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Policy News Update

October 29, 2007

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]

AGRICULTURE: FLOOR CHALLENGES AWAIT SENATE FARM BILL COMPROMISE

The farm bill compromise cleared by the Senate Agriculture Committee October 25 will likely face aggressive attempts on the Senate floor to cut crop subsidies, in addition to other changes that even Committee Chairman Tom Harkin's (D-IA) said he may support.

The Committee unanimously backed a rewrite of the farm bill that would extend most crop subsidies, boost some conservation payments and create a new program to aid expansion of biofuels. The proposal would also direct the Agriculture Department to create a system to "facilitate" farmers' trade of carbon credits.

The energy title would nearly double funding for a popular program that grants cost-share assistance to farmers who want to start new energy programs on their farms or improve their energy efficiency. It allots $230 million for the program and would set aside 15 percent of the funds for manure-to-energy projects. The special fund is intended to help farms or communities evaluate and build on-farm or multi-farm projects that could convert animal waste to electricity.

Conservation groups applauded Harkin yesterday for working to secure $4 billion more for the conservation title. However, they said that more money is needed to address the backlog of farmers waiting to enroll in the cost-share or assistance programs that pay them to idle land, improve habitat, or start environmental projects on their farms.

The bill restores two programs to conserve wetlands and grasslands that would otherwise expire and extends most of the current programs at baseline levels, concentrating the majority of the new funding on Harkin's pet program, the Conservation Security Program, renamed the "Comprehensive Stewardship Program" (CSP) in the bill. Harkin directs $1.28 billion in additional funds to the program over the next 10 years. It would give incentive payments to farmers who meet designated environmental priorities or concerns on their land.

The House bill gave no new funding to CSP but increased other conservation programs above baseline levels.

Harkin said he expects the House to defer to the Senate's direction and funding levels on CSP during a conference committee.

OCEANS: BUSH ADMINISTRATION OPPOSES EFFORT TO EXPAND CALIFORNIA SANCTUARIES

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) opposes a House bill that would double the size of two California marine sanctuaries, an agency official stated.

The bill, H.R. 1187, would expand the boundaries of the Gulf of Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries, both located north of San Francisco, to add 1,740 nautical square miles of protected ocean.

The expanded sanctuaries would span the entire Sonoma County coast and parts of the Mendocino County coast. Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) introduced the legislation earlier this year as an effort to protect the biologically rich area and block any offshore drilling.

But in testimony given October 24 before the House Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans Subcommittee, NOAA Assistant Administrator Jack Dunnigan said his agency is reviewing management plans for both sanctuaries and is in the final stages of approving new regulations. Dunnigan said the effort should be allowed to proceed without interference from Congress.

The argument did not sway Woolsey. "The regulatory process can be changed," she said in an interview. "In all the world, can you imagine this Administration approving this?"

Woolsey noted that the California Coastal Commission and Lands Commission support her bill, as do environmental and fishing groups.

PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGNS DISCUSS ENERGY POLICY

U.S. News & World Report held a National Press Club briefing October 24 focused on the energy views of presidential hopefuls.

Representatives for Democrats John Edwards and Barack Obama, and Republicans Rudy Giuliani and John McCain highlighted their respective candidate’s position on energy sources and conservation measures. (Although invited, the election campaigns of Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Fred Thompson did not send a representative).

While the candidates differ on the details, all support changing U.S. energy strategies and all spoke about the need to conserve and shift away from oil as the main energy source.

One notable difference is that while all of the candidates represented spoke about the need to look at a broad suite of energy sources, the Edwards campaign is opposed to including nuclear energy as one of the sources.

Of the four represented, only Giuliani would support drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. However, his representative noted that the oil reserves there would not last long and that the real solution lies in shifting away from oil. He spoke strongly of the need for nuclear energy as well as the need for natural gas to play a greater role in the transportation sector.

The Edwards campaign placed great emphasis on conservation and noted the strong role of ethanol and other biofuels in the global economy. During the Q & A portion of the briefing, the key role of China and India in the global emissions equation was raised and acknowledged by all represented candidates as a major challenge.

MOUNTAIN-TOP MINING PROPOSED RULE CHANGE—OPPORTUNITY FOR PUBLIC COMMENT EXTENDED

Scientists, environmentalists, and affected citizens in Appalachia are decrying rule changes proposed by the Office of Surface Mining (OSM). At issue is mountain-top mining, which companies use to expose coal seams in West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.

The controversial practice shears a ridge top and deposits waste rock in valleys often coursed by streams. Current rules--in effect since 1983--require coal operators to establish a 100-foot buffer around streams. OSM’s proposed rule change would exempt certain activities from that buffer zone, including “permanent excess spoil fills and coal waste disposal facilities” and would allow mining that would change a waterway’s flow.

OSM claims that the new rule would be an improvement because it would extend the stream buffer zone to include lakes, ponds, and wetlands and that mining companies would need to go back and repair any damage.

Critics ranging from stream ecologists to local citizen watch groups charge that OSM’s rule would weaken the existing law. Moreover, say the stream scientists, the OSM’s draft Environmental Impact Statement is severely and fundamentally flawed and is not based on sound science. They note that the team who prepared the draft EIS did not include a single expert in aquatic science.

OSM has received more than 2,000 comments on its proposed rule change. The public comment period ends on November 23, 2007 and a final ruling will be made next year.

You may submit comments, identified by docket number 1029- AC04 by any of the following methods:

To view the original posting by OSM in the Federal Register, go to: http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/01jan20071800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2007/E7-16629.htm

APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE FLOOR CLOSED TO ENVIRONMENTAL SPENDING BILLS – FOR NOW

The Senate is unlikely to take up the spending bills that would fund energy and environmental programs for fiscal 2008 until it finishes conference negotiations on measures already passed by both chambers, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said October 24.

The Senate has approved just seven of its 12 appropriations bills, leaving by the wayside measures to fund the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Interior, Agriculture and Energy departments. By contrast, the House passed all 12 fiscal 2008 appropriations bills this summer.

To avert a government shutdown, lawmakers have approved a stopgap spending measure that would continue funding at current budget levels. The continuing resolution is set to expire November 16, making it likely that another continuing resolution will be in order.

President Bush has pledged to veto domestic spending bills because they exceed his budget request by some $22 billion. With an end to the spending impasse nowhere in sight, some lawmakers are giving up hopes for separate appropriations measures.

Already, two key House appropriators have expressed doubt about being able to pass a separate Interior and Environment spending bill. Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), Chairman of the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, and his ranking member, Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), recently said they expect to fold the Interior measure into an omnibus bill.

WATER: HOUSE DELIVERS WRDA TO PRESIDENT’S DESK

On October 23, the House sent the $23 billion Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) to the White House, where President Bush has pledged to welcome the mammoth bill with a veto.

Bush has denounced WRDA, or H.R. 1495, calling it "unsound" legislation that is "far in excess of what the American taxpayer can afford" in a leaked draft of his veto message earlier this month.

But the WRDA conference report sailed through both chambers with enough votes to override a veto and is expected to become law. The Senate voted 81-12 for the conference report last month, while the House approved the bill in August, 381-40.

If the President neither signs nor vetoes the bill after 10 days, it becomes law without his signature. Congress can override a presidential veto with two-thirds votes in the House and Senate.

Said Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN), "I hope President Bush reconsiders his opposition to the bill, because this bill is critical to addressing the nation's water resources needs, flood and hurricane damage reduction, and environmental restoration."


Sources: Energy and Environment Daily and Greenwire

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