September 30, 2010

In This Issue

RENEWABLE ENERGY: Senators INTRODUCE bipartisan bill

Supporters of a renewable electricity standard (RES) measure are pushing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to take up language that would require utilities to source a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. S. 3813, Renewable Electricity Promotion Act of 2010 has been introduced by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS). The bill boasts 20 bipartisan original cosponsors.

The measure was once considered a shoe-in for inclusion in a Senate climate bill this year, but has failed to gain traction. Reid dashed hopes of passage this summer when he pulled the provision from his energy and oil spill-response package in July. But the Senate never voted on that package, and supporters are still advocating for passage of RES language this fall.

Four Republican Senators — Brownback, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Bob Corker of Tennessee — supported the energy bill last summer passed by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee that included a 15 percent RES provision. Past Republican supporters outside the energy committee include Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, among others.

Sponsors of the stand-alone RES measure yesterday said they plan to use the next few weeks to drum up the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican procedural hurdle. Once they reach that threshold, they will urge Reid to give the measure floor time after the November election, according to Sen. Bingaman.

To amend or not to amend

What remains unclear is whether the Senate would take up a stand-alone RES measure. Observers say the language would most likely be included in a larger energy package that could also include oil spill-response language and energy efficiency and natural gas vehicle incentives.

In addition to gaining GOP votes, passage of a RES would also need to overcome the concerns of a handful of Democrats who are not keen on the measure. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) said she would not support a stand-alone RES. She wants to see it coupled with oil spill-response legislation before she will consider it.

Sens. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) have also voiced concerns with RES language. Nelson told reporters Tuesday he would not support a RES like the one in the energy bill that passed out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee last summer. The stand-alone measure is nearly identical to that measure. Sen. Lincoln has said her support of RES language would hinge on the legislation including and defining biomass and hydroelectric energy. Lincoln has previously pushed for RES language that allows more forest materials to count toward meeting the standard.

Bingaman contends the bill should be brought to the floor this session as a stand-alone measure or not at all, asserting that the point of introducing the stand-alone RES bill is to get enough cosponsors to show the bill can pass without amendments.

RES bill could draw efforts to stymie EPA regs

The RES measure could become a prime target for lawmakers looking to stymie Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) climate rules slated to kick in on Jan. 2, 2011. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), has authored a measure that would block EPA from regulating greenhouse gases from stationary sources for two years. Rockefeller stated he was not planning to offer his measure as an amendment, but he did not rule it out. The coal state lawmaker is concerned about how the standard would affect his state. Rockefeller stated that Reid is promising a vote this year on his bill.

Even if a measure to block EPA climate rules could get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate, it would face an uphill battle clearing the Democratic-controlled House and would likely face a White House veto.

Graham bill could drain RES support

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) plans to float a new bill that would establish a mandate requiring utilities to source a percentage of their electricity from clean energy sources, including renewables, nuclear and “clean coal.” The measure could draw away support from the Bingaman bill, especially luring Republicans from states that generate large amounts of electricity from nuclear and coal.

One potential supporter could be Sen. Corker (R-TN), a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee who supported the broad energy bill last summer that originally included the RES language. Corker has stated he would not support the Bingaman stand-alone RES bill.

Sen. Brownback is sticking by the renewable standard and is not worried Graham’s bill will cause defections. Graham indicated he is willing to work with Bingaman and Brownback to find compromise language and conceded that his new bill is not likely to pass this year.

Climate in conference?

The RES may also present an opportunity to address climate measures in a conference committee during a lame-duck session, although lawmakers see the prospect as unlikely.

If the Senate approves a RES bill this year, the measure could be conferenced with RES language included in the broad climate and energy bill that passed the House in 2009, opening the door for lawmakers to tack on climate measures. But a final package would be unlikely to get the needed 60 Senate votes if it included a price on carbon.

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), the lead architect of Senate climate legislation, stated that it would be possible, but “very difficult” to add climate provisions during a House-Senate conference, in part due to time constraints. This sentiment was echoed by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA), a co-author of the House-passed bill.

