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Policy News Update

January 19, 2007

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]

Congressional News:

BOXER ACCEPTS DUAL ROLE CHAIRING ETHICS, ENVIRONMENT & PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEES

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) will take on another potentially time-consuming responsibility during the 110th Congress, temporarily chairing the Senate Ethics Committee while Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) recovers from brain surgery.

The Ethics Committee could take on an especially prominent role in the next few months in overhauling the congressional ethics process, a major priority for the Democratic controlled Senate. Besides heading the ethics panel, Boxer has already outlined an ambitious agenda for the EPW Committee, including addressing climate change.

‘WORLD OIL BALANCE’ TO HEADLINE FIRST SENATE ENERGY COMMITTEE HEARING

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) opened the 110th Congress in his committee January 10th with a hearing on global oil balance and its implications for U.S. economic and national security. Bingaman and ranking member Pete Domenici (R-NM) have also scheduled a daylong conference, to take place Feb. 1, on biofuels. The session follows similar events the committee held in the 109th Congress on coal, climate change and natural gas.

SENATE AGRICULTURE COMMITTEE OPENS WITH FOCUS ON RENEWABLE FUELS

On January 10, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) kicked off his new leadership of the Senate Agriculture Committee with a hearing on agriculture's role in energy production, as part of his commitment to make energy a major focus of the panel this year.

The committee sought input from renewable fuels experts, the Agriculture Department's chief economist, and advocates for biofuels and ethanol on the energy title of the next farm bill.

EPW CHAIR FLOATS CELLULOSIC ETHANOL BILL

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced a bill aimed at increasing the use of cellulosic ethanol. The "Cellulosic Ethanol Development and Implementation Act of 2007" would provide grants for research and development of cellulosic ethanol.

The bill authorizes $1 billion over seven years for grants that could be handed out by the Energy Department and several other federal agencies to universities, national laboratories, private sector entities and various other organizations to develop cellulosic technology.

WITH SELECT COMMITTEE, PELOSI VOWS TO ‘RAISE THE VISIBILITY OF GLOBAL WARMING’

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) planted global warming at the top of her agenda January 18 when she moved decisively to create a select panel on the subject. Pelosi insisted that the new Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming will not take legislative jurisdiction away from the standing authorizing panels, such as the House Energy and Commerce Committee, but also stated that the panel will "help us give these issues the legislative priority they demand."

The select committee, to be chaired by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), could begin as early as the week of January 22 if it is approved by the full House. Some championed Pelosi’s plans, saying that the new select committee may be the only way to produce a comprehensive bill before the 2008 elections “swamp the political process.” While Pelosi and her supporters insist the new panel is designed to bring attention to climate change, others see it as a way to motivate Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who is a staunch ally of the auto industry.

DEMOCRATS’ FIRST STAB AT ENERGY COASTS IN HOUSE

The House on January 18 overwhelmingly passed the energy portion of the Democratic Party's "first 100 hours" agenda, approving a bill that would repeal several oil industry production incentives and funnel an estimated $14 billion into alternative energy.

The legislation would make oil and gas companies ineligible for deductions on manufacturing income that were included in the 2004 corporate tax bill. Elimination of those deductions is projected to raise more than $7 billion over 10 years.

The bill would also roll back tax breaks for certain oil exploration costs for major integrated oil companies, repealing several new royalty incentives that were part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. It would create a new "strategic energy efficiency and renewables reserve" to spend the revenues the tax and royalty provisions would bring in.

The bill is likely to face a slower and more uncertain path in the closely divided Senate.

BUSH SIGNS MAGNUSON-STEVENS ACT REWRITE INTO LAW

President Bush signed the rewrite of the Magnuson-Stevens Act into law January 12, setting into motion the biggest changes to U.S. fisheries management in a decade. One of the first deadlines comes in six months, when NOAA must propose new regulations to assure that Magnuson conforms with the National Environmental Policy Act. The law mandates that fisheries councils must end overfishing on all stocks by 2009. Environmentalists applauded the signing of the Act but said they would be pushing the agency to increase funding.

