September 27, 2013

In this Issue

APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS DEBATES SHORTTERM SPENDING MEASURE

This month, the House and Senate wrestled over a measure to temporarily fund the federal government beyond the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, 2013.

The CR does not address authorization provisions of the farm bill that also expires on Oct. 1. The most significant portions of the farm bill, however, do not expire until Jan. 1, 2014. The CR also does not address the debt ceiling, which Congress must vote to raise before Oct. 17 to extend its borrowing authority and prevent default, according to the latest estimations from the Dept. of Treasury.

This week, the Senate debated H.J.Res. 59, a bill to fund the government through Dec. 15, 2013. The bill would also restrict funding for implementation of the Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148). The bill passed the House Sept. 20 by a mostly partisan vote of 230-189. House Democrats objected to its Affordable Care Act funding restrictions as well as its funding levels, which continue post-sequestration spending levels. The House-passed bill sets an overall spending cap of $986.3 billion for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, which begins Oct. 1. The number is slightly below the $988 billion FY 2013 enacted spending cap.

 Senate Democrats are expected to coalesce around a substitute amendment to the bill proposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) with input from Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). The amendment would remove language to defund the Affordable Care Act, but retain the House-set cap of $986.3 billion for FY 2014. Senate Majority Leader Reid argued that the spending of the stopgap measure is less important than the total amount of spending set for FY 2014, noting those spending levels have been pre-set by the Budget Control Act and sequestration. The bill also differs from the House in that it shortens the deadline to Nov. 15.The deadline is intended to incentivize lawmakers to reach a deficit reduction deal that neutralizes the sequester, allowing appropriators to craft spending bills using the original higher Budget Control Act spending levels for FY 2014.

The Senate is expected to pass the amended measure by this weekend. The White House had issued a veto threat against the bill as originally passed by the House, but has indicated the president would sign the bill as amended by the Senate. House Speaker John Boehner has indicated the possibly that the House may try to amend the bill after it passes the Senate, though specifics on how are not yet known. Amending the bill would force the Senate to take up the measure again, increasing the probability that a final bill would not reach the president’s desk before Oct. 1, which would cause the federal government to shut down.

A shutdown would halt functions at all federal agencies, including science agencies such as the National Science Foundation, which would temporarily halt review of grant proposals as well as distribution of funds for existing proposals. Additional information on how the last major government shutdown impacted NSF grants is available here:

https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=100886&org=NSF&from=news

UNITED NATIONS: IPCC INCREASES CERTAINTY OF HUMAN-INDUCED CLIMATE CHANGE

On Sept. 27, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a new report asserting that it is 95 percent certain that human activities influence climate change.

The certainty expressed in the new report is an increase from the 90 percent certainty in the 2007 report and the 50 percent certainty expressed in its first assessment in 1995. The report concludes that it’s “very likely” humans have contributed to warming oceans observed since the 1970s and sea ice loss measured since 1979. It concludes that it is “extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together.”

According to the report, sea levels have risen three milliliters a year since 1993. The IPPC estimates that by the end of the century sea-levels will rise anywhere from 0.26 meters to 0.98 meters, depending on how much carbon dioxide humans emit over that period. The report expresses “high confidence” that sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been comparably larger than the rate of “the past two millennia.” The report also found that concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased to levels “unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.” It states that carbon dioxide concentrations have increased 40 percent since the pre-industrial period.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer released the following statement in reaction to the report: “The world’s leading scientists are telling us with 95 percent certainty that climate disruption is real and human activities are the primary cause. We have seen the dangerous impacts of climate change all around us – from record high temperatures in the US, to severe wildfires in California and other western states, to flooding of biblical proportions, to shrinking Arctic sea ice and rising sea levels. This landmark report underscores the importance of the Obama administration’s efforts to curb carbon pollution, and I will do everything in my power to support the administration in their efforts to address the dangerous impacts of climate disruption.”

In a press statement, Secretary of State John Kerry asserted “This isn’t a run of the mill report to be dumped in a filing cabinet. This isn’t a political document produced by politicians. It’s science. It builds on the most authoritative assessments of knowledge on climate change produced by scientists, who by profession are conservative because they must deal in what is observable, provable and reviewable by their peers. If this isn’t an alarm bell, then I don’t know what one is. If ever there were an issue that demanded greater cooperation, partnership, and committed diplomacy, this is it.”

