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Policy News Update

November 18, 2011

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]

APPROPRIATIONS: CONFERENCE AGREEMENT INCREASES SCIENCE INVESTMENT

Congressional leaders recently agreed upon a conference report agreement on a mini-omnibus appropriations measure (“mini-bus”) to for three separate appropriations bills through the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. The bill also contains a continuing resolution (CR) that extends through December 16 to allow Congress additional time to come to an agreement on funding levels for the nine remaining appropriation bills.

All together, the mini-bus includes $182 billion in spending for the Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Commerce, Justice as well as the National Science Foundation (NSF). The bill passed the House on Nov. 17 by a vote of 298-121. All but 20 Democrats supported the bill while 101 Republicans voted against it. Conservative Republicans opposed the bill because they believe the $757 million decrease from FY 2011 the bill contains is not enough of a cut. In the Senate, the bill passed by a vote of 70-30, with opposition coming solely from Republicans. President Obama is expected to sign the measure.

While overall funding levels were slightly reduced from prior fiscal years, some key science agencies and programs actually saw small bumps. Science investment in the “mini-bus” includes funding for NSF, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Agricultural Research Service.

For NSF, the bill provides $7.033 billion, a $173 million increase from what was enacted for FY 2011. For Research and Related Activities, the bill provides $5.719 billion, an increase of $155 million from FY 2011. The Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account is funded at $167.055 million, a $50 million increase from FY 2011. Education and Human Resources is funded at $829 million, a $32 million decrease from FY 2011.

NOAA is funded at $4.9 billion for FY 2012, an increase of $306 million over FY 2011. NOAA’s National Weather Service receives $903 million, $24 million above FY 2011. The bill provides $924 million for the agency’sJoint Polar Satellite System weather satellite program, a $442 million increase over FY 2011. The bill does not include funding for the agency’s  proposed climate service.

For programs funded under the Department of Agriculture, the Agricultural Research Service is provided with $1.09 billion, down from $1.133 billion in FY 2011. The National Institute of Food and Agricultural receives nearly $705.6 million, an increase from $698.7 million in FY 2011. The bill provides $844 million for Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) programs, a $45 million decrease from FY 2011.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is cut by 30 percent to $4.5 million in FY 2012. The steep cut is attributable to Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA). While Chairman Wolf has been a consistent champion of science investment in general, he voiced strong opposition to OSTP Director John Holdren’s decision to hold a meeting with the Chinese science and technology minister and other officials. Wolf asserted that the meeting violated a provision of the FY 2011 appropriations bill that prohibited the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and OSTP from funding any initiative to collaborate or coordinate bilaterally with China or any Chinese-owned company.

A detailed summary of the conference report can be found here:

http://appropriations.house.gov/UploadedFiles/11.14.11_Minibus_-_Detailed_Summary.pdf

STATE DEPARTMENT: DECISION ON KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE POSTPONED UNTIL 2013

On Nov. 10, the U.S. Department of State announced that it was delaying a decision on the controversial TransCanadian Keystone XL pipeline until the first quarter of 2013, in effect postponing the decision until after the 2012 presidential election.

The State Department said it needed to conduct further investigation of the impact of  Keystone XL on the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, a process it said could not be completed until at least the first quarter of 2013. The agency had previously said it expected a decision by the end of the year. If constructed, Keystone XL would run 1,700 miles from Canada to Texas and would convey a type of oil from Alberta, Canada, that is more carbon-intensive to produce than are other forms.

Environmentalists are strongly opposed to the pipeline, with some asserting that the administration’s decision would significantly impact their support for Obama in 2012. Opposition to the pipeline also attracted a significant proportion of young voters, a key demographic in the president’s election in 2008. Nebraska politicians had also expressed concern with the TransCanada pipeline, specifically related to the proposed route through the state’s Sand Hills region and the Ogallala aquifer, which is a key source of drinking water and irrigation for several states.

After the administration’s announcement, Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) issued a statement calling the decision “welcome news.” Sen. Johanns also wrote a letter to Sec. of State Hillary Clinton reinforcing his opposition to the planned route. “Considering your agency has studied the proposed route for several years, keeping it under consideration makes no sense given today’s announcement,” he wrote. “Please therefore consider this letter as a formal request that the Department of State immediately acknowledge that the current route is no longer being considered.”

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) called the move “a win of Nebraskans. He continued, “The pipeline will be moved out of environmentally sensitive areas of Nebraska with TransCanada proposing a new route. The pipeline will be built, bringing jobs to Nebraska.”

On the other hand, labor unions, including the AFL-CIO and industry had strongly supported the pipeline. Republicans on key congressional committees also strongly supported the pipeline. On Nov. 9, 26 House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans, led by Chairman Fred Upton (MI), sent a letter to President Obama requesting approval of the TransCanada pipeline.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and industry officials accused the administration of folding to election year politics.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers issued a press release maintaining that “Canadian oil sands production will not be impacted in the near term and other alternatives are being pursued to ensure market access over the medium term” while noting that the delay will “motivate exploration of other markets for Canadian crude oil products.”

BIODIESEL: SUPREME COURT DECLINES TO REVIEW EPA RENEWABLE FUEL STANDARD

On Nov. 7, the Supreme Court decided against taking up the petroleum industry's challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) biodiesel blending requirements, bringing an end to the fight over the agency's implementation of the renewable fuel standard.

Under the rule, which went into effect on July 1, 2010, refiners had until Feb. 28, 2011 to show they had blended the required amounts of biodiesel into the nation's diesel fuel supply for 2009 and 2010. The legal question was whether EPA had the authority to apply the rule retroactively when Congress had not expressly said it could do so.

In Dec. 2010, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously dismissed arguments by the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association that the court should review EPA's rules on biodiesel blending. The groups had challenged the rules on three grounds, maintaining they improperly combined requirements for 2009 and 2010, that they should not have been made retroactive and that they violated requirements for minimum lead times.

The judicial panel maintained EPA had adequately considered alternative approaches and was justified in taking its chosen path, because of factors that include the availability of blending credits in the marketplace and ample notice of the likely need for them.

The National Biodiesel Board, representing the biodiesel industry, praised the decision. "The RFS program is working just as Congress intended. It's creating jobs across the country. It's breaking our addiction to oil. It's helping clean our air, and it's reducing greenhouse gases," said Anne Steckel, NBB's vice president of federal affairs in a press statement. "This year alone, the biodiesel industry is on pace to produce at least 800 million gallons of advanced biofuel while supporting more than 31,000 jobs. We're pleased to see the Supreme Court put an end to this litigation as we continue building a strong U.S. biodiesel industry."

API expressed disappointment with the decision and its commitment to meeting the regulatory requirements now that the litigation process has ended.

CLIMATE CHANGE: REPORT FUNDED BY SKEPTICS AFFIRMS HUMAN INFLUENCE

House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-MA) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) held a Congressional briefing that sought to emphasize a report from a scientist with a reputation for being a climate skeptic that affirmed that humans have contributed to climate change.

The report from Richard Muller of the University of California Berkeley, entitled the “Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) Study,” was partially financed by the Koch brothers, known ideological conservatives and climate change skeptics. While Muller affirmed that human-made emissions play a role in climate change, he simultaneously remained skeptical of the degree of significant contribution. "The amount that's due to humans is still open, and there are fairly big uncertainties about that," he said. Muller divided climate skeptics into two camps, those he respects who raise “valid issues,” and deniers, those he claims start with a conclusion and  pull in data that supports their conclusion.

The BEST Study report did not come to the definitive conclusion that humans are making a significant contribution to climate change and called for more study on other potential factors such as volcanoes and ocean variability. Muller’s report does however, refute several claims made against climate change studies conducted by National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Climate Research Unit in the United Kingdom that Muller noted he had embraced prior to conducting his study. Muller concludes that climate change is real and endorsed investments in wind, solar and nuclear energy as practical ways to take action.

The congressional briefing also featured two other scientists.William Chameides of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment noted that oceans around the world have, in fact, warmed in the past decades, which he said would not be happening if oceans were contributing energy to the atmosphere and not absorbing it. Ben Santer, a research scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory concurred, noting that there is no natural climate or climate variability that could generate the kind of pattern currently seen in climate change. "We know of no mode of natural climate or natural climate variability that could generate that kind of pattern," said Santer.

