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Policy News Update

September 9, 2011

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]

AIR POLLUTION: OBAMA ADMINISTRATION POSTPONES OZONE STANDARDS

On Sept. 2, the White House requested the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) postpone plans to strengthen the George W. Bush administration’s 2008 ozone standard.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator Cass Sunstein cites a need to “minimize regulatory costs and burdens” during an “economically challenging time.” Sunstein references Executive Order 13563, which states that the administration’s regulatory policy “must promote predictability and reduce uncertainty.” The letter notes that the Clean Air Act sets a five year cycle to review national ambient air quality standards, effectively allowing EPA to hold off on revisiting the standards until 2013.

The EPA in January 2010 had proposed to set the national health-based standard for ozone between 60 and 70 parts per billion (ppb) when averaged over an eight-hour period. The Bush administration had tightened the ozone limits from 84 ppb to 75 ppb in 2008, despite scientific advisers' recommendations to issue a standard between 60 and 70 ppb.

The decision is but one among many that has drawn criticism from environmentalists. In a recent column published in the Huffington Post, Actor and Environmental Activist Robert Redford writes: “Since early August, three administration decisions -- on Arctic drilling, the Keystone XL pipeline and the ozone that causes smog -- have all favored dirty industry over public health and a clean environment. Like so many others, I'm beginning to wonder just where the man stands.”

The move earned President Obama rare praise from Republican leaders in Congress. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) released a statement that referred to the ozone standard as “the most expensive environmental regulation ever imposed” and described the president’s move as “a step in the right direction.”

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) issued a joint statement: “This sudden admission by President Obama that ill-considered regulations do, in fact, have a negative impact on our economy is a welcome breakthrough.” House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) stated “this is a step in the right direction, but the president needs to do more to halt EPA’s job-killing assault on the economy and ensure Americans access to affordable and reliable energy supplies.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) issued a brief statement expressing disappointment in the president’s action while commending him on his “commitment to vigorously oppose any efforts to dismantle the Clean Air Act and the progress that we have made.” Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) has stated his intention to hold a hearing on the issue.

EPA Administrator Jackson released a statement affirming that the standard would be revisited at some point and cited the Obama administration’s efforts to address air pollution “as some of the most important standards and safeguards for clean air in U.S. history,” citing reductions in sulfur and nitrogen dioxide, mercury pollutions from power plants and carbon pollution standards for cars and trucks.

To view the White House letter, see:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/ozone_national_ambient_air_quality_standards_letter.pdf

To review Executive Order 13563, see:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/memoranda/2011/m11-10.pdf

To view the EPA statement, see:
http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/1e5ab1124055f3b28525781f0042ed40/e41fbc47e7ff4f13852578ff00552bf8!OpenDocument

APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE COMMITTEE APPROVES FY 2012 SPENDING BILLS

During the week of Sept. 7, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its energy and water development and agricultural appropriations bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. The bills must be voted on by the full Senate and agreed to by the House before they can be signed by the president.

Energy and Water

The FY 2012 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act includes $31.625 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Energy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and water programs within the Department of Interior, $57 million below the FY 2011 level, but still $1 billion more than the House-bill (H.R. 2354), passed in July. It’s also $4.9 billion less than the president’s FY 2012 budget request. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) noted that the steep cuts were due to the requirements of the debt ceiling agreement, which requires an additional $1.2 trillion in cuts compared to baseline spending over the next decade.

Several DOE programs would receive increased or level funding, compared to FY 2011. Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) would receive $250 million, $70 million more than FY 2011. The Office of Science would receive $4.843 billion, level with FY 2011. Defense Environmental Cleanup would receive $5.002 billion, $11 million above FY 2011.

The Energy and Water bill would provide $4.864 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers, $291 million above the President’s budget request and $101 million more than the House bill. However, the Senate bill included no funding for new levees, dams or other water-related construction projects, garnering criticism from a number of Senators. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) stated that the Army Corps’ construction budget has shrunk 50 percent since 2008, despite a list of $60 billion in authorization projects. Landrieu’s sentiments regarding the lack of sufficient Army Corps funding were echoed by Energy and Water Subcommittee Chairwoman Diane Feinstein (D-CA). The Senate bill did include over $1 billion for the Army Corps to perform emergency repairs on flood-control structures, prompted by the recent flooding of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

The Senate Energy and Water bill included no funding for the Yucca Mountain Nevada nuclear waste repository, which is opposed by the Obama administration. The House-passed version of the bill includes $45 million for the project. The Senate bill also did not include the House bill provisions that would block the administration from expanding federal protections for wetlands and streams.

Agriculture

The FY 2012 Agriculture, Rural Development and FDA Appropriations Act includes $19.78 billion in total spending, $138 less than FY 2011 and nearly 2.7 billion more than the House bill. The bill cuts several conservation and research programs within the Department of Agriculture.

The bill eliminates the Conservation Stewardship Program, which helps farmers prepare management plans, and cuts by 20 percent the Environmental Quality Incentives Program that picks up some of the tab for environmental improvements such as planting trees and reducing erosion on farms. In total, the bill cuts conservation programs by 12 percent, or $726 million, from levels authorized by the Farm Bill.

