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Policy News Update

February 10, 2011

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]

HOUSE: PARTISANSHIP ABOUNDS AT FIRST GOP-LED CLIMATE HEARING

House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans questioned climate science and asserted new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules would cost jobs while Democrats accused Republicans of ignoring scientists and human health concerns during the first subcommittee hearing concerning carbon emission regulations and the effects climate change since the GOP regained control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The focus of the hearing was the “Energy Tax Prevention Act,” legislation jointly sponsored by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) that would exempt greenhouse gases from regulation under the Clean Air Act. The hearing was presided over by Ed Whitfield (R-KY), Chairman of the Energy and Power Subcommittee.

In Chairman Whitfield’s opening statement he contended “the Obama Administration EPA has been the most aggressive in recent memory. We now have unelected staff at EPA and the Courts pushing the United States down a path that in my opinion will cost jobs and make us less competitive in the global market place.” 

Chairman Upton defended his legislation, stating the bill “specifically targets the EPA’s regulations under the Clean Air Act that regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as related to climate change.” He asserted that “it does not weaken the Clean Air Act.  It does not limit EPA’s ability to monitor and reduce pollutants that damage public health.”

Whitfield and Upton contend that when Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970 and amended it in 1990, lawmakers did not intend it to address carbon. "I have looked back at the comments made by the authors of the revisions to the Clean Air Act in the early '90s, and I am confident that our bill actually restores the Clean Air Act to its intended purpose," said Upton.

In his opening remarks, Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) offered a harsh critique of the Upton-Inhofe bill: “It won’t stop the droughts and floods that are spreading like an epidemic across the globe. It won’t protect the air quality of our cities when summer temperatures soar to record levels. And it won’t stop the strange weather patterns that have locked much our nation in a deep freeze this winter. What it will do, though, is gut the Clean Air Act and prevent EPA from addressing this enormous threat to public health and welfare.”

The new EPA rules do not have unanimous support from the Democratic side. Former full committee Chairman John Dingell (D-MI) voted for the 2009 climate change bill, but has been critical of using the Clean Air Act to reduce carbon emissions. Dingell contended EPA’s regulatory efforts could have the consequence of complicating laws at the state level.

The overall tone of the hearing could be characterized by the stark contrasting views of the first two witnesses, who testified separately, Senator Inhofe and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

Sen. Inhofe, who has referred to climate change as the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” called lawmakers who believe climate change presents a risk "alarmists" and argued that they had been stoking fears about natural disasters and famine to argue for policies that will have minimal effect on global temperatures while the regulations would have a serious impact on job loss. “The point is this: it is unfair and unacceptable to ask the steel worker in Ohio, the chemical plant worker in Michigan, and the coal miner in West Virginia to sacrifice their jobs so we can reduce temperature by a barely detectable amount in 100 years.”

Jackson warned of the consequences of ignoring the National Academy of Sciences and the many other science organizations that have found a link between greenhouse gas emissions and human health. “I respectfully ask the members of this committee to keep in mind that EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act saves millions of American children and adults from the debilitating and expensive illnesses that occur when smokestacks and tailpipes release unrestricted amounts of harmful pollution into the air we breathe,” she said.

Jackson also criticized Republicans for holding a "referendum on a scientific question" without hearing the testimony of climate scientists. Subsequent witnesses included public officials and industrialists. Republicans said that science wasn't the issue, asserting the EPA rules would push industries overseas and make energy too expensive.

Waxman references Bush EPA Admin letter

Prior to the hearing, Ranking Member Waxman sent correspondence to Chairman Upton, which included a January 2008 letter from former President George W. Bush's third U.S. EPA administrator, Stephen Johnson.

In the private letter to the president, Johnson stated "the latest science of climate change requires the agency to propose a positive endangerment finding, as was agreed to at the Cabinet-level meeting in November. The state of the latest climate change science does not permit a negative finding, nor does it permit a credible finding that we need to wait for more research."

The letter was sent six months before Johnson overrode EPA scientists' determination and announced the agency would continue to evaluate evidence to determine whether a positive endangerment finding was warranted. Subsequently in 2009, current EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson finalized an endangerment finding for carbon and other greenhouse gases, paving the way for their regulation under the Clean Air Act.

To view the Ranking Member Waxman’s letter to Chairman Upton, click here.

