In This Issue
A continuing resolution (CR) appears increasingly likely as congressional leaders are skeptical of progress on required spending bills and energy reform legislation before its scheduled summer recess.
Only three of twelve spending bills have passed both the House and Senate. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) encourages a short CR to allow more time to move spending bills, right up to the September 30 deadline. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) refuses to publicly discuss a CR.
On Tuesday, July 12, the House of Representatives began final consideration of H.R.5538, the Interior-EPA appropriations bill. Consideration of the bill was guided by a structured rule, approved as H. Res 820, providing one hour for general debate and consideration of 131 amendments and en bloc consideration of amendments not previously offered.
Yesterday, the House plowed through 75 amendments in a ten-hour session using voice votes. They plan on completing the measure later today and taking recorded votes. “Poison pill” amendments such as one that would block the Clean Power Plan, which would regulate carbon pollution from new and existing electric power plants for the first time, prompted President Obama to issue a Statement of Policy that says he will veto the bill in its present form.
After stalling for weeks, the Senate voted yesterday (84-3) to begin conference negotiations with the House on energy reform legislation. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) met with ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to discuss plans for moving the Senate-passed bill to conference. The House-passed bill includes provisions that Senate Democrats and environmental groups argue would alter protections under the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and other laws. The provisions have prompted veto threats from the White House.
Senate Democrats had been wary of starting formal conference talks to reconcile the Senate bill, S. 2012, due to the bill’s language. Chairwoman Murkowski and Ranking Member Cantwell were able to agree on striking controversial provisions from the final bill.
“I think all you need to do is go back to the statement that was made by our House colleagues a couple weeks ago when they said it’s their intention, as it is mine, to make sure that we have an energy conference product that will be signed into law,” Murkowski told reporters. “Doesn’t make sense to throw down matters that have a veto threat attached to them.”
Both houses will adjourn this week and return in the first week of September. The House will adjourn again on September 30, the Senate on October 30. Both houses then reconvene on November 14.
Read the White House “Statement of Administration Policy” in opposition to H.R.5538, July 11.
The Army Corps has proposed two new “nationwide permits” authorizing the removal of low-head dams and the construction and maintenance of living shorelines.
Living shorelines consist of natural and man-made materials to establish and maintain marsh fringes or other living elements to reduce erosion while retaining or enhancing ecological processes. Commonly used materials include sand, wetland plants, sand fill, oyster reefs, submerged aquatic vegetation, stones and coir fiber logs. Traditional, “hard armored” shoreline protections, using rock rip-rap, stone blocks and sheet-pile, often relocate the erosion problem downdrift or to another part of the coast.
Living shorelines are suggested as a more effective protection along medium- to high-energy open-water environments, estuarine coasts, bays and rivers, as well as a method of carbon sequestration, according to Russell Callender, acting director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service.
Living shoreline solutions are proving popular along many Atlantic coastal and estuarine areas. Natural coastline protection is one technique that state agencies, federal agencies, and local governments are using to adapt to climate change impacts. In addition to more resilient coastlines, living shorelines can also provide habitat for fish and other organisms.
Nationwide permits are a type of general permit issued by the Chief of Engineers and are designed to regulate with little, if any, delay or paperwork certain activities in “jurisdictional waters and wetlands,” subject to regulation under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act or Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act, that have no more than minimal adverse environmental impacts. The proposed living shoreline permits would allow approval in as little as 45 days, rather than the current 215, longer than hard armored solutions.
The Corps’ proposal to reissue and modify nationwide permits was released on June 1 and the public comment period ending August 1, 2016. Comments on the proposed rule may be submitted through the Federal Register, Proposal To Reissue and Modify Nationwide Permits.
The presidents of the US and Mexico, and the prime minister of Canada–Obama, Nieto and Trudeau–met in Ottawa, Ontario on June 29 at the North American Leaders’ Summit, often called the “Three Amigos Summit.” In addition to trade and security initiatives, the leaders announced the “North American Climate, Clean Energy, and Environment Partnership.”
The climate-focused “action plan” builds on the previously announced continental goal of 50 percent clean power (non-carbon emitting) generation by 2025. Meeting the goal will involve clean energy development and deployment (including renewable, nuclear, and carbon capture and storage technologies), clean energy innovation (through the 20 nation Mission Innovation initiative), and improved energy efficiency.
Reducing energy demand will make it easier for clean energy to provide a larger share of energy needs. Meanwhile, innovations in energy storage and smart markets that allow for electricity demand to respond to energy prices can provide an opportunity to ease the integration of increasing quantities of renewable energy resources onto the electric grid.
The energy agreement includes a pledge to work with the International Maritime Organization, a UN agency, to curb international shipping’s greenhouse gas emissions. As it has in previous climate talks, the US backed away from decisive action, instead advocating a continued focus on data collection and evaluation before making any decisions. International shipping is estimated to contribute currently three percent of global carbon emissions and possibly rising 250 percent to 14 percent of the global total by 2050. Aviation emissions are targeted for market-based, carbon-neutral growth, working through the International Civil Aviation Organization, primarily through offsets.
