August 17, 2012
In This Issue
On July 31, congressional leaders announced an agreement on federal appropriations funding that would avoid a government shutdown when current funding runs out at the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 on Sept. 30. The deal has the benefit of punting a contentious debate over federal spending levels for FY 2013 until after the November elections.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that Congress would take up a continuing resolution in September, reportedly free of riders, to fund the government through the end of March. Overall, the agreement would fund the government at $1.047 trillion for the six months beginning after Sept. 30. Politically, the move would give whichever party is in control of Congress and the White House next year the ability to set funding levels for the remainder of FY 2013. Given the closeness of the presidential election, both parties feel this works in their favor.
The deal also takes an issue off the table for what could be a potentially busy and contentious lame duck session. In addition to needing to address a swath of tax cuts set to expire at year’s end, Congress has still not yet reached agreement on how to handle across-the-board sequestration cuts instituted under the Budget Control Act. If Congress does not act before January, discretionary spending programs will receive an eight percent cut in funding totaling $109 billion.
As the deadline nears, the White House is working to determine which federal resources are legally exempt from sequestration. Thus far, the White House has issued a letter exempting military personnel from the sequestration cuts, placing additional fiscal strain on the remainder of the defense budget and other federal programs. On Aug. 7, the president also signed into law legislation requiring the administration to outline within 30 days how it would implement the $109 billion sequestration cuts.
On August 1, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee convened for a hearing on climate change science. The hearing marked the first time the committee had dedicated a hearing specifically focused on the issue since 2009.
In her opening statement, Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) referenced the National Academy of Sciences as well as reports from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautic Space Administration that state that humans are impacting climate change and that these changes are already having detrimental impacts on the environment including extreme weather conditions, droughts and melting glaciers.
“Climate change is real, human activities are the primary cause, and the warming planet poses a significant risk to people and the environment. To declare otherwise, in my view, is putting the American people in danger – direct danger,” stated Chairwoman Boxer. “The body of evidence is overwhelming, the world’s leading scientists agree, and predictions of climate change impacts are coming true before our eyes.”
In her statement, Chairwoman Boxer also referenced a New York Times article by former climate-skeptic Professor Richard Muller who stated: “Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.” In the article’s opening sentence, Muller proclaims “Call me a converted skeptic.”
In contrast, Ranking Member James Inhofe’s (R-OK) opening statement highlighted Congress’ failure to enact cap-and-trade legislation as a sign that “the global warming movement” has lost its popularity. His statement outlined a series of quotes from prominent newspapers, ranging from the New York Times to the Washington Post that suggest the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was flawed. During the hearing, Inhofe also referred to a statement by Roger Pielke Sr. discrediting Muller as “an attention getter.”
“In 2009 with a Democratic President, and overwhelming Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate, global warming alarmists were on top of the world – they thought they would finally reach their goal of an international agreement that would eliminate fossil fuels. Yet the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill didn’t happen,” stated Ranking Member Inhofe. He further criticized the administration’s efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, lamenting that “President Obama is doing through his bureaucracy what he couldn’t do legislatively.”
“We’ve been through this now for the past 3 and a half years and the results are clear: President Obama’s green energy agenda has been a disaster,” Inhofe continued. “The time has come to put these tired, failed policies to rest and embrace the US energy boom so that we can put Americans back to work, turn this economy around, become totally energy independent from the Middle East, and ensure energy security for years to come.”
Witnesses testifying included James McCarthy with the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University and Christopher Field, Professor of Biology and Environmental Earth Science at the Carnegie Institution for Science. McCarthy noted how new measuring tools implemented in the 2000s have perfected analyses of how sea levels have begun to rise and how glaciers are melting. Field emphasized that the changing climate leads to a change in the risk of extreme weather conditions and long-term higher temperatures.
Also testifying was John Christy of the University of Alabama in Huntsville. A climate change skeptic repeatedly invited by congressional Republicans, Christy asserted that there had been less extreme weather in the past decade than in previous decades and that a scientific consensus around climate change does not exist. “Climate change alone is a weak leg on which to stand to justify a centrally planned, massive change in energy production, infrastructure and cost,” he stated. Christy and Inhofe also charged that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has actively excluded scientists who do not represent the consensus viewpoint on climate change. During the question and answer portion, however, Christy admitted to Chairwoman Boxer that his reference to a research study claiming bias in station temperature readings had not been peer-reviewed.
“What we’re trying to do is provide sufficient information for policymakers to make good decisions to try to figure out ways to avoid the damages that come from climate change without providing unacceptable costs to the rest of society,” stated Field. “And we’re really trying to find smart ways to move forward, recognizing what’s happening, recognizing what the risks are and that there are consequences of using the atmosphere as a dump for greenhouse gasses just the same way there are consequences of making changes in the economy that are intended to alleviate those damages.”