To view former EPA Administrator Johnson’s letter to Bush, click here.

APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE REPUBLICANS RELEASE PROPOSED FY 2011 SPENDING CUTS

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rodgers (R-KY) announced a partial list of spending cuts on February 9 that will be included in the upcoming appropriations Continuing Resolution (CR) for Fiscal Year 2011. The CR would fund the government through the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, 2011. Overall, the proposed CR represented a cut of $32 billion from the levels enacted in the temporary CR passed by Congress last December, which expires March 4.

Republican appropriators were forced to modify their efforts Thursday, Feb 10, after coming under pressure from Tea-Party freshman Republicans to fulfill their pledge to cut $100 billion in spending this year, according to House aides. The spending cuts originally released by Chairman Rogers based its numbers on the White House’s FY 2011 budget request, which was never enacted. For many agencies, this makes the size of the decreases appear somewhat larger than they actually are. In some cases, a few federal agencies would actually see increases over what was enacted in the FY 2010 Budget.

For example, the Republicans’ proposed budget cut to the National Science Foundation (NSF) for FY 2011 is a $139 million decrease from the president’s FY 2011 budget request, which gives the appearance of a decrease. However, the total enacted appropriation for NSF in FY 2010 was $6.9 billion. The president’s budget request for FY 2011 was $7.4 billion, meaning that NSF would actually receive  an appropriation of around $7.3 billion in FY 2011, a nearly $500 million increase over FY 2010.

House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Norman Dicks (D-WA) criticized Republicans for releasing budget cut numbers based on a budget that was never enacted.

The internal revolt will now force the Republican leadership to take up a new bill with significantly steeper cuts, totaling $100 billion less than the president’s budget. Republicans still expect to have the revised measure ready by Friday, Feb. 11 and voted on by the full House next week.

The House proposal must also pass the Senate and be signed into law by the president to take effect. This leaves a window of opportunity for House and Senate members to propose further cuts and increases through the amendment process.

There is also the possibility that Senate leaders could pass a bill with significant increases, leading to a showdown between the two chambers, which would need to be resolved before the current CR ends on March 4, 2011. The failure of agreement between Congress or the White House before that date would ultimately lead to a government shutdown. The last government shutdown occurred between Nov. 14-19, 1995 and Dec. 16, 1995-Jan. 6, 1996.  (The first budget shutdown was resolved with the passage of a temporary spending bill, but the overarching disagreements between the president and Congress remained unresolved, which led to the second shutdown).

The following are proposed cuts to a number of environment and scientific agencies as compared to the president’s FY2011 budget request:

To view the White House’s FY 2011 budget request, click here.

CONGRESS: SCIENTISTS ASK LAWMAKERS TO TAKE ‘FRESH LOOK’ AT CLIMATE CHANGE

In a recent letter circulated to Members of Congress, 18 scientists from various universities and research centers called for lawmakers to take a “fresh look” at climate change. The letter notes that “every one of the leading national scientific academies worldwide – have concluded that human activity is changing the climate. This is not a ‘belief.’ Instead, it is an objective evaluation of the scientific evidence.”

The letter, circulated Jan. 28, highlights that the effects of climate change are already having serious implications.  “Our coastal areas are now facing increasing dangers from rising sea levels and storm surges; the southwest and southeast are increasingly vulnerable to drought; other regions will need to prepare for massive flooding from the extreme storms of the sort being experienced with increasing frequency…Our military recognizes that the consequences of climate change have direct security implications for the country that will only become more acute with time, and it has begun the sort of planning required across the board.”

The letter also references the U.S. Climate Impacts Report, commissioned by the George W. Bush administration, which states: “Climate change poses unique challenges to human health…There are direct health impacts from heat waves and severe storms, ailments caused or exacerbated by air pollution and airborne allergens, and many climate-sensitive infectious diseases.” 

The scientists write that specific legislative action should be left to elected leaders but that “as scientists, we have an obligation to evaluate, report, and explain the science behind climate change."

To view the entire letter, click here.

INTERIOR: AGENCY UPDATES ITS SCIENTIFIC INTEGRITY POLICY

The U.S. Department of Interior has become the first agency to update its scientific integrity policy after the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a memorandum to federal agency heads to do so.

