May 20, 2011
In This Issue
On May 18, the U.S. Senate rejected S. 953 by a vote of 42-57. The Offshore Production and Safety Act of 2011 sought to expedite and expand offshore oil and gas drilling nationwide.. Sponsored by Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the bill–similar to legislation the House passed in recent weeks—would would require new lease sales in the Arctic, Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico and set deadlines for several upcoming Gulf of Mexico lease sales.
The bill was opposed by every Senate Democrat. Five Republicans, including Sens. Jim DeMint (SC), Mike Lee (UT), Richard Shelby (AL), Olympia Snowe (ME) and David Vitter (LA), also voted against the bill. Democratic senators from Louisiana and Alaska expressed concerns that the bill does not contain provisions to share oil and gas revenues with coastal states. Sen. Snowe maintained that the measure fails to give states a role in determining what activities are allowed off their coastlines.
The White House warned the measure would undermine critical safety reforms implemented in the wake of the BP PLC oil spill a year ago in the Gulf, a sentiment echoed by Senate Democrats. The White House further argued that the bill’s permitting deadline would “constrain” the Department of Interior’s ability to ensure permits meet safety standards.
Like the House-passed bill, S. 953 would set 60-day deadlines for Interior to review drilling proposals and would require that permits halted after the Deepwater Horizon spill be reactivated within a month. In contrast to the House legislation, the bill would create a public-private task force including the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study on improving technical responses to oil spills and mitigating the effects of oil spills on natural habitat.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY), announced May 11 the schedule for completion of work on the twelve fiscal year (FY) 2012 appropriations bills. The plan also includes the total planned funding for each of the twelve bills, which fund federal agencies.
In total the appropriations bills would reduce spending by over $30 billion compared to FY 2011 and $121.5 billion less than Ppresident Obama’s FY 2012 budget request. The Commerce, Justice and Science spending bill would be funded at $50.2 billion, $3 billion less than the FY 2011 enacted level and $7.4 billion less than the president’s request. The Energy and Water Appropriations bill would be funded at $30.6 billion, $1 billion less than the FY 2011 enacted level and nearly $6 billion less than the president’s request. The Interior and Environment Appropriations bill would be funded at nearly $27.5 billion, $2 billion less than FY 2011 and $3.8 billion less than the president’s request.
The brunt of committee and subcommittee mark-up for the bills is slated to occur between June and July, which is typical for the House of Representatives. Chairman Rogers has stated his intention to have the House pass most of the bills before the August recess, with any remaining bills to be voted on in September when the House returns.
To view the proposed FY2012 allocations, see:
The House Space, Science and Technology Committee met May 11 for a hearing examining a draft Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study on hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking.”
Hydraulic fracturing involves using high-pressure injections of water, chemicals and sand to open cracks that release gas trapped in rock deep underground. It’s become a key ingredient of a dramatic surge in gas extraction across the nation, resulting in soaring domestic reserves and low prices. The expansion of the practice has also raised concerns on its effect on water and climate.
Dr. Paul Anatas, Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development testified in favor of the study. According to Anatas, “the scope of the proposed research includes the full lifespan of water in hydraulic fracturing, from acquisition of the water, through the mixing of chemicals and actual fracturing, to the post-fracturing stage, including the management of flowback and produced water and its ultimate treatment and disposal, an approach EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) agreed was appropriate in their June 2010 review.”
The majority of the hearing’s witnesses testified in opposition to the EPA study and any federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing. Elizabeth Ames Jones of the Texas Railroad Commission stated those expressing concerns of environmental damage or contaminated drinking water are promoting a “fractured fairy tale.” She contended that EPA’s efforts could lead to federal government losses of up to $4 billion in revenue and states losing $785 million in revenue, in addition to lost jobs. Commissioner Jones contended that over many decades there already have been a number of studies on fracturing and stressed the importance of “minimizing duplicative research.”
