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Policy News Update

May 07 , 2010

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]

SENATE CLIMATE DEBATE: CLIMATE SIDELINED AS DEMOCRATIC LEADERS PUSH IMMIGRATION

With Washington gearing up to take on immigration reform, prospects for a climate and energy bill this year are increasingly bleak. Democratic leaders maintain that they’ll get to both issues this year, but other lawmakers and observers are largely skeptical.

The unexpected turn to immigration has severely disrupted the partnership between the Senate climate bill’s authors, Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Graham has suspended his efforts on the bill, accusing Democrats of using immigration as a political ploy—particularly Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), whose ability to win over his substantial Latino constituency could make or break his uphill reelection campaign. Graham, whose bipartisan efforts have been harshly criticized by conservative politicians and voters in his home state, has made it clear that he is unwilling to put himself on the line while others resort to what he considers election year politics.

The trio had originally planned to unveil their bill on April 26—Kerry now plans to move forward with the release early next week. Both he and Lieberman are confident that Graham will vote for the bill, even if he distances himself from the heart of the debate. Indeed, Graham has softened his stance somewhat in recent days, saying he could still vote for the climate bill if it makes it to the floor, though he doubts that that will be the case. Reid, meanwhile, has indicated that he will look elsewhere for GOP support. “There’s 40 other Republicans,” he said. “Why Lindsey Graham?”

Some Democrats have responded to Graham’s stance with confusion, since he’s also been actively working on immigration legislation with Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). From Graham’s perspective, however, taking up such a divisive topic now may be a political ploy at best—at worst, a move that will “doom” both that bill and the Senate climate effort.

But although climate appears to be at a standstill, Kerry, Lieberman, and Obama Administration officials maintain that work is continuing behind the scenes, both with Graham and other key swing voters. And Graham did join Kerry and Lieberman in sending their plan to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Energy Information Administration for economic modeling—a final step in preparing for a floor debate. The analysis is expected to take six to eight weeks, which means that the Senate would have to wait until at least after the Memorial Day recess to get started.

The EPA analysis of the House-passed climate bill (HR 2454) predicted that daily household energy costs would fall by 23-29 cents in 2020 and by 76 cents-$1 in 2030—translating into an $80-$111 decline in annual household consumption over the next four decades. The Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill is expected to call for similar restrictions (sources on the Hill say 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020), though it will institute them using a different mechanism.

Several key lawmakers, such as Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) would like to see climate take precedence over immigration, both because they see it as economically important and because it may become even less politically viable after the expected GOP gains in the midterm elections. “The time is now,” said Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).

OIL LEAK: POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE GULF DISASTER

As the nation scrambles to address the Gulf of Mexico oil leak, it remains to be seen if and how it will shift the course of energy development and, in turn, climate change.

The rift in the Democratic Caucus has become more distinct, with critics of offshore drilling seeing the disaster as justification for adamant opposition. In reference to the Senate energy and climate package, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) said that any legislation with offshore drilling language would be “dead on arrival” and threatened to filibuster—as he did once before—if necessary. Other opponents such as Senators Jay Rockefeller (WV) and Frank Lautenberg (NJ) have allowed slightly more leeway.  "I don't think we've said that's the end of that,” said Lautenberg. “Not by a long shot. There's too many people whose jobs, work, functioning depend on fossil fuels. And it's taken a lot of years for us to get addicted. But the addiction is strong. You want to wean them away. It's got to be a process." As such, one of the primary arguments against provisions is that they will not be effective in winning additional GOP support. For many Republicans, the downsides to emissions regulations outweigh the benefits of expanded offshore drilling.

Pro-drilling Democrats, meanwhile, have toned down their approach, though few have changed their stance. Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) cautioned against removing drilling language from the bill without first determining if technological improvements could rule out a repeat of the disaster down the road. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) indicated that she would be willing to eliminate some of the expansions, though she was clear that offshore drilling remains an economic necessity and that her vote is “absolutely contingent” on revenue sharing.

