March 11, 2011
In This Issue
The House Energy and Commerce Energy and Power Subcommittee met Tuesday, March 8, 2011 to examine climate science. The hearing served as a precursor to the mark-up of H.R. 910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act, a bill to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) asserted that the overall issue is not whether or not one considers climate change to be a serious problem, but whether EPA’s regulatory efforts present a wise solution. Whitfield maintained that the Upton bill was not a response to climate science, but a way to eliminate an unsound strategy for curbing greenhouse gas emissions. “One need not be a skeptic of global warming to be a skeptic of EPA’s regulatory agenda,” he said.
Full committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) was quick to note that the hearing focus on climate science was at the insistence of committee Democrats. Waxman asserted the Upton bill would remove the administration’s main tools to address one of the most critical problems facing the world today. “If my doctor told me I had cancer, I wouldn’t scour the country to find someone to tell me that I don’t need to worry about it,” Waxman said.
Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush (D-IL) said that 95 percent of scientists and scientific organizations worldwide have reached a consensus that man-made greenhouse gases are substantially contributing to climate change. Rush highlighted what he viewed as the many benefits of mitigating climate change, including “energy independence, sustainability, cleaner air and water, and a healthier populace.”
While the witnesses included several scientists who supported the consensus view that man-made greenhouse gas emissions are a central driver of the adverse impacts of climate change, two of the witnesses, Dr. John Cristy of the University of Alabama and Dr. Donald Roberts of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, were ardent climate skeptics.
Dr. Christy asserted that extreme changes in the weather will occur, but that they would occur regardless of human activity. He stated that current climate models overestimate the response of temperature to greenhouse gas emissions and that attempts to regulate such emissions will not have a measurable impact on climate change.
Dr. Roberts accused those of linking climate change to increased asthma rates as having a political agenda and indulging in “fear messaging” and “doomsday predictions.” Roberts used economic comparisons between various countries to emphasize his assertion that increased asthma rates had more to do with poverty levels.
Dr. Knute Nadelhoffer, an ecologist with the University of Michigan, said that Lake Superior’s water level and temperature are rising at a surprising speed and changes in the Lake’s overall environment reflects climate change. Dr. Nadelhoffer noted that increased flooding associated with climate change leads to increased amounts of sediment and fertilizers entering waterways, which are associated with toxic algae blooms that consume oxygen, kill fish, create aquatic deadzones and increase costs of water treatments.
Dr. Richard Sommerville stressed that organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reach their consensus views by consulting scientists with a wide range of opinions and findings. He described the process as a “thick rope woven together” by an overwhelming amount of evidence.
He asserted that “drastic” changes to emissions would be needed to hold global warming to the two degree target, the level scientists have said must not be exceeded if Earth is to avoid catastrophic climate effects.
While there seemed to be a general consensus among the witnesses that the Earth’s climate is changing, the witnesses representing the scientific consensus view maintained that human activity is driving climate change and that immediate policy steps need to be taken. “The road forks now,” said Dr. Sommerville.
To read the written testimony, see:
On March 9, the Senate rejected two continuing resolutions (CRs) to fund the government through Sept. 30, 2011, the end of the current fiscal year.
H.R. 1, the House-passed CR, which would cut $61 billion in funding from FY 2010, failed by a vote of 44-56 with no support from Democrats. Additionally, three members of the Senate Tea Party Caucus voted against the bill: Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT).
Senate Democrats put forward an amendment in the nature of a substitute to H.R. 1, which would have reduced federal spending by only $5 billion. The amendment failed by a vote of 42-58. Eleven Senators who caucus with Democrats voted against the bill including Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Carl Levin (D-MI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mark Udall (D-CO) and Jim Webb (D-VA). Sens. Kohl, Machin, McCaskill, Sanders and Nelson all are up for reelection in 2012.
Several moderate Republican Senators supported the House bill, despite expressing concerns with the steep cuts. Some, such as Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Scott Brown (R-MA) may be preemptively seeking to ward off primary challengers in 2012. Moderates Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) also opposed the measure.
The vote is a signal that both House Speaker Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), will have to make key concessions to win the 60 votes needed to pass a long-term bill. House and Senate leaders have until March 18 to either reach agreement on a long-term measure or pass another short-term CR.
Meanwhile, House Republicans are preparing a three week short-term measure that would make $6 billion in cuts to spending as another possible stopgap measure. The GOP leadership may take some of the cuts Senate Democrats included in the alternative package they put on the floor this week, noting it would be difficult for them to oppose cuts they proposed.
Democrats are urging the GOP to make more concessions while Republicans say it is time for the White House to enter the discussions with an offer. Others are looking to the “Gang of Six,” a bipartisan group of senators who were members of President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, to provide the framework for a potential long-term deal on spending. The gang of six consists of Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Sens. Mike Crapo (R-ID), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Mark Warner (D-VA), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL).
With the release of the President Obama’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 budget request, a host of House and Senate Congressional committees have convened hearings, inviting top federal agency officials to testify on the administration’s fiscal priorities. Enclosed are a few highlights from recent congressional hearings related to science and environmental agencies.
Bureau of Land Management
The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands met March 8 to review the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) FY 2012 budget request.
BLM Director Bob Abbey defended the agency’s $1.13 billion budget request for FY 2012, a one percent increase over current funding and assured critics that the agency’s “wild lands” order would not be used to restrict acres leased for oil and gas development.
Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) suggested BLM should be called the “Bureau of Land Closures” and questioned why the agency was taking a new inventory of wilderness-quality lands but not of lands with oil and gas resources. Abbey responded that recent inventories have found moderate to high mineral potential on 280 million acres of federal mineral estate and that oil and gas production on federal lands increased in 2010 over 2009 levels.
Fish and Wildlife Service
The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs met March 2 to review the Fish and Wildlife Service budget request.
Subcommittee Chairman John Fleming (R-LA) and committee Republicans were critical of the administration’s request for an additional $53.7 million for land acquisition, which Fleming referred to as exploitation of the private sector. FWS Director Rowan Gould contended that adding land to the refuge system is actually a boost for local economies.
Gould was also questioned about $280 million in funding retained through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. He maintained that the money was divided between construction projects, such as new visitor centers and administration buildings, and resource management projects. He said the money helped the agency catch up on much-needed maintenance projects and that it both prepared the agency to educate future generations of Americans and saved or created 4,020 jobs.
National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration
The House Science and Technology Committee met March 10 to review the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration budget request.
Committee Republicans expressed concerns with NOAA’s new climate service. Chairman Hall (R-TX) referred to the effort as “the largest reorganization in the agency’s history.”
Chairman Hall confronted NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco about his amendment to H.R. 1 that would prohibit NOAA from enacting its climate service. Lubchenco asserted that planning for the climate service had begun under the Bush Administration and continues, acknowledging that the agency cannot implement the climate service without congressional approval.
National Park Service
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies met March 9 to review the National Park Service (NPS) budget request.
Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) said he found the agency’s requested $234 million increase for land acquisitions over 2010 levels a “puzzling” proposal given that the fiscal 2012 budget request also would cut $77 million in construction funding and allow the continued growth of more than $10 billion in deferred maintenance. As an appropriator, his position could put the future of the NPS plan in jeopardy.
NPS Director Jon Jarvis said the agency would need $325 million appropriated each year just to keep pace with maintenance needs. More would be needed to reduce the backlog. He added that the agency was working to identify low-priority buildings it has acquired through past land purchases that it can remove to reduce the backlog. Land purchases, he added, generally do not add to the backlog and make management more efficient because holdings are consolidated.
National Science Foundation
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee convened March 11 to review the National Science Foundation FY 2012 budget request.
“I suspect that every one of our districts have benefitted from NSF funding in one form or another,” said Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX). However, he expressed concern over the 13 percent increase for NSF, given the current fiscal climate. Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) emphasized the importance of maintaining NSF programs that focus on Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics programs.
Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) asked the panelists to clarify what impact the 16 percent cuts proposed in H.R. 1, the House-passed continuing resolution would have on NSF. Dr. Ray Bowen, Chairman of the National Science Board, noted the cuts would negatively impact countless universities, prohibiting young people from obtaining grants that can be vital to starting their careers. Dr. Subra Suresh, Director of the National Science Foundation, stated that roughly 5,000 fewer individuals would receive funding under the proposed cuts.
United States Army Corps of Engineers
The House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee convened March 2 to review the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers FY 2012 budget request.
Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) was concerned that environmental programs seemed to be given top priority. Assistant Secretary of Civil Works Jo Ellen Darcy stated that the ecosystem restoration projects represented 18 percent of a budget that seeks to spend $836 million (15 percent) less than in FY 2010.
Subcommittee Ranking Member Ed Pastor (D-AZ) raised concerns that the overall level of cuts fail to meet the nation’s water infrastructure needs. Committee Republicans seemed to concur that the budget request fell short in maintaining the nation’s waterways.
Typically, administrations propose cutting the Army Corps budget, knowing that Members of Congress will replenish the cuts with project requests for their Congressional districts. However, the current fiscal climate has made the fate of the Army Corps budget less certain.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Water Resources Subcommittee also held a hearing on the Army Corps budget March 8. Committee Republicans primarily expressed concerns with an EPA-led wetlands policy as well as the EPA veto of an Army Corps-issued dredge-and-fill permit for one of the largest mountaintop-removal projects ever proposed in Appalachia. Water Resources Subcommittee Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-OH) pledged to hold hearings on the latter issue.