Committee Republicans accused EPA of attempting to stifle energy production while trying to find a solution to a problem that may not even exist. “The study intends to identify the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water without ever taking into consideration the probability that such an effect may occur,” said Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX).
Committee Democrats sought to defend the importance of the EPA study. Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) stated “The EPA study is an opportunity to gain more knowledge about hydraulic fracturing, and the opportunity should not be wasted by narrowing the scope so much that we keep ourselves ignorant to the technology’s impacts.”
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) asked for a specific example of spill contamination of drinking water. Maryland Department of Environment Secretary Robert Summers noted that while he was not aware of any contamination specific to drinking water, there have been spills in Pennsylvania that have penetrated rivers that are a source of water supply. While monitoring has not indicated drinking water in the region has been contaminated yet, “it is a very significant water supply for millions of people in the Susquannah and Potomac Basin,” he noted.
Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) sought to compare the Maryland Department of Environment’s attempts to monitor hydraulic fracturing to the state’s attempts to clean up raw sewage spills, noting that hydraulic fracturing could potentially be parts per billion while the current amount of raw sewage flowing into the Chesapeake Bay is parts per million. “As a physician, I’d almost much rather drink a slight amount of drilling fluid than [sewage],” he said.
Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) sought to find common ground between industry experts and those concerned with the potential environmental impacts of fracturing, calling for more transparent collaboration. “I think if industry steps up and goes sort of beyond the call of duty in demonstrating that it’s willing to be open and candid about what’s involved in these processes that puts you in a good position in the discussion because we all understand the promise of this and the potential benefits that it can yield, so let’s do it right on the front end,” he said.
Dr. Anastas also addressed concerns that the current study was redundant, given the 2004 EPA hydraulic fracturing study. He noted that the 2004 study is “not relevant” to the current study because it looked only at coal-bed methane wells. Critics of the 2004 EPA study also note that the agency never tested the water itself, instead relying on a survey of state regulators.
The current EPA study was directed through language included in the Fiscal Year 2010 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill.
The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has announced a six-year plan to address the needs of more than 250 species it believes warrant protections under the Endangered Species Act (E.S.A.).
The “work plan,” filed on May 10 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeks to resolve a legal challenge from WildEarth Guardians, one of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s most frequent plaintiffs. The work plan, if accepted, would allow the agency to make listing determinations for each of the species on its 2010 candidate list over the next six years, in addition to making petition findings for a number of separate species that have been the subject of recent petitions.
In its proposed agreement with Interior, WildEarth said that for the next six years it will refrain from litigation compelling 90-day and 12-month findings on new listing petitions the group submits and will limit the number of listing petitions it submits per year. In return, Interior has agreed to make certain 90-day and 12-month petition findings at issue in the litigation, take other specific E.S.A. listing actions over the next two years and take final action to resolve the status of candidate species for E.S.A. listing, WildEarth said.
The E.S.A. candidate list was originally intended to be an administrative tool that would identify species for which FWS would shortly make listing determinations. However a rapid growth in the volume and mandatory nature of court orders, settlement-agreement obligations, and statutory deadlines related to petition findings and other listing-related litigation has threatened to overwhelm FWS’s funding and staff. In the last four years, FWS has been petitioned to list more than 1,230 species, nearly as many species as have been listed during the previous 30 years of administering the E.S.A. FWS’s 2010 candidate list numbered 251 species.
A list of these candidate species is available at the following link:
To learn more about the Service’s Endangered Species program, visit:
The state of Idaho has approved its second wolf kill in two weeks, this time giving approval for sheriff’s deputies in the town of Elk City to kill wolves that have been blamed for preying on pets and elk.
Congress lifted Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for gray wolves within certain states in the northern Rockies through a provision (Sec. 1713) included in the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-10). The provision has subsequently been enforced by the Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The states of Idaho and Montana as well as parts of Oregon, Utah and Washington now have primary authority to manage the species. The delisting marks the first time that a species has been removed from protection through legislation rather than scientific review.
