In this Issue
Congress returned this week with votes planned on legislation to authorize military force against Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons as well as a bill to a continuing resolution (CR) to temporarily fund the government while Congress negotiates an agreement on government program spending levels for Fiscal Year 2014, which begins October 1. While diplomatic breakthroughs abroad postponed the Syria vote, partisan breakdowns and internal strife among the Republican conference has put the CR in jeopardy.
This week, the House introduced a CR to provide government funding through Dec. 15, 2013. With an overall spending level of $988 billion, the funding level in the initial proposal was slightly less than the current post-sequester spending levels, costing it the support of the House Democratic caucus. However, the bill also ultimately lacked the support of a majority of the Republican conference as many GOP members stated they were unlikely to support a CR that does not fully defund the Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148), also known as “Obamacare.”
In attempt to appease tea party Republicans, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) sought to also hold a vote on a concurrent resolution to force the Senate to vote to defund the Affordable Care Act in FY 2014. Conservative advocacy groups complained that this effort does not go far enough in that the Senate could easily block the concurrent resolution while allowing the CR to pass. These organizations, which include Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, lambasted the Affordable Care Act defunding resolution as a political gimmick. House Republican leaders originally planned to vote on the legislation this week, but are now postponing a vote until next week in an effort to negotiate an agreement that can win a majority in the House. Leader Cantor also announced the House may cancel its scheduled district work period for the week of Sept. 23 if a deal on the CR is not reached in the near future.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has repeatedly warned fellow Republicans that a government shutdown could harm the GOP politically. With a slimmer House majority than Republicans enjoyed during the 112th Congress, Speaker Boehner cannot afford much more than a dozen GOP defections on legislation relying solely on a Republican majority for passage. Given that Speaker Boehner has pledged not to take up bills that are not supported by the majority of his conference, passing the House and reaching agreement with the Democratic-controlled Senate on the CR and all remaining must-pass legislation while adhering to this pledge is a tough (if not impossible) slog. It is doubtful whether a CR or omnibus spending bill can pass the House with Republican support alone without including legislation to defund or repeal President Obama’s healthcare law.
Consequently, if Speaker Boehner cannot muster sufficient GOP support, passage of the CR will ultimately depend on how many Democrats vote in favor of it. Collectively, House Democrats are unlikely to support a funding bill that reduces or continues sequester-level spending for non-defense discretionary spending programs. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) has indicated she would prefer passage of a tempory CR that would allow ample time to negotiate an omnibus spending bill that Congress could pass shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Speaker Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) all met the morning of Sept. 12 to begin negotiations on a fiscal matters pertaining to FY 2014 spending and the debt ceiling, set to be reached in mid-October. While there was a consensus that the meeting was cordial, Republicans affirmed that there could be no tax hikes in any fiscal deal and asserted that Congress needs to tackle fiscal issues related to the retirement of the baby boom generation (mandatory spending). Democrats in turn iterated that they will not support any bill to defund or repeal the Affordable Care Act while reaffirming the president’s position that he will not negotiate over increasing the debt limit. Speaker Boehner noted during the meeting that most major deficit reduction deals between Congress and the president were reached amid negotiations surrounding the debt limit.
At the beginning of the week, the House was set to vote on H.R. 1891, the Science Laureates of the United States Act of 2013, until conservative groups got wind of the measure.
The bill would allow the president to appoint a Science Laureate of the United States. Modeled after the Library of Congress’s Poet Laureate, the appointed individual with nationally renowned science expertise would travel the country to inspire young people to pursue careers in science. The bipartisan lead House sponsors of the bill include Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), who issued an enthusiastic press statement May 9 on the science committee’s website when the bill was first introduced:
“Scientific discovery fuels the innovation that keeps our economy strong. I am happy to be an original cosponsor of bipartisan legislation that for the first time creates a national spokesman for science,” read Chairman Smith’s statement. “An effective Science Laureate will not only be an accomplished scientist, but a role model who inspires students to pursue advanced degrees in science, math and engineering. To remain the world leader in a high-tech global marketplace, we must continue to inspire the innovators of tomorrow,” he continued.
The bill was scheduled to be considered Sept. 10 under suspension of the rules, a legislative maneuver typically used for bipartisan legislation that limits debate and amendments, allowing for swift passage. Upon learning that the bill was up this week, right-wing groups such as the American Conservative Union viewed the bill through a political lens. The organizations feared President Obama would appoint a scientist who would push a “liberal” climate change agenda, despite the fact that the bill as written is not exclusively meant to highlight a climate scientist and was pushed by the non-partisan National Academy of Sciences.
Nonetheless, fears among conservative advocacy groups that the legislation would allow the president to appoint a polarizing figure such as James Hansen, led to the groups sending last-minute correspondence to Republican offices on Sept. 9, urging that they vote against the bill. Given that House bills considered under suspension of the rules require a two-thirds majority for passage, House Republican leaders elected to pull the bill rather than risk it failing. Chairman Smith has now decided to move forward with a committee mark-up of the legislation in the near future that would allow time for Members of Congress to debate and amend the bill.
