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Policy News Update

April 02, 2009

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]

CLIMATE LEGISLATION: HOUSE DEMOCRATS UNVEIL DRAFT CLIMATE AND ENERGY BILL

On March 31, Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Ed Markey (D-MA) released their draft climate change and energy bill—the “American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009”— reiterating plans to hold a final committee vote on the measure before the Memorial Day recess.

Highlights include:

Waxman and Markey (who chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee, respectively) have a 36-23 advantage over Republicans in their committee, which means their bill will require votes from all but six Democrats to pass. Winning support from some Democrats, particularly those from industrial states, will be challenging, and a great deal of compromise may be necessary. Still, Waxman and Markey secured support from two critical moderate Democrats, former Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-MI) and former subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-VA), in a letter to President Obama. The letter acknowledged the lawmakers’ conflicting interests and concerns, but underscored their willingness to compromise in order to pass what they consider to be urgent legislation.

Outside of Energy and Commerce, other committees are preparing to weigh in. The Science Committee, for example, will focus on ensuring a reliable means of monitoring whether emission reduction plans are succeeding, a task that could include creating or enhancing existing satellite and ground-monitoring systems.

According to Science Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), "The Energy and Commerce Committee will develop the emissions control program, and the Science Committee contribution to the effort will be in the areas of monitoring climate services and encouraging new technology." Gordon said his committee will pay particular attention to DOE initiatives, including vehicle research and carbon capture and sequestration programs.

The House’s comprehensive approach to climate and energy legislation differs from that of the Senate, which is handing the two issues in separate bills. The House strategy attempts to find synergies between the nation’s various climate and energy goals. For example, the bill points to economic models showing that combining cap-and-trade legislation with a renewable energy standard and energy efficiency programs could lower compliance costs for both households and industry.

Meanwhile, although certain aspects of the legislation have attracted GOP interest, many senior Republicans in the House have already spoken out in opposition to the bill, questioning the logic of pursuing such aggressive climate legislation amidst the economic recession, and citing public opinion polls that show climate near the bottom of the list of voter concerns. Still, the bill’s proponents are optimistic about it passing through the House, although the Senate may present more of an obstacle.

Democratic congressional leaders are planning floor votes in both chambers by the end of July, with a conference in the fall—this is an aggressive schedule, but would allow the US to have climate change legislation in place by the time UN climate negotiations culminate in Copenhagen this December.

BUDGET: HOUSE AND SENATE BUDGET RESOLUTIONS REDUCE DISCRETIONARY SPENDING BUT PRESERVE WHITE HOUSE ENERGY FUNDING; BUDGET RECONCILIATION LANGUAGE ABSENT

The House and Senate plan to vote on their respective 2010 budget resolutions before the congressional recess begins on April 3. Although both chambers’ resolutions match the total spending in President Obama’s blueprint ($3.6 trillion), neither includes as much discretionary spending ($540 billion of non-defense discretionary spending in the president’s blueprint, compared to $533 billion in the House and $525 billion in the Senate.) Still, the levels set in both chambers provide a boost over the previous year’s levels.

In general, the plans reflect the priorities laid out by the Obama administration, fully funding a number of the president’s climate and energy requests, including increases for:

Both plans also boost spending for the Function 300 account, the primary vehicle for funding natural resources and environment, allocating $35.1 billion in discretionary spending authority.

Neither the House nor the Senate’s resolution includes instructions to move climate change legislation via a filibuster-proof budget reconciliation. (For more information on this issue, see the March 19 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/03192009.php) This omission greatly reduces the likelihood of what some opponents have called a “backdoor” approach to instituting a cap-and-trade program, although Democratic leaders could move another budget resolution with reconciliation instructions later in the year if they aren’t able to move a climate bill through the standard process. But many Democrats are optimistic that crafting such a bill through the standard committee process will yield greater bipartisan support.

Both budget resolutions include a "reserve fund" for future energy and climate change legislation. A reserve fund is a way of ensuring support for the initiatives, should Congress pass laws enacting them.

TRANSITION: NEW ADMINISTRATION CONTINUES WORK ON EPA ENDANGERMENT FINDING, ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT REVISIONS

Endangerment finding: The White House has begun its review of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) document detailing the threats that climate change poses to public health and welfare. For more information, see the “Transition” article in the February 5 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/02052009.php

According to an internal presentation, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson plans to sign the endangerment finding on April 16. EPA will then hold a 60-day public comment period and two public hearings, after which the proposal can be finalized. If finalized, it could trigger a series of Clean Air Act regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.

