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Policy News Update

July 10, 2011

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]

NATIONAL DEBT-CEILING DEBATE: CONSENSUS IN SIGHT, SPECIFIC PLAN REMAINS ELUSIVE

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and President Obama are unanimous in agreeing the federal deficit has to be raised before the projected August 2 deadline to avoid U.S. default on its debt. When, how and under what conditions this will occur remains murky.

Most recently, the House Republicans passed H.R. 2560, the Cut, Cap and Balance Act. The measure would cut spending in Fiscal Year 2012 by $111 billion, cap future spending at 19.9 percent of gross domestic product and allow for the debt ceiling to be increased if a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution is approved by Congress and sent to the states.  On July 22, the measure failed to advance in the Senate with a majority of Senators agreeing to table the bill by a vote of 51-46.

On July 19, a reunited “Gang of Six,” which originally consisted of a bipartisan group of six  Senators, unveiled a plan to lower the national debt by $3.7 trillion over ten years through a combination of spending reductions as well as entitlement and revenue reforms. The plan is based on the framework of the president’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, co-chaired by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson.

Senate Democratic leaders have signaled the proposal is unlikely to be implemented by Aug. 2 for a number of reasons: 1) the Congressional Budget Office likely cannot score the bill (to determine its estimated fiscal price tag) by the deadline and 2) any legislation increasing revenue, under the U.S. Constitution, must begin in the House of Representatives. The plan has already been met with opposition by interest groups across the political spectrum wary of its tax increases and entitlement cut proposals.

Another 614-page plan, put forward by Sen. Coburn (R-OK), would trim the deficit by $9 trillion over the next ten years. The plan includes reforms to revenue, entitlements and large cuts ($974.1 billion over 10 years) to discretionary spending. This would include $346.4 billion in cuts to the Department of Agriculture, $409 billion from the Department of Education, $33.67 billion to the Environmental Protection Agency, $26.44 billion from the Department of Interior, $101.8 billion from the Department of Energy and $14.2 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF). Much like another recent Coburn report accusing NSF of wasteful spending, the new report proposes to eliminate the agency’s Social, Behavioral and Economics Directorate. The fact that the plan also includes $1 trillion in tax increases and $1 trillion in Defense cuts makes it a tough sell to fellow Republicans while its sharp discretionary cuts and alterations to Medicare and Social Security make it a non-starter in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

One smaller scale proposal is being worked out between the two party leaders of the Senate. Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) is open to including aspects of the “Gang of Six” proposal into a measure he is working on with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). As originally proposed by McConnell, the measure would allow the president to unilaterally increase the national debt in several phases through 2012. The measure would require a two-thirds vote by both chambers to prevent the president from raising the ceiling. The proposal may include anywhere from $1.5 to $3 trillion in spending cuts, depending on whether it’s tied or incorporated into to a larger package.

While this proposal has garnered a degree of bipartisan support, some Republicans, particularly tea partiers, criticize it for simply “kicking the can down the road,” and giving the president sole authority to increase the national debt without guaranteeing multi-trillion dollar cuts in spending.. Meanwhile, some Democrats feel the measure puts political blame for increasing the national debt squarely on President Obama. These views have made the “Gang of Six” plan slightly more palatable for Members on both sides of the aisle. The McConnell-Reid measure could also take the form of a short-term stop-gap, if Congressional leaders and the White House gain confidence that a long-term deal is within reach.

After initial opposition, President Obama has now said he would sign a short-term increase in the debt limit, contingent on it being part of a long-term deal.

A basic outline of the “Gang of Six” proposal can be viewed here:
http://thehill.com/images/stories/gangofsix_plan.pdf

To view the Sen. Coburn plan, see:
http://coburn.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2011/7/dr-coburn-releases-9-trillion-deficit-reduction-plan

APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE APPROVES ENERGY AND WATER SPENDING BILL

On July 15, the U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 2354, the Energy and Water Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2012. The bill provides $30.6 billion in new funding for agency programs within the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Army Corps of Engineers as well as water programs within the Department of Interior. The bill passed by a vote of 219-196.

