February 12, 2010

In This Issue


Although the focus in Washington is on jobs and the economy, the Senate climate debate continues to grow more complex. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) still plans to hold a floor debate this spring, but there is little consensus among senators as to when a climate and energy bill could win over the necessary 60 votes. This year’s midterm elections present a significant near-term obstacle – moderate lawmakers up for reelection will be less likely to risk a controversial vote – and could shift the political landscape considerably down the road, given the possibility of a Republican shakeup as voters respond to the ailing economy. And if the debate draws out too long, it may run into President Obama’s own re-election campaign, which could bump a climate bill to 2013, if not later.

Obama’s leadership in the Senate debate will be critical in advancing a climate and energy bill – something he named a top priority in his recent State of the Union address. The President did a great deal of lobbying for the House climate bill (HR 2454), which narrowly cleared the chamber last summer. But since then, his primary legislative focus has been healthcare, although he has been active on climate in other capacities:

  • Government operations: On January 29, Obama ordered the federal government to reduce energy use, setting a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 28 percent (from 2008 levels) by 2020. This goal reflects the targets set by individual agencies in response to an earlier executive order (13514), which required federal agencies to also conserve water, cut waste, and make “environmentally responsible” purchases.
  • Stimulus funding: The 2009 economic stimulus package included $80 billion for low-carbon technologies.
  • 2011 Budget: Last year, Obama’s fiscal year 2010 budget request assumed $650 billion in cap-and-trade revenues over 10 years, a sum largely directed toward offsetting increased energy costs for middle class consumers. The proposal was dubbed “cap-and-tax” by critics – a stigma that cap-and-trade advocates worked to overcome throughout the last year’s climate debate. This year, the President’s proposal continues to call for a comprehensive climate and energy bill, but it includes dash marks instead of specific dollar amounts and contains a footnote stipulating that the bill should be deficit-neutral and that revenue should go toward a range of domestic and international priorities directly related climate change. The budget request also dropped the call for a 100-percent auction of emissions allowances, something Obama had supported during his 2008 campaign. The new language on climate has already earned broad praise, with even those senators ambivalent about climate action calling the move responsible and politically savvy. “He dealt with that issue responsibly,” said Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), “and we’ll see what can happen this year.
  • International negotiations: At the UN climate summit last December, Obama spearheaded the “Copenhagen Accord” – a last minute international agreement that, while nonbinding, provided a roadmap for further negotiations. For more information on the progress of the accord, see the “NEGOTATIONS” update in this edition. Still, so long as the US lacks a domestically binding plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, international negotiations can only go so far.
  • EPA Regulations: The Obama administration has been working to advance a number of regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which plans to roll out nationwide greenhouse gas standards next month. For more information on EPA climate action, see “REGULATIONS UPDATE” in the September 25 edition of the ESA Policy News at: www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/09252009.php

Many moderate Republicans and Democrats have been urging Obama to abandon a comprehensive package and push for a standalone energy law this year. Although he has been clear that he wants Congress to keep energy efforts coupled with an emission cap, the President recently suggested that an energy measure may be the only realistic option for taking legislative action on climate in 2010.

This concession is representative of a recent trend toward compromise among key players on climate. During his State of the Union address, Obama received hearty Republican applause when he highlighted nuclear power and offshore drilling as part of the nation’s energy future. And Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who have been working to draft the Senate’s latest cap-and-trade effort, are now meeting with senators who favor alternative strategies, such the a power plant-only approach advocated by several manufacturing state lawmakers and the “cap and dividend” approach proposed by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME). For more information about the options currently under consideration, see the January 22 edition of the ESA Policy News at: www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2010/01222010.php

Graham, meanwhile, has been outspoken in his opposition to energy-only approaches, making it clear that his support for climate action hinges on handing energy and emissions together. “To jump-start nuclear power, wind and solar and the green economy, you’ve got to price carbon,” he said. “How you do it is subject to discussion and open debate. But the idea of not pricing carbon, in my view, means you’re not serious about energy independence. The odd thing is you’ll never have energy independence until you clean up the air, and you’ll never clean up the air until you price carbon.” Still, the senator says that neither of last year’s cap-and-trade bills – HR 2454 and S 1733, its Senate counterpart, passed by the Environment and Public Works Committee – are business-friendly enough to be practical. Graham has been in closed-door talks with several of his Senate colleagues, as well as a variety of interest groups, and he says that he is gathering support for a bipartisan climate and energy effort.

