September 30, 2005

In This Issue

HOUSE PASSES MAJOR REWRITE OF ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT

By a vote of 229 to 193, the House passed a bill that would make the biggest changes to the Endangered Species Act since its passage 32 years ago — substituting many of the law’s mandatory programs with voluntary measures.

The bill would require the government to compensate property owners if measures to protect species thwart development plans. It would also give agency heads the power to set criteria for scientific data and eliminate the existing Endangered Species Act’s “critical habitat” provisions, which require the Fish and Wildlife Service to designate land where development is restricted for each listed species. Critical habitat has been one of the more contentious areas of the Act and its chief source of litigation. The new proposal replaces that requirement with non-binding recovery plans, which include an option for including habitat.

The changes were pushed through by House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-CA). The California rancher contends that the current rules unduly burden landowners and lead to costly lawsuits while doing too little to save plants and animals. Pombo claims that in addition to inhibiting the use of property, the Act has not done enough to recover protected species.

But critics say the proposal would provide more assurances for landowners than for the plants and animals in question. Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and six other House members proposed a substitute amendment to the bill that would have kept the overall structure of Pombo’s revisions but thrown out the landowner payments and added enforcement behind the recovery plans. Their proposal was turned down in a tight vote, 216-206.

The rewrite faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where many Senators have expressed concerns about the House bill. However, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, which has oversight of the measure, welcomed the House bill and vowed to work to move Endangered Species Act legislation through his chamber this year.

POST-HURRICANE ENERGY PACKAGE HEADS TO HOUSE FLOOR

The House Energy and Commerce Committee completed work on a post-hurricane energy package aimed at expanding refining capacity through regulatory incentives and changes to the Clean Air Act. The panel’s approval of H.R. 3893 sets the stage for full House passage of the legislation.

Aside from the refinery provisions, the bill reduces the number of automotive fuel blends to six, establishes siting procedures for oil pipeline construction, and makes the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the repository of market and operational information for offshore natural gas pipeline gathering systems.

The bill also essentially eliminates a key Clean Air Act permitting program for U.S. industries known as New Source Review, drawing sharp criticism from the Senate. Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-VT), Ranking Member on the Environment and Public Works committee, said he would strongly oppose the bill if it comes to the Senate with language that nullifies the Environmental Protection Agency’s New Source Review program.

The Energy and Commerce Committee plan is one component of energy legislation that House Republicans plan to debate in the coming weeks. The House Resources Committee separately voted, 27-16, on Wednesday to finalize an energy package promoting drilling. The Resources panel’s bill would immediately lift a longtime ban on offshore natural gas drilling, despite opposition from Florida and California that drilling could foul beaches and harm tourism. It would also open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and offer incentives for oil shale.

BUSH ADMIN FLOATS MAGNUSON-STEVENS PROPOSAL

The Bush administration unveiled its plan to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 30-year-old bill that forms the basis for the nation’s ocean fisheries management. The proposal marks the first proposal in what is expected to be a complex and somewhat controversial process of attempting to reauthorize the Act.

The bill’s funding authorization expired five years ago, and the Chairmen of the House and Senate committees with authority over the Act have placed reauthorizing it among their top priorities.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) and House Fisheries Subcommittee Chairman Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) have both said they would like to introduce their own bills.

The proposal adds new requirements for consideration of the potential social and economic effects of fishery management decisions and seeks to streamline how the Act works with the National Environmental Policy Act. It also encourages, but does not require, management decisions to be made on an ecosystem level. It ramps up the use of market-based mechanisms and creates a registry for saltwater recreational fishers, so officials can be more aware of their involvement in the fishery.

Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), Co-Chair of the House Oceans Caucus, criticized the proposal for not including some of the measures recommended from the Commission on Ocean Policy — including separate scientific advisory panels, expanded membership in the regional fishery councils and mandatory training for council members. Further, he said the proposal would allow overfishing to continue for at least two extra years.

EPA KEEPS STATUS QUO NOX STANDARD FOR PARKS, ATTAINMENT AREAS

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will leave in place its current suite of rules to control haze and acid-rain forming emissions in national parks and other areas where the air quality already meets federal standards.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson signed a final rule maintaining existing air permitting rules for nitrogen oxides (NOx), a component of smog and acid deposition. “EPA has found that the program is working and that no change is necessary,” the agency said. EPA also agreed in its final rule to allow states to adopt their own NOx control strategies so long as they are as strong as federal guidelines.

Environmental groups have been urging EPA for some 15 years to issue the “Prevention of Significant Deterioration” (PSD) rules, which were designed by Congress to keep both new and existing industrial plants from sending out emissions that push an otherwise clean area beyond federal air quality thresholds.

EPA last set PSD standards for NOx in 1988, though the advocacy group Environmental Defense successfully had the rules overturned by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The agency had not responded to that opinion until now.

Critics contend that by keeping the status quo, EPA is ignoring calls by the National Academy of Sciences and others to address worsening ozone and nitrate levels over the past decade in many national parks and other wilderness areas, including Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah national parks.

BLAIR SAYS NUCLEAR INDUSTRY COULD HELP TO COMBAT CLIMATE CHANGE

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that his country will consider “all options” in its efforts to slow climate change, the British government’s clearest signal to date that it may expand nuclear power.
In a speech to a Labour Party conference, Blair referred explicitly to nuclear power as having more benefits than other alternative energy sources.

Blair’s Government is to hold a full review of nuclear power and renewable energy sources – including clean coal – next year.

Malcolm Wicks, the Energy Minister, said that it would be “more difficult” for Britain to meet its targets on cutting carbon emissions without nuclear power.

“I think, in principle, we can meet our climate change targets without going down the nuclear route but it would be more difficult,” Mr. Wicks said. “I think it would help us tackle our challenge of climate change, all things being equal. But there is no silver bullet.”

Mr. Wicks is to lead the review into energy sources that will examine the cost of nuclear power and the role it can play in securing future energy supplies and tackling climate change.

The nuclear issue has divided Blair’s cabinet, with Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, expressing concern that the question of how to deal with tons of nuclear waste has yet to be resolved. Others have raised fears that expanding nuclear energy could encourage nuclear proliferation worldwide.


Sources: Environment and Energy Daily; Greenwire; Reuters; The Independent; Washington Post

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