Both Sens. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Brownback have warned that if Democrats try to add anything on the Bingaman legislation and do not allow the traditional process in considering the bill, they would no longer support the bill.

A RES has emerged as a top priority for many environmentalists, renewable energy companies and Democrats following the collapse of broader climate change and energy legislation earlier this year.

GULF SPILL: PUBLIC OFFICIALS TESTIFY ON ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS

The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling held its 3rd meeting to examine the environmental impacts, response and restoration efforts related of the Gulf spill. The meeting was divided into two segments over Sept. 27 and 28 in Washington, DC.

The first meeting examined the federal government’s response efforts. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson touted the agency’s measured use of dispersants. Jackson noted it was the consensus of federal and local officials and researchers that using dispersants would be less harmful than allowing the oil to creep into the surrounding wetlands. “Preventing the oil from reaching the shoreline was the number one goal,” she said. Jackson noted there was also a concern over whether cleanup efforts might cause hypoxia (a harmful drop in oxygen levels), already a problem before the spill.

EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard issued a directive May 26 instructing BP to limit the use of dispersants to only what was needed to be effective. BP’s use of dispersants fell 75 percent after the directive was issued, according to Jackson. The EPA administrator urged that more research is needed into the long-term effects of dispersants.

This sentiment was echoed by another panelist, Dr. Nancy Kinner, Co-Director of the Coastal Response Center at the University of New Hampshire. Dr. Kinner asserted that research on dispersants needs to focus more on its long-term impacts. “Very little is known about chronic toxicity, biodegradability, and other consequences,” she stated.

Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar testified in defense of his agency’s conduct after the spill. BP Commission Co-Chair William K. Reily brought up a recent report by the Interior’s Inspector General alleging reports of misconduct that occurred among the Minerals Management Service [now renamed and reorganized as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)] officials in the month’s prior to the spill. Salazar countered that he himself requested that the IG conduct the report and believes his agency has worked actively to address issues of impropriety. BOEM Secretary Michael Browwich outlined methods that his agency is reviewing to boost regulatory enforcement capacity, which includes a specific curriculum for training people to be inspectors.

The second day of the meeting focused on environmental impacts and restoration attempts. Jane Lyder, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife Parks with the Department of Interior noted there are 38 federally-listed endangered species in the region impacted by the spill.

When asked, which animal species has been most adversely affected by the spill, Lyder cited birds, specifically Brown Pelicans, Northern Ganets and Laughing Gulls. She also pointed out that the southern migration of songbirds and waterfowl to the region presents yet another potential predicament. Lyder noted that Brown Pelicans often mistake brown oil goblets for fish and dive headfirst into them, resulting in some of the pictures seen on TV and through the web.

Several state officials from the region touted the importance of seafood to the local economy. Louisiana Lt. Gov. Scott Angelle urged BP to put forward $75 million to promote tourism and seafood in his state. He asserted that BP has been slow to respond to his request to revitalize the state’s food industry.

Timothy Fitzgerald, a marine scientist with Environmental Defense Fund, asserted that increased education and outreach toward consumers is key to restoring public trust. Fitzgerald asserted that the public needs “reassurances and specifics” that the government has long-term plans to ensure that food remains safe to consume.

Lt. Gov. Angelle, along with Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Mark Begich (D-AK) also argued for the lift of the current moratorium on deepwater oil drilling. Angelle drew a comparison between the 9/11 terrorist attacks response, arguing that the airline industry was only shutdown for four days while drilling has been shut down for four months.

Sen. Landrieu also took the opportunity to highlight the importance of environmental restoration in the region, noting the landscape loses 25-35 square miles of wetlands each year. “At the current rate of land loss, an area the size of Rhode Island will be lost by 2050,” she said. The Senator called on commissioners to help prove “that we can save a delta, we can protect people who live there, we can restore wetlands” and do so “in a balanced and thoughtful” way.

GULF SPILL: RESEARCH OPPORTUNITIES AND COORDINATION

Scientists from around the country studying the BP oil spill will gather in Florida on Oct. 5 at the request of the White House science office to talk about coordination and priorities.

