October 7 2011
In This Issue
On Oct. 5, President Obama signed the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-36), which provides federal funding for the new fiscal year (FY) 2012 through Nov. 18. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 79-12 and the House by a vote of 352-66.
The agreement came in part when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced late last month that it would not need additional funds for the remainder of FY 2011, which ended Sept. 30. Consequently, the compromise legislation provided $2.6 billion to FEMA for disaster relief spending with no offsets. House Republicans had called for the offsets while Democrats charged that such a move was unprecedented for emergency disaster funding. The funding would address the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, flooding and other natural disasters that occurred during calendar year 2011. The agreement also eliminated the $1.5 billion offset cut to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) advanced vehicle loan program.
The bill provides additional time for Congress to continue work on its 12 individual FY 2012 appropriations bills. To date, the House has passed six individual bills and the Senate has passed one. Neither of the bills has been agreed upon by both bodies, which must reconcile and pass the bills before they can be sent to the president.
Most recently, the Senate passed its Labor Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor HHS) Appropriations Act for FY 2012. The bill includes $175.1 million for the Math and Science Partnership program, level with FY 2011. The bill also zeros out funding for the Obama administration’s proposed Effective Teaching and Learning: Science Technology Education and Mathematics program. Neither of the programs is funded in the House bill.
The bill also includes $9.484 million for the Minority Science and Engineering Improvement program, level with FY 2011. The House bill includes the same number.
To view the full Senate Labor HHS bill committee report, see:
On Oct. 4, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened for a hearing entitled “Quality Science for Quality Air.” The hearing sought to examine the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) process for setting standards under the Clean Air Act.
In his opening statement, Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) asserted “it is important to note at the outset that overall air quality in the United States is excellent. By any objective metric, air quality and related human health has improved dramatically, and the levels of every major air pollutant have plummeted over the last three decades. Most of America meets increasingly-stringent EPA standards.” Chairman Harris contended that “EPA seems to rely on making statistical hay out of minor associations between pollutants and premature mortality.”
Committee Democrats defended EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act, citing enforcement of such regulations as the reason why air quality has improved over the past few decades. “In the U.S. a healthy environment and strong economy are not mutually exclusive. Stricter pollutions limits force us to push the envelope of scientific innovation and create new technologies. And, as it has been proven many times over, improved worker productivity, increased agricultural yield, reduction in mortality and illness, and other economic and public health benefits far outweigh the costs of compliance,” said Energy and Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Brad Miller (D-NC).
Democrats criticized the Republican majority for holding the hearing without inviting an EPA representative to testify. Miller also criticized a policy that requires witnesses to disclose government funding, such as research grants, but not money from private groups or businesses. Panelists mostly included witnesses who were critical of the EPA rules, including Roger O. McClellan, a former chair of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee; Michael Honeycutt, Chief Toxicologist with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality; Robert F. Phalen, Professor of Medicine and Co-Director of the Air Pollution Health Effects Laboratory at University of California, Irvine and Anne E. Smith, Senior Vice President, NERA Economic Consulting.
In his opening testimony, McClellan asserted that EPA was pursuing an agenda rather than focusing on the science. “I am increasingly concerned that our policy for advancing public health is being driven by advocacy groups with narrow interests,” he said. “Perhaps the answer to the question of how low is low enough for each of the NAAQS is low enough for now. I suggest it is appropriate for time out on moving the goal posts.”
Lacking a witness from EPA, Democrats had one witness, George Thurston, Professor of the New York University School of Medicine. According to Thurston, “the science is sound and the results are clear: cleaning our air reduces air pollution health impacts, lowers our health care costs, and saves lives…EPA’s regulatory control of ambient air pollutants has led to reductions in both air pollutant exposures and health risks to the American people. This has caused the public to enjoy associated health benefits, including decreased asthma attacks, fewer hospital admissions, fewer heart attacks, and increased length and quality of life,” he concluded.
On Oct. 4, the Senate Environment and Public Works Water and Wildlife Subcommittee held a hearing entitled “Nutrient Pollution: An Overview of Nutrient Reduction Approaches.”
“Dead zones with little or no oxygen caused by nutrient pollution are threatening America’s waters and lakes, as well as the jobs and regional economies nationwide that depend on these great water bodies,” said Water and Wildlife Subcommittee Chairman Ben Cardin (D-MD) in a press statement. “Despite the protections of the Clean Water Act, the problem nationwide continues to grow. In the northern Gulf of Mexico, this year’s dead zone was 6,765 square miles, larger than the size of New Jersey. In the Chesapeake Bay, this year’s dead zone covered over one third of the Bay…we must address the pollution in the America’s waters by dealing with all the pollution in any given region through comprehensive efforts and a strong role for federal agencies,” he continued.
Full Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) acknowledged that excess nutrients can be “problematic,” but voiced opposition to “a one size fits all policy on nutrient pollution.” Inhofe maintained that “nutrients are different from other water pollutants because they are not intrinsically toxic. They occur naturally and their presence is essential to healthy water bodies…because of all of the factors that contribute to nutrient pollution, the levels that may be impairing one water body may be healthy for another.”
Nancy K. Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator for Water at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) testified that “states have identified more than 15,000 waters nationwide that have been degraded by excess levels of nutrients to the point that they do not meet state water quality standards.” Stoner’s testimony listed various problems with potable resources across multiple states that affect everything from drinking water to recreation and fishing.
Conservatives voiced criticism when in Nov. 2010 the EPA replaced Florida’s limits on nitrogen and phosphorus in waters with more specific rules. Both of the witnesses from state governments criticized the action as overstepping. “I am not here today to question the existence of nutrient pollution problems facing this nation and the state of Florida,” said Richard Budell, Director of the Office of Agricultural Water Policy with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “The question is not whether there is a nutrient pollution problem, but whether the federal government is justified in hand-selecting one state in the nation on which to impose federal regulations that impart costs on all households.”
Shellie Chard-McClary, Water Quality Division Director at the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality voiced support for EPA’s overall goal, noting the infrastructure costs that would incur if nutrient impairments in water bodies are not addressed. However, she maintained that states have already taken sufficient action on this issue. “We encourage EPA to continue to work with states to develop and implement the most appropriate tools for nutrient reduction and control, and to allow states the flexibility that is crucial to effectively address this important water quality challenge. The right tool is not always a number. The right tool for large urban areas is not always the right tool for small rural areas,” she said.
The House Natural Resources Committee met Oct. 4 for an oversight hearing on the Obama administration’s National Ocean Plan. The plan was first initiated via Executive Order by the president in July 2010.
Committee Republicans have been critical of the plan, charging that the administration is overreaching in its implementation of the policy. “With the stroke of a pen, President Obama created a new, huge top-down bureaucracy that could over-ride states and local authorities and change the way activities on the oceans, coasts and far inland will be managed,” said Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) in his opening statement. “None of the people, communities and businesses affected the most by this policy will have representation in the Regional Planning Bodies. They have no seat at the table deciding their fate. The president’s Executive Order places all the power in the hands of the government,” he continued.
“Opposing ocean planning is like opposing air traffic control. You can do it but it will cause a mess or lead to dire consequences,” said Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-MA). “It is time for our nation to have an ocean plan. The United States and territories have exclusive economic jurisdiction over approximately 4.5 million square miles of ocean. These areas are a vital part of the U.S. economy, supporting tens of millions of jobs and contributing trillions of dollars annually to our national economy,” he continued. “By harmonizing the existing regulations that govern our coasts and oceans, this policy will allow developments to move ahead more quickly while creating jobs and improving the health of the oceans.”
Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), who spearheaded legislation in the 110th Congress to establish a national oceans policy, defended the administration’s efforts as the hearing’s first witness. “Over 140 federal laws and dozens of agencies have jurisdiction over ocean resources. This problem was recognized by both the Bush administration’s U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission,” he said. “The two separate commissions found the federal government’s management of our oceans to be fragmented, uncoordinated and in dire need of improvement.”
Rep. Farr asserted that the policy’s implementation would be an open and transparent process with various public workshops and comment periods, but maintained that funding is needed to do so. “Congress, however, has not recognized that this stakeholder engagement comes at a cost and if we want a transparent process, we must provide the necessary funding,” he said.
The consensus among the second panel, which included witnesses largely among industry, charged that the plan could hinder economic growth. “The National Ocean Policy is the most significant issue affecting energy security, job creation, and economic growth that no one has heard about,” stated Christopher Guith, vice president for policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Congress should and must utilize its oversight function to examine the National Ocean Policy to ensure it is consistent with the administration’s statutory authority, and that it would not create new and unnecessary barriers that would jeopardize economic growth or energy security,” he continued.