Republicans have sought to emphasize an aspect of a report that notes global temperature increases have slowed over the 15 year period beginning in 1998. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA), Sens. James Inhofe (R-OK), Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and John Barrasso (R-WY) this week sent a letter to the US State Department accusing the Obama administration of attempting to “downplay the importance of the 15-year hiatus in global temperature increases” in the IPCC report. Climate scientists predict that heat no longer present on the surface has not disappeared, but settled in the oceans while noting that 1998 was an unusually warm year with the second strongest El Niño of the 20th century. 

A draft summary of the report is available here:

http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/uploads/WGIAR5-SPM_Approved27Sep2013.pdf

The full report is available here: http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/#.UkWkdtLBOY1

HOUSE: ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS TESTIFY ON CLIMATE ACTION PLAN

On Sept. 18, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power held a hearing on the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan. Key cabinet members Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz testified on the administration’s effort to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) made clear his skepticism of the administration’s plan. “The implementation of the president’s global warming agenda through the EPA has been holding back the economy which continues to struggle,” said Whitfield. “Since 2009, the agency has been busy imposing costly requirements on coal-fired electricity and other fossil fuels while targeting manufacturers with new regulatory burdens, only increasing (sic) to the economic uncertainty.” Chairman Whitfield expressed concern on the plan’s impact on energy prices and unemployment.

In contrast, Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) commended the Climate Action Plan, referring to climate change as “a clear and present danger” to the United States and the rest of the world. Ranking Member Waxman referenced a forum where he heard from US citizens already experiencing effects of climate change. “From California to New York and from Iowa to Texas, we heard stories of wildfires, drought, floods, sea level rise, and record temperatures,” continued Waxman. “Their accounts were moving and powerful. These extreme weather events are happening now, and they are costing lives, destroying livelihoods, eliminating jobs, and creating billion-dollar disaster relief bills.”

Energy Secretary Moniz touted his agency’s role in developing low carbon, renewable energy and clean coal technologies intended to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint. He also touted his work with Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) to invest in energy infrastructure to help increase power distribution resiliency in New Jersey in the face of hurricanes and other extreme weather events. He also touted the potential of US innovations in clean energy to benefit American business competiveness in the global economy and further renewable energy usage globally.

EPA Administrator McCarthy asserted that the successes of federal environmental initiatives over the past 40 years have proved that “environment protection and economic growth do go hand in hand.” She touted her agency’s work to inform state and tribal communities on the various on climate change and mitigate its impacts. She noted how greenhouse gas standards for automotive vehicles will save an estimated $1.7 trillion dollars for consumers and reduce US dependency on oil.  McCarthy asserted carbon rules for power plants would reflect the public commentary the agency has received over the past year. She stated EPA guidelines and regulations issued for power plants will provide guidance to states, which would have the primary role in the development and implementation of emission standards for plants in accordance with regional diversity.

View the full hearing here: http://energycommerce.house.gov/hearing/obama-administrations-climate-change-policies-and-activities

EPA: NEW CARBON STANDARDS FOR POWER PLANTS RELEASED

On Sept. 20, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled new carbon standards to cut greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants.

Under the EPA rules, large natural gas-fired plants would be limited to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour while small natural gas-fired plants and coal plants would be limited to 1,100 pounds per megawatt-hour. To accommodate the standards, new facilities would have to incorporate carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology in their construction.

While EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy states that CCS technology is feasible and currently available, coal industry groups assert the technology is not yet widely available or cost-effective and would in effect ban construction of new coal plants.  Consequently, the rules have garnered the partisan response in Congress from leaders of committees with jurisdiction over EPA that has become typical for many of the agency’s regulatory efforts.

“EPA is doubling down on its economically destructive plan to essentially end the construction of new coal-fired power plants in America,” stated House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI). “The proposed standards would require the use of expensive new technologies that are not commercially viable. We are the Saudi Arabia of coal, but this impractical rule restricts access to one of our most abundant, affordable, and dependable energy sources. The consequences will be more job losses and a weaker economy.”

House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) celebrated the proposal as a “pro-environment and pro-growth” policy.  “It sets achievable standards for new power plants that will spur innovation in clean coal technologies like carbon capture and sequestration,” said Waxman.  “And the proposal will clean up the air and make the US a world leader in advanced pollution-control technology.”

EPA is expected to release more far-reaching rules for existing power plants in June 2014.

Instructions on how to comment on the proposed standards for new plants are available here: http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/how-comment-2013-proposed-carbon-pollution-standard-new-power-plants

For more information on the proposed standards for new plants, click here:

http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards

ADVOCACY: BUSH INTERIOR OFFICIAL TAKES POLICY REINS AT NATURE CONSERVANCY

 

On Sept. 15, former Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlet began working for The Nature Conservancy as Managing Director for Public Policy. Scarlet’s service under the Department of Interior spanned most of the George W. Bush presidency.

