November 17, 2006

In This Issue


Congress returned for a lame-duck session to contend with the remaining spending bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2007, to include measures that fund the National Science Foundation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the departments of Energy, Interior and Agriculture. Senate Republicans said they hoped to vote on a U.S.-India nuclear agreement bill and would “attempt to begin work” on the agriculture appropriations measure. But senators on both sides of the aisle blocked several attempts to debate fiscal 2007 spending measures, making it more likely the Senate will turn to a long-term continuing resolution (CR) to fund government operations for agencies not yet funded by Congress.

To date, President Bush has signed only two spending bills into law: Defense and Homeland Security. The House has approved the other nine bills, while the full Senate has not taken up any. Senate conservatives were reported to be pushing for a long-term continuing resolution, saying it would be better than an omnibus appropriations bill weighed down with earmarks. The Senate did pass by unanimous consent a CR that funds government agencies at current levels (FY 2006 levels for most agencies) through Dec. 8, sending it to the president.


The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) will include two new global warming subcommittees and a separate panel focused specifically on air pollution issues under a reorganization plan for the 110th Congress unveiled by incoming Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

Besides handling overall committee leadership duties, Boxer assigned herself the gavel on the Public Sector Solutions to Global Warming, Oversight, Children’s Health Protection and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee. Boxer’s full committee will have primary jurisdiction over bills to cap U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases. Boxer’s subcommittee also will be in charge of broad oversight into a range of environmental issues, such as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rulemakings, as well as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) will chair the Private Sector and Consumer Solutions to Global Warming and Wildlife Protection Subcommittee. Lieberman’s panel has the lead role in examining different business strategies to address climate change, as well as national wildlife refuges and the Endangered Species Act.


Senate Committees

Environment and Public Works: Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)

Energy and Natural Resources: Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)

Commerce, Science, and Transportation: Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI)

Agriculture: Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA)

Appropriations: Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV)

House Committees

Energy and Commerce: Rep. John Dingell (D-MI)

Resources: Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV)

Transportation and Infrastructure: Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN)

Science: Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN)

Government Reform: Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA)

Agriculture: Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN)

Appropriations: Rep. David Obey (D-WI)


Barbara Boxer

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat and one of the biggest environmental advocates on Capitol Hill, will chair the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Boxer has been a champion of environmental causes: leading efforts to block drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and pushing for stiffer drinking-water standards and lower emissions of toxic substances from power plants. She replaces Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe (R-OK), who has called global warming a hoax and wanted to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Among Boxer’s first moves will be a bill to curb greenhouse gases, using California’s new global warming law as a model in the drafting of federal climate legislation for the 110th Congress. Boxer also plans hearings on her longstanding complaint that the EPA has maintained a sluggish pace in cleaning up Superfund toxic-waste sites. The EPA says the sites are getting bigger, costlier and more complex to remedy.

Nick Rahall

On the House side, the committee’s approach to endangered species and opening public lands to private development will change with Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), who is expected to take over the House Resources Committee. He will replace Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA), who was defeated in the recent election.

Rahall has pledged to protect environmental laws and curb royalty payments for offshore oil and gas drilling, focus on protecting “right-to-know” laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that have been under attack by Republicans in recent years, and act on controversial outer continental shelf (OCS) oil and gas royalty relief payments from the Interior Department. Observers do not expect an attempt to combat many of the Pombo-supported initiatives, such as environmental exemptions in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, the 2005 Transportation Act and the 2003 Healthy Forests Restoration Act that included NEPA waivers for specific classes of projects.

But a Rahall chairmanship is not a sure thing. Some say Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) seeks the position, though observers question whether the Democrats would want to place someone from New England atop a panel that oversees mostly western lands.

James Oberstar (D-MN)

Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), who is expected to take the helm of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is predicted to take up several Clean Water Act issues and try to move the long-stalled Water Resources Development Act if the measure fails in the lame-duck session. Some Democrats see the bill as a legislative fix to address the Supreme Court’s recent fractured decision on the scope of federal power to regulate wetlands. The Clean Water Authority measure, H.R. 1356, would adopt a statutory definition of U.S. waters based on what the Army Corps has used for several decades. The legislation, which Oberstar co-authored, would also clarify that the law is intended to protect U.S. waters from pollution, and it would remove the “navigable” – a word officials said has been a constant source of confusion.

Tom Harkin (D-IA)

Harkin, a Capitol Hill veteran of three decades who has been a leading voice for farmers and people with disabilities, is expected to chair the House Agriculture Committee. The major issue on the agenda is the reauthorization of the Farm Bill. Harkin would likely push ethanol and renewable fuels and the Conservation Security Program. That support for ethanol and renewable fuels in the next farm bill would come less from party affiliation, however, than regional bias as Harkin sits in the epicenter of the ethanol industry.

In the Farm Bill’s conservation title, Harkin could bring more support to the Conservation Security Program, the “green payments” program he penned in the 2002 farm bill. Harkin has been a strident critic of the Bush Administration’s rules that limit the program to certain watersheds on a rotating basis and has said it should be an uncapped entitlement.

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Florida Governor Jeb Bush and his Cabinet approved a ban on fishing in a 61-square-mile section of Dry Tortugas National Park, creating the largest marine reserve in North America. The new Research Natural Area will join the existing Tortugas Ecological Reserve to form a 261-square-mile area in which fishing is prohibited to help overfished species like grouper and red snapper.


The Department of Energy (DOE) released a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on collaborating to protect migratory bird species that could be affected by DOE activities. The MOU was drafted as part of federal efforts to meet a January 2001 executive order by outgoing President Bill Clinton on migratory bird protections. The MOU aims to enhance collaboration between the two agencies to help protect birds on 2.28 million acres of land that DOE manages.

Significant parts of this land are undeveloped and include wetlands, deserts and forested mountain areas that provide habitat, the MOU says. The two parties will undertake a variety of steps under the MOU, a document that is “necessarily general due to the diversity of programs throughout the DOE site complex.” Obligations under the MOU include implementing management practices that minimize or avoid harming birds and their habitat; collaborative “inventorying, monitoring, management studies, and information exchange” on bird conservation and habitat management; developing partnerships with other agencies and non-federal entities.

Sources: Energy and Environment Daily; Energy and Environment News PM; Greenwire; Washington Post