Also, in coming weeks, Gulf states are expected to complete an agreement on how to hand out the $500 million in BP-pledged research money over the next decade. $40 million of it has been given to four large academic institutions in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida as well as the National Institutes of Health, which then divided it among dozens of researchers. In Florida, 233 proposals competed for $10 million in grants with only 27 awarded funding. The Gulf of Mexico Alliance, a consortium of state officials, is setting up a more permanent process for distributing the remaining $460 million from BP.

Two major types of research are taking place. One involves basic inquiries into questions such as where the oil has gone and what it means for the ecosystem, food web and public health. That is where BP has pledged to spend a half-billion dollars, with all findings to be made publicly available.

The other type of research supports the federal government’s natural resource damage assessment, or NRDA, a part of the legal battle that eventually will determine how much money BP will pay for restoration. In the NRDA process, both sides have hired experts and pledged them to secrecy. Under the 1990 oil spill law written after the Exxon Valdez disaster, both sides hire scientists, economists and attorneys and collect data in a legal process designed to “make the public whole” for loss of natural resources. Billions of dollars are at stake with court fights likely to go on for years.

Earlier this month, the Ecological Society of America and 13 other scientific organizations sent a letter to the Senate requesting an independent source of funding for research into the spill. For more information, see the September 17, 2010 edition of the ESA Policy News at www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2010/09172010.php

The Gulf of Mexico has received relatively little federal research support in the past. In the 20 years before the oil spill, the Great Lakes received more than $1 billion, while the Chesapeake Bay got just shy of half a billion. Spending for the same time period on the much-larger Gulf of Mexico: $85 million.

The funding scramble has created a geographical rift. Scientists in the Gulf region contend they should get most of the money because they know the area better and have been shortchanged in the past. Those from elsewhere say grants should be awarded on the basis of researchers’ credentials and the worthiness of their study proposals.

There’s also a sense of urgency behind the push for funding. Ideally, scientists would have taken measurements before, during and after the spill to see how the ecosystem changed. Their efforts were hampered for months by poor access to the spill area as the government and BP focused on plugging the leak. Now, the oil is becoming harder to find.

Chris D’Elia, dean of Louisiana State University’s School of the Coast and the Environment, said: “This is like trying to do forensic work on a very old crime scene – the murder occurred months ago, the body’s decayed and animals walked off with the rest.”

GULF SPILL: HOLLYWOOD ACTOR PITCHES OIL SPILL CLEAN-UP PLAN TO LAWMAKERS

To put a new spin on a much-coined phrase: If you spill it, he will come. Actor Kevin Costner testified before the House Homeland Security Committee Sept. 22 to outline his $895 million plan to clean up future oil spills.

Costner’s plan calls for a fleet of 200 ships that can be sent out immediately to collect spilled oil. But instead of burning the oily water or bringing it back to port, the ships would be equipped with centrifuges that would separate the oil and water while at sea. The ships could then dump the clean water and continue collecting oil until they had gathered enough to sell back at port, Costner told the House Homeland Security Committee yesterday.

The centrifuges, devices that spin fast enough to separate lighter compounds from heavier ones, are made by Costner’s company, Ocean Therapy Solutions. And they have already been put to use; BP bought 32 in June to gather oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

Costner’s new company, Blue Planet Solutions, says it can put the fleet together for about $895 million and charge between $100 million and $150 million annually to keep it ready to go. Costner said his company has presented the idea to BP, Chevron Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp. Costner said Congress should make spill response plans a prerequisite for offshore drilling, but pledged he would move aside if another company came up with a better approach.

Several of the world’s largest oil companies are already collaborating on an approximately $1 billion plan to rapidly contain oil released during accidents like the Deepwater Horizon explosion last April, which was the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

Costner has invested $26 million to build Ocean Therapy Solutions’ centrifuges since buying the company in 1995 — the same year he starred in “Waterworld,” a post-apocalyptic action classic where villains ply endless seas aboard the resurrected hull of the Exxon Valdez.