During the Bush presidency, Scarlet served as Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget (2001-2005) before being promoted to Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer, the position she held until the end of the Bush administration. From April 1-May 26, 2006, she briefly held the position of Acting Secretary of Interior in the brief window period between when former Interior Secretary Gale Norton stepped down and Dirk Kempthorne was appointed as her successor.

Prior to joining Interior, she worked for over 15 years at the Reason Foundation, a right-wing libertarian organization that defines itself as an organization that “advances a free society by developing, applying, and promoting libertarian principles, including individual liberty, free markets, and the rule of law.” After leaving the government in early 2009, Scarlet joined the non-profit Resources for the Future (RFF). At RFF, she served as Co-Director of its Center for Management and Ecological Wealth. RFF supports clean energy initiatives, but has been critical of carbon and energy taxes as well as much of the Obama administration’s attempts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

The Conservancy hopes Scarlet’s experience working to find market-based solutions to environmental problems and incentives for conservation efforts will increase their palpability with a Congress in which Republicans control the US House of Representatives. While the Department of Interior often clashed with environmentalists during her tenure there, Scarlet herself has proven capable of working along bipartisan lines. She worked with the Environmental Defense Fund on several papers, including one promoting ecosystem restoration in cities and rural areas. Earlier this year, she teamed with former Rep. Norman Dicks (D-WA) in authoring an op-ed supporting renewal of a 2006 law that increased tax incentives to conserve land.

During her time with Interior, she also chaired the agency’s climate change task force and acknowledges that climate change is a serious issue. “There is plenty of room for debate along the spectrum of policy about just where the nation ought to land,” she stated in a 2011 interview with the University of Vermont. “But I do think the nation ought to take the problem seriously, including at the federal level — and think about how we can drive those greenhouse emissions down.”

To view the full release from The Nature Conservancy, click here:

http://www.nature.org/newsfeatures/pressreleases/former-deputy-secretary-of-the-interior-lynn-scarlett-to-lead-the-nature-con.xml

Scarlet’s 2011 interview with the University of Vermont on climate policy is available here: http://www.uvm.edu/~uvmpr/?Page=news&storyID=12343

CLIMATE: BOXER LAUDS BUSH CENTER WITH ENVIRONMENTAL AWARD

On Sept. 23, Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) presented the Climate Hero Award to the George W. Bush Presidential Center Library for its achievements in renewable energy and energy conservation.

The Bush library earned the recognition through its platinum rating for new construction under the US Green building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. LEED platinum certification is awarded for achievement in green building design, construction, maintenance and operation. The library uses locally sourced materials and has used native plants in planting nearly 1,000 trees on-site. The trees are watered with rainwater collected in a 252,000 gallon irrigation cistern.

On hand to receive the award was former First Lady Laura Bush. The William J. Presidential Center in Little Rock, AR. will receive the Climate Hero Award for existing construction at a later date. 

The Climate Hero Award was established by the Sen. Climate Change Clearinghouse, co-chaired by EPW Committee Chairwoman Boxer, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA). According to the EPW Committee, the award honors leadership by “individuals, state and local governments, organizations, and other institutions that make significant strides in energy conservation, use of renewable energy technology, and reductions in carbon pollution.”

SCIENCE: GOLDEN GOOSE AWARDS SPOTLIGHT UNCONVENTIONAL DISCOVERIES

The second annual Golden Goose awards highlighted seemingly odd or frivolous scientific research projects funded by the government that led to applied breakthroughs and discoveries that benefited society.

This year’s six awardees included John Eng, a medical researcher whose study of Gila monster venom led to a drug used to treat diabetics for various health ailments. Indiana University microbiologists Thomas Brock and Husdon Freeze were awarded for their discovery of a heat-resistant microorganism at Yellowstone National Park that aided breakthroughs in the understanding the human genome.

David Gale (posthumous recipient), Lloyd Shapley, and Alvin Roth were awarded for developing an algorithm to help in matching people romantically that has, since its discovery, been applied to various markets, including real estate and public school systems. 

The Golden Goose awards are a collaborative effort spearheaded by a coalition of scientific societies, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association of American Universities. The idea was conceived by Congressman Jim Cooper (D-TN) as a way to inform policymakers and the general public of the importance of continuing to fund basic research.

