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Policy News Update

December 10, 2010

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]

HOUSE: GOP NAMES COMMITTEE CHAIRS

House Republican leaders on Tuesday, Dec. 7 announced their roster of committee chairmen, all of whom have vowed to conduct vigorous oversight of the Obama Administration.

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), a noted climate skeptic, was picked by House GOP leaders to chair the Science and Technology Committee. “Our Committee will help ensure that taxpayer dollars are invested wisely in research and development programs by providing effective oversight of existing programs and by eliminating wasteful and duplicative programs and streamlining programs where needed,” said Hall in a subsequent statement.

Hall was among 143 Republicans to support the first America COMPETES Act (P.L. 110-069) enacted in 2007, which authorized funding for three agencies: the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Office of Science at the Department of Energy. However, he voted against the reauthorization bill, which passed by a more partisan vote of 262-150 and will have to be reintroduced if the Senate fails to send the bill to the president before year’s end. Hall expressed concern in committee that “some of these new programs” established in the reauthorization “are potentially duplicative of current efforts” and “increase the cost of the bill by billions.”

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) was chosen to lead the Appropriations Committee. He defeated Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) and Jerry Lewis (R-CA) for the post.  Conservatives have questioned the choice of Rogers because he is well-known for requesting earmarks to help his district, one of the more economically depressed areas in the country.  Rogers, however, has pledged to ban earmarks in appropriations bills next year. Rogers also said he would explore a suggestion from incoming Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to have committees vote on smaller spending bills, either by individual department or even by agencies.

The steering committee also selected Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) over Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) to head the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Tea party activists had opposed Upton, whom they felt was not conservative enough. Upton had supported a bipartisan measure that increased the use of energy-efficient light bulbs in the energy law (P.L. 110-140), signed by President Bush in Dec. 2007.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), a member of the GOP leadership team and the Steering Committee, said the committee did not see any reason to give a waiver to Reps. Barton or Lewis, who had reached the limit of a GOP rule that prevents their Members from serving in the top slot on a committee as either Chairman or Ranking Member for more than three two-year terms.

A committee lineup of the incoming House Committee Chairmen and Ranking Members, as elected by the Republican and Democratic Caucuses, is listed below (*indicate expected Ranking Members as Democrats expect to vote on their remaining slots next week):

Agriculture: Frank D. Lucas (R-OK), *Collin Peterson (D-MN)
Administration:  Dan Lungren (R-CA), Robert Brady (D-PA)
Appropriations:  Hal Rogers (R-KY), Norman Dicks (D-WA)
Armed Services: Howard P. "Buck McKeon (R-CA), *Silvestre Reyes (D-TX)
Budget:  Paul Ryan (R-WI), *Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)
Education and Labor:  John Kline (MN), *George Miller (D-CA)
Energy and Commerce:  Fred Upton (R-MI), Henry Waxman (D-CA)
Financial Services:  Spencer Bachus (R-AL), Barney Frank (D-MA)
Foreign Affairs:  Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), *Howard Berman (D-CA)
Homeland Security:  Peter T. King (R-NY), *Bennie Thompson (D-MS)
Judiciary:  Lamar S. Smith (R-TX), *John Conyers (D-MI)
Natural Resources:  Doc Hastings (R-WA), *Ed Markey (D-MA)
Oversight & Government Reform: Darrell Issa (R-CA), *Edolphus Towns (D-NY)
Science & Technology:  Ralph M. Hall (R-TX), *Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)
Small Business:  Sam Graves (R-MO), *Nydia M. Velázquez
Transportation & Infrastructure:  John L. Mica (R-FL), *Nick Rahall (D-WV)
Veterans:  Jeff Miller (R-FL), *Bob Filner (D-CA)
Ways & Means:  Dave Camp (R-MI), Sander Levin (D-MI)

CLIMATE: SUPREME COURT TO HEAR GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS CASE

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Dec. 6 that it will take on a potentially landmark case examining if states can hold individual power plants accountable for their greenhouse gas emissions.

American Electric Power Co., Duke Energy, Southern Co., Xcel Energy Inc. and the Tennessee Valley Authority are challenging a lower court ruling that allowed states and environmental groups to move ahead with a public nuisance lawsuit seeking to force the utilities to slash their greenhouse gas emissions. Attorneys for the utilities argued that nuisance lawsuits targeting power plants are the wrong way to tackle global climate change.

