January 27, 2006
In This Issue
A $50 billion package of Senate bills designed to shore up U.S. energy research and development will be featured in President Bush’s upcoming State of the Union address, Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) said.
The three bills — collectively called the Protecting America’s Competitive Edge (PACE) Act — would double the Research & Development budgets of the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and other federal laboratories and agencies over a seven-year period. The bills also include provisions designed to streamline visa regulations for qualified foreign scientists and engineers and strengthen science and math education at the K-12, undergraduate and graduate levels.
The package stems from a far-reaching report released in October by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that outlined a plan to ensure the United States remains economically competitive with the rest of the world.
Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) requested the NAS report, and announced the new legislation, along with Domenici and Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD).
Noting the United States’ increased dependence on foreign energy sources and its falling share of the global technology market, several of the lawmakers drew parallels between the country’s current situation and its position just after the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik satellite in 1957.
The PACE Act is the modern-day version of America’s concerted efforts to improve science education and research in the 1950s and 1960s, Bingaman said.
The respective leaders of the House and Senate Forestry Subcommittees, House Forests Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) and Senate Public Lands and Forests Subcommittee Chairman Larry Craig (R-ID), both laid out their agendas for the upcoming session, including proposals that would accelerate the Forest Service’s land management activities.
The relatively short legislative year (due to the upcoming midterm elections) may limit Congress’ ability to pass major public lands bills, but likely will not prevent Walden from continuing to promote his bill to accelerate post-wildfire timber harvests and restoration in national forests.
Introduced last fall, H.R. 4200 would give the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management 30 days to evaluate and recommend any restoration work following catastrophic wildfires or storms that affect more than 1,000 acres. Following the review period, the Forest Service or BLM would propose emergency restoration and reforestation projects.
The bill has drawn significant opposition from critics who say it is an excuse to promote salvage logging on national forests. Walden, however, contends that H.R. 4200 does not mandate salvage logging as the primary course of action. For more background, see ESA�s January 13, 2006 Policy News: www.esa.org/pao/PolicyNewsUpdate/pn2006/01132006.php
Both Walden and Craig plan oversight hearings of the Forest Service and progress being made under the 2003 Healthy Forests Restoration Act. Craig also says he will continue to push for action necessary to address a court ruling last year that has slowed the Forest Service’s ability to conduct thinning projects under the Healthy Forests Restoration Act.
Three times last year, Judge James Singleton of the U.S. District Court in Alaska ruled the Forest Service violated the 1992 Appeals Reform Act by failing to allow comment and appeals on projects categorically excluded from additional study under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The Earth Island Institute v. Ruthenbeck rulings do not disallow categorical exclusions, but they have caused considerable consternation in the Forest Service, where officials say the ruling will simply force foresters to conduct an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement that costs more and takes longer than using categorical exclusions.
Craig did not say how he would address Singleton’s ruling, though he suggested one of the post-wildfire bills could be a good vehicle.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposed rule changes that would streamline the approval process for salvage logging, grazing permits, and oil and gas exploration on 261 million acres of public land.
BLM issued its proposals for 11 new categorical exclusions that would bypass National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)-mandated studies on certain projects as part of its plan to revise its NEPA manual. The proposals would allow BLM to more quickly approve salvage logging proposals up to 250 acres, renew grazing permits if grazing is not believed to be harming the ranchland, and accelerate geophysical exploration when no new roadbuilding is involved.
The agency proposed categorical exclusions after examining projects that were routinely found to have no significant environmental effect, said BLM spokeswoman Heather Feeney. “If over a span of time and various geological locations, if there have consistently been no foreseeable or significant environmental impact, they may use that as a basis for a categorical exclusion,” Feeney said. For example, for 12,724 grazing permits issued, the agency says only 26 had a significant environmental impact.
The proposed changes to the NEPA manual also incorporate a recent BLM rule giving local, state and tribal governments “cooperating agency” status during the land-use planning process, permitting them to collaborate with Interior and BLM in the development of the plans and NEPA studies.
The comment period on BLM’s proposed NEPA manual ends Feb. 24.
More than 3,000 drinking water systems will not meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new arsenic standard, which went into effect this week, agency officials say.
That means only a quarter of 4,100 systems identified as having arsenic in their water in excess of the new 10 parts per billion threshold when the rule was finalized in 2001 have found alternative sources of drinking water or have installed technologies to clean up their old supplies, EPA spokesman Dale Kemery said.
State officials, who will ultimately be in charge of enforcing the rule, say communities that are now out of compliance are paralyzed by a lack of financial and technical resources. Many are small rural towns, they say, where large-scale investments in treatment technologies and ensuing rate hikes for water are unrealistic. Small-town water-system managers say they cannot afford to act without federal and state financial assistance. Many small towns may wait for EPA or the states to say something about their lack of compliance before investing in treatment efforts.
Canadian Prime Minister-elect Stephen Harper rebuked the United States for its failure to recognize Canada’s sovereignty over Arctic waters.
Canada has argued for many years with the United States, Russia, Denmark and Norway over control of the Northwest Passage and the Beaufort Sea. But differences between Canada and the United States over the Arctic have rarely surfaced in a public dispute, and leaders of both countries have preferred to cooperate on Arctic research.
But recently, the Arctic has become increasingly important because of climate change. With Arctic ice rapidly thinning, commercial navigation and tourism boats are making northern passages with increasing frequency. That has obliged Canada to begin planning security measures to protect waterways from smugglers and to prepare for the possibility of accidents and oil spills.
Experts estimate that by 2050, an Arctic shipping route could reduce a London-to-Tokyo sea trip from 13,000 miles to 9,950 miles, and generate millions of dollars per year for nations with ports along the way.
The United States and Canada also have conflicting claims in the Beaufort Sea, in an area that is thought to have oil and natural gas reserves.
Sources: Environment and Energy Daily; Greenwire; New York Times