The updated policy establishes new rules to protect scientists and their work from interference from communications staff and political appointees. It also seeks to ensure that the selection of employees in scientific and scholarly roles is based on merit and encourages the participation of government scientists in professional scholarly societies and organizations.

Also, per the requirements of the OSTP, Interior Secretary Salazar has appointed Dr. Ralph Morgenweck to serve as the department's first scientific integrity officer. Morgenweck currently serves as a senior science adviser to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In his new role, Dr. Morgenweck will coordinate implementation of the new policy across Interior’s bureaus and offices.

The policy earned quick praise from outside groups, including the environmental watchdog Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which has been critical of the pace at which the White House has implemented its scientific integrity policies.

The new policy applies to all Interior employees when they engage in scientific or scholarly activities or use this information or analyses to make policy, management or regulatory decisions. Additionally, the policy includes provisions for certain individuals who conduct scientific activities on behalf of the agency.

To view the text of the policy, click here.

ENERGY: HOPE PERSISTS FOR BICAMERAL CONSIDERATION OF RENEWABLE STANDARD

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) offered a small glimmer of hope that consensus between House and Senate leaders on a clean energy standard was a possibility in the current 112th Congress. The remarks came at a Feb. 8 event sponsored by the National Journal.

While holding his cards on whether he would ever support or oppose a clean energy mandate, Upton stated he is interested in "bring[ing] a cleaner energy standard to the U.S. without the greenhouse gas emissions standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency," and is "anxious to see the details" of the clean energy proposal announced by President Obama in his recent State of the Union address. In early February, President Obama held a White House meeting with Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), a key player in the implementation of a “clean energy” standard. Bingaman and Upton have also met to discuss policy this year.

Chairman Upton noted, however, that there are currently 28 states, including Michigan that already have renewable energy standards. “We’re at the beginning of this process. We’re going to see where this takes us,” he said, noting that this week was the start of his committee’s first official hearings since he became chairman.

Legislation calling for a renewable electricity standard (RES) drew a small yet significant amount of GOP support during the 110th Congress. On Aug. 4, 2007, Tom Udall (D-NM) and Todd Russell Platts (R-PA) sponsored an amendment calling for a 15 percent national renewable electricity standard by 2020. The amendment won 32 GOP votes before passing the chamber as part of the New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security, and Consumer Protection Act, an omnibus energy bill that itself obtained 26 Republican votes, including Chairman Upton.

The passage of three years as well as the arrival of many tea-party freshman Republicans may make House passage of a clean energy bill problematic, even with some lukewarm GOP support. However, the past openness of a number of prominent GOP leaders, including Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Paul Ryan (R-WI), to the general idea of an RES does give action on the plan some hope.

To view the House vote on the 2007 omnibus energy bill, click here.

To view the House vote on the Udall-Platts Amendment, click here.

EPA: AGENCY MOVES TO LIMIT PERCHLORATE, OTHER DRINKING WATER TOXINS

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a decision to move forward with new federal drinking water standards for the rocket fuel component perchlorate, linked to thyroid problems and other developmental problems.

The Feb. 2, 2011 decision to undertake a first-ever national standard for perchlorate reverses a decision made by the previous administration and comes after EPA Administrator Jackson charged EPA scientists with undertaking a review of the emerging science of perchlorate.  In October 2008, the Bush administration, disregarding the advice of its own EPA scientists, announced that it would not regulate perchlorate.

A Washington Post investigation at the time found that Bush administration officials heavily edited an EPA report to play down the risks of perchlorate. An August 2010 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report also found that the Department of Defense (DoD), which along with NASA is a heavy user of perchlorate, sought to derail any perchlorate standards. The study reported perchlorate contamination at 70 percent of DoD facilities.

The GAO study also found perchlorate occurs naturally as well as in man-made form across 45 states in water supplies that are used by between five million and 17 million Americans. A 2006 Food and Drug Administration study found perchlorate in 74 percent of a wide range of food items it tested. Scientific research indicates that it may impact the normal function of the thyroid, which produces important developmental hormones. Thyroid hormones are critical to the normal development and growth of fetuses, infants and children.

Environmental groups have called on the EPA to set a standard of one part per billion, which California adopted last month. A 2010 study of 500,000 California newborns reported disrupted thyroid function in infants whose mothers had been exposed to drinking water with at least five parts per billion of perchlorate. The study did not assess effects at lower concentrations.

