March 17, 2008

In This Issue

CLIMATE: House members float bill to overturn California waiver decision

House lawmakers introduced legislation on March 6 that would overturn the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) denial of California’s request for a waiver to allow the state to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.

The “Right to Clean Vehicles Act,” from Reps. Peter Welch (D-VT) and Brad Sherman (D-CA) would immediately grant California’s waiver and give an additional 12 states the authority to implement tailpipe emission standards. Another 42 House members, mostly Democrats, have signed on to the bill as cosponsors.

EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar said the agency had no comment specifically on any introduced legislation but doubted the bill would change EPA’s stance on the waiver.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson has defended his decision despite evidence that many EPA staff officials recommended he grant the waiver. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has promised that Congress will subpoena communications between the White House and EPA to determine if Johnson was unduly influenced.

ETHANOL: Agriculture leaders stand behind new sugar-to-ethanol program

Democratic farm bill negotiators plan to keep a controversial sugar-to-ethanol program in the farm bill, despite objections from the Bush Administration.

The chairmen of the House and Senate Agriculture committees each said that they are not considering cutting the federal program that would support U.S. production of sugar ethanol, as negotiators continue to hammer out a conference agreement on the farm bill over the next month.

The Agriculture Department (USDA) had included the program’s elimination in its list of reforms that Congress “must include” in order for President Bush to support the farm bill.

The program would require USDA to buy surplus sugar from U.S. producers then sell it to ethanol plants. It is intended to help sugar farmers as they have to compete with Mexican sugar producers under new provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated the program would have overall cost savings, but the Administration has disagreed. USDA economists have predicted the ethanol program could cost more than a billion dollars. They say the government would probably not be able to recoup the cost of purchasing the sugar through the sales.

Brazil has a booming sugarcane ethanol industry, and many companies in Europe rely on sugar beets for the fuel. The economics and scope of the commodity have kept sugar from becoming one of the major biofuels feedstocks in the United States.

WILDLIFE: Fish and Wildlife Service says bear bill would not help stop poaching

A bill intended to stop the poaching of wild bears would not give wildlife officials any new tools to deal with poaching or help bear conservation, the head of law enforcement for the Fish and Wildlife Service said.

House Democrats are pushing legislation that would prohibit the import, export and interstate trade of bear viscera. The bill from Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) is an attempt to deter poachers from illegally slaughtering wild bears in American and Asia. The poachers trade the gallbladders and bile of bears for traditional folk medicines.

Benito Perez, head of law enforcement for the Fish and Wildlife Service, spoke against the bill before a House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing. He said he appreciates the interest in bear conservation, but the bill would be “largely duplicative” of existing authority in bills governing the trade of wildlife.

A 2002 report from the World Wildlife Fund said a law banning all trade of bear parts at the national level would have minimal effect and could detract from higher priorities for other more endangered species. Black bear populations are healthy and growing in most parts of the United States.

PUBLIC LANDS: House panel votes to make Clinton-era conservation plan permanent

The House Natural Resources Committee cleared a proposal on March 12 to make the 26 million-acre National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) permanent despite objections by Republicans that the legislation was vague.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt established the system during the Clinton Administration to protect some of the agency’s most ecologically and historically important lands. It includes more than 850 federally recognized areas and approximately 26 million acres.

Unlike the National Parks and the National Wildlife Refuges, there currently is no guarantee that the NLCS as a whole will exist in the future. The conservation system includes the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, Headwaters Forest Preserve in California, the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area in Arizona and the Lewis and Clark Trail.

CAMPAIGN 2008: Scientist captures Hastert's old seat

Former Energy Department scientist Bill Foster, a Democrat, captured the Illinois congressional seat held for two decades by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R).

Foster won a special election March 8 over local businessman Jim Oberweis (R) by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent.

Hastert, speaker of the House from 1999 until 2007, resigned from Congress late last year, forcing the special election.

Foster worked at the Department of Energy’s Fermilab for 22 years. On the campaign trail, Foster often described himself as a “businessman and a scientist” and in particular pegged energy issues and climate change as areas where he would try to use scientific principles to develop policy solutions.

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