Policy News Update

September 25, 2009

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]


On September 24, the Senate voted 77-21 in favor of its 2010 Interior-EPA 2010 spending bill. The $32.1 billion provided by the measure is $4.5 billion above 2009 levels, but $225 million below the White House request and $200 million below the measure passed in the House.

Funding highlights:

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): $10.19 billion ($2.5 billion above 2009 levels)

Firefighting and fuels reduction on federal lands: $3.56 billion for Forest Service and Interior efforts to fight and prevent wildfires (an increase of $576 million or 19 percent above 2009 levels)

Bolstering public land management agencies: $6 billion for basic operations at National Parks, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges and on Bureau of Land Management lands. This is an increase of $350 million or 6 percent above 2009 levels

Bureau of Land Management: $1.145 billion (an increase of $106 million or 10.2 percent above 2009 levels. This includes:

US Geological Survey: $1.044 billion (an increase of $60.5 million or 5.8 percent above 2009 levels). The added funds will go toward expanding the work of the agency to better support Interior land management agencies, as well as other federal agencies, state, tribal and local governments. Increases include:


Minerals Management Service: $181.5 million for oversight, regulation, and royalty collection for outer continental shelf energy production. This includes an increase of $24 million for developing a renewable offshore energy program.

Protecting lands through the Land and Water Conservation Fund: $419 million (an increase of $127 million or 43 percent above 2009 levels) to protect areas within national park, forest, monument, and wildlife refuge boundaries. Funding includes:

The Senate addressed a number of amendments related to separate issues. Of particular note:


Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and John Kerry (D-MA) recently confirmed that they will introduce their draft climate change bill next Wednesday, September 30. Boxer says her Environment and Public Works Committee will conduct a markup soon thereafter—some sources suggest the markup is slated for the week of October 12 or October 19. Of the other panels with jurisdiction, it appears only the Finance Committee will hold a formal markup, focusing on international trade and allowance allocation provisions. The Agriculture Committee and Kerry’s Foreign Relations Committee, plan to provide input without conducting a markup. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee may also continue to weigh in. The committee was in charge of the energy end of the equation, but finished work on its bill, the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009, before the House passed its climate and energy package. Contacts on the Hill suggest that the committee will reevaluate as new pieces fall into place. For more information on the original energy bill, see the June 19 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/06192009.php

While announcing his bill’s upcoming introduction, Kerry stressed that it would be a “pollution reduction” rather than “cap-and-trade” measure, echoing a change in rhetoric already adopted by President Obama and key members of his administration. Still, Kerry confirmed that the bill includes emission allowances and a marketplace, and that it builds upon the House-passed bill, HR 2454, although not without some departures.

Senate aides have suggested that Boxer met demands from the left to raise the 2020 emissions reduction target from the 17 percent mark set in HR 2454 to 20 percent. According to these aides, Boxer will argue for the increase on the grounds that US greenhouse gas emissions fell 6 percent in 2008 because of the poor economy and a shift from coal to natural gas. Whether this will satisfy the more conservative Democrats on her panel remains to be seen. Central to the bill’s success, both in committee and on the floor, is the support of key moderates like coal-state Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Arlen Specter (D-PA). Support from these lawmakers could help climate legislation proponents secure additional votes from moderates on the floor, where the bill is at risk of a GOP-led filibuster. So far neither Baucus nor Specter is on board.

Meanwhile, Kerry is taking the lead in negotiating with moderate Republicans, whose support is increasingly important as conservative Democrats solidify their opposition. Kerry and Boxer will look to lawmakers including Olympia Snowe (R-ME), John McCain (R-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Richard Lugar (R-IN) for backing.

Although many senators are making a concerted effort to keep climate legislation moving, healthcare reform remains at the forefront. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) recently said his chamber would “push climate as hard and as fast as we can,” although he also conceded the bill might have to wait until early 2010. Even then the timeline remains uncertain, although some aides predict a cut-off point of April 2010, due to midterm election politics.

Action from Congress is not the only path to reducing emissions, but virtually all key players— whether government officials, industry representatives, or environmental advocates—maintain that it would be the best approach. White House energy and climate adviser Carol Browner said that if Congress does not act, industry will likely be forced to reduce emissions via a series of court rulings. “Courts are starting to take control of the issue,” she said, citing a recent New York court decision to allow lawsuits against greenhouse gas emitters on the grounds that they are a public nuisance. She went on to say that a patchwork system of standards would create uncertainty for businesses and would not benefit anyone. “We need a unified set of rules for the country…this is best done through legislation,” she said.


