Policy News Update

November 06, 2009

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]


The Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) advanced climate legislation on November 5, in spite of a three-day boycott by its Republican members. GOP lawmakers had refused to participate in the scheduled markup, arguing that it would be unwise to move forward with a climate bill without additional analyses from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Committee chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) offered some conciliatory gestures, including an open-door meeting with EPA officials to answer committee members' questions about the economic modeling of the legislation. But when the boycott persisted, she decided to make use of the 12-7 majority held by Democrats on her committee, advancing the bill under a rarely used procedural move that permits a markup so long as the majority of members are present. Traditionally, a complete markup requires the attendance of two minority members.

Whether circumventing GOP opposition will harm the bill’s chances down the road remains to be seen. Already, several moderate Republicans—all critical swing votes—have criticized Boxer’s move—Senators Lindsey Graham (SC), Judd Gregg (NH), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Richard Lugar (IN), Susan Collins (ME), and Olympia Snowe (ME) all signed letters urging EPA to complete a full analysis before EPW moved forward.

Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA), who recently left the Republican Party, is confident that partisan bitterness will not prevent GOP lawmakers from voting for a bill they would otherwise support—they will ultimately base their votes on the legislation itself. “And there will be an EPA analysis at a later time,” he said, “This bill is going to be changed markedly when you move down the road. So they will get substantively what they want.” Specter himself is calling for additional provisions to address his home state's steel, coal and refining industries—in an effort to secure the support of moderate Democrats, Boxer added a measure to encourage early carbon capture and storage programs at coal-fired power plants. Although this represents only a first step for Specter, he voted to pass the bill through committee, given its symbolic importance at the upcoming UN climate summit in Copenhagen.

Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) represented his party’s concerns during opening statements earlier in the week. Three months ago, Voinovich urged EPA to conduct a more comprehensive analysis both on the Senate climate bill and its House-passed counterpart (HR 2454). The agency has no plans to conduct additional modeling until the Senate bill is finalized, in light of its “rigorous analysis” of HR 2454, which EPA says is sufficiently similar to the Senate bill in its current form. EPA will conduct a “full economic modeling of the bill that will be voted on by the full Senate,” as requested by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and the bill’s lead Senator John Kerry (D-MA). Voinovich argued that the Senate bill does in fact contain several significant departures from the House version, including fewer available allowances (necessary to achieve deficit neutrality—itself a requirement for Republican support) and different offset restrictions.

Insisting that further analysis would only waste time and taxpayer money—an estimated $120,000—EPW Democrats ultimately approved the bill without amendments by a vote of 11-1. Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) voted against the legislation because of outstanding concerns, most notably regarding emission limits—he is pushing to reduce the measure’s 2020 emission limits from 20 to 17 percent below 2005 levels. Baucus, who also chairs the Finance Committee, still plans to work toward moving the bill through the Senate after his concerns are addressed.
The EPW-passed bill includes a few significant changes from the document Boxer originally drafted, most notably language preventing EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, two Clean Air Act provisions that industry state Democrats consider excessively strict.

As the bill progresses, Reid, who will take an increasingly active role in the debate, is planning to meet with leaders of the contributing committees. Meanwhile, Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Graham are working to win support from senators who do not sit on committees with jurisdiction. Kerry and Graham have also been meeting with top officials from the Obama administration, including White House energy and climate adviser Carol Browner, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.


Senator Debbie Stabenow’s (D-MI) recently unveiled language on offsets has moved the Senate climate bill a step closer to winning a key endorsement from agricultural interests. Several farm and forestry interests, including many previous critics of the Kerry-Boxer bill, have given their support to Stabenow’s legislation, which addresses many of their major concerns. Most notably, the bill would:

The bill is expected to be a "marker," establishing the preferred policies of its co-sponsors, which include Finance Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) and Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Mark Begich (D-AK).

Observers expect language on agriculture to play a major role in how the climate bill fares on the Senate floor.  Agriculture Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), thus far a critic of the cap-and-trade effort, also plans to conduct a markup, although she has yet to establish a timeline.