To view the Golden Goose awards press release, click here:

http://www.goldengooseaward.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Golden-Goose-Awards-Ceremony-Honors-Six-Researchers-9-19-13.pdf

WILDLIFE: ESA SIGNS LETTER OF SUPPORT FOR CONSERVATION PROGRAMS

On Sept. 17, the Ecological Society of America joined with the Teaming With Wildlife Coalition on a letter signed by over 800 national and state conservation organizations to key House and Senate appropriators requesting support for wildlife and habitat conservation grants.

The letter comes in response to the House Appropriations Committee proposal to zero out funding for a number of critical conservation programs in Fiscal Year 2014, including the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Fund and the Forest Legacy Program. The letter notes that fish and wildlife recreational activities have contributed over $150 billion to the US economy in 2011 and highlights the various ecosystem services these programs protect.

The letter also notes that these programs have already been cut by more than 25 percent in recent years. “Continued disproportionate cuts in the current budget under consideration will further rollback conservation work that serves the national interests of fish and wildlife conservation, creation of non-exportable jobs and delivery of essential services such as clean water and air and storm protection to current and future generations,” the letter notes.

To view the full letter, click here: http://www.esa.org/esa/?post_type=document&p=9413

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 3139, to amend the Chesapeake Bay Initiative Act of 1998 to provide for the reauthorization of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network – Introduced Sept. 19 by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), the bill would reauthorize a system that includes 2,000 miles of existing and developing water trails across the District of Columbia and six states in the Chesapeake region.  The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

Approved by House Committee

H.R. 3084, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act – Introduced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), Committee Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV), Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-OH) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Tim Bishop (D-NY), the bill authorizes the US Army Corps of Engineers to carry out various water infrastructure development, flood control and environmental restoration projects.

Conservation groups have raised concern regarding the bill’s environmental streamlining provisions, which expedite the Army Corps. Review process. There has been little motivation by Members, however, to remove the provisions, given that they have support from leaders of both parties, including Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA).  The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unanimously approved the bill Sept. 19.

Passed House

H.R. 761, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), the bill would reform the permitting process for hardrock mines by setting new deadlines for environmental review processes and allowing waivers for National Environmental Policy Act reviews under certain circumstances. The bill achieves its environmental review hurdles largely by broadening the definition of “strategic and critical” minerals to include most types of mineral development on public land and defining mine projects as “infrastructure” projects to reduce permitting time. The bill passed the House Sept. 18 by a vote of 246-178. Fifteen Democrats joined all Republicans in supporting the bill.

The Obama administration issued a veto threat against the bill. View the White House Statement of Administration Policy here:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/legislative/sap/113/saphr761r_20130709.pdf

H.R. 1526, the Restoring Healthy Forests and Healthy Communities Act – Introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill seeks to increase timber harvests and reduce wildfires. Environmental groups and the White House opposed the bill due to its restrictions on federal environmental reviews. In issuing a veto threat against the bill, the White House stated the bill would “significantly harm sound long-term management of these federal lands for continued productivity and economic benefit as well as for the long-term health of the wildlife and ecological values sustained by these holdings.” The bill passed the House Sept. 20 by a vote of 230-189. Seventeen Democrats joined all but one Republican in supporting the bill.

The full White House statement of administration policy on H.R. 1526 is viewable here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/legislative/sap/113/saphr1526r_20130918.pdf

Introduced in Senate

S. 1505, the Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Sport Shooting Protection Act – Introduced Sept. 17 by Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the bill amends the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to exclude bullets and related hunting gear from the law’s definition of a “chemical substance.” The bill would effectively prohibit the US Environmental Protection Agency from regulating bullets and fishing equipment, and charge state fish and game agencies as well as the US Fish and Wildlife Service with such responsibilities. Companion legislation (H.R. 322) has been introduced in the House by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL).

S. 1520, the York River Wild and Scenic River Study Act – Introduced Sept. 19 by Sen. Agnus King (I-ME), the bill would designate segments of the York River in Maine and associated tributaries for study for potential inclusion in the federally protected National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

S. 1550, the Battlefield Excellence through Superior Training (BEST) Practices Act – Introduced Sept. 25 by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the bill would require the Department of Defense to phase out the use of live animals in medical training. The bill has been referred to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House by Reps. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA). 


 Sources American Association for the Advancement of Science, Association of American Universities, ClimateWire, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Nature Conservancy, POLITICO, Roll Call, Senate Environment and Public Works, Committee, Teaming With Wildlife Coalition, US Department of State, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House

 

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