That the once-seemingly non-partisan measure is now deemed controversial underscores the changed political climate where elements of the conservative movement are increasingly suspicious of scientific research being tainted with partisan agendas, particularly government-sponsored research. However, it also plays into the sentiment of liberal Democrats that far-right conservatives simply don’t trust or are out of touch with science and scientific processes in general.
Last week, the Ecological Society of America issued an action alert encouraging its members to contact their representatives to support several key conservation programs as a new farm bill is negotiated.
The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-234) expired in 2012. Congress and the White House enacted a temporary extension of most farm bill programs, which expires Sept. 30, 2013. The extension did not include conservation programs. While the Senate has passed legislation to reauthorize a number of critical environmental programs, the House-passed alternative either severely curtails or zeroes out funding for these programs.
ESA’s action alert to members highlighted critical conservation provisions included in the Senate bill, including:
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Reserve Program. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program gives financial assistance to farmers who implement conservation practices that preserve natural resources and ecosystems and save energy. The Conservation Reserve Program is a rental-payment program that provides farmers with incentives to remove environmentally-sensitive land from agricultural production to preserve water, soil quality and wildlife habitat.
The Senate bill’s conservation compliance provisions. Unlike the House bill, the Senate bill includes a provision requiring that farmers comply with basic conservation requirements in order to receive federal subsidies for crop insurance.
The Senate bill’s bipartisan sodsaver provision. The sodsaver provision was originally added at the committee level as an amendment by Sens. John Thune (R-SD), Mike Johanns (R-NE) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). The provision preserves native prairie through various subsidy reduction measures intended to discourage farmers from agricultural production on native grasslands.
According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the reforms in the Senate farm bill cut $12.9 billion in spending over the next 10 years. The above measures help farmers, sustain valuable agricultural production, create wildlife habitat and improve the water quality in our rural communities and beyond.
To contact your US representative, click here: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/
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A report released from the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society has found a link between human-caused climate change and half of the twelve extreme weather events that occurred in calendar year 2012. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists took the lead in editing the report.
The peer-reviewed report, written by 78 scientists from 11 countries around the world, found human influences on heat waves and storm surges that increased the probability of extreme weather events such as Hurricane Sandy. The report also found evidence linking human-influenced climate change to reduced arctic sea ice and increases in extreme rainfall in different parts of the globe. The report likened human-induced climate change and its capability to increase extreme weather events to a driver’s speeding increasing his or her likelihood of having an accident.
The report concludes that communities need to better understand how and to what degree science can be used to attribute extreme events to human activity in order to properly implement climate adaption activities. “To return to the opening analogy, this means answering the question of how the change in the driver’s speed was responsible for changing the odds of colliding with a texting driver on a wet road, which would be the extreme event we are trying to attribute.”
The report was edited by Thomas Peterson, principal scientist at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC); Martin Hoerling, NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory; Stephanie C. Herring, NCDC; and Peter Stott, UK Met Office Hadley Centre. For additional information on the report, click here:
On Sept. 11, the Environmental Protection Agency announced its 2013 awardees for its Environmental Justice Small Grants program. The $1.1 million in grant funding will go to 39 non-profit and tribal organizations to help address health and environmental issues in low-income, minority and tribal communities.
Since 1994, the Environmental Justice Small Grants program has awarded over $24 million to over 1400 community-based organizations to address a wide range of environmental health concerns such as air and water pollution, pesticide use and brownfield-related contamination. EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice works with local recipients to build self-sustaining community partnerships that address issues related to public health and the environment.
Eligible organizations include the following:
- Incorporated, non-profit, community-based organizations, including environmental justice networks, faith based organizations and those affiliated with religious institutions.
- Federally recognized tribal governments.
- Tribal organizations.
A full list of 2013 Environmental Justice Small Grant recipients is available here:
Additional information on the program is available here:
On Sept. 4, the US Fish and Wildlife Service extended the comment period for its proposal to remove the gray wolf (Canis lupus) from protection under the Endangered Species Act. The new deadline is October 28, 2013.
Some environmental groups have argued that the proposed delisting is premature. The contention is that there are numerous areas of the United States historically populated by wolves and still suitable for them that have yet to see a return of wolves. “The federal government is essentially turning its back on Americans who want to see thriving wolf populations restored to their states,” asserted Defenders of Wildlife President Jamie Rappaport Clark. “There is still much work to be done to ensure that wolves are able to return to western Colorado, northern California and Washington’s Olympic peninsula – places that have excellent habitat but no wolves.”
FWS argues that returning the gray wolf to all of its prior historical range is not necessary to ensure sustained recovery of the species. The agency is planning several hearings on the delisting in coming weeks in Albuquerque, NM, Sacramento, CA and Washington, DC.
The public comment period also allows for consideration of a proposal to expand protections for the Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) in the US Southwest. The proposal would expand the recovery area for the wolves and allow their release into New Mexico.
For additional information, click here: http://www.fws.gov/graywolfrecovery062013.html
On Sept. 10, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced it has proposed listing the southern white rhinoceros as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act.
The white rhinoceros is the fifth and final species of rhino to garner full federal protection under the law. The black, Sumatran, Indian and Javan rhinos are already listed as “endangered” under the Act. A subspecies of white rhino, the northern white rhino had garnered an endangered listing, but is now believed to be extinct in the wild.
Rhino hunting reached unprecedented levels in 2012 with 668 rhinos poached that year and 446 rhinos killed in the first six months of 2013, according to FWS. The animals are sought for their horns, which some local cultures believe are capable of curing diseases.
Comments on the draft rule can be made the following ways:
- Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. FWS–HQ–ES–2013–0055.
- US mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: [FWS–HQ–ES–2013–0055]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; US Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
Comments must be received by October 11, 2013. For additional information on the proposed listing, click here: http://www.fws.gov/rhino-conservation-2013.html
Introduced in House
H.R. 3064, the Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2013 – Introduced by House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), the bill would establish scientific standards and protocols across forensic disciplines for the purpose of deterring wrongful convictions.
H.R. 3084, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act – Introduced Sept. 11 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 bipartisan bill authorizes the US Army Corps of Engineers to carry out various water infrastructure development, flood control and environmental restoration projects. The Senate passed its own bipartisan bill on May 15. If enacted, the legislation would be the first Water Resources Development Act signed into law since 2007.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) praised the House for acting and urged the body to move swiftly in passing its bill so that a conference report can be agreed upon and sent to the president.
S. 130, the Powell Shooting Range Land Conveyance Act – Introduced by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), the bill conveys about 322 acres of federal lands to the Powell Recreation District in Wyoming for a shooting range. The bill passed the House by a vote of 408-1 on Sept. 10 after passing the Senate in June and has been sent to the White House. The sole member to oppose the bill was Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC).
S. 157, the Denali National Park Improvement Act – Introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the bill would facilitate a small hydroelectric project in Denali National Park to supplant use of diesel fuel and allow a natural gas pipeline along an existing utility corridor. The bill passed the House Sept. 10 by voice vote after passing the Senate by unanimous consent in June and has been sent to the White House.
S. 304, the Natchez Trace Parkway Land Conveyance Act of 2013 – Introduced by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), the bill would convey two parcels of parklands totaling 67 acres to the state of Mississippi for public recreational purposes. The bill passed the House on Sept. 10 by a vote of 419-1 after passing the Senate by unanimous consent in June and has been sent to the White House. The sole member to oppose the bill was Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI).
S. 459, the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Boundary Modification Act – Introduced by Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD), the bill would transfer roughly 28.65 acres of Forest Service land to the National Park Service to construct a visitor facility and provide parking at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota. The bill passed the House by a vote of 414-5 Sept. 10 after passing the Senate by unanimous consent in June and has been sent to the White House.
Considered by Senate Committee
On Sept. 10, the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing on several water rights bills:
S. 1219, the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians Water Rights Settlement Act – Introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the bill would settle water rights claims for the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians of the Santa Margarita Valley.
S. 1447, to make technical corrections to certain Native American water rights settlements in the State of New Mexico – Introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), the bill would clarify various water rights settlements for the Taos Pueblo, Navajo and other tribes.
S. 1448, the Spokane Tribe of Indians of the Spokane Reservation Equitable Compensation Act – Introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the bill would establish a fund to compensate the Spokane Tribe of Indians for hydropower generated from the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state.
Considered on Senate floor
S. 1392, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act – Introduced by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH), the comprehensive renewable energy bill includes provisions to strengthen building codes to make homes and commercial buildings more energy efficient and directs the Department of Energy to work with the private sector to invest in energy-efficiency research and technology. The bill has backing from environmentalists as well as the business community, but is opposed by the Heritage Foundation, which objects to the federal mandates and incentives in the bill in favor of a “free market” approach. The Senate began consideration of the measure on Sept. 11. Senate Republicans have slowed the bill’s progress by introducing a wide array of amendments, ranging from attempts to prevent the Obama administration from instituting carbon limits for power plants to an amendment that would delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148).
The White House released a statement endorsing the bill: “This bipartisan legislation would codify and enhance existing Federal programs, further supporting successful efforts to reduce energy waste through building energy codes and industrial energy efficiency programs and by identifying efficiency opportunities in federal buildings. S. 1392 complements key energy efficiency dimensions of the president’s Climate Action Plan that will work to cut carbon pollution and begin to slow the effects of climate change, so that we can leave a cleaner and more stable environment for future generations.”
Sources: ClimateWire, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Roll Call, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House