The state agency, Idaho Fish and Game, has declared wolves a “disaster emergency” and gave outfitters permission to kill problem predators. Once the federal safeguards were lifted, Idaho began distributing permits for wolf hunts.
There are roughly 1,200 wolves in Idaho and Montana and the two states plan to kill hundreds of wolves through licensed hunting. Montana last week said it will kill 220 of its estimated 550 wolves, and Idaho is weighing the same quota for its 700 wolves.
Interior Sec. Ken Salaazar had previously announced FWS’s decision to delist the gray wolves in the Northern Rockies in March 2009. Environmental groups subsequently began to sue the agency over the decision. The groups scored a temporary victory in Aug. 2010 when U.S District Judge Donald Molloy ruled the FWS decision violated the Endangered Species Act in declaring that wolves had recovered in Montana and Idaho but not across the border in Wyoming.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Clearwater, and WildEarth Guardians have filed suit in federal court in Montana against the FWS for delisting wolves in Montana, Idaho, and portions of Utah, Washington, and Oregon, arguing that it violates the U.S. Constitutional separation of powers because it repeals the August decision. The groups contend that Congress did not respect the authority of the judicial branch.
To view the complaint, see: http://www.wildrockiesalliance.org/news/2011/05-04-2011-Delisting-rider_FINAL-COMPLAINT.pdf
On May. 17, the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) unveiled a national management plan to address the threat posed by white-nose syndrome, which has killed more than a million hibernating bats in eastern North America since it was discovered near Albany, New York in 2006.
The National Plan for Assisting States, Tribes and Federal Agencies in Managing White-Nose Syndrome in Bats intends to provide a national management strategy to investigate the cause of the syndrome and find a means to prevent its spread. The FWS considered approximately 17,000 public comments it received on the draft plan. Since the syndrome was first documented, FWS has coordinated a national response that currently includes more than 100 state and federal agencies, tribes, organizations and stakeholders.
Over the last five years, white-nose syndrome, which was named for the presence of a white fungus around the muzzles, ears and wings of affected bats, has spread to 18 states and four Canadian provinces. Bat colony losses at the most closely monitored sites have reached 95 percent within three years of initial detection.
Ecologists and natural resource managers have been concerned because of the critical role that bats play in maintaining healthy ecosystems and in agricultural systems. A recent analysis published in Science magazine’s Policy Forum showed that pest-control services provided by insect-eating bats save the U.S. agricultural industry at least $3 billion a year.
The final document and additional information about white-nose syndrome are available online at http://www.fws.gov/WhiteNoseSyndrome/
On May 11, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) was one of more than 30 organizations that participated in the 17th Annual Exhibition and Reception of the Coalition for National Science Funding. Entitled “STEM Research and Education: Underpinning American Innovation,” the Capitol Hill event drew nearly 300 attendees, including five Members of Congress. Exhibitors showcased research and education projects made possible by support from the National Science Foundation. Projects ranged from black holes to computer science teaching to restoring imperiled plant communities.
Read more at ESA’s blog, EcoTone:
Introduced in the House
H.R. 1861, the Infrastructure Jobs and Energy Independence Act – Introduced May 12 by Reps. Tim Murphy (R-PA), Tim Walz (D-MN), Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Jim Costa (D-CA), the bill would open the eastern Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic and Pacific waters to oil and gas leasing with proceeds funding alternative energy, conservation and infrastructure projects. It would also allow states to collect royalties for oil and gas produced within nine nautical miles of their shores but would prohibit the placement of rigs within 10 miles of the coastline.
Approved by House Committee
H.R. 1309, the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2011- Introduced by Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL), the bill reauthorizes the National Flood Insurance Program for five years. Development encouraged by the insurance program and an array of other policies related to land use and economic development can disrupt natural areas that absorb rainfall, sending more water into tributaries and rivers. The House Financial Services Committee approved the bill May 13, 2010.
