May 31, 2013

In this Issue

BUDGET SEQUESTRATION: COMMITTEE REPORT HIGHLIGHTS IMPACTS ON NATIONAL PARKS

House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Edward Markey (D-MA) recently released a report further detailing sequestration’s impacts on national parks. Noting that visitors to national parks spent about $30 billion in 2011, the report highlights several impacts it says are unavoidable. The report was released May 24, to coincide with Memorial Day weekend and the beginning of summer park visitation season.

Under budget sequestration, non-defense discretionary spending for all federal agencies is cut across all programs by five percent, leading to staff furloughs, hiring freezes as well as service cutbacks. The report details cutbacks at 23 of the 400 US parks. Several, such as Grand Canyon National Park and Glacier National Park will see reduced hours for their visitor centers. Reduced visitor hours at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia will reportedly deny access to 20,000 park visitors.

The report also concludes that most parks will offer fewer educational opportunities and other special programs to visitors. In addition, parks will have less capacity to handle emergencies, such as coping with extreme weather events,   or law-enforcement situations, such as poaching and other crimes. Park repairs, maintenance of park facilities (including rest rooms) will also be scaled back due to sequestration, the report finds.

Congress and the White House have not indicated any willingness to address budget sequestration for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013, which ends Sept. 30. It is speculated that lawmakers may wait until then to tackle the issue of comprehensive deficit reduction, which may coincide with the time when Congress will also need to raise the debt ceiling.

The temporary suspension of the debt ceiling enacted earlier this year by Congress expired on May 19. The Department of Treasury is once again enacting “extraordinary measures” and  Treasury Secretary Jack Lew asserts that the government will be able to continue borrowing at least until after Labor Day. Increased revenue intakes this calendar year, generated in part from enactment of the American Taxpayer Relief Act (P.L. 112-240), slightly extended the time frame that the US will verge on defaulting on its debt.

View the full report here:

http://democrats.naturalresources.house.gov/sites/democrats.naturalresources.house.gov/files/documents/2013-05-23_NatlParkSequesterCuts_.pdf

NOAA: SCIENCE COMMITTEE EXAMINES AGENCY WEATHER FORECASTING RESEARCH

On May 23, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on the Environment held a hearing entitled “Restoring US Leadership in Weather Forecasting.” The hearing examined legislation that intends to reprioritize research initiatives at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

A sentiment among congressional Republicans on the subcommittee is that NOAA invests too much on climate research compared to weather research. “In 2012, NOAA barely spent one-third of the resources on weather research as it did on climate research,” asserted Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT) in his opening statement. In referencing disasters such as Hurricane Sandy and the tornado that hit Oklahoma, he stated “We have seen the devastating effects that severe weather can have on this country, and this bill would establish a priority mission for all of NOAA to improve forecasts and warnings to protect lives and property.”

Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Susan Bonamici (D-OR) expressed concern that the legislation might hamper investment in NOAA’s other priorities. She pointed out that NOAA’s broad mission includes collecting weather data as well as research to help understand and anticipate ecosystem changes that may impact coastal communities. “NOAA has a sweeping mission to predict the weather, to insure healthy oceans and fisheries, to address climate mitigation and adaptation and to enhance the resilience of our coastal communities and economies,” stated Bonamici.  “To carry out all these missions requires that NOAA manage a very broad set of scientific challenges and look for ways to bring the insights of research into the daily lives of all our citizens.” 

The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act would mandate that funding at NOAA to increase investment in weather forecasting technology and weather-related activities. The bill would also call for cost-benefit analyses of various data sources, including government satellites, and seek to assess opportunities to increase access to weather data from commercial providers.

Witnesses testifying during the hearing included Barry Myers, Chief Executive Officer at Accuweather, Inc. and Jon Kirchner, President of GeoOptics, Inc. The two witnesses said that the US needs to improve its weather forecasting abilities and emphasized improving collaborations with the private sector something the proposed bill would seek to do. At Ranking Member Bonamici’s behest, she and Chairman Stewart agreed that the issue warrants a second hearing that would include representation from NOAA.

View the full hearing here:

http://science.house.gov/hearing/subcommittee-environment-hearing-restoring-us-leadership-weather-forecasting

INTERIOR: NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE LEADERS REQUEST MORE TIME TO COMMENT ON HYDRAULIC FRACTURING RULE

In a rare bipartisan effort, the top Republican and Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee issued a joint letter to the Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell requesting additional time to comment on the agency’s new draft hydraulic fracturing rule.

Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) and Ranking Member Edward Markey (D-MA) each have concerns with the rule, albeit from different ideological perspectives. Chairman Hastings views the rule as unnecessary added regulation that will have detrimental economic impacts. Ranking Member Markey criticized the rule for not going far enough in implementing environmental safeguards.

Nonetheless, the two agree the current 30-day comment period is insufficient to allow comment on the rule they view as problematic. “We jointly believe that this timeframe is unacceptable and not nearly long enough to allow the public to formulate in-depth and constructive comments on this 171 page, complicated rule. Further, the Department previously allowed 120 days for the public to comment on the original draft rule that was proposed last year,” the letter states. Consequently, they call for Interior to allow 120 days for public comment.

To view the Hastings/Markey letter, click here:

http://naturalresources.house.gov/uploadedfiles/05-21-13hastings_markeyltrtosecjewell.pdf

For additional information on the rule, see the May 17 Edition of ESA Policy News, here:

http://www.esa.org/esa/?p=7788

CBO: CARBON TAX WOULD MITIGATE IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report May 22, outlining the economic and environmental impacts of instituting a carbon tax. While CBO acknowledged uncertainties on how such a tax should be implemented, it was clear in concluding that delaying the institution a carbon tax will lead to costly damage that will grow higher with time.

