April 23, 2010

In This Issue

SENATE CLIMATE DEBATE: UNCERTAINTY REMAINS HIGH AS KERRY, LIEBERMAN, AND GRAHAM PREPARE TO RELEASE CLIMATE BILL

Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) are set to unveil their much-anticipated climate and energy bill on Monday, April 23. The trio will not formally introduce it, since doing so would trigger the committee process. Instead, they plan to hand it directly to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who will oversee its progress closely, first calling on all Senate committees with jurisdiction to submit their changes over the next few weeks. Whether he can shepherd the bill through his chamber remains to be seen, and prospects are shaky at best, particularly since he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) indicated days ago that they may shift gears and take up immigration instead. Even before immigration was in the picture, other pressing matters including Wall Street reform, a Supreme Court nomination, and additional economic recovery efforts were competing for the Senate’s attention. In addition, many senators are preparing for difficult re-election bids in the fall, and Reid himself may face what some believe will be the toughest race of his career.

The bill is the product of months of negotiations and includes a notable amount of committee input already—according to Lieberman, the draft will reference all of the energy bill passed by the Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee last summer (S 1462) and draw from in-depth conversations with Finance Committee staff. Still, several lawmakers are worried that the committee process—critical, they say, to arriving at a bipartisan consensus—could be circumvented entirely. For more information on S 1462, see the June 19 edition of the ESA Policy News at: www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/06192009.php

Meanwhile, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are pushing to move forward with the ENR-passed bill without additional language on emissions. S 1462 achieved a bipartisan compromise by offering expansions in both offshore drilling and renewable energy requirements, and if the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill doesn’t gain traction quickly it could head for a floor vote on its own. Still, the approach also faces opposition from both parties—while it is being presented as low-hanging fruit by its supporters, it may not come much closer to 60 votes than a more comprehensive climate-energy package.

Part of the problem has to do with financing: the revenues from the carbon-pricing portion of the package were supposed to help pay for renewable energy efforts, making the overall bill deficit-neutral. So although the energy-only route appears to be more industry-friendly and therefore financially prudent, it carries a $13.5 billion price tag that isn’t addressed elsewhere in the bill.

Equally problematic are disputes among Democrats about the bill’s offshore drilling provisions. Some senators like Mary Landrieu (D-LA) will only accept expanded drilling if it includes revenue sharing (language that gives coastal states a cut of the royalties generated from drilling off of their shores); others, like ENR Chair Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), are proponents of drilling but outspoken opponents of revenue sharing. Still others, like Robert Menendez (D-NJ) are flatly against any expansions in drilling, regardless of how the revenue is distributed. But while many lawmakers have indicated that these matters could make or break their support, for others it isn’t as cut and dry—negotiations may be able to achieve a share percentage that is acceptable to at least some of the lawmakers currently in the discussion, particularly when coupled with incentives elsewhere in the bill. If the drilling language does come up as part of a larger climate bill, strong greenhouse gas regulations could be a major point of leverage.

If Reid is successful in passing a climate and energy bill, how will his chamber reconcile the many differences between its version and the one passed by the House last summer? The Senate bill, for example, will likely take a sector-by-sector approach to regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and will provide many more provisions aimed at striking a compromise with conservatives (e.g. expanded offshore drilling and funding for nuclear power projects). It’s unclear how much of a role the House will have in shaping the final bill, and several House Democrats speculate that they’ll be expected to accept the Senate version as is. Meanwhile, some climate advocates worry that the House bill’s narrow victory is no longer repeatable—at least not before elections—since many of the moderate Democratic supporters have faced harsh attacks at home, as have the eight Republicans who voted “yes.” But the bipartisan focus of the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham effort could provide enough incentives to maintain if not expand the base of supporters. Still, the legislation stands to lose some of its liberal backing if it errs too far on the right.

The timetable for conference negotiations is similarly unclear. Congress will likely reconvene for a November lame-duck session, which some lawmakers say would be a logical time to wrap up a climate bill since it would allow the House to avoid another politically difficult vote right before elections. But those spearheading the climate effort say they’re going one step at a time. “I have fantasies of reaching that point,” said Lieberman. “Or as my mother would say, ‘That should be our biggest problem.’”

NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION: HOUSE SCIENCE SUBCOMMITTEE APPROVES $48B NSF R&D BILL

On April 14, the House Science Committee held the second of three subcommittee markups on the reauthorization of the 2007 America COMPETES Act. 

The Research and Science Education Subcommittee approved by voice vote a bill that would authorize $47.5 billion for research and development programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF) over the next five years. Of the agency’s research budget, at least 5 percent would go toward high-risk, high-reward basic research proposals.

Objections centered largely on the price tag—a common complaint, given the current economic climate. Of particular concern was an amendment from the subcommittee Chair Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) that would launch a program to stimulate innovation by awarding cash prizes for problems that “no one knows how to solve.” The amendment was ultimately approved.

The Energy and Environment Subcommittee completed its work on the energy language in March, voting to reauthorize the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) through 2020, authorizing $3.4 billion through 2015.The Technology and Innovation Subcommittee will meet next week to mark up the final part of the larger bill, focusing on National Institute of Standards and Technology programs. The full committee is planning a markup in early May, keeping the bill on track to head for the House floor before Memorial Day.

ARCTIC NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE: FWS TO UPDATE ANWR MANAGEMENT PLANS; ALASKAN SENATORS VOW TO BLOCK ADDITIONAL WILDERNESS DESIGNATIONS

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)—home to one of North America’s largest caribou herds as well as what could be, by US Geological Survey estimates, as much as 10.3 billion barrels of oil and substantial natural gas deposits—is again the source of debate, after the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced plans to revise its management plans. Alaska Senators Mark Begich (D) and Lisa Murkowski (R) fear that the new plans will hinder their efforts to open the area for drilling and have therefore vowed to block the agency from moving forward.

ANWR drilling is already prohibited under the 1980 Alaskan National Interest Lands Conservation Act, with the exception of projects authorized by Congress. Begich and Murkowski introduced a bill last year (S 503) to open up more than a million acres of the refuge for energy development, an effort that would be halted were Congress to designate the site a wilderness area. Though federal agencies cannot make such designations themselves, they can spur congressional action with recommendations. The new management plan could include such recommendations, and FWS has said that all areas in the refuge would be “open for discussion.” Designations are themselves reversible, though they are rarely repealed, and efforts to do often face politically detrimental backlash from the environmental community. Efforts to expand wilderness designations in ANWR have faced comparable resistance.

Begich has vowed to use his seat on the Budget Committee to cut funding for the FWS review; Murkowski, who sits on the subcommittee in charge of Interior appropriations, has indicated she would support such a course of action. Their resistance won’t rule out a wilderness designation entirely, but it will make things considerably more difficult since senators often to defer to their colleagues from the state in question during public land disputes.

Wilderness designations aside, FWS says the 22-year-old ANWR management plan needs overhauling, particularly in light of changes in climate, development, and public use.

WIND ENERGY: INTERIOR RECEIVES NEW GUIDELINES TO MINIMIZE IMPACT OF WIND FARMS ON WILDLIFE

On April 13, the Wind Turbine Guidelines Federal Advisory Committee finalized its recommendations for minimizing the impact of land-based wind farms on wildlife and habitat. The committee, established in 2007, is comprised of a range of experts and stakeholders, including representatives from government, wildlife conservation groups, and wind industry interests.

Recommendations include:

For developers: A voluntary tiered approach, where projects would be divided into five parts (preliminary screening, review of possible sites, documentation of wildlife conditions and potential impacts, post-construction fatality studies, and post-construction habitat impact studies), with questions at each stage to identify potential problems and guide subsequent decisions. Proposed methods for field studies include acoustic monitoring, bird and bat surveys, raptor nest searches, and prairie grouse assessments. The committee also advised providing incentives to encourage developer participation when necessary—developers would not be required to go through the procedure in cases where they felt sufficient information was available.

For Interior: Landscape-level tools and analysis to implement agency guidelines, adequate funding for the Fish and Wildlife Service to implement these guidelines, and collaboration with states, stakeholders, and other agencies to develop a natural research plan aimed at reducing impacts on wildlife.

The committee submitted its recommendations to the Department of Interior, to help guide new regulations for evaluating wild energy development on both public and private lands.