Sent 21 October and signed by 18 scientific organizations, the letter states in part:
“Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. These conclusions are based on multiple independent lines of evidence, and contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science. Moreover, there is strong evidence that ongoing climate change will have broad impacts on society, including the global economy and on the environment.”
This marks the first time that so large a group of professional scientific societies has made a unified statement on climate change policy. Read the full letter sent to the Senate at: www.esa.org/pao/policyStatements/Letters/climateletterfinal.pdf


On October 30, President Obama signed a conference report providing environmental agencies with a total of $32.2 billion in fiscal year 2010.  The spending bill, which lawmakers passed by a vote of 72-28, increases by 17 percent funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Interior Department, and the Forest Service. It also includes several riders, including two controversial air pollution measures that would limit EPA authority over shipping and factory farm operations.
Funding highlights:
Environmental Protection Agency: $10.3 billion (36 percent more than 2009 levels—a compromise between the $10.2 billion and $10.6 billion proposed by the Senate and the House respectively). The increase would give a substantial boost for EPA.  Included in the conference report are significant boosts over fiscal 2009 for EPA programs addressing climate change, toxic waste cleanup, and Great Lakes restoration.

Interior Department: $11 billion.

Forest Service: $5.3 billion, including a 16-percent increase for the agency’s State and Private Forestry programs, which funds programs to assist private landowners and communities manage and protect forested areas. The bill also incorporates the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement (FLAME) Act passed in the House earlier this year. For more information, see the July 31 edition of the ESA Policy News at:

Climate Change (all agencies): $385 million total for climate change programs at EPA, Interior, and the Forest Service ($155 million above 2009 levels).

The conference report also included a number of amendments—including two controversial “riders” dealing with pollutants in shipping fuel and emissions from manure—and guidelines for the funded agencies. Of particular note:

Urban forestry: The Senate spending bill included a provision that would have prevented the Forest Service from directing $2.8 million from the stimulus package toward wildland fire management in Washington, DC. This provision was emitted from the conference report, however, on the grounds that urban forestry is included among the programs that the Service has legal authority to fund. This omission drew the ire of some Western lawmakers who argued that the funds are more clearly and immediately needed in the West. The conference report notes that projects to create jobs and directly reduce fire risk should receive the highest priority, however, and it will prevent additional stimulus funding from going toward urban and community forestry projects. It also calls for increased transparency in the project selection process, giving the Forest Service 30 days to provide a list of all projects selected for stimulus funding, as well as a detailed description of selection criteria.


On November 4, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Chief Jane Lubchenco and several other top Obama administration officials presented a Senate Commerce subcommittee with a progress report on their work to develop the country’s first national ocean policy.
The multi-agency ocean policy task force just concluded a series of public meetings throughout the nation, where they gathered input on the ocean plan. The task force’s interim report establishes goals for protecting ocean resources and recommendations that the US create policy to protect the health and biological diversity of ocean resources support sustainable ocean practices. It also establishes a framework for coordinating federal ocean policy via a new ocean council.
The Ecological Society of America wrote to the task force during the public comment period, applauding its focus on ecosystem health and sustainability activity, and highlighting the impacts that ocean noise can have on ecosystems. The letter stated that:
“The nine priority objectives identified in your report reflect a commitment to and appreciation for ecosystem health, and we enthusiastically support your goal of creating a new National Oceans Policy that will “protect the health and resilience of oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes.” To fully realize this goal, we urge you to include anthropogenic underwater noise among the threats to ocean ecosystems addressed in the new policy.
Unlike many other ecosystem stressors, noise does not remain in the environment after its source is removed. Reducing ocean noise is therefore an achievable goal that will help marine life withstand more persistent challenges, such as those presented by chemical pollution and climate change. We can limit the effects of industrial and commercial noise sources while retaining their public benefits by using tools such as marine spatial planning—which you call for in your interim report—and silencing technologies that are currently, or soon to be, commercially available.“

For more information on the national ocean policy, see the August 28 edition of the ESA Policy News at: www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/08282009.php


Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s recently issued order to establish a Climate Change Response Council is facing strong opposition from western Republicans, who consider it unwarranted federal intrusion on local and privately owned lands. A group of lawmakers led by Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) and Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) argue that in bypassing the legislative process, the order would reduce transparency and make it easier for “special interest groups with narrow agendas” to reshape resource management rules. As a result, they say, stakeholders (e.g. landowners, wildlife managers, energy companies) could be forced to comply with new and potentially problematic rules, particularly in the West, which houses a large share of federal lands. 
Salazar’s order establishes a council of senior Interior officials, to be tasked with developing a comprehensive plan for addressing the impacts of climate change on resources managed by the department, as well as coordinating with other departments. In addition, it will create eight “regional climate change response centers,” building upon the work already completed by the US Geological Survey (USGS). USGS is in the process of developing regional hubs to provide fish and wildlife managers with adaptation-focused climate change impact data and analysis.


