July 27, 2016
In This Issue
Zika funding remains at an impasse as Congress adjourned for summer recess. On Thursday, July 14 Senate Democrats refused, for the second time, to accept Republican-backed $1.1 billion Zika funding provisions in the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill (H.R.2577) that includes controversial amendments added in conference. The Senate Democrats, many previously supporting the bill, are objecting to House-added riders that prohibit funds to Planned Parenthood and other contraception providers; cut $540 million from the Affordable Care Act; cut $500 million in veterans’ funding; and reverse a ban on using federal funds to fly Confederate flags in military cemeteries.
The bill would also suspend Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules on pesticide spraying under the Clean Water Act and contradict court rulings protecting waterways. Originally introduced as the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2015 and later renamed the Zika Vector Control Act, H.R.897, now incorporated into H.R.2577, would prohibit the EPA and state agencies from requiring a permit under the Clean Water Act for discharge into navigable waterways of pesticides otherwise authorized for sale.
Democratic leaders and the White House characterize the Zika Vector Control Act as part of an ongoing effort to weaken environmental protections and undermine EPA’s authority. The White House notes that current regulations were “explicitly crafted to allow immediate responses to declared pest emergencies” and that “Federal and State agencies already have authority under the Pesticide General Permit to apply mosquitocides as needed to respond to Zika virus concerns and do not require any additional authorization under the Permit.”
The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill is the only appropriations measure to have progressed through a conference report after passing both houses. Failure of the conference report is widely seen as ending any prospect for passing appropriations bills in this Congress.
Democratic leaders are concerned that Republicans are seeking to move defense-related appropriations and then pass a continuing resolution funding domestic spending at last year’s levels. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) commented: “All they want to do is they want to get defense appropriations bills passed and then walk away. And then all the other bills would be at their mercy.”
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, as of July 20, that there are 1,403 travel-associated cases of Zika in the US and 3,815 locally acquired cases in US territories.
Failure to enact any appropriations measures has lawmakers debating stop-gap measures to avoid a government shutdown. Democratic and many Republican leaders indicate a preference for a short-term continuing resolution (CR), setting up passage of an omnibus measure later this year at the end of the 114th Congress. GOP conservatives in the House, however, prefer a longer CR to avoid lame duck deal-making.
Last year’s budget deal raising federal spending caps-the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 brokered by then-Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Democratic leadership and the White House-set terms for structuring FY 2016 and FY 2017 appropriations. However, House conservatives never accepted that deal which contributed to Speaker Boehner’s fall. Failure of this year’s appropriations process complicates Speaker Ryan’s tenure greatly.
Republican leaders now face contentious fights, from within their own party, over how to avoid a government shutdown on the eve of November’s elections. Moderate Republicans and appropriators favor a short-term CR and returning in a lame-duck session, after the election, to pass an omnibus spending bill. Conservative Republicans, however, want a longer-term CR, pushing decisions off to March and a new Congress and President. Many Republican appropriators have express concern that the Senate could fall to Democrats in the new Congress, with the GOP losing its largest majority in 88 years.
Some Democratic leaders are concerned that a longer, 6 month, CR could lead to Congress ultimately punting to a 12 month CR, abandoning its budget responsibilities completely. “If you do six months that puts you on the road to do another six months, and all the good work Appropriations has done is then up in flames,” commented Senator Tom Udall (D-NM). All pending legislation must be reintroduced at the start of a new Congress.
Many congressional leaders decry a fatally broken budget process. Senate Budget Committee chairman, Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), in his widely circulated article, How to Break Through America’s Budget Gridlock (July 13, 2016), notes that Congress had never failed to pass a budget prior to 1998, when both houses were controlled by Republican majorities for the first time since 1955.
Senate appropriators approved, by voice vote, a bipartisan amendment for $500 million to the UN Green Climate Fund as part of the FY 2017 Department of State and Foreign Operation appropriations bill, S.3117, and reported it to the Senate on June 29. House appropriators, however, soundly rejected Green Climate funding in a party-line vote on July 12.
The Senate committee vote came as an amendment, sponsored by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), striking existing language prohibiting Green Climate funding. Only Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) spoke against it. The House committee rejected a similar amendment, sponsored by Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN), as it reported H.R.5912 to the House.
Last year’s appropriation, after work by the same trio of Senators, allowed Green Climate funding, but did not explicitly appropriate funding. Republicans then claimed that the Administration overstepped in making the initial $500 million contribution this year, with some threatening lawsuits and congressional investigations. The specific allocation of $500 million in the FY 2017 bill was the subject of negotiations between Sens. Merkley and Collins.
