Policy News: April 22
Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.
After months of short-term continuing resolutions and a near government shutdown, a deal was reached to fund the federal government for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2011. On April 15, the president signed (P.L. 112-10), which funds the government for the remainder of the fiscal year, ending Sept. 30, 2011. The bill passed the House by a large bipartisan majority of 260-167 with the support of 81 Democrats (59 Republicans opposed the measure). The bill also cleared the Senate overwhelmingly by a vote of 81-19.
The deal was struck and finalized moments before the most recent continuing resolution was set to expire the evening of Friday, April 8. In the waning minutes of that Friday evening, the House and Senate passed an additional one-week continuing resolution (CR) that included full funding for the Department of Defense. The move served to keep the government funded for an additional week to allow appropriations committee staff to draft the more complex long-term spending measure enacted April 15.
In total, the bill sets final 2011 spending levels at $1.049 trillion. This is a $78.5 billion decrease from Obama’s 2011 budget request and a $39.9 billion decrease from the $1.089 trillion 2010 spending bills, as enacted. Republicans had sought a $61 billion cut in spending, but negotiations with the Senate and White House scaled those demands back.
While the Senate and White House were successful in rescinding some of the massive cuts and riders proposed in the House-passed bill, the final agreement still included numerous significant cuts to science and environmental agencies. The funding decreases include $12 billion in cuts through three stopgap continuing resolutions and $28 billion in new cuts.
NOAA weather satellites axed
The long-term CR includes $382 million for NOAA new climate and weather satellites under the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), roughly over a third of the president’s budget request for FY2011. Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, who has jurisdiction over NOAA, asserts that nearly $1 billion is needed this year to prevent data gaps that could make it harder to predict the weather.
NOAA Secretary Jane Lubchenco has said that for every dollar not spent on JPSS this year, the agency would have to spend three to five dollars down the road because of canceled contracts and other problems. The program is already suffering because no increase was given to it in the stopgap funding measures that have kept the federal government operating since October.
House Republicans also were able to include a provision that defunds the administration’s four “czars,” which have been influential advisers to President Obama on key policy issues.
However, President Obama took the unique step of issuing a signing statement, a president’s declaration of constitutional interpretation of legislation he or she might sign into law. It essentially notified lawmakers that he would not abide by the section of the law defunding the czar positions, noting the constitutional separation of powers between the executive branch and the legislative branch.
HOUSE: FY2012 GOP BUDGET RESOLUTION PASSES
On April 15, the House passed its budget resolution for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. The measure, while nonbinding in that it does not carry the force of law, serves as a blueprint for committee appropriators in crafting measures to fund the government for the upcoming fiscal year.
The bill seeks to cut discretionary spending levels either to FY2008 or below. The concurrent resolution passed by a vote of 235-193, with solid opposition among House Democrats. The measure is not expected to clear the Senate under its current authorized funding levels. The proposal includes $5.8 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years.
Under the Republican plan, overall discretionary funding for energy programs would fall to about $1 billion per year. President Obama’s 2012 budget, meanwhile, would provide about $8 billion to support clean energy research and deployment. The House report accompanying the budget bill notes that “basic research and development” funding would remain stable, but it also recommended “paring back spending in areas of duplication or non-core functions, such as applied and commercial research and development projects best left to the private sector.”
HOUSE: EPA REGULATION HEARINGS LACK SUFFICIENT AGENCY PRESENCE
From April 13-15, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held three consecutive hearings on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules that have been met with contention in the House. However, of the three meetings, the agency sent an administration witness to just one.
Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) asserts that the Republican leadership on the committee is not giving agency officials adequate notice of upcoming hearings. “I am concerned that the Committee is providing insufficient notice to ensure that members have the benefit of EPA’s views on the complex and controversial legislative proposals that are being brought before the Committee,” asserted Waxman in the letter. EPA was given one week’s notice of three hearings scheduled for this week on the agency’s regulations.
Republican committee leaders have expressed concern over EPA’s failure to include agency representation during the hearings. The hearings focused on EPA plans to implement stricter limits on industrial air pollution, as well as its attempts to regulate the ash from coal-fired power plants.
EPA: SCHWARTZENEGGER OPPOSES EFFORTS TO BLOCK CLEAN AIR REGULATORY EFFORTS
In an April 21 op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal, former California Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger voiced his opposition to efforts on Capitol Hill to block Environmental Protection Agency air pollution regulations.
In the article, Schwartzenegger notes that, when he came to California in the late 1960s, poor air quality would cause his eyes to water, while the air quality is much better now thanks to the Clean Air Act. “Today, I have tears in my eyes again, but for a very different reason. Some in Washington are threatening to pull the plug on this success,” Schwarzenegger writes.
“Since January, there have been more than a dozen proposals in Congress to limit enforcement of our clean-air rules, create special-interest loopholes, and attempt to reverse scientific findings. These attacks go by different names and target different aspects of the law, but they all amount to the same thing: dirtier air,” he continues.
On April 8, the House passed H.R. 910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act, which would amend the Clean Air Act in order to permanently prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Similar proposals have also gained traction in the Senate, yet none of the individual efforts have garnered a collective majority to pass.
