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Policy News Update

July 13, 2012

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]

WILDFIRES: FEDERAL MANAGEMENT EFFORTS CONTINUE

A number of federal agencies, including the US Forest Service (FS), the Department of Interior (DOI), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Defense, are continuing to support community recovery efforts from wildfires in Colorado and across the western US.

As of this week, there are 40 large wildfires reported in the states of Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Missouri, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, Florida, Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Alaska, according to DOI. Federal officials report that wildfires nationwide have burned over three million acres, slightly above the 10-year average for this time of year.

According to the FS and DOI, the federal agencies respond to about 16,500 wildfires per year that occur on land under their jurisdiction and assist state and local agencies in responding to a significant number of the approximately 60,000 wildfires per year that occur on land under state jurisdiction. Currently, 20 large airtankers as well as 71 Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) are available nationally to combat fires burning in a number of western states. More than 9,200 personnel, 530 fire engines and 85 helicopters are also fighting wildfires around the US, supporting state and local efforts.

President Obama formally declared Colorado a federal disaster area on June 29, upon a request from Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and the state’s entire congressional delegation. The designation will offer federal money for assistance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, including temporary housing, debris removal and repairs to public facilities. The president toured the state in late June and DOI Secretary Ken Salazar visited Colorado Springs in July to survey damage and meet with first responders and other local officials.

The FS is also working with FEMA to aid communities impacted by flooding, an aftereffect of the wildfires. The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-141) increases access to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for some residents impacted by flooding on federal land resulting from wildfires. The legislation was enacted into law July 6, as incorporated into the recent surface transportation reauthorization bill.

To view western fire updates from the US Forest Service, click here:
http://www.fs.fed.us/news/2012/releases.shtml

The FS has also opened a public comment opportunity to seek input on its broader forest conservation efforts. The comment period ends Aug. 13. For more information, click here:
http://www.fs.fed.us/news/2012/releases/06/comments.shtml

To view the National Interagency Fire Center’s recently released National Wildland Significant Fire Potential Outlook for July - October 2012, click here:
http://www.predictiveservices.nifc.gov/outlooks/monthly_seasonal_outlook.pdf

BUDGET: ESA JOINS EFFORT TO PREVENT NONDEFENSE DISCRETIONARY CUTS

On July 12, the Ecological Society of America joined nearly 3,000 national, state and local organizations in signing a letter to Members of Congress requesting that they take a balanced approach to deficit reduction that does not include further cuts to nondefense discretionary (NDD) spending. The organizations are representative of a wide breath of fields that benefit from federal NDD programs including science, education, health and civil rights.

The letter comes ahead of a potential across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending in Jan. 2013 that the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25) stipulates. Under the current law, the $1.2 trillion in cuts would come 50 percent from defense spending and 50 percent from non-defense discretionary spending. The letter notes the important role NDD programs play and urges Congress to work to reduce the deficit in a manner that prevents further significant cuts to these programs.

“In total, if Congress and the President fail to act, between fiscal 2010 and 2021 NDD programs will have been cut by 20 percent overall. Such indiscriminate cuts threaten the entire range of bipartisan national priorities,” the letter warns. “For example, there will be fewer scientific and technological innovations, fewer teachers in classrooms, fewer job opportunities, fewer National Park visitor hours, fewer air traffic controllers, fewer food and drug inspectors, and fewer first responders.”

The slated cuts were intended to motivate Congress to take on a comprehensive approach to deficit reduction that included politically unpopular areas of revenue increases and entitlement reductions, similar to what has been recommended by several bipartisan deficit reduction committees. However, there is concern among organizations that benefit from NDD programs that Members of Congress seeking to protect defense spending and unwilling to deal with revenue or entitlement reform, will introduce measures that force NDD programs to bear 100 percent of the sequestration instead of half.

In 2011, NDD spending represented less than one-fifth of the federal budget and 4.3 percent of US Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Under strict discretionary caps in the bipartisan Budget Control Act (BCA), by 2021 NDD spending would decline to just 2.8 percent of GDP, the lowest level in at least 50 years. If sequestration is allowed to take effect, cuts to NDD programs will be even deeper.

“America’s day to day security requires more than military might. NDD programs support our economy, drive our global competitiveness, and provide an environment where all Americans may lead healthy, productive lives,” the letter continues. “Only a balanced approach to deficit reduction can restore fiscal stability, and NDD has done its part.”

View the full letter here:

http://publichealthfunding.org/uploads/NDDLetter.Final.July2012.pdf

CLIMATE CHANGE: FORMER GOP REP LAUNCHES CONSERVATIVE CLIMATE INSTITUTE

On July 10, 2012, former Congressman Bob Inglis (R-SC) announced the formation of the Energy and Enterprise Institute (E&EI), a new organization aimed at “presenting conservative solutions to America’s energy and climate challenges.”

Inglis has been vocally critical of “climate deniers” and has repeatedly called upon incumbent Republican lawmakers to join the overwhelming majority of scientists who say that humans are contributing to climate change. Inglis has famously used the analogy “Your child is sick. Ninety-eight doctors say treat him this way. Two say no, this other way is the way to go. I’ll go with the two,” to express his frustration with his party on the issue of climate change. He also worries that other countries that are taking steps to address climate change will leave the US behind in innovative approaches to tackle the issue. He has lamented that being vocal with his views on climate change contributed to his primary loss to a more conservative Republican in 2010.

