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Policy News Update

June 05, 2009

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]


House leaders are under increasing pressure to finish work on the massive climate and energy bill as soon as possible, as part of a push to hold floor votes on both climate and health care before the end of July. Democratic leaders hope to vote on the climate package by the July 4 recess. Although the bill is expected to move swiftly through most of the eight committees with jurisdiction, leaders of the Agriculture and Ways and Means committees have threatened to delay the process for a variety of reasons. In an effort to keep her signature issue moving, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has given all eight committee leaders a June 19 deadline for finishing work on the bill—committees that fail to meet the deadline risk losing jurisdiction.

Agriculture and Ways and Means leaders have expressed their desire to keep the bill moving, but continue to stand by their original concerns:

In Ag: According to Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN), the committee is “nowhere near” setting a markup schedule. Peterson is particularly concerned with the definition of renewable biomass and the issue of indirect land use. Although the climate bill contains no direct language on the latter topic, the chairman has been outspoken in his belief that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will not adequately address farm state concerns when implementing related portions of the legislation. For more information, see the May 22 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/05222009.php. Peterson also wants the bill to include a larger share of agricultural offsets with stronger Agriculture Department oversight.

In Ways and Means: The committee will likely focus on language pertaining to international trade and the auctioning of 15 percent of the allowances where the funding is dedicated to low-income consumers. Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) has stressed that health care is his committee’s number one priority, but says he is open to acting on the climate package so long as it does not interfere. Although he expressed frustration with Pelosi’s aggressive timetable— a significant challenge in light of his plans to formally mark up the bill—he has vowed to make the deadline.

As a floor vote approaches, the bill’s proponents will be investing a great deal of time in persuading colleagues whose principle interests lie outside of climate change. Current projections suggest that roughly 170 Democrats and at least three Republicans—Christopher Smith (NJ), Frank LoBiondo (NJ), and Mary Bono Mack (CA)—are in favor of the bill.  Two hundred eighteen  votes are required for passage.


The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is in the process of marking up renewable electricity standard (RES) legislation, one of the more contentious components of the broad energy bill currently under review. The panel recently voted on a number of amendments, rejecting several proposals that would have drastically altered the legislation. Among these proposals were amendments to include nuclear power as an acceptable source of renewable energy and to lift the cap on the amount of energy efficiency offsets utilities could count toward the renewable standard (the current provision caps offsets at roughly 25 percent). Several amendments were also withdrawn, including ones from Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Mark Udall (D-CO) to boost the maximum standard above the current 15 percent mark. Both Senators plan to reintroduce their proposals during the floor debate.

The committee did approve a number of amendments, including several from Republican members. Some of these additions will allow fuels from sources such as qualified “clean coal” plants and new nuclear reactors to count towards the standard; another, proposed by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) will give triple credit for carbon-emission reductions that use algae.

Meanwhile, Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) unveiled a suite of additional draft proposals that he plans to add to the package. Although many of the proposals are bipartisan, the committee’s ranking member, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), objects to the oil and gas title.

Titles of particular interest:

Oil and gas: Would broaden the scope of an offshore resources inventory, which was called for in a 2005 energy law but never funded. The original inventory was to focus on oil and gas; the expanded version would account for opportunities for conservation, recreation, and renewable energy production provided by the outer continental shelf (OCS). The draft title would also prohibit the use of 3-D seismic technology during the inventory, in light of concerns about the technique’s impact on marine life. All technologies are permitted under the 2005 law.

Alaska gas: Would amend a 2004 law meant to initiate construction of a natural gas pipeline from Alaska to the lower 48 states, increasing the loan guarantee funding for the project from $18 billion to $30 billion. The title would also incorporate a plan from Murkowski allowing Interior to locate several miles of an in-state gas pipeline alongside a highway in Denali National Park. Murkowski backs the Alaska provisions but said they alone will not win her support for the entire package. According to her spokesman, the Senator will seek additional OCS production in negotiations.

