January 29, 2008

In This Issue

CLIMATE CHANGE: EPA's Johnson Defends Decision to Reject California Waiver Request

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Stephen Johnson testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Jan. 24 in the first of several congressional hearings on EPA’s rejection of the California waiver request to regulate vehicle greenhouse gas emissions. Another hearing on the same issue is expected before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Johnson’s appearance before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming has also been requested.

Johnson’s Dec. 19, 2007 decision to deny the waiver request was at odds with the general opinion of EPA staff who believed that California had “compelling and extraordinary” circumstances that warranted federal approval of a state effort to regulate motor vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions, according to EPA documents released by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. EPA staff also warned that denial of the waiver would lead to a lawsuit from California that the agency would be “likely to lose.”

Johnson asserted that he did not find that California ‘s situation met the standard conditions that would necessitate a waiver because climate change would not affect California more than it would the rest of the country. EPA officials had previously said that they would release proposed regulations for vehicle greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2007. However, in light of Congress’ approval of the Energy Independence and Security Act that mandates increased vehicle efficiency, Johnson has said that such regulations may be unnecessary.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said that she intends to introduce legislation soon to grant the California waiver. The committee expects to receive the rest of the EPA’s internal documents and communications between the White House and the EPA relating to the waiver decision by Feb. 15.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: Listing of Polar Bear Delayed

In response to the growing loss of polar bear habitat, a year ago the Bush Administration proposed to list polar bears as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. However, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Dale Hall delayed the legally mandated decision on the polar bear listing, citing the FWS staff’s need for more time to prepare an explanation of their final decision. The delay coincides with a decision of the Minerals Management Service ( MMS ), which is also part of the Department of the Interior, to auction approximately 30 million acres of polar bear habitat in the Chukchi Sea, Alaska, to oil and gas developments beginning on Feb. 6.

Polar bears are currently protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act which required the coordination of MMS and wildlife officials when developing the oil leases in the Chukchi. While the head officials of the FWS and MMS assert that the polar bears would be adequately protected during gas and oil exploration in the Chukchi, lawmakers and scientists are worried about the 33 to 51 percent chance of a large oil spill in this region predicted by the environmental impact statement from MMS . If a spill occurred, the report predicts “significant impacts” on polar bears.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), Chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, and other Democratic officials introduced legislation on Jan. 17 to ensure that the decision regarding listing of the polar bears occurs before the Feb. 6 oil and gas lease sales. On the Senate side, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and 11 other Senate Democrats sent a letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne asking him to delay the Feb. 6 drilling rights sale.

FWS Director Dale Hall is scheduled to appear before the Environment and Public Works Committee at a hearing on Jan. 30 to testify about the status of the delayed listing decision.

AGRICULTURE: Senate Confirms New USDA Chief

President Bush’s pick to head the Agriculture Department (USDA) won confirmation in the Senate Jan. 28 as farm state lawmakers urged the new USDA Chief to help resolve a standoff on the pending farm bill.

The Senate confirmed former North Dakota Governor Ed Schafer (R) by unanimous consent. Members of the Senate Agriculture Committee said they hope Schafer will be able to resolve the ongoing stalemate between Congress and the Administration on the reauthorization of the $286 billion farm bill that would oversee farm, energy and conservation policy for the next five years. The House and Senate each passed new farm bills last year, but the White House has threatened to veto the bills for spending too much money.

Schafer would replace Mike Johanns, who resigned as USDA Chief to make a bid in Nebraska for a U.S. Senate seat. Schafer said he would like to strike a balance between conservation and production on American farmland, and between energy crops and the need to produce food. He said he wants to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely in the farm bill and do not go to ‘billionaire’ landowners but said he can’t tell where the line is to cut off certain landowners from government support.

Schafer served as governor of North Dakota from 1992 to 2000 and was the first Republican governor in the state’s history to be elected to a second term. He also served as co-chair of the Governors Biotechnology Partnership. Before entering politics, Schafer worked in his family’s manufacturing business, Gold Seal Co., which makes Mr. Bubble bubble bath and other cleaning products.

BIOFUELS: Buzz about ESA 's Position Statement on Biofuel Sustainability

On January 10, The Ecological Society of America released a position statement that offers the ecological principles necessary for biofuels to help decrease dependence on fossil fuels and reduce carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global climate change. The Society warns that the current mode of biofuels production will degrade the nation’s natural resources and will keep biofuels from becoming a viable energy option. Click here to read the press release and here to read the full statement. The ESA position statement on Biofuel Sustainability has generated buzz among the public and scientists alike and has been referenced in numerous blogs and articles.

ESA will contribute more to this timely issue when it convenes a conference ( www.esa.org/biofuels ) devoted to the ecological dimensions of biofuels.  The conference, which will be held on March 10, 2008 in Washington , DC , will bring together a wide variety of experts in the biofuels arena.  The conference will cover the various sources of biofuels—agriculture and grasslands, rangelands, and forests—and will encompass the private sector and socioeconomic perspectives.  Jose Goldemberg, Global Energy Assessment Council & Universidade de Sao Paulo, Brazil , will give the keynote address.

Sources: Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, and Land Letter