June 19, 2009

In This Issue

SENATE ENERGY BILL: ENERGY PACKAGE IS HEADED TO THE FLOOR, INCLUDES EXPANSION OF OFFSHORE DRILLING

On June 17, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 15-8 in favor of its massive energy bill, which would, among other things, establish a national renewable electricity standard (RES), overhaul federal financing for clean energy projects, and mandate new federal electricity-transmission siting power.

The bill, which Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have called a workable compromise, won the support of four Republicans. Meanwhile, two Democrats—Mary Landrieu (LA) and Robert Menendez (NJ)—voted against it.

The floor debate promises to be contentious, with Senators from both parties seeking to block some of the bill’s more controversial measures:

Offshore drilling: An amendment approved on June 9 would expand offshore oil and gas leasing in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The measure, sponsored by Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), would allow drilling as close as 45 miles from Florida’s coast, and even closer in Destin Dome, a gas-rich area off the state’s panhandle. It would effectively overturn a 2006 compromise that expanded leasing in the Gulf but provided Florida with a broad no-drill buffer zone, averaging about 125 miles from shore, until 2022. Although the amendment was supported by many key “fence sitters” in the Senate climate debate (e.g. Democrat Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee), it has driven other lawmakers away. Menendez lamented the amendment’s inclusion in the package: “[The climate and energy bill] continues to move in the direction that I find very difficult to support,” he said. And Florida Senator Bill Nelson (D) has vowed to block the package during the floor debate.

Renewable Energy Standard: The bill currently sets an RES target of 15 percent by 2021, but several Senators, such as Bernard Sanders (I-VT) and Mark Udall (D-CO), hope to strengthen the standard. Other lawmakers are concerned about the impact that even the more modest RES will have on industry—Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) said that he could reconsider his support for the package if significant changes are made to the RES on the floor.

It remains to be seen whether the Senate will follow the House’s lead and couple its energy package with climate legislation. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) hopes to bring a combined package to the floor this fall, but a cap-and-trade plan would face major hurdles in the Senate, possibly bogging down the energy provisions.

CLIMATE CHANGE: US STUDY DISCUSSES CURRENT, PREDICTED IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON AMERICAN LIVES

On June 16, the US Global Change Research Program released a state of the knowledge report summarizing the impacts of climate change on the United States. The first major climate report from the Obama administration, it is based on published research, including a series of 21 reports on climate change produced by the Bush administration.

Among its conclusions:

  • Current warming is “unequivocal,” largely anthropogenic, and already impacting human health, agriculture, coastal areas, transportation and water supply in the United States.
  • Without limiting emissions, US temperatures could warm between 7 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.  Curbing emissions could limit the increase to between 4 and 6.5 degrees. Earlier action on emissions will be more effective than later action.
  • Climate change will intensify over the next 100 years, even with significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, likely resulting in:
    • More intense hurricanes (although the number of storms that reach land may not increase) and drier conditions in the Southwest and Caribbean.
    • Forest growth increases in the East and decreases in the West as water becomes scarcer.
    • Increases in heat-related deaths, due to a growing number of days with temperatures above 100-degrees Fahrenheit. In Chicago, for example, the number of heat-related deaths could rise tenfold by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced.
    • Continued rise in sea level, which could flood 2,400 miles of roadways and 250 miles of freight rail lines along the Gulf Coast in the next 50-100 years.
    • An initial increase, followed by a long-term decrease in crop production, as warmer winter temperatures allow insects and plant diseases to spread.

Although she did not comment on the climate legislation currently under review in Congress, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco called the new report “a game-changer,” stating that it “demonstrates that climate change is happening now, in our own backyards, and it affects the things that people care about. The dialogue is changing.”

John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said, “This is telling us with persuasiveness why we need to act sooner rather than later. One has to hope it will influence how people think about particular legislative proposals.”

APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE MARKUPS UNDERWAY, INCREASES PROPOSED FOR MOST AGENCIES

In a 34-21 party-line vote, the House Appropriations Committee approved spending allocations for its subcommittees, setting total discretionary spending at $1.086 trillion—$10 billion less than the White House mark, but $74 billion (7 percent) more than 2009 levels. Republicans opposed the measure on the grounds that it increased spending at too high a rate.

Almost all the spending bills received significant increases. One notable exception is the Energy and Water bill, which covers agencies including the Energy Department and the Army Corps of Engineers, as well as other agencies that received a substantial boost from the economic stimulus package passed earlier this year. In total, the bill will receive an allocation of $33.3 billion, which is roughly the same as the 2009 mark.

