November 06, 2009

In This Issue

SENATE CLIMATE BILL: EPW DEMOCRATS PASS BILL WITHOUT REPUBLICAN SUPPORT

The Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) advanced climate legislation on November 5, in spite of a three-day boycott by its Republican members. GOP lawmakers had refused to participate in the scheduled markup, arguing that it would be unwise to move forward with a climate bill without additional analyses from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Committee chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) offered some conciliatory gestures, including an open-door meeting with EPA officials to answer committee members’ questions about the economic modeling of the legislation. But when the boycott persisted, she decided to make use of the 12-7 majority held by Democrats on her committee, advancing the bill under a rarely used procedural move that permits a markup so long as the majority of members are present. Traditionally, a complete markup requires the attendance of two minority members.

Whether circumventing GOP opposition will harm the bill’s chances down the road remains to be seen. Already, several moderate Republicans—all critical swing votes—have criticized Boxer’s move—Senators Lindsey Graham (SC), Judd Gregg (NH), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Richard Lugar (IN), Susan Collins (ME), and Olympia Snowe (ME) all signed letters urging EPA to complete a full analysis before EPW moved forward.

Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA), who recently left the Republican Party, is confident that partisan bitterness will not prevent GOP lawmakers from voting for a bill they would otherwise support—they will ultimately base their votes on the legislation itself. “And there will be an EPA analysis at a later time,” he said, “This bill is going to be changed markedly when you move down the road. So they will get substantively what they want.” Specter himself is calling for additional provisions to address his home state’s steel, coal and refining industries—in an effort to secure the support of moderate Democrats, Boxer added a measure to encourage early carbon capture and storage programs at coal-fired power plants. Although this represents only a first step for Specter, he voted to pass the bill through committee, given its symbolic importance at the upcoming UN climate summit in Copenhagen.

Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) represented his party’s concerns during opening statements earlier in the week. Three months ago, Voinovich urged EPA to conduct a more comprehensive analysis both on the Senate climate bill and its House-passed counterpart (HR 2454). The agency has no plans to conduct additional modeling until the Senate bill is finalized, in light of its “rigorous analysis” of HR 2454, which EPA says is sufficiently similar to the Senate bill in its current form. EPA will conduct a “full economic modeling of the bill that will be voted on by the full Senate,” as requested by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and the bill’s lead Senator John Kerry (D-MA). Voinovich argued that the Senate bill does in fact contain several significant departures from the House version, including fewer available allowances (necessary to achieve deficit neutrality—itself a requirement for Republican support) and different offset restrictions.

Insisting that further analysis would only waste time and taxpayer money—an estimated $120,000—EPW Democrats ultimately approved the bill without amendments by a vote of 11-1. Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) voted against the legislation because of outstanding concerns, most notably regarding emission limits—he is pushing to reduce the measure’s 2020 emission limits from 20 to 17 percent below 2005 levels. Baucus, who also chairs the Finance Committee, still plans to work toward moving the bill through the Senate after his concerns are addressed.
The EPW-passed bill includes a few significant changes from the document Boxer originally drafted, most notably language preventing EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, two Clean Air Act provisions that industry state Democrats consider excessively strict.

As the bill progresses, Reid, who will take an increasingly active role in the debate, is planning to meet with leaders of the contributing committees. Meanwhile, Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Graham are working to win support from senators who do not sit on committees with jurisdiction. Kerry and Graham have also been meeting with top officials from the Obama administration, including White House energy and climate adviser Carol Browner, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

SENATE CLIMATE BILL: STABENOW OFFSET PROPOSAL WINS SOME FARM SUPPORT

Senator Debbie Stabenow’s (D-MI) recently unveiled language on offsets has moved the Senate climate bill a step closer to winning a key endorsement from agricultural interests. Several farm and forestry interests, including many previous critics of the Kerry-Boxer bill, have given their support to Stabenow’s legislation, which addresses many of their major concerns. Most notably, the bill would:

  • Place the Agriculture Department in charge of domestic agriculture and forestry projects.
  • Require that several projects (including reforestation, forest management, and the use of harvested wood products) be included on the list of acceptable offset projects.
  • Give credits to “early actors”—offset projects initiated as far back as 2001—so those who began to sequester carbon on their land before the development of a climate bill could still benefit from its incentives.

