ESA Policy News June 13: EPA releases new power plant rules, energy research bill markup halted

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



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.

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.


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.

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.


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.


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.

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.

Additional information on the bill is available through this link. 


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.

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.

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.

View the full hearing by clicking here.


Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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