On September 22, several world leaders delivered speeches at the UN Summit on Climate Change, underscoring the importance of an international effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The summit was the strongest indication so far that an international agreement will indeed emerge from upcoming climate negotiations, although this agreement may be substantially different from what its supporters originally expected. As it stands now, December’s negotiations in Copenhagen may not yield a legal international treaty, but rather a collection of pledges from the 190 countries participating to take steps independently.

Success of any kind in Copenhagen will hinge on the actions of world’s top emitters: the US and China. President Obama will travel to Beijing in November in an effort to reach a bilateral agreement on emission reductions and low-carbon technologies. As Copenhagen approaches, China is increasingly demonstrating its willingness to participate in international efforts. At the UN summit, Chinese President Hu Jintao vowed to make climate change the center of his country’s long-term economic and social development plans, to establish "mandatory national targets" for reducing emissions, and to work to increase the size of China’s forests.

Meanwhile, India’s Environmental Minister, Jairam Ramesh, recently said that that his country is drafting legislation to limit its carbon footprint and set targets for reducing emissions. India had previously refused to set limits on emissions, arguing that its per-capita emissions were far below those of developed nations.

As other heavy emitters become increasingly willing to participate, the international community is placing additional pressure on the US, stressing the importance of its leadership in Copenhagen. Several European leaders have criticized Congress for falling behind schedule on climate legislation.

Lawmakers agree that having a cap-and-trade law would put the US in prime position for the upcoming negotiations, but many are also wary of rushing the important bill purely to strengthen the nation’s diplomatic portfolio. Acting hastily could lock the US into problematic policies, some say, or even undermine negotiations with policies that other countries dislike, such as industry relief to keep US exports competitive—a form of intervention that other nations could view as a tariff.

Todd Stern, the State Department climate envoy, countered international criticism, saying that the US is working as quickly as possible while balancing several other national priorities. He pointed to the $80 billion directed toward low-carbon technologies in the 2009 economic stimulus package, as well Environmental Protection Agency regulations to control greenhouse gas emissions. Obama delivered a similar message in his own UN summit speech, highlighting his administration’s climate achievements and drawing attention to the House-passed energy and climate bill. He also vowed to take a personal role in moving climate legislation through the Senate, where he has so far focused on healthcare reform. Last spring, the president personally lobbied several undecided House Democrats as the chamber geared up for a floor vote.

But with chances of the Senate passing a cap-and-trade bill growing slimmer, Obama may need to focus on the country’s non-legislative climate action to gain leverage this December, demonstrating significant progress on multiple fronts. Without a law in place, though, an international treaty (rather than country-by-country commitments) seems even less probable. Stern recently acknowledged that international negotiations will likely extend beyond Copenhagen, and the UN has already scheduled additional talks for May and November in 2010, with more possible if sufficient progress is not made in December.


Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), voiced her opposition to ocean planning and aquaculture provisions in a sweeping bill from House Natural Resources Chair Nick Rahall (D-WV). Rahall’s bill, HR 3534, would overhaul the federal government’s approach to oil and gas leasing, oversight, and royalties. For more information on HR 3534, see the September 11 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/09112009.php

Lubchenco, along with several other top administration officials, is currently working on a much broader marine plan, following an executive order from President Obama. For more information on this effort, see the August 28 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/08282009.php

The task force’s efforts are focused on creating a marine spatial planning system to encourage a more holistic and therefore sustainable approach to offshore project permitting. The revised federal permitting system would no longer look at projects one at a time; it would consider the entire ecosystem. To achieve this, the marine plan may eventually lead to an “ocean zoning” system, which would allocate marine resources and areas among different activities and interests such as fishing, conservation, and energy development.

Lubchenco’s primary objections to Rahall’s bill include:


On September 23, the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee conducted a markup of legislation to expand research on potentially deadly algae blooms, which threaten marine ecosystems, coastal fisheries, and in some cases human health. The bill, which would expand funding for research into the detection, prediction, and elimination of the blooms, has received support from leadership on both sides of the aisle, as well as the Obama administration.

