July 11, 2014

In This Issue

DEFENSE: GAO REPORT CONCLUDES MILITARY NEEDS TO IMPROVE CLIMATE PLANNING

On June 30th, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report finding the Department of Defense (DOD) can improve infrastructure planning and processes for climate change impacts. DOD manages a global real-estate portfolio that includes over 555,000 facilities and 28 million acres of land with a replacement value of close to $850 billion. Within the US, the department’s extensive infrastructure of bases and training ranges, which is critical to maintaining military readiness, extends across all regions, as well as Alaska and Hawaii.  The GAO noted that the government currently lacks a shared understanding of strategic priorities and adequate interagency coordination to adapt to a changing climate. The report found that while many military planners are noting the impacts of climate change on their installations, they are not always certain about how to proceed with adaption efforts.  “For example, according to DOD officials, the combination of thawing permafrost, decreasing sea ice, and rising sea levels on the Alaskan coast has increased coastal erosion at several Air Force radar early warning and communication installations. Impacts on DOD’s infrastructure from this erosion have included damaged roads, seawalls, and runways. In addition, officials on a Navy installation told GAO that sea level rise and resulting storm surge are the two largest threats to their waterfront infrastructure.”

The report recommends that the military formulate a climate change adaption plan setting firm deadlines to assess which of its military bases across the globe are vulnerable to climate change impacts. DOD has begun to assess installations’ vulnerability to potential climate change impacts and directed its planners to incorporate consideration of climate change into certain installation planning efforts. Additionally, it is a DOD strategic goal to consider sustainability, including climate change adaptation, in its facility investment decisions.

“We are committed to maintaining the resilience of our installations in support of our mission, our warfighters and our communities,” John Conger, acting deputy undersecretary of Defense for Installations and Environment, wrote in a letter, according to US News and World Report. “We will continue to integrate consideration of climate change and associated impacts across the Defense enterprise.”

However, the report also found that military officials are slow to propose climate adaption projects because they believe the projects will not be funded.

“As a result, installation planners may believe that climate change adaptation projects are unlikely to successfully compete with other military construction projects for funding,” the GAO said on the report’s website. “Without clarification of these processes, DOD may face challenges in meeting its strategic goals and the services may miss opportunities to make their facilities more resilient to the potential impacts of climate change.”

This sentiment is reinforced by the fact that the US House of Representatives has adopted language in its DOD authorization bill to prohibit funding for implementing recommendations from climate change reports from the International Panel on Climate Change and the National Climate Assessment. Such language is not anticipated to survive the bill’s conference process with the Senate.

View the full report by clicking this link.

APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE APPROVES FY 2015 ENERGY AND WATER FUNDING BILL

On July 10th, the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 4923, the Energy and Water Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2015. The $34 billion bill includes $10.3 billion funding for the US Department of Energy (DOE) and $5.5 billion US Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation.

The Obama administration threatened to veto the bill over its many provisions to curb the enforcement of environmental regulations. The bill would block funding for enforcement of the Obama administration’s proposed rule to clarify federal jurisdiction in the Clean Water Act.

The House rejected several conservative amendments that sought to sharply reduce funding in the bill. One that was rejected from Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) would have cut all FY 2015 funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. It failed by a vote of 110–310.

An amendment adopted by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) to block funding for DOE climate modeling efforts was added to the bill by a vote of 226–194. Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) introduced an amendment to reaffirm exemptions for certain agricultural activities under the Clean Water Act, which was adopted 239-182.

The final bill will be reconciled with the US Senate Energy and Water appropriations bill for FY 2015, which has not been passed. It is anticipated that the two chambers will not reach an agreement on final funding bills until after the 2014 elections, possibly through an omnibus measure. Given that Fiscal Year 2014 ends Sept. 30th, 2014, Congress will need to pass a continuing resolution in order to avoid a government shutdown.

 

For additional information on specific funding levels in the bill, see the June 13th edition of ESA Policy News by clicking here.

To view the White House Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 4923 click this link.

APPROPRIATIONS: INTERIOR, EPA SPENDING BILL WOULD CURTAIL OBAMA INITIATIVES

On July 8th, the House Appropriations Committee unveiled its Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. The bill, crafted by committee Republicans, includes provisions to prohibit funding from being directed towards a number of Obama administration environmental protection initiatives.

In total, the bill provides $30.2 billion for the Department of Interior, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Forest Service. This is a $162 million increase over total funding provided in the FY 2014 Interior appropriations bill and a reduction of $409 million below the President’s request.

Much of the increase in the overall bill is geared specifically towards wildfire reduction activities. The bill includes $4.1 billion for wildfire fighting and prevention activities for the US Forest Service and the US Department of Interior. This is $149 million above of the FY 2014 enacted level. Funding levels are as follows for selected agencies:

  • Environmental Protection Agency: $7.5 billion; a reduction of $717 million (nine percent) below the FY 2014. The bill also contains language to prohibit funding for the agency’s proposed greenhouse gas rules for existing power plants and its efforts to clarify federal jurisdiction over the implementation of the Clean Water Act. Administrative funding for the agency is cut by $24 million, including a 50 percent reduction to the Office of the Administrator, the Office of Congressional Affairs, and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. In addition, staffing levels at the EPA are held to 15,000, the lowest level since 1989.
  • Office of Surface Mining: $149 million; level with FY 2014. The bill includes a provision to stop changes to the “stream buffer rule,” intended to protect streams from coal mining.
  • Bureau of Land Management: $1.1 billion; a $13 million decrease from FY 2014.
  • National Park Service: $2.6 billion; a $3 million increase over FY 2014.
  • US Forest Service: $5.6 billion; $85.7 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level.
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS): $1.4 billion in the bill; $4 million below FY 2014. The bill includes a one-year delay on any further Endangered Species Act rulemaking for the “greater sage-grouse” and “Gunnison sage-grouse,” and prohibits the FWS from administratively establishing new or expanding existing wildlife refuges.
  • US Geological Survey: $1 billion; a $4 million increase above FY 2014.
  • Smithsonian Institution: $813 million; an $8 million increase above FY 2014.

Traditionally, many of the more contentious provisions intended to block EPA greenhouse gas emissions rules and other agency regulations are dropped in the bicameral conference process where the Senate and House negotiate a final conference report bill. The content of the final conference bill will be determined in part by whether or not it is enacted before the election and the political make-up of the House and the Senate after the 2014 mid-terms. 

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS EPA CLEAN WATER PROPOSED RULE

On July 9th, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee convened for a hearing on the Obama administration’s proposed rule to clarify federal jurisdiction over US waterways. As defined under US law, bodies of water are distinguished according to their use such as for business or transportation. The distinction is particularly important in the case of so-called navigable waters because jurisdiction over navigable waters belongs to the federal government rather than states or municipalities.

US Supreme Court decisions in 2001 (Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC) v. US Army Corps of Engineers) and 2006 (Rapanos v. United States) drew into question the definition of “navigable waters” as defined in the law. Consequently, this could limit the scope of the 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA) to “relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water.” The original conference report for the finalized CWA included language asserting that the bill’s authors “fully intend that the term ‘navigable waters’ be given the broadest possible constitutional interpretation.”

In the years following the court rulings, congressional Democrats have repeatedly introduced legislation to clarify CWA jurisdiction, but the measures failed to gain traction in the House and Senate. On March 25, 2014 US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers jointly proposed a rule that would clarify that streams and wetlands are under the jurisdiction of the CWA.

The Obama administration contends the rule would not add new waters under the law’s protection, but only clarify regulatory authority for waterways that have historically been under the Act’s jurisdiction prior to the court decisions. Republican committee members, however, assert that the proposed rule is part of the EPA’s “regulation rampage.” They assert that the rule is vague and would lead to federal intrusion on private land.

“The EPA’s rule is so vague that it does little more than extend an open invitation to trial lawyers and government drones,” asserted Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “Before the EPA invades the back yards of Americans, they should tell them what they are really doing. When Congress enacted the Clean Water Act, it was about water, not land.  But the EPA’s re-writing of the law is a terrifying expansion of federal control over the lands owned by the American people. The EPA is on a regulation rampage, and this new water rule proves it.”

“For nearly a decade, stakeholders ranging from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials to the Environmental Defense Fund to the American Petroleum Institute have been calling on EPA and the Army Corps to provide clarity about what is and what is not a ‘water of the United States,’” asserted Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) in her opening statement. “And while there may be differences in opinion about the proposed rule, I applaud the agencies for addressing this need and working to provide ‘greater clarity, certainty, and predictability’ to the regulated community and state and local governments that share the task of implementing and enforcing the Clean Water Act.”

“The rule does not apply to lands, whole flood plains, backyards, wet spots, or puddles,” asserted EPA Deputy Administrator Robert Perciasepe, testifying on behalf of the administration. “It will increase transparency, consistency, and predictability in making jurisdictional determinations, and reduce existing costs and confusion and delays.”

View the full committee hearing by clicking here.

WHITE HOUSE: EMERGENCY SPENDING REQUEST INCLUDES WESTERN WILDFIRE ASSISTANCE

On July 8th, the White House issued a formal request to Congress for $4.3 billion in emergency spending. The bulk of the funding, $3.7 billion, will address the border crisis and growing humanitarian problem of child migrants. The remainder, $615 million, is to fight wildfires in the western United States for the current Fiscal Year 2014. Several federal agencies require funding for wildfire prevention and firefighting, and it is costly.

The US Forest Service (FS), an agency within the Department of Agriculture, is tasked with management of 193 million acres of public lands in 43 states and Puerto Rico. Wildfire frequency and intensity in the Western United States has grown over the past decade.

According to the Forest Service, “More than 44 million homes, roughly 32 percent of the homes in our country, are now located in areas prone to wildland fire. Extreme fire behavior has become more common; firefighters are largely limited to protecting certain points around homes and communities, and the cost of fire suppression has soared in the past 20 years. The cost of suppression has grown from 13 percent of the agency’s budget just 10 years ago to over 40 percent in 2014 requiring FS to transfer funds from other programs to cover those costs.”

The President’s $615 million request to fight wildfire includes language to support a discretionary cap adjustment to allow the federal government to respond to severe, complex, and threatening fires or a severe fire season.

“This approach would provide funding certainty in future years for firefighting costs, free up resources to invest in areas that will promote long-term forest health and reduce fire risk, and maintain fiscal responsibility by addressing wildfire disaster needs through agreed-upon funding,” stated the president in a White House letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

Increased federal funding to address wildfires is supported by bipartisan Members of Congress representing regions in the western United Sates. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) indicated he was open to accommodating the request for additional funding for wildfire-related activities.

View the full letter by following this link.

CURRENT POLICY

Considered by House Committee

On July 9th, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation held a hearing on the following bill:

H.R. 3994, the Federal Lands Invasive Species Control, Prevention, and Management Act – Introduced by Reps. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Steven Horsford (D-NV), the bill would direct the Departments of Agriculture and Interior to carry out programs that would reduce invasive species on public lands by five percent annually. The bill includes a provision to exclude National Environmental Policy Act environmental review requirements if the programs affect “prioritized, high risk” areas. The legislation also prohibits federal agencies from spending no more than 15 percent of their budgets dedicated to invasive on public outreach and no more than 10 percent on administrative costs. The Obama administration and invasive species organizations are concerned that the standards outlined in the bill would reduce a federal agency’s flexibility in addressing invasive species.

Introduced in Senate

S. 2543, the Supporting Afterschool STEM Act – Introduced June 26th by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the bill would provide resources to improve afterschool science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs. The bill has been referred to the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee.

S. 2551, the TRANSFER Act – Introduced June 26th  by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Daniel Coats (R-IN), the bill would create a grant funding program within the Small Business Technology Transfer program to expedite the commercialization of federally-funded research. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

Passed Senate

S. 311, Lower Mississippi River Area Study Act – Introduced by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), the bill directs the Department of Interior to complete a study to determine whether an area in Plaquemines Parish, LA should become part of the National Park Service system. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent on July 9th and has been sent to the US House of Representatives.

S. 354, Oregon Caves Revitalization Act of 2013 – Introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the bill would modify the boundary of the Oregon Caves National Monument by adding 4,000 acres of what is currently Forest Service land to the monument. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent on July 9th and has been sent to the US House of Representatives.

S. 363, the Geothermal Production Expansion Act – Introduced by Sen. Wyden, the bill would expand geothermal production on federal land. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent on July 9th and has been sent to the US House of Representatives.

S. 476, to amend the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Development Act to extend to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park Commission – Introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the bill would reauthorize the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park Commission for a 10-year term. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent on July 9th and has been sent to the US House of Representatives.

H.R. 876, the Idaho Wilderness Water Resources Protection Act – Introduced by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), the bill authorizes the continued use of certain water storage, transport and diversion facilities located on federal forest land in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Idaho. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent July 9th after passing the House in June 2013.

H.R. 1158, the North Cascades National Park Service Complex Fish Stocking Act – Introduced by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill directs the Department of Interior to continue stocking fish in certain lakes in the North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent July 9th  after passing the House in June 2013.

H.R. 3110, Huna Tlingit Traditional Gull Egg Use Act – Introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the bill allows the harvest of gull eggs by the Huna Tlingit people within Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park. The bill requires collection schedules and locations to be based on an annual plan prepared by the Department of Interior and the Huna Tlingit people. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent July 9th after passing the House in April 2013.


Sources: American Association for the Advancement of Science, Government Accountability Office, US Environmental Protection Agency, US Forest Service, House Appropriations Committee, House Space, Science and Technology Committee, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, US News and World Report

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