co-founders of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the United State’s top environmental groups. His credentials include several years as chairman of the California State Water Resources Control Board in the late 1970s and head of the California Public Utilities Commission.

Bryson served as CEO of Edison International, a California-based electric power generator from 1990 to 2008. He is also board chairman of BrightSource Energy, a California-based solar company and co-chairman of the Pacific Council on International Policy. The group’s current work includes a task force on climate adaptation. He has also served as a co-chairman of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, an electric vehicles trade association and as a member of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change.

Bryson would succeed current Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, whom the president has nominated to serve as ambassador to China.  The president’s transition teams had previously interviewed Bryson for the Energy secretary job before it ultimately went to Steven Chu, according to Democratic officials.

Bryson’s nomination requires confirmation by the Senate, where reaction from some Republicans has been highly critical most notably from Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK).  Inhofe has stated he may place a procedural hold on Bryson’s nomination over his support for the White House’s environmental agenda.  In addition, a number of Senate Republicans have warned that the nomination would be stuck until the administration sends Congress legislation implementing three trade deals, with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. Forty-four Republican senators signed a letter to the president earlier this year warning they would withhold support for any nominee for Commerce Secretary to force action on the trade deals. Only 41 votes are needed in the Senate to hold up a nominee.

NSF: SEN. COBURN RELEASES REPORT CITING WASTE, MISMANAGEMENT IN SCIENCE AGENCY

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), a known conservative fiscal hawk, released a report May 26 that claims to identify $3 billion in “fraud, waste and abuse” at the National Science Foundation (NSF). In the 73 page report, entitled The National Science Foundation: Under the Microscope, Sen. Coburn, states, “the consensus surrounding the importance of NSF is precisely why it is essential to increase and enhance oversight over agency expenditures.”

In the report’s introductory letter, the Senator outlines specific grant proposals he believes should be called into question, including: “How to ride a bike; When did dogs became man’s best friend; If political views are genetically pre-determined; How to improve the quality of wine; Do boys like to play with trucks and girls like to play with dolls; How rumors get started; If parents choose trendy baby names; How much housework does a husband create for a wife; and When is the best time to buy a ticket to a sold out sporting event.” 

In response, a number of scientific organizations, including the Ecological Society of America (ESA), issued “Action Alerts” calling upon Oklahoma constituents to contact Sen. Coburn’s office. The ESA Alert highlights how the state of Oklahoma has benefitted from NSF funding, noting that between 2000 and 2010, the state received $312,612,000 in funding from the agency.

The ESA Alert also countered several assertions from the report, stating “NSF ranked higher than almost any other federal agency for the quality of its management when it was reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush.” It also points out that “NSF obligates money for multi-year grants and has not—as the report charges—failed to recover $1.7 billion in “expired grants.” ESA also noted that projects should not be superficially judged.

Sen. Coburn also called for the elimination of NSF’s Social, Behavioral and Economics (SBE) division, questioning whether “these social sciences represent obvious national priorities that deserve a cut of the same pie.” He also charged that some of the work in these and other areas is duplicative of other federal agencies.

During a June 2 Congressional hearing of the House Space, Science and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Education, Myron P. Gutmann, Assistant Director of the SBE Directorate at NSF, vigorously defended his division. “The social, behavioral and economic sciences – familiarly known as the SBE sciences – increase fundamental understanding of human social development and interaction and of human behavior, as individuals and as members of groups and more formal organizations.  Our sciences contribute knowledge that has societal relevance and can inform critical national areas such as job creation, health care, education, public safety, law enforcement, and national security, among others,” he said. 

Dr. Gutmann also defended NSF’s processes of awarding funding for research, stating “NSF’s review processes remain, in the words of the National Academies [of Sciences], among ‘the best procedures known for insuring the technical excellence of research projects that receive public support.’”

To view the Coburn report, see:
http://coburn.senate.gov/public//index.cfm?a=Files.Serve&File_id=f6cd2052-b088-44c3-b146-5baa5c01552a

To view the House Research and Education Subcommittee hearing see:
http://science.house.gov/hearing/subcommittee-research-and-science-education-hearing-social-bahavioral-and-economic-science

APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE APPROVES ENERGY AND WATER FUDNING BILL

On June 2, the House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee marked-up its funding bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. The bill, which funds federal agencies that oversee energy and environmental programs, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, appropriates a total of $30.639 billion, $1.043 billion below fiscal year 2011 and $5.9 billion below the President’s FY 2012 budget request.

