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Policy News Update

March 23, 2012

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]

HOUSE: FY 2013 BUDGET PROPOSAL CUTS INNOVATION, FEDERAL WORKFORCE

On March 20, House Republicans unveiled their proposed budget resolution for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. Sponsored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), the budget bill sets an overall discretionary spending limit of $1.028 trillion in FY 2013, $19 billion below the spending caps established in the Budget Control Act.

Among its provisions, the House budget resolution includes significant cuts to Department of Energy programs while expanding  oil and gas drilling. It also supports the sale of 3.3 million acres of federal lands identified in a 1997 Department of Interior report that were deemed suitable for sale or exchange to benefit the Everglades restoration effort in Florida. The White House released a statement asserting that the Ryan plan would cut clean energy programs by 19 percent and slash $100 billion from science, space and technology programs over the next decade.

The budget also proposes to cut the federal government workforce by 10 percent, providing $368 billion in savings. Under the proposal, federal employee retirement contributions would also rise from 0.8 percent to 6.3 percent. The bill would also extend the current federal pay freeze to 2015.

The budget replaces the automatic “trigger” set in place by the Budget Control Act that is slated to implement $98 billion in cuts to discretionary spending programs, including $55 billion from defense. The proposed House budget would void the defense cuts and task six House committees with identifying additional cuts in discretionary spending to discretionary programs.

The annual legislation serves as a ceiling for federal spending levels, while specific spending levels are determined by the House and Senate Appropriations Committee. Discretionary spending limits for FY 2013 have been established under the aforementioned Budget Control Act. Functionally, the law set in place spending caps for ten years, making a traditional budget resolution from either chamber during this period unnecessary or redundant, absent substantial proposed changes to existing law.

Senate Democrats have pledged to adhere to the limits set forth by the Budget Control Act. The fact that the House budget plan shaves $98 billion from the set level foretells another brawl between House and Senate appropriators over funding levels this fall, which will be heightened (and likely prolonged) by election season politics.

Chairman Ryan’s FY 2013 budget resolution is set to be considered on the House floor for a vote the week of March 26.

View the full FY 2013 House budget proposal here:
http://budget.house.gov/UploadedFiles/Pathtoprosperity2013.pdf

The White House response to the House budget proposal can be viewed here:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/03/21/ryan-republican-budget-consequences-imbalance

SENATE: COMMITTEE REVIEWS EPA MERCURY STANDARDS FOR POWER PLANTS

On March 20, the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety met for a hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s new mercury rules for power plants. EPA finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), the first national standards to protect American families from power plant emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollution like arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium, and cyanide on Dec. 16, 2011.

“I believe it's possible to have a clean environment and a strong economy. I think it's a false choice to say that we have to have one or the other; we can have both. That is especially true for cleaning up our air pollution,” declared Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) in his opening statement. “In fact, as the EPA has implemented the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, our nation's air has gotten cleaner, while electricity rates have stayed constant and our economy has grown by 60 percent. For every dollar we spend cleaning the air, we've seen $30 returned in reduced health care costs, better workplace productivity, and lives saved.”

Subcommittee Ranking Member James Barrasso (R-WY) asserted the closure of coal-fired power plants would lead to increased layoffs, lost revenue from property taxes and ultimately increase household power rates. "EPA has put those workers and their families on the unemployment line in the middle of a recession," he said. Barrasso has joined James Inhofe (R-OK), the full committee’s ranking member, in supporting legislative efforts to overturn EPA’s mercury rules.

According to EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy, the new standards will prevent over 100,000 heart and asthma attacks annually. She also questioned whether the 57 power plant closures that Barrasso attributed to EPA rules did not in fact have more to do with other changes, such as inexpensive natural gas that is spurring utilities to shift power sources.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) expressed general support for the EPA mercury rule, but questioned Administrator McCarthy as to why the president did not use his authority provided under the Clean Air Act to extend the deadline for the rule's implementation for up to two years, giving utilities additional time to comply. McCarthy responded that the president's authority to provide extra time was only if the rule could pose a threat to national security, which it does not.