The bill is expected to be a “marker,” establishing the preferred policies of its co-sponsors, which include Finance Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) and Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Mark Begich (D-AK).

Observers expect language on agriculture to play a major role in how the climate bill fares on the Senate floor.  Agriculture Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), thus far a critic of the cap-and-trade effort, also plans to conduct a markup, although she has yet to establish a timeline.

ESA JOINS 17 OTHER SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES IN A LETTER REAFFIRMING THE REALITY OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND ITS LINK TO HUMAN ACTIVITIES

Sent 21 October and signed by 18 scientific organizations, the letter states in part:
“Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. These conclusions are based on multiple independent lines of evidence, and contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science. Moreover, there is strong evidence that ongoing climate change will have broad impacts on society, including the global economy and on the environment.”
This marks the first time that so large a group of professional scientific societies has made a unified statement on climate change policy. Read the full letter sent to the Senate at: www.esa.org/pao/policyStatements/Letters/climateletterfinal.pdf

APPROPRIATIONS: WHITE HOUSE SIGNS OFF ON INTERIOR/EPA SPENDING BILL

On October 30, President Obama signed a conference report providing environmental agencies with a total of $32.2 billion in fiscal year 2010.  The spending bill, which lawmakers passed by a vote of 72-28, increases by 17 percent funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Interior Department, and the Forest Service. It also includes several riders, including two controversial air pollution measures that would limit EPA authority over shipping and factory farm operations.
Funding highlights:
Environmental Protection Agency: $10.3 billion (36 percent more than 2009 levels—a compromise between the $10.2 billion and $10.6 billion proposed by the Senate and the House respectively). The increase would give a substantial boost for EPA.  Included in the conference report are significant boosts over fiscal 2009 for EPA programs addressing climate change, toxic waste cleanup, and Great Lakes restoration.

  • Hazardous waste and toxic site cleanup: $1.5 billion ($200 million more than the House and Senate marks and $25 million more than 2009 levels).  Of this amount, $605 million would go toward Superfund cleanup activities, $113 million toward inspecting cleanup of underground storage tank leaks, and $100 million toward Brownfields cleanup.
  • Great Lakes Restoration: $475 million (this matches the House mark and is $75 million above the Senate mark).

Interior Department: $11 billion.

  • US Geological Survey (USGS): $1.112 billion—an amount higher than both the House and Senate mark ($1.106 billion and $1.104 billion respectively), as well as President Obama’s request ($1.098 billion). The agency received $1.044 billion in 2009, not including supplemental appropriations.

Forest Service: $5.3 billion, including a 16-percent increase for the agency’s State and Private Forestry programs, which funds programs to assist private landowners and communities manage and protect forested areas. The bill also incorporates the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement (FLAME) Act passed in the House earlier this year. For more information, see the July 31 edition of the ESA Policy News at:
http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/07312009.php

  • Forest Inventory and Analysis: $71 million
  • State Fire Assistance: $110 million
  • Cooperative Forest Health Management: $60 million to support early detection and control of diseases, pests, and invasive plants.
  • Urban and Community Forestry: $30 million
  • Forest Stewardship: $29 million to promote sustainable forest management on privately owned lands.
  • Forest Legacy: $79 million to protect forests on private lands from conversion to non-forest uses.

Climate Change (all agencies): $385 million total for climate change programs at EPA, Interior, and the Forest Service ($155 million above 2009 levels).

  • EPA:
    • $51 million for the EPA Energy Star program
    • $21 million for US production of  36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022
    • $17 million for the new EPA greenhouse gas registry
    • $10 million for grants to encourage local communities to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Interior:
    • Land management bureaus:
      • $55 million for monitoring and adaptation programs in national parks and wildlife refuges.
      • $58 million to promote renewable energy development on federal lands and waters.
    • USGS:
      • $67 million for priority climate change research
      • $15 million for the National Global Warming and Wildlife Science Center
      • $7 million for carbon sequestration research
  • Forest Service: $32 million for climate change research ($5 million more than 2009)

The conference report also included a number of amendments—including two controversial “riders” dealing with pollutants in shipping fuel and emissions from manure—and guidelines for the funded agencies. Of particular note:

  • Shipping fuel: During conference negotiations, House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-WI) added a measure to exempt 13 Great Lakes steamships from pending EPA restrictions on the sulfur content in fuels for large vessels in US waters and coastlines. Obey said his measure would limit economic hardship in Great Lakes states without hindering the EPA rule.
  • Manure emissions: Another measure will exempt manure management systems at factory farms from EPA greenhouse gas reporting rules for one year. Under the recently passed rule, roughly 10,000 facilities will have to begin collecting emissions data. The only agricultural sources included are manure management systems with emissions of at least 25,000 tons annually—approximately 100 livestock operations in total.
  • Atlantic drilling: The conference report directs the Minerals Management Service to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of energy development in the Atlantic outer continental shelf, including the implications of widespread seismic testing (used for oil and gas exploration) on large marine mammals.
  • Arctic ecosystem evaluation: The report will also require an independent entity to assess the health and biodiversity of marine and coastal ecosystems in the Arctic, detailing the potential impacts of climate change and proposed industrial activities.
  • Climate: The report emphasizes the importance of a coordinated and efficient national plan for addressing climate change. It urges the Council on Environmental Quality to collaborate with the Interior Department to develop a “national, government-wide strategy to address climate impacts on fish, wildlife, plants, and associated ecological processes.” The report would also require the administration to provide a detailed report of its climate-related obligations, expenditures and activities.
  • Firefighting and forests: The Forest Service and Interior Department are set to receive a combined $474 million to address catastrophic wildfires (those that span more than 300 acres). The funds could also be tapped if the agencies exceed their regular fire suppression budget. Under the conference report, the Agriculture and Interior departments will have a year to present Congress with a cohesive wildfire management strategy, which has long been called for by government watchdog agencies.  As in previous years, the report also includes a provision to prohibit the cutting and sale of giant sequoias.

Urban forestry: The Senate spending bill included a provision that would have prevented the Forest Service from directing $2.8 million from the stimulus package toward wildland fire management in Washington, DC. This provision was emitted from the conference report, however, on the grounds that urban forestry is included among the programs that the Service has legal authority to fund. This omission drew the ire of some Western lawmakers who argued that the funds are more clearly and immediately needed in the West. The conference report notes that projects to create jobs and directly reduce fire risk should receive the highest priority, however, and it will prevent additional stimulus funding from going toward urban and community forestry projects. It also calls for increased transparency in the project selection process, giving the Forest Service 30 days to provide a list of all projects selected for stimulus funding, as well as a detailed description of selection criteria.

  • Renewable energy: Following concerns about the environmental impacts of Salazar’s push for renewable energy development on public lands, the conference report gives Interior and the Forest Service 180 days to submit a report on the location, siting criteria, projected lifespan and utility, and plan for infrastructure removal for all such energy projects.
  • Land acquisition: The report attempts to ensure that lands acquired with funds appropriated via the Land and Water Conservation Fund are not made available for uses other than those intended  (i.e. recreation, conservation, or public access). Specifically, it directs the Interior and Agriculture departments to notify the House and Senate Appropriations committees before changing the use of land from conservation or recreational. The secretaries of Interior and Agriculture will have until June 30, 2010 to produce a joint report examining the policies and practices of their land management agencies.
  • Wild horses: Another provision states that appropriations will not be available for the destruction of healthy wild horses and burros under the care of the Bureau of Land Management or its contractors. Selling these animals so that they may be destroyed and processed for commercial use is similarly prohibited.