The environmental groups, New York City and the eight states that filed the lawsuit argue that by emitting greenhouse gases, the power companies are contributing to a public nuisance, affecting public health and nature, the plaintiffs charge. American Electric Power and the other utilities counter that only Congress has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is already planning to do the job.

Obama Administration attorneys also asked the court to vacate the appeals court's judgment, arguing that EPA is moving forward with efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and that the nuisance claims would be better handled by legislation or regulations than by the courts. EPA's new climate regulations would force large new power plants or those seeking modifications to install "best available control technology" to limit their emissions if they would likely cross certain thresholds.

When the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided the case last year, it ruled that major electric utilities could be sued for their contributions to global climate change. At that point, however, EPA had not yet issued rules on regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Oral arguments on this case will not be heard until spring 2011.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor recused herself from the case because she served on the federal appeals court when it heard arguments on the case. She was seated on the Supreme Court by the time the court issued its ruling, however. Experts on the court are expecting a 4-4 split in the case, citing the Massachusetts v. EPA case, which was affirmed in 2007 5-4 vote. The deciding justice, Anthony Kennedy, voted in favor of heat-trapping gases’ being regulated under the Clean Air Act.

If there is a 4-4 split, that would leave the 2nd Circuit ruling in favor of the states intact, but the case would not be binding upon other federal courts of appeal.

SENATE: REID TAX COMPROMISE INCLUDES ETHANOL, RENEWABLE ENERGY EXTENTIONS

A renewable energy grant program, ethanol tax credit and other energy tax credits would be extended one year in a compromise tax package announced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) late Dec. 9.

The over-arching package still includes income tax cuts for all tax brackets negotiated earlier this week by the White House and Republicans, but includes changes to the renewable energy grant program. Reid has scheduled the first vote on the package for Dec. 13. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Jim DeMint (R-SC) have vowed to filibuster it.

To win over liberal Democrats, Reid added an ethanol tax credit, which Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) supports and an extension of the Section 1603 cash grant program for the renewable energy industry, which Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) favors. The extension would cost about $3 billion over 10 years, according to a Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) score.

Eighty-one House Democrats sent a letter, spearheaded by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR), to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Dec. 9 stating that a two-year extension of the renewable energy grants-in-lieu-of-tax-credit program is vitally important. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sander Levin (D-MI), said Democrats on the panel will meet either Monday or Tuesday to review the tax package, including the 1603 program and a clean energy manufacturing tax credit program known as 48C.

The package includes other green-energy incentives that could win support among House liberals disappointed that Congress failed to pass a climate change bill this year. These provisions include tax credits for biodiesel and renewable diesel; energy-efficient homes; alternative fuels and a 30-percent investment tax credit for alternative vehicle refueling properties. Seven senators, including Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME), sent a letter to Senate leadership and the heads of the Senate Finance Committee in support of the residential energy efficiency credits. The bill also includes an increase in tax relief for mass transit, an extension of tax benefits for property owners who set aside land for conservation, and a special tax deduction for elementary and secondary school teachers.

The total cost of all of the energy tax extensions would be more than $11 billion over 10 years, according to the JCT summary. The bill also provides incentives for research and development retroactive for this calendar year and through 2011, at a cost of about $13 billion.

HOUSE: SELECT GLOBAL WARMING COMMITTEE TO BE ABOLISHED NEXT CONGRESS

The incoming Republican majority has announced it will abolish the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, citing a need to get rid of waste and duplication in how Congress is run.

The committee's ranking Republican, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), was the first to break the news during a hearing entitled “Not Going Away: America's Energy Security, Jobs and Climate Challenges.” Although he strongly opposed the House climate bill, Sensenbrenner supported renewing the select committee for the 112th Congress. At the hearing, he said it had "provided a forum for bipartisan debate and an opportunity for House Republicans to share a different view on the pressing energy and environmental issues that we currently face."

(For additional information on the hearing, see the related post on the Ecological Society of America’s blog Ecotone: http://www.esa.org/esablog/ecology-in-policy/the-price-tag-of-climate-change/)

The select committee, under Chairman Markey’s leadership, held 75 hearings on subjects that included climate, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the need for higher fuel economy standards for cars and trucks. Although it was not empowered to mark up legislation, the committee served as a platform to raise awareness of renewable energy and climate change issues, including the cap-and-trade bill (H.R. 2454).