The bill would direct funding towards research into coastal “dead zones,” hypoxic areas that result when large algae blooms decompose. Excessive levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in the water—often a result of agricultural runoff—are frequently the culprit behind large-scale blooms. Since hypoxia is primarily an ocean problem resulting from inland pollution, federal pollution authorities have limited options for controlling it via regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, currently relies largely on incentive-based or voluntary provisions.

The Senate version of the bill, S 952, cleared the Commerce Committee earlier this year, raising the program’s authorized budget to $40 million. Existing legislation sets 2010 funding levels at $30 million. The House version does not yet include specific funding figures but staff have indicated that the two bills will be very similar.


The polar bear was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act on May 14, 2008. At that time, there were roughly 40 pending permits for importing trophies—polar bear parts collected during sport hunts—from Canada. Since the threatened status immediately bans the import of marine mammals and related products under the Marine Mammals Protection Act (MMPA), all 40 trophies remain in storage.

To address this, Representative Don Young (R-AK) introduced HR 1054, a bill to amend MMPA in a way that would allow trophies collected before May 14, 2008 into the US. Young has positioned the legislation in terms of both property rights and conservation. Permits cost $1,000 a piece—Young says that by leaving the trophies in Canada, the US is forgoing $40,000 in permit fee that could go towards polar bear conservation.

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently weighed in, stating that while it favors returning the trophies to permit holders, it is concerned that Young’s bill will amend MMPA in a way that could open the door for additional imports. A spokesperson for Young said that it could be difficult to finalize permits without amending MMPA but that his main interest is in returning the trophies to their owners, and he remains open to suggestions.


Greenhouse Gas Reporting: On September 22, less than a week after the White House Office of Management and Budget completed its review, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized its greenhouse gas reporting rule. The rule will establish a national registry for greenhouse gas emissions, providing policymakers with important data on which to base future emissions legislation. Facilities emitting more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide will be required to collect emissions data starting on January 1, 2010—the first reports will be due in March 2011. For more information, see the April 23 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/04232009.php

Fuel economy and emissions standards: On September 15, the Obama administration rolled out a suite of auto standards that will mandate increased fuel economy and establish the first-ever nationwide greenhouse gas standard on automobiles. EPA and the Department of Transportation worked together on the proposals, which they say will prevent 950 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions during their four-year lifespan. The rules have some built-in flexibility to help automakers meet the new standards during early on, and President Obama, speaking at a General Motors assembly plant, said the national standards will help the auto industry rebound by eliminating the uncertainty associated with state efforts to set their own emissions standards. For more information, see the May 22 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/05222009.php

The two agencies have until March 31, 2010 to finalize the rules. Before the rules can go into effect, EPA must finalize its proposed endangerment finding, a step that will likely occur by next spring, or possibly much earlier depending on the outcome of the congressional climate debate.

Review for higher ethanol blends: As EPA considers raising the ethanol limit in gasoline, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) has introduced legislation that would require the agency to conduct an extensive review before authorizing any increases. Earlier this year, an ethanol industry coalition formally petitioned EPA for a Clean Air Act waiver that would increase the maximum ethanol concentration from 10 to 15 percent. Collins’s bill would prohibit any increases until EPA has reviewed and formally responded to a report from its Science Advisory Board, detailing the impacts of the proposed increase on emissions, engine performance, and the ability of fueling infrastructure to prevent widespread “misfueling” by consumers whose vehicles cannot run properly on higher ethanol blends. The legislation has several Democratic co-sponsors.

Smog Standard: EPA will reconsider the federal standard for airborne ozone, or smog. In 2008, the Bush administration tightened the ozone standard from 84 to 75 parts per billion, but critics argued that the new standard still failed to meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act. Following lawsuits from environmental and public health groups—as well as suits from industry groups to weaken ozone limits—EPA will review the standard to determine whether the Bush administration’s rule “should be maintained, modified, or otherwise reconsidered.” EPA plans to issue a proposed rule in December and sign a final rule before September 2010.


Passed in the House

Nonbinding Resolutions: The House recently approved two nonbinding resolutions, statements that do not become laws but instead formally record Congress’s position on a particular matter.

Support from the Obama Administration: The Fish and Wildlife Service recently spoke out in support of several bird-related proposals, including:

Sources: Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, ClimateWire, Politico, the Washington Post

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