January 13, 2016
In This Issue
For his final State of the Union address, President Obama sought a conciliatory and hopeful tone while requesting that Congress allay partisan tensions to reach consensus on advancing his remaining priorities.
“Now, I understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we will achieve this year are low. But, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach that you and other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families.”
Regarding his accomplishments and priorities, the president defended his administration’s actions to address climate change and increase investments in renewable energy.
“Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You will be pretty lonely because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it,” said Obama.
“But even if — even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record until 2015 turned out even hotter — why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?”
He also referenced the United Nations climate change agreement reached last year when pushing the need for American leadership worldwide.
“When we lead nearly 200 nations to the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change, yes, that helps vulnerable countries, but it also protects our kids.”
In the final portion of his speech, the president lamented that he had failed to alleviate brinksmanship between the two parties and called upon Congress and the American people to get engaged in improving discourse and the political process. President Obama suggested one solution could be allowing bipartisan entities to draw congressional districts instead of state legislatures.
“There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber — good people — who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base. I know; you’ve told me. It’s the worst-kept secret in Washington. And a lot of you aren’t enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor,” said President Obama.
“But that means if we want a better politics — and I’m addressing the American people now — if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a president. We have to change the system to reflect our better selves. But I can’t do these things on my own. Changes in our political process — in not just who gets elected, but how they get elected — that will only happen when the American people demand it. It depends on you. That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people.”
While there will be little political incentive for Congress and the administration to work together this election year, there will also be fewer opportunities for Republicans to block the president’s executive actions, at least until the fall. The federal government is funded through Sept. 30, and the debt ceiling is not expected to be reached again until sometime in 2017.
Click here to read the president’s full State of the Union remarks.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service published an interim rule that would prohibit the importation and trade of 201 salamander species. The rule is a preemptive effort to prevent the fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), which has decimated salamander populations in Europe through the pet trade, from spreading to native salamander populations in the United States. The Ecological Society of America (ESA) wrote a letter to the Service in November 2014 requesting the importantion ban. ESA Rapid Response member and amphibian expert, Dr. Karen Lips’ (University of Maryland), research on host-pathogen ecology and Bsal was used to inform the scientific understanding of Bsal’s threat.
The agency may grant permits for the importation and transportation of listed species for scientific, medical, educational or zoological purposes. The rule allows owners of listed animals to keep them as states allow but prohibits interstate transport for all animals listed as alive or dead under the rule.
The interim rule would take effect on Jan. 28, 2016. Click here for additional information.
Click here to read ESA’s letter to FWS.
On Jan. 7, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed to downgrade its listing of the West Indian manatee from “endangered” to “threatened.” The agency cites “significant improvements in its population and habitat conditions and reductions in direct threats” since the manatees’ listing as the rationale for the reclassification.
The Endangered Species Act defines an endangered species as one that is currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, and a threatened species as one that is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. The new listing does not affect current federal protections for the species.
According to FWS, the Florida manatee population has increased by 500 percent over the last 25 years. The agency worked with state and local officials to establish over 50 manatee protection areas that helped the species recover. Their full geographic range today includes at least 13,000 manatees.
Click here to view the full FWS announcement:
The US Senate voted to confirm Suzette Kimball as director of the US Geological Survey (USGS) on Dec. 18, one of its final acts before adjourning for the remainder of 2015.
President Obama first nominated Kimball in Jan. 2014. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee had approved her nomination in June 2014, but the full Senate had not voted on her before the 113th Congress adjourned at the end of that year, so the process began again when the 114th Congress convened in Jan. 2015. The nomination was also delayed in part because Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who chairs the committee, had concerns with various Department of Interior regulations that impact Alaska.
Having served as acting-director, Kimball’s general duties will not change. The USGS is uniquely non-partisan, given that it does not issue regulations and chiefly functions as the US Department of Interior’s science arm.
Click here to read Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s statement on the confirmation.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a preliminary pollinator risk-assessment that finds applying the pesticide imidacloprid to crops is harmful to the bees that pollinate them.
The assessment was prepared in collaboration with California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation. EPA also collaborated with Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency, which recently released an imidacloprid pollinator assessment that found the same preliminary conclusions as the EPA report.
The assessment is the first in a series of four risk assessments of neonicotinoid insecticides that are potentially harmful to pollinators. Preliminary pollinator risk assessments for the pesticides clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran are scheduled to be released for public comment in Dec. 2016.
Click here for additional information on EPA’s pollinator risk assessment activities.
The US Environmental Protection Agency is accepting nominations for its 2016 Environmental Merit Awards.
The awards are open to “scientists, community activists, business representatives, public officials and other individuals committed to preserving the environment” who reside within EPA’s Region 1 (New England). In addition to individuals, award categories are open to businesses, governmental entities and other organizations.
