November 9, 2012
In this Issue
The 2012 elections resulted in the continuation of a divided government with both parties more or less playing with the same hand they held before the election. President Obama remains in the White House, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) retains control of the Senate (albeit with a slightly more cushioned majority) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) retains control of the House with a substantial majority of over 230 Republican members.
The re-election of President Obama generally means no significant policy changes for federal agencies. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) continues its National Oceans Policy, the Department of Interior’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative remains intact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will continue its regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions and its current Clean Water Act and mountain-top removal mining policies will be sustained. The Department of State will continue its review of the Keystone XL pipeline with its early 2013 date on whether it will approved.
The great unknown is who among the federal agency heads will be staying on to implement these policies. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are among a list of cabinet officials who insiders have speculated may exit their posts either before or not too long after the start of President Obama’s second term in January 2013.
In the 112th Congress, the US House of Representatives was arguably at its most polarized in recent memory. With most of the tea party and progressive Democratic players expected to return, this is unlikely to change. If anything, partisan state redistricting efforts controlled by Democrats in Illinois and Maryland and by Republicans in North Carolina and Texas, among other states, have left the lower chamber slightly more partisan than before, siphoning off even more blue dog Democrats and moderate Republicans. These redistricting efforts have led to the loss or retirements of a few members who were particularly friendly to science issues: Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL), Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), and Brad Miller (D-NC). All three had served on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee at some point during their tenures. House Members friendly to science who lost primaries earlier this year include Reps. Hansan Clarke (D-MI) and Russ Carnahan (D-MO).
US House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is expected to retain his role as is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). Congress’s first order of business, upon returning for its lame-duck session next week will be to address the fiscal cliff, a combination of automatic spending cuts enacted under the Budget Control Act and a series of expiring tax cuts enacted under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama. Speaker Boehner has declared that House Republicans are prepared to embrace a deficit reduction deal that includes revenue increases so long as those increases are coupled with further non-defense discretionary spending cuts and mandatory spending reductions. The Speaker has forewarned, however, that any revenue increases should be made through reforms to the tax code that closes loopholes, not through tax increases on the wealthiest Americans or small businesses.
House Republican Committee leaders have a six-year limit on chairmanships, regardless of whether Republicans are in the majority or minority at the time. This means that some members, including House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX), will be stepping down this year. To date, three Republicans have announced their desire to serve as Science Committee Chair: Lamar Smith (TX), Jim Sensenbrenner (WI) and Dana Rohrbacher (CA).
Members need a waiver from leadership to serve beyond the six-year limitation. One committee chairman who may obtain such a waiver is House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), in lieu of his increased national stature and after running on the Republican 2012 presidential ticket. Absent a waiver, potential candidates for the new chairmanship could include Scott Garrett (R-NJ) or Jim Jordan (R-OH).
The leadership make-up among House Democrats remains somewhat more of a mystery. Most committee leaders are expected to retain their post. The open question is who will lead the party at large in the House. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has postponed leadership elections until after Thanksgiving break, fueling speculation that she is, at the very least, considering whether or not she wants to retain her post. Net gains for the Democrats in the House fell far short of the 25 seats they needed to win back the House and the 2010 redistricting makes it unlikely they will retain the majority again before the next president takes office.
A decision by Pelosi to step down would pave the way for current Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) to run to succeed her as well as open opportunities for other Democrats to seek open leadership positions. Heath Schuler (D-NC), who ran against Pelosi after the last election, is retiring this year. The House Democratic caucus will hit a new milestone in January 2013 – for the first time – its white male members will be in the minority while women and racial minorities will make up a majority of the party. Tulsi Gabbard, elected to Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, will be the nation’s first Hindu Member of Congress.
Republican control of the House means that many of the attempts to legislatively delist species from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, prohibit funding for NOAA’s proposed climate service, roll back Department of Interior and EPA regulations intended to protect the environment and cut or limit discretionary spending on certain science initiatives, will also continue over the next two years. House committee oversight hearings that are highly critical of various administration regulations and initiatives will also continue under the current majority.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) retains control of the Senate, partially due to a weak field of gaffe-prone tea-party driven Senate candidates, who also stifled significant gains for the Senate GOP in 2010. Like the House, the Senate also reaches a diversity milestone with a record 20 women elected to the chamber next year. These include Senators-elect Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), the nation’s first openly gay Senator. Hirono will be the first Asian-American female Senator.
Most of the committees retain the same leaders, although the overall make-up of the committees and the Senate itself stands to be slightly more polarized with the loss of crucial pragmatists with a history of effectively reaching across the aisle. These include Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), who was pivotal in securing bipartisan support for reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act in late 2010. Other notable departing pragmatists include Sens. Dick Lugar (R-IN), Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME). Also leaving is Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND). Conrad is expected to be succeeded by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), who also co-chaired the failed Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, commonly known as the “super-committee.”