Conservation and research activities also see cuts. The FY 2012 bill provides $2.309 billion for the National Institute on Food and Agriculture and the Agricultural Research Service, down from $2.348 billion in FY 2011.  The Natural Resources Conservation Service receives $828 million for FY 2012, down from $871 million in FY 2011. 

Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)Appropriations Act for FY 2012 includes $41 billion in spending, $666 million below the department's fiscal 2011 budget, yet $408 million more than the House-passed bill.

The bill provides $800 million for DHS Science and Technology programs, $28 million below FY 2011 and $261 million above the House bill. The bill also provides $6 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund, $3.35 billion above FY 2011.  The money is intended to address federally declared disasters in 47 states for calendar year 2011, which include the Mississippi river flooding, the southern tornados and initial funds for Hurricane Irene.

The measure also includes $115 million for DHS's BioWatch program, a $14 million increase from FY 2011. Launched as a result of the anthrax attacks shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, BioWatch uses a complicated system of nationwide sensors to test air for anthrax spores and other harmful substances.

Both House and Senate leaders expect the 12 appropriations bills will be included in an omnibus spending package later this year. They also anticipate taking up at least one continuing resolution (CR), since the House and Senate are not expected to come to agreement on funding levels for all 12 bills before the current fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

For a summary of the Senate Energy and Water bill, see:
http://www.appropriations.senate.gov/news.cfm?method=news.view&id=8053d2e0-2189-4c25-9046-8a90a33c0d9b

For a summary of the Senate Agriculture bill, see:
http://www.appropriations.senate.gov/news.cfm?method=news.view&id=8af3a7f2-4f62-4dab-ba9f-108744d63c58

For a summary of the Homeland Security bill, see:
http://www.appropriations.senate.gov/news.cfm?method=news.view&id=657ba3e6-b6da-46e3-80f3-4865726d8889

NSF: ENDOCRINOLOGIST NAMED DIRECTOR OF BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES DIRECTORATE

On Aug. 30, National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Subra Suresh announced the selection of John Wingfield to head its Directorate for Biological Sciences.

The Directorate for Biological Sciences provides support for research to advance understanding the underlying principles and mechanisms governing life. Five office areas make up the directorate: Biological Infrastructure, Environmental Biology, Emerging Frontiers, Integrative Organismal Systems and Molecular and Cellular Biosciences.

Wingfield, an environmental endocrinologist, joined NSF as division director of Integrative Organismal Systems in September 2010 from the University of California, Davis. He received his Ph.D. in Zoology and Comparative Endocrinology from University College of North Wales, U.K. in 1973. He takes over the position held by Joann Roskoski, who has served as acting assistant director for biological sciences since October 2009.

NSF is an independent federal agency and the only federal entity that supports research across all scientific fields of study with an annual budget of about $6.9 billion. Each year, NSF receives more than 45,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes over 11,500 new funding awards. NSF grants funds for research to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions in all 50 states. NSF also awards over $400 million in professional and service contracts annually.

GAO: BUDGET CONSTRAINTS WILL HINDER EPA HAZARDS CLEAN-UP GOALS

The non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report stating that, because of current budget constraints, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is unlikely to meet its 2020 goals for the clean-up of some of the nation’s most hazardous waste sites.

According to GAO, “EPA, states, and facilities have taken a variety of actions to streamline the clean-up process, and the vast majority of high-priority facilities have made considerable progress in meeting EPA’s performance goals to control contamination.” GAO goes on to note that “officials in EPA regions and the states identified fiscal and human resource constraints as the preeminent challenge for achieving the 2020 goals on time” and that the problem in clean-up efforts “will likely worsen if federal, state, or facilities’ fiscal problems deteriorate further.”
Eight years ago, EPA set a long-term benchmark of completing cleanup remedies for 95 percent of sites covered by the hazardous-waste provisions of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Unfortunately, over the past decade, fiscal constraints and personnel shortfalls coupled with increased demands upon the agency have made its 95 percent target for 2020 much less feasible.
GAO recommended that EPA conduct an in-depth review of its ability to meet 2020 cleanup goals as well as the size of practical "corrective action" work on restoring hazardous sites, a suggestion with which EPA concurred, according to GAO.

The report was requested by House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-MA), who used the findings to criticize House Republicans in their efforts to cut funding for the RCRA, whose provisions require facility owners to clean up hazardous waste that could pose a risk to human health and the environment. The House Interior and Environment Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2012 would cut the RCRA program by $4 million.

To read the GAO report, see: http://markey.house.gov/docs/gao_hazardous_waste_report.pdf 

GAO: PHARMACEUTICALS PRESENT IN DRINKING WATER

On Sept. 8, the Government Accountability Office (GA) released a report on pharmaceuticals in the nation’s drinking water supply, raising potential concerns for public health.

The study, requested by House Science, Space and Technology Energy and Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Brad Miller (D-NC) and House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-MA), stated that concentrations of any single drug detected were low, typically in parts per trillion. GAO did note, however, that the full extent of contamination remains unknown and recommended that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establish an interagency work group or other mechanism to research the human health effects of the water contamination.