H.R. 2454, the Clean Energy and American Security Act, introduced by Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Chairman Ed Markey (D-MA), cleared the chamber last year and aimed to reduce emissions by more than 80 percent below current levels by 2050. The bill passed the House June 26, 2009 by a slim 219-212 vote, but stalled in the Senate. The bill garnered opposition from 44 Democrats and support from eight Republicans: Reps. Mary Bono Mack (CA), Mike Castle (DE), Leonard Lance (NJ), Frank LoBiondo (NJ), John McHugh (NY), David Reichert (CA), Chris Smith and Mark Kirk (IL), who was recently elected to the Senate.

Rep. Markey also serves as the Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Environment. He is expected to become the Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee when the 112th Congress convenes in January. The current top-ranking committee Democrat, Nick Rahall, is stepping aside in favor of serving in the ranking position on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which is traditionally less partisan.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: SENATORS URGE CLINTON AGAINST CLIMATE AID

The four most senior Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee issued a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Dec. 2, requesting that the State Department freeze new funding for international climate change programs in favor of deficit reduction.

“As the sixteenth Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is set to enter its second week, we remain opposed to the U.S. commitment to full implementation of the Copenhagen Accord, which will transfer billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to developing nations in the name of climate change,” states the letter from Sens. James Inhofe (OK), John Barrasso (WY), David Vitter (LA) and George Voinovich (OH).

The Obama Administration requested $1.9 billion for fiscal 2011 so it could pay its share of an international fund for adaptation to climate change, which would total $100 billion through 2020. The adaptation fund was part of the Copenhagen Accord, an agreement that emerged from last year's talks in Denmark.

The Senators assert that “several of the findings of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concerning the eventual impacts of climate change in developing countries were found to be exaggerated or simply not true…no American taxpayer dollars should be committed to a global climate fund based on information that is not accurate.”

To view the letter to Sec. Clinton, click here:
http://thehill.com/images/stories/blogs/energy/clintonletter.pdf

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: PACT COULD BE NEAR TO PRESERVE RAINFORESTS

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is reportedly close to reaching a deal to allow developing nations to receive financial compensation to protect tropical forests and curb deforestation, which accounts for roughly 15 percent of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Brazil, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea are among the nations where forests are being cut to make way for expanded cattle grazing areas and the production of crops such as soybeans and palm oil. The strategy, entitled Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) will help define how to measure deforestation over time and what social and environmental safeguards need to be in place.

Pilot projects around the globe already exist, funded by corporations seeking to enhance their public image or preparing for a carbon-constrained world, or by governments and public institutions focused on curbing deforestation. Norway has pledged more than $1 billion between now and 2012 as part of its long-term pacts with Brazil, Indonesia and Guyana, while the U.S. has promised $1 billion as part of any broad international climate deal.

However, while a dozen countries already have promised to help pay to preserve forests in the short term, most experts say the effort will fall short of what is needed to avert serious climate change. Several analyses, including ones by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the European Union and Great Britain, estimate that the world would need to devote $25 billion a year to cut deforestation in half by 2020.

Additionally, Bolivia and its allies are seeking to block the forestry measure on the grounds that it applies capitalist principles to achieve a public good. U.S. special climate envoy Todd Stern, who backs the provision, said the U.S. may not be able to support its full enactment if negotiators cannot agree on more contentious issues, such as how to verify carbon cuts by major developing countries.

-The Washington Post

INTERIOR: SEASONED CLIMATE STRATEGIEST, SCIENCE ADVISER PICKED TO HEAD FWS

President Obama named U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Deputy Director Dan Ashe to become the agency's new director. The announcement was made December 3.

Ashe, a 15-year agency employee who helped engineer FWS's climate change adaptation strategy, will replace Sam Hamilton, who died last February. As science adviser for FWS from 2003 to 2009, Ashe helped develop the agency's scientific policy and procedures for resource management.

From 1982 until 1995, Ashe worked in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he rose to Staff Director of the Subcommittee on Environment and Natural Resources, within the former House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries. In that position, Ashe worked extensively on legislative and policy issues dealing with FWS.

Ashe has a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences from the Florida State University and a graduate degree in marine affairs from the University of Washington College of Ocean and Fisheries Sciences. Ashe is also the son of William Ashe, a former FWS deputy regional director.

Ashe asserts that interagency cooperation will be critical to ensuring that ecosystems survive in the face of climate change. He also is considering the possible establishment of an electronic clearinghouse between FWS and the U.S. Geological Survey tor share and access information on landscape conservation cooperatives.

