ESA Policy News: Post-Election Special Edition

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: REPUBLICAN MAJORITY PRESENTS DRASTIC CHANGES IN CLIMATE & ENERGY AGENDA

The sizable Republican majority in the House means that any attempts to put a price on carbon are off the table. Exactly how the new majority will now approach its climate and energy agenda remains to be seen.

Presumptive Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) may have already laid out the blueprints for a GOP energy bill with the “American Energy Act.” That legislation calls for ramping up nuclear energy and offshore drilling as well as creating incentives for renewable energy.

Committees under GOP leadership

Under Boehner, committee leaders in the lower chamber are also expected to press the Obama Administration on scientific understanding of climate change and challenge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases.

Expected committee chairs Darrell Issa (R-CA) of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) of the Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee may launch investigations into events that they claim cast doubt on climate science.  However, some analysts believe the latter committee will be slashed completely or fundamentally altered under the GOP. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), a top contender to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee, publicly called for scrapping the global warming committee in The Washington Times last month. Rep. Sensenbrenner alternatively has written an op-ed in the Roll Call newspaper urging Republican leaders to retain the committee, citing its value as a platform to provide for increased oversight over the Environmental Protection Agency.

BUDGET: ELECTION RESULTS COULD SPELL FISCAL BELT-TIGHTENING FOR SCIENCE

According to a November 3 New York Times story, the recent Republican victory in the House of Representatives could mean significantly less funding for federally funded research.  The GOP’s Pledge to America calls for cutting non-defense discretionary spending to 2008 levels.  An analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science shows that would mean a loss of $1 billion for the National Science Foundation (about 19 percent of its budget), for example.  However, the GOP document is not clear on which programs would be on the chopping block.  Even before the election, however, the prospects for strong increases for federal research were dimming as the Obama Administration had already called on all agencies to plan on reduced budgets for fiscal year 2012.  Meanwhile, the budget for the current fiscal year of 2011 (underway since October 1, 2010) is still pending for the foreseeable future as the federal government continues to operate at last year’s budget levels.

SENATE: REPUBLICAN VICTORIES BOOST EFFORT TO BLOCK CLIMATE RULES

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to be the target of congressional attacks once the Republicans take control of the House and gain several seats in the Democratic-controlled Senate. For Congressional Republicans, the first order of business could be legislation to stop EPA from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Supporters of measures to block EPA’s climate regulations say it is a foregone conclusion that the Republican-controlled House will pass such a bill during the next session. And in the Senate, where Democrats have spent the past two years bemoaning the rule requiring 60 votes to defeat a filibuster, that threshold appears to be the only thing that could stop such a measure from passing.

Other rules under pressure

Environmental groups are worried that the shift in Congress could have an impact beyond climate change, and could also threaten the Environmental Protection Agency’s new standards for smog, industrial boilers and coal ash. While such legislation would face an uphill battle passing the two chambers, the House’s new Republican leadership will still likely press EPA officials to justify the costly rules.

The dynamic in Congress will depend on the broader strategy chosen by Republican leadership. Environmental groups contend the party would be wise to acknowledge that voters rejected candidates that were most vocal in their criticism of climate science and environmental regulations. Many analysts have suggested that the Republicans would have won the Senate had they not nominated tea party favorites such as  Sharron Angle in Nevada, Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Ken Buck in Colorado.

Opportunities remain for bipartisanship

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (KY) recently stated he expects energy policy to be an area where his party and Democrats can work together to pass meaningful legislation in the next Congress. In echoing earlier comments made by President Obama and Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), McConnell said plug-in electric vehicles, nuclear power and “clean coal” technology were areas where Democrats and Republicans were in agreement on energy policy. Bingaman prides himself on passing bills with GOP support, including a 2009 committee measure that included a renewable electricity standard and increased offshore oil drilling.

SENATE: BOXER TO RETAIN TOP COMMITTEE SLOT

California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer won her re-election bid and will hold on to her prominent chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee. The three-term senator ran on a platform of clean energy, environmental protection and civil rights, besting challenger Carly Fiorina, a former CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co. who poured more than $5.5 million of her own money into the race.

One particular ad during that campaign, which portrayed Boxer as a blimp hovering over the country, attacked the senator for calling climate change a national security issue. Fiorina also criticized Boxer for meeting with President Obama to discuss cap-and-trade legislation instead of working on cleaning up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

ELECTIONS: GUBERNATORIAL CLIMATE SKEPTICS MAY CHANGE STATE POLICIES

The GOP net gains in at least nine states throughout the country (as of Nov. 8 cast serious doubts about whether states will move forward with cap-and-trade programs and related efforts to mitigate climate change, according to analysts.

The fate of state cap-and-trade programs, renewable energy programs and coal plant permits rests with the incoming group of governors. For many environmentalists, the ascension of climate skeptics to state leadership at a time when federal climate legislation is stalled on Capitol Hill suggests greenhouse gas emissions will continue to increase across the country. According to Americans for Prosperity, an oil business group, several gubernatorial candidates signed a “no climate tax” pledge including GOP gubernatorial victors in the states of Georgia, Kansas, Maine, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin. Florida Governor-elect Rick Scott stated he has “not been convinced” of the existence of global warming despite a general consensus among scientists that human activities are causing global climatic change.

CANADA: U.S. MIDTERMS BENEFICIAL TO OIL SANDS

Among the biggest winners in Canada after the U.S. midterm Congressional elections are Alberta’s oil producers, which have been criticized by many Democrats for their “dirty oil.” Republicans, who will control the U.S. House of Representatives in January, will likely emphasize the need to rely less on oil from the Middle East and Persian Gulf.

Canada also faces less pressure to pass its own climate legislation now that the chances for that happening in the United States are tabled for the foreseeable future. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government had been working in step with the Obama Administration before the legislation failed to reach a vote in the U.S. Senate. The loss helped pave the way for Harper to successfully delay dealing with climate legislation in Canada.

CALIFORNIA: PROP 26 COULD INHIBIT POLUTTER FEES

California voters approved a measure on Election Day that will tighten how the state constitution defines taxes and regulatory fees.

Proposition 26 effectively expands the definition of a state tax, requiring a two-thirds vote for any new surcharge or levy, even if the money is earmarked for a specific purpose. Its passage could also empower the Republican minority in the state legislature and make it more difficult for California to balance its budget through alcohol, tobacco and other companies that have been targets of legislative fees for decades. The state’s business community had been in opposition to these fees for years.

The measure has been called the “evil twin” of Proposition 23 by environmental activists who fear it would inhibit the state’s ability to regulate carbon emissions. Prop. 23, which was voted down, would have delayed the state’s climate law, A.B. 32, until unemployment dropped to 5.5 percent for a full year.

Prop. 26 had received multimillion-dollar contributions from the California Chamber of Commerce, Chevron Corp., Philip Morris USA Inc. and Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc.

Click here to read the UCLA report: http://cdn.law.ucla.edu/SiteCollectionDocuments/Environmental%20Law/Paying%20for%20Pollution.pdf

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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