MINING: SENATE FIGHT OVER CLEANUP FUND SPILLS INTO HOUSE

 

The House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing Sept. 23 on H.R. 4817, a bill to affirm states’ ability to spend money out of an abandoned mine land fund for clean up on hardrock sites.

The bill is being pushed by New Mexico Democratic Reps. Martin Heinrich, Harry Teague and Ben Luján. The fund, which is fed by a per-unit tax on coal production and payments from the Treasury, was originally aimed at coal mines. But some states that have cleaned up all of their high-priority coal sites now use it to clean up abandoned mines for “hardrock” minerals such as copper, gold and uranium. The practice has been under fire since the George W. Bush administration in 2006 declared the fund should only be used for abandoned coal sites.

However, the Senate version of the bill (S. 2830), authored by Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), has been opposed by the Obama administration. Bingaman said his bill merely restores a funding arrangement that was in place for nearly three decades. S. 2830 is co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet of Colorado and Tom Udall (D-NM) as well as Utah Republicans Orrin Hatch and Robert Bennett.

The Obama administration wants to end any abandoned mine land fund payments to states that have cleaned up all of their coal sites, trumpeting the proposal as a major cost-saving measure in the president’s 2011 budget.

Instead of attempting to access the coal tax-fed fund, Congress should pass legislation establishing a cleanup fund for hardrock sites and pay for it with a tax on hardrock minerals, an Interior Department official told Bingaman’s committee in April.

CANADA: INDUSTRY GROUPS FIGHT OIL SANDS LAWSUIT AS LOBBYING HEATS UP

Three energy powerhouses are backing the Department of Defense in a lawsuit by two environmental groups challenging the Pentagon’s use of Canadian crude extracted from oil sands. The case hinges on Section 526 of a 2007 federal energy bill barring federal agencies from acquiring fuels with higher greenhouse gas emissions than those from “conventional petroleum sources.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association petitioned the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California on September 29 to intervene on behalf of the Pentagon. The case could decrease the amount of Canadian oil used by the federal government, according to legal experts.

If the judge rules against the Department of Defense , the amount of oil-sands fuel used in the U.S. could decline significantly, according to an API counsel. The Sierra Club is counting on another possible outcome, in which the Pentagon has to specify in its contracts with suppliers that delivered fuel does not have greater greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil. The other group in the lawsuit is the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Oil-sands production produces more emissions in its life cycle than conventional oil, although the degree of its carbon footprint is a matter of debate. An analysis released this month from IHS Cambridge Energy Associates says the emissions associated with producing, transporting and using oil-sands fuel are lower than previously estimated and about 5 to 15 percent higher than average crude consumed in the United States.

Some prior estimates have said that oil-sands production spews as much as 50 percent more carbon dioxide from extraction to usage. A 2008 RAND Corp. report says carbon dioxide emissions from producing and using oil-sands oil are 20 percent higher than those from conventional petroleum.

National security arguments

The three industry groups claim that oil-sands oil is critical for the nation’s economic health and security. The petition claims that the environmental groups are threatening jobs for oil refiners and businesses supplying, transporting and supporting the fuel. They also claim that it is impossible for the Pentagon to track which of its fuels come from the oil sands, making it impossible to comply with Section 526.

Canadian oil sands are projected to be the United States’ top source of oil imports this year, according to IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates. Production of bitumen in Alberta is projected to double by 2020, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. The State Department also is weighing whether to build a pipeline from Alberta to Texas that could double the amount of oil-sands crude coming into the United States.

Buy from Canada or the Mideast?

There has been a loud lobbying campaign in recent weeks on both sides. This week, film director James Cameron joined tribal leaders in Canada in warning about the impact of expanding oil-sands production. On the heels of a peer-reviewed study claiming that oil-sands production is polluting a major Canadian waterway with toxic metals, tribal leaders traveled to Washington, DC this month to warn U.S. federal officials about the Alberta-Texas pipeline, known as Keystone XL.

The analysis on oil-sands-related water pollution, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, led to Alberta’s forming an independent panel this month to examine differences in its data versus that of the PNAS study. Meanwhile, congressional lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have been touring the oil sands in recent weeks.

