ESA Policy News: December 10

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here.

HOUSE: GOP NAMES COMMITTEE CHAIRS

House Republican leaders on Tuesday, Dec. 7 announced their roster of committee chairmen, all of whom have vowed to conduct vigorous oversight of the Obama Administration.

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), a noted climate skeptic, was picked by House GOP leaders to chair the Science and Technology Committee. “Our Committee will help ensure that taxpayer dollars are invested wisely in research and development programs by providing effective oversight of existing programs and by eliminating wasteful and duplicative programs and streamlining programs where needed,” said Hall in a subsequent statement.

Hall was among 143 Republicans to support the first America COMPETES Act (P.L. 110-069) enacted in 2007, which authorized funding for three agencies: the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Office of Science at the Department of Energy. However, he voted against the reauthorization bill, which passed by a more partisan vote of 262-150 and will have to be reintroduced if the Senate fails to send the bill to the president before year’s end. Hall expressed concern in committee that “some of these new programs” established in the reauthorization “are potentially duplicative of current efforts” and “increase the cost of the bill by billions.”

The steering committee also selected Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) over Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) to head the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Tea party activists had opposed Upton, whom they felt was not conservative enough. Upton had supported a bipartisan measure that increased the use of energy-efficient light bulbs in the energy law (P.L. 110-140), signed by President Bush in Dec. 2007.

A committee lineup of the incoming House Committee Chairmen and Ranking Members, as elected by the Republican and Democratic Caucuses, includes the list below (*indicate expected Ranking Members as Democrats expect to vote on their remaining slots next week):

Agriculture: Frank D. Lucas (R-OK), *Collin Peterson (D-MN)

Appropriations:  Hal Rogers (R-KY), Norman Dicks (D-WA)

Budget: Paul Ryan (R-WI), *Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)

Education and Labor: John Kline (MN), *George Miller (D-CA)

Energy and Commerce: Fred Upton (R-MI), Henry Waxman (D-CA)

Natural Resources:  Doc Hastings (R-WA), *Ed Markey (D-MA)

Science & Technology:  Ralph M. Hall (R-TX), *Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)

Transportation & Infrastructure:  John L. Mica (R-FL), *Nick Rahall (D-WV)

CLIMATE: SUPREME COURT TO HEAR GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS CASE

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Dec. 6 that it will take on a potentially landmark case examining if states can hold individual power plants accountable for their greenhouse gas emissions.

American Electric Power Co., Duke Energy, Southern Co., Xcel Energy Inc. and the Tennessee Valley Authority are challenging a lower court ruling that allowed states and environmental groups to move ahead with a public nuisance lawsuit seeking to force the utilities to slash their greenhouse gas emissions. Attorneys for the utilities argued that nuisance lawsuits targeting power plants are the wrong way to tackle global climate change.

The environmental groups, New York City and the eight states that filed the lawsuit argue that by emitting greenhouse gases, the power companies are contributing to a public nuisance, affecting public health and nature, the plaintiffs charge. American Electric Power and the other utilities counter that only Congress has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is already planning to do the job.

If there is a 4-4 split, that would leave the 2nd Circuit ruling in favor of the states intact, but the case would not be binding upon other federal courts of appeal.

SENATE: REID TAX COMPROMISE INCLUDES ETHANOL, RENEWABLE ENERGY EXTENTIONS

A renewable energy grant program, ethanol tax credit and other energy tax credits would be extended one year in a compromise tax package announced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) late Dec. 9.

The over-arching package still includes income tax cuts for all tax brackets negotiated earlier this week by the White House and Republicans, but includes changes to the renewable energy grant program. Reid has scheduled the first vote on the package for Dec. 13. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Jim DeMint (R-SC) have vowed to filibuster it.

To win over liberal Democrats, Reid added an ethanol tax credit, which Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) supports and an extension of the Section 1603 cash grant program for the renewable energy industry, which Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) favors. The extension would cost about $3 billion over 10 years, according to a Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) score.

The package includes other green-energy incentives that could win support among House liberals disappointed that Congress failed to pass a climate change bill this year. These provisions include tax credits for biodiesel and renewable diesel; energy-efficient homes; alternative fuels and a 30-percent investment tax credit for alternative vehicle refueling properties. Seven senators, including Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME), sent a letter to Senate leadership and the heads of the Senate Finance Committee in support of the residential energy efficiency credits. The bill also includes an increase in tax relief for mass transit, an extension of tax benefits for property owners who set aside land for conservation, and a special tax deduction for elementary and secondary school teachers.

The total cost of all of the energy tax extensions would be more than $11 billion over 10 years, according to the JCT summary. The bill also provides incentives for research and development retroactive for this calendar year and through 2011, at a cost of about $13 billion.

HOUSE: SELECT GLOBAL WARMING COMMITTEE TO BE ABOLISHED NEXT CONGRESS

The incoming Republican majority has announced it will abolish the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, citing a need to get rid of waste and duplication in how Congress is run.

The committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), was the first to break the news during a hearing entitled “Not Going Away: America’s Energy Security, Jobs and Climate Challenges.” Although he strongly opposed the House climate bill, Sensenbrenner supported renewing the select committee for the 112th Congress. At the hearing, he said it had “provided a forum for bipartisan debate and an opportunity for House Republicans to share a different view on the pressing energy and environmental issues that we currently face.”

The select committee, under Chairman Markey’s leadership, held 75 hearings on subjects that included climate, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the need for higher fuel economy standards for cars and trucks. Although it was not empowered to mark up legislation, the committee served as a platform to raise awareness of renewable energy and climate change issues, including the cap-and-trade bill (H.R. 2454).

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: SENATORS URGE CLINT ON AGAINST CLIMATE AID

The four most senior Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee issued a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Dec. 2, requesting that the State Department freeze new funding for international climate change programs in favor of deficit reduction.

“As the sixteenth Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is set to enter its second week, we remain opposed to the U.S. commitment to full implementation of the Copenhagen Accord, which will transfer billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to developing nations in the name of climate change,” states the letter from Sens. James Inhofe (OK), John Barrasso (WY), David Vitter (LA) and George Voinovich (OH).

The Obama Administration requested $1.9 billion for fiscal 2011 so it could pay its share of an international fund for adaptation to climate change, which would total $100 billion through 2020. The adaptation fund was part of the Copenhagen Accord, an agreement that emerged from last year’s talks in Denmark.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: PACT COULD BE NEAR TO PRESERVE RAINFORESTS

According to The Washington Post, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is reportedly close to reaching a deal to allow developing nations to receive financial compensation to protect tropical forests and curb deforestation, which accounts for roughly 15 percent of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Brazil, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea are among the nations where forests are being cut to make way for expanded cattle grazing areas and the production of crops such as soybeans and palm oil. The strategy, entitled Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) will help define how to measure deforestation over time and what social and environmental safeguards need to be in place.

Pilot projects around the globe already exist, funded by corporations seeking to enhance their public image or preparing for a carbon-constrained world, or by governments and public institutions focused on curbing deforestation. Norway has pledged more than $1 billion between now and 2012 as part of its long-term pacts with Brazil, Indonesia and Guyana, while the U.S. has promised $1 billion as part of any broad international climate deal.

However, while a dozen countries already have promised to help pay to preserve forests in the short term, most experts say the effort will fall short of what is needed to avert serious climate change. Several analyses, including ones by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the European Union and Great Britain, estimate that the world would need to devote $25 billion a year to cut deforestation in half by 2020.

AIR POLLUTION: EPA DELAYS TOUGHER AIR POLLUTION RULES

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is delaying, for the third time this year, completion of tough new air pollution rules that have come under attack from a range of industry groups and Members of Congress.

The agency had hoped to finalize ozone pollution rules that toughen Bush-era standards months ago, but now has set a target for the end of July 2011. The rules were previously expected to be finalized by Dec. 31, 2010.

EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan stated the agency is seeking more input from its Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, the panel that had recommended a range of standards more aggressive than Bush-era smog standards. However, the incoming GOP House majority, which has pledged to limit many pending EPA rules and increase oversight of the agency, likely also influenced the decision.
The move is the second issue the agency has back-tracked on in under a week. On Dec. 7, EPA announced it would delay a major air toxics rule for industrial boilers, such as those used at oil refineries and paper mills, after coming under fire from a number of industry groups and lawmakers claiming it would adversely affect the economy.

INVASIVE SPECIES: JUDGE RULES AGAINST STATES IN ASIAN CARP DISPUTE

Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled against the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania in their latest attempt to prevent Asian Carp from entering Lake Michigan, where scientists fear the fish could disrupt the food chain and native habitat. The states want the Army Corps of Engineers and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, which control the facilities that link Illinois waterways with the lake, to take action to stop the spread of the invasive species to the Great Lakes.

U.S. District Judge Robert Dow concluded that the states failed to show that closing the locks immediately was essential to block the carp’s path to Lake Michigan. He noted that “multi-agency efforts to prevent Asian carp migration … have only increased and expanded in the months since this lawsuit was filed” and sided with opponents who argued that the locks are essential to commerce and flood control.

The Obama Administration in February released a $78.5 million strategy for battling the carp. It called for strengthening the fish barrier system, netting and poisoning carp in selected areas of the Chicago waterways and developing biological controls to disrupt spawning. The states argued for more prompt action. While the decision does not end the lawsuit, the judge’s refusal to issue a preliminary injunction seems to settle the lock issue for the foreseeable future.

Congress recently passed S. 1421, the Asian Carp Prevention and Control Act, sponsored by Carl Levin (D-MI) and George Voinovich (R-OH). Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) sponsored companion legislation in the House. The bill passed both chambers as of December 1 and is expected to be signed by the president.

Author: Nadine Lymn

ESA Director of Public Affairs

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