Passed by House
H.R. 1229, the Restarting Offshore Leasing Now Act – Sponsored by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill limits to a maximum of 60 days the Interior Department time to respond to a drilling permit for the Outer Continental Shelf, stipulating that if Interior does not respond in 60 days, the permit would be deemed approved. The bill also bars civil action related to oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico 60 days after final agency action on a drilling permit. The measure passed the House May 11 by a vote of 263-163 with 28 Democrats joining all Republicans in voting for the bill.
H.R. 1231, the Reversing President Obama’s Offshore Moratorium Act – Sponsored by Chairman Hastings, the bill would require the Interior Department to lease areas on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) for oil and gas development requested by the Governor of an adjacent state, or that are considered to have undiscovered, technically recoverable oil. The measure would also mandate that the Interior Department include goals for producing oil and natural gas on the OCS, including setting a goal of producing three million barrels of oil a day. The bill passed the House May 12 by a vote of 243-179, with nine Republicans voting no and 21 Democrats voting yes.
Introduced in the Senate
S. 937, the American Alternative Fuels Act of 2011 – Introduced by May 10 by Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), the bill would repeal a provision in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-140) that bars the government from spending money on fuels with higher greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels. The bill has been referred to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
S. 973, the National Endowment for the Oceans Act – Introduced May 12 by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), the bill would set aside money collected from oil and gas taxes for a fund dedicated to conservation of oceans, coastlines and the Great Lakes. The measure has been referred to the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
S.999, the Small System Safe Drinking Water Act – Introduced May 16 by Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK), the bill would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from taking enforcement actions against a water system serving fewer than 10,000 people without ensuring the community has the money to pay for the required upgrades. The bill would also require that EPA check to ensure drinking water standards imposed are no more expensive to small communities, on a per-capita basis, than to large ones. The bill has been referred to the Environment and Public Works Committee.
S. 1003, to limit the liability of a state performing mine reclamation work – Introduced May 19 by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), the bill would amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to limit the liability of a state concerning clean up of abandoned hardrock mines. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
S. 1027, the American Energy and Western Jobs Act – Introduced May 19 by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the bill would require the Department of Interior to set goals to maintain or increase federal mineral production on federal lands and require oil and gas leases to be issued within 60 days of their purchase, curtailing the ability of environmental groups to halt leases. The bill also would repeal recent Interior leasing reforms and the agency’s “wild lands” policy, which is intended to protect wilderness areas. The bill would also require litigation challenging compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act be brought within two months of a decision being made. The bill has been referred to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Considered by Senate Committee
On May 12, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on carbon capture and storage legislation:
- S. 699, the Department of Energy Carbon Capture and Sequestration Program Amendments Act of 2011 – Introduced by Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), the bill would establish a long-term liability program that would encourage large-scale early-mover deployment of integrated geologic carbon capture and storage systems.
- S. 757, the CO2 Capture Technology Act – Introduced by John Barrasso (R-WY), the bill would provide incentives to encourage the development and implementation of technology to capture carbon dioxide from dilute sources
On May 19, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the following bills:
- S. 734, the Advanced Vehicle Technology Act of 2011 – Introduced by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the bill would reauthorize DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Program, which offers federal assistance to auto manufacturers and parts suppliers to invest in and build fuel-efficient vehicles. The program is currently working without congressional authorization, leaving participants and observers worried about its future.
- S. 948, the Promoting Electric Vehicles Act of 2011 – Introduced by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the bill creates a Department of Energy (DOE) grant competition for communities that can demonstrate a plan to deploy at least 400,000 electric vehicles. It also invests $235 million into research and development for electric vehicle batteries and infrastructure. In the 111th Congress, the bill was voted out of committee on an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 19-4.
Sources: the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, ClimateWire, Environment and Energy Daily, E&E News PM, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service Greenwire, the Hill, House Appropriations Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, LA Times, POLITICO, Reuters, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee