December 22, 2011
In This Issue
The week of Dec. 16, Congress passed H.R. 2055, an omnibus bill which funds the government through the remainder of the current fiscal year (FY) 2012, which ends Sept. 30, 2012. The bill passed the House by a vote of 262-121 and the Senate by a vote of 67-32. The majority of opposition in both chambers came from conservative Republican lawmakers as many of the riders included in the House appropriations bills were shaved in conference.
The omnibus bill incorporates the remaining nine appropriations bills that were not included in the “minibus” that passed earlier this year (P.L. 112-55). The new omnibus bill includes funding for the Departments of Interior and Energy as well as the Environmental Protection Agency.
Energy and Water
Overall, energy and water programs are funded at $32 billion for FY 2012, a $328 million increase over FY 2011. For Department of Energy science programs, the bill includes $4.9 billion, an increase of $46 million from FY 2011. The bill also includes $769 million for nuclear energy research and development, $43 million above FY 2011. For environmental management activities, the bill includes $5.7 billion, a $31 million increase over FY 2011. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is funded at $5 billion, a $145 million increase from FY 2011. The FY 2012 funding level for the Corps is also $429 million above the president’s request, one of the few agencies to enjoy this distinction this year.
Interior, Environment and Related Agencies
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): $8.4 billion for FY 2012, $233 million below FY 2011.The conference agreement cuts $14 million (six percent) in clean air and climate research programs; $12 million (9.5 percent) in EPA’s regulatory development office; and $14 million (five percent) to air regulatory programs. The bill also reduces the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund by $101 million.
Bureau of Land Management: $1.1 billion, $5 million below FY 2011.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.5 billion, $28 million below FY 2011.
National Park Service: $2.6 billion, $32 million below FY 2011.
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement: $60 million (this agency was formalized in FY 2011).
Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement: $76 million, including $15 million for oil spill research for this agency, formalized in FY 2011.
U.S. Forest Service: $4.6 billion for the Forest Service in FY 2012, $91 million below FY 2011.
Land and Water Conservation Fund: $322.8 million, a seven percent increase over FY 2011.
Clean Water State Revolving Fund: $2.39 billion, a 3.5 percent decrease from FY 2011.
Great Lakes Restoration Initiative: $300 million, a slight increase from $299 million in FY 2011.
Everglades restoration: $142 million, down from $155 million in FY 2011.
Chesapeake Bay restoration: increase to $57.4 million, up from $54.4 million in FY 2011.
Gulf of Mexico restoration: funding increase from $4.5 million to $5.5 million in FY 2012.
Department of Defense
Research and Development: $72.4 billion, $2.5 billion below FY 2011.
Congressional Republicans were successful in including language to halt new standards requiring light bulbs to be nearly 30 percent more energy efficient next year. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) authored the language in the original 2007 energy law that established the standards. The rider will prevent the Department of Energy from implementing the rules through Sept. 30, 2012, the end of the current fiscal year. The language would have to be renewed in an FY 2013 appropriations bill.
The bill also includes a one-year block preventing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from spending money on Obama administration efforts to rewrite federal rules so that environmental considerations are given greater weight when planning and designing levees, locks, dams and other flood control efforts. Scientists have cited the benefits of complementing such infrastructure with natural approaches to flood control, such as floodplain and wetlands restoration.
The omnibus bill also includes language that would overturn a decision by a federal appeals court in 2010 that would require Clean Water Act permitting for stormwater runoff on logging roads.
Prior to passage of the Omnibus, Congress passed a separate “mini-bus” measure comprised of three appropriations bills that included funding for science agencies. For more information on the mini-bus measure, see the Nov. 18 edition of ESA Policy News:
A comprehensive listing of policy riders included in the bill as well as policy riders in the House bills that were excluded from the final bill can be found here:
Click here for the House summary of the omnibus bill:
Click here for the Senate summary of the omnibus bill:
The legislative fate of a provision intended to fast-track approval of the Keystone XL pipeline remains in limbo between a back in forth between lawmakers over comprehensive legislation to extend a payroll tax cut.
The Keystone XL provision was included at the insistence of Congressional Republicans as a compromise to comprehensive legislation (H.R. 3630) that sought to extend an existing payroll tax cut, unemployment benefits and a provision to prevent a cut in the reimbursement rate for doctors who treat Medicare patients for a year. The Keystone provision would require the U.S. State Department to approve the $7 billion pipeline within two months. If President Obama chose to reject a permit for Keystone XL, bitterly opposed by environmentalists, he would have to submit an official explanation to Congress.
The State Department has indicated that the limited approval time included in the bill would ultimately force it to deny the permit. The Obama administration has previously stated it would not be able to issue a decision until early 2013 after the study of alternative routes for the pipeline has been completed. This fall, TransCanada Corporation, which manages the pipeline, announced that it would seek an alternative route that avoids the Nebraska Sandhills, over concerns that the original route overlapped an aquifer that provides most Nebraskans’ water supply. TransCanada has yet to announce an alternative route.
The weekend of December 16, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) worked out an agreement that included the Keystone provision in legislation and extended the payroll tax, unemployment benefits and the Medicare issue for two months, allowing Congress additional time to come to agreement on how to pay for the extensions for a full year. The two-month extension passed the Senate by a supermajority vote of 89-10, a rare show of overwhelming bipartisanship. After Senators had adjourned for the year, House Republican leadership declared they were unsatisfied with extending the payroll tax cut for only two months, to the dismay of Senators from both parties. In another rare moment, several Republican Senators publicly criticized their House counterparts for their opposition to the compromise.
Instead of allowing House Members to vote on the Senate-amended bill, the House Republican leadership used the procedural motion of voting to go to conference, which politically served to prevent Republican members from having to go on record voting down the continuation of a tax cut. The motion to go to conference passed by a vote of 229-193, with seven House Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against the motion. Under the procedural rule, Senate leaders would now need to appoint Senate conferees to compliment the House’s action, so the two chambers can work out a conference report measure.
The legislation remains in the conference process until the Senate reconvenes. As of Dec. 22, the Senate is not expected to reconvene again for legislative business until Jan. 23. House and Senate Democratic leaders as well as Senate Republican leaders have yet to appoint conferees to move the conference process forward. House and Senate Democratic leaders have declared they will not appoint conferees although Senate Republican leadership has remained silent on the issue.
On Tues. Dec. 20, House Democrats reintroduced the Senate bill, giving the House the option to pass the bill as is and void the conference process. While the majority of House Members promptly departed Washington after last votes that day, President Obama and senior House leaders remained in Washington, leaving open a small (if not improbable) possibility of a last-minute deal being workout in the coming days or week.
On Thurs. Dec. 22, Sen. McConnell asserted that the House should pass the Senate compromise and that the Senate should then appoint conferees, noting that the two “goals are not mutually exclusive.” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has stated Members will be given 24-hour notice for any potential votes during the remainder of the holiday recess. The chamber has the capability to pass the measure by unanimous consent, a procedure used for noncontroversial bills. This action would not require the lawmakers to fly back to Washington.
On Dec. 15, the Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard convened for a hearing examining the environmental risks of genetically engineered fish.
The hearing comes ahead of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) forthcoming decision next year on whether it will allow genetically engineered salmon to be produced and sold for human consumption. There was bipartisan consensus among the subcommittee leaders that more scientific research is needed to examine risks of genetically engineered salmon being released into the wild.
“If these fish were to get out into the wild, they could wreak untold havoc on our marine and freshwater ecosystems,” said Subcommittee Chairman Mark Begich (D-AK). Citing continued efforts to curb the spread of invasive Asian carp, he asserted that “nonnative fish can and will get out in the wild and once they’re out, they’re impossible to contain,” he continued. “I’m not convinced this agency [FDA] has the scientific expertise to adequately assess the environmental aspects. Looking at the available scientific information, it is clear that there is no guarantee that these genetically engineered fish won’t ever escape into the wild.” Sen. Begich has introduced S. 1717, a bill to prohibit genetically modified salmon from being sold in the U.S. until there is ample scientific evidence that they can be produced without risking wild fish populations and aquatic environments.
“I have supported efforts to establish a rigorous approval process before the introduction of these animals into commerce and am strongly committed to continuing that work. Specifically, I have called upon the FDA to halt their approval process until the agency and Congress establishes a transparent and comprehensive review process for genetically engineered animals,” said Subcommittee Ranking Member Olympia Snowe (R-ME). “Opportunities for public comment should be built in so that the industries and stakeholders who may be affected by the development of [genetically engineered] salmon have an opportunity to be heard. Undoubtedly this process should include meaningful consultation with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),” she continued, citing NOAA’s expertise in marine ecology.
Ron Stotish, President and CEO at AquaBounty Technologies, outlined steps his company has taken to minimize potential harm from genetically engineered salmon. “Our product is designed so that it is all female and triploid, meaning the females cannot reproduce,” said Stotish. He also contended that their rapid growth phenotype, among other factors, would be a selective disadvantage that makes their sustainment in a natural environment virtually impossible.
A majority of the panelists mirrored the sentiments of the subcommittee chairman and ranking member that increased federal oversight and scientific evidence is needed before FDA approves the selling of genetically modified salmon. “While the new animal drug application for genetically engineered salmon includes precautions for physical containment to prevent escape and for reproductive sterility should escape occur, it is critical to consider that no established safeguard has proven foolproof nor eliminates all risk classes simultaneously or completely,” noted John Epifanio, Fish Conservation Geneticist with the Illinois Natural History Survey, University of Illinois.
Paul Greenberg, an author on fisheries noted that the best way to sustain U.S. salmon supplies is to work to preserve the natural ecosystems that sustain native populations. “We do not have a salmon shortage problem in this country. The real threat to salmon is environmental destruction,” he said. Noting that salmon farmers, retailers and consumers all have a negative perception of genetically engineered salmon, Greenberg remarked that the fish’s lack of marketability should lead it to be renamed the “Solyndra fish.”
View the entire hearing here:
On Dec. 21, the Department of Interior announced that it was removing Endangered Species Act protections from gray wolves in the Great Lakes states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. The move complements action from the agency in May to remove the gray wolf from protections in three western states.
Collectively, Interior reports there are now over 4,000 grey wolves in the three midwestern states: 2,921 in Minnesota, 782 in Wisconsin and 687 in Michigan, numbers above what scientists contend are sustainable populations. Each state has developed a plan to manage wolves after federal protection is removed. Wolf populations in the states will be monitored for at least five years. If the populations appear in jeopardy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can initiate the listing process.
The Associated Press reports that since 1991, the federal government has spent $92.6 million on gray wolf recovery programs, and state agencies have chipped in $13.9 million.
For more information on the federal government’s wolf monitoring efforts, click here: www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf/
On Dec. 21, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released new standards limiting power plant outputs of mercury and other toxic air pollutants. EPA states that they are “the first national standards to protect American families from power plant emissions of mercury and toxic air pollution like arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium, and cyanide.”
The new standards require coal and oilfired power plants to install technology to reduce harmful air pollution. According to EPA, more than half of the country’s existing coal-fired power plants have already installed the necessary technology to meet the new standards. About 40 percent of the country’s coal-fired plants will be required to update their facilities under the rules.
Many industry groups had warned that the rules will force layoffs and hurt power reliability by forcing the closure of a massive number of plants. To address these concerns, EPA is allotting plant operators a fourth year for technology installations in addition to the three standard years to comply with the rules. The agency will also allow additional time on a case-by-case basis if electric reliability issues arise on a local level.
EPA estimates the new emissions standards will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms annually. The agency also claims the standards will help create 46,000 temporary construction jobs and 8,000 permanent utility jobs.
EPA has published a new website that provides additional information about the new standards: http://www.epa.gov/mats/
To view the DOE study, click here:
Also, the U.S. Geological Survey recently released a study highlighting that mercury deposition is greater near major cities. The study can be found here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0269749111006191
On Dec. 20, ESA sent a letter to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy urging the administration to preserve the publishers’ rights in how they manage their independent peer-reviewed publications.
The letter comes in response to a recent “Request for Information” from OSTP on the issue. The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (111-358) calls upon OSTP to coordinate with agencies to develop policies that assure widespread public access to the results of federally funded unclassified research. ESA’s letter points out the difference between research results and peer-reviewed publications, noting that “it is not appropriate for the federal government to expropriate the additional value publishers add to research results.”
“Ecological research often examines changes that occur over long spans of time; findings frequently have a citation half-life of more than a decade. Papers published in ESA journals may therefore be just as relevant in several years as they are today, which means that any potential embargo period will do little to mitigate the financial losses that would result from full open access,” the letter continues. “Government mandates for publishers to make their work available online without compensation will endanger the U.S. scholarly publishing system. ESA respectfully requests that the Administration allow the scientific publishing community to continue to explore workable solutions that meet the dual goals of the scientific enterprise as well as provide resources to interested members of the public.”
In the House, Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) have introduced a countermeasure, H.R. 3699, which would ensure the continued publication and integrity of peer-reviewed research works by the private sector. Introduced Dec. 16, the bill has been referred to the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on which Issa serves as Chairman.
The deadline for the OSTP request for information has been extended to Jan. 12, 2012. To view the OSTP request for information, click here:
View the full ESA letter here:
Introduced in the House
H.R. 3658, the Water for the World Act – Introduced Dec. 14 by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Ted Poe (R-TX), the bill seeks to strengthen U.S. foreign assistance in water sanitation. The bill would elevate the existing positions of water coordinator and special adviser for water resources within the U.S. State Department to improve diplomatic coordination of global freshwater issues. The bill has been referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee.
H.R. 3683, the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act – Introduced Dec. 15 by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Diana DeGette (D-CO), the bill would facilitate the advancement of hydropower projects nationwide. The bill has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment.
H.R. 3689, the Common Sense Waiver Act – Introduced Dec. 15 by Rep. Bill Owens (D-NY), the bill would authorize the Environmental Protection Agency to waive emission standards related to asbestos control in instances where there is good reason to believe a structure will collapse in the near future. The bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Considered by House Committee
On Dec. 15 the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs held an oversight hearing on the following bills:
H.R. 1171, the Marine Debris Act Reauthorization Amendments of 2011 – Introduced by Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), the bill would reauthorize the Marine Debris Research, Prevention and Reduction Act. It requires the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to address harm from ocean trash and promotes collaboration between federal and local governments.
S. 363, to authorize the Secretary of Commerce to convey property of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to the City of Pascagoula, Mississippi – Introduced by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), the bill authorizes the National Marine Fisheries Service to sell the Pascagoula City Council a parcel of land it owns near the river in exchange for a parcel of land currently being leased by NOAA for parking space. The federal government wants to develop the parcel for better parking and an education and outreach center.
Introduced in the Senate
S. 2001, the Rogue Wilderness Area Expansion Act of 2011 – Introduced Dec. 15 by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the bill adds 60,000 new acres of wilderness to the existing Wild Rogue Wilderness area near the Rogue River with the goal of protecting the area’s wildlife, which include the bald eagle, osprey, spotted owl, bear, elk and cougar.
S. 2018, the Long Island Sound Restoration & Stewardship Act – Introduced Dec. 16 by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), the bill would authorize $325 million over the next five years for environmental restoration of an estuary located between Connecticut and Long Island, NY. The bill has been referred to the Environment and Public Works Committee. A companion bill (H.R. 3717) has been introduced in the House by Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY).
Passed Senate Committee
On Dec. 15, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the following bipartisan energy bills:
S. 1108, the 10 Million Solar Roofs Act – Introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and John Boozman (R-AR), the bill would provide grants to local governments that invest in solar permitting.
S. 1142, the Geothermal Exploration and Technology Act – Introduced by Sen. John Tester (D-MT), the bill establishes a direct loan program for high risk geothermal exploration wells.
S. 1149, the Geothermal Production Expansion Act – Introduced by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mike Crapo (R-ID), the bill would allow noncompetitive leasing of lands surrounding a proven geothermal project rather than subjecting the lands to speculative bidders.
S. 1160, the Department of Energy Administrative Improvement Act – Introduced by Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the bill would institute administrative reforms within the Department of Energy.
Cleared for White House
H.R. 2845, the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011 – Introduced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), the bill authorizes regulatory activities of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, housed within the U.S. Department of Transportation. Among its provisions the bill empowers PHMSA to prescribe regulations for leak detection and integrity management of pipelines. Some of its provisions sought to address concerns raised from a July pipeline break that spilled 1,000 barrels of oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana. The bill passed the House by Dec. 12 by voice vote and subsequently passed the Senate without amendment by unanimous consent.
H.R. 1540, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 – Introduced by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), the bill authorizes $662 billion for programs under the Department of Defense. The bill also includes a number of energy provisions, many of which originated in the Department of Defense Energy Security Act, introduced in the previous Congress by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO). The authorization bill includes a requirement that the military write energy efficiency into its contracts with the companies that provide logistical support on the battlefield. It also authorizes training for staff responsible for meeting the military’s energy efficiency and renewable energy goals. The final bill passed the House Dec. 14 by a vote of 283-193. Forty-three House Republicans opposed the bill and the Democratic caucus split 93-93 for and against it. The bill subsequently passed the Senate by a vote of 86-13.
S. 278, Sugar Loaf Fire Protection District Land Exchange Act of 2011 – Introduced by Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), the bill would allow a land swap between Colorado’s Sugar Loaf Fire District and the U.S. Forest Service. The first district would acquire land beneath two of its three fire stations in exchange for five acres of land in the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest between the communities of Boulder and Nederland. The bill passed the House Dec. 16 by a vote of 413-0 after passing the Senate a month earlier by unanimous consent.
Sources: The Associated Press, Department of Energy, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, the Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Appropriations Committee, POLITICO, House Natural Resources Committee, Senate Appropriations Committee, Senate Commerce Transportation and Science Committee, the Washington Post, WaterWorld, the White House