The possibility of compromise has brought several lawmakers back to the table, including Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE), who says he could support an emissions cap but remains wary of a trading system, and Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who says she would much prefer a legislative approach to regulatory action from EPA – see the January 22 edition of the ESA Policy News (www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2010/01222010.php). But others, including some moderate Democrats like Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN), say that the struggling economy precludes any near-term action on climate. Particularly since heavy emitters like China and India refuse binding targets, many lawmakers fear that regulating emissions will take a heavy toll on American competitiveness.


President Obama’s $3.834 trillion 2011 budget request shows continued support for science, in spite of the three-year freeze on nondefense discretionary spending that he has proposed.

To keep spending at 2010 levels, the budget blueprint proposes to cut funding for over 120 federal programs, which would save $20 billion. Many of the programs slated to be eliminated duplicate larger efforts elsewhere or include problematic loopholes in the payment structure (e.g. an Interior Department program to fund abandoned mine cleanup). In addition, the proposal does away with tax preferences for the fossil fuel industry, a cut that would save the US an estimated $40 billion over the next decade. Six billion dollars of the 2011 savings would go towards clean energy projects.

Republicans have supported the overall reduction in spending, although many would like to see more frugality in other areas, as well. The budget is now headed to Congress, where many of the cuts are likely to face opposition from both parties. Last year, the legislative branch supported roughly 60 percent of Obama’s proposed reductions, rejecting cuts to fossil fuel subsidies. This year, though, Obama promised to use his veto power if Congress fails to reign in spending.

The budget request also repeats the President’s call for a comprehensive cap-and-trade bill. Having faced political heat in 2010 for assuming specific revenues from an emissions auction, Obama took a much less controversial stance this year by leaving the revenue amounts blank. For more information, see the “SENATE CLIMATE BILL” update in this edition.

Highlights from the request:

NSF: The National Science Foundation would receive $7.424 billion – 8 percent above 2010 levels. All accounts would see at least modest increases; Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction (MREFC) would receive a boost of more than 40 percent. Research and Related Activities would see an 8.2 percent increase; Education & Human Resources, 2.2 percent. Areas of interest:

  • NEON: The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) is slated to begin construction under the MREFC budget, with $20 million proposed for the first of a five-year project, which will build 62 sites across the country. The sites will collect data on the impacts of climate change, land-use change, and invasive species on natural resources and ecosystems, which can then be used to better understand, model, and manage ecosystem dynamics at the regional and continental level. The full construction cost is set at $433.72 million, with annual costs peaking during the third and fourth years of the project.
  • Administration Priority Programs: The Climate Change Education and Advanced Technological Education programs would be funded at 2010 levels, while both the Graduate Research Fellowship and Faculty Early Career Development programs would receive increased funding (16.4 and 6.5 percent, respectively).
  • U.S. Global Change Research Program: USGCRP – an interagency program that includes NSF – would receive $369.9 million (a 16-percent increase) for basic research, comprehensive observations, and integrative modeling related to temporal and spatial climate variability, terrestrial and marine ecosystems, and human contributions and responses to climate change. The thirteen involved agencies will also work to develop decision-support products and to better understand the methods by which organizations make decisions about mitigation and adaptation policies.

INTERIOR DEPARTMENT: $12.04 billion (a small cut from $12.15 in 2010). The budget increases fees on oil and gas companies, calling fossil fuel industry incentives “counterintuitive” to the national goal of a clean energy economy. Meanwhile, several of the Administration’s priorities would receive boosts, including land acquisition, climate change research, and renewable energy. Areas of interest include:

  • USGS: The US Geological Survey would receive $1.1 billion, an increase of $21.6 million. The agency would see some cuts, most notably to the National Maps Partnership, which would be suspended, and to administrative areas and unrequested funding from Congress. Scientific efforts would remain well funded, with boosts to the following areas:
    • New Energy Frontier: $3.0 million for providing Interior with scientific information – including ecological impacts on fish and wildlife – related to establishing wind power facilities on public lands. 2011 projects in the Great Plains and offshore Cape Cod would be used to develop a framework for similar assessments throughout the nation.
    • Climate Change Adaptation: $11.0 million for assisting Interior in the development of regional climate science centers, which would provide climate change impact data and analysis focused on fish and wildlife management. The agency would also use these funds to assess biological carbon sequestration options and develop decision-support tools through the USGS Global Change program.
    • WaterSMART: $9.0 million to launch an assessment of the availability and use of the country’s water resources, which will aid in addressing aging infrastructure, rapid population growth, and climate- and land-use-driven reductions in water quality and quantity.
    • Increasing Resilience to Natural Hazards: $4.0 million to develop earthquake early warning systems and conduct environmental, human health and ecosystem impact analyses for earthquakes and other hazards.
    • Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning: $4.0 million for mapping, monitoring, and conducting research to help assess the status and vulnerability of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources. USGS plans to work with other federal agencies to provide an information framework for use in coastal and marine planning.
  • Renewable energy: $73 million (a $14 million increase) to review and permit renewable energy projects on federal lands.
  • Climate Science Centers: $14 million in additional funding for centers that evaluate the impacts of climate on Interior resources. The Department has set a 2012 target for identifying the country’s most vulnerable areas and species ranges, with plans to deploy adaptation strategies accordingly.
  • Bureau of Land Management: $1.15 billion (a $10 million increase). Funding for BLM’s land acquisition program would nearly triple (increasing from $30 million to $84 million), financed by decreases across most of the agency’s other programs.
  • Minerals Management Service: $364.8 million (a $16.5 million increase)
  • Forest Service: $5.38 billion (a $60 million increase). The budget request would refocus the agency’s resources on watershed and ecosystem improvement efforts, and would launch a pilot program for long-term, landscape-scale restoration activities. The blueprint says it will “adopt an ecosystem-based approach to forest management that focuses on enhancing forest and watershed resiliency, preventing the loss of large carbon sinks and maintains jobs.”
  • Wildfires: The Forest Service would receive $1.2 billion – enough to cover the average cost of wildfire suppression – with an additional $282 million going to a reserve fund, in case funding is depleted.
  • National Park Service: $2.76 billion (a $30 million decrease). The park system operations budget would get a boost, but the construction budget would drop by nearly 20 percent, and two of the Service’s grant programs would be cut altogether: “Save America’s Treasures,” a Clinton-era program aimed at protecting cultural heirlooms, and “Preserve America,” which supports community projects to boost sustainable heritage tourism and education.
  • Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.642 billion. Although FWS would decrease by $5 million overall, the agency would receive the largest proposed increase in adaptation funding – $19 million more than 2010 levels – which would provide $9 million for its new landscape conservation cooperative initiative and $8 million for a new, publicly accessible FWS monitoring program. Special emphasis would be placed on “mission critical” areas in the Gulf Coast and national wildlife refuges.

NOAA: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would receive $5.5 billion – a 17-percent boost – with a strong emphasis on climate change and fisheries sustainability. Proposed increases include:

  • National Ocean Service: $46 million, including $20 million to support regional ocean partnership grants, $10 million to acquire and protect coastal lands, and $9.5 million to develop sensors for monitoring ocean acidification, harmful algal blooms, and other factors relevant to coastal ecosystems and their management. In line with the nation’s coastal and marine spatial planning efforts, NOAA would receive $6.77 million for a new program to map ecological and human-use patterns – a task that would be critical to ocean zoning efforts.
  • National Marine Fisheries Service: $80 million to overhaul the Commerce Department’s approach to managing fisheries and ecosystems. The Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 2006 calls for NOAA to end overfishing in domestic fisheries this year. Recognizing the importance of these fisheries to the nation’s economy, NOAA plans to employ management strategies that use competitive markets to sustain both fish populations and the fishing industry).
  • Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research: $56 million for regional, sector-based, and national assessments to inform climate change decisions at the appropriate levels. The request includes $10 million to build the necessary expertise and capacity for climate collaborations, including research, observation, modeling, and vulnerability assessment efforts. Focus areas for these efforts include: Tracking carbon exchanges with the atmosphere ($8 million), measuring key climate variables in the Arctic ($3 million), supporting the Global Ocean Observing System ($4.8 million), modeling earth systems ($7 million), and creating a new research and modeling program dedicated to ocean acidification ($6.1 million). An additional $1.5 million would be used to launch a website to provide the public with climate data, helping businesses and communities understand and adapt to climate change.
  • Space Weather System; National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service: $848 million, a much of which would go toward improving climate monitoring capabilities. For example, the blueprint includes $49 million for climate sensors, $9.5 million for the Deep Space Climate Observatory – a key component of the storm warning system – and $679 million the Joint Polar Satellite System, which would maintain continuity for weather forecasting and climate monitoring.