COAL: EPA, TVA REACH SETTLEMENT TO MODERNIZE POWER PLANTS
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) have reached a settlement to resolve alleged Clean Air Act violations at a number of its coal-fired plants in Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee. The settlement, announced April 14, resolves a number of lingering violation complaints EPA brought against the company for allegedly failing to comply with Clean Air Act pollution control requirements at 11 of its plants.
The settlement will require TVA to invest an estimated $3-5 billion on new and upgraded pollution controls. According to EPA, once fully implemented, the pollution controls and other required actions will address 92 percent of TVA’s coal-fired power plant capacity, reducing TVA’s nitrogen oxides by 69 percent and sulfur dioxide by 67 percent.
The move by TVA will result in nearly one percent of the nation’s coal-fired power capacity going offline by the end of 2018, including 1,000 megawatts of coal-fired power TVA said it planned to retire last year. TVA will be closing 18 coal-fired boilers at three of its plants in Tennessee and Alabama as part of the agreement, affecting about 16 percent of its coal-fired electricity generating system.
INVASIVE SPECIES: HOUSE MEMBERS PLAGUED BY STINK BUG
Congressmen Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) and Frank Wolf (R-VA) recently convened Town Hall meetings to discuss potential methods to combat the rise of an invasive stink bug in their congressional districts.
Brown marmorated stink bugs (BMSB) feed on numerous fruits and vegetables such as apples, cherries and tomatoes. Entomologists believe that the BMSB emigrated from their native Asia via in packing crates. They landed near Allentown, PA in the mid-1990s and from there have spread to 33 states and the District of Columbia. They have no known natural predators in the United States.
One study conducted in Georgia revealed a $27 million loss of crops in a single year due to the damage caused by the brown stink bug. Both members represent major apple-growing districts, who have seen local economies adversely impacted by the pests.
Reps. Bartlett and Todd Russell Platts (R-PA) recently formed an Invasive Species Caucus that plans to invite Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Members of Congress “to see the stink bugs in action” as a way secure additional funding for agricultural research. Unfortunately, the recent funding cuts enacted by Congress for FY2011 could put federal funding for current Agricultural Research Service efforts to combat the bug in jeopardy. In Sept. 2010, Reps. Bartlett and Platts also spearheaded a bipartisan letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency to call attention to the BMSB problem.
WETLANDS: LAWMAKERS REQUEST RECONSIDERATION OF CLEAN WATER ACT GUIDANCE
On April 14, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bob Gibbs spearheaded a letter asking the Obama administration to end its efforts to broaden federal protection of wetlands.
The letter, signed by 147 Republicans and 23 Democrats, urges the administration to reconsider its proposed reinterpretation of the Clean Water Act’s reach over waters, streams, swamps, bogs and marshes. The draft guidance is currently under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget.
The lawmakers call the proposed guidance “an attempt to short-circuit the process for changing agency policy and the scope of the Clean Water Act jurisdiction without following the proper, transparent rulemaking process” required under the law.
Environmentalists and sportsmen who support the guidance, including Ducks Unlimited and the National Wildlife Federation, accused the letter writers of misleading lawmakers by implying that the proposal would not undergo a period of public comment and by failing to mention that the status quo interpretation was also the product of a guidance the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued during the George W. Bush administration.
The guidance seeks to clarify the definition of waters covered under the 1972 law so that certain wetlands and seasonal streams are subject to pollution regulation, a regulatory maneuver long sought by environmentalists. Agriculture and mining industries believe policy change would significantly increase the scope of the Clean Water Act while bypassing the normal regulatory review process.
RARE EARTHS: PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY FOR DRAFT BILL TO DEVELOP US MINERAL STRATEGY
On April 15, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) released draft legislation that would require the federal government to develop a wide-ranging strategy to ensure the United States has access to a slew of essential minerals.
The draft bill directs the U.S. Geological Survey to establish a list of the nation’s minerals and develop a plan that ensures America’s mineral needs are met. The legislation comes amid growing concern that the United States lacks a domestic supply of rare-earth minerals, which are critical components of a slew of energy technologies like wind turbines and electric vehicles.
China currently controls 97 percent of the world’s rare-earth mineral supply. The country announced late last year that it would cut its export quotas of the minerals, raising concerns about U.S. dependence on Chinese supply.
INTERIOR: U.S. APPROVES FIRST OFFSHORE WIND PROJECT
On April 19, U.S. Department of Interior Sec. Ken Salazar announced that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) has approved of the proposed 130-turbine Cape Wind project slated to become the nation’s first offshore wind project off Cape Cod, MA.
The agency in February announced it was developing an environmental assessment to determine whether any significant impacts had not been discussed as part of its 2009 review, including additional surveys and sampling, conflicts with aviation traffic and fishing use, emergency response, migratory birds, microclimate, oil within wind turbine generators and interagency consultations. Construction in 25 square miles of federal waters could begin as early as this fall, according to Interior. Developers say the project will take two years to build.
It is hoped that Cape Wind marks the beginning of a new economic sector made up of construction companies and manufacturers of wind turbine and transmission cables. BOEMRE Director Michael Bromwich said the project will accelerate interest in the budding offshore wind sector while spurring investments in critical infrastructure. According to Interior, production from the Cape Wind facility could provide roughly 75 percent of the electricity needs of Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. On average, the project would generate enough energy to power more than 200,000 homes.