February 1, 2013
In this Issue
BUDGET: CONGRESS PASSES BILL TO SUSPEND DEBT CEILING TEMPORARILY
On Jan. 23, the House passed H.R. 325, the No Budget, No Pay Act. The bill would temporarily eliminate the debt ceiling until May 19 while temporarily suspending pay for Members of Congress until the House and Senate each pass a budget. The measure prevents the nation from defaulting on its debt, potentially into August if the US Department of Treasury takes extraordinary measures.
The bill gives additional breathing room to a series of fiscal debates set to occur in March concerning budget sequestration and continuing appropriations for Fiscal Year 2013. A trigger of automatic across-the-board spending cuts to both defense and non-defense discretionary spending programs will occur on March 1 unless Congress can come up with a plan to reduce the debt beforehand.
Under H.R. 325, if either the House or Senate fails to pass a budget by the April 15 deadline, all income earned by the members of that chamber would be set aside. The members pay would be received in full once a budget is passed or on the final day of the 113th Congress at the end of calendar year 2014. The technical decision to withhold members pay as opposed to eliminating it indefinitely seeks to minimize conflicts with the 27th Amendment to the US Constitution, which prevents Congress from changing its pay after it has already convened. The bill also does not require both the House and Senate to pass the same budget, unlikely to occur, given the current party division between the two chambers.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 285-144. Speaker Boehner garnered the support of a majority of his conference with 199 out of 33 Republicans supporting the bill. Democrats were more divided with 86 supporting and 111 opposing the bill. While House Democratic leaders uniformly voted against the bill, they did not actively urge their members to oppose it. Both Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) referred to the bill as a political “gimmick” that does not add long-term certainty to the economy.
The White House affirmed that the president would sign the bill and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, noting the bill is “clean” of any spending cuts, affirmed that the Senate would take it up and pass the legislation. The Senate cleared the bill January 31 by a vote of 64-34. The Senate’s Democratic caucus was joined by Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte (NH), Roy Blunt (MO), Thad Cochran (MS), Susan Collins (ME), Lindsey Graham (SC), Dean Heller (NV), John Hoeven (ND), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Richard Shelby (AL), John Thune (SD), and Roger Wicker (MS) in voting for the bill. Democratic Sens. John Kerry (MA) and Patty Murray (WA) missed the vote.
Murray takes Senate Budget Committee reins
A new key player in federal debt talks this year will be Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), who assumes the chairmanship of the Senate Budget Committee. Even before the House legislation was finalized, Chairwoman Murray had pledged that the Senate would put forward and pass a budget this year, which would mark the first time the Senate has passed a budget since 2009. “At a time when our nation faces serious economic and fiscal challenges, I believe the Budget Committee can be a place where we come together to tackle them in a balanced way that works for middle class families,” she declared in a press statement. “I am looking forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to write a budget resolution that does exactly that.”
The Senate Budget Committee has posted a site that allows individuals to solicit their ideas on how to achieve fiscal reform as well as share stories of how federal investment has impacted them. “I plan to bring the voices of the American people into a budget process and conversation that is too often limited to bureaucrats and politicians,” stated Murray. “I am going to be asking people across the country to share their stories and ideas both online and in person. I am going to urge them to organize, advocate, and lobby for their budget values and priorities.”
To view the site and offer comments, click here:
WHITE HOUSE: PRESIDENT EMPHASIZES NEED TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE IN SECOND INAUGURAL ADDRESS
After a year of relative silence on the issue of climate change, President Obama gave the topic center stage in his second inaugural address.
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” said President Obama. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”
The president also spoke of how investing in renewable energy can help sustain the US economy as well as maintain its global competitiveness and encouraged environmental stewardship from the perspective of a religious calling. “The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise,” he said. “That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”
While comprehensive climate change legislation is unlikely to move in the 113th session of Congress, conservation advocates are expected to continue to push for federal agency regulations that curb greenhouse gas emissions and help deter and mitigate the multifaceted impacts of climate change. The Obama administration is also on track to publish the latest National Climate Assessment by the end of this calendar year.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS: KERRY EXPECTED TO PRIORITIZE CLIMATE ISSUES AT STATE DEPT
On Jan. 30, the Senate overwhelming voted to confirm former Senator John Kerry (D-MA) to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as Secretary of State by a vote of 94-3. The only “nay” votes came from Sens. Jon Coryn (R-TX), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and James Inhofe (R-OK).
During his decades in the Senate, Kerry has been a leader in efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change. When the House passed comprehensive climate change legislation in 2009, Kerry led the unsuccessful effort to pass similar legislation in the Senate. A former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has attended numerous meetings of the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change to advocate for global action on the issue.
Kerry’s confirmation hearing in the Senate offered a window into his environmental priorities at the state department. Upon questioning from Senators on his climate change advocacy, he affirmed that pursuing efforts to deter the impacts of climate change will not disadvantage the United States and went as far as contending that advocating investment in clean energy policy is something he would spend a great deal of time on during his tenure. “The solution to climate change is energy policy…I’ll be a passionate advocate, but not based on ideology, based on fact, based on science,” Kerry said.
On another issue, he was markedly less boastful or committal. The former senator would not firmly declare one way or the other where he stood with respect to approval of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline except to say that he would take a second look at the State Department standards used to determine the project’s environmental impact and would not make a decision until it comes across his desk.
In his farewell speech on the Senate floor, Kerry outlined three challenges that he believes have eroded the quality of federal policymaking including “the decline of comity, the deluge of money and the disregard for facts.” On that last subject, he noted “the last of these three obstacles that we have the ability, if not yet the will, to overcome is the unbelievable disregard for facts and science in the conduct of our affairs. It, like the first two, degrades our credibility abroad as well as at home.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee nominating hearing for Kerry is available here:
CLIMATE CHANGE: CONGRESSIONAL TASK FORCE REACHES OUT TO BUSINESS COMMUNITY
On Jan. 31, a newly formed bicameral congressional taskforce issued a letter to a wide array of business and industry organizations requesting their input on mitigating the impacts of climate change.
The letter was spearheaded by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), co-chairs of the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change. Recipients include over 300 businesses and organizations spanning a diverse set of interests including auto manufacturers, defense contractors, environmental groups, energy companies, food companies, retailers, national sports leagues, think tanks and universities.
“The recent draft report of the National Climate Assessment is the latest comprehensive study to confirm that climate change is occurring, that it is caused by human activity, and that its dangerous impacts are pervasive,” the letter asserts. “The consequences of climate change are disruptive and wide-ranging, from extreme heat and sea level rise to droughts and wildfires.”
The letter requests “a wide range of ideas” that include actions either “limited or far-reaching” through either existing authority or potentially new legislation. The letter also requests supporting information, including economic benefits, associated with recommended actions.
View the full letter, here:
For the total list of letter recipients, click here:
FWS: COASTAL WETLANDS RECEIVE $20 MILLION IN RESTORATION GRANTS
On Jan. 24, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced $20 million in grants to 24 coastal wetland restoration projects across 13 states and territories.
According to FWS, while wetlands make up only 10 percent of the nation’s land area, they provide habitat for 75 percent of migratory birds, nearly 80 percent of fish and shellfish in the United States, and half of all threatened and endangered species. The federal funding will be matched by $21.3 million in partner contributions from state and local governments, private landowners and conservation groups.
The National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program is administered by FWS and funded under provisions of the 1990 Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act. Funding is provided by Sport Fish Restoration Act revenue generated from an excise tax on fishing equipment, motorboat and small engine fuels.
States and territory recipients of the grants include American Samoa, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. For a full list of project recipients, click here:
PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: MARINE MAMMALS AT RISK UNDER NAVY TRAINING PROPOSAL
On Jan. 24, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service proposed two rules that would allow millions of marine mammals to be harmed during Navy training in the Atlantic as well as in training ranges in Hawaii and Southern California.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the rule would allow the Navy to engage in training operations that could harass, injure or kill dolphins, whales, seals and other marine mammals over 31 separate instances between 2014-2019. The total instances of disruption amount to three times what the Navy was granted in the previous five year period.
Navy officials contend that their operations include protective measures to minimize harm to marine mammals. These include placing lookouts onboard ships to watch for marine life and power down operations if marine mammals are sighted and restricting activities in migratory routes and sensitive areas. Environmental groups contend these measures are inadequate and are seeking additional actions, including the exclusion of ocean areas with critical marine mammal habitat.
Comments on the proposals should be sent to the following address:
P. Michael Payne, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division
Office of Protected Resources
National Marine Fisheries Service
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Spring MD 20910-3225
Electronic comments on the proposals can be sent via the Federal eRulemaking Portal
http://www.regulations.gov using the identifier “0648-BC82” for the Atlantic rulemaking and the identifier “0648-BC52” for the Pacific rulemaking. Comments must be received by March 11, 2013.
Additional information on the Atlantic rulemaking is available here:
Additional information on the Pacific rulemaking is available here:
POLICY ENGAGEMENT: ESA ANNOUNCES 2013 GSPA RECIPIENTS
The Ecological Society of America has announced the 2013 recipients of its annual Graduate Student Policy Award: Matthew Berg (Texas A&M University), Lindsay Deel (West Virginia University), Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie (Boston University) and Carlos Silva (University of Maryland). The four students will travel to Washington, DC to participate in policy training sessions as well as meetings with decision-makers on Capitol Hill in April.
Berg has spent years working with a variety of local landowners and natural resource managers in central Texas on ecological issues related to water supply and drought, agriculture, energy and water quality. Deel’s environmental geography work focuses on developing new satellite imagery-based measurements to track and manage nutrient pollution from forested areas within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. McDonough MacKenzie is researching climate change impacts on plant communities in Acadia National Park to better equip park managers to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Silva’s Ph.D. research focuses on remote sensing of tropical rainforest structure and dynamics and he holds a master’s degree in economics and public policy. .
The two-day event is sponsored by the Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition, co-chaired by ESA. For additional information on this year’s GSPA recipients, click here:
Introduced in the House
H.Res. 41, expressing support for designation of February 12, 2013, as Darwin Day – Introduced Jan. 22 by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), the resolution would express the support of the House of Representatives for the designation of Feb. 12, 2013 as Darwin Day and recognize the importance of science for the betterment of humanity. The bill has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
H.Res. 44, supporting the designation of 2013 as the “Year of the Federal Lab” – Introduced Jan. 23 by Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), the bill expresses the sense of the House of Representatives that federal laboratories have been and continue to be on the cutting edge of scientific and technological advancement and supports the designation of 2013 as the “Year of the Federal Lab.” The bill has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
H.Res. 45, expressing the sense that it is imperative that the United States creates a clear vision and goal to be the world leader in innovation, science, technology, engineering, and math – Introduced Jan. 23 by Rep. Fattah (D-PA), the bill expresses the sense of the House of Representatives that it must: 1) create a clear vision and goal for the United States to be the world leader in innovation and science, technology, engineering, and math; 2) ensure that at least 3 percent of US gross domestic product is dedicated to research and development; 3) encourage more students to study math and science; and 4) recognize that the resilient US spirit will carry us through the current challenges we face to once again be the clear leader in innovation, research and development. The bill has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
H.R. 367, the Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act of 2013 – Introduced Jan. 23 by Rep. Todd Young (R-IN), the bill would require congressional approval of any federal agency rule that would have an annual impact on the economy of $100 million or more. The bill has 128 original cosponsors and is similar to legislation that passed the House in the 112th Congress. It has been referred to the Judiciary, Rules and Budget Committees.
H.R. 399, Levee Vegetation Review Act – Introduced Jan. 23 by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), the bill would require the Army Corps to review its policy about vegetation on levees. The legislation comes in response to California state natural resource managers who contend that removing trees and other vegetation from levees can destroy important habitat for endangered species. The bill has 25 original cosponsors, all California Democrats with the exception of Ken Calvert (R-CA). The bill has been referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
H.R. 433, the Pine Forest Wilderness Act – Introduced Jan. 29 by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), the bill would designate 26,000 acres of wilderness within the Blue Lakes and Alder Creek wilderness study areas while releasing 1,500 acres of protected lands into multiple use. The bill is identical to bipartisan legislation introduce in the previous Congress supported by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV). It has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.
Introduced in the Senate
S. 7, the Extreme Weather Prevention and Resilience Act – Introduced Jan. 22 by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), the bill would express the sense of the Senate that Congress should: 1) promote investment to ensure resilience to extreme weather and disasters; 2) promote investment in clean energy infrastructure; 3) promote the development of clean energy technologies; and 4) ensure that the federal government is a leader in reducing pollution, promoting the use of clean energy sources, and improving energy efficiency. The bill has 21 original cosponsors, all Democrats and has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
S. 45, the West Coast Ocean Protection Act of 2013 – Introduced Jan. 22 by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the bill prohibits the Secretary of the Interior from issuing a lease for the exploration, development, or production of oil or natural gas in any area of the outer Continental Shelf off the coast of California, Oregon, or Washington. Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) are all original cosponsors of the legislation. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
S. 51, the Fish and Wildlife Foundation Reauthorization Act of 2013 – Introduced Jan. 22 by Sen. Boxer (D-CA), the bill reauthorizes the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), established by Congress in 1984 to preserve wildlife habitats through grants and private investment. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Companion legislation (H.R. 263) has been introduced in the House by Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY).
S. 125, Strategic Response to Asian Carp Invasion Act – Introduced Jan. 24 by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), the bill would direct the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, in coordination with the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Park Service, and the United States Geological Survey, to lead a multiagency effort to slow the spread of Asian carp in the Upper Mississippi and Ohio river basins and tributaries. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
S. 170, the Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act – Introduced Jan. 29 by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), the bill would require that Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands be opened for hunting and fishing unless such activities are deemed incompatible with public safety, energy development, private property rights or other factors. When the bill was introduced last Congress, the Wilderness Society and National Parks Conservation Association opposed language they asserted could allow motorized use in backcountry areas or target shooting at historic sites. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Signed into law
H.R. 152, the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act– Introduced by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY), the legislation provides $50 billion in disaster relief to areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy. It includes $17 billion in immediate relief assistance and $33 billion in long-term relief for programs to prevent or deter damage from future natural disasters. The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 62-36. Senate Democrats were joined by Republicans Lamar Alexander (TN), Thad Cochran (MS), Susan Collins (ME), Dean Heller (NV), John Hoeven (ND), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Richard Shelby (AL), David Vitter (LA) and Roger Wicker (MS) in supporting the bill. The president signed the measure into law on Jan. 29.
Sources: ClimateWire, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, National Marine Fisheries Service, Natural Resources Defense Council, POLITICO, Senate Budget Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Washington Post, the White House