April 15, 2005
In This Issue
Republicans on the House Resources Committee created a task force to investigate the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) — the 35-year-old law that requires detailed assessments of proposed federal projects’ effects on natural resources.
The task force’s launch follows years of complaints about the law from western lawmakers and landowners, who have argued that it leads to unnecessary and costly delays in projects that range from timber harvests to highway construction. The task force will travel around the country for six months to study and hold field hearings on the law.
Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA) and the task force leader, Rep. Cathy McMorris (R-WA), say the law has spawned too many lawsuits. “NEPA should not be a lawyer’s favorite four-letter word,” McMorris said.
The Resources Committee’s Ranking Democrat, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), said Democrats would participate on the task force but he is concerned the law is under attack, noting the various instances where Congress has recently attempted to curtail NEPA provisions.
Although environmentalists and committee Democrats fear the task force will be used to dramatically change the law, Pombo denied that NEPA is under attack and said he believes the task force will recommend “tweaks” to the law rather than wholesale changes.
Pombo said the piecemeal changes are a key driver behind the decision to create the task force. “Instead of doing this on a bill-by-bill basis … I thought it was wise to just look at the whole law,” he said.
However, it remains to be seen whether making significant changes to NEPA will have much traction in Congress.
Sen. Tom Carper’s (D-DE) move to block President Bush’s nominee to lead the U.S. EPA until he gleans new data on his air pollution legislation could, if successful, break the ice on stalled Clean Air Act negotiations and lead to the first major set of amendments to the law since 1990.
Negotiations on air pollution legislation have been practically nonexistent since March, when the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee deadlocked 9-9 on a version of the Bush Administration’s original 2002 “Clear Skies” bill that had been rewritten by panel Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) and Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH). Republicans say Democrats obstructed Bush’s Clear Skies in committee, while Carper and his fellow Democrats contend they never received enough information from EPA to allow them to negotiate fairly.
In light of the impasse over information requests, Carper has planted a hold on EPA Administrator nominee Stephen Johnson. Before dropping the hold, Carper told reporters he must get an “ironclad” promise from the Administration that it will analyze his legislative proposal for power plants against Clear Skies and a more stringent plan from Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member Jim Jeffords (I-VT). Carper said he would take the information and restart negotiations with the hope Bush will be able to sign a new set of Clean Air Act amendments into law before Congress adjourns for the August recess.
Absent EPA turning over the information, it appears the only way Bush can get Johnson into his post on a full-time basis would be by forcing a Senate vote to override Carper or through a recess appointment.
Some of the estimated 3,500 idle oil and natural gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico could be converted into deep-sea fish farms, under a plan supported by the Bush Administration.
Ocean fish farming is currently limited commercially to waters within state jurisdiction, but a Commission on Ocean Policy report recommended last year that the country should move forward with offshore aquaculture. In response, President Bush listed offshore farming legislation as a priority for this year. Proponents have said that the farms would provide a needed boost to coastal communities that have lost jobs and money as the traditional fishing industry has struggled.
Opponents of the plan have said they are concerned about creating the equivalent of feedlots in the ocean. “It’s much like chickens or hogs or other confined feeding operations on land and putting them in the ocean,” said Roger Rufe, President of The Ocean Conservancy. “There are considerable [pollution] issues with that.”
The House Resources Committee endorsed drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain as part of a package of energy measures approved by voice vote. Committee members rejected an effort by Democrats to strip the drilling provision from the measure by a vote of 30 to 13.
The legislation approved by the Resources Committee will be merged with energy measures moving through other committees and could be considered by the full House as early as next week. The energy legislation is similar to what was approved by a House-Senate conference committee in 2003 but died because of a Senate filibuster.
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), who led the effort to prevent drilling, said automobile mileage standards should be increased as a way to save oil before tapping the refuge. Earlier in the day, the Energy and Commerce Committee rejected his effort to increase mileage standards.
Rep. Don Young (R-AK) said residents of his state want drilling because it would provide jobs and fund government services. “If I thought for one moment that the environment would be hurt, I would not be for this,” he said.
In March, the Senate included a provision allowing drilling in its budget resolution — the first time the Senate has endorsed development in the refuge since President Bush took office.
Two New England senators introduced legislation requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to force power plants and other industrial sources to make deeper reductions of mercury emissions than would be required under the agency’s current regulations. The “Omnibus Mercury Emissions Reduction Act” takes aim at a series of controversial EPA rules, including the standard released by EPA in March that would allow the electric utility industry to buy and sell credits to reduce its mercury pollution down to 15 tons by the mid-2020s.
The bill sponsored by Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) would trump the Bush Administration’s mercury trading program and instead mandate strict pollution controls for nearly all the country’s 1,300 coal- and oil-fired power plants. While EPA’s rule calls for a 22-percent cut in mercury emissions by 2010 from today’s 48-ton level, the Snowe-Leahy bill would require a 90-percent cut during the same time period.
The Snowe-Leahy bill, unlike other legislation debated in recent years on power plant pollution, goes beyond electric utilities to address a host of other U.S. mercury sources. Those include solid waste incinerators, commercial and industrial boilers, chlor-alkali plants and cement plants. The bill also would require labeling of mercury-containing products to limit mercury emissions in the waste stream.
The lawmakers also include a provision requiring the Defense Department to report on its use of mercury and the steps it is taking to stabilize and recycle old mercury and another directing EPA to work with Canada and Mexico to analyze mercury emissions in North America.
A federal judge ruled the government can no longer allow ships to dump without a permit any ballast water containing non-native species that could harm local ecosystems. U.S. District Judge Susan Illston ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to immediately repeal regulations exempting ship operators from having to obtain such permits.
In 1999, several environmental groups petitioned the EPA to repeal the ballast-water exemption. They claimed the Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of pollutants, including biological materials – such as invasive species – into U.S. waters without a permit. When the EPA denied the petition, the conservation groups filed a lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco in 2003.
EPA had argued that monitoring ballast water dumping was the responsibility of the Coast Guard, effectively allowing ship operators to release ballast without the permits required by the Clean Water Act.
The Canadian government signed an agreement with automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles by 5.3 million tons by 2010. The deal includes increased fuel efficiency, more alternative-fuel and hybrid vehicles and an advertising campaign urging the purchase of more efficient autos. It avoids a fight between the Canadian government, which is struggling to meet its targets under the Kyoto Protocol, and the country’s auto industry, which accounts for 12 percent of the country’s manufacturing gross domestic product.
But major automakers said the deal would not change their stance against similar California standards. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the industry’s main trade group, sued California, alleging its standards overstepped the state’s powers to regulate pollutants.
Sources: Environment & Energy Daily; Greenwire; The New York Times, Science AP