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Policy News Update

June 19, 2009

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]

SENATE ENERGY BILL: ENERGY PACKAGE IS HEADED TO THE FLOOR, INCLUDES EXPANSION OF OFFSHORE DRILLING

On June 17, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 15-8 in favor of its massive energy bill, which would, among other things, establish a national renewable electricity standard (RES), overhaul federal financing for clean energy projects, and mandate new federal electricity-transmission siting power.

The bill, which Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have called a workable compromise, won the support of four Republicans. Meanwhile, two Democrats—Mary Landrieu (LA) and Robert Menendez (NJ)—voted against it.

The floor debate promises to be contentious, with Senators from both parties seeking to block some of the bill’s more controversial measures:

Offshore drilling: An amendment approved on June 9 would expand offshore oil and gas leasing in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The measure, sponsored by Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), would allow drilling as close as 45 miles from Florida's coast, and even closer in Destin Dome, a gas-rich area off the state’s panhandle. It would effectively overturn a 2006 compromise that expanded leasing in the Gulf but provided Florida with a broad no-drill buffer zone, averaging about 125 miles from shore, until 2022. Although the amendment was supported by many key “fence sitters” in the Senate climate debate (e.g. Democrat Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee), it has driven other lawmakers away. Menendez lamented the amendment’s inclusion in the package: “[The climate and energy bill] continues to move in the direction that I find very difficult to support,” he said. And Florida Senator Bill Nelson (D) has vowed to block the package during the floor debate.

Renewable Energy Standard: The bill currently sets an RES target of 15 percent by 2021, but several Senators, such as Bernard Sanders (I-VT) and Mark Udall (D-CO), hope to strengthen the standard. Other lawmakers are concerned about the impact that even the more modest RES will have on industry—Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) said that he could reconsider his support for the package if significant changes are made to the RES on the floor.

It remains to be seen whether the Senate will follow the House’s lead and couple its energy package with climate legislation. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) hopes to bring a combined package to the floor this fall, but a cap-and-trade plan would face major hurdles in the Senate, possibly bogging down the energy provisions.

CLIMATE CHANGE: US STUDY DISCUSSES CURRENT, PREDICTED IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON AMERICAN LIVES

On June 16, the US Global Change Research Program released a state of the knowledge report summarizing the impacts of climate change on the United States. The first major climate report from the Obama administration, it is based on published research, including a series of 21 reports on climate change produced by the Bush administration.

Among its conclusions:

Although she did not comment on the climate legislation currently under review in Congress, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco called the new report "a game-changer," stating that it "demonstrates that climate change is happening now, in our own backyards, and it affects the things that people care about. The dialogue is changing."

John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said, "This is telling us with persuasiveness why we need to act sooner rather than later. One has to hope it will influence how people think about particular legislative proposals."

APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE MARKUPS UNDERWAY, INCREASES PROPOSED FOR MOST AGENCIES

In a 34-21 party-line vote, the House Appropriations Committee approved spending allocations for its subcommittees, setting total discretionary spending at $1.086 trillion—$10 billion less than the White House mark, but $74 billion (7 percent) more than 2009 levels. Republicans opposed the measure on the grounds that it increased spending at too high a rate.

Almost all the spending bills received significant increases. One notable exception is the Energy and Water bill, which covers agencies including the Energy Department and the Army Corps of Engineers, as well as other agencies that received a substantial boost from the economic stimulus package passed earlier this year. In total, the bill will receive an allocation of $33.3 billion, which is roughly the same as the 2009 mark.

Subcommittees are now at work on their respective bills—the latest figures are:

HOUSE CLIMATE DEBATE: TWO BILLS SEEK TO DIRECT FEDERAL COORDINATION OF CLIMATE CHANGE RESEARCH

With a floor debate imminent on the House climate and energy package, two bills are vying to replace placeholder language in the Waxman-Markey measure that addresses the coordination of federal climate change initiatives.