Endangered Species Clashes

If confirmed by the Senate, Ashe is expected to meet opposition from environmental groups over certain agency endangered species proposals. Ashe and Dan Strickland, assistant Interior Secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, recently stated they intend to remove gray wolves and grizzlies from Endangered Species Act protection and would seek congressional action for delisting wolves in the northern Rockies.

Environmentalists have praised the recovery progress of both animals, but argue that delisting would open the species to public hunting and reverse recent gains. Sportsmen and ranchers in western states are concerned that the predators are depleting big-game animals, including elk and are preying on livestock. Opposition is also expected during congressional hearings with Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senate Interior Environment and Related Agencies Chairwoman Diane Feinstein who are among key lawmakers potentially objecting to the plan.

The Fish and Wildlife Service removed Endangered Species Act protections from wolf populations in Idaho and Montana last year, but a federal judge reinstated them in August, siding with environmental groups. The federal government, backed by Idaho and Montana, is appealing the decision.

Montana Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester have introduced S. 3864, the Restoring State Wildlife Management Act of 2010. The bill would effectively delist wolf populations in Montana and Idaho. Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch (UT), John Barrasso (WY), Mike Enzi (WY), Jim Risch (ID) and Mike Crapo (ID) introduced similar legislation (S. 3919) in September. A House companion bill (H.R. 6028) has also been introduced by Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX). None of the bills have made it out of committee.

Grizzlies in the Yellowstone National Park area have exceeded their recovery goal of 500, up from 136 in 1975. Wolves have greatly surpassed original recovery goals of 300 and now number approximately 1,500 in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

AIR POLLUTION: EPA DELAYS TOUGHER AIR POLLUTION RULES

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is delaying, for the third time this year, completion of tough new air pollution rules that have come under attack from a range of industry groups and Members of Congress.

The agency had hoped to finalize ozone pollution rules that toughen Bush-era standards months ago, but now has set a target for the end of July 2011. The rules were previously expected to be finalized by Dec. 31, 2010.

EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan stated the agency is seeking more input from its Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, the panel that had recommended a range of standards more aggressive than Bush-era smog standards. However,the incoming GOP House majority, which has pledged to limit many pending EPA rules and increase oversight of the agency, likely also influenced the decision.

Incoming House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) has listed the rules among “job-killing” EPA policies that he said he will seek to turn back. Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), Chairman of the Senate Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee, said the latest delay would leave "millions of Americans unprotected from harmful ozone air pollution under an outdated, ineffective ozone standard."

EPA first released the tougher rules in draft form last January. The revised standard, which EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson described at the time as "long overdue," would help prevent up to 12,000 premature deaths and save up to $100 billion in health costs, according to EPA.

The move is the second issue the agency has back-tracked on in under a week. On Dec. 7, EPA announced it would delay a major air toxics rule for industrial boilers, such as those used at oil refineries and paper mills, after coming under fire from a number of industry groups and lawmakers claiming it would adversely affect the economy.

INVASIVE SPECIES: JUDGE RULES AGAINST STATES IN ASIAN CARP DISPUTE

Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled against the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania in their latest attempt to prevent Asian Carp from entering Lake Michigan, where scientists fear the fish could disrupt the food chain and native habitat. The states want the Army Corps of Engineers and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, which control the facilities that link Illinois waterways with the lake, to take action to stop the spread of the invasive species to the Great Lakes.

U.S. District Judge Robert Dow concluded that the states failed to show that closing the locks immediately was essential to block the carp's path to Lake Michigan. He noted that "multi-agency efforts to prevent Asian carp migration ... have only increased and expanded in the months since this lawsuit was filed” and sided with opponents who argued that the locks are essential to commerce and flood control.

The Obama Administration in February released a $78.5 million strategy for battling the carp. It called for strengthening the fish barrier system, netting and poisoning carp in selected areas of the Chicago waterways and developing biological controls to disrupt spawning. The states argued for more prompt action. While the decision does not end the lawsuit, the judge’s refusal to issue a preliminary injunction seems to settle the lock issue for the foreseeable future.

Asian Carp have migrated up the Mississippi River and its tributaries for decades after escaping from southern sewage treatment plants and aquaculture ponds. DNA evidence suggests at least some may have evaded an electronic barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which links to the Great Lakes.

