June 05, 2009

In This Issue

HOUSE CLIMATE AND ENERGY BILL: AG, WAYS AND MEANS THREATEN TO DELAY FLOOR VOTE; PELOSI GIVES COMMITTEE LEADERS JUNE 19 DEADLINE

House leaders are under increasing pressure to finish work on the massive climate and energy bill as soon as possible, as part of a push to hold floor votes on both climate and health care before the end of July. Democratic leaders hope to vote on the climate package by the July 4 recess. Although the bill is expected to move swiftly through most of the eight committees with jurisdiction, leaders of the Agriculture and Ways and Means committees have threatened to delay the process for a variety of reasons. In an effort to keep her signature issue moving, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has given all eight committee leaders a June 19 deadline for finishing work on the bill—committees that fail to meet the deadline risk losing jurisdiction.

Agriculture and Ways and Means leaders have expressed their desire to keep the bill moving, but continue to stand by their original concerns:

In Ag: According to Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN), the committee is “nowhere near” setting a markup schedule. Peterson is particularly concerned with the definition of renewable biomass and the issue of indirect land use. Although the climate bill contains no direct language on the latter topic, the chairman has been outspoken in his belief that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will not adequately address farm state concerns when implementing related portions of the legislation. For more information, see the May 22 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/05222009.php. Peterson also wants the bill to include a larger share of agricultural offsets with stronger Agriculture Department oversight.

In Ways and Means: The committee will likely focus on language pertaining to international trade and the auctioning of 15 percent of the allowances where the funding is dedicated to low-income consumers. Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) has stressed that health care is his committee’s number one priority, but says he is open to acting on the climate package so long as it does not interfere. Although he expressed frustration with Pelosi’s aggressive timetable— a significant challenge in light of his plans to formally mark up the bill—he has vowed to make the deadline.

As a floor vote approaches, the bill’s proponents will be investing a great deal of time in persuading colleagues whose principle interests lie outside of climate change. Current projections suggest that roughly 170 Democrats and at least three Republicans—Christopher Smith (NJ), Frank LoBiondo (NJ), and Mary Bono Mack (CA)—are in favor of the bill.  Two hundred eighteen  votes are required for passage.

SENATE ENERGY BILL: RES MARKUP UNDERWAY, NEW AMENDMENTS FROM BINGAMAN

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is in the process of marking up renewable electricity standard (RES) legislation, one of the more contentious components of the broad energy bill currently under review. The panel recently voted on a number of amendments, rejecting several proposals that would have drastically altered the legislation. Among these proposals were amendments to include nuclear power as an acceptable source of renewable energy and to lift the cap on the amount of energy efficiency offsets utilities could count toward the renewable standard (the current provision caps offsets at roughly 25 percent). Several amendments were also withdrawn, including ones from Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Mark Udall (D-CO) to boost the maximum standard above the current 15 percent mark. Both Senators plan to reintroduce their proposals during the floor debate.

The committee did approve a number of amendments, including several from Republican members. Some of these additions will allow fuels from sources such as qualified “clean coal” plants and new nuclear reactors to count towards the standard; another, proposed by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) will give triple credit for carbon-emission reductions that use algae.

Meanwhile, Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) unveiled a suite of additional draft proposals that he plans to add to the package. Although many of the proposals are bipartisan, the committee’s ranking member, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), objects to the oil and gas title.

Titles of particular interest:

Oil and gas: Would broaden the scope of an offshore resources inventory, which was called for in a 2005 energy law but never funded. The original inventory was to focus on oil and gas; the expanded version would account for opportunities for conservation, recreation, and renewable energy production provided by the outer continental shelf (OCS). The draft title would also prohibit the use of 3-D seismic technology during the inventory, in light of concerns about the technique’s impact on marine life. All technologies are permitted under the 2005 law.

Alaska gas: Would amend a 2004 law meant to initiate construction of a natural gas pipeline from Alaska to the lower 48 states, increasing the loan guarantee funding for the project from $18 billion to $30 billion. The title would also incorporate a plan from Murkowski allowing Interior to locate several miles of an in-state gas pipeline alongside a highway in Denali National Park. Murkowski backs the Alaska provisions but said they alone will not win her support for the entire package. According to her spokesman, the Senator will seek additional OCS production in negotiations.

Renewable energy on public lands: Would designate Bureau of Land Management (BLM) field offices—one in each of nine western states—as pilot project offices for improving the federal permitting process for renewable energy projects. In addition, the bill would attempt to streamline the environmental analysis portion of the process. It would call for programmatic environmental impact statements for proposed renewable projects on public lands—these statements would be used to establish requirements for future projects. Interior would have 12 months to complete the assessment for solar projects on BLM lands, and the Forest Service would have 18 months for solar and wind projects on national forest lands. The bill would also require the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study on the siting, development, and management of all such projects—the resulting report would recommend the most effective system for authorizing projects, determine whether a competitive or noncompetitive leasing system would be more effective, and describe any other necessary changes to federal laws.

INTERIOR: DRAFT BILL WOULD MEAN MAJOR CHANGES FOR DEPARTMENT ENERGY PROGRAMS

Draft legislation from the House Natural Resources Committee would overhaul Interior energy practices, combining energy programs currently under the Minerals Management Service (MMS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) into a new agency: The Office of Federal Energy and Minerals Leasing. The new agency would oversee all aspects of onshore and offshore energy leasing, including siting, development, regulation, and royalty collection. Although Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) had hoped to include the bill in the House climate and energy package, the June 19 deadline recently set by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will likely leave little time for its inclusion. The Speaker expressed her support for Rahall’s package, but said that it may need to be addressed separately.

Additional highlights of the bill include:

Ethics reform: Following the MMS scandal and reports of inappropriate royalty collection practices, the bill will prohibit employees in the new office from accepting gifts from, owning stock in, or being employed by any entity engaged in “exploring for, developing, mining, transporting, processing, or trading energy or minerals.” The bill also prohibits employees from working for energy companies for one year after leaving Interior, and establishes financial disclosure requirements. These changes follow promises from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to restore the integrity of the department.

Energy Development: To improve planning procedures for energy development, the bill would create “Regional Planning Councils,” comprised of public and private stakeholders, to handle strategic planning for energy development on the outer continental shelf; facilitate cooperation between BLM, the Forest Service, and states to plan for renewable and traditional energy development; create a commercial leasing program to replace existing administrative process for wind and solar projects on onshore public lands; and require five-year onshore leasing programs for 11 western states and Alaska, similar to those currently required for offshore leasing.

Leasing and royalties: To encourage companies to expedite development on on- and offshore leases, the bill would make a number of changes to existing leasing and royalties provisions. Most notably, it would reduce initial onshore lease terms from ten to five years, increase royalty rates, repeal the “royalty relief” program expansion included in a 2005 energy law, and create new “diligent development” rules and fees on nonproducing leases.

APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE PANEL MARKUP ON SCIENCE FUNDING UNDERWAY; NOAA MARK HIGHER, NSF LOWER THAN PRESIDENTIAL REQUEST

The Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee has allotted roughly $4.6 billion to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), exceeding the Obama administration’s request of $4.5 billion. If enacted, this amount would be the highest the agency has ever seen, and would represent a five percent increase over 2009 levels. Still, NOAA’s obligations are expanding quickly due to climate change and coastal resource issues. Many marine advocates are concerned that the increase, although significant, will not be sufficient to cover the agency’s many new duties, particularly since the NOAA budget remained flat between 2005 and 2008, resulting in a 10-percent funding decrease after inflation. Climate-related initiatives, such as satellite programs and the creation of a National Climate Service, (which will receive $100 million in new funds) figure prominently into the bill, reflecting the panel’s view that climate research should follow the same accelerated track the White House requested for other science programs.  For more on NOAA’s budget see: www.noaa.gov/budget

Meanwhile, the panel’s $6.94 billion allocation for the National Science Foundation (NSF) fell short of the administration’s requested $7.045 billion (an 8.5-percent increase over 2009 levels—the panel’s figure represents a 6.89 percent increase).

Research and Related Activities: $5.642 billion (a decrease from the President’s request of $5.733 billion)

Education and Human Resources: $862.9 million, representing an increase of $18 million ($5 million more than the White House request)

Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction: $114.3 million, compared to the $117.3 million requested by the White House. This was the only area in NSF to see an overall decrease in funding—the President’s request was 22.8 percent lower than 2009 levels.

Within research funding, NSF requested $733 million for its Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) programs, to be broken down as follows:

  • Climate research: $46 million in new funding, to be divided among climate and ecological modeling; fundamental research of biodiversity, carbon cycling and ecological systems; and collaborative observation studies with the Department of Agriculture. Disciplinary Research and Division Research: $512 million (a $38 million increase) for basic biological research related to the next-generation of nano-, bio-, and information technologies.
  • Research Resources and Centers Programs: $142.5 million (a $20 million increase) to “digitize and network the country’s specimen-based research collections”—the network will include a variety of data on specimens, including DNA samples and habitat information—and to bolster support for Advances in Biological Informatics and Instrument Development for Biological Research programs.
  • National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON): $13.5 million (an increase of $200,000) to sustain project design and development until NEON’s design review, which is on track to be completed in this month. The 2011 budget request will reflect construction estimates established during the review.
  • Integrative Organismal Systems:  $221.8 million (a $10.2 million increase), with roughly 80 percent going to research and education grants.
  • Environmental Biology: $133.9 million (an 11 percent increase) for climate change and biodiversity projects, including using new genomics research resources, and to boost activities that integrate research and education.

For more details on the NSF budget request, visit: http://www.nsf.gov/about/budget/fy2010/toc.jsp

UPCOMING POLICY

Regulations:

  • Mountaintop mining: In a departure from the Bush administration’s practice of approving mountaintop mining projects with minimal examination, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in  March that it would review a number of the projects up for approval. The decision fell in line with President Obama’s skepticism regarding the controversial practice, wherein miners blast off the tops of mountains to expose the coal beneath. Opponents of the practice, who are particularly concerned about the tons of waste it dumps into streams and valleys, were hopeful that EPA would use its authority under the Clean Water Act to block the process entirely. But the agency recently sent a letter to Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV), an ally of the coal industry, stating that it would allow dozens of surface mining projects currently under review, including several mountaintop mines. Without objection from EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers will have the last word on whether the projects go through. Previously, the Corps indicated that it would approve 48 pending permits. The administration, which is on shaky ground with coal state Democrats but drew a great deal of support from environmentalists during the election, is under a great deal of pressure from both sides.

Passed by Committee:

  • Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act (HR 2093): On June 4, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed HR 2093, which would impose new quality testing requirements and notification standards on beach water. The bill would also require EPA to approve testing methods capable of detecting contamination in two hours or less, compared to the 24 to 48 hours typical of current methods. HR 2093 would reauthorize the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) grants through 2013 and double the allocation for a total of $60 million annually. The legislation has received a great deal of bipartisan support—in the Senate, Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and George Voinovich (R-OH) are co-sponsoring the companion bill (S 878).

Referred to Committee:

  • Sustainable Watershed Planning Act: Pending introduction is legislation to address a 2008 National Research Council report calling for EPA to overhaul its stormwater program. Specifically, the report said EPA should reverse the degradation of freshwater resources by basing storm and wastewater discharge permits on watershed rather than political boundaries. The report also recommended increasing stormwater funding, which is presently much lower than wastewater funding, and increasing accountability by centralizing responsibility for permit implementation. The Obama administration has listed watershed protection among EPA’s top priorities.
  • Transportation research: The House Technology and Innovation Subcommittee is in the process of marking up HR 2569, a bill that would order the Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct research aimed at reducing emissions and energy consumption resulting from vehicle miles traveled, traffic congestion, and transportation construction and maintenance. The bill would also require DOT to fund research on the effects of climate change on surface transportation infrastructure, and to award grants to universities for research and development in “green transportation infrastructure.”
  • Clean Energy Promotion Act (HR 2662): Introduced by Representative Martin Heinrich, (D-NM), the bipartisan legislation would provide the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with up to $5 million annually for processing renewable energy applications. The bill is intended to spur renewable energy development on western public lands—prime territory for harvesting solar and wind energy. According to Heinrich, BLM has received hundreds of applications for renewable projects, but lacks the funding to process them efficiently; the bureau has yet to approve a single solar energy project.

Approved by Subcommittee:

  • Mercury reduction: On June 3, an Energy and Commerce subcommittee approved HR 2190, which would prohibit manufactures from using mercury-based technology when producing chlorine or caustic soda within two years of the bill’s enactment. It would also ban the export of mixtures containing mercury. The legislation did not receive support from the panel’s Republicans, who were concerned about its impact on jobs. Subcommittee ranking member George Radanovich (R-CA) attempted to address these concerns with an amendment to extend the deadline until 2020, giving companies more time to transition. The amendment was voted down, although two Democrats John Barrow (GA) and Bart Stupak (MI) supported it. As the bill moves forward, the timeline may still be negotiated.

Approved by the House:

  • Natural resource bills: On June 2, the House approved eight land and water bills, including measures to stock lakes with fish (HR 2430), bolster water conservation efforts in the Southwest (HR 325, 1120, and 1393), study the creation of a new national park in Colorado (HR 2330), and authorize a land swap between the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service in Northern California (HR 689).

Sources: Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, ClimateWire, Politico, Science, State Science and Technology Institute, Coalition for National Science Funding, New York Times, Solar Industry Policy Watch, The Hill, Los Angeles Times

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