Marine scientists have called for more coordinated marine planning for years, and the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy called for an ocean council and better marine planning efforts in its recommendations seven years ago.
For more information on the hearing, see:
Additional background on the White House’s National Ocean Policy can be found here:
On Oct. 4, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee heard from four members of Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) Subcommittee on Natural Gas on the findings of a recent report on natural gas development.
The subcommittee, led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor John Deutch, issued a report in August that affirmed a number of the environmental and health concerns that have been raised by environmental groups, industry critics and neighbors of drilling operations. The report panel also found that regulators lack “effective control” over the drilling process and said the industry should heed concerns about drilling methods such as hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking.” Lawmakers sought to weigh these concerns with the noted economic benefits natural gas development has brought to rural areas.
“The promise of expanded domestic natural gas resources comes with a responsibility to address environmental concerns as well as human health and safety issues, said Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). “I expect the environmental and human health and safety concerns related to developing unconventional gas resources can be managed, but only if they are addressed through a transparent, diligent and safe approach to well site and wastewater management throughout each stage of the gas extraction process.”
“We cannot realize the many benefits of our tremendous natural gas resource unless we commit to safe, environmentally acceptable production and delivery, within a framework of appropriate regulation and access, said Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). “I welcome the efforts of the SEAB Subcommittee to proactively find ways to increase transparency and improve the efficiency of the extraction process.”
Overall, the panelists praised state regulators for their efforts to monitor the shale gas drilling industry while simultaneously not advocating specifically for federal or state regulation of shale drilling. One of the board members, Daniel Yergin, Chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates recommended that the federal government “provide federal R&D support on developing the technologies that address the environmental issues and promote continuous improvement and best practices.”
Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has garnered criticism from both the left and right on his appointments to the panel. Industry groups criticize the subcommittee for having no representatives from oil and gas companies while environmentalists note that six of the seven members have financial ties to the oil and gas industry.
The group is planning to expand on its recommendations and conclusions in a more detailed report due out in about six weeks.
View the SEAB report here:
On Oct. 6, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee released a report that promotes the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) role in fostering economic growth and protecting public health.
EPA is responsible for implementation of a number of laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. According to the report, the Clean Air Act’s annual benefits by 2020 are “expected to prevent 230,000 premature deaths, 200,000 cases of heart attacks, 2.4 million cases of asthma attacks, 120,000 emergency room visits, and 5.4 million lost school days. The economic benefits of the Clean Air Act will equal about $2 trillion per year by the year 2020, if we continue enforcing the Act.”
The report highlights the many benefits of clean air and water regulations as well as investments in cleaner vehicles while discrediting claims that EPA regulations hinder economic growth. It cites a 2011 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report that referenced recent electric utilities’ claims against EPA’s clean air rules. CRS found that industry’s claims “tend to exaggerate the regulatory burden” of EPA’s rules and “treats as imminent the promulgation of rules that may not be so.”
The full report can be found here:
The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (commonly known as the “super committee”) has begun hearings focused on its mandated task to reduce the federal deficit by at least $1.5 trillion over the next ten years.
The committee has installed its own contact link to allow citizens across the country to send comments on what can be done to address the nation’s debt. This is an opportunity to inform the committee of the connection between investment in science and innovation and economic growth. Personal stories of how investment in scientific research benefits local communities can be especially helpful.
The committee membership is made up of Co-Chairs Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Patty Murray (D-WA), as well as Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT), John Kerry (D-MA), John Kyl (R-AZ) Rob Portman (R-OH), Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Dave Camp (R-MI), James Clyburn (D-SC), Fred Upton (R-MI) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).
The joint committee was established under the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25). Under the law, House and Senate committees must submit recommendations to the committee by Oct. 14. The committee itself is directed to vote on a plan by Nov. 23. The House and Senate must vote on a plan by Dec. 23.
If the respective bodies cannot agree on a minimum of $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction before Jan. 15, 2012 an automatic “trigger” will enforce across-the-board spending cuts, 50 percent from defense spending and 50 percent from non-defense discretionary spending and mandatory spending programs that would go into effect in fiscal year 2013. Social Security, Medicaid and veterans’ benefits would be exempt from such cuts, although Medicare would not be totally exempt.