EPA: $10 billion (a proposed $300 million cut from 2010 levels). Observers were not surprised by this cut, given that the Environmental Protection Agency received a considerable boost in 2010, compared to previous funding levels, which had remained close to $7.5 billion for the last several years of the previous administration. The agency’s operating budget would see a small decrease, as would water infrastructure and Superfund cleanup programs; several other areas would see increases:

  • Greenhouse gas reporting: At the national level, EPA would receive $21 million (a $4 million increase) to implement a new rule requiring large facilities to begin monitoring their emissions this year. EPA also would receive $56 million (a $43 million increase) for sub-national regulatory efforts, including $5 million for developing practices and technologies that help control emissions.
  • Clean air and water grants: Sub-national governments would receive $1.3 billion – the highest level ever – for efforts to control water pollution ($45 million increase) and improve air quality management ($58 million increase). This represents a 14-percent increase over 2010 levels. The Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds would receive $3.3 billion – a slight reduction from 2010 levels ($3.5 billion) but more than double those of 2009.
  • Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay restoration: The budget highlights these ecosystems in its 2011 budget priorities, providing Great Lakes projects with $300 million (compared to $425 million in 2010) and Chesapeake Bay projects with $63 million (compared to $50 in 2010). The budget also proposes $17 million in new funding for the Mississippi River Basin, intended to address agricultural runoff-generated “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Science and technology funding: $847 million (compared to $846 million in 2010), with emphasis on land preservation and restoration, and research on the environmental and human health impacts of nanomaterials, mercury, pesticides, and contaminated sediments in groundwater.

ENERGY DEPARTMENT (DOE): $28.4 billion (an almost 5 percent increase from 2010 levels), which includes significant boosts for nuclear power and energy research. The increases are aimed at increasing American competitiveness in the clean energy arena and producing “jobs of the future” – Obama said his budget will “build on the largest investment in clean energy in history, as well as increase investment in scientific research.”

Notable areas receiving increases include:

  • ARPA-E: The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program would receive $300 million for clean energy research and development. ARPA-E, a high-risk/high-reward research program, launched in 2009 with $15 million, plus $400 million from the stimulus, but received no funding in 2010. Under the budget request, ARPA-E would be pulled out of the Office of Science and funded separately.
  • Office of Science: $5.12 billion (an increase of 4.5 percent), which includes a $226 million increase in basic research and laboratory funding. The Office of Science operates the majority of DOE research and development programs, as well as 10 of the nation’s 17 national laboratories. Basic energy sciences would receive $1.8 billion to support fundamental research, as well as energy frontier research centers and “innovation hubs” – two programs championed by Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
  • Energy efficiency and renewable energy: A 5-percent increase, which includes $385 million for weatherization programs (up 83 percent), $123 million for wind power (up 54 percent), and $302 million for solar programs (up 34 percent). Meanwhile, the hydrogen technology program – the centerpiece of former President George W. Bush’s renewable energy efforts – would receive $137 million (down 21 percent). Hydropower would also take a 9-percent hit, dropping to $41 million.
  • Fossil energy: Although fossil energy programs will see some decreases from last year’s funding levels – including cuts to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve that would effectively cancel a planned site expansion – carbon capture and sequestration efforts would retain strong funding.

AGRICULTURE DEPARTMENT (USDA): $132 billion. Federal farm subsidies would see substantial cuts as would some farm bill conservation programs. Although both areas are mandatory spending set in the farm bill and distinct from the discretionary spending that Obama wants to freeze, the cuts could be used to offset expansions in other programs.

  • Subsidies: Agricultural subsidies have long been criticized as wasteful spending, but while many presidents have tried to limit payments, farm-state lawmakers have thus far been successful in blocking such efforts. And major changes aren’t likely this year, with Congress still weary from debating the farm bill rewrite 18 months ago. Still, advocates of subsidy reform say that Obama’s request could provide a foundation for addressing the matter in the next farm bill, two years down the road.
  • Conservation programs: Although the farm bill calls for significant annual expansion in this area, the President’s proposal would place new limits on programs that pay farmers to conserve wetlands, wildlife habitat and farmland at risk from development, as well as two programs that provide incentives for environmental improvements and stewardship on farms: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program. Most programs would receive modest increases, albeit below levels set in the farm bill.
  • National Institute of Food and Agriculture competitive grants program: $429 million – a 63-percent increase, much of which would focus on bioenergy research.