PUBLIC LANDS: OBAMA ANNOUNCES PLAN TO DEVELOP FEDERAL LAND CONSERVATION STRATEGY

On April 16, President Obama signed a presidential memorandum to launch the “America’s Great Outdoors” initiative: an interagency effort that will use existing and nonfederal resources—rather than additional funding—to develop a federal conservation strategy for protecting outdoor spaces.

Initiative goals include:

  • Building upon existing sub-federal efforts for conserving natural lands and resources, creating corridors and connectivity across outdoor spaces, and enhancing community parks.
  • Determining how the federal government can help advance and coordinate the aforementioned efforts.
  • Using science-based management practices for long-term restoration and conservation efforts.
  • Reconnecting Americans—particularly children—with the outdoors through community-based recreation and conservation efforts; job and volunteer opportunities; and environmental and outdoor education programs.

The effort will be led by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley. Over the coming months, agency officials will hold listening sessions around the country, inviting input from a range of stakeholders on strategies to improve conservation and establish new community parks. The memorandum gives the initiative leaders until November 15, 2010 to submit a timeline for accomplishing the stated goals and a review of how federal activities might complement existing nonfederal conservation approaches.

According to Obama, private land trusts have already conserved 10 million acres through voluntary efforts; the Agriculture Department has preserved an additional 33 million. Conservation groups praised the initiative, though some have called on the Administration to support its goals with additional federal funding.

CLEAN WATER ACT: ‘NAVIGABLE WATERS’ BACK UNDER CONSIDERATION IN THE HOUSE

On April 21, Representative James Oberstar (D-MN) introduced a bill to extend Clean Water Act protections to all of the nation’s fresh waters by effectively reversing two Supreme Court decisions—Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. United States Army Corps of Engineers (2001) and Rapanos v. United States (2006)that limited the law’s scope to “navigable” waters.

Although Oberstar’s bill is the fifth attempt at restoring the original language in the Clean Water Act, increased stakeholder involvement and unprecedented progress in the Senate have given supporters new cause for optimism. Last year marked the first time a companion bill made it through committee (albeit with strong GOP opposition), when the Senate and Environmental Public Works Committee voted 12-7 in favor of S 787. Farm and industry groups have been outspoken critics of such efforts, arguing that they will impose unreasonably strict and economically burdensome regulations on bodies of water “as insignificant as puddles.”

For more information, see the May 7, 2009 edition of the ESA Policy News at: www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/05072009.php

OFFSHORE ENERGY: PIVOTAL SENATORS IN CLIMATE DEBATE INTRODUCE BILL TO PROMOTE OFFSHORE WIND

A number of coastal senators—including many key swing votes in the upcoming climate debate—recently introduced legislation to promote offshore wind energy development. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), sees offshore wind as a source of manufacturing jobs in his state, which could supply equipment to Great Lakes-based wind projects. Maine Senators Olympia Snowe (R) and Susan Collins (R) are both cosponsors, as are Delaware Senators Tom Carper (D) and Ted Kaufman (D).

The Program for Offshore Wind Energy Research and Development (POWERED) Act of 2010 would:

  • Establish the Offshore Wind Power Research and Development Program under DOE. The program would provide grants to public and private wind power-related studies in areas including: integrating wind resources into the electric grid; understanding impacts on wildlife and ecosystems; improving reliability and reducing turbine costs; and developing related state policies.
  • Triple the allowance of renewable energy credits for offshore wind projects under a national renewable energy standard. The additional revenue is intended to offset some of the high building costs, encouraging the construction of more wind farms. The energy bill passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year includes an electricity standard that requires 15 percent of the nation’s electricity to come from renewable power sources by 2021.
  • Direct DOE to work with stakeholders to create a comprehensive “Roadmap to an Offshore Wind Power Future” to guide the growing industry.

Although Brown is not proposing that his bill be integrated into the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham package, his office says it would consider “any moving legislative vehicle.” It may be possible, then, for the bipartisan climate effort to use the legislation as grounds for negotiating the support of Brown and his cosponsors.

