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Policy News Update

January 13, 2011

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]

HOUSE: COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN TO REFOCUS PRIORITIES, PROBE CLIMATE SCIENCE

Among the new priorities of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee in the 112th Congress will be an  investigation of climate science.

Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) opposes cap-and-trade policies and the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Hall has repeatedly suggested that so-called "Climategate" e-mails between climate scientists posted on the Internet in 2009 raise doubts about the overall quality of climate science, a stance that landed him on the liberal Center for American Progress' list of "climate zombie" lawmakers who question the scientific consensus on global climate change.

Hall said his committee’s vice chairman, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), an outspoken climate skeptic and former committee chairman, will take the lead on the issue. Sensenbrenner also served as the top Republican on the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which was abolished this year when his party took control of the House.

Upon assuming the committee chairmanship, Hall added outer space to the committee’s title, highlighting a renewed focus on NASA issues. The move is not without precedent, however, as the committee has previously gone by “Committee on Science” and “Committee on Science and Astronautics” in previous Congresses.

Hall has been a member of the committee since he was first elected to Congress in 1980.

EPA: HOUSE AND SENATE LEADERS SPAR OVER CLIMATE RULES

Committee leaders within the House and Senate have already begun sparing over legislative attempts to block the Obama administration’s global climate change and air pollution rules.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) criticized the House GOP majority for targeting rules covering healthcare and the environment. Chairwoman Boxer asserted that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is following the will of Congress in implementing its carbon regulations, she said, pointing to a 2007 Supreme Court decision that found that the Clean Air Act grants the agency the authority to do so.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) is planning an early series of hearings on the Obama EPA rules that target power plants, petroleum refiners and other major stationary industrial sources. He’s also said that he’s considering legislation that would stop the agency’s efforts until a series of lawsuits have been resolved.

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) also intends to reintroduce legislation that would freeze enforcement of EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gasses for two years, asserting he’s close to having the 60 votes of support needed to move the bill in the Senate. A similar bill (H.R. 199) has been introduced in the House by Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV).

At the same time, Rockefeller criticized Chairman Upton for a recent statement indicating that he might use the Congressional Review Act to roll back EPA's greenhouse gas authority. The law has been used only once in its 14-year history, to nullify a Department of Labor rule on ergonomics. Some legal experts maintain that it is too late to use the law to prevent EPA from regulating carbon permanently under the Clean Air Act.

Rockefeller also expressed concern that Republican gains in the Senate could pave the way for more extreme measures to prevent EPA from moving ahead on other, less controversial regulations like a tailpipe emissions rule for vehicles. That could be done by adding language to a spending bill that would prohibit EPA from spending funds to implement greenhouse gas regulations.

Forty-seven House members have also sponsored a stand-alone bill (H.R. 97), spearheaded by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), that would declare greenhouse gases are not subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act. Rep. Blackburn also serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

House Appropriations Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) has said he favors attaching language to a spending bill that would put a two-year stay on EPA’s regulatory efforts. Simpson said EPA language could be attached to a continuing resolution or omnibus appropriations bill Congress must pass in March to fund the federal government for the final six months of fiscal 2011, although he added that the fiscal year 2012 bill is a more likely vehicle.

Chairwoman Boxer asserted that President Barack Obama would veto any legislation that reaches his desk to stop EPA, also noting that the Senate does not have 67 votes necessary to override a veto of such legislation.

PUBLIC LANDS: HOUSE CHAIRMAN TO TARGET BLM ‘WILD LANDS’ POLICY

Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT), Chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee,  plans to contest whether the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has the authority to impose temporary wilderness restrictions on federal lands in the West.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued an executive order Dec. 22, 2010, to protect large areas of federal land with "wilderness characteristics," which drew strong praise from conservation groups that have sought to overturn a 2003 settlement between former Interior Secretary Gale Norton and the state of Utah barring BLM from taking stock of wilderness-quality lands in all its resource plans. Western Republicans, the oil and gas industry and motorized recreation advocates argue wilderness designations stifle economic development and block access to public lands.

Utah’s Uintah County, with support from the Utah Association of Counties, sued the Obama administration in Oct. 2010, claiming the Interior Department had thwarted a policy established by the George W. Bush administration that promised federally owned parcels would not be afforded wilderness-level protection unless they were formally designated by Congress.

The policy, established under a 2003 agreement between then-Interior Secretary Gale Norton and former Gov. Mike Leavitt (R-UT), also held that the Bureau of Land Management would not designate additional wilderness study areas in Utah, or manage roughly 2.6 million acres of proposed wilderness asprotected wilderness.

On the Democratic side, Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) have sponsored America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, which would preserve 9.4 million acres of pristine land across eastern Utah. The bill has no support from anyone within the Utah Congressional delegation and is unlikely to be taken up, at least in the GOP-controlled House. The bill has not yet been re-introduced in the current 112th Congress.