Mexico joined Canada and the US in committing to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector-the world’s largest industrial methane source-40% to 45% by 2025, a goal already part of US environmental policy. Methane emissions are 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide and without additional action these emissions are expected to increase.
Other initiatives include improving and aligning appliance and equipment efficiency standards and testing; reducing industrial and commercial energy use; strengthening the reliability, resilience and security of the North American electricity grid; reducing black carbon (soot) emissions; promoting use of alternatives to certain hydrofluorocarbons; and a variety of conservation, biodiversity, migratory, social justice and indigenous peoples’ concerns.
Private emails ruled subject to FOIA requests
A three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that White House chief science adviser John Holdren’s emails are subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), even though they reside on the server of the Woods Hole Research Center, his previous employer.
A central point of contention was the Government’s assertion that documents which might otherwise be government records for FOIA purposes need not be searched for or turned over because the emails reside on a private email account. In its ruling, the Appeals Court concludes “. . . only that a current official’s mere possession of assumed agency records in a (physical or virtual) location beyond the agency’s ordinary domain, in and of itself, does not mean that the agency lacks the control necessary for a withholding.”
The FOIA lawsuit and appeal was brought by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. A coalition of 26 media groups, including the Associated Press, National Public Radio Inc., The New York Times and The Washington Post, filed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiff’s position.
Federal law requires government employees to copy work-related emails into official email accounts within 20 days. Holdren’s use of the private account for the emails in question preceded that law being enacted.
This case was closely watched by conservative groups pressing FOIA litigation related to Hillary Clinton’s emails while Secretary of State, many of which were kept on a private server.
The full text of the ruling is available on the Court of Appeals website.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Lyons defends BLM planning overhaul
House Natural Resources Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee members grilled Jim Lyons, Interior’s deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, over proposed overhaul of the Bureau of Land Management’s resource management planning process, part of the Bureau’s “Planning 2.0” initiative. The proposed planning process overhaul includes an emphasis on landscape-scale planning and curtailing public comment periods.
Republican subcommittee members and Western states’ interests fear that landscape-scale planning focus would diminish coordination local officials and with state land-use plans. The curtailed public comment periods have drawn bipartisan criticism, notably including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
Interior, and many environmental groups, defend landscape-scale planning as essential for including strong science in more efficiently and effectively managing public lands. The curtailed public comment periods are suggested as expediting review and amendment of the Bureau’s roughly 160 resource management plans, which currently can take years to complete.
Lyons attempted to dodge Subcommittee Chairman Louie Gohmert’s (R-TX) question about the Bureau’s failure to hold field hearings on the proposed rule, suggesting Bureau Director Neil Kornze as a more appropriate respondent. Gohmert exploded, “We invited Director Kornze and they sent you to answer for him!”
Ranking member Debbie Dingell (D-MI) was the only Democrat attending the hearing. She didn’t make opening remarks and left after asking only a few questions of a Colorado farmer advocating for ecosystem planning perspectives.
Near the end of the hearing, Chairman Gohmert threatened a provision blocking the planning proposal in a continuing resolution or omnibus spending package.
Public comment on the “Proposed Rule document issued by the Bureau of Land Management,”announced on February 25, closed on April 25.
ESA joined several organizations in sending correspondence to the Hill. The USGS Coalition, of which ESA is a member, sent letters on July 8 to both chambers of Congress asking for full funding for several US Geological Survey science areas in the FY 2017 Department of Interior Appropriation bills (House H.R.5538 and Senate S.3068).
As a member of the Coalition for National Science Funding, ESA also sent a statement to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on S.3084, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which authorizes funding for the National Science Foundation, an independent federal agency. The bill was marked-up and easily passed out of committee in late June with bipartisan support. While S.3084 includes a four percent increase in funding (not counting inflation) for fiscal year 2018, the statement urges a longer authorization bill that sets aspirational funding targets to inform appropriators of the resources the agency needs to accomplish its important mission.
U.S. Army Corps
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is soliciting comments for the re-issuance of the existing nationwide permits (NWPs), general conditions, and definitions, with some modifications. The Corps is also proposing to issue two new NWPs and one new general condition. The two new NWPs are for low-head dam removal and living shorelines.
Comment period ends on August 1, 2016.
Request for Public Comment
Office of Science and Technology Policy
General topics on which public comment is requested, in addition to the proposed outline, include (1) Ways to make the assessment information accessible and useful to multiple audiences; (2) the specific types of detailed information at regional scales that would be most useful; (3) suggestions for how to best describe risks and impacts, as well as potential opportunities to reduce those risks and impacts on sectors of the economy as well as natural and social systems; (4) suggestions for new approaches to topics addressed in previous assessments; and (5) suggestions regarding overarching themes that the Fourth National Climate Assessment should consider addressing.
Comment period ends July 29, 2016.
Call for Nominations
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
A call for nominees for the U.S. Delegation to the October 2016 International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting.
Nominations will close on August 26, 2016.