Click here to contact the committee:
Updates on the committee’s activities can be viewed by visiting their main website:
The National Council for Science and the Environment has forwarded an Action Alert urging scientists to contact their Senators and Representatives and support food and agricultural research funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The appropriations process for fiscal year (FY) 2012 is in its final stages. House and Senate leaders must now negotiate a final bill to fund the government through the next fiscal year, ending Sept. 30, 2012. The current Senate Agriculture, Rural Development and FDA Appropriations Act for FY 2012 includes over $ 1.21 billion for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), basically level with FY 2011. The House legislation, however, cuts more than $203 million (16.7 percent) from NIFA’s budget compared to FY 2011.
Constituents are urged to voice their support for the Senate funding level for NIFA. Key officials that need to be reached are the leaders of the House and Senate agricultural appropriations subcommittees: Sens. Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Reps. Jack Kingston (R-GA) and Sam Farr (D-CA). The alert especially encourages residents in those member states or districts to weigh in.
To view the full call to action, see:
To locate your state’s U.S. Senator, click here:
To locate your Member of Congress, click here:
Introduced in the House
H.R. 3097, the Renewable Fuel Standard Flexibility Act – Introduced Oct. 5 by Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Jim Costa (D-CA), the bill would partially wave the renewable fuel standard’s ethanol mandate when corn supplies are low. The bill has 26 bipartisan original cosponsors and has been referred to the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Passed the House
H.R. 765, the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act – Introduced by Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), the bill would allow additional year-round activities to be permitted in ski areas on U.S. Forest Service lands. The bill passed Oct. 3, by a vote of 394-0. Companion legislation (S. 382) has been introduced by Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO).
H.R. 2681, the Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act – Introduced by Rep. John Sullivan (R-OK), the bill would overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new standards for mercury and other toxic emissions from cement kilns. It would also stop the rules from being replaced for the next 15 months and require EPA to make them cheaper if it tries to rewrite them. The bill passed Oct. 6 by a vote of 262-161 with 25 Democrats supporting the bill and Reps. Walter Jones (NC) and Chris Smith (NJ) being the only Republicans to vote against it.
Passed by House Committee
On Oct. 5, the Natural Resources Committee marked-up 21 public lands, wildlife and energy bills, including the following:
H.R. 850, to facilitate a proposed project in the Lower St. Croix Wild and Scenic River – Introduced by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), the bill would allow construction of a new bridge over a federally protected portion of the lower St. Croix River, which runs through Minnesota and Wisconsin. H.R. 850 is cosponsored by Reps. Sean Duffy (R-WI) and Ron Kind (D-WI). Similar legislation (S. 1134) has been introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and cosponsored by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN). The Department of Interior and environmental groups maintain that the bill would adversely impact the river.
H.R. 991, to allow importation of polar bear trophies taken in sport hunts in Canada – Introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the bill would allow importation of polar bear trophies taken in sport hunts in Canada before the date the polar bear was determined to be a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 2008. The bill has 34 cosponsors, including a number of moderate Democrats. Companion legislation (S. 1066) has been introduced by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID).
H.R. 1505, the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act – Introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), the bill would allow the Department of Homeland Security to waive three dozen environmental laws on public lands within 100 miles of the U.S. border. This includes 4.3 million acres of wilderness areas where motorized vehicles are generally prohibited.
H.R. 2752, the BLM Live Internet Auctions Act – Introduced by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH), the bill would allow the Bureau of Land Management to hold online auctions for oil and gas leases in an effort to expand participation and boost government revenue. The bill is supported by the Obama administration.
H.R. 2915, the American Taxpayer and Western Area Power Administration Customer Protection Act – Introduced by Water and Power Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock (R-CA), the bill would revoke nearly $3.3 billion dollars in the Western Area Power Administration’s borrowing authority for transmission projects that facilitate renewable energy.
H.R. 3069, the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act – Introduced by Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill would allow the killing of California sea lions to bolster the population of endangered salmon. The bill has five bipartisan cosponsors, including Reps. Norman Dicks (D-WA), Mike Simpson (R-ID), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), Kurt Schrader (D-OR) and Greg Walden (R-OR). The bill is also supported by the Obama administration. The bill was opposed by Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-MA) who introduced an amendment that would have renamed the bill the “Shoot Sea Lions for Eating Fish Act.”
Sources: Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, The Hill, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Roll Call, Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, National Council for Science and the Environment, Senate Appropriations Committee, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee