ESA Policy News: August 10
Here are some highlights from the final ESA Policy News by Piper Corp, ESA’s outgoing Science Policy Analyst. Thanks, Piper, for keeping EcoTone readers informed about policy for the last couple of years and for your many other insightful posts. We will miss you! Read the full Policy News here.
In the weeks leading up to the August recess, all eyes were on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who has been weighing options for moving forward with climate, energy, and offshore drilling legislation. The House has completed work on all three items, passing a comprehensive climate and energy package (HR 2454) last year and clearing its oil spill reform package (HR 3534) last month. But Senators adjourned for the break empty handed and with little hope of tackling climate change before the end of the year.
On July 22, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to pursue a stripped-down, energy-only bill (S 3663)—one with neither greenhouse gas regulations nor the renewable energy standard (RES) included in the energy bill cleared by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee last year. That bipartisan bill—which was expected to provide much of the energy language in the broader Senate bill—calls on utilities to derive 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2021. Just over a fourth of this requirement could be met by implementing energy-efficiency measures. This RES was one of the more controversial pieces of the ENR bill. Many liberal senators have been pushing for a more stringent mandate (in the ballpark of 20 to 25 percent), while conservatives would like to see the RES expanded into a “clean energy standard” that includes nuclear power and “clean coal.”
Vote Postponed Until September; Lame-Duck Climate Remains a Faint Possibility
Reid had originally planned to hold test votes on two energy and oil spill measures before the August recess—a Democratic proposal and a Republican alternative. But even with the narrowed scope, neither bill was expected to earn the necessary 60 votes, largely because of disputes over the liability cap for oil drilling companies (the Democratic bill would eliminate the cap entirely), revenue sharing (absent in the Democratic bill), and the question of whether to lift the Obama Administration’s moratorium on deepwater drilling. Reid later punted the matter until September, a move that disappointed some Democrats but left others hopeful a broader energy package will in fact surface in the fall.
OFFSHORE DRILLING: HOUSE PASSES RESPONSE BILL; BOTH CHAMBERS HOLD HEARINGS ON ENVIRO IMPACTS, SCIENTIFIC OBJECTIVITY
On July 30, the House passed the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources, or CLEAR Act (HR 3534) by a vote of 209-193. The bill is a revised version of energy legislation first introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chair Nick Rahall (D-WV) last year. For more information, see the July 16 edition of the ESA Policy News at: https://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2010/07162010.php.
Though the Senate has not yet voted on oil spill-related legislation, the disaster in the Gulf has remained at the forefront of many senators’ minds. Several committee hearings have examined the ecological impacts of the oil in the Gulf, as well as the more than 1.8 million gallons of dispersants used to break it up. Estimates of the financial damage done to the Gulf ecosystem could have important legal ramifications as impacted parties ask BP for compensation. More than 20 years after the Exxon Valdez spill, debate continues over its long-term impacts and Exxon’s liability.
Chemical dispersants have concerned lawmakers and the public since the early days of their application—since little is known about their environmental impacts, EPA and the Coast Guard issued a directive in May, ordering BP to curb the dispersant sprays in the Gulf except in “rare cases.” But recently released documents indicate that the Coast Guard granted BP almost daily exemptions, raising new concerns about the extent of application and its possible impacts. BP reported spraying 272,000 gallons of surface dispersant in the four weeks following the directive, but congressional staff uncovered discrepancies between those totals and the total dispersant volumes BP referenced in its requests for Coast Guard exemptions.
Both the Senate and the House have also held hearings to investigate the accuracy and objectivity of studies characterizing the ecological damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 established the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Program, which formally assesses the environmental damage caused by oil spills and the amount that the responsible party should pay to restore habitat to pre-spill conditions. But since the responsible party—in this case BP—finances the assessment, lawmakers such as Senate Water and Wildlife Subcommittee Chair Ben Cardin (D-MD) are questioning how independent the studies really are. He and other lawmakers have expressed doubts about the accessibility of research findings when scientists sign nondisclosure agreements with BP in exchange for grants.
ENDANGERMENT FINDING: LAWMAKERS RESUME EFFORTS TO BLOCK EPA REGS
Now that the Senate has—at least temporarily—abandoned its climate push, many lawmakers are revisiting efforts to block the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. While the Obama administration and climate supporters in Congress have been clear that they would prefer to cap emissions with a climate law, EPA regulations may still be leveraged to urge quick action in Congress.
But many lawmakers—including some climate bill supporters—think the EPA regulations would take too high an economic toll. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has proposed a bill to put EPA emission rules on hold for two years. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) agreed to allow a vote on the bill this year, as part of a previous effort to dissuade senators from backing Senator Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) broader plan to revoke the “endangerment finding” that necessitated the new rules. For more information on the Murkowski plan, see the “ENDANGERMENT FINDING” article in the May 21 edition of ESA’s Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2010/05212010.php.
FORESTS: FOREST SERVICE SHIFTS STRATEGY TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE
The US Forest Service (FS) has issued a national roadmap to guide short- and long-term responses to climate change. This blueprint calls on FS managers to take action in three areas: assessing risks, vulnerabilities, policies and knowledge gaps; engaging employees and external partners; and managing for adaptation and mitigation.
The national roadmap stems from the Forest Service’s 2010-2015 strategic plan and a 2008 strategic framework for responding to climate change. It includes a performance scorecard system for measuring compliance—each national forest and grassland must rate itself annually in 10 categories, including monitoring, external partnerships, carbon assessments, and adaptation activities.
OCEANS: WHITE HOUSE UNVEILS FEDERAL OCEANS POLICY
On July 19, the Obama Administration rolled out its new suite of guidelines for managing oceans and the Great Lakes. The policies are the product of a White House-appointed taskforce, assembled last year and led by Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. For more information on the taskforce, see the August 28, 2009 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/08282009.php.
AIR POLLUTION: THREE-POLLUTANT BILL HAS BIPARTISAN SUPPORT; AMENDMENTS WORRY SOME ENVIRO, PUBLIC HEALTH GROUPS
Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) have introduced a three-pollutant clean air bill (S 2995), which would strengthen emissions cuts beyond those mandated by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and give EPA permission to establish a nationwide trading program for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. The sponsors hope to see their proposal included in the Senate energy package, though they will proceed with stand-alone legislation if necessary.