ESA Policy News: November 23

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

HOUSE: SUBCOMMITTEE HEARING PREVIEWS FUTURE OF CLIMATE POLICY

The House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, chaired by retiring Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), held a hearing Nov. 17 entitled “A Rational Discussion of Climate Change: the Science, the Evidence, the Response,” the subcommittee’s last hearing on climate policy before Republicans take control of the House next year.

“I believe that many members of the public, and perhaps some in Congress, have never had the opportunity to consider the basic science and the long history of investigation and data that underlie understanding the greenhouse effect and, more recently, ocean acidification,” said Chairman Baird in a subsequent press release.  “I place a paramount importance on scientific integrity, and this hearing was a chance to go back to the basics for an open discussion.”

Committee Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX), whom Baird acknowledged as the prospective Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee next year, read through a prepared statement questioning the Obama Administration’s position that cutting greenhouse gas emissions is a policy that is justified by the science asserting “reasonable people have serious questions about our knowledge of the state of the science, the evidence and what constitutes a proportional response.”

Per the request of the committee Republicans, each of the three panels of witnesses included one climate skeptic, though the overwhelming majority of panelists were unanimous in their testimony regarding climate science. National Academy of Sciences President Ralph Cicerone, an atmospheric chemist, said there are “multiple lines of evidence” that demonstrates humans are warming the planet and warned lawmakers that the potential for “sudden, abrupt changes” in the climate is substantial.

Gerald A. Meehl, a climate modeler at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, noted that since January 1, 2000, “there have been 311,734 record daily high maximum temperatures set and only 152, 329 daily record low minimum temperatures, a ratio of about two to one.”

Climate skeptic Richard Lindzen, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he believes that doubling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, compared to the level at the start of the Industrial Revolution, would cause just one degree Celsius of warming.  According to other members of the panel, that’s at the very low end of the range of likely outcomes supported by mainstream climate science.

Meehl countered that “we have multiple lines of evidence” that suggest the most likely value is around three degrees Celsius.  He asserted that evidence includes analyses of how the Earth’s climate has responded to cooling induced by large volcanic eruptions and data on ancient climatic conditions collected from ice cores, tree rings and other natural records. Richard Alley, a glaciologist at Pennsylvania State University concurred: “If you could bet on one horse, [three degrees Celsius] is the best horse.”

Alley, at one point used  the top of his forehead as a reference to the North Pole, and  stated that melting polar ice caps and mountain glacier “shrinkage” constitute some of the best evidence that human activities are causing Earth to warm. “When you estimate warming by looking at how much the ice is shrinking, it agrees with the thermometers,” he noted.

SENATE: COMMITTEE LEADERS DECLARE BIPARTSIAN PUSH FOR WRDA IN 2011

Despite concerns over federal spending, lead senators have said they will push for a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) next year that would boost investment in inland waterways, harbor maintenance and levee safety.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) said such a bill could win bipartisan support, just as the last WRDA to pass Congress did in 2007, which overwhelming overrode a veto from President George W. Bush. “I hope to continue working in a bipartisan fashion to ensure we pass a WRDA next year,” Sen. Inhofe stated in prepared remarks during a recent hearing on the issue.

Prior to the past decade, a new WRDA traditionally is passed every two years. However, the bill prior to the 2007 act was passed in 2000. Although lawmakers had hoped to push one through this year, Boxer and Inhofe conceded that it would be impossible before the current session of Congress ends.

Republican leaders in both the House and Senate have pushed for a moratorium on earmarks in the next Congress. Inhofe has argued vehemently against such a ban and insisted that WRDA projects do not constitute earmarks, since the legislation authorizes projects but not does appropriate the money to pay for them.

NATURAL RESOURCES: LAWMAKERS PONDER OMNIBUS ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION BILL

Lawmakers are working to bundle a slew of waterways, public lands and wildlife bills into a monumental natural resources package that could attract enough bipartisan support to pass before Congress ends next month. Staffers and environmental lobbyists are working to determine which individual bills could attract the support needed to pass the potentially landmark package.

