In This Issue
Congress’ failure to address budget sequestration by coming up with $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction has federal agencies trimming investment priorities and beginning (reportedly in some cases already implementing) employee furloughs as budget sequestration went into effect March 1.
As enacted by the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25) and modified by the American Taxpayer Relief Act (P.L. 112-240), sequestration includes across-the-board cuts of 7.9 percent for defense discretionary spending programs and 5.3 percent to non-defense discretionary spending programs. It is estimated that for the current Fiscal Year of 2013, which began on Oct. 1, the non-defense discretionary cuts will actually total about nine percent while the defense cuts will total about 13 percent for the remainder of the year to compensate for the five months of spending that have already occurred for the current fiscal year.
For federal agencies, the 5.3 percent sequester for non defense amounts to the following monetary decreases: Environmental Protection Agency ($472 million), Department of Energy ($1.9 billion), Department of Interior ($883 million), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ($271 million) and the National Science Foundation ($361 million), according to a report from the White House Office of Management and Budget released March 1. The Interior cuts include the National Park Service ($153 million), the US Fish and Wildlife Service ($127 million), US Geological Survey ($54 million) and the Bureau of Land Management ($75 million). Department of Defense (DoD) research and development programs would decrease by 7.9 percent, roughly $6 billion. (A House-passed continuing resolution to fund the government would cut an additional $2.5 billion to DoD research and development).
In an effort to reduce partisan tensions over the budget, President Obama held several meal discussions with lawmakers this week at the White House. On March 6, the president met with Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte (NH), Richard Burr (NC), Saxby Chambliss (GA), Dan Coats (IN), Tom Coburn (OK), Bob Corker (TN), Lindsey Graham (SC), John Hoeven (ND), Mike Johanns (NE), Ron Johnson (WI), John McCain (AZ) and Pat Toomey (PA). Two key Senate Republicans whose committees’ have jurisdiction over budget, entitlement and taxation issues, Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (AL) and Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orin Hatch (UT), did not attend the meetings. The following day, the president met with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and House Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).
During the meeting, President Obama said that lawmakers must reach agreement on a comprehensive bipartisan debt reduction plan by the end of July, which coincides with when the federal debt ceiling will need to be addressed. The White House has released a plan for addressing the sequester that would cut defense and non-defense discretionary spending equally by a total of $200 billion below pre-sequestration levels, cut healthcare costs by $600 billion and include $580 billion in revenue, largely through closing tax loopholes that benefit the wealthiest Americans. Chairman Ryan plans to release a debt reduction package in the near future.
The White House plan for addressing sequestration is available here:
To view the Ecological Society of America press release on sequestration, click here:
The OMB report on sequestration’s impacts is available here:
This week, the US House of Representatives passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013, which ends Sept. 30. The bill would prevent a government shutdown by extending federal funding beyond the deadline of the current CR, which ends March 27. The bill (H.R. 933) passed by a vote of 267-151. Fifty-three Democrats joined all but 14 Republicans in supporting the measure.
The bill does not include funding to nullify the overwhelming majority of sequestration cuts to federal agencies that went into effect March 1 as mandated in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25) in lieu of Congress failing to come up with a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion. According to existing law, sequestration includes across-the-board cuts of 7.9 percent for defense discretionary spending programs and 5.3 percent to non-defense discretionary spending programs.
For DoD, the House bill would shift $10.4 billion to the agency’s operations and maintenance account by cutting $3.6 billion in personnel funds, $2.5 billion in research and development funding and $4.2 billion in equipment procurement. The bill includes a 1.7 percent pay increase for the military, which is exempt from sequestration. For federal government workers, the existing pay-freeze is continued to offset spending increases elsewhere in the bill.
With the exception of the military pay increase, all other funding increases in the bill are allocated within the overall sequestration cuts set by the Budget Control Act. Total post-sequestration funding in the bill amounts to $984 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The bill provides $40 million for the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service to fight wildfires. It also includes a provision to provide additional funding to maintain the launch schedule for new weather satellites, ensuring the continuation of data collection necessary for weather forecasting. In addition, the bill includes $2 billion in additional funding for diplomatic security in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2012 Libya terrorist attack.
The White House has not issued a formal statement in opposition to the bill. House Democratic leadership maintained they would not actively whip their members against the bill, proposed by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY). House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY), however, expressed disappointment with the spending levels in the final bill.
"Congress' failure to replace sequestration with a balanced and responsible package of spending cuts and revenue increases before March 1st is inexcusable,” said Lowey in a press statement. “The discretionary spending cuts mandated by sequestration will result in job loss and furloughs, slowed economic growth, and diminishment of services and investments that are critical to middle-class families and those who are striving to reach the middle-class. I am hopeful that an agreement can be reached in the coming weeks to restore these irresponsible cuts while reining in long-term debt and deficits."