In addition to oversight into wilderness policy and national monuments, Bishop said his subcommittee also aims to block "bad" legislation from passing the House. Bishop cited a public lands omnibus bill in the last Congress that codified BLM's National Landscape Conservation System and added new segments to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Bishop also vowed to shed light on whether environmental groups are abusing a federal law that allows groups to be compensated for lawsuits brought against the federal government.

Rep. Bishop cosponsored a bipartisan bill in March 2010 (H.R. 4717) that would require the Justice Department to file annual reports detailing the number and amounts of payments issued under the little-known Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), as well as provide a searchable online database containing the names of EAJA recipients, the federal agencies sued by those groups, and the names of the administrative law judges overseeing each case.

Enacted in 1976, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) ordered BLM to identify “Wilderness Study Areas” (WSAs) for Congress to consider designating as permanent wilderness. BLM currently manages 570 wilderness study areas, covering just more than 13 million acres. And while the agency's congressional authority to establish WSAs expired in 1991, BLM continued to administratively designate WSAs under FLPMA until the Norton settlement.

To read Salazar's executive order, click here: http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&PageID=115974

GULF SPILL: PANEL RELEASES RECOMMENDATION REPORT ON OFFSHORE DRILLING

The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, tasked by President Obama to investigate the causes and effects of the disaster in the Gulf, released its final report Jan. 11. The commission report concludes that the Gulf disaster was rooted in both the systemic failure of industry and in the lack of adequate oversight by government.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold its first hearing of the new Congress on the commission’s findings Jan. 26, according to Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who chairs the committee. Chairman Bingaman plans to host former U.S. EPA Administrator Bill Reilly and former Florida Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham, the co-chairmen of the commission. The group says its top recommendation to Congress is to provide more funding to Interior to ensure regulators have ample resources to oversee increasingly technical drilling operations.

In their report, co-Chairmen Graham and Reilly commend Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for reorganizing the former Minerals Management Service  into the new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. However, they argue that the move doesn't go far enough to ensure that the organization's safety priorities aren't compromised by politics.

The 380-page report recommends that Congress and the Interior Department create an independent agency within Interior “with enforcement authority to oversee all aspects of offshore drilling safety,” as well as oil, gas and renewable energy production facilities. The new agency would include a Leasing and Environmental Science Office that would oversee "environmentally responsible and efficient" development of the Outer Continental Shelf.

The commission suggests that the government office that enforces safety be separate from the office that handles revenues. The current reorganization under BOEMRE separates the two responsibilities at the base level, but the leaders of each group report to the same official. The commissioners recommend appointing an autonomous director of the new separated agency within Interior with a background in science and management who would be term-limited.

The panel also wants Congress to direct the majority of the penalty money collected from BP and other companies involved in the disaster under the Clean Water Act to be returned to the Gulf states to assist in environmental cleanup and wetlands restoration. The commissioners urge Congress to lift the liability cap for oil companies involved in a spill higher than the current $75 million, but they don't recommend a specific number. The report also recommends that industry set up its own independent safety institute, akin to what the nuclear industry did after the 1979 near meltdown of Three Mile Island.

Chapter Six of the report outlines a host of environmental assessments of the spill. The report notes that: “Through November 1, 2010, wildlife responders had collected 8,183 birds, 1,144 sea turtles, and 109 marine mammals affected by the spill—alive or dead, visibly oiled or not. Given the effects of hiding, scavenging, sinking, decomposition, and the sheer size of the search area, many more specimens were not intercepted.”

In a press statement, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) responded: “Several of the recommendations put forward deserve real consideration and will be more closely examined during our committee hearings.  Reforms should accomplish our shared goals of improving safety, allowing drilling to move forward in a timely manner, and putting people back to work.  Proposals that prolong the de facto moratorium in the Gulf, cost American jobs, or delay future energy production will be viewed skeptically in both the House and Senate.”

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) offered somewhat more pointed critique: “Rather than clearly identifying the root cause of this unprecedented disaster, the commission’s report is limited to general assertions about the enforcement agencies and industry as a whole. Neither this nor any investigation should be used as political justification for a pre-determined agenda to limit affordable energy options for America.”

House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Ed Markey declared his intention to introduce legislation reflecting the commission's recommendations. "Many of the commission's recommendations were included in legislation completed by Democrats in the House during the last Congress. This new report will improve and bolster the long-overdue reforms needed to keep our offshore oil industry operating in a safe and responsible manner," said Rep. Markey.

To view the final report of the oil spill commission, click here:
http://www.oilspillcommission.gov/final-report

MOUNTAINTOP REMOVAL: EPA REVOKES PERMIT FOR WV PROJECT

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has vetoed a federal permit for one of the largest mountaintop-removal projects ever proposed in Appalachia, a clear signal of the Obama administration's opposition to the controversial coal-mining practice.

The agency's decision, announced Jan. 13, to halt development of 2,278-acre Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County, WV, drew the threat of a lawsuit from the mine's owner and expressions of outrage from the mining industry, which decried the permit revocation as a job killer. EPA said it revoked the Spruce No. 1 permit after more talks with the mining company, Mingo Logan Coal Co., a subsidiary of St. Louis-based Arch Coal Co., failed to yield an agreement to substantially reduce environmental damage.

