In This Issue
After an extended period of partisan gridlock, Congress on Jan. 1 passed legislation to address “the fiscal cliff.” The term applied largely to automatic cuts to federal agencies that were set to kick in this month as well as a number of tax cuts and credits that were to expire Dec. 31, 2012.
The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 punts action on the sequestration (the automatic cuts to military and non-defense discretionary spending) by two months into March. This is paid for with $24 billion in offsets, half by lowering caps on overall defense and non-defense discretionary spending by $12 billion for the next two years and the other half by revenue changes to Individual Retirement Accounts that raise $12 billion in revenue. The bill makes permanent the Bush tax cuts for individuals making under $400,000 and families making under $450,000. It also permanently fixes the Alternative Minimum Tax by indexing for inflation, delays Medicare physician payment cuts for a year and extends unemployment benefits for a year in addition to extending other tax provisions.
A wind energy tax credit is also extended for a full year under the agreement. Inclusion of the provision is a defeat for conservative groups who had cast the incentive as undue federal intervention in energy markets. The credit is intended to provide more certainty to wind developers. The number of new wind projects fell sharply the last time the credit was allowed to expire in 2004. The credit had bipartisan support from the Senate Finance Committee, including Chuck Grassley (R-IA) who subsequently clarified that in spite of his support for the wind energy tax credit he voted against the Taxpayer Relief Act because it lacked spending cuts.
The new law also includes a nine-month extension of the farm bill for several key provisions, including one to prevent milk prices from rising substantially. However, the law lacks an extension of mandatory funding for energy programs, its conservation title or research into organic crops, according to Senate leaders. The Senate approved a farm bill last June by a bipartisan vote of 64-35, which was not taken up by the House. The House passed its own bill at the committee level but it was never considered on the floor. House Republican leaders contended the House bill did not have enough votes for passage while objecting politically to certain programs and funding levels in the Senate bill.
The compromise bill, negotiated primarily by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), passed the Senate early morning on Jan. 1 89-9 and the House late that evening by a vote of 257-167. House Democrats overwhelming joined Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in supporting the bill 172-16. All key members of the leadership, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Assistant Leader James Clyburn (D-SC) and Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-CA) all voted with Pelosi. The sixteen Democrats in opposition were an odd amalgam of members who believe the legislation was not liberal enough and conservative Democrats who felt the legislation did not do enough to address the debt.
Meanwhile, the House’s top two Republicans were on opposite sides of the legislation with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) voting for the bill while Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) voted against it. This division led to a much more pronounced split among the House Republican conference with 151 Republicans joining Cantor in opposing the bill and 85 supporting it. Supporters, nonetheless, included several prominent committee chairs, including Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY), Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). At the same time, Cantor was joined by Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and leadership team members Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX).
While the fiscal deal resolves much of the immediate economic uncertainty related to taxes, the federal spending aspects of the fiscal cliff have yet to be resolved.
Important Upcoming deadlines:
- Sequestration – Across-the-board cuts of eight percent to all federal agencies have been delayed to now go into effect on March 1 unless Congress can come up with a plan to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion.
- Debt ceiling - A deal on budget sequestration may now have to include provisions to address the federal debt limit. The existing spending limit was reached Dec. 31, but the US Department of Treasury has enacted “extraordinary measures” that will extend the federal government’s borrowing authority until roughly late February or early March, basically around the same time that legislation to address sequestration would be needed. Congressional Republicans are vowing to ensure that any increase in the debt limit be tied to significant cuts in federal spending.
- FY 2013 appropriations - Fiscal Year 2013 appropriations must also be addressed. The Continuing Resolution to fund the government will run out March 27. Ergo, Congress must pass a new appropriations bill before then to prevent or forestall a government shutdown.
Amid bipartisan consternation that the 112th Congress did not pass disaster relief before it adjourned, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) held a vote this week on the first of several bills to provide federal assistance to areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. The bill constitutes the first major piece of legislation to pass the 113th Congress, which convened Thursday, Jan. 3.
Last month, the Senate had passed a more comprehensive $60.4 billion Sandy bill by a vote of 62-32, but House members objected to its price tag. There is speculation that, from a political standpoint, Speaker Boehner felt it would be unwise to ask his conference to vote on such a massive funding bill so soon after passing the Senate fiscal cliff compromise, which included tax increases and no significant spending cuts. However, this week, the speaker announced that the House would take up Sandy relief legislation. The timely turnaround is partially attributable to vocal criticism from prominent Northeast Republicans, including Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) and Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who threatened to withhold voting to re-elect Boehner as Speaker of the House this week if the House did not act.
On Jan. 4, the House passed H.R. 41, a bill to provide $9.7 billion in additional borrowing authority for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The program is expected to reach its ceiling between Jan. 7-9, 2013. Borrowing authority for NFIP is currently capped at $20.725 billion. The additional funds will help the Federal Emergency Management Agency pay flood insurance claims related to Hurricane Sandy. The increase was included in the comprehensive Senate bill. The bill passed the House by a vote of 354-67. All 67 opposing votes came from Republicans, somewhat validating Speaker Boehner’s trepidation in taking up a comprehensive funding bill for Sandy relief in the House. The Senate is expected to pass its bill by unanimous consent.
H.R. 41 was opposed by conservative groups such as the Club for Growth, which opposed expanding federal government involvement in flood insurance. NFIP advocates claim the program is necessary because the private marketplace will not offer affordable flood protection to the public.
This bill will be followed by $50 billion in disaster relief legislation the week of Jan. 15, after the House returns from a one week recess. It is expected that House leaders will break up the later $50 billion in targeted Sandy relief legislation into two parts in accordance with a proposal from House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rodgers (R-KY). The first bill is expected to provide roughly $18 billion to address more immediate recovery needs. A second more controversial bill will provide $33 billion for more long-term mitigation projects such as transportation and infrastructure repairs. The fact that the latter bill would include initiatives not directly related to Sandy will lead a number of conservative Republicans to oppose the bill. Collectively, the total funding amount of the separate House bills would equal the $60.4 billion funding in the Senate bill, if they are able to pass.
In late December, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson announced that she plans to depart the administration this year after four years with the agency. Jackson will leave after the president’s State of the Union address.
In lieu of significant action by Congress to address climate change or other environmental issues, the agency often led the way in implementing a number of key efforts to protect the environment. EPA’s accomplishments during Jackson’s tenure include the nation’s first greenhouse gas regulations, new vehicle fuel economy standards and initiatives to reduce mercury emissions to preserve the nation’s potable water resources. Jackson’s efforts also brought her into constant court litigation with industry groups, including those in favor of mountain-top removal mining.
Perhaps among Administrator Jackson’s strongest allies on Capitol Hill was Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) who issued a statement upon the announcement of Jackson’s resignation: "America's families, including some who never knew Lisa during her four years as EPA Administrator, will benefit from her commitment to protecting our air and water for many years to come. Under her leadership, EPA established landmark protections from harmful mercury emissions, strengthened fuel efficiency standards, and moved the nation forward in addressing climate change by reducing carbon pollution through the Clean Air Act. Lisa's ability to develop strong working relationships with Congressional colleagues on both sides of the aisle - despite a very partisan atmosphere - made her a very effective advocate for the environment and public health."
According to the White House, Deputy Administrator Robert Perciasepe is set to take over as acting administrator if a successor has not been confirmed upon Jackson’s departure. Perciasepe, who was confirmed by the Senate during the Clinton administration, is also a leading candidate to succeed Jackson. Another is Gina McCarthy, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. Additional potential nominees include California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Daniel Esty (also considered a candidate for Energy Secretary if Steven Chu resigns) and Kathleen McGinty, who chaired the White House Council on Environmental Quality under former President Clinton.
The new EPA administrator can expect to receive regular requests from Members of Congress to testify on Capitol Hill, particularly from House Republicans who have been highly critical of the agency’s clean air and water regulatory efforts. The agency has also been a perennial target of House appropriators seeking funding reductions to the overall federal budget.
On Dec. 21, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced it has finalized a federal protection listing for two species of Arctic seals.
Two distinct population segments of bearded seals and three subspecies of ringed seals will now be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A fourth arctic ringed seal subspecies in the Ladoga region will be classified as endangered. NOAA scientists concluded that a probable decrease in sea ice in the region later this century will likely cause these seal populations to decline.
Both ringed seals and bearded seals rely on sea ice for extended periods during molting and both species use sea ice to rear their young. Ringed seals care for their young in snow caves, which are threatened by late ice formation, decreasing snow depths and other impacts of climate change. Bearded seals live on sea ice during critical months of breeding and rear their cubs on pack ice near food sources.
The announcement coincided with a court-ordered deadline spurred by a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity. For additional information click here:
The Ecological Society of America is accepting applications for its annual Graduate Student Policy Award until close of business Monday, January 7, 2013.
This annual award, offered to up to three ESA graduate students, provides hands-on science policy experience including policy training and interacting with congressional decision-makers, federal agency officials, and others engaged in science and public policy.
GSPA winners participate in the annual Congressional Visits Day, a two-day event that will be held on April 10 and 11, 2013. ESA covers travel and lodging expenses associated with this event for all GSPA recipients. ESA is co-organizer of Congressional Visits Day, sponsored by the Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition to promote federal investment in the biological sciences, particularly through the National Science Foundation.
For more information on how to apply, click here:
H.R. 41, to temporarily increase the borrowing authority of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for carrying out the National Flood Insurance Program – Sponsored by Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), the bill provides $9.7 billion in additional borrowing authority to provide flood insurance related to Hurricane Sandy. The bill passed the House Jan. 4 by a vote of 354-67 and is expected to pass the Senate by unanimous consent.
Cleared for White House
H.R. 6060, the Endangered Fish Recovery Programs Extension Act of 2012 - Sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) - the bill reauthorizes $6 million in hydropower revenues to fund endangered fish recovery programs through 2019. The bill passed the Senate Jan. 1 by unanimous consent after passing the House in Sept.
H.R. 4606, to authorize the issuance of right-of-way permits for natural gas pipelines in Glacier National Park - Sponsored by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT) the bill clarifies the National Park Service’s authority to allow maintenance of a natural gas line that runs through a portion of Glacier National Park in Montana. The bill passed the Senate Jan. 2, 2013 by unanimous consent after passing the House in Dec. 2012.
H.R. 3641, the Pinnacles National Park Act - Sponsored by Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) the bill upgrades California’s Pinnacles National Monument to a national park. The bill passed the Senate Dec. 31 by unanimous consent after passing the House in July.
Sources: Center for Biological Diversity, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, POLITICO, Roll Call, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the Washington Post