June 13, 2014

In This Issue

AIR POLLUTION: EPA RELEASES FIRST EVER CARBON RULES FOR POWER PLANTS

On June 2nd, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its “Clean Power Plan” proposal, the first ever guidelines to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants. They emit 38 percent of carbon emissions in the US, mainly from older, inefficient coal-fired plants with an average age of 42 years. The proposed ruling will also affect natural-gas fired power plants, which emit about half the emissions as coal-fired plants.

The new standards will cut carbon emissions from the utility sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. While there are currently federal limits for arsenic, mercury, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and particle pollution, there are no such limits on carbon emissions.

“As President, and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that’s beyond fixing,” stated President Obama. “The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But a low-carbon, clean energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come. America will build that engine. America will build the future. A future that’s cleaner, more prosperous, and full of good jobs—a future where we can look our kids in the eye and tell them we did our part to leave them a safer, more stable world.”

Each state will draft its own plan to meet carbon reduction targets due to the EPA in June 2016. Some options states may choose are demand-side energy efficiency, renewable energy standards or goals, and plant retrofits from coal to natural gas.

The Clean Power Plan would assign states both “interim” and “final” targets for greenhouse gas reductions, based in part on what the states have already achieved and agency estimates on their overall greenhouse gas reduction capability. The interim reduction target goal date is 2020 while the final target must be met by 2030.

The agency highlighted the health benefits of the proposed rule, asserting that it will prevent as many as 6,600 premature deaths and up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children. These benefits are reinforced in the White House report “Health Impacts of Climate Change on Americans” that links the increase in air pollution brought on by warmer temperatures and more frequent wildfires with increased respiratory illnesses and heat-related deaths. EPA estimates the health benefits and savings from the rule would total $7.3 billion and $8.8 billion annually.

The House has already passed legislation that would prohibit EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. However, this legislation is stalled in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

“The president’s proposal is a win-win-win for the American people, as it will protect our health, saving thousands of lives, create thousands of jobs, and America will finally lead on a path to averting the most calamitous impacts of climate change — such as sea level rise, dangerous heat waves, and economic disruption,” stated Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in a press statement. “The president’s proposal is respectful of the states’ roles and allows major flexibility, while ensuring that big polluters reduce their dangerous contributions to climate change.”

“The president’s plan forces costly and unnecessary regulations on hardworking American families,” asserted House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “The Clean Air Act was never intended to regulate carbon.  The EPA’s plan is ‘all pain, no gain.’  It will close power plants and drive up electricity prices. These regulations will mean more jobs lost to places like China and India.”

“In addition to the health risks, severe weather trends associated with climate change threaten the economic vitality of communities across the country,” asserted Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “By fostering clean energy innovation and modernizing the power sector, the United States will lead the world in tackling this global challenge. I am pleased that the proposed rule allows for state input and flexibility in developing regional approaches to achieving the goals of the rule.”

EPA is accepting comment on the proposal and will hold four public hearings on the proposed Clean Power Plan during the week of July 28th in the following cities: Denver, Atlanta, Washington, DC and Pittsburgh. Based on this input, EPA will finalize standards next June.

For more information on the rule, click here. Information on how to comment on the proposed plan is available on the EPA website.

To view the “Health Impacts of Climate Change on Americans” report, click this link.

REGULATION: NPS SEEKS COMMENTS FOR APPROPRIATE USE FOR SNOW-OVER VEHICLES

Today, the US Forest Service announced it will publish a Federal Register Notice next week seeking public comment on a proposal that would help standardize where and when over-snow vehicles, such as snowmobiles, are used on national forests and grasslands.

Motor vehicle use on national forests and grasslands is governed by the Travel Management Rule which provides for a system of roads, trails and areas that are designated for motor vehicles. Over-snow vehicles—vehicles designed for use over snow and that run on a track and/or a ski or skis—are currently treated differently from other motor vehicles by giving forest and grassland supervisors the discretion to develop a similar system for over-snow vehicles. In 2013, a federal court ruled that this violates Executive Order 11644, “Use of off-road vehicles on public lands.” The court ordered that the Forest Service must regulate over-snow use, but does have the discretion to determine where and when over-snow vehicle use can occur on agency lands.

In accordance with the court’s ruling, the Federal Register notice proposes amending the existing Travel Management Rule to establish consistent guidance for how forests and grasslands decide the appropriate use for over-snow vehicles. Over-snow vehicles are used for recreational purposes as well as work tasks that include gathering firewood or subsistence hunting.

The Federal Register Notice for the proposal is scheduled to be published Wednesday, June 18, 2014.  The public will have 45 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register to comment on the proposed revisions. The Forest Service intends to publish the final rule change by September 9, 2014.

For more information click this link.

APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE COMMITTEE APPROVES NSF, NOAA FUNDING BILL

On June 5th the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2015. The bill includes funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The bill passed committee under a recorded 30-0 vote.

For NSF, the bill includes $7.255 billion, less than the $7.4 billion in the House version and level with the president’s FY 2015 budget request. Conversely, NOAA would see its budget increase by $105 million to $5.4 billion in FY 2015. The House bill included $5.3 billion for the agency, level with FY 2014. The bill funds NASA at $17.9 billion, a $254 million increase over FY 2014.

Similar to the House CJS bill, the Senate bill approves the full president budget request NOAA’s two satellite programs. The bill also provides $1.1 billion for the National Weather Service, in line with the level of funding included in the House bill. NOAA would receive $160 million for climate research in the Senate bill, a nearly $3.6 million increase over FY 2014. The House bill would cut NOAA climate research by $37.5 million.

For additional information on the bill, click here.

APPROPRIATIONS: ENERGY AND WATER FUNDING BILL CLEARS HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE

On June 10th, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water passed its spending bill for the upcoming Fiscal Year (FY) 2015.

The bill includes $34 billion in funding for the US Department of Energy (DOE), the US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Department of Interior’s (DOI) major water office, the Bureau of Reclamation. This amount is $50 million less than the FY 2014 enacted level.

Several partisan legislative proposals within the bill are expected to spur contention between the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate during final bill negotiations this fall. The bill prohibits funding for implementation of the administration’s proposal to clarify water boundaries under federal regulatory jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. The bill also includes language prohibiting the administration from permanently removing the Yucca mountain site in Nevada as an option for storing nuclear waste.

The bill funds DOE energy programs at $10.3 billion, a $133 million increase over FY 2014. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy budget is slated at $1.8 billion in FY 2015, a reduction of $123 million over FY 2014. The Office of Fossil Energy would receive $593 million in FY 2015, a $31 million increase over FY 2014. The bill provides $5.1 billion for DOE scientific research, level with FY 2014.

The US Army Corps of Engineers would receive $5.5 billion in FY 2015 under the bill, a $25 million increase over FY 2014 and $959.5 million above the president’s FY 2015 budget request. The funding is geared primarily towards water infrastructure projects nationwide, including bridges, locks, dams, levees and related environmental restoration projects.

For the DOI Bureau of Reclamation, the bill allocates $1 billion, $100.7 million below FY 2014 and $29 million below the president’s FY 2015 request for the agency to help manage, develop, and protect the water resources of western states.

Additional information on the bill is available through this link. 

SENATE: SUBCOMMITTEE REVIEWS CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS ON FARMING, HUNTING

HOUSE: ENERGY RESEARCH BILL MARKUP HALTED OVER PARTISAN PROCEDURAL MOTION

The House, Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy convened to markup the “Department of Energy Research and Development Act of 2014,” when committee Democrats procedurally stalled approval of the legislation by requiring the committee clerk to read the entire 102-page draft bill aloud. Rather than sit for hours while the clerk read the bill, Subcommittee Chairwoman Cynthia Lummis (R–WY) shutdown the committee meeting and the bill will go to the full committee without a debate or hearings. The entire subcommittee meeting took less than thirty minutes.

The terrain of Department of Energy (DOE) authorizing bills is changing. Previously, the now-expired America COMPETES Act authorized several federal science agencies including DOE and the National Science Foundation. This year, the Republican majority decided to draft two individual authorizing bills—one for DOE and another bill, FIRST (Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology) authorizing NSF and the other research agencies. Like the America COMPETES Act, these both are “authorizing” bills that set policy and suggest spending levels, but do not appropriate actual funding.

Democrats argued that the funding levels authorized in the draft bill for DOE are lower than DOE funding levels specified in the House FY 2015 Energy and Water Appropriations bill. They also expressed concern with the authorizing bill that includes a $100 million cut to the Office of Science Biological and Environmental Research program as well as cuts to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-energy program.

The Republican subcommittee majority released the bill late Friday afternoon, June 6th, which committee Democrats asserted was an inadequate timeframe for the minority to review the bill prior to the markup on Wednesday, June 11th.

“We are here to consider a bill that was not shared with Democratic members of the Subcommittee until late last Friday, and that proposes to reauthorize all Department of Energy research and development programs,” state Energy Subcommittee Ranking Member Eric Swalwell (D-CA). “That means we’re being asked to make tough decisions about how to allocate billions of taxpayers’ dollars after having less than three business days to consider the bill’s provisions, let alone talk with constituents and stakeholders.”

Republicans argued that, as a general rule, subcommittee consideration of any given bill is a courtesy to its Members and not a prerequisite of the legislative process.

