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January 10, 2005

In this issue:



The Bush administration has issued broad new rules overhauling the guidelines for managing the nation's 155 national forests and making it easier for regional forest managers to decide whether to allow logging, drilling or off-road vehicles.

The long-awaited rules relax longstanding provisions on environmental reviews and the protection of wildlife on 191 million acres of national forest and grasslands. They also cut back on requirements for public participation in forest planning decisions.

Forest Service officials said the rules were intended to give local foresters more flexibility to respond to scientific advances and threats like intensifying wildfires and invasive species. They say the regulations will also speed up decisions, ending what some public and private foresters see as a legal and regulatory gridlock that has delayed forest plans for years because of litigation and requirements for time-consuming studies.

Environmental groups said the new rules pared down protections that were a hallmark of the 1976 National Forest Management Act.

The new rules incorporate an 'Environmental Management System' approach that has gained favor in private industries from electronics to medical device manufacturing. The practice, used by companies like Apple Computer, allows businesses to set their own environmental goals and practices and then subjects them to an outside audit that judges their success.

In the case of the Forest Service, the supervisors of the individual forests and grasslands will shape forest management plans, and the effects of those will be subject to independent audits.

The auditors the Forest Service chooses could range from other Forest Service employees to outsiders, said Sally Collins, an associate chief at the Forest Service. She said the auditors could come from an environmental group or an industry group like timber "or a ski area, local citizens or a private contractor."


The Bush administration's legislative proposal to amend the Clean Air Act must first gain momentum in the Senate before action on the bill will begin in the House, according to the top House member with jurisdiction over air pollution issues.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that his top priorities for the 109th Congress would center on the telecommunications industry and health care, rather than Clean Air Act legislation. But Barton also indicated he would consider moving a Clean Air Act bill if the Senate showed a clear interest in the issue.

In the Senate, Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is expected to reintroduce the administration's air pollution bill, also known as the Clear Skies initiative, in the coming weeks. Inhofe also plans to hold hearings on Clear Skies in January, with a markup for the legislation at some point before the President's Day recess that begins Feb. 21.

But despite his fast-paced schedule, Inhofe will be hard pressed to move Clear Skies if it is offered in similar form to existing versions. Even with Republican gains in last November's election, the current makeup of the EPW panel indicates that Clear Skies would likely be stymied next year in a 9-9 tie with Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) voting along with all panel Democrats against the bill, namely because it fails to address carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change.

Additionally, a key swing member of the EPW Committee, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), said that he would only support air pollution legislation that deals with carbon dioxide emissions.

Should an EPW Committee vote end in a tie, Capitol Hill aides from both sides of the aisle have said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) could move Clear Skies directly to the floor.

A full Senate vote on Clear Skies could be close, with a majority of Republicans and some conservative Democrats aligning themselves to support its passage. But any strategy that fast tracks Clear Skies out of the EPW panel could be easily thwarted if Senate Democrats unite to filibuster floor consideration of the bill.


Numerous pieces of ocean legislation are likely to be introduced in the 109th Congress, as members grapple with how to respond to the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy report as well as the White House response to the document.

The Ocean Commission found federal oversight is too fractured to protect ocean ecosystems that are being decimated by pollution, overfishing and other factors. Among 200 recommendations, the commission called for consolidating management responsibilities within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and significantly boosting federal ocean research funding.

The report generated a slew of bills late in the 108th Congress, and most of them are likely to be reintroduced.

Members are currently taking stock of the Bush administration's reaction to the report, which took the form of an "Ocean Action Plan" issued late last month. As part of the plan, President Bush signed an executive order creating a new Cabinet-level "Committee on Ocean Policy" to coordinate federal ocean policy.

Members of the House Oceans Caucus are planning to reintroduce a bill titled "Oceans-21" that would implement many of the commission's recommendations, according to a spokeswoman for Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), the caucus co-chair. Also on the House side, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) is planning to reintroduce a bill that would reform the nation's system of fishery management councils. The councils set allowable catch levels and have been criticized for alleged bias in favor of fishers over environmental interests.

The 109th Congress will also feature efforts to reauthorize two landmark ocean policy laws: the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.


Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) has vowed to set an aggressive timetable for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to energy development through the budget process early in the 109th Congress.

"I expect to receive instructions in the budget resolution to report ANWR language to the Budget Committee by early May," he said.

Though not unexpected, the statement reaffirms the likelihood of a bruising Senate battle over ANWR development in coming months. Proponents are eyeing the 109th Congress as their best chance in years to allow energy development in the refuge because several anti-drilling senators were replaced with lawmakers who support ANWR development, and budget reconciliation legislation cannot be filibustered.

Supporters plan to include revenues from ANWR leasing and remove drilling restrictions through the budget resolution and reconciliation process.


Newly appointed House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA) is considering a proposal from House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) that would reduce the number of appropriations subcommittees from 13 to 10, potentially shaking up the annual budget process for science and environment programs.

Annual budgets for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation, Army Corps of Engineers, Agriculture, Energy, Interior and Transportation departments could be affected by DeLay's plan. Currently, EPA's budget is handled through the Veterans Affairs-Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee, which also deals with veterans affairs, public housing, NSF, and NASA. The Army Corps, the Bureau of Reclamation and most of the Department of Energy are now considered in the Energy and Water Subcommittee. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, most of the Interior Department and some DOE programs are funded through the Interior Subcommittee.

At this point, it remains unclear if DeLay will have success advancing his proposal. The government agencies and individual programs within the 13 existing House and Senate appropriations subcommittees' jurisdictions are considered sacred on many levels, and any attempt to limit a chairman's control over purse strings may be met with skepticism. Time is also a factor, as the House and Senate Appropriations committees are within two months of holding their first hearings on President Bush's fiscal year 2006 budget proposal.

For DeLay's plan to work, it would likely need to be mirrored in the Senate as lawmakers would have a much easier time reconciling individual spending bills if the subcommittees are matched up to handle the same agencies and programs.

Sources: Environment & Energy Daily; Greenwire; Washington Post; New York Times

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