Chairman Carper and Sen. Alexander have repeatedly sponsored consensus legislation to cut mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, most recently  the Clean Air Act Amendments of 2010.

WHITE HOUSE: PRESIDENT TAKES ENERGY MESSAGE ON THE ROAD

The week of March 19, President Obama took to a four-state energy tour in the wake of growing discontent over rising gas prices.

The president expressed support for continued federal investments to help develop more bio-fuels, green-electricity sources and efficient vehicles to complement expanded oil-and-gas drilling. The four-state energy tour included visits to Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Ohio. His March 22 visit to Ohio State University touted his administration’s investments in energy research and development, bio-based products and advanced vehicles.

The president’s energy tour began at the Copper Mountain Solar 1 Facility, which the White House said was the largest photovoltaic solar power plant in the country. The president used the forum to counter arguments from opponents of the administration’s energy investments, specifically Solyndra. While the president didn’t mention the company, he reiterated his position that investments in the renewable energy industry will boost the economy and create thousands of jobs.

President Obama used his appearance in a New Mexico oil field to counter Republican assertions that his administration is stifling oil and gas production.  While touting that his administration is “drilling everywhere we can,” Obama also qualified that expanded U.S. oil production alone can’t bring down rising gasoline prices, noting that that for decades there has been no connection between U.S. production levels and pump prices.

While in Oklahoma, the president also announced his intention to issue an executive order that would expedite approval of the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline. The White House, however, has remained firm in its decision not to come to a final decision on the northern portion that runs through Nebraska until TransCanada and the state determine a new route and the environmental review process has been completed.

To view the White House’s fact sheet on energy, click here:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/email-files/fact_sheet_obama_administration_92s_all_of_the_above_a_windows_approach_to_american_energy.pdf

EPA: SUPREME COURT RULES UNANIMOUSLY IN FAVOR OF LANDOWNERS

On March 21, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing property owners that violate the Clean Water Act to seek judicial review.

Specifically, the justices held that Mike and Chantell Sackett of Priest Lake, Idaho can challenge the Environmental Protection Agency order that prevented the couple from disturbing wetlands on their land that fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. The Sacketts intended to build a three-bedroom home early in 2007. They had filled part of the property with rocks and soil, in preparation for construction, when federal officials ordered a halt in the work.  Maybe add a sentence about the steep fines they were accumulating (on paper?) daily? Under the non-compliance penalty, the Sacketts were faced with government fines that could have totaled $75,000 per day.

In an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, the court rejected EPA's argument that allowing property owners quick access to courts to contest orders like the one issued to the Sacketts would compromise the agency's ability to deal with water pollution. The court held that they should be able to contest EPA's findings under the Administrative Procedure Act, a statute used to challenge agency decision-making.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Samuel Alito called upon Congress to clarify jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, which the Supreme Court itself has made less clear-cut due to recent cases such as Rapanos vs. United States.

EPA: ENVIRONMENTALISTS FILE LAWSUITS TO CURB MISSISSIPPI RIVER POLLUTION

Environmental groups have filed federal lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) intended to force the government to curb water pollution from cities and farms that seep into connecting waterways that flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

The lawsuits, spearheaded by the Gulf Restoration Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council, contend that runoff in the Mississippi River Basin containing nutrients from agriculture and wastewater treatment plants stimulates excessive algae growth that has helped foster a “dead zone” in the Gulf the size of Massachusetts. The environmental groups said they filed the lawsuits after petitions to the EPA in 2007 for stronger wastewater treatment rules and in 2008 on water quality standards went unfulfilled.

The dead zone forms due to an overgrowth in algae spurred by fertilizers.  The algae consumes oxygen when it decomposes to the degree that an area can no longer support marine life. The Gulf’s dead zone averages over 5,000 square miles but has increased over time and is affecting the resilience of the Gulf’s ecosystem, according to scientists.

Currently, the federal government lets states set limits on nutrients. EPA has set a goal of reducing nutrients in the Mississippi by 40 percent through collaborating with farmers and state governments, an effort the environmental groups contend does not go far enough.

The lawsuits seek to expand the EPA’s authority over nutrients under the Clean Water Act. Under the law, the agency cannot regulate most agricultural operations, but it does have broad authority over water quality in rivers and coastal waters. EPA, which denied the petition to set water quality standards for nutrients last year, is reviewing the lawsuits.

The legal filings can be found here:
http://docs.nrdc.org/water/wat_12031401.asp

Information on EPA’s current efforts to manage water pollution from runoff can be found here: http://www.epa.gov/owow_keep/nps/agriculture.html#fact

ENDANGERED SPECIES: FWS DESIGNATES HABITAT FOR THREATENED LEOPARD FROG

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently announced that it is designating over 10,000 acres in Arizona and New Mexico as critical habitat for the threatened Chiricahua leopard frog.

The final rule designates 39 sites within the frog's range in 13 counties: Apache, Cochise, Gila, Graham, Greenlee, Pima, Santa Cruz and Yavapai counties in Arizona, and Catron, Grant, Hidalgo, Sierra and Socorro counties in New Mexico. All but one of the sites are currently occupied by the frog. Of the approximately 10,346 acres designated, 6,958 are on federal land, 348 are on state land and 3,040 acres are on private land.

The frog species once occupied wetlands and waterways in central and southeastern Arizona as well as southwestern New Mexico, in addition to areas south of the U.S. border in Mexico. According to FWS, the species has disappeared from 80 percent of its habitat.

The 4-inch, spotted green frog historically lived in low- to mid-elevation wetlands, lakes, ponds and riparian zones in central and southeastern Arizona, west-central and southwestern New Mexico, and the mountains of northeastern Sonora and western Chihuahua in Mexico. But the species has disappeared from more than 80 percent of its former range in Arizona and New Mexico, according to FWS.

Environmentalists petitioned to protect the frog under the Endangered Species Act in 1998. The request was granted four years later, but no critical habitat was proposed. Federal officials stated they could work better with landowners and stakeholders on conservation efforts, prompting a lawsuit from WildEarth Guardians. A settlement was reached with FWS in 2009 allowing the consideration of critical habitat. The habitat designation goes into effect April 19.

The full designation can be read here:
http://www.ofr.gov/OFRUpload/OFRData/2012-05953_PI.pdf

Additional information on FWS chiricahua leopard frog management efforts can be found here:
http://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/arizona/CLF.htm

INTERIOR: NATIVE AMERICAN TRIBES RECEIVE $4.2 MILLION FOR CONSERVATION EFFORTS

On March 16, the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) announced over $4.2 million in Tribal Wildlife Grants to 23 Native American tribes in 17 states to fund a wide range of conservation initiatives, including salmon restoration and invasive species control. The effort is part of the Obama administration’s “America’s Great Outdoors” initiative.

The grants provide technical and financial assistance for the development and implementation of projects that benefit fish and wildlife resources and their habitats. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Dan Ashe, Native American Tribes manage over 100 million acres of fish and wildlife habitat across the nation.

View the full DOI announcement here:
http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/AMERICAS-GREAT-OUTDOORS-Salazar-Announces-More-than-4-point-2-Million-in-Conservation-Grants-to-Native-American-Tribes.cfm

Additional information on the FWS Tribal Wildlife Grant program can be found here: http://www.fws.gov/nativeamerican/grants.html

SCIENCE: NEON ANNOUNCES CONSTRUCTION OF DATA COLLECTION SITES

The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) has announced that it will begin construction on three sites that will serve to collect information on a continental scale on issues such as climate change, land use, invasive species and biodiversity.

