Special Issue: Elections 2006 (11/03/2006)
In This Issue
Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA), Chairman of the House Resources Committee who had relentlessly sought to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain to oil and gas leasing, lost to Jerry McNerney (D-CA).
West Virginia’s Rep. Nick Rahall — in line to take the House Resources Committee gavel after the Democratic takeover of the House — vowed to work to protect environmental laws and curb “royalty relief” for offshore petroleum drilling.
If selected as the next committee chairman, Rahall said he would focus on protecting “right-to-know” laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act that have been under attack by Republicans in recent years, as well as act on controversial outer continental shelf oil and gas royalty relief payments from the Interior Department.
In the 110th Congress, Democratic control of the House Resources Committee could be more noteworthy not for the legislation they attempt to pass, but the bills they do not try to pass. Issues pushed by the committee’s current Chairman, Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA), such as oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), revisions to the Endangered Species Act (E.S.A.), waivers to the National Environmental Policy Act, and a focus on private property rights, could disappear overnight when Democrats take control in January 2007.
Much of the Democrats’ energy is likely to go to oversight of the Bush Administration’s public lands and natural resources agencies and policies. Possible issues include the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) offshore oil and gas royalty relief program, BLM’s push for increased energy development in the interior West, the National Park Service’s maintenance backlog, the Forest Service firefighting budget, and reports of a senior Interior official challenging scientists’ recommendations on Endangered Species Act listings.
Democratic control of the House will also bring a new set of leaders to the subcommittees with direct oversight of agencies such as the National Park Service, Forest Service and Bureau of Reclamation that have dismayed environmentalists over the years.
For instance, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), who pushed legislation to increase salvage logging on national forests through the House, will likely be replaced by Rep. Tom Udall (D-NM), the panel’s Ranking Member, who attempted and failed to amend the salvage bill to retain protection of National Environmental Policy Act procedures for burned forests.
An anticipated boost for ethanol and renewable fuels in the next farm bill could see even more support in a Democrat-controlled House or Senate, analysts say. That support would come less from party affiliation than regional bias as Democratic-controlled House or Senate Agriculture committees would likely see Midwestern chairman with corn and soybean interests replace the southern Republicans now heading both panels. The likely chairmen under Democratic control would be the current Ranking Members, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA).
In the farm bill’s conservation title, Harkin or Peterson could bring more support to programs whose future has been in question — the Conservation Security Program and the Conservation Reserve Program. Peterson would be expected to show the most support for the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to idle land. And Harkin would likely push for full funding for the Conservation Security Program, the “green payments” program he penned in the 2002 farm bill.
The oil industry faces heightened scrutiny in the Democratic Congress and efforts to erase several tax breaks. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has vowed fast action to try and roll back energy tax incentives and other subsidies contained in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
A Democratic takeover of the House after twelve years of minority status will translate into significant changes at the Energy and Commerce Committee, as the likely Chairman, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), could use his gavel to launch a series of investigations into everything from the 2001 White House energy meetings to the chronic delays at the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. Rep. Dingell will replace current Chair Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), who played a pivotal role in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, as well as the committee’s investigations into climate scientists’ data and research backgrounds.
It generally takes about 10 years between major energy bills for lawmakers to make the case for new energy legislation to reflect changing national needs and market structures. But given volatile gas pump prices and the rising costs of home heating fuels, lobbyists say lawmakers could find themselves dealing with energy issues next year regardless of the power balance in the House and Senate.
Dingell is also expected to hold a series of hearings on global warming, as well as direct oversight of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s most controversial air emission regulations. Yet Dingell is widely seen as strongly sympathetic to his home state’s auto industry.
Dingell says he does not support the carbon emissions reduction bill pursued by fellow committee member Henry Waxman (D-CA), who is expected to take the helm of the Government Reform Committee and will likely focus on climate change as a key issue of that committee.
The House Science Committee is poised for new leadership in the next Congress following the retirement of Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) at the end of the 109th session.
Climate change will be the major issue for the Science Committee in the next Congress, said Joanne Carney, director of the Center for Science, Technology and Congress at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
And in recent months, Boehlert and Ranking Member Bart Gordon (D-TN) have closely tracked recent reports that officials at the National Aeronautics and Space Association and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have censored federal climate scientists. The committee leaders are working with the agencies to revise their media policies.
Gordon is the Democrats’ likely choice to take the Science Committee gavel. According to a draft memo, Democrats would look to refocus the U.S. Global Change Research Program around potential regional and economic effects of climate change, and work to encourage the development and adoption of efficient and renewable energy technology.
Democratic victories in the House and Senate appear likely to boost efforts to strengthen U.S. global warming policy, though it is far from certain whether the next Congress and President Bush will work together over the coming two years to enact a first-ever federal law to cap greenhouse gas emissions.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) said the Democrats’ success in the midterm elections improves prospects for action on a broad climate change measure that deals with multiple industrial sectors, not just power plants.
At least a half dozen climate bills are expected when the 110th Congress convenes in January.
As the lame duck 109th Congress prepares to return to Capitol Hill, nine pending Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 appropriations bills await. Although the 2007 Fiscal Year started on Oct. 1, 2006, only the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security spending bills have passed and received FY 2007 funding levels.
Other federal agencies are currently operating under a temporary appropriations measure called a Continuing Resolution (CR), in effect until Nov 17. It provides funding at whichever is lowest of House marks, Senate marks, or the past year’s (FY 2006) funding levels. The experience of past lame-duck sessions indicates that lawmakers will need to pass one or more additional CRs to give themselves enough time to wrap up both the FY 2007 budget and the 109th Congress.
Under the best scenario for research, each remaining spending bill would be passed separately in the next month, preserving gains slotted for the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy Office of Science, and Department of Agriculture competitive research programs. Even in this case, cuts to other research programs, such as biological and physical research at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, would almost certainly decrease the overall federal research budget in FY 2007.
However, it is likely that Congress will not have time or political will in the lame-duck session to pass all individual spending bills, and may instead pass another Continuing Resolution to carry over until the 110th Congress convenes in 2007. Alternatively, remaining spending bills could be wrapped into one large ‘omnibus’ package, bypassing Senate debate on individual bills and proceeding directly to a final bill that could be debated and approved in as little as one day. Neither of these options bodes well for the research community; the longer the delays in funding programs at FY 2007 levels, the more likely it is that proposed funding increases for programs will get chiseled away and transferred to other programs.
Sources: AAAS R&D analysis (http://www.aaas.org/spp/rd); Environment & Energy Daily; Greenwire;