OCEANS: TASK FORCE REPORTS ON PROGRESS TOWARDS NATIONAL OCEAN POLICY; ESA WEIGHS IN ON INTERIM REPORT

On November 4, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Chief Jane Lubchenco and several other top Obama administration officials presented a Senate Commerce subcommittee with a progress report on their work to develop the country’s first national ocean policy.
The multi-agency ocean policy task force just concluded a series of public meetings throughout the nation, where they gathered input on the ocean plan. The task force’s interim report establishes goals for protecting ocean resources and recommendations that the US create policy to protect the health and biological diversity of ocean resources support sustainable ocean practices. It also establishes a framework for coordinating federal ocean policy via a new ocean council.
The Ecological Society of America wrote to the task force during the public comment period, applauding its focus on ecosystem health and sustainability activity, and highlighting the impacts that ocean noise can have on ecosystems. The letter stated that:
“The nine priority objectives identified in your report reflect a commitment to and appreciation for ecosystem health, and we enthusiastically support your goal of creating a new National Oceans Policy that will “protect the health and resilience of oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes.” To fully realize this goal, we urge you to include anthropogenic underwater noise among the threats to ocean ecosystems addressed in the new policy.
Unlike many other ecosystem stressors, noise does not remain in the environment after its source is removed. Reducing ocean noise is therefore an achievable goal that will help marine life withstand more persistent challenges, such as those presented by chemical pollution and climate change. We can limit the effects of industrial and commercial noise sources while retaining their public benefits by using tools such as marine spatial planning—which you call for in your interim report—and silencing technologies that are currently, or soon to be, commercially available.“

For more information on the national ocean policy, see the August 28 edition of the ESA Policy News at: www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/08282009.php

INTERIOR: SALAZAR’S CLIMATE INITIATIVE FACES REPUBLICAN BACKLASH

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s recently issued order to establish a Climate Change Response Council is facing strong opposition from western Republicans, who consider it unwarranted federal intrusion on local and privately owned lands. A group of lawmakers led by Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) and Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) argue that in bypassing the legislative process, the order would reduce transparency and make it easier for “special interest groups with narrow agendas” to reshape resource management rules. As a result, they say, stakeholders (e.g. landowners, wildlife managers, energy companies) could be forced to comply with new and potentially problematic rules, particularly in the West, which houses a large share of federal lands. 
Salazar’s order establishes a council of senior Interior officials, to be tasked with developing a comprehensive plan for addressing the impacts of climate change on resources managed by the department, as well as coordinating with other departments. In addition, it will create eight “regional climate change response centers,” building upon the work already completed by the US Geological Survey (USGS). USGS is in the process of developing regional hubs to provide fish and wildlife managers with adaptation-focused climate change impact data and analysis.

MOUNTAINTOP MINING: BUSH-ADMIN CHANGES TO STREAM PROTECTIONS WILL REMAIN IN PLACE UNTIL 2011

On October 30, the Obama administration filed court documents stating that it will leave the previous administration’s changes to a “stream-buffer zone” rule in place until 2011. The rule, which requires a 100-foot buffer between streams and mining operations, was modified by the Bush administration to grant exemptions for several activities including waste dumps. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s efforts to cancel the changes came to an end in August, when a federal judge ruled that Interior lacked the authority to proceed without a full rulemaking process, including public comment.
According to the documents, Interior will formally announce the start of the rulemaking period in October and begin a 30-day public comment period. A new rule could be finished by early 2011, although the formal timeline will depend on the amount of public input received.
The environmental groups that sued to have the Bush-administration changes removed voiced their objections to the 2011 target, arguing that a great deal of ecosystem damage could occur before a new rule is instated. Many will now shift focus to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is in the process of evaluating whether mountaintop mining projects comply with the Clean Water Act. For more information on EPA’s recent actions, see the Current Policy article in the October 23 edition of the ESA Policy News at:
www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/10232009.php

NEGOTIATIONS: EUROPE PUSHES FOR US TARGETS, NORTH AMERICAN HFC PROPOSAL ON THE TABLE AT MONTREAL PROTOCOL MEETING

As the Senate debates emission reduction legislation, the US continues to receive pressure from abroad, particularly from Europe, where many countries have already made commitments:

  • The European Union (EU) has vowed to lower emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. If a more ambitious global deal is forged, the EU has pledged to increase its target to 30 percent.
  • Japan’s new government will set a 2020 target of 25 percent below 1990 levels, contingent upon a global deal.
  • Australia will cut emissions 5 percent below 2000 levels, but is willing to this to as much as 15 percent under an international treaty.
  • Norway has so far committed to the largest cut among industrialized countries, pledging a reduction of 40 percent below 1990 levels.

UN climate chief Yvo de Boer is calling for all developed countries to provide specific 2020 or 2030 targets at the Copenhagen summit next month.

The current figures suggested by legislation from the US House and Senate are 17 and 20 percent below 2005 levels, respectively. Several other countries have criticized these goals as too lenient, since they are based on a 2005 rather than 1990 benchmark.  The Obama administration maintains  that the US target would yield roughly the same results no matter which benchmark is used—the International Energy Agency’s “World Energy Outlook” supports this stance.

Other negotiation news:

Africa:  African nations led by Ethiopia, Algeria, and Gambia recently boycotted part of the UN climate talks in Barcelona, urging developed countries to commit to stricter emissions reduction targets and to extend the Kyoto Protocol. The nations object to the possibility that countries meeting in Copenhagen will abandon the expiring UN agreement in favor of a more flexible global pact.

China: Downplaying speculations that the US could reach a bilateral deal with China before the Copenhagen summit, US lead climate negotiator Todd Stern said that Obama’s meetings in Beijing will focus on consensus building intended to pave the way for international negotiations, not produce a specific agreement.  Meanwhile, the US is urging China to cut its emissions roughly in half by 2050. According to climate negotiators, a 50-percent reduction would allow poorer countries to set more modest targets, and would be feasible if China renews its current five-year energy efficiency plan into the future.

Ozone treaty: The annual Montreal Protocol meeting is currently underway in Egypt, where the US, Mexico, and Canada will try to gather support for a proposal to reduce global hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) use. The potency of HFCs can be several orders of magnitude greater than carbon dioxide, but they are the most common substitute for the ozone-hole forming gases governed by the Montreal Protocol.  Recent studies indicate that while HFCs have played a negligible role in climate change so far, they could account for roughly a fifth of warming by 2050, undermining carbon cuts established in an international climate treaty. The North American proposal has been endorsed by the European Union, but still needs the support of China, India, South Africa, and Brazil. Such support may be difficult to win, since China and India are both major manufacturers and consumers of HFCs, and South Africa and Brazil want more industrial nations to make their own cuts first, while providing assistance to developing countries.

CURRENT POLICY

PASSED BY COMMITTEE

Bird conservation (HR 2213): The House Natural Resources Committee voted 26-16 in favor of legislation to increase funding for migratory bird conservation. All Democrats on the committee voted to advance the bill, but they were joined by only two Republicans: Representatives Bill Cassidy (LA) and Bill Shuster (PA). The bill provides additional funds to support initiatives preserving the habitat of birds that migrate from the Caribbean and Latin America to breed further north. Committee Republicans objected to the bill, arguing that funding should be kept constant ($32.5 million over five years) in light of the country’s economic troubles. In an attempted compromise, the final bill raised total funding to $55 million, rather than the $86 million originally specified. Still, Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) vowed to fight it if it reaches the floor.

Oregon wilderness: The House Natural Resource Committee also advanced bills to ban logging and road development on 30,000 acres of the Devil’s Staircase (HR 2888) and to grant a “wild and scenic” designation to portions of the Molalla River (HR 2781). Both votes were largely along party lines, with some Republicans expressing concerns over possible impacts on the timber industry and, as a result, nearby rural economies.

Orange County coast (HR 86): Easily passed by the committee was a bill to include scenic islands and rocks off the coast of Orange County in the California Coastal National Monument.


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

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