In an interview Tuesday night with CBC Television in Canada, another politician who recently toured oil-sands facilities, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-FL), said he thought environmental concerns about the fuel have been overblown and vowed to “block any effort to deny my country the purchase of oil-sands products.”

CHESAPEAKE BAY: EPA THREATENS STATES OVER CLEANUP

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began a historic crackdown on pollution in the Chesapeake Bay Sept. 24, threatening to punish five mid-Atlantic states with rules that could raise sewer bills and put new conditions on construction. EPA’s proposed Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) levels come with mandates for sweeping reductions in pollution discharged by wastewater plants or washed into the Bay from farms and residential areas.

President Obama signed an executive order in May expanding EPA authority over the Bay program; the agency has set a 2025 cleanup deadline. The move by the federal agency is part of the biggest shakeup in the 27-year history of the Chesapeake cleanup. The agency went after Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware and New York, which together account for more than 70 percent of the pollution that causes “dead zones” in the Bay. The agency told the states that their plans contained “serious deficiencies” and said it could force them to make up the difference with expensive new measures. On the other hand, EPA stated plans from Maryland and the District of Columbia offer a “strong start.”

Federal and state governments have been trying to fix these problems since 1983. They had spent more than $5 billion, but EPA did not punish states for not delivering on their promises. And states – while they cracked down on sewage plants – shied away from requiring more expensive changes on farms and from urban storm-sewer systems. Now, 27 years later, nitrogen has been cut only by about half the amount required. A recent study also showed phosphorus pollution going up, not down, in eight of nine major Chesapeake tributaries.

If states fail to meet EPA standards, the agency plans to impose its own pollution limits, capping discharges into rivers feeding the Chesapeake. The proposal calls for 25 percent reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus, which fuel algae blooms and lead to depletions of dissolved oxygen needed by fish and other marine life. It also requires a 16 percent reduction in sediment washing into waterways. The states have until Nov. 29 to revise their plans. The EPA proposal is subject to a 45-day public comment period. The agency plans to host 18 public meetings in the six states and the District of Columbia to discuss the proposal.

The showdown between EPA and the states could set up a historic test of exactly how much of a priority the public feels should be placed on protecting the Chesapeake Bay.

Click here to read EPA’s proposed TMDL levels.

INTERIOR: DEPARTMENT ISSUES NEW SCIENTIFIC INTEGRITY POLICY

The Department of Interior (DOI) issued a Secretarial Order Sept. 29, establishing a policy to ensure the integrity of the science and scientific products used in the Department’s decision-making and policy development.

The new policy addresses misconduct issues among all levels of political and career employees. It works to ensure scientists will not be coerced to alter or censure scientific findings, and employees will be protected if they uncover and report instances of scientific misconduct.

The move is the latest in a prolonged effort for DOI to revise its scientific integrity policy. In a March 2009 memo, President Obama called on agencies to ensure that political officials hire scientists for their expertise and never suppress or alter any findings.

However, in April 2010, the DOI Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a report entitled “Interior Lacks a Scientific Integrity Policy.” In the report, the OIG found that only one of Interior’s bureaus, the U.S. Geological Survey, has a scientific integrity policy and noted that Interior has no requirement to track scientific misconduct allegations. OIG recommended DOI develop an all-inclusive agency-wide scientific integrity policy applicable to “all agents, appointees, employees and contractors” involved in research and publication of scientific data.”

DOI’s draft policy issued on August 31st, was met with widespread criticism in the science community. Public comments from the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), of which ESA is a member, noted that because the draft policy would not apply to political appointees or those engaged in communicating for the Department, it “fails to create a system that would protect DOI scientists and scientific findings from political interference or manipulation in service of a policy agenda” and suggested the department look to the USGS for an example of a more concise and comprehensive scientific integrity policy.”

The new DOI policy covers all departmental employees when they engage in, supervise or manage scientific activities, analyze and/or publicly communicate information resulting from scientific activities or use this information or analyses in making agency policy, management or regulatory decisions. It also covers all contractors, cooperators, partners, volunteers, and permittees who assist with scientific activities.

