May 27, 2005

In This Issue

SENATE PANEL APPROVES ENERGY BILL

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the energy bill, voting 21-1 to send the measure to the Senate floor. The bill is now headed for a near-certain floor fight over climate change, renewable energy, fuel efficiency, offshore oil and gas drilling, liquefied natural gas, electricity regulations and ethanol.

Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden cast the lone vote against the bill. Wyden said after the session that his “no” vote centered on “cars, carbon and corn,” as the bill has no increase in auto fuel efficiency standards, does not directly address climate change, and provides what he considers to be unnecessary subsidies and incentives to the ethanol fuel production industry.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) had been expected to propose an amendment in committee that would allow states to petition to lift the moratorium on offshore oil and gas exploration and give states that allow offshore drilling a 50-percent stake in royalties. The royalties provision is seen as an incentive for states that do not now allow offshore drilling to reconsider their positions.

Landrieu withdrew her amendment in favor of a proposal, which the committee accepted, to establish an inventory of outer continental shelf oil and gas resources.

When the floor debate begins, Democrats are expected to raise issues that were not addressed during the markup, including proposals by committee Ranking Member Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) to impose a carbon cap-and-trade program to control greenhouse gas emissions and to include renewable sources in energy portfolios.

Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) predicted the Senate would take up the energy bill shortly after it returns from the Memorial Day recess June 6.

JUDGE TOSSES OUT SALMON RECOVERY PLAN AGAIN

A federal judge rejected the Bush administration’s strategy for protecting endangered salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers for failing to fully consider the effect of dams on the species and ordered the government to rewrite the plan for the second time in two years.

At issue was the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) 2004 biological opinion, in which the agency decided against analyzing the wide range of 14 dams’ effects on salmon because some dam operations are not discretionary and, therefore, are not under the jurisdiction of the Endangered Species Act (E.S.A.).

But Judge James Redden of the U.S. District Court for Oregon disagreed. He found only one exemption from the law: decisions of the so-called God Squad, a committee of Cabinet-level officials who can exempt projects from E.S.A. review.

“If Congress had meant to provide additional exemptions, it would have done so,” Redden says in his 58-page opinion.

According to Redden, NMFS should have also considered what it would take to recover the fish when deciding whether the dams jeopardize salmon. NMFS primarily analyzed whether the dams would degrade habitat enough to diminish salmon survival and did not take into account the larger goal of recovery. While a biological opinion is written to maintain survival, and a separate recovery plan is required to lay out how to recover the stocks, survival includes an element of recovery and the opinion should lend itself to recovery of the species, Redden wrote. In both the 1995 and 2000 opinions NMFS did work toward recovery, and the agency’s regulations and handbook on E.S.A. also call for this.

The Ecological Society of America issued comments on the NMFS’ 2004 biological opinion:

http://www.esa.org/pao/esaPositions/Letters/LetterNMFSColumbiaRiver11292004.php

SENATE GLOBAL WARMING BILLS ON THE MOVE

Several lawmakers are preparing climate change amendments for the energy bill that goes to the Senate floor in June.

Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) formally introduced a new version of their “Climate Stewardship Act,” that includes a cap-and-trade plan and new incentives for nuclear power and other technologies that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Another climate amendment will come from Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Ranking Member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Bingaman’s planned amendment would essentially codify climate recommendations of the National Commission on Energy Policy. An Energy Information Administration analysis requested by Bingaman found the commission plan would harm the economy less than other climate proposals. The commission’s proposed system would reduce emissions at a slower pace than the McCain-Lieberman bill and would advance a “safety valve” to prevent economic harm if the price of carbon credits rose too high.

RESOURCES PANEL APPROVES MARINE MAMMALS ACT

The House Resources Committee passed legislation that would reauthorize the Marine Mammals Protection Act. The watershed 1972 Marine Mammals Protection Act established a moratorium, with certain exceptions, on taking marine mammals in U.S. waters and the high seas, as well as on importing marine mammals and marine mammal products.

H.R. 2130 would add several provisions to the act and broaden its oversight for take reduction plans in fisheries. The bill would also add a $1.5 million authorization for marine mammal research grants to federal or state agencies and public or private institutions. It would authorize $1.5 million for research and development to improve fishing methods and gear to reduce bycatch.

After objections from Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV), Fisheries Subcommittee Chairman Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) pledged to examine outstanding issues such as bycatch, the definition of harassment, the relationship with the military, and research questions. “It is not a final solution,” Gilchrest said of the bill.

Gilchrest has tried to pass full reauthorizations of the act in the past, but legislation has been hung up by inability of members to agree on a definition of “harassment” caused by Navy sonar equipment, among other disputes.

Gilchrest’s bill would strike the word “commercial” in the current legislation’s fisheries take reduction language, opening it up to recreational fisheries as well.

HOUSE SCIENCE COMMITTEE PASSES NOAA MANDATE

The House Science Committee moved legislation that would codify the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for the first time, giving the agency a mission and further defining its responsibilities. The committee handily passed the measure by voice vote, along with another bill that would establish a college scholarship program for science students that agree to work at NOAA after graduation.

The NOAA Organic Act, H.R. 50, came from Environment Subcommittee Chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI). The bill defines NOAA’s mission as understanding and predicting changes in the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere, conserving and managing ocean and coastal ecosystems, and educating the public.

The legislation maintains a NOAA leadership structure similar to what currently exists, keeping the agency within the Commerce Department, with an undersecretary at the helm along with an assistant secretary of Commerce for oceans and atmosphere. The bill also would establish a deputy assistant secretary for science and technology within the NOAA leadership to oversee the agency’s wide-ranging research programs.

But while it is a NOAA Organic Act, the bill does not deal with any of the issues under the jurisdiction of the Resources Committee, most notably fisheries, coastal zone management and ocean mapping and charting. Those matters could be contentious as the legislation heads to Resources.

NOAA was created by executive order in 1970 under the Nixon administration and has been operating without a congressional mandate ever since.


Sources: Environment & Energy Daily; Greenwire; New York Times.

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