On October 30, the Obama administration filed court documents stating that it will leave the previous administration’s changes to a “stream-buffer zone” rule in place until 2011. The rule, which requires a 100-foot buffer between streams and mining operations, was modified by the Bush administration to grant exemptions for several activities including waste dumps. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s efforts to cancel the changes came to an end in August, when a federal judge ruled that Interior lacked the authority to proceed without a full rulemaking process, including public comment.
According to the documents, Interior will formally announce the start of the rulemaking period in October and begin a 30-day public comment period. A new rule could be finished by early 2011, although the formal timeline will depend on the amount of public input received.
The environmental groups that sued to have the Bush-administration changes removed voiced their objections to the 2011 target, arguing that a great deal of ecosystem damage could occur before a new rule is instated. Many will now shift focus to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is in the process of evaluating whether mountaintop mining projects comply with the Clean Water Act. For more information on EPA’s recent actions, see the Current Policy article in the October 23 edition of the ESA Policy News at:


As the Senate debates emission reduction legislation, the US continues to receive pressure from abroad, particularly from Europe, where many countries have already made commitments:

UN climate chief Yvo de Boer is calling for all developed countries to provide specific 2020 or 2030 targets at the Copenhagen summit next month.

The current figures suggested by legislation from the US House and Senate are 17 and 20 percent below 2005 levels, respectively. Several other countries have criticized these goals as too lenient, since they are based on a 2005 rather than 1990 benchmark.  The Obama administration maintains  that the US target would yield roughly the same results no matter which benchmark is used—the International Energy Agency’s “World Energy Outlook” supports this stance.

Other negotiation news:

Africa:  African nations led by Ethiopia, Algeria, and Gambia recently boycotted part of the UN climate talks in Barcelona, urging developed countries to commit to stricter emissions reduction targets and to extend the Kyoto Protocol. The nations object to the possibility that countries meeting in Copenhagen will abandon the expiring UN agreement in favor of a more flexible global pact.

China: Downplaying speculations that the US could reach a bilateral deal with China before the Copenhagen summit, US lead climate negotiator Todd Stern said that Obama’s meetings in Beijing will focus on consensus building intended to pave the way for international negotiations, not produce a specific agreement.  Meanwhile, the US is urging China to cut its emissions roughly in half by 2050. According to climate negotiators, a 50-percent reduction would allow poorer countries to set more modest targets, and would be feasible if China renews its current five-year energy efficiency plan into the future.

Ozone treaty: The annual Montreal Protocol meeting is currently underway in Egypt, where the US, Mexico, and Canada will try to gather support for a proposal to reduce global hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) use. The potency of HFCs can be several orders of magnitude greater than carbon dioxide, but they are the most common substitute for the ozone-hole forming gases governed by the Montreal Protocol.  Recent studies indicate that while HFCs have played a negligible role in climate change so far, they could account for roughly a fifth of warming by 2050, undermining carbon cuts established in an international climate treaty. The North American proposal has been endorsed by the European Union, but still needs the support of China, India, South Africa, and Brazil. Such support may be difficult to win, since China and India are both major manufacturers and consumers of HFCs, and South Africa and Brazil want more industrial nations to make their own cuts first, while providing assistance to developing countries.



Bird conservation (HR 2213): The House Natural Resources Committee voted 26-16 in favor of legislation to increase funding for migratory bird conservation. All Democrats on the committee voted to advance the bill, but they were joined by only two Republicans: Representatives Bill Cassidy (LA) and Bill Shuster (PA). The bill provides additional funds to support initiatives preserving the habitat of birds that migrate from the Caribbean and Latin America to breed further north. Committee Republicans objected to the bill, arguing that funding should be kept constant ($32.5 million over five years) in light of the country’s economic troubles. In an attempted compromise, the final bill raised total funding to $55 million, rather than the $86 million originally specified. Still, Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) vowed to fight it if it reaches the floor.

Oregon wilderness: The House Natural Resource Committee also advanced bills to ban logging and road development on 30,000 acres of the Devil’s Staircase (HR 2888) and to grant a “wild and scenic” designation to portions of the Molalla River (HR 2781). Both votes were largely along party lines, with some Republicans expressing concerns over possible impacts on the timber industry and, as a result, nearby rural economies.

Orange County coast (HR 86): Easily passed by the committee was a bill to include scenic islands and rocks off the coast of Orange County in the California Coastal National Monument.

Sources: Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, ClimateWire, Politico, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Marketwire

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