The veto of the permit issued in 2007 by the Army Corps of Engineers was EPA's 13th use of veto authority under the 1972 Clean Water Act. The agency last used that authority in 2008 when it stopped the Army Corps' work on a flood control project that regulators say would have destroyed 67,000 acres of Mississippi River wetlands.

The coal mining project would have involved dynamiting the tops off mountains over an area of 2,278 acres to get at the rich coal deposits beneath. The resulting rubble, known as spoil, would be dumped into nearby valleys and streams, killing fish, salamanders and other wildlife. The agency said that disposal of the mining material would also pollute the streams and endanger human health and the environment downstream.

The decision led to outcries from West Virginia politicians, the coal industry and other businesses who believe it will be damaging to the state’s economy. West Virginia's two Democratic U.S. senators expressed outrage and pledged a fight. Sen. Jay Rockefeller sent a letter to President Obama, decrying EPA's decision to revoke "a rigorously reviewed and lawfully issued permit."

For additional information on the EPA determination, click on the following link:
http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/9!OpenDocument

-Greenwire

HOUSE: BILL INTRODUCED TO OVERTURN CEMENT PLANT POLLUTANT LIMITS

Rep. John Carter (R-TX) introduced a joint resolution (H.J.Res. 9) that would cancel Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limits on air pollution from cement plants.

The regulations, released August, 9, 2010, would require cement kilns to reduce their emissions of mercury, soot and other pollutants by more than 90 percent. They did not include greenhouse gases -- a decision that has prompted a lawsuit from environmentalists.

The rules are being challenged by the cement industry, which claims that some plants won't be able to meet the stringent limits. About 20 of the nation's 115 cement plants could be forced to shut down by the new rules, according to the Portland Cement Association. Environmentalists assert that while there is intense debate among lawmakers over greenhouse gases, there's little disagreement about the danger posed by cement kilns.

Carter's district isn't home to any cement kilns, but the facilities are an anchor of the Texas economy. There are five cement plants along the Interstate 35 corridor that runs between Austin and San Antonio, southwest of his home in Round Rock, Texas.

EPA estimates that the cement kiln standards would provide between $6.7 billion and $18 billion in annual health and environmental benefits at a cost of between $926 million and $950 million to industry.

For additional information on the EPA rules, click here: http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/OpenDocument
-Greenwire

HOUSE: CRITICALLY WOUNDED MEMBER ACCLAIMED AS SOLAR POWER “HERO”

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), shot Jan. 8 during a constituent event in Tucson, has been looked upon as a strong advocate for the renewable energy and environmental communities. The shooting killed six people and wounded 14 others, including the Congresswoman, who remains in critical condition.

A young centrist Member, Giffords has championed renewable energy and environmental causes during her four years in Congress. Just two months into her first term, she was named vice chairwoman of the House Science and Technology's Subcommittee on Energy and Environment. She has been referred to as a “hero” by both the Sierra Club the Solar Energy Industries Association on solar power issues.

The Congresswoman, recently sworn in for her third term, touted solar energy a job creator for her district in Tucson. She was a key supporter of the Treasury Department's renewable energy grant-in-lieu-of-tax-credit program that was extended for one year last month in the tax package and has pushed for more incentives for the solar industry.  She is also a member of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Caucus.

In Sept. 2009, she introduced H.R. 3585, the Solar Technology Roadmap Act. The $2.25 billion bill sought to streamline solar energy research and development at the Department of Energy for the next five years. The bill passed the House, but did not clear the Senate before the 111th Congress adjourned, although hearings were held in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Giffords has also been heralded as an environmental champion by a number of advocacy groups. The League of Conservation Voters gave her a rating of 100 percent in 2009, and for the entire 110th Congress, she was awarded 88 percent, giving her a lifetime rating of 91 percent. During her time in the Arizona state legislature, Giffords received the Sierra Club's 2005 "Most Valuable Player" award from the Grand Canyon Chapter.

Giffords was among House Democrats in “swing-districts” to vote for H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, comprehensive legislation which sought to curb the effects of climate change. She also supported banning new mining claims on public lands in Arizona. In her first term, she voted in favor of H.R. 2262, Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007. The bill would have overhauled the 1872 mining law, establishing new environmental requirements for mining operations.

Giffords also championed energy issues as a Member of the Armed Services Committee, sponsoring H.R. 5280, the Department of Defense Energy Security Act.  The bill would have mandated the use of hybrid technology for tactical vehicles, accelerated production of biofuels for aircraft and laid out new energy goals for the Defense Department (DoD), including one promoting renewable energy projects on military lands. It would also require DoD, the federal government's largest energy consumer, to outline its strategy about how it plans to obtain a quarter of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2025. 


Sources: ClimateWire, Department of Interior, Environment and Energy Daily , E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, The Hill, The House Energy and Commerce Committee, The House Natural Resources Committee, The House Science and Technology Committee, Land Letter, POLITICO

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