The hearing’s second panel included Margo Thorning, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist for the American Council for Capital Formation, who asserted that businesses are taking a “no regrets” approach, preemptively preparing for the possible effects of climate change the way they would for any eventuality. While declining to comment on climate science, she cited several examples of what businesses are doing to cope with environmental changes, including the development of drought-resistant seeds that could be used if droughts become more prevalent as well as hardening their infrastructure to cope with extreme weather events. Chairwoman Boxer responded that Congress should join businesses in adopting a “no regrets” strategy on climate change.
Read Chairwoman Boxer’s full opening statement here:
Read Ranking Member Inhofe’s full opening statement here:
Richard Muller’s New York Times op-ed is available here:
This week, Governor Jerry Brown (D-CA) launched a new website entitled “climate change: just the facts.” The new site provides a clearinghouse of scientific data targeted towards informing visitors on the issue of climate change.
“The fact is that on the key issues, the science is clear: climate change is real and happening now; human-made greenhouse gas emissions are affecting our planet; and we need to take action,” the site’s main page states. “Just as we reached a point where we stopped debating whether cigarette smoke causes cancer, we need to end the climate change debate and focus on how to solve the problem.”
The website includes a list of 198 national and international scientific organizations, including the Ecological Society of America (ESA), that assert climate change is caused by human activities. In addition to the list, the website’s “scientific consensus” page includes links to climate change reports from the International Panel on Climate Change, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
View the full page here:
A link to ESA’s position statement on climate change is available here:
On July 30, the Obama administration announced two new efforts that seek to strengthen the role of science in management decisions related to energy development in Alaska.
Through the administration’s Interagency Working Group on Coordination of Domestic Energy Development and Permitting in Alaska (commonly known as the Alaska Interagency Working Group), will work towards to create a centralized hub on scientific information to inform policymakers and the general public. The working group will also work on a framework for evaluating potential infrastructure development in the Alaskan Arctic.
The science hub will be developed by the working group in partnership with the Arctic Research Commission and other members of the scientific community. Scientists and policymakers involved in the Alaska Interagency Working Group include Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes, Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Administrator Jane Lubchenco, United States Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt, National Science Foundation Director Subra Suresh, and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement Science Advisor to the Director Alan Thornhill.
According to the Department of Interior, the working group will outline its efforts in a report to the president by December 31, 2012. For additional information on the initiative, click here:
Northwest Reserve Management Plan Outlined
Interior has subsequently announced a management plan for the 22.5-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve in northwest Alaska (NPR-A).
According to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the plan would provide special management protections to 13 million acres while allowing access to the “vast majority” of oil and gas reserves and allowing consideration of a future construction of a pipeline to transport crude to market. The proposal has been praised by environmentalists who assert that the plan identifies most critical wildlife habitat in five recognized special areas while allowing oil and gas leasing on 11 million acres of the reserve.
The federal agency’s move has been met with skepticism among Alaska lawmakers. “I am very concerned about this choice by the Department of the Interior. The new preferred alternative still seems to close off several options for building a pipeline across the NPR-A,” said Mark Begich (D-AK) in a press statement. “We’ve known since the beginning that a pipeline across the NPR-A is a critical piece of the puzzle for successful Arctic development…However, today’s decision creates many more questions than answers about how we are going to get billions of barrels of oil from the Chukchi Sea into TAPS.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who currently serves as ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was also critical of the effort in a press statement. “Today, The Obama administration picked the most restrictive management plan possible. The environmentally sensitive Teshekpuk Lake area was already under a 10-year deferral for additional study, but this alternative goes vastly beyond that, putting half of the petroleum reserve off limits,” she said. “This decision endangers not only further exploration of the NPR-A, but also development of existing offshore leases in the Chukchi Sea.”
A finalized management plan is set to be published in Nov. 2012. More information on the NPR-A plan can be found here: http://www.blm.gov/npra/index.html
A study published in Science magazine this week reinforces the important role of citizen involvement in buttressing US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) work to identify species eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Authored by academic researchers Berry Brosi and Eric Bibler, the study found citizens’ ability to petition to list species for federal protection substantially aids the work of FWS, which is limited by budget and staff size. It found that citizen-initiated protected species actually face higher levels of biological threats, are more likely to be in conflict with development and include a greater portion of subspecies than those proposed by FWS.
The study comes amid attempts in the US House of Representatives to limit what some view as excessive petitions and litigations to list species. The report states that “calls to streamline the ESA and to rely exclusively on FWS to identify and list species might mean that a significant number of species that deserve legal protection – especially those that are politically unpopular because of the potential to obstruct development projects – would be left out in the cold.”
For more information on the study, click here:
The complete study is available here:
Approved by House Committee
On July 31, the House Natural Resources Committee approved the following bills:
H.R. 6089, the Healthy Forest Management Act of 2012 – Introduced by Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO), the bill would give states broad new authority to designate logging projects on federal lands to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire. The bill would allow governors to designate “high-risk areas” where the Forest Service would be required to implement emergency hazardous fuels reduction projects within 60 days. The bill passed by a vote of 28-19.
H.R. 2706 Billfish Conservation Act of 2011 – Introduced by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), the bill would ban the sale of billfish, which include marlins, spearfish and other prized game fish with pronounced bills. The measure exempts billfish caught in Hawaii and Pacific insular areas. The bill was approved by unanimous consent.
H.R. 5319 the Nashua River Wild and Scenic River Study Act – Introduced by Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA), the bill would designate parts of the Nashua River and its tributaries in Massachusetts and New Hampshire as wild and scenic. The committee adopted an amendment from Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) to require the report to also study how the designation would affect existing commercial and recreational activities, energy production and transmission, local zoning regulations and the authorities the Interior Department can use to condemn property. The bill was approved by unanimous consent.
H.R. 5544, the Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act – Introduced by Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN), the bill would authorize and expedite a land exchange in the Superior National Forest for about 86,000 state-owned acres in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Conservationists oppose the bill, stating that it undermines the existing environmental review process. The bill was approved 25-19.
H.R. 6060, the Endangered Fish Recovery Programs Extension Act of 2012 – Introduced by Rep. Bishop, the bill would reauthorize funding for the Upper Colorado River and San Juan River Basin endangered fish recovery programs, which expired in fiscal 2011. The bill was approved by unanimous consent.
On August 1, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the following bills limiting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations:
H.R. 2541, the Silviculture Regulatory Consistency Act – Introduced by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), the bill would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from requiring a water pollution permit for silviculture. EPA is planning to issue a rule stating that discharges from logging roads do not require National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits because they’re not included in the definition of “storm water discharge associated with industrial activity.” The bill, which is cosponsored by several moderate House Democrats, was approved by voice vote.
H.R. 4278, the Preserving Rural Resources Act – Introduced by Rep. Robert Hunt (R-VA), the bill would eliminate limits on Clean Water Act regulatory exemptions for agricultural activities. The committee approved the bill by a vote of 30-19.
H.R. 5961, the Farmer’s Privacy Act – Introduced by Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), the bill would amend the Clean Water Act to prohibit EPA from conducting aerial surveillance of farmland without voluntary written consent, public notice and a certification of reasonable suspicion that a violation has occurred. The measure was approved by voice vote.
H.R. 6233, the Agricultural Disaster Assistance Act of 2012 – Introduced by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), the bill authorizes $383 million for supplemental agricultural disasters assistance for Fiscal Year 2012. The bill offsets the cost of the funding by changes and funding reductions to the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program. The bill passed Aug. 2 by a vote of 223-197 with 35 Democrats voting with all but 46 Republicans in supporting the legislation. The bill is considered a non-starter in the Senate, whose Democratic leaders oppose the offset cuts to environmental programs.
Introduced in Senate
S. 3475, the Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act of 2012 – Introduced Aug. 1 by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), the bill would authorize $10 million in Fiscal Years 2013, 2014, and 2015 for National Science Foundation (NSF) grants to nonprofit organizations and university departments that seek to increase participation among women and underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The bill has been referred to the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee.
S. 3512, the Coal Ash Recycling and Oversight Act of 2012 – Introduced Aug. 2 by Sens. John Hoeven (R-ND), Kent Conrad (D-NT) and Max Baucus (D-MT), the bill would pre-empt Environmental Protection Agency regulation of coal ash disposal and create a state-led oversight system. The bill is meant to be more of a compromise in comparison to H.R. 2273, the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act, which passed the House last fall. The Senate bill includes additional requirements dealing with permitting, monitoring and inspections. Environmental groups contend the bill would still hinder federal regulators’ ability to shut down violators or enforce structural integrity. In addition to the three lead sponsors, the bill has 21 bipartisan cosponsors, including most of the Senate’s moderate Democrats and has been referred to the Environment and Public Works Committee.
S. 3509, the Everglades for the Next Generation Act – Introduced Aug. 2 by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the bill would provide for expedited project implementation relating to the comprehensive Everglades restoration plan authorized under the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2000. The lack of a new WRDA bill (which is supposed to be reauthorized every two years) has been cited by Everglades advocates as hindering the project’s implementation. Congress last passed a WRDA in 2007.
Signed into law
H.R. 205 – the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership (HEARTH) Act – Introduced by Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), the legislation allows native tribes to lease restricted lands for residential, business, public, religious, educational, or recreational purposes without the approval of the Secretary of the Interior. The president signed the measure July 30.
H.R. 5872, the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012 – Introduced by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), the bill gives the White House 30 days to provide a detailed report on how it plans to address a required $109 billion cut to discretionary spending programs beginning in Jan. 2013, enacted under the Budget Control Act. The president signed the measure on August 7.
Sources: AAAS, Center for Biological Diversity, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, the New York Times, POLITICO, Sacramento Bee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Stanford Report, the White House