“Regardless of the effect that delaying emission reductions might have on the cost of achieving lower emissions, such delays would increase the expected damage from climate change by increasing the risk of very costly, potentially even catastrophic, outcomes,” the report states. “Given the persistent nature of greenhouse gases and the dynamics of climate change, warming would continue for several decades even if emissions were quickly cut to a small fraction of their current levels. In general, the risk of costly damage is higher as the extent of warming increases and as the pace of warming picks up; thus, failing to limit emissions soon increases that risk.”

The report noted that the institution of a carbon tax would generate increased revenue and improve public health. Regarding negative economic impacts, the report concludes that it would increase the cost of fossil fuels and decrease the purchasing power of lower-income individuals due to increased prices for emission-intensive goods and services. The report maintains that the use of revenues from the tax, through such options as deficit reduction or cutting marginal tax rates, could help mitigate its economic impacts.

Republicans and some Democrats have publically opposed a carbon tax. However, senior Democrats on key House and Senate committees have long endorsed the proposal addressing climate change and protecting public health. However, clear support for such a tax does not exist, even in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Coupled with the fact that the White House has stated it is not pursuing a carbon tax as a component of tax reform or revenue increases, it is unlikely that movement on such a proposal will gain traction in the 113th Congress.

Read the full report here:

http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/44223_Carbon_0.pdf

BLM: WIND PROJECT APPROVAL ALLOWS FOR KILL OF ENDANGERED CONDOR

On May 24, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a record of decision granting final approval of the Alta East Wind Project (AEWP) in eastern Kern County, California. The record of decision includes an authorization allowing the take (injure or kill) of a California condor.

Regarding adherence to the Endangered Species Act, the decision asserts that “because of the comprehensive condor avoidance and minimization plan that the Applicant will implement as part of the AEWP, over the 30 year life of the project, ‘Project activities are reasonably likely to result in the death of no more than one condor as a result of being struck by a turbine blade,’ and therefore the BLM’s issuance of a ROW grant for the AEWP is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the California condor.” In the event a condor is killed, BLM would mandate that the project only be operated at night.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service contends sufficient measures are being taken by Alta Windpower Development, LLC, a subsidiary of Terra Gen Power, LLC to minimize risks to condor recovery efforts. Among these measures, very high-frequency equipment will be installed to alert farm-operators of the presence of condors from as much as 16 miles away. According to BLM, the detection of condors within two miles of the wind turbines would signal operators to reduce speeds to 15 miles per hour. Terra-Gen will also contribute $100,000 a year for the life of the project to the Condor Recovery Program.

For additional information, click here:

http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/ridgecrest/alta_east_wind_project.html

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 2132, the Natural Hazards Reduction Act – Introduced May 23 by House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Technology Ranking Member Frederica Wilson (D-FL), the bill would reauthorize the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program and the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program. The programs collaborate with a number of federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the United States Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to mitigate the impacts of natural disaster events. The bill has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee as well as the Natural Resources, and Transportation and Infrastructure Committees.

H.R. 2023, the Climate Change and Health Protection Act – Introduced May 16 by Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), the bill would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop a strategic plan to assist health professionals in responding to the health effects of climate change. The bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Considered by House Committee

On May 23, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power held a hearing on the following bills:

H.R. 255, the Provo River Title Transfer Act – Introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the bill would clarify language in the Provo River Title Act to enable the transfer of the Provo River Aqueduct from the Bureau of Reclamation to the Provo River Water Users Association. 

H.R. 745, the Reauthorization of the Water Desalination Act of 1996 – Introduced by Water and Power Subcommittee Ranking Member Grace Napolitano (D-CA), the bill would reauthorize through 2018, research into converting seawater to freshwater.

H.R. 1963, the Bureau of Reclamation Conduit Hydropower Development Equity and Jobs Act – Introduced by Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT), the bill would remove federal statutes that prevent irrigation districts and other nonfederal hydropower developers in Montana and other Western states from developing hydropower on 11 Bureau of Reclamation canals, ditches and conduits. 

Passed House

H.R. 3, the Northern Route Approval Act – Introduced by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE), the bill would exempt the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline from all federal permitting requirements, effectively fast-tracking approval of the project. The bill passed the House May 22 by a vote of 241-175 with 19 Democrats voting with Republicans in supporting the bill. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), a tea-party member known for frequently breaking with GOP leadership, was the only Republican not to vote yes. He voted “present” instead. A spokesman confirmed that Rep. Amash supports the pipeline, but opposes the singling out of any one company in federal legislation.

Amendments adopted include one from Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) to require TransCanada to provide an emergency response plan to governors in states the pipeline crosses through in the event of an oil spill. The amendment was adopted by voice vote. All other amendments put forward by Democrats failed. Other proposed amendments included one from Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) to prohibit approval of the pipeline until the president finds that added greenhouse gas emissions produced from the pipeline are fully offset.  Forty-seven Democrats joined all Republicans in opposing the Waxman amendment, which failed 146-269.

Introduced in Senate

S. 1054, the Gold Butte National Conservation Area Act – Introduced May 23 by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), the bill would establish a national conservation area of 350,000 acres at Gold Butte in Nevada, located between the Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument and Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. 

 


 Sources the Bakersfield Californian, Bureau of Land Management, ClimateWire, Congressional Budget Office, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee

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