Renewable energy on public lands: Would designate Bureau of Land Management (BLM) field offices—one in each of nine western states—as pilot project offices for improving the federal permitting process for renewable energy projects. In addition, the bill would attempt to streamline the environmental analysis portion of the process. It would call for programmatic environmental impact statements for proposed renewable projects on public lands—these statements would be used to establish requirements for future projects. Interior would have 12 months to complete the assessment for solar projects on BLM lands, and the Forest Service would have 18 months for solar and wind projects on national forest lands. The bill would also require the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study on the siting, development, and management of all such projects—the resulting report would recommend the most effective system for authorizing projects, determine whether a competitive or noncompetitive leasing system would be more effective, and describe any other necessary changes to federal laws.


Draft legislation from the House Natural Resources Committee would overhaul Interior energy practices, combining energy programs currently under the Minerals Management Service (MMS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) into a new agency: The Office of Federal Energy and Minerals Leasing. The new agency would oversee all aspects of onshore and offshore energy leasing, including siting, development, regulation, and royalty collection. Although Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) had hoped to include the bill in the House climate and energy package, the June 19 deadline recently set by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will likely leave little time for its inclusion. The Speaker expressed her support for Rahall’s package, but said that it may need to be addressed separately.

Additional highlights of the bill include:

Ethics reform: Following the MMS scandal and reports of inappropriate royalty collection practices, the bill will prohibit employees in the new office from accepting gifts from, owning stock in, or being employed by any entity engaged in “exploring for, developing, mining, transporting, processing, or trading energy or minerals." The bill also prohibits employees from working for energy companies for one year after leaving Interior, and establishes financial disclosure requirements. These changes follow promises from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to restore the integrity of the department.

Energy Development: To improve planning procedures for energy development, the bill would create “Regional Planning Councils,” comprised of public and private stakeholders, to handle strategic planning for energy development on the outer continental shelf; facilitate cooperation between BLM, the Forest Service, and states to plan for renewable and traditional energy development; create a commercial leasing program to replace existing administrative process for wind and solar projects on onshore public lands; and require five-year onshore leasing programs for 11 western states and Alaska, similar to those currently required for offshore leasing.

Leasing and royalties: To encourage companies to expedite development on on- and offshore leases, the bill would make a number of changes to existing leasing and royalties provisions. Most notably, it would reduce initial onshore lease terms from ten to five years, increase royalty rates, repeal the “royalty relief” program expansion included in a 2005 energy law, and create new “diligent development” rules and fees on nonproducing leases.


The Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee has allotted roughly $4.6 billion to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), exceeding the Obama administration’s request of $4.5 billion. If enacted, this amount would be the highest the agency has ever seen, and would represent a five percent increase over 2009 levels. Still, NOAA’s obligations are expanding quickly due to climate change and coastal resource issues. Many marine advocates are concerned that the increase, although significant, will not be sufficient to cover the agency’s many new duties, particularly since the NOAA budget remained flat between 2005 and 2008, resulting in a 10-percent funding decrease after inflation. Climate-related initiatives, such as satellite programs and the creation of a National Climate Service, (which will receive $100 million in new funds) figure prominently into the bill, reflecting the panel’s view that climate research should follow the same accelerated track the White House requested for other science programs.  For more on NOAA’s budget see: www.noaa.gov/budget

Meanwhile, the panel’s $6.94 billion allocation for the National Science Foundation (NSF) fell short of the administration’s requested $7.045 billion (an 8.5-percent increase over 2009 levels—the panel’s figure represents a 6.89 percent increase).

Research and Related Activities: $5.642 billion (a decrease from the President’s request of $5.733 billion)

Education and Human Resources: $862.9 million, representing an increase of $18 million ($5 million more than the White House request)

Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction: $114.3 million, compared to the $117.3 million requested by the White House. This was the only area in NSF to see an overall decrease in funding—the President’s request was 22.8 percent lower than 2009 levels.

Within research funding, NSF requested $733 million for its Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) programs, to be broken down as follows:

For more details on the NSF budget request, visit: http://www.nsf.gov/about/budget/fy2010/toc.jsp



Passed by Committee:

Referred to Committee:

Approved by Subcommittee:

Approved by the House:

Sources: Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, ClimateWire, Politico, Science, State Science and Technology Institute, Coalition for National Science Funding, New York Times, Solar Industry Policy Watch, The Hill, Los Angeles Times

Send questions or comments to Piper Corp, Science Policy Analyst, piper@esa.org or Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs, Nadine@esa.org

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