On the one hand, the replacement of pragmatic Republicans like Lugar and Scott Brown (R-MA) with Democrats gives Reid a few more reliable votes on certain party-line issues. However, it also decreases the number of Republican members he can lean on to reach across the aisle and help him deliver the 60-vote threshold necessary to move more contentious bills through the Senate. Reid’s padded majority gains have also led to speculation that the majority leader may seek to limit the ability of the minority to filibuster in the next Congress.
For a full listing of departing House and Senate members in the 112th Congress, click here:
For a profile listing of all the newly elected House and Senate members, click here:
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee is expected to have a new chairman the first time it gavels in next year. Nonetheless, the list of top contenders suggest existing Chairman Ralph Hall’s (R-TX) tenure, defined in part by a war with NOAA over its climate service proposal, persistent skepticism on scientific climate change data and increased regulatory oversight, will continue regardless of who secures the chairmanship.
The three main contenders are Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who previously chaired the committee for four years between 1997-2001. Ralph Hall is forced to step down under the House Republican conference’s six year term limit rules (Hall served as the ranking Republican for four years when Democrats held the majority).
Both Sensenbrenner and Rohrabacher are vocal climate skeptics. Rep. Smith, however, appears to be more moderately conservative on climate science. On his website under the environmental tab is the following sentiment: “Like many Americans, I am concerned about the environment. The Earth has undergone tremendous change in the past and is experiencing similar change now. Climate change has the potential to impact agriculture, ecosystems, sea levels, weather patterns and human health. It is our responsibility to take steps to improve the quality of our land, water and air for ourselves and for future generations. We can do this by developing and expanding clean energy technologies, relying less on foreign oil, and utilizing a common sense approach to conservation.”
Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) is expected to continue on as the ranking member. However, Energy and Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Brad Miller (D-NC) is retiring.
Several key environmental committees will see changes, brought on by Republican self-imposed six-year term limits and retirements from both parties.
Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-ID), is expected to be succeeded by David Vitter (R-LA). To the dismay of many concerned about global warming, Inhofe will nonetheless remain a member of the committee. Vitter does not hold Inhofe’s reputation of being a vocal climate skeptic, however, has consistently opposed Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency regulations. Vitter is expected, however, to continue Inhofe’s bipartisan collaboration with Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) on working to reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act.
Retiring Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Ranking Member Hutchinson will be succeeded by Jim DeMint (R-SC), an ardent tea party supporter. The committee has oversight over National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration issues. It is not yet known which Republican will succeed Olympia Snowe (R-ME) as ranking member of the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard subcommittee. Immediately next in line are Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Johnny Isakson (R-OK).
Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) is among the leading contenders to succeed retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) as chairman of the Select Committee on Indian Affairs. Udall’s father, the late Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, was a major advocate for tribal rights. Other prospective successors include Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Jon Tester (D-MT).
Retiring Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) is expected to be succeeded by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who currently serves as chairman of the Public Lands and Forests Subcommittee.
The issue of climate change, mentioned in none of the three presidential debates this election season, was brought to the forefront when Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast.
The hurricane caused an estimated $30-$50 billion in damages to the East Coast. Repairing New York City’s infrastructure, predominantly its subway tunnels, electricity grid and communications network is going to make up a significant chunk of the cost. But flooded, burned-down and wind-torn residences along the Northeast Coast will make up the majority of insured losses. While the Federal Emergency Management Agency has $7.8 billion in reserve funds to help address the storm, some lawmakers representing affected areas in New York and New Jersey contend that additional emergency spending may be necessary. Congressional aides from both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill, though have stated that, given the current reserve funding, talk of additional funding may be premature.
While climate change connection wasn’t emphasized on the campaign trail by either of the two leading presidential candidates, prominent New York officials maintained that the link was irrefutable. “Anyone who says that there’s not a dramatic change in weather patterns I think is denying reality,” stated New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY). “I told the president the other day: ‘We have a 100-year flood every two years now,'” he continued.
“Our climate is changing,” stated New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it may be – given the devastation it is wreaking – should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”
House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Energy and Power Subcommittee Ranking Member Bobby Rush (D-IL) issued a letter to committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) requesting a lame-duck session hearing on links between Hurricane Sandy and climate change. The letter is among a series penned by Waxman urging for hearings on climate science, yet Upton has, thus far, not responded.
Climate scientists caution against tying any individual hurricane or natural disaster to global warming while noting that human influences on climate change does lead to an overall increase in extreme weather events.
New York farmers impacted
Road closures and power outages from the storm temporarily hindered agricultural commerce in the state of New York. The strife to consumers in urban regions dealing with the impacts of the hurricane has meant that growers are experiencing a drop in customers. According to Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, damage to actual crops was minimal due to the fact that the harvest period had passed for most crops. However, had the storm occurred just a few weeks earlier, the damage could have been significant. New York state agriculture is worth about $4.4 billion in sales and the state is the second largest apple producer in the country. Other important crops include grapes, various row vegetables, corn for animal feed and greenhouse-grown flowers.
National Park Service employees dispatched
The National Park Service (NPS) had over 200 federal employees from across the nation on the ground in New York and New Jersey to assist in recovery efforts in the wake of hurricane Sandy. Among the parks and sites hardest hit by the storm were the Gateway National Recreation Area, the 10 national parks of New York Harbor, the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, Fire Island National Seashore, Morristown National Historical Park and Thomas Edison National Historical Park. NPS teams were also sent to assess damage to the Statue of Liberty National Monument.
USGS Scientists collect geographic data
United States Geological Survey scientists have been deployed across Sandy-impacted areas to evaluate various ecological implications of the hurricane. The data collected will be used in part to forecast the broad changes a storm has on natural land and waterways surrounding communities and assess the effectiveness of cleanup efforts. This monitoring will include sampling water quality and tracking nutrient continent in run-off. Excessive nutrients from farms and suburban areas can create dead-zones in the nation’s waterways that can be detrimental to plant and animal life.
NFWF launches ecological impacts fund
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) launched the Hurricane Sandy Wildlife Response fund with $250,000 to research the storm’s ecological implications for wildlife. The organization is also concerned about potential impacts of raw sewage, sediment and pollution seeping into waterways. NFWF will provide small grants to federal agencies, states and conservation groups to assess impacts to natural habitats ranging from Delaware Bay to Long Island Sound. For additional information on the program, click here:
To view the Waxman letter, click here:
New reports outline potential options to postpone or cope with the pending fiscal cliff, a combination of automatic discretionary spending cuts and tax increases, set to go into effect in January.
Partially due to 2010 redistricting, Republicans retained their significant hold on the House with increased polarization among members on both sides of the aisle. Meanwhile Democrats have buttressed their majority in the Senate and the President won the electoral college and the popular vote with a fairly resounding majority. These political dynamics will make the effort to come up with a compromise that can sail through both the House and Senate a steep hill to climb. The chief wedge in compromise is over whether and how to extend the Bush tax cuts.
A report from OMB Watch suggests that the federal agencies may be able to buy Members of Congress a few weeks to come up with a deal in January that averts the discretionary spending cuts, commonly referred to as budget sequestration. According to the report the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has apportionment authority that could enable it to accelerate spending for programs over a brief period in 2013, which would temporarily offset sequestration’s impacts. Accelerating funding could also temporarily prevent furloughs and layoffs of federal workers for the first few weeks of the year.
The government could also delay the announcement of new contracts and federal grants, as well as prioritize existing grants. Further, the report notes that most education funding to the states, including Title I, is advance-funded. The administration has already indicated that these types of education programs will not be affected by sequestration until July.
Overall, the effectiveness of these efforts would still all be contingent on Congress coming to an agreement within the first few weeks of the new year that nullifies sequestration for the remainder of the year. According to a report released Nov. 8 from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), it would be better for the country for Congress to address the overall fiscal cliff sooner rather than later.
According to CBO, allowing the scheduled tax increases and spending cuts to go into effect would cause the economy to shrink by 0.5 percent in 2013. The unemployment rate would rise again to 9.1 percent, up from the current 7.9 percent. The report concludes that If Congress blocked the spending cuts and extended all of the expiring tax cuts, excluding the payroll tax cut, the economy would grow by 2.25 percent next year. Including the payroll tax cut and an extension of unemployment benefits would push growth closer to three percent.
Republicans will likely make note of the reports’ contention that preventing the tax cuts for all Americans would save or create 1.8 million jobs. Democrats may make note of the fact that extending the tax cuts just for those making under $250,000 would save or create 1.6 million jobs, an arguably not entirely different picture than extending the rates for the wealthiest Americans. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already asserted that the difference in growth through extending tax cuts for the wealthy is a difference of a tenth of a percent. Fiscal concerns aside, the report affirms that extending all the tax cuts would give the biggest boost to the economy.
To read the OMB Watch report, click here:
To view the CBO report, click here:
On Nov. 8, the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) trustees announced the release of a draft restoration plan to recover habitat for nesting birds and sea turtles that were impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The plan includes two proposed projects totaling $9 million. The first project intends to protect nesting habitat for beach-nesting birds from disturbance caused by oil spill response activities. The project would be conducted on beaches along the Florida panhandle and on the Alabama and Mississippi coasts. The second project proposes to reduce artificial lighting impacts on nesting habitat for loggerhead turtles, also affected by oil response activities.
Comments will be taken through Dec. 10, 2012. For further information or to comment, click here:
Sources: Congressional Budget Office, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee, National Journal, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the New York Times, OMB Watch, POLITICO, Roll Call