Chameides used an incident in which he was in a car accident to reinforce his contention that their needs to be action on climate change. He noted that through government and consumer action, an investment was made to put air bags into cars, which he contends saved his life. “Through a risk assessment where the probability that I would be hit by a side impact at that magnitude was extremely low, nevertheless an investment was made to protect me and it turned out to be a very good investment,” he contended.

Chameides added that he felt too much time is spent on date and temperature targets. “We know we’re facing a risk, we know that the longer we take, the worse that risk is and we need to simply start working on that and not obsess on the specific target.”

Find additional information and a video of the briefing here:
http://democrats.naturalresources.house.gov/hearings@id=0108.html

EPA: COMMITTEE HEARING EXAMINES AGENCY’S SCIENCE INFRASTRUCTURE

On Nov. 17, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened for a hearing entitled, “Fostering Quality Science as the EPA: The Need for Common Sense Reform.” The hearing examined the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) research and development activities and is expected to be the first in a series of hearings intended to inform Members as the committee formulates the reauthorization of the Environmental Research, Development and Demonstration Act (ERDA), which authorizes science activities at EPA.

Members also referenced reports from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and EPA's Office of Inspector General on the agency's science program. David Trimble, Director of Natural Resources and Environment at the U.S. Government Accountability Office , outlined areas where EPA has not implemented GAO recommendations related to the need to improve facility operating efficiency. EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins, Jr.  discussed the need for more rigorous scientific review and improvement on how agency staff report instances of misconduct.

During the 111th Congress, then-Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC) requested that GAO review the EPA’s laboratory infrastructure, staffing, and operations to determine whether they are adequate to meet current and future agency needs.  GAO’s report, released in July 2011, recommended that EPA: 1) develop a coordinated planning process for its scientific activities; 2) appoint a top-level official with authority over all of the laboratories 3) improve physical and real property planning decisions; and 4) develop a workforce planning process for all laboratories that reflects current and future needs of laboratory facilities.  Notably, the report did not call into question EPA’s quality of science data and results. 

EPA Office of Research and Development Assistant Administrator Paul Anastas testified on behalf of the agency, outlining several ways EPA will work to address the aforementioned criticism and improve implementation of the agency’s science activities. “We take these recommendations very seriously,” asserted Anastas who cited his extended written testimony, which outlined actions EPA is taking to address the GAO report.

Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) used the GAO report to criticize the integrity of EPA’s science. “EPA’s scientific justification for many of its rules and regulations have been questioned based on concerns with data quality, peer review, lack of transparency and other process problems. It has gotten to the point where the perception is that EPA has a penchant for pursuing outcome-based science in order to validate its regulatory agenda,” he said.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Brad Miller (D-NC) asked Trimble whether the criticisms against EPA’s management warranted questioning the validity of EPA’s science.  “The scope of our work did not go into issues of scientific quality,” Trimble responded. “Our work is really more, are they positioned organizationally to be as strong as they could?” Trimble affirmed that there was nothing in his evaluation that questioned the quality of EPA’s scientific work.

Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) noted that the structural problems at EPA did not begin during the Obama administration. Rep. Tonko also asserted that the inspector general has reviewed EPA's peer review process and found that it adequately produces objective scientific reviews.  “Today, we are presented with the perfect opportunity to show American taxpayers that not every issue needs to be polarizing or politicized,” he said. “We need to build upon EPA’s scientific legacy and ensure that we continue to improve our shared environment, including for future generations.”

INTERIOR: 18 BACKCOUNTRY AREAS RECOMMENDED FOR CONGRESSIONAL PROTECTION

On November 10, the Department of Interior released a report highlighting 18 backcountry areas in nine states that Sec. of Interior Ken Salazar has identified as deserving protection by Congress as national conservation areas or wilderness areas.

The report includes a preliminary list of areas managed primarily by Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) where there is significant local support for Congressional protection as well as potential for bipartisan support in Congress. States with specific areas identified include California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Other states of interest include Alaska, Arizona and Wyoming. In the latter states, Interior contends more work is needed to reach consensus with local stakeholders and policymakers.