Nominations are due Feb. 12, 2016. Click here for additional information on specific award categories and the award nomination process.
Environmental Protection Agency
Notice: Public comments due March 7, 2016
Registration Review; Draft Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessments for Pesticides
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Proposed Rule: Public comments due March 14, 2016
90-Day Finding on a Petition To List the Oceanic Whitetip Shark as Threatened or Endangered Under the Endangered Species Act
US Fish and Wildlife Service
Interim Rule: Public comments due March 14, 2016
Listing Salamanders Due to Risk of Salamander Chytrid Fungus
Proposed Rule: Public comments due April 8, 2016
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-Month Finding on a Petition To Downlist the West Indian Manatee, and Proposed Rule To Reclassify the West Indian Manatee as Threatened
Proposed Rule: Public comments due Mar. 14, 2016
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-Day Findings on 17 Petitions on Caribbean skinks, grizzly bear (Cabinet-Yaak, MT population), Yellowstone bison, fisher and insect species.
US Forest Service
Proposed Rule: Public comments due Jan. 15, 2016
Extension of Comment Period on the Proposed Rule on Roadless Area Conservation; National Forests System Lands in Colorado
Notice: Public comments due Feb. 17, 2016
Revision of the Land Management Plan for the Chugach National Forest, Alaska
Considered in House
H.R. 1644, the Supporting Transparent Regulatory and Environmental Actions in Mining (STREAM) Act – Introduced by Rep. Alexander Mooney (R-WV), the bill would prohibit the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement from enforcing a rule intended to protect waterways from coal mining. The bill passed the House Jan. 12 by a vote of 235-188 with four Democrats joining all but 10 Republicans in voting for the measure.
The White House released a Statement of Administration Policy threatening to veto the bill, asserting it would “prevent the restoration of hundreds of streams, result in deterioration of water quality for thousands of stream miles, and create sustained regulatory uncertainty, as well as public health impacts for downstream communities.”
Click here to read the full statement.
S. 1115, the Grants Oversight and New Efficiency (GONE) Act – Introduced by Sens. Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), the bill would require agencies to close out expired grant accounts with zero-dollar balances and undisbursed funding. It would require federal agencies to submit a report to Congress that identifies remaining expired grants. Following the submission of this report to Congress, agencies would then have one year to confirm all expired grants are closed. Additionally, the inspector general of any agency receiving over $500 million in annual grant funding would be required to conduct a risk assessment to determine if an audit or review of the agency’s grant closeout process is necessary. The bill passed the House Jan. 11 by voice vote after passing the Senate by unanimous consent. The president is expected to sign the measure.
S.J.Res.22, Providing for congressional disapproval of the rule submitted by the Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency relating to the definition of “waters of the United States” under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act – Introduced by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), the joint resolution expresses disapproval of the Obama administration’s effort to clarify federal jurisdiction of waterways under the Clean Water Act. The bill passed the House Jan. 13 by a vote of 253-166 with 12 Democrats joining all but one Republican in voting for the resolution. The president is expected to veto the measure.
Vetoed by President
S.J.Res. 23, Providing for congressional disapproval of a rule submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency relating to relating to “Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from New, Modified, and Reconstructed Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units” – Introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the joint resolution expresses disapproval with the Clean Power Plan’s regulations on carbon pollution from new power plants or power plants undertaking significant modifications. The bill passed the House Dec. 1 by a vote of 235-188 after passing the Senate by a vote of 52-46. The president vetoed the measure on Dec. 18.
In the House, 10 Republicans joined all but four Democrats in opposing the resolution. Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte (NH), Susan Collins (ME) and Mark Kirk (IL) joined most Democrats and Independents in voting against the resolution. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (WV), Joe Donnelly (IN) and Heidi Heitkamp (ND) voted with the majority of Senate Republicans in support of the measure.
S.J.Res. 24, Providing for congressional disapproval of a rule submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency relating to “Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units” – Introduced by Sen. Shelley Moore-Capito (R-WV), the joint resolution expresses disapproval with the Clean Power Plan’s regulations on carbon pollution from existing power plants. The bill passed the House Dec. 1 by a vote of 242-180 after passing the Senate by a vote of 52-46.
In the House, two Republicans joined all but four Democrats in opposing the resolution. Republican Sens. Ayotte, Collins, and Kirk joined most Democrats and Independents in voting against the resolution. Democratic Sens. Manchin, Donnelly, and Heitkamp voted with the majority of Senate Republicans in support of the measure.
Signed into law
Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, P.L. 114-114 – Introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), the bill would ban the use of plastic microbeads in personal care products. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent Dec. 18 after passing the House earlier that month. The president signed the measure into law Dec. 28, 2015.
Sources: US Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, the White House, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, ClimateWire, Greenwire, National Journal, the New York Times, the Hill, Roll Call