The fish have a habit of jumping when they sense a predator (or large object), causing numerous injuries to boaters. The carp can grow to up to four feet long and weigh up to 100 pounds. They also consume vast quantities of plankton, a crucial link in the aquatic food chain.  Great Lakes leaders fear spread of the carp will decimate the lakes' multibillion-dollar fisheries and are waging multiple efforts to contain their spread.

Federal legislation

Congress recently passed S. 1421, the Asian Carp Prevention and Control Act, sponsored by Carl Levin (D-MI) and George Voinovich (R-OH). Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) sponsored companion legislation in the House. The bill passed both chambers as of December 1 and is expected to be signed by the president. The legislation would list bighead carp one the most aggressive carp species, among other "illegal" plants and wildlife under the Lacey Act.

The listing would help prevent intentional introduction of the species by prohibiting the interstate transportation or importation of live Asian carp without a permit. However, it would not interfere with existing state regulations.

FISCAL POLICY

White House Panel Calls for Large R&D Increase

On November 29, the President's Council of Scientific and Technology Advisors (PCAST) released a report recommending that the federal government increase spending on energy research, development, demonstration, and deployment from roughly $5 billion per year to $16 billion per year. The panel acknowledges current fiscal restraints and suggests that the government pursue “new revenue streams” through “legislation or through regulatory mechanisms put in place with the collaboration of the engaged industries, state and local governments, non-governmental organizations and consumer representatives.” It recommends directing $12 billion of the $16 billion to Research, Development, and Demonstration (RD&D) funding, with an emphasis on Department of Energy (DOE) competitive programs and recommends the establishment of a DOE training grant program.

To view the full report, click here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/pcast-energy-tech-report.pdf

To view the Executive Summary, click here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/pcast-energy-exec-sum.pdf

Commission Recommendations Fail to Advance

The president’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform released its final report December 1, a proposal to cut nearly $4 trillion from the federal deficit. It failed to garner the 14 votes necessary to advance the plan to Congress, however, by a vote of 11-18.

The plan had proposed slashing energy tax breaks, a move that could make renewable power more competitive and help chisel down greenhouse gas emissions. The commission also proposed several other steps that could indirectly reduce emissions including: raising the gasoline tax to rise 15 cents a gallon by 2015, telecommuting for federal employees, freezing the government's vehicle fleet and reducing federal travel. It also suggested increasing electricity prices under the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Department of Energy, which own hydroelectric power plants. While the report noted “expanding high-value research and development in energy and other critical areas,” was key to preserving America’s competitiveness,  its proposals for discretionary spending cuts were expected to reduce funding for Research and Development investments.

The report received bipartisan support among the committee’s Senators with Tom Coburn (R-OK), Mike Crapo (R-ID), assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) as well as both Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Ranking Member Judd Gregg (R-NH) voting yes. Durbin said he thought that Conrad would use the commission's report as a blueprint for the party's fiscal plan next year. Two of the three House Democrats voted no as did every House Republican on the panel, including incoming Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (WI). Ryan  expressed concerns about the healthcare-related provisions of the plan.

The bipartisan panel was Co-Chaired by Erskine Bowles, a former Clinton White House Chief of Staff and former Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY).

Click here to review the full report:
http://www.fiscalcommission.gov/sites/fiscalcommission.gov/files/documents/TheMomentofTruth12_1_2010.pdf

Appropriations: House passes year-long CR, Senate action pending

The House approved a $1.1 trillion bill to fund the government through Sept. 30 that boosts nuclear and carbon capture sequestration loan guarantee authority and extends drilling plan reviews to 90 days. The continuing resolution (CR) passed by a narrow vote of 212-206. The bill funds the government at fiscal 2010 levels, except where the 500-page bill authorizes changes.

Senate Democrats are negotiating with Republicans on an "omnibus" bill that includes all 12 spending measures for fiscal 2011 instead of extending the appropriation bills passed for fiscal 2010. If an agreement is reached on an omnibus then the Senate would amend the yearlong House CR and replace it with the omnibus language.

The House spending bill also includes the following provisions:

To view a summary of the legislation, click here:
http://appropriations.house.gov/images/stories/pdf/Full/Summary_of_FY11__Year_Long_Funding_Act.pdf

To view the full text of the legislation, click here:
http://www.rules.house.gov/111/LegText/111_fullyearcr.pdf


Sources: ClimateWire, CNN.com, Environment and Energy Daily, Department of Interior, Greenwire, The Hill, House Appropriations Committee, House Science and Technology Committee, The New York Times, POLITICO, The Washington Post, The White House

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