Click here to view the Secretarial Order.

EPA: JACKSON TO LEAD RESTORATION TASK FORCE

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who grew up in New Orleans, will chair a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force that President Obama will soon create by executive order. Fellow Gulf region native Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, also a former governor of Mississippi, led the effort to craft a long-term recovery plan.

Creation of the task force is among the recommendations in a major strategy for Gulf Coast restoration that Mabus unveiled Tuesday. The plan also calls for steering a large amount of the Clean Water Act penalties against BP and other parties responsible for the Gulf oil spill into restoration. The Obama administration supports the idea, which requires Capitol Hill action.

The plan also calls on Congress to create a Gulf Coast Recovery Council to manage the funds, but envisions the quickly-created task force that Jackson will lead as a way to get the ball rolling on restoration without Capitol Hill action. Mabus said he talked to every member of the five Gulf Coast states’ congressional delegations in preparing his report over the last few months and expected their support in pushing to enact his recommendations.

There is also financial incentive to do so: Mabus recommended that another portion of spill penalties be directed to each of the five Gulf Coast states so they can “jump-start” restoration.

CLIMATE: FWS RELEASES CLIMATE CHANGE STRATEGY

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released its final strategic plan that will guide the agency’s response to climate change.

The plan, titled “Rising to the Urgent Challenge: Strategic Plan for Responding to Accelerating Climate Change,” provides a framework within which FWS will work as part of the conservation community to help ensure the sustainability of fish, wildlife, plants and habitats in the face of accelerating climate change. It calls for federal agencies, states and conservation groups to work together to identify the most vulnerable species, establish a network of landscape conservation cooperatives and compile data on how climate change is affecting plants and wildlife.

The plan, which can be found on at www.fws.gov/home/climatechange/ , has three key elements:

  • Adaptation – helping to reduce the impacts of climate change on fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats;
  • Mitigation – taking actions to reduce greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere
  • Engagement – reaching out to Service employees, local, national and international partners in the public and private sectors, key constituencies and stakeholders and the broader citizenry of this country to join forces and seek solutions to the challenges posed by climate change to fish and wildlife conservation.

The U.S. Geological Survey is also creating eight regional climate science centers to give the agency climate data on a regional scale that can be used to make decisions on species conservation or land acquisition.

The effort also provides an initial $25 million investment this year to set up “landscape conservation cooperatives,” in which federal, state and outside researchers will collaborate to tackle regional climate questions. Eventually, the goal is to support a total of 21 centers.

With each focused on particular representative species, the centers could help feed FWS information it needs to make climate-oriented decisions and predictions.

For more information on the Service’s climate strategy, visit www.fws.gov/home/climatechange/strategy.html

For more information on how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with partners to conserve the nature of America in a changing climate, visit www.fws.gov/home/climatechange/

CURRENT POLICY

Passed by the House

H.R. 6008, the Corporate Liability and Emergency Accident Notification (CLEAN) Act – Introduced by Rep. Mark Schauer (D-MI), the bill seeks to improve response times to pipeline disasters, limit the time a company has to report an incident to the National Response Center (NRC) and increase fines for failure to notify the NRC within that time limit. The bill would also create a public, searchable internet database of all reportable incidents involving gas or hazardous liquid pipelines, increasing transparency and holding oil companies accountable for the damage they cause. The bill passed the House Sept 28, by voice vote.

H.R.6160, Rare Earths and Critical Materials Revitalization Act of 2010 - Introduced by Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA), the bill establishes a research and development program to advance technology affecting rare earths from mining to manufacturing to recycling. It also broadens an existing program of loan guarantees to facilitate the development of these new technologies by private industry. The bill is meant to address both the near-term issue of rare earth minerals supply scarcity and the larger, longer-term issue of critical materials supply generally.

Rare earths materials are necessary components of advanced technologies such as wind turbines, hybrid-vehicle batteries, weapons guidance systems, oil refining catalysts, computer disk drives, televisions and monitors, compact fluorescent light bulbs and fiber-optic cable. The bill was passed by the House by a vote of 325-98 on Sept. 29, 2010.