Direct appropriation for the UN Green Climate Fund is uncertain as the entire FY 2017 budget appears headed to a continuing resolution and possibly an omnibus measure at the end of the current Congress.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for a national carbon price in a July 20 interview on CBC TV, “We’re going to be making sure that there is a strong price on carbon right across the country, and we’re hoping the provinces are going to be able to do that in a way for themselves.” Trudeau characterized a national carbon price as an “essential element” of his Liberal government’s climate plan and it is expected to be in place by the end of the year.
In elections last year, Trudeau sought to encourage Canada’s provinces to enact carbon tax or cap-and-trade systems. Now it appears that the Trudeau’s government may set a single national carbon price by the end of the year.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, in a July 15 interview with Bloomberg TV Canada, suggested that the government will advance an emissions reduction plan that would include expanded and standardized emissions disclosures by the private sector. This was presented in the context of a national carbon price.
Carbon pricing is generally composed of either a tax or a cap-and-trade program. McKenna noted that she had met with major Canadian companies and that, “They say they understand a price on carbon is the most impressive way to reduce emissions and foster innovation that we need.”
Conservative opposition leaders have attacked the emerging plan as a tax grab, breaking an earlier pledge to work in cooperation with the 13 provinces and territories. British Columbia and Alberta, however, already have carbon taxes similar to those being considered by the national government. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has suggested that she will use her province’s model to help sell other premiers on backing pipelines needed to move Alberta’s oilsands oil to port.
Predictably, some companies, such as airlines, complain of the burden such plans could impose. Meanwhile, others, including Exxon, the Canadian Mining Association, and the Royal Bank of Canada, encourage carbon pricing and the certainty it will bring to the marketplace.
Trudeau’s carbon pricing initiative comes just weeks after the “Three Amigos Summit,” where Canada, Mexico, and the US announced continent-wide clean energy targets.
The House passed a $32.1 billion appropriations funding bill for the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on July 14, the first to clear the House since 2009. The bill would increase funding for some Interior programs modestly over current levels; the total approved is $64 million below current levels and $1 billion below Administration recommendation.
US Geological Survey is slated for an increase of $18 million over current levels, with $10 million targeted for an earthquake early warning system and $6 million for accelerated launch of “Landsat 9,” a satellite program measuring land use related to agriculture, forestry, and energy and water resources.
US Forest Service’s Forest and Rangeland Research would get an increase of $10 million, targeted toward forest products and inventory programs. Meanwhile, over half of the overall Forest Service budget would be target toward wildland fire prevention and suppression.
Bureau of Land Management saw an overall decrease of $10 million below current levels, though it provides a $12 million increase to sage grouse protection programs and to preserve federal lands for energy exploration and development, ranching and recreation, and military training.
US Fish and Wildlife would get a decrease of $17 million below current levels and prioritizes backlogs in maintenance and species delistings.
EPA would see a $164 million cut below current levels, $291 million below Administration requests. Regulatory programs would absorb $43 million of those cuts. Programs targeted for cuts include: greenhouse gas emissions; “New Source Performance Standards” under the Clean Air and Clean Water acts; revisions to definitions within the Clean Water Act; reductions of lead content in ammunition and fishing tackle. An amendment to eliminate EPA’s Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs was also approved.
Flint, Michigan, received allocations for water testing and loan forgiveness related to the city’s lead drinking water crisis.
Special rules provided one hour for debate of the more than 131 amendments considered. Final passage saw a 231-196 vote, with only three Democrats voting with the majority and 15 Republicans against. The White House has promised to veto the bill in its current form.
The entire appropriations process faces near certain failure with need for a continuing resolution and possibly an omnibus spending bill being required to avoid a government shutdown.
Call for Nominations
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Nominations for Columbia Basin Partnership Task Force of the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee
NOAA’s Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee is seeking nominations for the new Columbia Basin Partnership that will assist the Committee in developing recommendations on quantitative goals for all salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin. Nominees should have expertise regarding salmon and steelhead biology and management in the Columbia Basin and represent the geographic and stakeholder diversity of the Columbia Basin. Taskforce members will serve a two year term beginning in December 2016.
Nominations will close September 6, 2016
Request for Public Comment
USDA Forest Service
The Forest Service proposes to undertake motorized travel management planning to designate roads, trails, and areas open to public motorized vehicle use on the six districts of the Pike and San Isabel National Forests. The proposed road and trail environmental impact statement evaluation and record of decision will determine which roads and trails will be designated or re-designated for public motorized use and published on future motor vehicle use maps.
Comments must be received by September 8, 2016.
US Fish and Wildlife Service
2016-2017 Refuge-Specific Hunting and Sport Fishing Regulations
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, proposes to add 1 national wildlife refuge (NWR or refuge) to the list of areas open for hunting, increase the hunting activities available at 12 other NWRs, open 1 refuge to fishing for the first time, and add pertinent refuge-specific regulations for other NWRs that pertain to migratory game bird hunting, upland game hunting, big game hunting, and sport fishing for the 2016-2017 season.
Comments must be received or postmarked on or before August 15, 2016.