ESA Policy News July 11: Report urges US military to improve climate planning, House DOE, Interior spending bills advance

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

 

 

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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