Funding for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science would decline by $43 million from FY 2011 to $4.8 billion for FY 2012. The president’s FY 2012 budget request for the office is $5.4 billion. According to DOE, the office supports energy research at DOE laboratories in all 50 states as well as more than 300 universities and institutions of higher learning nationwide. The bill also increases the number of Energy Innovation Hubs from three to five (the administration’s FY 12 budget proposed to increase the number of hubs to six).

The bill allocates $4.8 billion to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, $89 million less than last year but $195 million above the president’s request. It is generally typical for the president to low-ball a request for the Corps out of the expectation that Congress increases the funding substantially to fund Congressional “earmarks,” also known as district project requests, which are banned under current rules. The Corps is primarily responsible for water resources projects, including flood control and ecosystem restoration activities.

The bill would provide $35 million for Yucca Mountain-related activities, in stark contrast to the Obama administration’s efforts to end consideration of the long-term storage of nuclear waste at the Nevada site. It also would provide $10 million for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to continue its review of the Yucca license application and would bar the use of funds to close down study of the site.

The bill provides $1.3 billion for energy efficiency programs, $491 million less than the FY 11 enacted level and $1.9 billion below the president’s FY 12 budget request. Programs of note include:

  • Solar Energy: $166 million, $97 million below FY 11 and $291 million less than the president’s FY 12 request.
  • Fuel Efficient Vehicle Technologies: $254 million total, $46 million below FY 11 and $334 million less than the president’s request.
  • Building Technologies: $150 million total, $61 million below FY 11 and $321 million less than the president’s request.
  • Biomass and Bio-Refinery Research and Development: $150 million total, $33 million below FY 11 and $191 billion less than the president’s request.
  • Weatherization Assistance: $33 million total, $141 million below FY 11 and $287 million below the president’s request.

House Energy and Water Appropriations Committee majority Republicans touted the bill’s fiscal restraint. “The highest priorities are protected by supporting the Department of Energy’s national defense programs, and by preserving activities that directly support American competitiveness, such as water infrastructure and basic science research,” said Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) in a prepared statement. “These priorities are balanced by reductions to applied energy research and other areas in which the private sector is most likely to act without federal support,” he continued.

House Appropriations Committee Democrats were highly critical of the measure. “The ‘cut-at-any-cost’ mantra that has overtaken the Republican majority has severely hindered our committee’s ability to produce bills that adhere to principles of good governance. This bill contains inadequate funding levels for fuel efficiency initiatives, the Army Corps budget, and environmental cleanup,” said Ranking Member Norman Dicks (D-WA) in a press statement.

For additional information on the bill, see: http://appropriations.house.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=PressReleases.Detail&PressRelease_id=320

WATER RESOURCES: SCIENTISTS URGE RESEARCH INVESTMENT INTO TOXIC ALGAL BLOOMS

On June 1, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment considered legislation that would expand research into harmful algal blooms that have had numerous adverse environmental impacts, including creating “dead zones,”  in countless waterways.

The legislation under review is tentatively titled the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 2011. The measure, expected to be introduced in coming weeks by Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD), would reauthorize programs under the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998. The act was last reauthorized in 2004 (P.L. 108-456), passing by unanimous consent in the Senate and by voice vote in the House.

The issue seemed to draw bipartisan support from both sides of the aisle. “Given the importance of these issues to human health, economic prosperity and the environment, I think it is important for us to ensure that these research programs continue and work on providing multiple ways of addressing HABs and hypoxia in the future,” said Chairman Harris. Subcommittee Ranking Member Brad Miller (D-NC) concurred, stating “we must continue to invest in a way that will move this research forward and advance our understanding of these blooms and the hypoxic events they cause.”

Much of Subcommittee Chairman Harris’s congressional district borders the Chesapeake Bay. Over the past 10 years, more than 75 percent of the Bay and its tidal rivers have been found to have insufficient levels of dissolved oxygen, leading to a marked decline in seagrass, crab and oyster populations, according to Beth McGee, Senior Water Quality Scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, who testified at the hearing.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the estimated economic damage of algal blooms is $82 million per year for the United States.

