October 17, 2007

In This Issue


The House cleared a bill on October 10 that would let foreign nations pay off some of their debt by protecting coral reefs and tropical forests.

The bill, H.R. 2185 , passed without objection, putting it in a good position to make it to the President’s desk this year. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved a similar bill, S. 2020 , last month. A Senate floor vote has not yet been scheduled.

The bill would reauthorize and expand an existing “debt for nature” program that helps countries conserve tropical forests to include coral reefs and marine habitats. The original statute, which expires at the end of this year, has helped conserve 50 million acres of forest in Asia , the Caribbean , Central and South America .

The new legislation credits qualified developing countries for each dollar they spend on tropical forest, coral reef or coastal habitat conservation.

Eleven countries currently have “debt for nature” forest conservation agreements: Bangladesh , Belize , Botswana , Jamaica , El Salvador , Panama , Peru , Guatemala , Colombia , Paraguay and the Philippines .

Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, the Wildlife Conservation Society and Conservation International match funds to contribute to the program. The groups have invested more than $9.6 million to debt-for-nature swaps and have endorsed the new bill.


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Stephen Johnson is expected to face tough questions on October 17 before a House panel concerned about how the Bush Administration will address heat-trapping greenhouse gases emitted from power plants and other major industrial sources.

Johnson’s testimony will headline a hearing in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which launched an investigation last month into EPA’s strategy for dealing with one of the largest sources of U.S. emissions that contribute to global climate change.

EPA’s policies — or lack thereof — have come into focus following the Supreme Court’s decision in April in Massachusetts v. EPA , which ordered the Bush Administration to re-examine its decision not to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles.

So far, EPA has responded to the Supreme Court decision by announcing plans to propose a rule by year’s end aimed at the transportation sector, which produces about a third of U.S. emissions. A final regulation is scheduled to emerge before President Bush’s term ends in January 2009.

But EPA officials have said little about their plans for so-called stationary emission sources. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, contends that EPA has the authority from the Supreme Court decision to begin regulating greenhouse gas controls on new coal-fired power plants.

In a letter to EPA sent last month, Waxman objected to an EPA permit issued to Desert Power Electric Cooperative for construction of a 110-megawatt coal-fired power unit in northeastern Utah . The permit does not require the company to curb the 90 million tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions estimated over a 50-year period.

For its part, EPA has defended its decision on the Desert plant permit and argued it does not have any regulations in place that would force a power plant builder to use a specific technology that removes CO2. “The environmental and energy security goals of the nation are best served by encouraging the development of all forms of clean coal technology and alternative fuels, while using existing energy supplies in an environmentally sound way,” EPA Deputy Press Secretary Jessica Emond said.


A coalition of environmental groups is urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to keep language that would expand the federal ethanol mandate out of any energy bill conference report.

In a letter to the California Democrat this week, the groups say the massive expansion of the mandate included in the Senate’s energy bill would cause substantial environmental damage while providing little benefit to farmers and rural communities.

“While small-scale, locally owned biofuel production and consumption can make a contribution toward meeting energy demands, the large-scale expansion of the biofuels industry mandated by the Senate imperils our environment both within the United States and globally,” they wrote. “The intense crop production and processing required to meet this target will threaten sensitive lands — including forests, wetlands and native grasslands — and will harm biodiversity, soil health, water resources and wildlife habitat.”

The letter was signed by groups that mainly focus on environmental and social justice issues. The groups include the Rainforest Action Network and the Global Justice Ecology Project. More than a dozen foreign-based environmental groups also signed the letter.

The Senate energy bill would expand the renewable fuel mandate to 36 billion gallons by 2022 — roughly a five-fold increase over the current directive. The House bill does not expand the mandate.

The Senate provision also predicts that most of the mandated expansion — roughly 21 billion gallons — would be met with advanced biofuels rather than corn-based ethanol.

But the groups say there is no assurance the advanced biofuels mandate will not be met with products such as sugar cane ethanol and palm-oil from Brazil and Southeast Asia, where deforestation to benefit agriculture is a major concern.

Additionally, the groups say they are concerned that potentially polluting sources such as trash, sewage sludge and other toxic sources would be used to meet the mandate. “These risky waste-to-ethanol schemes could dominate the market because biofuel production companies would be paid to utilize toxic waste streams rather than purchasing other feedstocks,” they wrote.


The Office of Surface Mining ( OSM ) has extended the public comment deadline on proposed changes to rules that are supposed to protect streams from mountaintop coal mining.

OSM stated it would allow an additional 30 days — until November 23 — for comments on proposed standards for surface coal mine operations near bodies of water.* Along with extending the comment period from 60 days to 90 days, the agency also scheduled four additional public hearings.

At issue is mountaintop mining, which companies use to expose coal seams in West Virginia , Kentucky and other Appalachian states. The controversial practice shears a ridge top and deposits waste rock in valleys that are often coursed by streams.

Current rules, which have been in effect since 1983, require coal operators to establish a buffer around streams. The rules state that: “No land within 100 feet of an intermittent or perennial stream shall be disturbed by surface mining operations, including roads, unless specifically authorized.”

The proposed rules would extend the stream buffer zone rule to all waters, including lakes, ponds and wetlands. But it would also exempt certain activities, including “permanent excess spoil fills, and coal waste disposal facilities” and would allow mining that would change a waterway’s flow provided the mining company repaired the damage later.

*To view the proposed rule and submit comments, please visit: http://www.regulations.gov/fdmspublic/component/main?main=DocumentDetail&d=OSM-2007-0007-0001

Click either the PDF icon or the HTML icon next to “View Document” to read the proposed rule.


The Senate resumed consideration October 15 of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) spending bill, with plans to complete work on the $54.6 billion measure within the week. While President Bush has threatened to veto the spending bill, which exceeds his budget request by $3.2 billion, Senate Democratic leaders have said they will likely include CJS in the first set of appropriations bills submitted to the White House.

Among the provisions drawing Bush’s ire is a significant increase for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Within the Commerce Department, the Senate bill would set aside $4.2 billion for the agency, $400 million above the White House request.

Several Senators have offered amendments that would address ocean and climate issues managed by NOAA, including ocean acidification. One such amendment offered by Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), draws on the newly reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Management Act.

Boxer’s amendment would require NOAA to report, within 180 days after the CJS bill is enacted, on its progress implementing recommendations for regional ecosystem research. The amendment sets aside $250,000 for the NOAA report and another $2 million to carry out its recommendations.

Boxer’s amendment would also require the National Academies’ National Research Council to complete its own study of ocean acidification and its effects within a year after the CJS bill is enacted.

Sources: Energy and Environment Daily and Greenwire