ESA Policy News Update

policy-news-logo_sMy sincere apologies for this week’s EcoTone drought… this blogger was away on vacation. To re-whet your appetite, here are highlights from the latest Policy News Update from ESA’s policy analyst, Piper Corp.

House Climate Bill: On May 21, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the American Clean Energy and Security Act by a vote of 33 to 25.  The committee approved a number of amendments, including ones establishing a federal “clean energy” bank, which would provide financial assistance for clean energy projects, and a “cash for clunkers” program, which would provide consumers with up to $4,500 toward replacing gas-guzzling cars with more efficient models. The committee also voted down Republican-backed amendments to add nuclear and hydroelectric power to the renewable electricity standard, as well as ones to provide a means for terminating the cap-and-trade program in the event of increased job loss or energy prices. Among the things yet to be decided are acceptable sources of biomass for renewable energy mandates (see the March 5 Policy News), emissions allocations for refineries, and repercussions for violations in gas, power and carbon markets. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he expects a possible floor debate in late June or early July, following another month of fast-paced committee action.

Senate Energy Bill: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) appears to have gathered the twelve votes necessary to move forward with a renewable energy standard (RES) measure in the chamber’s massive energy bill. The current RES would require utilities to supply 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2021, allowing companies to cover roughly a fourth of the target with efficiency offsets. Committee members are still debating the specifics, however, and could mark up as many as 49 amendments next month.

Fisheries: The Obama administration’s 2010 budget request includes $18.6 million for “catch-share” programs, new fisheries management programs that take a cap-and-trade-style approach to regulating catches. Under the traditional system, managers set a limit to the fishery’s total catch, and boats compete to bring in as many fish as possible before the fishery hits its limit. The resulting “race for fish” is, according to several studies, a major contributor to fishery decline and collapse. Catch-share programs are designed to incentivize more sustainable practices by guaranteeing all fishers a fixed number of shares from the total catch, a limit that is set annually by scientists. These shares, which can be bought and sold, increase in value when the fish populations increase, increasing the financial benefit of preserving the long-term health of the fishery. Recent studies have shown that catch-share programs can cut the collapse rate for fisheries in half. There are currently 12 such programs in operation; the requested funds would go toward developing additional ones.

Biofuels: On May 14, the House Agriculture Committee introduced a bill to counter some of the provisions outlined in the 2007 expansion of the national biofuels mandate. The Environmental Protection Agency recently released a draft biofuels rule; this bill would modify parts of the rule dealing with lifecycle emissions and renewable biomass. The EPA draft rule states that the agency will seek peer review to determine if and how indirect land-use change-the clearing of land to accommodate the agricultural demands of biofuels- should be factored into a fuel’s lifecycle emissions. The new bill would exclude indirect changes in land-use from emissions calculations on the grounds that the science remains to crude to make such calculations accurately and fairly. Also, the 2007 bill’s definition of “renewable biomass” excludes crops from lands cleared after the enactment of the law, as well as slash and thinning from federal forests. The new bill would replace this definition with the less restrictive one used in the 2008 farm bill, significantly expanding acceptable sources of biomass.

Emissions standards: President Obama unveiled new proposed corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards on May 18, the first-ever national greenhouse gas emissions standard for cars and trucks. The proposed rulemaking will mandate a 5-percent annual increase in fuel economy for automobiles manufactured between 2012 and 2016. It will also increase corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards to an average of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, which is four years ahead of the schedule set by Congress in 2007.

Upcoming Senate legislation: An oil spill prevention bill would require cargo ships to reinforce their fuel tanks to reduce the risk of oil spills resulting from accidents. Two bills propose to expand marine sanctuaries in California and Lake Huron, and a separate bill would expand a program that provides grants to groups working to recover, treat, and research stranded whales and other marine mammals. Finally, a Senate bill aimed at severe weather and climate event research would establish a Weather Mitigation Research Office within the National Science Foundation.

Author: Christine Buckley

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