Policy News from ESA’s Public Affairs Office

  • WATER: SENATE COMPLETES VETO OVERRIDE FOR WRDA
  • OCEANS: SENATE FLOOR NEXT STOP FOR LAW OF THE SEA
  • FORESTS: HOUSE PANEL SENDS ILLEGAL TIMBER PREVENTION BILL TO FLOOR
  • WATER: LACK OF FUNDING SHUTS DOWN USGS STREAMGAGES
  • APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS POISED TO EXTEND CONTINUING RESOLUTION THROUGH MID-DECEMBER

WATER: SENATE COMPLETES VETO OVERRIDE FOR WRDA Â

On November 8, the Senate voted 79-14 to reverse President Bush’s veto of legislation that authorizes more than $23 billion in water projects, enacting the first Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) since 2000.

With the House having voted 361-54 on November 6 to override, the Senate action completed the first reversal of a Bush veto since he took office in January 2001.

The WRDA conference report authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to carry out hundreds of hurricane protection, flood control, ecosystem restoration and navigation projects.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) ranking member James Inhofe (R-OK) formed a rare alliance with EPW Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and urged his Republican colleagues to join him in overriding the bill, reminding them that WRDA does not guarantee funding for any projects. The authorization bill sets congressional priorities, but funding would have to be approved through appropriations.

But the GOP’s emphasis on authorization over spending and the ongoing spending standoff between the White House and Congress has led some to question whether WRDA projects will get their financial due — a concern dismissed by Boxer.

“These projects will be funded,” Boxer said, in reference to next year’s appropriations process. “Will they be 100 percent funded in one year? No.”

OCEANS: SENATE FLOOR NEXT STOP FOR LAW OF THE SEA

On October 31, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 17-4 to approve the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The action clears the way for a first-ever Senate floor vote on the 25-year-old treaty, which has been ratified by more than 150 countries.

In the United States , President Bush, mining interests, the oil and gas industry, and environmental groups have all supported the treaty. They argue that ratification would ensure U.S. military and commercial ships the right to travel safely through international waters and protect U.S. access to natural resources locked under the ocean floor.

“If we fail to ratify this treaty, we are allowing decisions that will affect our Navy, our ship operators, our offshore industries and other maritime interests to be made without U.S. representation,” said the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), before the vote.

Lugar and Committee Chairman Joe Biden (D-DE) rejected arguments raised by conservatives that the Law of the Sea would constrain U.S. military action and deep seabed mining.

FORESTS: HOUSE PANEL SENDS ILLEGAL TIMBER PREVENTION BILL TO FLOOR

The House Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved legislation on November 7 that would stem the tide of illegal timber imports into the United States .

H.R. 1497 from Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) would ban the import, export or sale of timber illegally sold in violation of a foreign or domestic law or international environmental treaty.

The Lacey Act is a 1900 law that prohibits trade in illegally taken fish and wildlife. H.R. 1497 would extend the protections of the Lacey Act to include wood and timber products. The measure is supported by a coalition of environmental and timber industry groups, as well as organized labor.

Before approving the bill, the committee adopted a substitute amendment designed to address concerns of industry groups and bring the House bill in line with a Senate bill.

To comply with the Lacey Act, companies would have to demonstrate they “took due care” to ensure they are not using illegal timber. Timber and wood-product companies that use certified sustainable practices could benefit because they could theoretically show the public and federal government they are using wood from legitimate sustainable sources, though the bill would not require certification.

U.S. timber companies are increasingly losing market share due to depressed prices and loss of export markets, partially because of illegal harvests and manufacturing in countries such as Indonesia , Honduras , Peru and China .

Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall’s (D-WV) substitute amendment added protection for so-called innocent owners, excludes packing materials used to ship goods, and reduces the penalties to bring them in line with penalties for fish and wildlife violations.

At a hearing last month, the Bush administration did not support the bill but endorsed the concept of using the Lacey Act to address the issue of illegal timber imports, saying existing laws are insufficient to prosecute offenders.

WATER: LACK OF FUNDING SHUTS DOWN USGS STREAMGAGES

Representatives of about 50 organizations from five Midwestern states met the week of November 1 to discuss one of the greatest challenges facing water resource management in the United States – the disappearance of the nation’s streamgages. The meeting is one of several being held throughout the country to discuss the status of streamgaging carried out under the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Cooperative Water Program ( CWP ) and National Streamflow Information Program (NSIP). The regional meetings are being organized by the Interstate Council on Water Policy, a national organization of state and regional water resource management agencies.

The Council became concerned about the loss of the nation’s streamgages because its members rely on accurate water measurements to make management decisions.

The gages provide information about streamflow, groundwater, precipitation and other water resource attributes vital to decisionmakers for a wide variety of planning, design and management functions.

For example, the data provided by the gages help officials monitor compliance with interstate treaties, water compacts and American Indian trust responsibilities; forecast of storm surge, flood and drought conditions; administer water rights and manage releases from reservoirs; monitor and protect water quality, fisheries, wetlands and endangered species; and analyze climate change impacts.

The CWP has served for more than 110 years as a partnership between the federal government and state, tribal and local entities, where the federal and non-federal entities split the costs. Currently, USGS bears less than one-third of the cost of the program.

The loss of federal funding has forced the shutdown of many of the nation’s streamgages. Of the 7,508 streamgages nationwide, about 1,000 have been “discontinued” in the last decade due to inadequate funding, many of them with more than 30 years of continuous record.

Congress has yet to approve fiscal year 2008 funding for USGS. The House version of the funding bill would decrease funding of the cooperative program by $1 million and increase funding for NSIP by $5 million, while the Senate version would hold CWP even and increase NSIP funding by $2.5 million.

APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS POISED TO EXTEND CONTINUING RESOLUTION THROUGH MID-DECEMBER

House and Senate leaders agreed to another month-long Continuing Resolution (CR) on November 6, as congressional leaders and the White House remain far apart on resolving the stalemate over fiscal year 2008 funding.

The CR — which will last until Dec. 14 — was attached to the massive $470 billion Defense spending bill that the House-Senate conference committee approved. The bill extends funding for all federal agencies under fiscal year 2007 levels, though it also contains additional dollars for several initiatives, including $500 million for wildfire-related spending, $3 billion for Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts, $2.9 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund and several other initiatives.

Senate Republicans have already indicated they may try to block some of the Democrats’ efforts to move their spending bills, taking issue with the potential strategy to bundle two or more spending bills in one package.

Other Senate Republicans have also threatened to raise procedural challenges to efforts to bundle appropriations bills.

Democrats yesterday took issue with such threats, saying the Republican majority repeatedly put together omnibus spending bills when they were in control.


Sources: Energy and Environment Daily, Greenwire, and Land LetterÂ

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Author: Christine Buckley

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