The National Climate Service Act of 2009 (HR 2407): Introduced by House Science Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), HR 2407 would establish a new agency—the National Climate Service— within NOAA. The Science Committee approved the measure earlier this month, clearing the way for its inclusion in the Waxman-Markey bill. But if the broader climate and energy bill does not move forward, Gordon has expressed plans to move HR 2407 independently.

The Climate and Ocean Research Coordination Act (HR 2685): Introduced by Representative Madeline Bordallo (D-Guam), who chairs the Insular Affairs, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee, this bill would seek to improve cooperation and communication between existing climate initiatives without creating additional bureaucracy. Specifically, it would create an interagency, public-private National Climate Enterprise (NCE) to serve as a hub for federal climate efforts and a publically accessible clearinghouse for climate change data and decision-making tools. The director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy would chair NCE, while NOAA would oversee day-to-day operations, using existing infrastructure. Bordallo’s subcommittee is currently reviewing the measure; aspects of its framework could be considered in Gordon’s legislation.

Both bills would codify the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), formally establishing its mission and leadership structure.

FISHERIES: HOUSE DEMOCRATS SPEAK OUT AGAINST OFFSHORE AQUACULTURE PLAN

Almost forty House Democrats, led by Representatives Lois Capps (CA), Gene Taylor (MS), and Sam Farr (CA), are urging Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to reject a plan to open the Gulf of Mexico to large-scale commercial fish farms. The Commerce Department is currently accepting public comment on a proposal to create the first US permitting system for offshore aquaculture, allowing commercial fish farms as close as 200 miles from shore in the Gulf.

In a letter to Locke, the lawmakers expressed concerns that the plan would set a precedent for regulating aquaculture on a case-by-case basis, and that it could lead to water pollution, species invasions, and damages to coastal communities.  House Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) was not among the letter’s signatories, but he sent his own letter to Locke earlier in the year, highlighting many of the same themes.

The Gulf of Mexico's regional fishery council approved the plan in January, predicting that it would permit between 5 and 20 offshore operations in the next 10 years, and produce up to 64 million pounds of seafood. The plan requires approval from Commerce before it can move forward.

For more information, see the February 5 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/02052009.php

APPROPRIATIONS: “CLUNKERS” HEADS TO THE WHITE HOUSE AS PART OF SUPPLEMENTAL BILL; FUNDING FOR WILDFIRE, FLOOD PROJECTS ALSO INCLUDED

On June 18, the Senate narrowly approved the “cash for clunkers” program as part of a $106 billion war supplemental bill. The program, supported by both the Obama administration and the auto industry, would provide consumers with $3,500 or $4,500 vouchers for trading in older vehicles for more fuel-efficient models. The measure cleared the House two days earlier and now awaits President Obama’s signature.

In addition to authorizing $1 billion for the clunkers program, the supplemental would set aside $200 million to the Forest Service and $50 million to the Interior Department for wildfire suppression and emergency rehabilitation efforts. These funds, requested by the Obama administration, would become available only after other funds were exhausted and the Appropriations committees were formally notified. Also included is $847 million for flood control and restoration projects along the Gulf Coast.

UPCOMING LEGISLATION

PASSED IN THE HOUSE

APPROVED BY SENATE COMMITTEE

APPROVED BY HOUSE COMMITTEE

On June 11, the House Natural Resources Committee easily approved several land and wildlife bills, including:

UNDER SUBCOMMITTEE REVIEW

Meanwhile, President Obama has issued a directive calling for the creation of an interagency task force, headed by the Council on Environmental Quality, to develop recommendations for a national oceans policy, as well as guidelines for mapping and allocating marine resources.

PULLED

Federal Duck Stamp Program modifications (HR 1916): House Natural Resources Committee. Would raise money for wetland protection by increasing the price of the duck stamp from $15 to $25 in 2010. The Duck Stamp Program raises money for waterfowl habitat acquisition by selling stamps as waterfowl hunter permits and as symbols of conservation. The legislation was put on hold after Republicans filed a string of amendments to limit the amount of land acquisition authorized by the program.


Sources: Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, ClimateWire, Politico, Coalition for National Science Funding, SustainableBusiness.com, Washington Post

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