The bill also includes a provision that would provide $1 billion in emergency funding for floods in the Mississippi and Missouri river basins at the expense of high-speed rail funds. The measure includes cuts to DOE renewable energy and research programs and also blocks funding for Obama administration efforts to expand protections for wetlands and streams.

 

A number of amendments trimmed funding in the bill even further or blocked additional federal agency initiatives. Among these, the House adopted by voice vote an amendment by Rep. Todd Young (R-IN) to eliminate funding for DOE employees to carry out a weatherization assistance program authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Another amendment that was adopted would prohibit funding for a regulation that prevents people from carrying firearms on federal parklands, refuges and Army Corps of Engineers facilities.

The House also approved an amendment by Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) that would block funding towards provisions of the Energy Independence and Security Act (P.L. 110-140)  requiring light bulbs to be 30 percent more efficient by 2012 and 65 percent more efficient by 2020. According to the Department of Energy, the lighting standards that the bill would repeal could collectively save U.S. households nearly $6 billion in 2015 alone. The House passed the amendment by voice vote.

Two amendments increased support to DOE programs by transferring funds of an equal amount from the DOE Departmental Administration account. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) sponsored an amendment to increase funding for DOE programs authorized under the America COMPETES Act by $79.64 million, which was adopted by a vote of 214-213. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) sponsored an amendment to increase funding to the DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy account by $10 million. The amendment was adopted by a vote of 212-210.

To view the bill summary, status and votes on the bill and amendments, see:
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d112:H.R.2354:

APPROPRIATIONS: SCIENCE, ENVIRONMENTAL BILLS ADVANCE TO FULL HOUSE

During the week of July 13, the House Appropriations Committee cleared H.R. 2584, the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 as well as H.R. 2596 the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for FY 2012.

The Interior appropriations bill includes $27.5 billion in funding for FY 2012 a reduction of $2.1 billion below FY 2011 and $3.8 billion below the president’s FY 2012 budget request. House Republicans added a number of statutes to the bill blocking administration initiatives. Among its provisions, the bill would prohibit the Fish and Wildlife Service from listing additional plants or animals under the Endangered Species Act. It would also prohibit the administration from imposing a ban on mining near the Grand Canyon National Park.

The committee adopted a number of amendments from Members, including:

 

As approved by the full committee, the CJS bill included $50.2 billion in funding for FY 2012, $3.1 billion below FY 2011 and $7.4 billion below the president’s FY 2012 budget request. Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) was successful in restoring funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, albeit at the cost of other CJS agency programs. An amendment by the Congressman was adopted that provided an across-the-board cut to all CJS agencies of 0.1 percent for a total of $48 million, and shift those funds to NOAA's Operations, Research, and Facilities programs. Rep. Farr asserted the amendment returns the agency to FY 2008 levels.

The White House issued a veto threat against the Interior appropriations bill, citing “ideological and political provisions that are beyond the scope of funding legislation.”

For additional information on the Interior as well as CJS bills, see the July 10 edition of ESA Policy News: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2011/07122011.php

GAO: STATES FAILING TO NOTIFY EPA OF WATER CONTAMINATION

Three senior House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats released a report highlighting that numerous states have failed to report incidents of drinking water contamination. The report, by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office, was released July 18.

According to GAO, the unreliable reporting limits the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to identify water systems with the most serious compliance problems and reduce the threat of public exposure to water contamination from potable sources. The report was requested by Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA).

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), states are directed to collect and review data from community water systems, determine if violations have occurred, take enforcement action when necessary and report all violations and actions to EPA. The agency uses these data to identify water systems that have problems meeting the health standards for drinking water, so that enforcement efforts can be directed towards those systems with the most significant issues.  

However, using results of audits EPA conducted in 2007 and 2009, GAO found that states underreported or misreported hundreds of violations of drinking water standards. In 2007, an audit of fourteen states (Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, North Dakota, Nevada, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia and Washington state (as well as Puerto Rico and the Navajo Nation) indicated that an estimated 543 health-based drinking water violations (20 percent of the total) that should have been reported to the EPA either went unreported or were inaccurately reported.

