April 02, 2009

In This Issue

CLIMATE LEGISLATION: HOUSE DEMOCRATS UNVEIL DRAFT CLIMATE AND ENERGY BILL

On March 31, Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Ed Markey (D-MA) released their draft climate change and energy bill—the “American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009”— reiterating plans to hold a final committee vote on the measure before the Memorial Day recess.

Highlights include:

  • Cap-and-trade: Would reduce domestic carbon emissions to 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 83 percent by 2050. The draft does not address carbon allowances and auctions—the source of an ongoing debate among industry, interest groups, and policymakers—instead leaving room for additional negotiation over the coming weeks. To smooth the transition into a low-carbon economy, it includes proposals to set aside a certain number of allowances for industries most vulnerable to international competition, and to create a “strategic reserve” of allowances that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could release into the market should credit prices rise faster than expected.
  • Renewable electricity standard: A nationwide standard requiring 6 percent of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2012. This standard would increase incrementally over subsequent years, reaching 25 percent by 2025. Governors would be permitted to meet up to a fifth of the mandate via efficiency measures.
  • Carbon capture and storage: Would create a fund to accelerate the commercial deployment of the technology—an important measure for winning over the support of Democratic lawmakers from industrial states— and would require EPA to develop a coordinated permitting system for sequestration sites, as well as rules to minimize the risk of escaping sequestered carbon.
  • New emissions standards: New heavy-duty vehicles and engines would face new standards by the end of 2010, as would new marine vessels by the end of 2012. EPA would also be permitted to set standards for airplanes and other non-road vehicles as needed. The bill would also institute separate standards for hydrofluorocarbon and black carbon emissions.
  • National auto fuel economy standards: Would “harmonize” federal auto fuel economy standards with future levels set by EPA and with the strict standards California has been pushing to impose, but would prohibit states from implementing their own emission caps from 2012 to 2017.
  • “Smart” grid: Would include provisions for deploying an updated power grid to improve energy efficiency.
  • New energy efficiency programs: Would focus on improving building codes and creating new standards for industrial energy efficiency.
  • Plug-in electric car program: To be created by DOE, the program would allow state and local governments to apply for financial assistance towards integrating plug-in vehicles into their area. Assistance could also go towards helping automakers retool their facilities for plug-in vehicle production.
  • Deforestation prevention: Would direct EPA to enter into agreements to prevent international deforestation, the source of about 20 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Performance standards for coal-fired power plants: Plants that receive their final permits after 2014 would be subject to the new standards, which would become more stringent for plants finalized in 2020 or later. Older facilities would eventually have to meet emissions standards as well.
  • Resolution of EPA’s endangerment finding: Would prevent EPA from regulating greenhouse gasses via the Clean Air Act, thus avoiding what could be sweeping regulations across the US economy.

Waxman and Markey (who chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee, respectively) have a 36-23 advantage over Republicans in their committee, which means their bill will require votes from all but six Democrats to pass. Winning support from some Democrats, particularly those from industrial states, will be challenging, and a great deal of compromise may be necessary. Still, Waxman and Markey secured support from two critical moderate Democrats, former Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-MI) and former subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-VA), in a letter to President Obama. The letter acknowledged the lawmakers’ conflicting interests and concerns, but underscored their willingness to compromise in order to pass what they consider to be urgent legislation.

Outside of Energy and Commerce, other committees are preparing to weigh in. The Science Committee, for example, will focus on ensuring a reliable means of monitoring whether emission reduction plans are succeeding, a task that could include creating or enhancing existing satellite and ground-monitoring systems.

According to Science Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), “The Energy and Commerce Committee will develop the emissions control program, and the Science Committee contribution to the effort will be in the areas of monitoring climate services and encouraging new technology.” Gordon said his committee will pay particular attention to DOE initiatives, including vehicle research and carbon capture and sequestration programs.

The House’s comprehensive approach to climate and energy legislation differs from that of the Senate, which is handing the two issues in separate bills. The House strategy attempts to find synergies between the nation’s various climate and energy goals. For example, the bill points to economic models showing that combining cap-and-trade legislation with a renewable energy standard and energy efficiency programs could lower compliance costs for both households and industry.

Meanwhile, although certain aspects of the legislation have attracted GOP interest, many senior Republicans in the House have already spoken out in opposition to the bill, questioning the logic of pursuing such aggressive climate legislation amidst the economic recession, and citing public opinion polls that show climate near the bottom of the list of voter concerns. Still, the bill’s proponents are optimistic about it passing through the House, although the Senate may present more of an obstacle.

Democratic congressional leaders are planning floor votes in both chambers by the end of July, with a conference in the fall—this is an aggressive schedule, but would allow the US to have climate change legislation in place by the time UN climate negotiations culminate in Copenhagen this December.

BUDGET: HOUSE AND SENATE BUDGET RESOLUTIONS REDUCE DISCRETIONARY SPENDING BUT PRESERVE WHITE HOUSE ENERGY FUNDING; BUDGET RECONCILIATION LANGUAGE ABSENT

The House and Senate plan to vote on their respective 2010 budget resolutions before the congressional recess begins on April 3. Although both chambers’ resolutions match the total spending in President Obama’s blueprint ($3.6 trillion), neither includes as much discretionary spending ($540 billion of non-defense discretionary spending in the president’s blueprint, compared to $533 billion in the House and $525 billion in the Senate.) Still, the levels set in both chambers provide a boost over the previous year’s levels.

In general, the plans reflect the priorities laid out by the Obama administration, fully funding a number of the president’s climate and energy requests, including increases for:

  • Energy efficiency and renewable energy development
  • Carbon capture and sequestration research
  • The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program and the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program.

Both plans also boost spending for the Function 300 account, the primary vehicle for funding natural resources and environment, allocating $35.1 billion in discretionary spending authority.

Neither the House nor the Senate’s resolution includes instructions to move climate change legislation via a filibuster-proof budget reconciliation. (For more information on this issue, see the March 19 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/03192009.php) This omission greatly reduces the likelihood of what some opponents have called a “backdoor” approach to instituting a cap-and-trade program, although Democratic leaders could move another budget resolution with reconciliation instructions later in the year if they aren’t able to move a climate bill through the standard process. But many Democrats are optimistic that crafting such a bill through the standard committee process will yield greater bipartisan support.

Both budget resolutions include a “reserve fund” for future energy and climate change legislation. A reserve fund is a way of ensuring support for the initiatives, should Congress pass laws enacting them.

TRANSITION: NEW ADMINISTRATION CONTINUES WORK ON EPA ENDANGERMENT FINDING, ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT REVISIONS

Endangerment finding: The White House has begun its review of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) document detailing the threats that climate change poses to public health and welfare. For more information, see the “Transition” article in the February 5 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/02052009.php

According to an internal presentation, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson plans to sign the endangerment finding on April 16. EPA will then hold a 60-day public comment period and two public hearings, after which the proposal can be finalized. If finalized, it could trigger a series of Clean Air Act regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.

Endangered Species Act: The Interior Department is exploring whether or not Bush administration revisions to the Endangered Species Act should be overturned through a traditional rulemaking process (for more information on these revisions, see the August 18 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2008/08182008.php). The recently passed 2009 omnibus spending bill included a rider allowing Interior to withdraw or reissue the revisions without going through many of the regulatory requirements, including the standard public notice and comment period. Tom Strickland, the nominee for Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, said that while Interior remains open to all options for addressing the rules, it may not take the expedited route. Prior to passage of the spending bill, the agency had already started work on the formal rulemaking process to alter the revisions.

Climate change adaptation: Strickland also indicated that the new Interior leadership plans to accelerate work on a baseline analysis of climate-driven changes to wildlife refuges, using the findings to determine the best remedial strategies, which could range from habitat restoration to land acquisition. The department has yet to institute any new climate change programs, Strickland said, since officials are still working on assessments and mitigation plans begun in the final year of the Bush administration.

OCEANS: HOUSE CONSIDERS “ZONING” FOR OFFSHORE ENERGY DEVELOPMENT

To help protect marine resources in the midst of offshore energy development, some lawmakers are calling for legislation that would require the government to develop comprehensive ocean plans designating areas for both energy development and special protection.

The Obama administration plans to make drilling part of a broader energy strategy, which means that there will not be an effort in Congress to fully reinstate the offshore drilling bans lifted last year. Many opponents of offshore drilling are therefore eyeing zoning plans as a way of protecting key marine resources and habitat, not only from drilling, but also from wind and wave energy projects. Zoning advocates also say ocean plans would provide more certainty for offshore energy projects, which could otherwise be halted after years of planning and development, should regulators or the public decide to oppose development.

Others are more skeptical of zoning efforts, however, questioning the wisdom of creating plans without knowing where all the oil and gas deposits are, and arguing that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) lacks the necessary data on fisheries and marine mammal habitat needed to create the plans.

Many senior members of the House Natural Resources Committee have said that zoning language should be incorporated into any new energy legislation brought up this year, although Chairman, Nick Rahall (D-WV) recently clarified that the committee has no plans to add measures to the energy and climate bill recently unveiled in the House.

Meanwhile, Representative Lois Capps (D-CA) has introduced a bill to provide funding for states to survey their coastlines for renewable energy development sites. The funding would come from a new grant program under the Coastal Zone Management Act. Reauthorizing the Act is a top priority of the Natural Resources Committee, and Capps hopes to include her legislation in this reauthorization.