Bills under consideration for the end-of-year lame duck session include water and wildlife measures out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that would protect the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound, Long Island Sound, Gulf of Mexico and San Francisco Bay. Aides are trying to combine those bills with others out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that would protect more than two million acres and create new national parks, monuments, wilderness areas and wildlife sanctuaries.

Other potential add-ons originate in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and would protect oceans and estuarine resources like coral reefs and species such as sharks, Pacific salmon and the southern sea otter, improve fisheries management, combat algae blooms and promote oceanic research.

House passage of such a measure would be contingent on primarily what type of opposition would be generated from House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Doc Hastings (R-WA), who has said he dislikes “omnibus” measures. The other question is whether leadership can or will make time for such a package to receive consideration before the clock runs out on the 111th Congress.

Environmental groups are framing the issue in economic terms they hope will resonate on Capitol Hill. The Outdoor Foundation released a report stating that outdoor recreation contributes $730 billion annually to the U.S. economy while supporting 6.5 million jobs. It also noted the multiplier effect of dollars invested in environmental restoration and the boost to surrounding property values that comes with preserving land.

HOUSE: HASTINGS SEEKS TO ADD ENERGY TO COMMITTEE’S JURISDICTION

Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), the current ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee and the presumed chairman when Republicans take control of the House next year, wants the panel to add the word “Energy” to its name, expanding the committee’s portfolio and taking jurisdiction over a key issue away from the high-profile House Energy and Commerce committee.

“This proposal would allow one committee to focus on health care and Obamacare…and one committee to focus on energy, our all-of-the-above approach, and the administration’s policies that hurt energy jobs and American-made energy production,” Hastings wrote in a letter addressed to the Republican Conference. “This will enable both committees to be more effective and achieve real oversight and legislative accomplishments.” The change would also more closely align jurisdiction with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a move that Hastings says would advance “our ability to ultimately achieve legislative success.”

The current Chairman of the Natural Resources panel supports the change. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), the current chairman of the committee, said it would make sense but noted that past efforts to do so have never progressed far, since members of the Energy and Commerce Committee do not want to give up authority. Hastings is backed by first-term resource committee members looking to keep energy policy in the spotlight next session

HOUSE: MARKEY LIKELY TO WIN TOP RESOURCES COMMITTEE SLOT

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) appears to be the lead contender for the top Democratic spot on the House Natural Resources Committee, after Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) back-tracked his challenge for the seat. The opening was created by the current chairman, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), who is leaving the committee to replace defeated Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN) as the ranking Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure panel.

Rep. Markey currently serves as Chairman of both the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Environment as well as the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which many speculate the Republicans will abolish next year.

Committee Republicans are pledging to open public lands and the outer continental shelf to more energy development and to address Interior Department policies they oppose. Both Markey and Grijalva are promising to oppose that agenda, but Grijalva said he wants to make sure his western perspective is included.

Rep. Grijalva, who was once on the short list to be President Obama’s Interior secretary, was always perceived as a long-shot against Markey. The Massachusetts Democrat has decades more seniority, a higher profile in the party and is close to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Markey also poured more than $130,000 into fellow Democrats’ campaigns in the run-up to the 2010 elections. Grijalva, who was locked in a tight race to keep his seat, gave $10,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Grijalva is also running to be chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

CLIMATE: EPA ISSUES FINAL RULES FOR CARBON SEQUESTRATION

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized two rules Nov. 22 for regulating the underground sequestration of carbon dioxide with the aim of protecting water supplies and providing guidelines to help the expansion of carbon capture and sequestration technology for fossil fuel-burning power plants.

Drinking Water Protection:

The first rule creates a new “Class VI” injection well for geological sequestration of carbon dioxide that would be regulated under a different set of construction, monitoring and testing requirements under EPA’s Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program authorized by the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Greenhouse Gas Reporting:

The second rule requires reporting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from large sources and suppliers in the United States. Information gathered under the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program will enable EPA to track the amount of carbon dioxide sequestered by these facilities. The program was established in 2009 under authority of the Clean Air Act and requires reporting of greenhouse gases from various source categories in the United States.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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