Policy news update: Budgets, climate, biofuels

With funding from the recent the stimulus bill beginning to trickle down to agencies and budgets for the next two fiscal years on the line, it’s all about the Benjamins these days in Washington. Here are some highlights from today’s issue of the ESA Policy News Update, written by ESA’s Policy Analyst, Piper Corp.

2009 Budget. The fiscal year 2009 omnibus spending bill passed the House in February and the Senate was preparing to vote on the bill this week. The $410 billion bill will provide funding for virtually all energy- and environment-related programs, which have been funded at 2008 levels under a continuing resolution set to expire today. If the bill does not pass, Congress would extend the continuing resolution until the end of FY 2009. As of this morning, the bill had stalled in the Senate. Republican lawmakers have criticized the bill’s spending levels. The bill contains two riders, or program modifications that are often attached to bills funding those programs. The Endangered Species Act (E.S.A.) rider would reinstate scientific review in the E.S.A. President Obama took the first steps toward undoing the Bush administration rule that limited scientific review of government projects on March 3. The Polar Bear rider could open the door to using the E.S.A. as a means to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

2010 Budget. The $3.5 trillion budget draft provides increased funding over fiscal year 2008 levels for many environmental initiatives. NSF would receive $7 billion (a $950 million increase), and the administration has pledged to double funding for basic research over ten years. NOAA would receive $18.7 billion (a $1.5 billion increase), and the EPA would receive $10.5 billion (a $3.0 billion increase), including $19 million to establish an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change action in Congress. The House and the Senate are preparing to debate energy and climate change issues, but with different approaches. The Senate plans an energy debate within the next six weeks, followed by a climate debate this summer. The House, however, is likely to take up both issues in a single bill. Congress will likely pursue a carbon cap-and-trade system instead of a carbon tax, but many economists have advocated the latter option and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has remained open to either approach.

Renewable energy. After being suspended by the White House, the rule to expand the national renewable fuels standard (RFS) is back under review, and a proposal could be out within the next month. The 2007 energy law called for increasing levels of renewable fuels in the US motor mix to 36 billion gallons by 2022. The target for cellulosic ethanol will increase from one million gallons next year to 16 billion gallons by 2022. Some ethanol plants are shutting down, however, in response to weakened demand and the financial crisis. The industry is urging the EPA to expand the market for ethanol by allowing a higher concentration in gasoline, which is currently at 10 percent. The Obama administration has allotted an extra $250 million in loans and grants at the US Department of Agriculture for renewable fuels, including biofuels and wind power.

Author: Christine Buckley

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