So far, Senate climate bill authors John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) are adhering to the compromises they struck with the oil industry, since many do not deal with drilling, but rather the economic burden of emissions controls on oil companies (according to negotiations, the oil industry would be placed in a separate regulatory category from power plants and manufacturing facilities—a significant departure from the system approved by the House). Calling the spill a terrible but rare accident, Lieberman said he hoped lawmakers would remain aware of the role that domestic energy production will play in transitioning away from fossil fuels, and therefore its importance in the bill. He also doesn’t think that leaving the oil and gas language in the bill will change the vote count for the climate measure, suggesting that the decision will still ultimately center on energy independence, emissions regulation, and economic impacts.

The Senate package’s language on offshore drilling will be drawn largely from the sweeping bill passed out of the Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee last year (S 1462), which at this time includes some expanded leasing in the Gulf of Mexico. Committee Chair Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), indicated that ENR could indeed end up reconsidering the language on offshore drilling, particularly after a set of hearings on the matter next week.

Lawmakers are also trying to gauge how the disaster will impact the climate bill’s chances of success overall. Proponents hope to find a silver lining—just as the 1969 Cuyahoga River fires prompted the Clean Water Act and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, they say the recent disaster could serve as a wake-up call on the dangers of fossil fuels. Further, the public’s negative response to the leak will make it harder for senators who favor drilling to use it as grounds for voting against a climate bill. 

But Senator Lindsey Graham (D-SC), who recently withdrew from his partnership with Kerry and Lieberman (for more information, see the SENATE CLIMATE DEBATE article in this edition), is more skeptical. Expressing concerns that the bill will lose ground because of Senator Nelson’s “dead on arrival” comments, Graham said he can’t visualize a path to 60 votes with both immigration reform and the oil leak on center stage.

SCIENCE FUNDING: HOUSE SCIENCE COMMITTEE APPROVES COMPETES REAUTHORIZATION

On April 28, the House Science and Technology Committee voted 29-8 in favor of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act (HR 5116). The $84 billion research and education bill includes substantial funding boosts for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, and the National Institutes for Standards and Technology over the next five years, keeping them on track to double their budgets from 2007 appropriated levels.

The committee spent hours debating close to 60 amendments, but ended with legislation similar to the versions marked up by subcommittees last month. Republican amendments generally focused on reining in spending by reducing authorization levels or cutting programs. Though many of these proposals were voted down, the committee did strike a few compromises, most notably on language for DOE’s high-risk/high-reward Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program: An  amendment offered by Committee Chair Bart Gordon (D-TN) would set funding levels at $3.15 billion through 2015—7 percent less than the levels passed by subcommittee and 10 percent less than the original bill’s authorization—and an amendment from Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) would reduce the authorization timeline from ten years to five. “We cannot authorize an effort for 10 years out before we’re able to assess what happens in the first full year of funding,” Rohrabacher said.

The bill could still see changes based on amendments from Representatives Rohrabacher and Paul Broun (R-GA), which would prohibit COMPETES funding from going towards lobbying efforts or to those who have infringed on intellectual property rights. The two lawmakers withdrew their amendments, agreeing instead to work with committee leadership to produce language that would be broadly acceptable.

Gordon, who has made the bill his top priority for 2010, expects it to reach the House floor by the intended Memorial Day deadline. The Senate has held one hearing so far on the subject. The original bill is set to expire at the end of this year.

COASTAL WILDLIFE: BIPARTISAN SUPPORT FOR YET-UNVEILED BILL TO INSTITUTIONALIZE CONSERVATION PROGRAM

Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) is drafting legislation to codify the Interior Department’s Coastal Program, which sends federal experts to work with state agencies and local volunteers on a variety of coastal wildlife conservation activities, including habitat protection, invasive species removal, and wetland restoration. Originally focused on the Chesapeake Bay, the program has expanded over the last 30-some years to include 23 coastal areas, but Congress has yet to specifically authorize funding for it. Codification, though not required, is a way of setting agency priorities, formalizing congressional intent, and making programs more permanent.

Cardin floated his proposal at an Environment and Public Works (EPW) subcommittee hearing, saying that the draft—when completed—would not likely set a specific authorization level, but rather would call for “such sums as necessary.” (The President’s 2011 budget requests $15.5 million for the program.) The senator justified the investment by advising the panel that healthy coastal ecosystems provide $800 billion in annual economic benefits and that the Coastal Program leverages three dollars in private contributions for every dollar it spends on restoration.

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), EPW’s ranking member, indicated his support for the authorization.

INVASIVE SPECIES: SUPREME COURT HALTS GREAT LAKE STATE EFFORTS TO STOP SPREAD OF ASIAN CARP

On April 26, the Supreme Court rejected a request from the state of Michigan to reopen a 1922 lawsuit over the management of Chicago-area waterways. The lawsuit, originally filed during the construction of waterways connecting the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River Basin, is particularly relevant now, as Michigan and other neighboring states attempt to protect their fisheries from invasive species such as Asian carp. Claiming that Illinois has not done enough to prevent the species from spreading, Michigan—along with Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario—asked the Court to close Chicago-area waterways, possibly permanently, to prevent the invasives from establishing populations in the Great Lakes. Illinois argued that such actions would unfairly burden its shipping and boating industries.

The Supreme Court not only rejected the states’ request, but also barred them from pursuing the matter with a new high-court lawsuit. Other options still exist, however: states could file lawsuits in state or lower federal courts, and advocacy groups are free to move forward with their own legal challenges. According to an expert at the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, many of these groups have thus far refrained from filing lawsuits because Michigan had been acting on the matter itself. Given the recent ruling, he expects that many will now move forward with legal action.

NEON: NATIONAL SCIENCE BOARD CLEARS NEON FOR CONSTRUCTION

The planning process for the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) is now drawing to a close, and construction on the first sites could begin as soon as spring 2011. The National Science Foundation Director is now authorized to make an award of as much as $433.7 million over the next five years for observatory construction.

Construction funds for the 106 sites will still depend on congressional appropriations and compliance with the Endangered Species Act and National Historic Preservation Act. For information on the President’s 2011 budget request for NEON, see the February 12, 2010 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2010/02122010.php

OPPORTUNITY FOR INPUT: EPA INVITES COMMENTS ON OCEAN ACIDIFICATION IN THE CLEAN WATER ACT

The Clean Water Act defines impaired waters as ones too polluted or degraded to meet water quality standards set by the sub-national governments under whose jurisdiction they fall. Section 303(d) of the Act requires these governments to develop lists of impaired waters, the pollutant(s) causing impairment, and the total maximum daily loads of these pollutants.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently considering issuing a guidance to include ocean acidification among the causes of impairment. The agency is therefore seeking public input on:

The deadline to comment is May 21, 2010. To comment, visit www.regulations.gov

Under “Select Document Type,” choose “Notices

Under “Enter Keyword or ID,” type the docket ID: “EPA-HQ-OW-2010-0175

CURRENT POLICY

UNDER SUBCOMMITTEE REVIEW

Arctic mapping (HR 2864): On May 6, the House Natural Resources Committee’s Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee reviewed a bill that would direct the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to expand its mapping efforts in the Arctic. The bill, one of three Arctic bills sponsored by Representative Don Young (R-AK), comes in response to rapidly receding Arctic sea ice and seeks to address some of the resulting territorial, environmental, and economic concerns about expanded waterways and access to natural resources. As the fossil fuel and mineral-rich territory becomes more accessible, neighboring nations are already beginning to dispute each other’s claims of ownership. Young is particularly concerned about the lack of data on new shipping routes and says that mapping is critical to ensuring safe navigation and launching new energy development projects. His bill, HR 2864, would amend the Hydrographic Services Improvement Act to require expanded data collection in the Arctic, with an emphasis on characterizing coastal changes and delineating the US portion of the extended continental shelf. It would authorize $10 million over the next two years for hydrographic data and $5 million to delineate the continental shelf.

REFERRED TO COMMITTEE

ESA AND ESA STUDENT SECTION WORK TO IDENTIFY DATASETS USEFUL TO GULF COAST MONITORING

The Ecological Society of America and its Student Section are organizing an effort to identify datasets to assist monitoring in areas impacted by the oil leak. Researchers with datasets that could be used to evaluate the Gulf of Mexico ecosystems before the leak (e.g.  transects, surveys, etc.) are being asked to submit information about the datasets (data description, area covered, time frame covered, and contact information) to ESAStudentSection@gmail.com. ESA Student Section Officers have offered to collate all the information so that ESA can provide summaries about available datasets to researchers based in the Gulf to help them establish monitoring sites.


Sources: ClimateWire, Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, Politico, the Washington Post, the New York Times, Congressional Quarterly

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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