According to Interior, the public lands it manages draw more than 400 million visits a year. The agency cites recent non-governmental estimates that outdoor recreation supports as many as 6.5 million jobs and provides as much as $1 trillion in annual economic benefits. Congressional designations, such as national conservation areas and wilderness areas, attract additional visitation, tourism, and visitor spending in local communities.

To read Sec. Salazar’s cover letter, click here:
http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&pageid=267219

To read the full Interior recommendations, click here:

http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&pageid=267130

AIR POLLUTION: SIERRA CLUB LAUNCHES METRO AD CAMPAIGN

On Nov. 7, the Sierra Club launched an ad campaign to highlight the detrimental human health impacts of mercury air pollution. The Sierra Club states that it is placing the ads on 160 rail cars within the Washington, DC area metro system. The move coincides with an upcoming effort from the Obama administration to issue the first federal protections from mercury.

There are currently no national limits on mercury emissions from coal power plants. The Clean Air Act amendments of 1990 require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set toxic emissions limits for coal plants. The agency is expected to finalize standards by Dec. 16 that it estimates would save as many as 1,400 lives per month by keeping chemical-laden soot out of the air. EPA's rule is aimed at reducing 90 percent of mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants.

According to the Sierra Club, at least “one in 12, and as many as one in six, American women have enough mercury in their bodies to put a baby at risk.” Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can damage the brain and the nervous system, and is especially dangerous for pregnant women and young children, as the toxin can cause developmental problems, learning disabilities, and delayed onset of walking and talking. The group said that approximately 48 tons of mercury are pumped into the air each year from power plants.

Elected officials from coal states have expressed opposition to the upcoming EPA rule. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Dan Coats (R-IN) have introduced S. 1833, the Fair Compliance Act. The bill would postpone power plant compliance with the standards from the current set date of 2015 to 2017.

CURRENT POLICY

Approved by House Committee

On Nov. 17, the House Natural Resources Committee marked-up a number of public land bills, including the following:

H.R. 3404, to establish an Under Secretary for Energy, Lands, and Minerals and a Bureau of Ocean Energy, an Ocean Energy Safety Service, and an Office of Natural Resources Revenue – Introduced by Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill would formally abolish the former Minerals Management Service and create three separate agencies with oversight over offshore energy production: the Bureau of Ocean Energy, the Ocean Energy Safety Service and the Office of Natural Resources Revenue, per the request of Interior Sec. Salazar that the three agencies be codified into law.

The bill was amended by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) to block the planned merger of the Office of Surface Mining and the Bureau of Land Management. Republicans contend that merging a coal mining regulator (OSM) with an agency that promotes coal development (BLM) would violate the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. Interior Sec. Ken Salazar claims the merger will increase the efficiency of both entities.

H.R. 2834, Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act – Introduced by Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI) the bill would improve access to public lands for hunting and angling. Environmentalists and committee Democrats opposed the bill, asserting that it would erode existing environmental laws.

H.R. 200, the Inland Empire Perchlorate Ground Water Plume Assessment Act of 2011 – Introduced by Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA), the bill would direct the Department of Interior to conduct a study of water resources in the Rialto-Colton Basin in California.

H.R. 2336, the York River Wild and Scenic River Study Act of 2011 – Introduced by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), the bill would designate segments of the York River and associated tributaries for study for potential inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

H.R. 2606, the New York City Natural Gas Supply Enhancement Act – Introduced by Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY), the bill would authorize the Interior secretary to allow the construction and operation of natural gas pipeline facilities in the Gateway National Recreation Area.

Considered by Senate Committee

S. 847, the Safe Chemicals Act – Introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), the bill would amend the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) by giving the Environmental Protection Agency additional authority to regulate chemicals. It would also require chemical manufacturers to prove their substances are safe before they put them on the market. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on the bill Nov. 17.

Signed into law

H.R. 765, the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act of 2011 – Introduced by the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), the bill would allow the Forest Service to permit activities such as snowboarding, mountain bike trails, Frisbee golf courses and other recreation on lands that ski resorts lease from the federal government. A companion measure was sponsored by Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO). The White House claims the bipartisan bill will create 600 extra jobs and generate $40 million in new economic activity. The president signed the bill into law Nov. 7.


Sources: Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, ClimateWire, the Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Appropriations Committee, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, the National Biodiesel Board, POLITICO, the Sierra Club, the White House

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