H.R. 4168, Algae-based Renewable Fuel Promotion Act of 2010 – Introduced by Rep. Harry Teague (D-NM), the bill expands the definition of cellulosic biofuels to make algae-based fuels eligible for the $1.01-per-gallon cellulosic biofuel producer tax credit. The bill passed the House Sept. 28, by voice vote.

H.R. 3081, Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution for Fiscal Year 2011 appropriations — the bill extends funding for all federal agencies from Sept. 30 to Dec. 3. The measure includes $23 million to increase Interior’s inspections of oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. The additional funds would not increase discretionary spending, as they would be offset by a reduction in previously unobligated funds. The bill passed the Senate Sept. 29 by a vote of 69-30 and the House 228-194 early the following morning.

Passed by Committee

House Science and Technology Committee

H.R. 5866, the Nuclear Energy Research and Development Act – the measure focuses on R&D programs to help nuclear power overcome shortfalls, including increasing the efficiency of current and future technology, decreasing the costs of plant development and providing the technology for safe long-term waste management. The bill authorizes a Small Modular Reactors program to conduct both near-term and advanced research and development of small reactor technologies. The legislation also authorizes R&D in waste management and for advanced reactor concepts. It also supports the development or revision of technical standards for nuclear power technologies. The bill was introduced by Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon with bipartisan cosponsors and marked up by the full committee Sept. 23.

Under Committee Review

House Natural Resources

On Sept. 16, the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee held a hearing on the following bills:

H.R. 1853, C.C. Dragin Dam and Reservoir (Kirkpatrick (D-AZ)): Clarifies the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Interior with respect to the C.C. Cragin Dam and Reservoir.

H.R. 5965, the Monongahela Conservation Legacy Act of 2010 (Mollohan (D-WV)): Designates certain Federal land within the Monongahela National Forest as a component of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

H. On Sept. 16, the Water and Power Subcommittee held a hearing on the following bills:

H.R. 3061, the Pine River Indian Irrigation Project Act of 2009 (Salazar (D-CO)): Requires the Secretary of the Interior to assess the irrigation infrastructure of the Pine River Indian Irrigation Project in the State of Colorado and provide grants to, and enter into cooperative agreements with, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe to assess, repair, rehabilitate or reconstruct existing infrastructure.

H.R. 5039, Orange County Groundwater Replenishment (Sanchez (Loretta) (D-CA)): Authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to participate in the design, planning, and construction of the Groundwater Replenishment System Expansion to reclaim and reuse municipal wastewater in the Orange County, California region.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

H.R. 4202, Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act of 2009 (Edwards (D-MD): Calls for the Environmental Protection Agency to use a competitive grant program to establish three to five research centers at universities or similar institutions across the United States to develop new techniques and technologies for capturing rain where it falls, rather than piping it into waterways. The bill would also create a green infrastructure program within EPA’s Office of Water to coordinate and promote the use of the new techniques, alongside EPA’s regional offices.

H.R. 2222, the Green Communities Act (Schwartz (D-PA): Establishes a grant program for 80 municipalities to promote community greening initiatives. The bill includes requirements for an eligible program partner to develop and plan such initiatives, including revitalizing public parks and spaces, tree plantings and green roofs.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

On Sept. 27, the National Parks and the Public Lands and Forests Subcommittees held a joint hearing on a dozen public lands bills, dealing mostly with the creation or alteration of national parks and forests. The committee also reviewed the following bill:

S. 3820, Kantishna Hills Renewable Energy Act of 2010 (Begich (D-AK)): Directs the National Park Service to issue a special-use permit to speed construction of a micro-hydro project inside the non-wilderness part of Denali National Park and Preserve. The project, consisting of a small weir on Eureka Creek, would provide power to the Kantishna Roadhouse, a backcountry lodge owned by Doyon. The micro-hydro project would allow Doyon to substantially reduce their use of diesel.


Sources: ClimateWire, Environment and Energy Daily, The Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Interior, Greenwire, The Hill, House Science and Technology Committee, House Natural Resources Committee, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, The New York Times, The Washington Post

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