Subcommittees are now at work on their respective bills—the latest figures are:

  • Agriculture: $22.9 billion, an 11 percent from 2009 levels. The spending bill provides significant increases for farmland conservation and energy development, rejecting almost all of the Obama administration’s proposed cuts to conservation programs, while falling short of the administration’s request for rural energy programs.
    • The committee addressed the controversial topic of indirect land-use and accepted an amendment directing the Department of Agriculture to conduct an independent study on the matter.
    • The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the largest working lands program, was the only farm bill conservation program to be capped. Under the spending bill, EQIP receives $1.18 billion—$20 million below the farm bill mark, but $100 million more than 2009. The five-year farm bill, approved in 2008, includes $4 billion in increases for conservation programs, which are designed to help farmers finance wetland restoration and habitat protection on their land. Besides EQIP, all these programs are set to receive the full amount of funding.
    • The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which helps rural landowners finance new energy efficiency and development projects on their property, receives an additional $20 million in discretionary authorizations for 2010.
    • The spending bill restores funding for watershed projects eliminated in the president’s budget request, including $40 million for watershed rehabilitation, $20 million for watershed and flood prevention, and just over $50 million for Resource Conservation and Development.
    • The spending bill makes $720 million in cuts to administrative proposals, placing caps on several rural development grants and administrative accounts, and rejecting the proposed $17.3 million increase to the biorefinery loan program, to which the farm bill already provides a substation increase.
  • Commerce, Justice and Science: $64.3 billion, a 13 percent increase from 2009 levels.
    • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would receive a 5-percent increase, including $18.6 million to support “catch share” fisheries (a ninefold increase over 2008 funding levels—for more information, see the May 22 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/05222009.php); $1.5 billion for environmental satellites (compared to $187 million in 2009); $436 million for oceanic and atmospheric research, including $229 million for climate research; and $248 million for marine mammals, turtles, and protected species. The National Ocean Service would receive $5 million less than it did in 2009, and $11 million less than the administration requested.
    • For NSF numbers, see the June 5 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/06052009.php
  • Interior-Environment: $32.3 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Interior Department, and the Forest Service. This represents an increase of 16 percent over 2009 levels, but $25 million less than the amount requested by the president.
    • EPA would receive $10.6 billion—an increase of $3 billion from 2009 levels, and $84 million more than the president’s budget request. EPA environmental programs and management would receive $81 million more than the White House mark; science and technology programs would receive $8 million more. Climate change science and adaptation efforts would be funded at $419 million ($24 million more than Obama’s mark and $189 million more than 2009). EPA would also receive $21 million for addressing the Renewable Fuel Standard (set at 3 billion gallons by 2022), and $17 million for developing a greenhouse gas registry, which would establish a federal reporting system for monitoring emissions. Following the president’s request for a massive increase in water infrastructure funding, the bill more than doubles 2009 levels, allocating $3.9 billion across the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds and State and Tribal Assistance Grants. The Great Lakes would receive $475 million for major restoration efforts; the bill directs EPA to include an “action agenda” in its rehabilitation plan for the lakes, which is scheduled for release in 2011.
    • The US Geological Survey would receive $67 million for priority climate research; the Fish and Wildlife Service would receive $80 million for climate change planning and conservation efforts; and the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Park Service would collectively receive $31 million for climate change adaptation programs.

HOUSE CLIMATE DEBATE: TWO BILLS SEEK TO DIRECT FEDERAL COORDINATION OF CLIMATE CHANGE RESEARCH

With a floor debate imminent on the House climate and energy package, two bills are vying to replace placeholder language in the Waxman-Markey measure that addresses the coordination of federal climate change initiatives.

The National Climate Service Act of 2009 (HR 2407): Introduced by House Science Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), HR 2407 would establish a new agency—the National Climate Service— within NOAA. The Science Committee approved the measure earlier this month, clearing the way for its inclusion in the Waxman-Markey bill. But if the broader climate and energy bill does not move forward, Gordon has expressed plans to move HR 2407 independently.

The Climate and Ocean Research Coordination Act (HR 2685): Introduced by Representative Madeline Bordallo (D-Guam), who chairs the Insular Affairs, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee, this bill would seek to improve cooperation and communication between existing climate initiatives without creating additional bureaucracy. Specifically, it would create an interagency, public-private National Climate Enterprise (NCE) to serve as a hub for federal climate efforts and a publically accessible clearinghouse for climate change data and decision-making tools. The director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy would chair NCE, while NOAA would oversee day-to-day operations, using existing infrastructure. Bordallo’s subcommittee is currently reviewing the measure; aspects of its framework could be considered in Gordon’s legislation.

Both bills would codify the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), formally establishing its mission and leadership structure.