The Senate has indicated it will change the bill by adding funding from three other major appropriations bills. As passed by the House, the bill includes compromise language for two FY 2013 appropriations bills: the Department of Defense Appropriations Act and the Military, Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act. The Senate seeks to add FY 2013 funding for the Agriculture, Rural Development and Food and Drug Administration Appropriations Act, the Homeland Security Appropriations Act, and the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. The latter bill provides funding for law enforcement and two key science agencies – the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Incorporating the language of actual bills gives federal agencies greater direction and specificity in how to distribute funding than a simple CR does.
The bill would also include minor provisions from other appropriations bills that shift funding from lower priority programs to higher priority programs, much the same way the House-passed bill does with DoD funding. Overall, the Senate-passed bill would seek to give the administration greater flexibility in how to distribute the sequestration cuts. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) worked with Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) in drafting the bill and asserted it will be able to garner the necessary 60 votes to clear the Senate. The Senate plans to vote on the bill the week of March 11. Since Congress will be in recess the week the current CR expires, the House has until the end of the week of March 18 to either pass the Senate bill or work to reach an agreement on legislation to avert a government shutdown.
This week, President Obama announced his picks to head two key agencies. Gina McCarthy has been nominated to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Ernest Moniz to head the Department of Energy (DOE).
A native of Boston, McCarthy has been assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation since 2009. Her tenure at EPA has included the promotion of regulations to improve air quality and reduce toxic mercury pollution from power plant facilities. Prior to her tenure at EPA, McCarthy was commissioner for the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection from 2004-2009. Her state level experience includes time as an environmental regulator in the administration of former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA).
Moniz is a nuclear physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he directs the MIT Energy Initiative. During the Clinton administration he served as the Under Secretary of Energy (1997-2001). Prior to that, he served in the administration as Associate Director for Science in the Office of Science and Technology Policy (1995-1997). Moniz headed MIT’s Department of Physics between 1991-1995 before joining the Clinton administration.
The two appointments have been met with praise from conservation groups. Alliance to Save Energy President Kateri Callahan praised Moniz as “a recognized, outspoken and effective energy efficiency advocate during his career in government and academia, which will allow him to thrive in his new DOE role.” Of McCarthy, Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke stated: “She's a good listener, a straight shooter and someone who has what it takes to build consensus and find solutions. We can count on her to protect our environment and our health. And she can count on our support as she works to get the job done on behalf of Americans everywhere."
As political tension remains between many Congressional Republicans and the White House over continued efforts by the administration to address climate change, both nominees – whose agencies will be at the forefront in implementing such efforts – can expect contentious confirmation hearings. The reactions from key Senators have not been immediately confrontational, however.
Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) stated: “I will withhold judgment until I've had a chance to speak to the nominees directly, but my main concern is that both agencies take immediate steps to restore balance to our nation’s energy and environmental policies. That balance has been missing for the past four years but must play a more prominent role going forward if we are to bolster our struggling economy.”
Senate Democratic leaders had more robust sentiments for the nominees. Regarding McCarthy, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) asserted: “The President could not have picked a more qualified person to lead EPA at this critical time. The combination of her experience, intelligence, energy, and unquestioned expertise will make Gina an effective EPA Administrator. She has a deep understanding that the health and safety of the American people depends on clean air and clean water.”
During the March 7, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, relations between committee members and Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell were largely cordial. However, several committee Republicans took the opportunity to relay strong concerns with the nominee and prospective actions of the agency she would head.
For Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Lisa Murkowki (R-AK), a continued sticking point is whether the Department of Interior will allow a land exchange that would establish a road corridor through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Approval of the road would ease accessibility of King Cove residents to an all-weather airport in Cold Bay for weather evacuations. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended rejecting the proposal. Murkowski has asserted that she may hold up Jewell’s nomination if the King Cove issue is not addressed to her satisfaction.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service’s preferred alternative would protect the heart of a pristine landscape that congress designated as wilderness and that serves as vital habitat for grizzly bear, caribou and salmon, shorebirds and waterfowl – including 98 percent of the world’s population of Pacific black brant [geese],” asserted Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in a press statement commenting on the proposal. “After extensive dialogue and exhaustive scientific evaluation, the agency has identified a preferred path forward that will ensure this extraordinary refuge and its wilderness are conserved and protected for future generations.”
Ranking Member Murkowski said that Interior should recommit itself to economic development through energy development. Jewell responded by elaborating on the economic benefits of land conservation. “Public lands are also huge economic engines. Through energy development, through grazing, logging, tourism and outdoor recreation, our lands and waters power our economy and create jobs. Balance is absolutely critical,” said Jewell. She contended that she embraces the Obama administration’s all of the above approach to energy investment that includes both fossil fuels and renewable energy sources.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) criticized Jewell over her position as board member for the National Parks Conservation Association, which he asserted has filed at least 59 lawsuits during her tenure blocking coal plants, uranium production, oil and gas. Jewell said that she played no role in deciding what lawsuits the group filed. She asserted that she would consult Interior’s ethics office before taking any action on issues involving the organization.
One Republican that may be warm to Jewell is Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who seemed to insinuate that Jewell’s resume is more befitting of a Republican administration cabinet pick. "I see you have worked on the Alaska pipeline, that you're an oil and gas engineer. You said you'd actually fracked a gas well. You were a banker for 19 years. You're chief executive officer of a billion-dollar company” said Alexander. He then quipped: "How did you get appointed by this administration?"