In 2009, an audit of fourteen states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont) indicated that an estimated 778 health-based drinking water violations (26 percent of the total) that should have been reported to the EPA either went unreported or were inaccurately reported. 

States blame the lapses on inadequate training, staffing, guidance and funding. The Democratic committee leaders, which also included Reps. Ed Markey (MA) and John Dingell (MI), used the report to argue for maintaining funding for a state clean water revolving fund that pays for drinking water system maintenance and upgrades.

The report comes one week after Ranking Member Waxman, Markey and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) released a GAO report that found that EPA has not made a determination to regulate any new drinking water contaminants, with one recent exception, since 1996. The report found “systemic limitations” in how EPA identifies new contaminants for regulation.

To view the states report, see:
http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/sites/default/files/documents/GAO_Release_07.18.11.pdf

To view the EPA contaminants report, see:
http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/sites/default/files/documents/GAOReport_07.12.11.pdf

MOUNTAINTOP MINING: EPA RELEASES FINAL APPALACHIAN GUIDANCE

On July 21, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released final guidance on its interpretation of the Clean Water Act related to Appalachian mountaintop-removal mining projects.

The new guidance intends to replace an interim guidance and was developed, according to EPA, after reviewing more than 60,000 public comments. The mining industry has criticized the move, asserting that the new rules are burdensome and did not go through the proper regulatory channels.

In its summary the agency stated its final guidance “retains EPA’s expectation that permits for Appalachian surface coal mining operations reflect best-available science and comply with the law, while providing additional clarity and flexibility on the use of Clean Water Act tools in protecting Appalachian streams and safeguarding the health of Appalachian communities.”

To view the final guidance: http://www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands/guidance/mining.html

To view a summary of the guidance, see:
http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/wetlands/upload/Final_Appalachian_Mining_Guidance_Summary_072111-2.pdf

To view a copy of EPA’s Final Conductivity Benchmark Report as well as the Science Advisory Board’s final review: http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/cfm/recordisplay.cfm?deid=233809

A recent Ecological Society of America podcast focused on mountaintop removal, featuring recent ESA Graduate Student Policy Awardee Michael Levy: http://www.esa.org/egwash/?p=210

CHEMICALS: EPA LAUNCHES EFFORT TO STRENGTHEN SCIENTIFIC TOXICITY ASSESSMENTS

On July 12, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans to improve its Integrated Risk Information Systems (IRIS) program. The move is a direct response to recommendations received on April 8, 2011, from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

A NAS panel review of IRIS's formaldehyde assessment criticized IRIS's scientific methodologies and recommended ways IRIS should improve. NAS supported some of EPA’s findings, however, including that formaldehyde can cause irritation in humans as well as respiratory lesions and most notably cancer.

According to EPA, its improved process will include “a streamlined review schedule, ensuring that the majority of assessments will be finalized within two years of their start date, opportunities for input from EPA scientists, federal agency reviewers, and the public, and greater transparency by making the scientific studies used to develop assessments available through the Health and Environmental Research Online database.” The agency will also create a new peer consultation step early in the development of major IRIS assessments in an effort to enhance input from the scientific community as assessments are designed.

The announcement came days before Paul Anastas, EPA Assistant Administrator of Office of Research and Development, was slated to testify before a July 14 House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight hearing on the IRIS program.

While committee Republicans used the reports from the NAS and GAO to criticize EPA’s management of the program, committee Democrats and several witnesses defended the agency. Rena Steinzor, President of the Center for Progressive Reform, stated that the current IRIS database and pace is inadequate in large part because EPA has reacted to “constant harassments.” Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) concurred that further stalling of the IRIS would not be productive, noting its importance in effective chemical regulation.