FISHERIES: HOUSE DEMOCRATS SPEAK OUT AGAINST OFFSHORE AQUACULTURE PLAN

Almost forty House Democrats, led by Representatives Lois Capps (CA), Gene Taylor (MS), and Sam Farr (CA), are urging Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to reject a plan to open the Gulf of Mexico to large-scale commercial fish farms. The Commerce Department is currently accepting public comment on a proposal to create the first US permitting system for offshore aquaculture, allowing commercial fish farms as close as 200 miles from shore in the Gulf.

In a letter to Locke, the lawmakers expressed concerns that the plan would set a precedent for regulating aquaculture on a case-by-case basis, and that it could lead to water pollution, species invasions, and damages to coastal communities.  House Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) was not among the letter’s signatories, but he sent his own letter to Locke earlier in the year, highlighting many of the same themes.

The Gulf of Mexico’s regional fishery council approved the plan in January, predicting that it would permit between 5 and 20 offshore operations in the next 10 years, and produce up to 64 million pounds of seafood. The plan requires approval from Commerce before it can move forward.

For more information, see the February 5 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/02052009.php

APPROPRIATIONS: “CLUNKERS” HEADS TO THE WHITE HOUSE AS PART OF SUPPLEMENTAL BILL; FUNDING FOR WILDFIRE, FLOOD PROJECTS ALSO INCLUDED

On June 18, the Senate narrowly approved the “cash for clunkers” program as part of a $106 billion war supplemental bill. The program, supported by both the Obama administration and the auto industry, would provide consumers with $3,500 or $4,500 vouchers for trading in older vehicles for more fuel-efficient models. The measure cleared the House two days earlier and now awaits President Obama’s signature.

In addition to authorizing $1 billion for the clunkers program, the supplemental would set aside $200 million to the Forest Service and $50 million to the Interior Department for wildfire suppression and emergency rehabilitation efforts. These funds, requested by the Obama administration, would become available only after other funds were exhausted and the Appropriations committees were formally notified. Also included is $847 million for flood control and restoration projects along the Gulf Coast.

UPCOMING LEGISLATION

PASSED IN THE HOUSE

  • International Science Research (HR 1736): The House voted 351-52 in favor of a bill from Representative Brian Baird (D-WA), which would reinstate the Committee on International Science, Engineering, and Technology (CISET) in an effort to strengthen international cooperation for science and technology research. Under the bill, CISET would be tasked with developing inter-agency policies for establishing cooperative research partnerships abroad. CISET, which was created during the Clinton presidency but disbanded under former President George W. Bush, would fall under the jurisdiction of the National Science and Technology Committee, part of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
  • STEM Education Coordination (HR 1709): The House also passed a bill from Science Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), which would establish a committee under the National Science and Technology Council to coordinate federal efforts promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics education activities.

APPROVED BY SENATE COMMITTEE

  • Federal Wetlands Regulation (S 787): Environment and Public Works Committee. In spite of strong GOP opposition, this measure to amend the Clean Water Act by replacing “navigable waters” with waters of the United States” cleared committee with a 12-7 vote. The legislation seeks to extend wetland protection under the Clean Water Act to all US waters, including isolated or non-navigable wetlands. Many Republicans are concerned that the measure will burden farmers and other landowners who have non-navigable wetlands on their property—Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) plans to place a “hold” on the bill. For more information, see the May 7 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/05072009.php
  • Water pollution monitoring (S 878):  Environment and Public Works Committee.  Would double the authorized grant money for pollution monitoring programs in coastal waters and the Great Lakes. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee already passed the companion bill.
  • Neotropical migratory bird protection (S 690): Environment and Public Works Committee. Would amend the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, boosting funding levels for 2010 and authorizing appropriations through 2015. The Act provides competitive grants for public-private partnerships that work to conserve Neotropical migratory birds and their habitat.
  • Chesapeake Bay Protection (S. 479):  Would make the appropriations authorization for the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network permanent. The Network is comprised of parks, trails, and historic sites where the public can experience and learn about the Bay and its watershed.

APPROVED BY HOUSE COMMITTEE

On June 11, the House Natural Resources Committee easily approved several land and wildlife bills, including:

  • Public Lands Corps update (HR 1612): Would eliminate the current funding cap for the corps, allow it to prioritize enrollment of youth from under-represented communities, and give several federal agencies additional authority to recruit and fund its conservation programs, with an emphasis on maintenance and ecological restoration. Republican committee members were generally supportive of the legislation, although they presented a number of amendments, including one to ensure that funds are spent on physically improving public lands, and one to expand the criteria for prioritized enrollment to include youth from areas receiving funding under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act. Both amendments were withdrawn, although the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) promised to address the matters before the bill goes to the floor.
  • Southern sea otter recovery (HR 556): Would enhance southern sea otter conservation efforts by requiring the Fish and Wildlife Service to institute a research and recovery program and to find ways to reduce limitations on population growth. It would also codify federal sea otter recovery teams. To address the concerns of fishing groups, the bill has been amended significantly since its introduction—it will no longer establish a Sea Otter Scientific Advisory Committee, and it contains language to phase the program out after the sea otter is de-listed as an endangered species.
  • International species conservation (HR 1454): Would create a new postage stamp, costing at least 25 percent more than standard first-class stamps, to benefit the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Multinational Species Conservation Fund.
  • Migratory bird habitat protection (HR 2188): Would create a specific funding allocation for a joint ventures program to protect migratory bird habitat. The program would be conducted through the Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Illegal fishing (HR 1080): Would grant federal agencies more power to investigate illegal fishing and strengthen penalties for violations. To discourage violations of international fishing accords in US waters, the bill would increase the penalty to match the levels specified in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act, which applies to domestic violations.
  • Reauthorization of marine turtle protection (HR 509): Would extend a marine turtle protection program for an additional five years. The program, which directs the Interior Department to allocate a portion of the multinational species funds for marine turtle conservation, is set to expire this year.

UNDER SUBCOMMITTEE REVIEW

  • National Environment Research Parks (HR 2729): Energy and Environment Subcommittee. Would establish seven National Environmental Research Parks at Energy Department (DOE) nuclear sites throughout the country—the parks would serve as long-term ecological research stations, to be operated in cooperation with nearby universities. The bill, which would provide $5 million annually to each park through 2014, has won a great deal of bipartisan support. Scientists have also spoken in favor of measure, saying that the parks could provide important information on the ecological implications of energy development, weapons use, and climate change. The subcommittee will likely mark up the bill by the end of June.
  • Natural gas-powered vehicles (HR 1622): Energy and Environment Subcommittee. Would authorize a five-year DOE program aimed at developing better natural gas vehicles and fueling station infrastructure, as well as nationwide codes and standards.
  • Oil spill prevention and cleanup (HR 2693): Energy and Environment Subcommittee. Would establish a federal oil spill research program, which would be operated by a committee of several agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Coast Guard, and Environmental Protection Agency. The committee would be tasked with conducting an assessment of existing oil spill prevention and response capabilities, and with researching new technologies and strategies for detecting, responding to, and mitigating spills.
  • OCEANS-21 (HR 21): Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee. Would pave the way for a national oceans policy, by formally authorizing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and establishing a National Oceans Adviser for the president and agencies dealing with oceans. It would also coordinate federal and state agencies, and work to improve regional coordination and planning efforts. Passage will not be easy for the bill, which seeks to address recommendations made by a number of high-profile oceans commissions. Its size alone has slowed it down in previous years, and several important bipartisan supporters are no longer in Congress. Opponents are concerned that the bill, in requiring agencies to consider oceans health, could interfere with fisheries, dredging projects, and offshore energy development.

Meanwhile, President Obama has issued a directive calling for the creation of an interagency task force, headed by the Council on Environmental Quality, to develop recommendations for a national oceans policy, as well as guidelines for mapping and allocating marine resources.

  • Fish Habitat Conservation: The Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee is reviewing two bills, which aim to address widespread declines in fish populations by limiting habitat destruction. Both bills have received a great deal of bipartisan support, as well as endorsements from the Obama administration.
    • Pacific Salmon Stronghold Conservation Act (HR 2055): Would create a partnership among governing bodies on the West Coast to restore the region’s salmon populations. The bill would take a “salmon stronghold” approach, focusing conservation efforts on salmon nurseries that are currently successful, rather than ones on the verge of collapse. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced the companion bill, S 817, whose cosponsors include Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where the legislation will be debated.
    • National Fish Habitat Conservation Act (HR 2565): Would codify the National Fish Habitat Action Plan, authorizing $75 million annually for fish habitat rehabilitation projects funded by the Interior Department.  In the Senate, Joe Lieberman (I-CT) recently introduced a companion bill (S 1214)—like S 817, its cosponsors include Senators from both sides of the aisle. The Senate version will go through the Environment and Public Works Committee.

PULLED

Federal Duck Stamp Program modifications (HR 1916): House Natural Resources Committee. Would raise money for wetland protection by increasing the price of the duck stamp from $15 to $25 in 2010. The Duck Stamp Program raises money for waterfowl habitat acquisition by selling stamps as waterfowl hunter permits and as symbols of conservation. The legislation was put on hold after Republicans filed a string of amendments to limit the amount of land acquisition authorized by the program.


Sources: Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, ClimateWire, Politico, Coalition for National Science Funding, SustainableBusiness.com, Washington Post

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