January 15, 2015

In This Issue


On Jan. 9, the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 3, the Keystone XL Pipeline Act, which would approve construction of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline. The bill passed by a vote of 266-153, over 20 votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto. Twenty-eight Democrats voted with all Republicans to support the bill.

Approval of the pipeline has been held up for years due to route alterations and court litigation. The most recent judicial hurdle was overcome when the Nebraska Supreme Court last week upheld a 2012 law granting the Nebraska governor permitting authority for the pipeline. The court decision was announced just hours before the House voted.

The White House has threatened to veto the bill, stating Congress’s move to legislatively approve the pipeline “conflicts with longstanding executive branch procedures regarding the authority of the president and prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues that could bear on US national interests (including serious security, safety, environmental, and other ramifications).”

Meanwhile, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee marked-up and approved its own Keystone pipeline bill (S. 1, the Keystone XL Pipeline Act) on Jan. 8 by a vote of 13-9. The bill will be debated on the Senate floor this week. At least 60 Senators have committed to voting for the bill, making it likely Obama will have to exercise his first veto in several years.

Over the course of this week, Senators will seek to add a number of amendments to the base bill. Among them, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will seek to attach language declaring that climate change caused by humans is a serious threat. Politically, the amendment seeks to put Senators’ views on climate science on the record. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is expected to offer amendments that would lift the oil export ban and speed approval of export permits for liquid natural gas.

Several Senators will seek to offer renewable energy and energy savings amendments. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) will offer as an amendment, a smaller version of a bipartisan energy-efficiency bill he worked on with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).

The final Senate bill (S.1) will need to be reconciled with the House bill (H.R. 3) as both chambers must pass an identical bill before it can reach the president’s desk.

Click here to read the White House Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 3.


Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who chaired the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for the past eight years, announced she will retire when her term expires at the end of the 114th session of Congress.

Sen. Boxer has long been an advocate of women’s rights and addressing global climate change. She has been a staunch proponent of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan and defender of its efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. During her tenure as chair, she held numerous hearings on climate change featuring testimony from Ph.D. climate science experts. Along with Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), she serves as co-chair of the Senate Climate Change Clearinghouse. She is also a member of the Senate Oceans Caucus.

Boxer was first elected to the US House of Representatives in 1982, representing a California congressional district that included Marin and Sonoma counties. After serving in the House for nearly a decade, she ran for the open seat vacated by retiring Sen. Alan Cranston (D-CA).

Democrats are anticipating retaining the open seat. Their chances are aided because the Senate race will occur during a presidential election year, when turnout among voters peaks. California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced her attention to pursue the seat on Jan. 12 and is perceived as an early frontrunner.

Click here to view Senator Boxer’s retirement announcement.


Democrats announced their picks to serve in the top positions on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittees, which has the authority to draft bills to fund federal agencies for the coming fiscal year.

In the Republican-controlled Senate, top committee Democrats will occupy the position of “ranking member” as Republicans take the reigns as committee and subcommittee chairs.  Republicans have yet to name their appropriations subcommittee chairs.

Enclosed are the Senate ranking members for appropriations subcommittees of interest to the ecological community:

Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies: Jeff Merkley (D-OR)

Commerce Justice and Science and Related Agencies: Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) (also full committee ranking member)

Energy and Water Development: Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

Department of Interior, Environment and Related Agencies: Tom Udall (D-NM)

For a full list of subcommittee ranking members, click here.


On Jan. 8, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) announced his subcommittee chairs for the 114th Congress.

Notably, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) will chair the Space, Science and Competitiveness Subcommittee, which will have oversight over the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation and other federal science programs.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) will chair the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee, which will have oversight over the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and any federal initiatives that impact oceans or marine life.

Click here for a full listing of subcommittee chairs.


On Jan. 14, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rodgers (R-KY) formally announced the appropriations subcommittee membership for the 114th Congress.

Notably, John Culberson (R-TX) succeeds retiring Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) as chairman of the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Returning subcommittee chairs include Interior Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert (R-CA), Energy and Water Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R-AL).

Click here for a full listing of subcommittee chairs and Republican members for the 114th Congress.


On Jan. 13, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) announced the subcommittee chairs and vice chairs for the 114th Congress. The committee has jurisdiction over legislation to reauthorize federal science programs.

Below are the new subcommittee chairs and vice chairs:

Subcommittee on Energy

Chairman Randy Weber (R-TX)

Vice-Chairman Dan Newhouse (R-WA)

Subcommittee on Environment

Chairman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK)

Vice-Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-AR)

Subcommittee on Oversight

Chairman Barry Loudermilk (R-GA)

Vice-Chairman Bill Johnson (R-OH)

Subcommittee on Research and Technology

Chairwoman Barbara Comstock (R-VA)

Vice-Chairman John Moolenaar (R-MI)

Subcommittee on Space

Chairman Steven Palazzo (R-MS)

Vice-Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL)

Click here to view the full press statement.


On Jan. 12, the US Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to a US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) initiative to protect California’s delta smelt. The fish, endemic to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region, are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

FWS in 2008 set limits on water-pumping activities that threatened the species and their ecosystem. Farmers and state water regulators had asked the court to overturn the FWS restrictions. The court’s refusal to take the case lets stand a 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding the FWS regulatory effort.


On Jan. 14, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled its first-ever regulations for methane emissions.

The move is part of the administration’s larger Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. EPA will seek to cut emissions from the oil and gas industry by 40–45 percent compared to 2012 levels by the year 2025. Methane emissions account for 10 percent of greenhouse emissions, yet have 25 times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide over a 100 year period, according to EPA.

Reaction in Congress was divided along partisan lines as has been the case with most EPA regulatory efforts. The senior Republican and Democrat members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has oversight jurisdiction over EPA, both released statements:

“The EPA has once again announced plans to impose a mandate designed to stifle our domestic energy industries despite the successful voluntary steps made by US oil and gas companies to reduce methane emissions.  This EPA mandate from the Obama administration will not only increase the cost to do business in America, but it will ultimately limit our nation’s ability to become fully energy independent,” stated Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK). “This will impact everyday Americans, from the cost to heat their homes to the reliability of consistent electricity to keep the family business competitively operating.” 

“The president’s plan will require the oil and gas industry to reduce methane leaks, which is a potent source of climate pollution. Congress can support this effort by passing the bipartisan Murphy-Collins Super Pollutants Act, which identifies practical steps that will aid in reducing methane emissions,” stated Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA). “By cutting industrial methane pollution, we can protect our children and future generations from the worst impacts of climate change.”

Click here for additional information.


National Science Foundation

Notice: Public comment period closes Feb. 13, 2015

Request for comments on implementation of proposed NSF management fee policy.


Council on Environmental Quality

Notice: Public comment period closes Feb. 23, 2015

Revised draft federal agency guidance on consideration of greenhouse gas emissions and effects of climate change on National Environmental Policy Act reviews.


US Fish and Wildlife Service

Proposed rule: Public comment period closes Mar. 2, 2015

A petition to delist the coastal California gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica californica) and a petition to list the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus plexippus) under the Endangered Species Act. 


Environmental Protection Agency

Proposed rule: Public comment period closes Mar. 17, 2015

A proposal to revise national ambient air quality standards for ozone.


Passed House

H.R. 23, the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act Reauthorization of 2015 – Introduced by Reps. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) and Frederica Wilson (D-FL), the bill reauthorizes the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program, implemented by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The program carries out research to help mitigate damage from windstorms such as hurricanes and tornadoes.  The bill passed the House Jan. 7 by voice vote and has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

H.R. 34, the Tsunami Warning, Education and Research Act of 2015 – Introduced by Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), the bill would reauthorize and strengthen tsunami detection, forecasting, warning and research programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The bill passed the House Jan. 7 by voice vote and has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

H.R. 35, the Low-Dose Radiation Research Act of 2015 – Introduced by Reps. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) and Dan Lipinski (D-IL), the bill continues the Department of Energy’s Low-Dose Radiation Research Program and directs the National Academies to develop a long-term strategy to determine the level of radiation that the human body can safely absorb. The bill passed the House Jan. 7 by voice vote and has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

H.R. 185, the Regulatory Accountability Act – Introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the bill would impose new requirements on federal rulemaking. The bill expands guidance and review criteria for rules that would cost the economy over $100 million. The bill passed the House Jan. 13 by a vote of 250-175 with eight Democrats joining all Republicans in voting for the bill.

The Obama administration threatened to veto the bill, stating the bill would “make the regulatory process more expensive, less flexible, and more burdensome – dramatically increasing the cost of regulation for the American taxpayer and working class families.”

Click here to read the full Statement of Administration Policy on the bill:


Sources: US Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House, House Appropriations Committee House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Senate Appropriations Committee, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, LA Times, POLITICO