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Policy News Update

January 5, 2007

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]

SENATE DEMOCRATS PLAN SPRING VOTES ON WARMING, ‘ENERGY INDEPENDENCE

As the 110th Congress began its session January 4, Senate Democratic leaders announced that they plan to send legislation addressing global warming and energy issues to the floor this spring.

In a memo to rank-and-file Democratic senators dated January 3, incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) outlined legislative goals for the spring session that include bills on climate, stem cell research and a plan to "put American on a path toward energy independence."

CRUCIAL 60-VOTE SENATE MARGIN APPEARS POSSIBLE ON WARMING

Several prominent sources ready to track the upcoming legislative debate say Senate Democrats may be positioned to move a bill faster than the House, perhaps even with the make-or-break 60 vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster. This scenario would require many, if not all, 51 Senate Democrats to stick together, as well as support from a number of Republicans who would have to reverse their previous opposition to mandatory limits on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. An informal analysis of the new Senate suggests the crucial swing votes rest with about a dozen lawmakers.

Strategies to win more support could emerge in the form of market-friendly compliance programs, slower deadlines for cutting emissions, expansion of the regulated industries affected and crafting a larger role to the Energy Department instead of U.S. EPA.

BLM DIRECTOR WHO CHAMPIONED “MULTIPLE-USE” MANDATE RESIGNS

Kathleen Clarke, who spearheaded an effort to accelerate oil and gas drilling on public lands in the West, resigned last week after five years as director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The first woman to head BLM, Clarke’s tenure was marked by attempts to promote a "multiple-use" mandate on the agency's 265 million acres of public lands, including accelerating the permitting process for oil and gas drilling and revising Clinton-era grazing regulations. Clarke was also the subject of ethics investigations into her connections with Utah interests and a Wyoming grazing deal now headed to the Supreme Court.

President Bush has not nominated a successor, who will have to be confirmed by the now Democratic-controlled Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and others have been critical of BLM's push for oil and gas development and could pose some tough questions for the eventual nominee.

CASE CHALLENGING REVIEWS FOR LOGGING PROJECTS HEADS TO SUPREME COURT CONFERENCE

The Supreme Court will consider at a conference on January 5 whether to hear arguments in a case questioning how much scientific review is necessary for logging projects in national forests.

A group of Montana counties, school districts, the timber industry and Justice Department are asking the high court for a writ of certiorari to hear an appeal of a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling they say imposes new scientific and procedural requirements on the Forest Service. Justices are scheduled to decide as soon as Monday whether to hear oral arguments in Mineral County, et al., v. Ecology Center, Inc.

Critics of the 9th Circuit ruling say it expands what the Forest Service must do before it makes a decision under the National Environmental Policy Act, Administrative Procedures Act or the National Forest Management Act.

The 9th Circuit panel said forest managers had scant evidence to prove their claim that thinning and salvage logging in old-growth forests would benefit wildlife. Rather, the majority said, it is unclear whether the proposed logging would benefit old-growth dependent species like the northern goshawk and pileated woodpecker.

The court also said the Forest Service should have conducted soil tests in the actual proposed logging areas to determine if soil quality would be affected, indicating that the forest's method of testing similar soil types in other non-logging areas was not enough.

The Justice Department filed a brief supporting the intervenors' petition, arguing the 9th Circuit opinion could lead to a new standard for forest management cases under the Administrative Procedure Act.

CHICAGO CLIMATE EXCHANGE MAY SOON ALLOW MONTANA FARMERS TO SELL CARBON CREDITS

About 20 Montana farmers -- mostly wheat growers operating a no-till system -- are interested in selling carbon credits generated by their farming practices on the Chicago Climate Exchange and the exchange may soon allow them to do so.

Montana Salinity Control Program Director Jane Holzer said that the credits are worth between $250 and $350 per year for every 100 acres that meet carbon sequestration standards.

The Chicago Climate Exchange began operating in 2003 as an attempt at a market-based approach to reducing carbon dioxide. More than 200 corporations, cities and other entities buy carbon credits on it and use them to offset emissions in countries operating under the Kyoto Protocol.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: ARIZONA WATER CASE GOES TO SUPREME COURT

The Supreme Court will consider in the first week of January whether state regulators must consider endangered species when issuing stormwater discharge permits.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Association of Homebuilders are appealing a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that said EPA broke the law when it allowed Arizona to issue water permits without federal consultation on the Endangered Species Act.

Attorneys working on the case have said it could have implications for other federal programs administered by states, including Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act permitting.

The federal government and the homebuilders group argue that the Supreme Court should overturn the circuit court's ruling, because Congress gave EPA the authority to transfer permits to the states with instructions that do not include ESA consultations.

POST MAGNUSON, STEVENS TO FOCUS ON HIGH-SEAS TRAWLING BAN

The pair of Alaska legislators who have driven past efforts on fisheries legislation plan to put their weight this year behind a diplomatic push against high-seas bottom trawling, rather than new domestic fisheries legislation.

New fisheries bills are unlikely in the wake of the recent passage of the Magnuson-Stevens rewrite, said Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Rep. Don Young (R-AK) yesterday at a signing ceremony for the act.

SENATE DRAFT GLOBAL WARMING BILL SEEKS MIDDLE GROUND IN EMISSIONS DEBATE

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) has circulated draft global warming legislation to industry, environmental groups, economists and others in hopes of forging a bipartisan compromise to a debate over how to address rising U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

The latest draft from the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee includes at least five changes from a version Bingaman floated in the summer of 2005. The changes offer tighter targets for industry to reduce its heat-trapping air pollution and a more aggressive "safety valve" designed to limit total costs on the U.S. economy. The draft also moves back the implementation to 2012, which coincides with the end of the Kyoto Protocol and President Bush's long-stated 2002 goal for voluntarily reducing U.S. emissions over a decade relative to economic growth.

ANWR: HOUSE BILL PROPOSES PERMANENT DRILLING PROTECTIONS

Two House members have introduced legislation that would keep the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) permanently off-limits to oil and gas drilling.

Reps. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Jim Ramstad (R-MN) are sponsors of the Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act, which would designate the refuge's coastal plain as a wilderness area to ensure permanent protections.

But winning permanent protections would face an uphill climb in this Congress. In recent years ANWR drilling has had majority support in the House, including more than two dozen Democrats. Even if a protection measure could gain traction in the House this year, it would face a Senate filibuster that supporters lack the 60 votes to overcome.


Sources: Energy and Environment Daily; Energy and Environment News PM; Greenwire

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