More information about IRIS: http://www.epa.gov/iris/

Information about the IRIS process: http://www.epa.gov/iris/process.html

SCB, ESA, TWS LETTER TO CONGRESS: ORGANIZATIONS ASK FOR REMOVAL OF ENVIRONMENTAL RIDERS

In response to legislative riders that would block new species listings under the Endangered Species Act, the Ecological Society of America joined the Society of Conservation Biology and The Wildlife Society in a joint letter to Congress on July 22. 

The letter urges lawmakers to oppose any legislation that would undercut the use of science as the basis for implementing conservation, environmental and public health laws.  “Rapid adoption of such legislation without full public notice and balanced hearings is particularly dangerous, and that is what is now being advanced in the House consideration of the Interior and several other Appropriations bills to fund the operations of the government for Fiscal Year 2012” say the three scientific membership organizations. 

The joint letter notes that procedures are now being put in place at the agencies to protect the integrity of that science and that, if necessary, agency decisions are reviewed in the courts, with the active participation of experts on both sides, to determine whether that evidence and the rules it supports meet the requirements of the law. In addition to circumventing the normal review process, the organizations warn that the proposed ban on listing species as endangered or threatened could prevent emergency measures to save species such as spotted frogs that may provide new medicines to treat antibiotic-resistant microbes. 

To view the letter, see: http://www.esa.org/pao/policy_positions.php#letters

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in the House

H.R. 2547, the No Child Left Inside Act – Introduced July 14 by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), the bill would require states—as a prerequisite to receiving implementation grants—to  develop environmental literacy plans, approved by the Secretary of Education, for pre-kindergarten through grade 12 that include environmental education standards and teacher training. The bill has been referred to the House Education and Workforce Committee. Companion legislation (S. 1372) has been introduced by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI).

Approved by House Committee/Subcommittee

H.R. 2401, the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation (TRAIN) Act – Introduced by Reps. John Sullivan (R-OK) and Jim Matheson (D-UT), the bill requires an interagency committee to analyze the cumulative impacts of major new EPA rules on the economy, jobs and energy prices. The Energy and Commerce Committee approved the bill July 12.

H.R. 2273, the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act – Introduced by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), the bill would allow states to create their own coal ash disposal programs as long as they follow minimum federal guidelines. The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the bill July 13.

H.R. 2484, the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2011 – Introduced by House Space, Science and Technology Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD), the bill authorizes a targeted research plan to improve efforts to monitor, prevent, mitigate and control both marine and fresh water algal bloom and hypoxia events. Committee Democrats criticized the bill for reducing funding in the bill below Fiscal Year 2008 spending levels. The Subcommittee on Energy and Environment approved the bill July 14.

H.R. 2011, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Policy Act – Introduced by Natural Resources Energy and Minerals Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-CO), the bill directs the Secretary of Interior to conduct an inventory of U.S. minerals and review impediments to domestic production. The Natural Resources Committee approved the bill July 20.

Passed by House

H.R. 1309, the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2011 – Introduced by Financial Services Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity Chairwoman Judy Biggert (R-IL), the bill would reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program, set to expire in September, for an additional five years. The bill passed the House July 12 by a vote of 406-22 and the president has stated he will sign the measure when it clears the Senate.

H.R. 2018, the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011 – Introduced by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) and Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV), the bill would shift regulatory authority from the Environmental Protection Agency to states on issues concerning water pollution regulation, wetlands protection and mountaintop-removal mining. The bill passed the House July 13 by a vote of 239-184.

Introduced in Senate

S. 1357, a bill to exempt National Forest System land in the State of Alaska from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule – Introduced July 13 by Sens. Mark Begich (D-AK) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the bill would overturn a Clinton administration-era rule prohibiting road building on 58 million acres in the Tongass and Chugach forests in Alaska. The bill has been referred to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Companion legislation (H.R. 2526) has been introduced in the House by Rep. Don Young (R-AK).

S. 1397, the Incentivizing Offshore Wind Power Act – Introduced July 21 by Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), the bill would provide an investment tax credit for the production of electricity from offshore wind. The bill has been forwarded to the Finance Committee.


Sources: Sources: AAAS, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, the Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Appropriations Committee, House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, POLITICO, the White House

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