Endangered Species Act: The Interior Department is exploring whether or not Bush administration revisions to the Endangered Species Act should be overturned through a traditional rulemaking process (for more information on these revisions, see the August 18 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2008/08182008.php). The recently passed 2009 omnibus spending bill included a rider allowing Interior to withdraw or reissue the revisions without going through many of the regulatory requirements, including the standard public notice and comment period. Tom Strickland, the nominee for Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, said that while Interior remains open to all options for addressing the rules, it may not take the expedited route. Prior to passage of the spending bill, the agency had already started work on the formal rulemaking process to alter the revisions.

Climate change adaptation: Strickland also indicated that the new Interior leadership plans to accelerate work on a baseline analysis of climate-driven changes to wildlife refuges, using the findings to determine the best remedial strategies, which could range from habitat restoration to land acquisition. The department has yet to institute any new climate change programs, Strickland said, since officials are still working on assessments and mitigation plans begun in the final year of the Bush administration.

OCEANS: HOUSE CONSIDERS “ZONING” FOR OFFSHORE ENERGY DEVELOPMENT

To help protect marine resources in the midst of offshore energy development, some lawmakers are calling for legislation that would require the government to develop comprehensive ocean plans designating areas for both energy development and special protection.

The Obama administration plans to make drilling part of a broader energy strategy, which means that there will not be an effort in Congress to fully reinstate the offshore drilling bans lifted last year. Many opponents of offshore drilling are therefore eyeing zoning plans as a way of protecting key marine resources and habitat, not only from drilling, but also from wind and wave energy projects. Zoning advocates also say ocean plans would provide more certainty for offshore energy projects, which could otherwise be halted after years of planning and development, should regulators or the public decide to oppose development.

Others are more skeptical of zoning efforts, however, questioning the wisdom of creating plans without knowing where all the oil and gas deposits are, and arguing that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) lacks the necessary data on fisheries and marine mammal habitat needed to create the plans.

Many senior members of the House Natural Resources Committee have said that zoning language should be incorporated into any new energy legislation brought up this year, although Chairman, Nick Rahall (D-WV) recently clarified that the committee has no plans to add measures to the energy and climate bill recently unveiled in the House.

Meanwhile, Representative Lois Capps (D-CA) has introduced a bill to provide funding for states to survey their coastlines for renewable energy development sites. The funding would come from a new grant program under the Coastal Zone Management Act. Reauthorizing the Act is a top priority of the Natural Resources Committee, and Capps hopes to include her legislation in this reauthorization.

Capps’ bill would also attempt to curb conflicts between states and the federal government by encouraging collaboration between state and federal agencies in classifying areas appropriate for renewable energy projects. A similar initiative was shot down in subcommittees last year—while critics of zoning have pointed to NOAA’s lack of data, others have argued the opposite. David Kennedy, director of NOAA’s Ocean and Coastal Resource Management Office, was among the major opponents of last year’s bill, which he said would duplicate efforts by NOAA and other federal agencies that already have "extensive expertise and existing hydrographic, oceanographic and geographic data.”

UPCOMING LEGISLATION

Referred to Committee

Passed by Committee

Passed in the House

Signed into law

SCIENCE FUNDING: ESA PARTICIPATES IN ANNUAL CNSF SCIENCE EXHIBITION

Each year, the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) hosts an exhibition and reception to showcase the work of scientists whose research is funded by the National Science Foundation. The Ecological Society of America (ESA) sponsored plant physiological ecologist Travis Huxman, of the University of Arizona, who is a member of the ESA Rapid Response Team. Huxman spent the day on the Hill, discussing the importance of science funding with his congressional delegation. At the CNSF event, Huxman presented findings on the impacts of climate change on natural ecosystems in the southwestern United States. The event featured exhibits from 34 scientists, engineers, and educators, as well as brief appearances from Science Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who spoke on the important role that scientific research will play in the country’s future. For additional information on the event, visit ESA’s blog, EcoTone, at: http://www.esa.org/esablog/?p=652


Sources: Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, Politico, American Association for the Advancement of Science Policy Alert

Send questions or comments to Piper Corp, Science Policy Analyst, piper@esa.org or Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs, Nadine@esa.org

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