On February 3, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a set of regulations to implement the renewable fuels standard established in a 2007 energy bill. The standard requires the US to increase its annual biofuel production to 36 billion gallons (including up to 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol) by 2022, with the stipulation that most newly produced ethanol have a carbon footprint smaller than that of gasoline. But how should carbon footprints be calculated? This question has been the source of a fierce debate between environmental and industry interests, with the former arguing that it should factor in emissions from changes in land-use driven by increase agricultural biofuel production. For more information on the indirect land-use debate, see the March 5 edition of the ESA Policy News at: www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/03052009.php

The draft rule, proposed last year, drew widespread criticism from the ethanol industry and farm state lawmakers, who argued that it was unfair to producers. At that time, calculations considering land-use indicated that the high carbon footprint of corn-based ethanol largely disqualified it from the renewable fuel standard. But science has advanced rapidly, and the most current analyses – which include data from 160 rather than 40 countries – show that ethanol, if developed in an energy-efficient manner, can weigh in below the gasoline threshold.

The final rule reflects these findings and has therefore won over many of its opponents, most notably ethanol producers, who say they are glad to see that their product could still have a place in a low-carbon economy. But some lawmakers have vowed to continue fighting the rule, including House Agriculture Chair Collin Peterson (D-MN). Stressing opponents’ central concern – that current scientific understanding cannot accurately quantify the impact of indirect land-use – he said he would “continue to push for legislation that prevents unreliable methods and unfair standards from burdening the biofuels industry.” He has since introduced a bill to do just that, although it will be difficult to block EPA action with legislation now that the final rule is in place. But lawmakers could attempt to use the appropriations process to limit funding, preventing EPA from implementing the new regulations. They could also try to move similar bills to keep EPA from expanding the regulations or modifying them as the science develops. Indeed, Congress could see a number of legislative maneuvers aimed at removing land-use from the equation – in an effort to limit such efforts, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has promised to conduct an “uncertainty analysis” on the matter.

The EPA regulations are part of a larger Obama Administration push for biofuel development and green job creation. Other efforts include rules from the Agriculture Department, which provide incentives for farmers to grow crops for next-generation biofuels, and a new interagency report that details how federal agencies can accelerate the commercial development and deployment of such biofuels. The report, a joint effort of EPA and the Energy and Agriculture departments, indicates that the country is not on track to meet the biofuels production goals laid out in the 2007 energy bill, but provides a market development plan to help boost production. Meanwhile, EPA has reduced the 2010 requirements for cellulosic fuels from 100 million to 6.5 million, because of limited supply.


On January 25, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tightened the national public health standard on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) for the first time in almost 40 years. The changes focus on short-term exposure to the pollutant, which has been linked to a variety of human health problems.

The final rule will:

Institute a short-term limit on NO2 levels: No more than 100 parts per billion (ppb) in any given hour. EPA’s existing standard, which limits annual levels to 53 ppb, will remain in place.

Require cities to install additional roadside monitors: Since the majority of short-term NO2 exposure occurs near major roadways, the new rule calls for urban areas with more than 500,000 people to install at least one monitor near a major road – amounting to 126 new monitors in 102 urban areas. Cities of a million or more will continue their monitoring efforts, as stipulated in the original rule.

The monitoring requirements in the final rule are somewhat more lenient than those in EPA’s initial proposal, which would have mandated monitors in areas with more than 350,000 people. The increased threshold amounts to roughly 40 fewer monitors, encompassing 66 rather than 71 percent of the nation’s population. But the final rule gives regional agency chiefs the authority to place up to 40 additional monitors as they deem necessary.

EPA will use the existing network to determine compliance with the one-hour standard by January 2012; it will reevaluate after collecting three years worth of data from the new monitors, which must be up and running by January 2013. According to existing data, Chicago is the only large metropolitan area that consistently violates the new standard.


When the UN climate summit in Copenhagen concluded last December, 28 world leaders and representatives for blocs of nations created the “Copenhagen accord,” a nonbinding plan for moving forward in international climate action. First among the benchmarks outlined in the accord was a call for major emitters to submit emissions reduction targets by January 31, 2010. Since the accord is not binding, observers looked to the deadline as a critical test of the agreement’s strength, which many have questioned in light of the contentious circumstances under which it was forged. For more information on the Copenhagen talks, see the December 22 edition of the ESA Policy News at: www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/12222009.php

For its part, the United States has vowed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions approximately 17 percent below 2005 levels over the coming decade. US climate envoy Todd Stern submitted the pledge to the UN, noting that the final figure remains dependant on the outcome of US climate legislation. In spite of this caveat, analysts say that the Obama administration will face major diplomatic challenges if it the country fails to act on its promise. But the prospect of a climate law in 2010 is growing increasingly unlikely, with President Obama admitting recently that a stand-alone energy bill may be this year’s only feasible option for climate action in Congress. For more information on the congressional climate debate, see the “SENATE CLIMATE BILL” update in this edition.