The three specific sites, which break ground early this summer, include Ordway-Swisher Biological Station in Florida, Harvard Forest in Massachusetts and Central Plains Experimental Range in Colorado. NEON expects the National Science Foundation (NSF) to put forward $60 million in Fiscal Year 2012 towards the effort. NEON also plans to use the funding for construction of six to eight additional sites by the end of the year.

NEON’s construction funding is provided through NSF’s Major Research Equipment and Facilities (MREFC) budget account. In order for a project to qualify for MREFC funding, NSF requires that it represent an exceptional opportunity that enables research and education and advances scientific understanding.

The initial three sites are expected to be completed by late 2013 with fully operational status expected sometime the following year.

View the full press release here:
http://www.neoninc.org/pressreleases/neonconstruction

CURRENT POLICY

Passed the House

H.R. 2087, to remove restrictions from a parcel of land situated in the Atlantic District, Accomack County, Virginia - Introduced by Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA), the bill would terminate all federal deed restrictions on a parcel of land in Virginia so that it could be developed. The bill passed the House March 20, by a vote of 240-164, largely along party lines with 17 Democrats joining with all but three Republicans in supporting the bill. Department of Interior officials have disputed the bill supporters’ contention that the land is underutilized, asserting that the land includes a popular park with playgrounds, picnic area and natural trail.

Considered by Senate Committee

On March 22, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests held a hearing on several public lands bills, including the following:

S. 1129, the Grazing Improvement Act – Introduced by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the bill would increase flexibility for ranchers seeking grazing permits. 

S. 1559, the San Juan Islands National Conservation Area Act – Introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the bill would establish the San Juan Islands National Conservation Area in the San Juan Islands, Washington.

S. 1492, the Three Kids Mine Remediation and Reclamation Act – Introduced by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), the bill would approve a land deal between the federal government and the Henderson Redevelopment Agency in Nevada that would involve clean up of the Three Kids Mine in Henderson, Nevada. Companion legislation (H.R. 2512) has been introduced by Rep. Joseph Heck (R-NV).

S. 1635, the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act of 2011 – Introduced by Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), the bill would designate 33,000 acres of land in San Miguel, Ouray, and San Juan Counties, Colorado, as wilderness.

S. 1687, the Carson National Forest Boundary Adjustment Act of 2011 – Introduced by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), the bill would adjust the boundary of Carson National Forest, New Mexico. Companion legislation (H.R. 3354) has been introduced by Rep. Ben Ray Luján  (D-NM).

S. 1774, the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act of 2011 - Introduced by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), the bill would add 67,000 acres to the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat wilderness in Montana while establishing a 208,000-acre conservation area on the Rocky Mountain Front.

S. 1788, the Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act of 2011 – Introduced by Sen. Harry Reid, the bill would designate the Pine Forest Range Wilderness area in Humboldt County, Nevada.

S. 1906, the Cabin Fee Act – Introduced by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), the bill would ease the financial burden on owners of recreational cabins that occupy National Forest System lands. Companion legislation has been introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA).

Passed Senate

S. 1813, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) – Introduced by Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK), is a comprehensive transportation authorization bill. The $109 billion bill continues funding for surface transportation and infrastructure programs for two years. Among amendments rejected were proposals by Senate Republicans to speed environmental reviews of transportation projects damaged in natural disasters, approve drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 74-22.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) has stated his chamber may consider a three month short-term extension bill to allow further time for House majority leaders to build consensus among their members for their own transportation reauthorization measure. House Democrats have introduced the Senate bill as H.R. 14. Congress must take action on some form of extension before March 31, to avoid a government shutdown of federal programs related to surface transportation.

Sources: American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Associated Press, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, the Examiner, Greenwire, Gulf Restoration Network, the Hill, National Ecological Observatory Network, Natural Resources Defense Council, POLITICO, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Reuters, the Washington Post, the White House

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