In this Issue
In its last major legislative achievement before the holiday recess, Congress passed a bipartisan budget bill (H.J.Res. 59) that sets overall federal spending levels for Fiscal Year 2014 and 2015. The deal passed the House by a vote of 332-94 and the Senate 64-36. President Obama will sign the measure.
The deal allows for $1.012 trillion in federal spending for FY 2014 and $1.013 trillion for FY 2013. The bill partially relieves sequestration for defense and non-defense discretionary spending programs through fee increases and increased pension contributions for federal workers as well as extending existing mandatory spending cuts through FY 2023.
The agreement meets about half way between the House Republican proposed budget of $967 billion and the Senate proposed budget of $1.058 trillion. Total deficit reduction in the bill amounts to $85 billion, providing a $45 billion increase in federal spending FY 2014 and $20 billion in FY 2015, equally divided between defense and non-defense discretionary programs.
The budget does not allocate funding for specific government agencies and programs, which will be tackled through the appropriations process when lawmakers return in January. The existing continuing resolution to fund the government runs through Jan. 15, 2014. The agreement also does not address the debt ceiling which will need to be raised again in February. The Senate reconvenes Jan. 6 and the House returns Jan. 7 of next year.
Addition information on the agreement is available here.
On Dec. 17, the House Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) and Related Agencies Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) announced he will retire from Congress at the end of his 17th term.
The northern Virginia location of his district led Wolf to be a champion of federal workers, often breaking with his party on matters related to federal worker pay. Most recently, he penned a letter to House and Senate Budget Committee leaders urging them to stop proposing budget cuts that disproportionately impact federal workers. “I cannot, in good conscience, support a budget agreement that asks the federal workforce to once again disproportionately feel the brunt of Washington’s failure to share the pain,” wrote Wolf in a Dec. 3 letter. Rep. Wolf ultimately voted for the budget deal on Dec. 12 when it was considered on the House floor.
Wolf has also been an advocate for federal investment in science – specifically the National Science Foundation (NSF), in part out of concern for the US’s leadership in scientific discovery and innovation falling behind other countries such as China. During Chairman Wolf’s tenure, NSF has often been spared the sharp cuts several other federal agencies have endured in recent years.
While Wolf has generally been re-elected by comfortable margins, his swing congressional district is expected to be pursued by both major political parties. Republican Mitt Romney won the district by a narrow 50 percent over President Obama’s 49 percent in the 2012 presidential election.
To view the Wolf letter, click here.
On Dec. 11, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Environment held a hearing entitled “A Factual Look at the Relationship Between Climate and Weather.” Republican lawmakers held the hearing in an effort to refute the notion of a link between climate change and extreme weather events.
“Administration officials and the national media regularly use the impacts from hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, and floods to justify the need for costly climate change regulations,” asserted Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) in his opening statement. “Instead of trying to scare the American people and promote a political agenda, the administration should try to protect the lives and property of our nation’s residents from extreme weather by better weather forecasting,” Smith continued. “Politicians and others should rely on good science, not science fiction, when they discuss extreme weather.” Smith also stated that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that while some parts of the US are experiencing more drought, the reverse is occurring in other areas of the country.
Environment Subcommittee Chairwoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) countered, however, that looking broadly long-term, the IPCC and other scientific organizations agree that the world will be warmer, leading to more drought in some areas and an increase in the frequency in tropical storms in other areas. “The oceans will be warmer and that may well produce stronger or more frequent tropical storms,” stated Bonamici. “To focus only on the question of whether there will be more extreme events misses the point that by the end of this century much of the world as we know it, in our districts and states, will be considerably altered by the weather effects of climate change.”
Panelists included researchers favored by climate skeptic lawmakers who have repeatedly been called upon by Republicans to testify on climate change such as John Christy, Professor and State Climatologist, University of Alabama in Huntsville. Christy asserted that extreme weather events, while unusual are not without precedent, citing extreme droughts which occurred during the medieval period. Also testifying was Roger Pielke Jr. Professor and Director, Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Colorado. Peilke, while acknowledging man’s influence on climate change, asserted that a link between climate change and extreme weather events has not been firmly established.
The lone witness testifying on behalf of the Democrat minority members was David Titley, Director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Pennsylvania State University. Titley reinforced Bonamici’s statement that increasing ocean warming can lead to more frequent and more intense storms. “We have had for the last 36 years above normal temperatures, that is away from the center, and they are getting further and further away,” stated Titley. “A record like that is equivalent to flipping a coin and getting ‘heads’ 36 consecutive times. The chances of that happening with an un-weighted coin: 1 in 68 billion. Put another way, you are almost 400 times more likely to win the Powerball jackpot than you are to see this temperature record if the climate was not changing.”
View the full hearing here.
On Dec. 16, 89 House Democrats sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy requesting her agency expedite issuance of a rule clarifying federal jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act (CWA).
In the past decade, two Supreme Court decisions created uncertainty over the precise jurisdiction the federal government had over the nation’s waterways. Collectively, the decisions in Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. US Army Corps of Engineers and Rapanos v. the United States called into question whether wetlands and isolated intrastate waters can be included in the CWA’s definition of “navigable waters” under federal regulatory jurisdiction. The lawmakers request EPA issue a rule that clarifies federal jurisdiction over all US waterways under CWA.
“As members of the United States House of Representatives, we urge you to swiftly propose a rule to restore protections to all of our nation’s waterways,” the letter states. “For the sake of our communities and the prospects of having waterways clean enough to swim in, fish from, and drink from, we must have a rule that protects all waters of the United States under the Clean Water Act, and we need your leadership to make that vision a reality.”
The letter asserts that the lawmakers who passed the bill used the broader definition of “navigable waters” in defining federal jurisdiction over water quality protection. It also references a recent scientific report that affirms a chemical and biological link between streams and certain wetlands and larger bodies of water such as downstream rivers. Environmental advocates hope this link will help reinforce a broader interpretation of CWA jurisdiction by EPA.
On Dec. 18, the US Department of Interior announced its eight regional climate science centers are awarding $7 million to universities and other stakeholders for research into methods to help communities adapt to the various impacts of climate change. The initiative is part of President Obama’s climate action plan.
The eight climate science centers are coordinated through the National Climate Change and Wildlife Center at the United States Geological Survey headquarters. The centers will work with state governments, Indian tribes, universities and other partners to determine where research is needed.
The full list of awarded projects is available here.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a funding opportunity to advance scientific understanding of the ecological impacts associated with the use of manufactured chemicals.
As part of its Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, EPA is seeking applications to better understand the impacts manufactured chemicals have on ecosystems. This research would include study of ecological resilience and adverse impacts on biological organisms and populations, including humans. The research will be used to inform risk management practices that minimize unintended ecological consequences of chemical use.
The solicitation closing date is noon, March 4, 2014. For additional information on the initiative and how to apply, click here.
Sources: ClimateWire, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Roll Call, the Washington Post