CURRENT POLICY

PASSED BY THE HOUSE

  • Estuary conservation (HR 4715): On April 15, the House voted 278-128 in favor of legislation to reauthorize and broaden the National Estuary Program, after amending the measure to broaden its scope. The program, created in 1987, provides grants to improve the quality of estuaries of national importance. HR 4715 would modernize the program by assessing estuaries at a broader spatial scale; improving public education about estuary ecology and water quality; and considering the impacts of climate change and estuary-based sustainable commerce. The bill would also boost funding from $35 to $50 million, making it possible to increase the number of estuary programs from 28 to as many as 40 nationwide. The amendments would require estuary conservation plans to consider the effects of rising sea levels—which could push additional salt water into estuaries—and include Great Lakes restoration projects among those eligible for funding.

Of those who supported the bill, 38 were Republicans. Still, the majority of GOP lawmakers, as well as two Democrats, objected, largely because of current efforts to reign in government spending. Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) attempted unsuccessfully to eliminate the funding boost. “What are we spending on today?” he asked. “Estuaries. That’s right, estuaries. Most Americans probably never heard the term.” Meanwhile, Representative Jim Oberstar (D-MN) countered that funding estuary restoration is an investment in fisheries and tourism, as well as an important cultural resource.

PASSED BY COMMITTEE

  • Lake Tahoe (S 2724): On April 21, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee approved a bill to boost funding for Lake Tahoe restoration projects over the next eight years, increasing the total authorization from $300 million over ten years to $415 million over eight years. S 2724 also includes funding for enforcing limits on the nutrients entering the lake each day.
  • Migratory birds (HR 2062): EPW also approved a bill to increase penalties for harming protected migratory birds, making the illegal killing of such birds a felony punishable by a fine and up to a year in prison (as many as two years for second-time offenders). The bill was crafted after twelve West Coast pigeon enthusiasts were convicted of killing thousands of federally protected raptors in retaliation for their preying on pigeons—none of the twelve were charged with more than a Class B misdemeanor. The House passed HR 2062 by voice vote in December.

AWAITING MARKUP

  • Salmon stronghold bills (HR 2055 and S 817): Although Pacific salmon conservation bills have won biparitisan support in both chambers and from the Obama Administration, there may not be time to finish work on them before the 111th Congress draws to a close. The programs proposed under the current bills differ from current conservation efforts, in that they call for investment in the healthiest—rather than the most endangered—salmon spawning runs. This “salmon stronghold” approach was well received in an April 15 Senate Commerce Committee hearing, as it was by the House Natural Resources Committee last June, but has not been scheduled for markup by either panel.

CONGRESSIONAL VISITS DAY: SCIENTISTS HIGHLIGHT IMPORTANCE OF BIOLOGICAL AND AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH TO POLICYMAKERS

On April 22, over twenty ecologists, animal scientists, field biologists, agronomists, and resource economists spent the day on Capitol Hill, encouraging strong federal investment in the agricultural and biological sciences.  The Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) and the Coalition on Funding Agricultural Research Missions (CoFARM) organize the event each spring, the time of year that Congress turns its attention to appropriations. 

The BESC-CoFARM event focuses on two agencies that competitively fund research in the biological and agricultural sciences: the National Science Foundation (NSF) and USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).  The event also includes briefings by representatives from NSF, USDA, and congressional staff. 

This year, over a third of the participants were graduate students, including three sponsored by the Ecological Society of America through its Graduate Student Policy Award (www.esa.org/pao/newsroom/press2010/03022010.php).  Participants met with over 50 congressional offices, highlighting the research made possible by NSF and USDA AFRI, as well as the important role the agencies play in meeting national challenges ranging from energy and food security to conservation and human health.  

Scientists noted that the budgets of both NSF’s biology directorate (BIO) and USDA’s AFRI have been essentially flat over the last 10 years, when adjusted for inflation (excluding boosts from the 2009 economic stimulus package).  NSF BIO provides 68 percent of federal grant support for fundamental biological research at US universities and nonprofit research centers, while AFRI’s extramural grants fund research in plant health, food safety, renewable energy, and agriculture economics.  BESC-CoFARM participants requested that Congress fund NSF at its request of $7.4 billion and AFRI at its request of $429 million for fiscal year 2011.


Sources: ClimateWire, Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, Politico, the Washington Post, the New York Times

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