Global News:

WEATHER-RELATED RISKS ‘HERE TO STAY,’ TOP INSURER WARNS

Insurance companies face a growing number of weather-related risks due to global warming, including the threat of a $100 billion payoff should a hurricane make landfall on the Atlantic Coast, a top industry official warned on January 12.

Lord Peter Levene, head of the world's largest specialist insurance market, said continuing industrial emissions coupled with greenhouse gas concentrations have already changed the climate. According to Levene, costs to the global insurance industry have risen to historic proportions. He described a doubling of natural catastrophes between the 1960s and 1990s. In 2005, total global insurance claims hit a record $83 billion, with more than 80 percent of those costs tied to U.S. hurricanes.

Insurance companies have increasingly taken climate change into account as they make new policy decisions. The industry has also started investing in companies that take climate change into account in their products and services, giving discounts to hybrid vehicle owners, and creating incentives for green building practices.

State News:

WASHINGTON SCHOOL DISTRICT IMPOSES RESTRICTIONS ON SHOWING AL GORE’S FILM

The school board in Federal Way, WA, adopted a three-point policy on the showing of former Vice President Al Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" this week after the parent of a child whose teacher wanted to show the film complained.

The policy requires teachers who want to show the movie to ensure that a "credible, legitimate opposing view will be presented" and that the principal and the superintendent must approve the viewing before it occurs. A parent who said that he believes the Earth is 14,000 years old, complained that "Condoms don't belong in school, and neither does Al Gore. He's not a schoolteacher. The information that's being presented is a very cockeyed view of what the truth is ... The Bible says that in the end times everything will burn up, but that perspective isn't in the DVD."

"An Inconvenient Truth" co-producer Laurie David said that this is the first time that a school board has imposed restrictions on the viewing of the film.

IDAHO GOVERNOR CALLS FOR WOLF KILL

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter (R-ID) told hunters to kill 550 gray wolves once the Fish and Wildlife Service begins removing federal protections on the animals in Idaho and Montana over the next few weeks.

All but 100 of Idaho's gray wolves, or 10 packs, would remain if hunters follow up on Otter's request. The surviving animals would constitute the minimum number before FWS could again begin to consider them endangered.

Otter said that the wolves are rapidly killing elk and other animals essential to Idaho's multimillion-dollar hunting industry. But Defenders of Wildlife spokeswoman Suzanne Stone said, "There's no economic or ecological reason for maintaining such low numbers. It's simple persecution."

SUPREME COURT TO HEAR CASE QUESTIONING ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT’S PRIMACY

The Supreme Court will consider a case this year that could decide to what extent the Endangered Species Act can override other laws.

The court added to its docket a pair of consolidated appeals that question whether federal agencies must comply with the Endangered Species Act when implementing other laws.

It will be the first time the court has heard a substantive case on the Endangered Species Act in the past decade. Oral arguments are expected in April.

At issue is EPA's 2002 decision to transfer its stormwater-discharge permits to the state of Arizona. If EPA issued the permits, it would have to complete a formal consultation process with the Fish and Wildlife Service over whether any species might be affected. But state agencies do not have the same stringent consulting requirements as the federal government.

EXXON MOBIL ADMITS PR PROBLEM

According to CEO Rex Tillerson, Exxon Mobil will attempt to better explain its position on global warming but will not change its position on the matter. Admitting that Exxon has a public image problem, the CEO promised a softer image of a company that has been branded by green campaigners as an enemy of the environment.

Exxon Mobil Corp. has spent $16 million between 1998 and 2005 to fund 43 small nonprofit groups that question the science behind global warming, according to an analysis released earlier this month by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Exxon has spent hundreds of millions of dollars funding research, but has not emulated companies such as Shell by moving into renewable energy.


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

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