Capps’ bill would also attempt to curb conflicts between states and the federal government by encouraging collaboration between state and federal agencies in classifying areas appropriate for renewable energy projects. A similar initiative was shot down in subcommittees last year—while critics of zoning have pointed to NOAA’s lack of data, others have argued the opposite. David Kennedy, director of NOAA’s Ocean and Coastal Resource Management Office, was among the major opponents of last year’s bill, which he said would duplicate efforts by NOAA and other federal agencies that already have “extensive expertise and existing hydrographic, oceanographic and geographic data.”

UPCOMING LEGISLATION

Referred to Committee

  • Mountaintop coal mining (S 696): Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) recently introduced the Appalachia Restoration Act, a bill that would amend the Clean Water Act to prevent the dumping of mining waste into streams and rivers. The legislation, which would effectively end mountaintop mining, claims that the practice has affected more than 1 million acres of Appalachia and buried over 1,200 miles of headwater streams under waste. The senators say that mountaintop mining accounts for less than 5 percent of domestically produced coal and that the bill would not ban other methods of coal mining. A day before the bill’s introduction, EPA placed a hold on the mining practice to allow for the evaluation of its environmental impacts.
  • Black carbon reduction (HR 1760): Legislation from Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA) would call on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to study the climate and public health impacts of black carbon and to develop strategies for reducing its emission both domestically and internationally. Black carbon, which is largely the product of diesel engines and biomass burning, is surpassed only by carbon dioxide as domestic source of climate change emissions. Unlike carbon dioxide, black carbon typically remains in the atmosphere for less than a month, which means that reducing emissions would quickly contribute to climate change limitation efforts.
  • Illegal fishing (HR 1080): A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers and Commerce Department officials recently endorsed a bill that would grant federal agencies more power to investigate illegal fishing and strengthen penalties for violations. Of particular concern are violations of international fishing accords in US waters, as well as countries that persist in harvesting unsustainable amounts of fish. The bill would increase the penalty for international violations and provide $5 million in annual assistance to countries struggling to police their own fisheries. To contend with countries that fail to comply with international fisheries conventions, Congress may consider unilateral action. The 2007 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Steven Fisheries Conservation Act called on the Commerce Department to identify noncompliant nations—unless these nations take corrective measures within two years, they face US sanctions.
  • International Science and Technology Coordination (HR 1736): The Research and Science Education Subcommittee unanimously approved legislation to create a committee for facilitating international science and technology collaboration among federal agencies. Former President Bill Clinton had previously established such a panel, but it was disbanded during the Bush administration.

Passed by Committee

  • E-waste reduction research (HR 1580): The House Science and Technology Committee unanimously passed this measure, introduced by Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), which would authorize EPA-provided grants for research into improving the efficiency of recycling and collection programs, developing less hazardous materials for manufacturing, and promoting lifecycle analyses of electronic devices. The grants would also go towards boosting public awareness of electronic waste management.
  • Water research (HR 1145): Also introduced by Gordon, this bill would coordinate and improve federal water research programs. The bill, which the Science and Technology Committee passed with a voice vote, would codify and authorize funds for an existing inter-agency Water Availability and Quality Subcommittee. For more information, see the July 28 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2008/07282008.php

Passed in the House

  • Green volunteers (HR 1388): On March 18, the House approved the Clean Energy Corps (CEC) program as part of the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education (GIVE) Act, an Obama-endorsed bill that would triple the number of AmeriCorps volunteers while increasing the educational reward for service. One of the bill’s four new programs, CEC is expected to create thousands of green volunteering opportunities, particularly for low-income and at-risk youth. These opportunities would focus on providing volunteers with skills for a green economy, and would include energy audits and retrofits, as well as community enhancement projects such as park revitalizations and climate change education. The Senate has yet to take up the companion bill, sponsored by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA).

Signed into law

  • Public Lands Omnibus: On March 30, President Obama signed into law the much-discussed Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, a bipartisan measure representing the most significant piece of conservation legislation in the last 15 years. For more information, see the March 19 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/03192009.php

SCIENCE FUNDING: ESA PARTICIPATES IN ANNUAL CNSF SCIENCE EXHIBITION

Each year, the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) hosts an exhibition and reception to showcase the work of scientists whose research is funded by the National Science Foundation. The Ecological Society of America (ESA) sponsored plant physiological ecologist Travis Huxman, of the University of Arizona, who is a member of the ESA Rapid Response Team. Huxman spent the day on the Hill, discussing the importance of science funding with his congressional delegation. At the CNSF event, Huxman presented findings on the impacts of climate change on natural ecosystems in the southwestern United States. The event featured exhibits from 34 scientists, engineers, and educators, as well as brief appearances from Science Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who spoke on the important role that scientific research will play in the country’s future. For additional information on the event, visit ESA’s blog, EcoTone, at: http://www.esa.org/esablog/?p=652


Sources: Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, Politico, American Association for the Advancement of Science Policy Alert

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