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) has not yet announced when the committee will vote on Jewell, noting that he would like to allow Senators time to get additional questions answers beforehand.
On March 5, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) announced that freshman Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) will serve as the new chairman of the Environment Subcommittee.
The Energy and Environment Subcommittee was split into two separate committees at the beginning of the 113th Congress. The Energy Subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WI) while the Environment Subcommittee was chaired by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), who chaired the Energy and Environment Subcommittee during the 112th Congress. Rep. Harris was recently appointed to the House Appropriations Committee where he serves on the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Subcommittee. The CJS Subcommittee decides federal funding levels for science agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.
Before coming to Congress, Rep. Stewart served as Chief Executive Officer for the Shipley Group, a consulting firm that specializes in environmental issues. The organization provides training to clients on federal environmental regulations, such as the National Environmental Policy Act. Stewart sold the company before being sworn into Congress. He is also a decorated Air Force pilot who set three world speed records during his time in the service.
Stewart was quoted in a statement from the committee, expressing gratitude for the new post: “I feel honored to be working with Chairman Lamar Smith and other members of the Committee in overseeing the EPA, researching scientific issues related to environmental policy and climate change, and ensuring that government agencies employ sound science when making decisions,” said Stewart. “I look forward to working with an active and productive subcommittee as we oversee these important issues.”
The 2013 Climate Leadership Conference brought a wide array of different interests together in discussion of efforts to save energy and mitigate the impacts of climate change. The Ecological Society of America (ESA) was a supporting partner for the event. Other partnering organizations included the Alliance to Save Energy, the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, the Climate Institute, the Sustainability Consortium, the World Resources Institute, and the World Wildlife Fund Climate Savers.
Speakers at the event included business leaders, military officials and senior representatives of government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which served as the headline sponsor. Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe discussed the agency’s efforts to serve as a resource for businesses through its Center of Corporate Leadership as well as its Energy Star program, which works to save customers money on their utilities. Jonathan Powers of the White House Council on Environmental Quality elaborated on how the administration’s executive order for all federal agencies to work to address climate change has resulted in a number of collaborations between the government and related interests in the private sector.
Speakers from the business industry included representatives from Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, IBM, The Hershey Co., Ford Motor Co., Staples Inc. and Verizon. Steve Tochilin, Environmental Sustainability General Manager with Delta, discussed the steps the airline is taking to reduce fuel consumption to lower its expenses. Linden Patton, Chief Climate Product Officer with Zurich Insurance elaborated on the growing costs extreme weather events are having on the insurance industry and on energy prices.
Additional highlights from the conference can be found in two recent posts to ESA’s blog, EcoTone:
While a final decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline is still pending, the Department of State issued a draft environmental impact statement report March 1 that concludes the pipeline’s construction would not have a significant impact on development of Canada oil sands. "Approval or denial of the proposed project is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands, or on the amount of heavy crude oil refined in the Gulf Coast area," states the report.
It finds that the pipeline would have “no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed Project route” as long as safeguards are followed. The report does acknowledge that the project could lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The project also identifies several plant and animal species that could be put at risk from construction of the pipeline, including the greater sage grouse, the whooping crane, the Western Prairie Fringed Orchid and the American Burying Beetle. The report asserts, however, that steps can be taken to minimize impacts on these species.
Reactions in Congress were predictably partisan. The House Energy and Commerce Committee pushed several legislative measures last Congress to expedite approval of the pipeline and this year created a “Keystone Clock” highlighting the amount of time that has passed since the initial application was submitted to the State Department. Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) has introduced the draft of a new bill this Congress to expedite approval of the pipeline.
“The SEIS findings confirm what we already knew – this pipeline is safe and in the best interest of the American people,” asserted House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) in a joint statement. “There are no legitimate reasons not to move forward on the landmark jobs project. The president should stand up for families and immediately approve the Keystone XL pipeline,” they continued. “At a time when gas prices are rising toward $4.00 a gallon, we must use every available tool we can to increase America’s access to affordable and secure energy supplies.”
Reaction from Democrats in Congress varied from outright disdain to mild concern. “The draft impact statement appears to be seriously flawed,” stated Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman. “We don’t need this dirty oil. To stop climate change and the destructive storms, droughts, floods, and wildfires that we are already experiencing, we should be investing in clean energy, not building a pipeline that will speed the exploitation of Canada’s highly polluting tar sands.”
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) asserted “I intend to closely review the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL pipeline. I continue to be very concerned about the contribution that the Keystone XL pipeline would make to dangerous climate change.”
The draft environmental impact assessment is subject to a 45 day public comment period before the State Department issues a final decision. For additional information on the assessment process as well as information on how to submit comments, click here: http://www.keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/
To link directly to the draft assessment, click here:
Sources: ClimateWire, Department of State, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee, POLITICO, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, USA Today, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Washington Post, the White House