Most pharmaceuticals are not currently regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. In 2009, EPA released a “Contaminant Candidate List” of chemicals for possible regulation that included 12 pharmaceuticals. The GAO report found that for the 12 pharmaceuticals included on the list, the EPA lacks data for the presence of any of these pharmaceuticals in “treated drinking water” supplies and does not have an analytic method suitable for conducting national drinking water studies for seven of them.  

The Members who called for the GAO study used its findings to advocate for federal funding for more research. “It is clear that we do not fully understand the health consequences from long-term low-dose exposures to pharmaceutical contaminants in our Nation’s drinking water,” said Rep. Miller. “We need more research, more data and more public awareness of the potential dangers of improper disposal of medicines.”

“It's often said that what you don’t know won’t hurt you, but when it comes to our drinking water, not knowing may have devastating health consequences,” stated Rep. Markey. “No one should have to worry that the glass of water they drink with their prescription medicine may actually contain unprescribed, illegal or harmful drugs.”

To read the GAO report, see: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11346.pdf.

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: INTERIOR ANNOUNCES NEW FL WILDLIFE REFUGE

On Sept. 7, the Department of Interior announced the establishment of a new national wildlife refuge and conservation area in the Kissimmee River Valley, south of Orlando, FL. Part of the administration’s “Great Outdoors” initiative, the move would preserve what the agency describes as “one of the last remaining grassland and longleaf pine savanna landscapes in eastern North America.”

According to Interior, the proposed Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area would help protect the headwaters of the Everglades in the Kissimmee River Basin while connecting valuable fish and wildlife habitats. Two-thirds of the area (up to 100,000 acres) would be protected through conservation easements purchased from willing sellers.

Private landowners would retain ownership of their land, as well as the right to work the land to raise cattle or crops. The easements would ensure the land could not be developed. Up to 50,000 additional acres would be purchased outright by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)to establish refuge lands where visitors could hunt, fish, hike and view wildlife.

The proposal was refined based on input drawn from four public meetings earlier this year and more than 38,000 comments. Additional comments will be accepted through Oct. 24, 2011
and  may be submitted via mailto the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Proposed Everglades Headwaters NWR and Conservation Area, P.O. Box 2683, Titusville, FL 32781-2683, or email (EvergladesHeadwatersProposal@fws.gov) or fax (321-861-1276).

For additional information, see: http://www.fws.gov/southeast/evergladesheadwaters/

WATER POLLUTION: EPA, NY BAN SEWAGE DISCHARGES IN LONG ISLAND SOUND

On Sept. 6, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and New York State announced a ban on boats discharging wastewater into a 760-square-mile area of Long Island Sound.

Regulators said the ban adds much-needed protection to the New York waters of the Sound, which had become a dumping ground ever since Connecticut banned vessels' wastewater discharges in its waters.

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation proposed the "no discharge zone" in April before taking public comments. EPA approved the ban after determining that there are adequate facilities in the Sound for boats to pump out their sewage, the agency said.

Sewage discharges can contain harmful levels of pathogens and chemicals such as formaldehyde, phenols and chlorine that can damage water quality and put the health of both people  and marine life at risk.

For more information, see:
http://www.epa.gov/region02/water/ndz/index.html

-Greenwire

CURRENT POLICY

Considered by House Committee/Subcommittee

On Sept. 8, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power convened for a hearing on the following bills:

H.R. 2250, the EPA Regulatory Relief Act – Introduced by Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), the bill would provide additional time for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue achievable standards and guidelines governing emissions for industrial, commercial, and institutional boilers, process heaters, and incinerators that were finalized in February 2011.

H.R. 2681, the Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act – Introduced by Rep. John Sullivan (R-OK), the bill would give federal regulators additional time and guidelines to develop achievable rules governing emissions from cement manufacturing facilities.

Both bills have considerable bipartisan support from moderate Democrats. EPA has opposed both bills, stating provisions that request the agency to make the rules less burdensome are vague and would snarl the new rules in litigation.

On Sept. 9, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands held a hearing on the following bills:

H.R. 1444, to require that hunting activities be a land use in all management plans for federal land – Introduced by Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), the bill would require that hunting activities be a land use in all management plans for federal land under the jurisdiction of the Departments of Interior and Agriculture to the extent that such use is not clearly incompatible with the purpose for which the federal land is managed.

H.R. 2834, the Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act – Introduced by Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI), the bill would seek to protect sportsmen and wildlife management agencies from lawsuits and would give regulators discretion to facilitate hunting and angling activities on public lands.

Cleared for White House

H.R. 1249, the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act – the bill, introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), implements comprehensive reforms to the nation’s patent system. Among its provisions, the bill implements a first-inventor-to-file standard for patent approval, creates a post-grant review system to weed out bad patents, and helps the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) address the backlog of patent applications. The bill passed the Senate Sept. 8 by a vote of 89-9. The bill had previously passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 304-117 earlier in the year. For additional information on the measure, see:
http://judiciary.house.gov/issues/issues_patentreformact2011.html


Sources: Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Judiciary Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, the Huffington Post, POLITICO, Senate Appropriations Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the White House

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