In total, more than 50 countries – 78 percent of the world’s energy users – submitted pledges. The list includes the “BASIC” countries (Brazil, South Africa, India, and China), major developing nations that formed an alliance in Copenhagen to oppose binding targets and hold wealthy nations to earlier promises of financial aid for poorer nations transitioning to low-carbon economies. Reiterating that their pledges were voluntary, the BASIC countries set the following targets:

  • Brazil: A cut of 39 percent by 2020, corresponding with legislation recently signed by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
  • South Africa: A 34-percent reduction in the increase of carbon output by 2020.
  • India: A 20- to 25-percent reduction from business-as-usual carbon intensity. (For an explanation of carbon intensity, see the December 4 edition of the ESA Policy News at: https://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/12042009.php
  • China: A 40- to 45-percent decrease in carbon intensity.

Even some of the world’s poorest and/or smallest nations made pledges – both Bangladesh and the Marshall Islands said they would be willing to cut emissions if they receive financial assistance.

Developed countries, meanwhile, have submitted pledges largely reflecting vows made before Copenhagen. Australia, for example, adhered to its plan to cut emissions by 5 percent, and the European Union promised a reduction to 20 percent below 1990 levels. Both countries said they could strengthen their targets if other countries were willing to do the same. Although many wealthy countries arrived at December’s negotiations with a range of possible targets, submitted targets reflect the least ambitious options. Still, observers say that at this stage, it’s most important that nations confirm their commitment by entering the registry.


  • Great Ape Conservation (HR 4416): The Insular Affairs, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee recently held a hearing on a proposal to extend a the Great Ape Conservation Act, which provides international grants to nonprofit groups working to conserve chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, and gibbons in their natural habitats. Past projects have included boosting law enforcement capacity in Cameroon, restoring habitat in Indonesia, and training Burmese forestry officials to conduct a gibbon census. The 10-year-old program, operated through the US Fish and Wildlife Service, was modeled after similar programs for elephants, rhinos, and tigers. The existing legislation authorizes $5 million annually for the program, although Congress has always set funding levels much lower ($2.5 million in 2010). HR 4416 would gradually increase the current annual authorization to $7.5 million by 2015.

    Subcommittee Republicans argued against the proposed increase, saying that it ran counter to President Obama’s call for frugality. The Obama Administration, however, voiced its support for the bill. An Interior Department official stated that since the authorization represents the upper limit of funding, it would not conflict with the proposed three-year spending freeze, but would be important for the remainder of the bill’s five-year authorization. Supporters of the bill argued that time is of the essence – according to the United Nations, apes face a high risk of extinction within 50 years.

  • Public lands omnibus: Key Democratic lawmakers have indicated that they plan to bundle a range of natural resources measures into a single package, with the goal of passing it by the end of the year. Predicting that 2011 will be a “good year” for wilderness proposals, House Natural Resources Chair Nick Rahall (D-WV) said that although his committee will continue to work quickly on individual pieces of legislation, he plans to craft an omnibus public lands bill before the end of the year.

    In the Senate, Energy and Natural Resources Chair Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) could take a similar approach, largely because he sees an omnibus bill as the best way to achieve bipartisan support. “Frankly,” he said, “these public land bills wind up being about half Republican bills, half Democratic bills, and the only way we’ve been successful with passing them is to deal with them in a fairly nonpartisan way.

    Although economic concerns may present the biggest obstacle in passing wilderness bills, many Democratic constituents are very interested in public lands issues as well – in many cases, liberal lawmakers may see it as politically advantageous to push wilderness measures before the November elections.

  • New Virgin Islands historic site (HR 3726): After being voted down a week earlier (under a suspension of the rules, which requires a 2/3 majority for passage), HR 3726 cleared the House, paving the way for establishing the Castle Nugent National Historic Site in the US Virgin Islands. The site, which will cost the Interior Department roughly $50 million to acquire, is home to the Virgin Islands’ largest remaining black mangrove stand, as well as coral reefs and sea turtle nesting areas.

Sources: Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, ClimateWire, federal agency budget websites.