McGee testified that her organization’s “overwhelming concern” is that the lawmakers have not proposed that the legislation support the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recently launched effort to address nutrient pollution, which some Republicans and farm-state Democrats have opposed due to concerns from the agriculture industry. Subcommittee Chairman Harris voted to cut off funding for the EPA program earlier this year.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: AGENCIES SEEK TO IMPROVE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE E.S.A.

On May 26, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced that the agency’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service have launched a joint effort to identify and implement administrative changes to the Endangered Species Act (E.S.A.) to accelerate recovery of imperiled species, and better engage the resources and expertise of partners to meet the goals of the Act.

According to Interior, the effort will strive to make administrative and regulatory improvements, while remaining true to the intent of the law. Among its goals, the joint agency effort will seek to revise the process for designating critical habitat as well as improve procedures for the development and approval of conservation agreements with landowners. Currently, private landowners can enter special agreements with the FWS that allow them to continue to use land with imperiled species on it, as long as they provide appropriate habitat. Landowners say the current process is too burdensome and environmental groups agree there is room for improvement, as long as safeguards for species remain.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle seem supportive. House Interior and Environment Appropriations Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) praised the administration’s efforts to streamline procedures. House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, however, said that instead of changing regulations, the administration should work with lawmakers to revamp the Act itself, which has not been reauthorized in more than 20 years.
The E.S.A. currently protects more than 1,300 species in the United States. An additional 249 species have been identified as candidates for protection under the Act.

For more information see: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/improving_ESA/reg_reform.html

ENERGY DEVELOPMENT: BOERME, NOAA TEAM UP TO ENHANCE EFFORTS

On May 23, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) agreed to collaborate more closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in overseeing offshore oil and gas development.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the two agencies requires “effective and timely communication of agency priorities and upcoming activities,” including the identification of critical environmental studies and collaboration on scientific, environmental and technical issues. The MOU is based upon recommendations from the administration’s National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

The agencies plan to coordinate on a range of activities, including which areas to include in five-year leasing plans, when and how to permit exploration and production wells, and National Environmental Policy Act compliance for offshore wind farms.

BOEMRE will invite NOAA to participate in any task forces and environmental reviews of offshore renewable energy. The agencies will also meet four times a year to discuss issues related to offshore energy development.

The MOU requires regular meetings between the agencies to explore ways to align regulatory procedures and identify scientific data needed to inform both policy and regulatory decisions. The agreement also increases collaboration on oil spill response issues and includes an annual evaluation of work to support the president’s National Ocean Policy.

To view the MOU, see:
http://www.boemre.gov/ooc/pdfs/MOU_BOEMRE_NOAA_May2011.pdf

SMALL BUSINESS: EPA AWARDS FUNDS TO DEVELOP ENVIRONMENTAL TECHNOLOGY

On May 24, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded nearly $2.25 million to 10 small companies to support the development of new technologies intended to protect the environment.

Winners included small businesses in California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, and New Mexico. This year’s projects included reducing toxic chemicals from landfills, producing an environmentally friendly adhesive, reducing methane emissions by converting dilute methane waste gas streams into useful fuel, and designing a real-time environmental water monitoring sensor.

Prior to the current award, the companies received “proof of concept” awards from EPA through its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The companies will use these additional funds to move their technologies towards commercialization and implementation.

Each year, the EPA’s SBIR program gives small businesses the opportunity to compete for funds to develop technology addressing key environmental areas, such as green building, innovation in manufacturing, nanotechnology, greenhouse gases, drinking water monitoring and treatment, wastewater and sustainable infrastructure, air pollution monitoring and control, biofuels, waste monitoring and management, and national security.

