ESA Policy News: October 7

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS APPROVES, PRESIDENT SIGNS TEMPORARY SPENDING BILL On Oct. 5, President Obama signed the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-36), which provides federal funding for the new fiscal year (FY) 2012 through Nov. 18. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 79-12 and the House by a vote of 352-66. The agreement came in part when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced late last month that it would not need additional funds for the remainder of FY 2011, which ended Sept. 30. Consequently, the compromise legislation provided $2.6 billion to FEMA for disaster relief spending with no offsets. The funding would address the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, flooding and other natural disasters that occurred during calendar year 2011. The agreement also eliminated the $1.5 billion offset cut to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) advanced vehicle loan program. The bill provides additional time for Congress to continue work on its 12 individual FY 2012 appropriations bills.  To date, the House has passed six individual bills and the Senate has passed one. Neither of the bills has been agreed upon by both bodies, which must reconcile and pass the bills  before they can be sent to the president. AIR POLLUTION: SCIENCE COMMITTEE EXAMINES EPA SMOG RULES On Oct. 4, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened for a hearing entitled “Quality Science for Quality Air.” The hearing sought to examine the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) process for setting standards under the Clean Air Act. In his opening statement, Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) asserted “it is important to note at the outset that overall air quality in the United States is excellent. He contended that “EPA seems to rely on making statistical hay out of minor associations between pollutants and premature mortality.” Committee Democrats defended EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act, citing enforcement of such regulations as the reason why air quality has improved over the past few decades.  “Stricter pollutions limits force us to push the envelope of scientific innovation and create new technologies.  And, as it has been proven many times over, improved worker productivity, increased agricultural yield, reduction in mortality and illness, and other economic and public health benefits far outweigh the costs of compliance,” said Energy and Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Brad Miller (D-NC). View the hearing here. WATER: COMMITTEE CONSIDERS FEDERAL, STATE NUTRIENT POLLUTION CONTROL EFFORTS On Oct. 4, the Senate Environment and Public Works Water and Wildlife Subcommittee held...

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ESA Policy News: September 23

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE, SENATE DEADLOCKED OVER TEMPORARY SPENDING BILL The specter of a federal government shutdown looms again as the House passed a bill to fund the government beyond the end of the current fiscal year only to see it fail in the Senate. On Sept. 22, the House passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government through Nov. 18, by a vote of 213-209. The measure subsequently failed in the Senate by a vote of 59-36, falling one vote shy of the 60 vote majority needed to advance the bill under Senate rules. The bill is similar to a measure the House voted on earlier in the week that failed to win support of conservative Republicans. House GOP leadership added a provision to the bill to cut $100 million from the Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee program that funded Solyndra, a bankrupt solar company that has sparked controversy in recent weeks. Democrats have countered that the DOE program cuts would hinder job growth. Democrats have also opposed the bill because it requires disaster assistance funds to be offset by spending cuts. The House bill provides $3.65 billion in disaster assistance while the Senate passed a similar disaster assistance bill that included $7 billion with no offsets. If Congress does not approve a bill early next week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency could run out of funds by Monday, Sept. 26 and the government would shutdown at the end of the current fiscal year, Sept 30. SENATE: APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE MARKS UP BILL FOR NSF, NOAA FUNDING On Sept. 14, the Senate Appropriations Committee marked up S. 1572, the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. The bill includes $52.701 billion in discretionary spending, $626 million less than FY 2011. The National Science Foundation, would receive $6.7 billion, a reduction of $162 million or 2.4 percent below the FY 2011 enacted level. The proposed cut to NSF was largely due to the prioritization of other CJS programs by Senate CJS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD).The House Appropriations CJS bill would fund NSF level with FY 2011 at $6.9 billion. For the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the bill provides $6 million, $647,000 below FY 2011 and $650,000 less than the president’s budget request. The House version allocated only allocated $3 million for OSTP. The bill also provides funding to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). For FY 2012 the bill proposes $5 billion for NOAA, a $434...

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ESA Policy News: September 9

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. AIR POLLUTION: OBAMA ADMINISTRATION POSTPONES OZONE STANDARDS On Sept. 2, the White House requested the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) postpone plans to strengthen the George W. Bush administration’s 2008 ozone standard. In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator Cass Sunstein cites a need to “minimize regulatory costs and burdens” during an “economically challenging time.” Sunstein references Executive Order 13563, which states that the administration’s regulatory policy “must promote predictability and reduce uncertainty.” The letter notes that the Clean Air Act sets a five year cycle to review national ambient air quality standards, effectively allowing EPA to hold off on revisiting the standards until 2013. The EPA in January 2010 had proposed to set the national health-based standard for ozone between 60 and 70 parts per billion (ppb) when averaged over an eight-hour period. The Bush administration had tightened the ozone limits from 84 ppb to 75 ppb in 2008, despite scientific advisers’ recommendations to issue a standard between 60 and 70 ppb. The move earned President Obama rare praise from Republican leaders in Congress. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) released a statement that referred to the ozone standard as “the most expensive environmental regulation ever imposed” and described the president’s move as “a step in the right direction.” EPA Administrator Jackson released a statement affirming that the standard would be revisited at some point and cited the Obama administration’s efforts to address air pollution “as some of the most important standards and safeguards for clean air in U.S. history,” citing reductions in sulfur and nitrogen dioxide, mercury pollutions from power plants and carbon pollution standards for cars and trucks. To view the White House letter, see: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/ozone_national_ambient_air_quality_standards_letter.pdf To review Executive Order 13563, see: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/memoranda/2011/m11-10.pdf To view the EPA statement, see: http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/1e5ab1124055f3b28525781f0042ed40/e41fbc47e7ff4f13852578ff00552bf8!OpenDocument APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE COMMITTEE APPROVES FY 2012 SPENDING BILLS During the week of Sept. 7, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its energy and water development and agricultural appropriations bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. The bills must be voted on by the full Senate and agreed to by the House before they can be signed by the president. Energy and Water The FY 2012 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act includes $31.625 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Energy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and water programs within the Department of Interior, $57 million below the FY 2011 level, but still $1 billion more than the House-bill (H.R. 2354), passed in July. It’s also...

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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. APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS PASSES COMPROMISE FY2011 FUNDING MEASURE 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. Obama ‘czars’ House...

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Policy News: March 25

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. NUCLEAR CRISIS: LAWMAKERS URGE NRC TO RAMP UP, REVIEW PLANT SAFETY STANDARDS The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee convened March 16 for a briefing on the nuclear plant crisis in Japan and its implications for the United States. Congressional Democrats have expressed concerns about the safety of the nation’s nuclear power plants, especially reactors that lie on fault lines and are calling for new reviews.  Lawmakers with nuclear power plants in their states raised concerns that NRC has not yet taken proactive measures to ensure the safety of the U.S. plants that use similar technology as the Fukushima plant. Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) cited examples in Switzerland and Germany where older nuclear plants have temporarily been shut down in the wake of the Japanese disaster to ensure their safety. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko told lawmakers that 23 of the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors use the same General Electric Mark I boiling water containment design as those at the Japanese plant. They stressed that precautions have been taken at each plant to avoid disasters such as the one brought about in Japan from the recent earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Jaczko maintained that NRC plans to conduct a “systematic and methodical review” of the Japanese situation and would apply that to its review of the safety of U.S. reactors. Chairwoman Boxer and Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) issued a letter March 17 to Chairman Jaczko seeking a comprehensive investigation of the NRC’s preparedness for natural disasters. This was coupled with a separate letter from Chairwoman Boxer and Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Diane Feinstein (D-CA) requesting that the NRC conduct a thorough inspection of the San Onfore and Diablo Canyon nuclear plants in California. In the House of Representatives, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) declared his intention to hold a series of hearings on the nuclear disaster in coming weeks. He also reaffirmed his support for legislative efforts aimed at speeding up the federal approval process for building new nuclear reactors. House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Edward Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) sent a letter to the NRC requesting more information on the seismic safety features that are included in nuclear reactors currently in operation in the United States. The letter states “there are eight nuclear reactors located near the New Madrid fault line in the Midwest. There are additionally thirty-one nuclear reactors in the United States that are of the...

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ESA Policy News: December 10

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. HOUSE: GOP NAMES COMMITTEE CHAIRS House Republican leaders on Tuesday, Dec. 7 announced their roster of committee chairmen, all of whom have vowed to conduct vigorous oversight of the Obama Administration. Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), a noted climate skeptic, was picked by House GOP leaders to chair the Science and Technology Committee. “Our Committee will help ensure that taxpayer dollars are invested wisely in research and development programs by providing effective oversight of existing programs and by eliminating wasteful and duplicative programs and streamlining programs where needed,” said Hall in a subsequent statement. Hall was among 143 Republicans to support the first America COMPETES Act (P.L. 110-069) enacted in 2007, which authorized funding for three agencies: the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Office of Science at the Department of Energy. However, he voted against the reauthorization bill, which passed by a more partisan vote of 262-150 and will have to be reintroduced if the Senate fails to send the bill to the president before year’s end. Hall expressed concern in committee that “some of these new programs” established in the reauthorization “are potentially duplicative of current efforts” and “increase the cost of the bill by billions.” The steering committee also selected Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) over Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) to head the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Tea party activists had opposed Upton, whom they felt was not conservative enough. Upton had supported a bipartisan measure that increased the use of energy-efficient light bulbs in the energy law (P.L. 110-140), signed by President Bush in Dec. 2007. A committee lineup of the incoming House Committee Chairmen and Ranking Members, as elected by the Republican and Democratic Caucuses, includes the list below (*indicate expected Ranking Members as Democrats expect to vote on their remaining slots next week): Agriculture: Frank D. Lucas (R-OK), *Collin Peterson (D-MN) Appropriations:  Hal Rogers (R-KY), Norman Dicks (D-WA) Budget: Paul Ryan (R-WI), *Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) Education and Labor: John Kline (MN), *George Miller (D-CA) Energy and Commerce: Fred Upton (R-MI), Henry Waxman (D-CA) Natural Resources:  Doc Hastings (R-WA), *Ed Markey (D-MA) Science & Technology:  Ralph M. Hall (R-TX), *Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) Transportation & Infrastructure:  John L. Mica (R-FL), *Nick Rahall (D-WV) CLIMATE: SUPREME COURT TO HEAR GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS CASE The U.S. Supreme Court announced Dec. 6 that it will take on a potentially landmark case examining if states can hold individual power plants accountable for their greenhouse gas emissions. American Electric Power Co., Duke Energy, Southern Co., Xcel Energy Inc. and the...

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ESA Policy News: September 17

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. SENATE: SENIOR DEMS SEEK ACTION ON ENVIRONMENTAL MEASURES While the Senate seems unlikely to approve an energy bill during the few weeks it reconvenes before the November elections, it may consider measures on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency climate rules, power plant pollution curbs and energy tax incentives. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) acknowledged it’s a “cinch” that climate legislation won’t move this year. But he praised negotiations among some senators in recent months on plans to cap carbon from utilities. Amid election-year politics and an already-crowded legislative calendar, consideration may be punted until a lame-duck session. Reid stated that small business legislation will top the chamber’s agenda this month, but recently suggested that a narrow energy bill could see floor action before the election. The energy bill will likely include incentives for natural gas vehicles and the “Home Star” energy efficiency retrofits program, two measures Reid has indicated he supports. The “Home Star” legislation establishes a $6 billion rebate program to encourage immediate investment in energy-efficient appliances, building mechanical systems, insulation and energy-efficiency retrofits for households. Rockefeller challenges climate rules With climate legislation likely off the table, opponents of the Obama administration’s greenhouse gas rules are planning efforts to hinder EPA’s climate regulations, while environmentalists seek to protect the agency’s authority. Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has stated he will seek a vote this year on his bill that would block EPA from regulating stationary sources’ emissions for two years. Rockefeller told reporters in July that Reid promised a vote on the measure before the November election. Rockefeller’s bill has six Democratic co-sponsors, including North Dakota Sens. Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan, Sens. Tim Johnson (SD), Claire McCaskill (MS), Ben Nelson (NE) and Jim Webb (VA). Reid promised the vote in order to siphon Democratic support away from a more sweeping resolution from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), according to a Senate Democratic aide. There was great speculation that Senator Murkowski would have offered the legislation, which sought to altogether block EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, as an amendment during a mark-up of the Fiscal Year 2011 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, which was postponed this week. If Rockefeller’s bill comes up for a vote, several senators may bring up an alternative aimed at draining support from it. White House officials have insisted that Obama would veto the Rockefeller bill if it reached his desk. Many see an appropriations amendment as having a...

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ESA Policy News: August 10

Here are some highlights from the final ESA Policy News by Piper Corp, ESA’s outgoing Science Policy Analyst. Thanks, Piper, for keeping EcoTone readers informed about policy for the last couple of years and for your many other insightful posts. We will miss you! Read the full Policy News here.

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