“It’s disappointing that rather than work with us to address their concerns, Committee Democrats instead used procedural tactics to obstruct today’s subcommittee markup,” said Energy Subcommittee Chairwoman Cynthia Lummis (R-WY). “Democrats blocked draft legislation that focuses R&D funding within the Department of Energy to drive innovation, economic growth and job creation.”

Both sides sought to spin blame for the stalled markup in their respective subsequent press releases. The Republican subcommittee press release was titled “Democrats Obstruct Subcommittee Consideration of Energy R&D Bill” while the counterpart Democrat subcommittee press release was titled “Republicans Shut Down Their Own Markup.”

View the markup by clicking this link.

On June 3rd, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Subcommittee on Green Jobs and the Economy held a hearing entitled “Farming, Fishing, Forestry and Hunting in an Era of Changing Climate.”

Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Merkley (D-OR) noted the various impacts of climate change in Oregon. He noted that warmer winters are allowing bark beetle populations to thrive longer leading to tree die-off, which leaves the region vulnerable to larger and more intense wildfires. “For a state like Oregon, where so much of our rural economy depends on a vibrant forest sector, this trend is very troubling,” stated Merkley.

Merkley additionally observed that warmer-shorter winters are decreasing snow pack that reduce crops’ water supply from snowmelt resulting in severe drought. Additionally, less snowmelt is adversely affecting the fishing industry catch rate due to dry streams with warmer water.

Committee Republicans criticized the Obama administration’s new climate regulations for power plants. “As we discuss the impact of climate on farming, fishing, forestry and hunting, we must not neglect the effects that draconian climate regulations would have on these industries,” stated Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-MS). Wicker stated the power plant rule will have little effect on the climate while leading to higher utility bills for the industries.

Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) testified “I am a third generation farmer. I farm in North-central Montana. I have seen the impacts of climate change first-hand,” Tester added. As an example, his farm crops have “been hailed out” four times in the last 35 years at irregular times of the year. He also added that a reservoir on his family farm constructed in the late 1940s dried-up for the first time between 1999–2001. The farm crops are also being impacted by increased drought and a proliferation of sawflies that harm wheat attributed to warmer, drier weather conditions. He also complimented the administration on its “state-based solution” to implement the proposed  power plant rule to reduce carbon emissions. “I think refusing to act to protect clean air [and] clean water is not a viable option,” stated Tester.

US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe pointed out that climate change will erode habitat for fish, waterfowl and big game species and decrease their abundance and distribution, which will consequently limit hunting-and-fishing related opportunities that contribute billions of dollars to regional economies nationwide.

Ranking Member Wicker asked whether Director Ashe agreed with scientific data showing that states’ temperatures have flat-lined in the last 15 years. Ashe asserted that that long-term trends have indicated that overall global temperatures have risen over the last 15 years. He added that the National Climate Assessment data, which reflects “the large consensus body of science” affirms temperature rise happening.

View the full hearing by clicking here.

CURRENT POLICY

Passed House Committee

On June 10th, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the following bill:

H.R. 4795, the Promoting New Manufacturing Act – Introduced by Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA), the bill would expedite air quality permitting for new manufacturing facilities. The bill requires the US Environmental Protection Agency to provide guidance on permitting when it issues new air pollution standards and to provide Congress with annual updates on its progress in expediting air quality permitting. The bill passed committee by a vote of 30–19.

Passed House

H.R. 4412, the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) Authorization Act – Introduced by Steven Palazzo (R-MS), the bill authorizes one year of funding for NASA programs. The bill passed the House June 9th by a vote of 401–2 and has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

S. 1254, the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2013 – Introduced by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), the bill reauthorizes the Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB) and Hypoxia Research and Control Act.The bill maintains and enhances an interagency program led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which will be responsible for promoting a national strategy to help communities understand, predict, control and mitigate freshwater and marine HAB and hypoxia events; enhancing, coordinating, and assessing the activities of existing HABs and hypoxia programs; providing for development of a comprehensive research plan and action strategy, including a regional approach to understanding and responding to HAB events; and requiring an assessment and plan for Great Lakes HABs and hypoxia.The bill passed the House June 9th by voice vote after passing the Senate in February.

Introduced in Senate

S. 2414, the Coal Country Protection Act – Introduced June 3rd by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the bill would prohibit the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions from new or existing power plants. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

S. 2457, the Highway Runoff Management Act – Introduced June 10th by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), the bill requires states to establish highway stormwater management programs. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

S. 2470, the New Mexico Drought Relief Act of 2014 – Introduced June 12th by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), the bill would help New Mexico communities improve water-use efficiency and better address water scarcity. The bill also directs the National Academy of Sciences to study potential changes to reservoir management along the Rio Grande river system of New Mexico. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.


Sources: US Environmental Protection Agency, US National Park Service, House Appropriations Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Senate Appropriations Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, POLITICO

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