The agency is also moving towards establishing a drinking water standard to address a group of up to 16 volatile organic compounds that can cause cancer, only half of them currently subject to regulation. As part of the Drinking Water Strategy laid out by Administrator Jackson in 2010, EPA committed to addressing contaminants as a group rather than one at a time.

The decision is supported by environmental organizations as well as Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) who has introduced several bills that would set limits on perchlorate in drinking water.

For additional information on Sen. Boxer’s legislation, see the Jan. 28 edition of ESA Policy News at:
http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2011/01282011.php

More information on EPA’s drinking water strategy:
http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/rulesregs/sdwa/dwstrategy/index.cfm

Administrator Jackson’s 2010 Speech on EPA’s New Drinking Water Strategy:
http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/0/bbd6b38fa4f29ace852576ee004a4dde!OpenDocument

SENATE: FAA BILL INCLUDES EMISSION REDUCTION PROVISIONS, RESEARCH INVESTMENTS

On Feb. 7, the U.S. Senate began its second week debating S. 223, a bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The bill includes several provisions intended to make air-travel more environmentally friendly.

The bill’s proposal for the NextGen system, which would switch the ground-based air traffic control system to GPS, is an attempt to reduce congestion by curtailing mid-air rerouting and providing more information about where planes are at any given moment. Proponents of the measure contend the system can also reduce trip times and taxiing before takeoff, reducing fuel use and emissions.

The measure, sponsored by Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), also includes a number of pilot and research programs centered on alternative fuels for aircraft, including biofuels and clean coal. Among other provisions, the Senate bill instructs the FAA administrator to create a research program aimed at reducing airline emissions. The bill lays out the goal of creating airline technology that reduces fuel use by 33 percent, lowers nitrogen oxide emissions during takeoff and landing by 60 percent and makes alternative jet fuel 20 percent of the commercial market.

Worldwide, airlines account for between two and three percent of total carbon emissions, a figure the industry is trying to reduce. Although the military has performed tests on planes with renewable fuels, they are still years away from commercial use.

The FAA Reauthorization has been extended 16 times since the last bill expired in 2007. Although separate bills passed both chambers last year (the Senate bill passed 93-0), a compromise between key leaders within the House and Senate could not be reached before Congress adjourned.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee plans to bring up its own bill in coming weeks.
-Energy and Environment Daily

PUBLIC POLICY: ESA ANNOUNCES 2011 GSPA WINNERS

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) announced its 2011 Graduate Student Policy Award winners. Kellen Marshall (University of Illinois-Chicago), Michael Levy (West Virginia University), and Daniel Evans (University of Washington) will travel to Washington, DC in March to participate in a congressional visits event sponsored by the Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) and co-chaired by ESA. 

The event will focus on the need for sustained federal investment in biological research and education.  The three students will meet with congressional offices, be briefed by policy leaders on federal funding issues, and meet other scientists from across the country.  The three students all demonstrated experience and commitment in engaging in public policy.

The ESA Graduate Student Policy Award is one of several ways the Society works to offer its graduate student members opportunities to gain public policy experience.

For more information on the students and the GSPA award, see:
http://www.esa.org/pao/newsroom/press2011/02072011.php

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in the House

H.R. 553, the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Enhancement Act – Introduced by Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) Feb. 8, the bill would require the Environmental Protection Agency to test chemicals that are suspected to be damaging to the human hormonal system and may be found in drinking water. Specifically, the bill updates the original Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program established to test chemicals for their potential to disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates growth, metabolism and reproduction.

The bill has three Democratic original cosponsors and has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The bill had passed the House last Congress as part of the Assistance, Quality and Affordability Act of 2010, but stalled in the Senate.

Introduced in the Senate

S. 249, the American Big Game and Livestock Protection Act– Introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) Feb. 1, the bill would permanently remove Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf. The bill has seven Republican original cosponsors and has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MO) has introduced companion legislation in the House (H.R. 509).


Sources: Climate Wire, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, the Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee, Greenwire, House Appropriations Committee, POLITICO, the Project on Climate Science, The Washington Post, the White House

Send questions or comments to Terence Houston, Science Policy Analyst, Terence Huston or Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs, Nadine Lymn

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