United States Geological Survey
The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources met March 9 to review the United States Geological Survey (USGS) budget request.
Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-CO) urged Marcia McNutt, director of USGS, to realign the $1.1 billion budget with the agency’s original objectives, saying he was worried USGS had stretched itself thin in trying to expand its mission from geology to other issues such as climate change.
Chairman Lamborn stated that the agency is being swallowed up by a host of new missions and needs to get back to its roots. He commented that, given its current agenda, USGS could be more appropriately named the “Ecosystem Restoration and Climate Monitoring Service.”
Subcommittee Ranking Member Rush Holt (D-NJ) outlined several concerns with the USGS budget including: a lack of a focus on collecting hydraulic fracturing data, the need to study rare-earth minerals, cuts to USGS data preservation and mapping and a lack of regulatory safety for offshore drillers.
The onset of the budget season has brought Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson to testify in multiple Congressional hearings, outlining and defending the agency’s environmental priorities for Fiscal Year 2012. Jackson repeatedly affirmed her support for the administration’s budget request, which would cut EPA funding by 13 percent, stating the cuts are made in a thoughtful manner that intends to preserve the most essential programs that work toward ensuring clean air and water for American citizens.
During a March 3 convening of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Democrats used the forum to defend EPA’s attempts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions against Republican attempts to legislatively prohibit such efforts. Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) asserted that by disarming EPA’s Clean Air Act restrictions on carbon and other pollutants, the House-passed continuing resolution would raise the incidence of asthma and other illnesses, harming the productivity of the U.S. work force.
There was some bipartisan skepticism of the EPA FY 2012 budget request. Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) noted that many of President Obama’s suggested cuts would likely be restored because they have bipartisan support in Congress. Both he and Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) agreed that the proposal to eliminate funding for new grants under the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, which is also supported by Chairwoman Boxer, would likely remain funded.
Inhofe pointed to the administration’s plan to slash $950 million in grants for state and local water projects, which are popular with lawmakers who want water infrastructure upgrades back home.
Sen. Carper also questioned the proposal to eliminate new funding for the diesel grant program, which he co-sponsored last Congress. The public health benefits provided by upgrading and replacing the oldest, dirtiest trucks on the road make the program a “no-brainer,” he said in a statement, vowing to find a way to keep the money flowing.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) asserted that fiscal austerity should not be put ahead of the public health. He made the allusion that cutting EPA funding is akin to a family failing to replace the batteries in its smoke detector or putting off buying new car brakes.
Ranking Member Inhofe declared his intention to eliminate funding for EPA’s climate science program, which would receive a $56 million boost under the FY 2012 budget request. Inhofe, along with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, has introduced a bill to eliminate EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. A similar provision was included in H.R. 1, the House-passed continuing resolution.
On the House side, during a March 7 hearing, Members of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee expressed a wide range of dissatisfaction with the Administration’s budget proposal, some saying it eliminated too much while others said it does not eliminate enough. House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Norman Dicks (D-WA) asserted that the budget request would cut key environmental infrastructure programs, like the drinking water and wastewater revolving funds.
Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) said that Congress, not the administration, should determine whether greenhouse gases should be regulated. However, he has also stated that he is open to dropping amendments to the House-passed CR that stifle EPA regulatory efforts if it hinders lawmakers’ ability to compromise, noting that there would be other opportunities to pass such legislation.
During the March 10 House Agriculture Committee hearing, Jackson sought to dispel the notion that EPA was going to regulate methane emissions from cows. Jackson said the claim was created in 2008 by a lobbyist and has been debunked by the nonpartisan FactCheck.org.
The criticism from the Agriculture Committee was bipartisan. Both Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) accused EPA of pursuing an agenda that does not take into account the impacts it would have on rural America and agricultural production.
Jackson is perhaps among the most sought after of agency heads this month. In addition to the aforementioned hearings, she also testified March 11, before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The committee’s chairman, Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), has sponsored legislation to prohibit EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.
Two top House Democrats launched an investigation Monday into the potential health risks of drilling for natural gas on public lands.
House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Edward Markey (D-MA) and Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Ranking Member Rush Holt (D-NJ) have sent correspondence to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Interior requesting more information about the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” on federal lands.
The New York Times recently reported that chemicals and radioactive materials used during “fracking” pose significant dangers to public health and the environment. During fracking, water, sand and chemicals are injected into the ground to free valuable natural gas deposits. Environmentalists and others have criticized the practice, pointing to the potential for drinking-water contamination and environmental damage.
“As industry expands the use of this technology to tap into more oil and gas reserves, we must ensure that the process of hydraulic fracturing is performed in a safe and environmentally sound manner,” Markey and Holt say in their letter. “Extracting natural gas on public lands should not result in a threat to public health.” Markey asked both Interior and EPA to provide information about fracking on public lands by March 25.
Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey has said that a common technique used to stimulate oil and natural gas wells in the West is not a safety threat to human health or public lands. However, he has also urged companies that utilize hydraulic fracturing to loosen oil and gas deposits from tight shale formations should voluntarily disclose the chemicals they use to avoid a public “backlash” and ensure natural gas production is able to expand on federal lands.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson recently pledged during a House Appropriations Committee hearing to not let politics trump science as the agency continues a two-year study into whether hydraulic fracturing is a threat to drinking water supplies.
To view the Markey-Holt letter to EPA, see:
To view the Markey-Holt letter to Interior, see:
On March 1, The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) released a “Special Edition” scorecard which rated how Members of Congress voted on environmental amendments in H.R. 1, the continuing resolution to fund the government through Sept. 30, 2011. The ratings of a number of Republican House freshmen did not match their rhetoric, however, with regard to how important environmental issues are to them.
Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) maintained that while he cares a lot about the environment, the economy is his top concern. Southerland and others pointed to what they describe as the overreach by the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies as the primary incentive behind their votes. Other members defended their environmental records by referencing their work on the local level on environmental issues.
Freshmen scored an average of 15 percent for their votes on the CR, which include a vote on the overall bill as well as 20 amendments that LCV labeled as anti-environmental. Only nine of the 94 House freshmen are Democrats. Overall, House members received an average rating of 44 percent for their votes on the CR, down from last year, when the Democrats were in the majority and House members were awarded an average rating of 57 percent.
Not all of the freshmen in the latest report card scored poorly. The nine freshmen Democrats scored an average of 93 percent, which was brought down by Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL), who at 64 percent was the only Democrat to receive less than a 90 percent rating.
Two returning Republicans were among the top five Republicans in the LCV survey: Rep. Charles Bass (R-NH) received a 72 percent score and Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA) received 64 percent. Both represent Democratic-leaning districts and had previously served, but lost their seats in the Democratic sweep of the 2006 mid-term elections.
LCV normally rates members of Congress once per session but Tiernan Sittenfeld, LCV’s senior vice president, said the group took the rare step of rating House members on the single bill because they felt the legislation marked the greatest assault on the environment in years.
To read the full score card, click here: http://www.lcv.org/LCV-Special-Edition-Scorecard.pdf
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took questions on the Canadian oil sands pipeline while testifying in back-to-back hearings March 2 before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of State and Foreign Operations and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the State Department’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget request.
Under questioning from Foreign Affairs Subcommittee Ranking Member Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Secretary Clinton declined to take a position on the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline, which remains under review by her team more than two years after its application for a cross-border permit was submitted. Clinton told Graham that while she is supportive of receiving more oil from Canada, she emphasized the importance of the United States doing more in energy efficiency and renewable energy and looking for clean ways to utilize American resources.
Clinton’s neutral stance contrasted with an October appearance where she said she was “inclined to” sign off on Keystone XL. The prior comment sparked alarm among environmental groups who view the pipeline as a spur for further U.S. oil consumption.
During the Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Ranking Member Richard Lugar (R-IN) told Clinton that the interruption of oil shipments amid Libyan unrest heightens the importance of securing crude from alternative, friendlier sources. Luger urged Clinton to boost the nation’s energy trade with reliable and transparent allies such as Canada.
Approved by House Committee/Subcommittee
H.R. 872, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act – introduced March 2 by House Transportation and Infrastructure Water Resources Subcommittee Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-OH), the bill would exempt farmers, local governments and other pesticide users from the need to obtain an extra Clean Water Act permit for spraying chemicals over water. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, are also original cosponsors of the measure, which has a wide array of bipartisan support. The House Agriculture Committee passed the bill by voice vote on March 9.
H.R. 910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act – introduced March 3 by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), the bill would amend the Clean Air Act to prohibit the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. The bill passed the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power by voice vote March 10.
Introduced in the Senate
S. 468, the Mining Jobs Protection Act – introduced March 3 by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), the bill would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from retroactively vetoing Clean Water Act permits for coal-mining projects. The measure is part of efforts by lawmakers to address EPA’s revoking of the federal permit for a mountaintop-removal coal mine in West Virginia. Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-ID) is also an original cosponsor.
S. 508, the Chimney Rock National Monument Establishment Act– introduced March 8 by Senator Michael Bennett (D-CO) and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks Chairman Mark Udall (D-CO), the bill would designate roughly 4,700 acres of an archeological area in the San Juan National Forest as a national monument. The bill also calls for the Secretary of Agriculture to consult with Indian tribes to create a management plan for the site.
Sources: ClimateWire, Environment and Energy Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, the League of Conservation Voters, POLITICO, the Washington Post