More information on the awardees and their proposal abstracts is available at:
http://www.epa.gov/ncer/sbir

-EPA

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in the House

H.R. 1982, the Community Forestry Conservation Act – Introduced May 25 by Reps. Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Mike Thompson (D-CA), the bill would enable non-profit conservation organizations to use bonds to purchase private, working forests for long-term environmental and economic sustainability management. The bill has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

H.R. 2018, the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011 – Introduced May 26 by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) and Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV), the bill would amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to preserve the authority of states to make determinations relating to water quality standards by restricting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority under the Clean Water Act. The bill has been referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Considered by House Committee

On June 2, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the following bill:

H.R. 1837, the San Joaquin Water Reliability Act – Introduced by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)the bill would void a settlement that attempted to end a long dispute over water flows, salmon and endangered species in the San Joaquin River. The Natural Resources Defense Council and others had sued the Interior and Commerce departments over rules in place in the early 1990s. Under the 2006 settlement, new limits were placed on the amount of water farmers can take for irrigation.

On June 3, the Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on legislation incorporated in the “American Energy Initiative,” the House Republican majority’s energy reform agenda:

H.R. 909, the Roadmap for America’s Energy Future – Introduced by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the measure would lift drilling restrictions on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the outer continental shelf, and oil shale production in the United States. It would also expand coal mining to generate fuel for military vehicles and jets and support hybrid and electric vehicles as well as create a fund from revenue generated by new fossil fuel development to finance long-term renewable energy projects. The bill would also prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

On June 3, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing on the following bills:

  • H.R. 1314, the Resource Assessment of Rare Earths Act – Introduced by Reps. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-MA), the bill directs the U.S. Geological Survey to conduct a three-year comprehensive study of rare earth elements.
  • H.R. 2011, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Policy Act – Introduced by Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-CO), the bill would direct the Secretary of the Interior to coordinate a nationwide assessment of the nation’s mineral resources and mandate a review of the nation’s ability to meet its mineral needs.

Approved by House Committee

On May 24, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power marked up bills that included:

  • H.R. 2021, the Jobs and Energy Permitting Act – Introduced by Reps. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Gene Green (D-TX), the bill would amend the Clean Air Act to ease the permitting process for offshore drilling. Air permits would not be subject to  review by the Environmental Appeals Board and whether a project would cause air quality problems at sea would not be considered.
  • H.R.1705, the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation (TRAIN) Act of 2011 – Introduced by Reps. John Sullivan (R-OK) and Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT), the  bill would form a commission of cabinet-level officials to study the cumulative economic impact of EPA rules on the power sector. The legislation focuses on several new and proposed rules that would require coal-fired power plants to spend money on new technology to prevent air pollution and water contamination.

Introduced in the Senate

S. 1093, the Solar Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) Act – Introduced May 26 by Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), the bill would expand a 30-percent tax credit available to individuals who install solar panels on their homes to include neighborhood groups and rural co-ops that want to install community solar projects.  The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

Considered by Senate Committee

On May 25, the Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Public Lands held a hearing on a number of wilderness bills, including:

  • S. 233, the North Fork Watershed Protection Act – Introduced by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), the bill would withdraw roughly 300,000 acres from new mineral leases along the western edge of Glacier National Park and, supporters say, protect the Flathead River Basin.
  • S. 268, the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act – Introduced by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), the bill would designate nearly 700,000 acres of protected wilderness in Montana and require the Forest Service to mechanically treat or harvest at least 100,000 acres of timber. It would also allow an additional 336,000 acres of special management areas to be used for motorized recreation and would release seven wilderness study areas into multiple uses including potential timber management or motorized recreation.
  • S. 375, the Good Neighbor Forestry Act – Introduced by Sen. John Barroso (R-WY), the bill would authorize the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior to enter into cooperative agreements with state foresters, authorizing the foresters to provide certain forest, rangeland and watershed restoration and protection services.

Approved by Senate Committee

During a May 26 mark-up, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee reported the following bills to the full Senate:

  • S. 630, the Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Promotion Act of 2011 – Introduced by Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) the bill would promote marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy research and development. 
  • S. 699, the Department of Energy Carbon Capture and Sequestration Program Amendments Act of 2011 – Introduced by Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), the bill would authorize the Secretary of Energy to carry out a program to foster commercial application of long-term geological storage of carbon dioxide.
  • S. 757, the CO2 Capture Technology Act – Introduced by Sen. John Barrasso, the bill  would provide incentives to encourage the development and implementation of technology to capture carbon dioxide from dilute sources on a significant scale using direct air capture technologies. 

Sources: ClimateWire, Department of Interior, Environment and Energy Daily, E&E News PM, the Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Appropriations Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, POLITICO, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

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