E&EI would seek consensus on conservative approaches to address climate change. The organization criticizes approaches that “expand the size or scope of government” and “fickle tax incentives” while emphasizing a “free-enterprise approach.” As an incumbent, Inglis voted against the Democrats’ American Clean Energy and Security Act, the 2009 cap-and-trade bill that sought a comprehensive approach to addressing climate change. In summarizing its formal position E&EI notes “We don’t subscribe to apocalyptic visions of climate change. We do believe, however, that the best science available indicates that America faces substantial risks in a changing climate.”

The website’s official news release also seeks to brandish Inglis’s credentials as an overall true conservative. It notes he has scored perfect 100 percents from the Christian Coalition and the National Right to Life, a 93 from the American Conservative Union and an “A” from the National Rifle Association.

View the full announcement here:
http://energyandenterprise.com/eei-launched/

EDUCATION: HOUSE COMMITTEE REVIEWS STUDY ON RESEARCH UNIVERSITIES

On June 27, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Education convened a hearing entitled “The Role of Research Universities in Securing America’s Future Prosperity: Challenges and Expectations.” The hearing examined a recent report from the National Academies, “Research Universities and the Future of America.”

There was a consensus among members on the importance of sustaining research institutions. “Particularly in today’s tough economic times, research universities play a vital role in America’s ability to maintain its competitiveness in an increasingly technologically developed world, and the knowledge and skills produced by our nation’s research graduates provide the fuel for these endeavors,” stated Research and Education Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL). In a subsequent press statement, the chairman noted that research universities “provide the backbone for the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce essential for US prosperity.”

These sentiments were seconded by Subcommittee Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL). “Research universities’ contributions to the health, security, and prosperity of the American people cannot be overstated,” he noted. “Advances in the fields of medicine and biotechnology, the development of critical new military technologies, and countless economically important companies and products can be traced back to research conducted in university labs.” Lipinksi also called for “sustained and predictable support” for scientific research and affordable education.

In his testimony, the National Academies’ Charles Holliday, Chair of the Committee on Research Universities said that the United States remains a leader in research and innovation noting that  “35 to 40 of the top 50” research universities in the world are in America. He also cautioned that public universities “are on thin ice” with state funding cuts that occurred from 2002-2010—some as high as 50 percent—putting a strain on the effectiveness of these institutions.

A former Chairman and CEO of Dupont, Holliday noted the key role research and patents have played in helping businesses. He cited Dupont’s focus on collaborations with research universities as key to his company’s success. He urged businesses and research universities to improve collaboration to help students better compete in the workforce as well as increase STEM investment

Committee members also heard from various university leaders on the role their institutions play in advancing economic success for the nation. Jeffrey  Seeman, Vice President for Research at Texas A&M University and Chief Research Officer for the Texas A&M University System outlined several goals of the report, including the continued (if not increased) support from federal agencies and increased efficiency and transparency in how universities utilize resources. Leslie Tolbert, Senior Vice President for Research at the University of Arizona noted that over the past ten years, state investment in her university went from 32 percent to 15  percent in FY 2012. She also seconded recommendations from the report that regulatory controls on federally funded research should streamlined as much as possible to minimize the administrative burden on the federal government and universities and maximize the impact of funding spent on university research.

The National Academies report was requested in 2009 by then-Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) (now retired from Congress), current-Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX), as well as Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who serve as the Chairwoman and Ranking Member respectively of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Children and Families.

View the full report here:
http://sites.nationalacademies.org/PGA/bhew/researchuniversities/index.htm

View the House subcommittee hearing here: http://science.house.gov/hearing/subcommittee-research-and-science-educatoin-hearing-role-research-universities-securing

NOAA: COMMITTEE EXAMINES GAO REPORT ON SATELITTE PROGRAMS

On June 27, the House Science, Space and Technology subcommittees on Energy and Environment as well as Oversight and Investigations convened for a joint hearing on two of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) satellite programs. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that rising costs could reverse the progress of NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series (GOES-R). 

Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun (R-GA) expressed concern with the satellite programs’ growing costs, scheduling lapses and data gaps. “Even more frustrating is the fact that this program still does not have a baseline for cost and schedule, he said. “To quote the GAO report, not having a baseline ‘makes it more difficult for program officials to make informed decisions and for program overseers to understand if the program is on track to successfully deliver expected functionality on cost and schedule.’”  

Oversight and Investigations Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NY) noted that “the group that sits before us today is not responsible for the mess.  Rather, we are counting on them to get us out of a mess they inherited.  It is our job to probe the answers they offer, assess whether the programs appear robust, and offer whatever advice and support we can to get these satellites launched and operating.”

Kathryn Sullivan, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction and Deputy Administrator at NOAA agreed with GAO’s assessment. Noting the progress that has been made with both satellite programs, Sullivan cautioned that stable and sufficient budgets for the satellites are required to minimize disruptions that could increase launch delays and cost increases. When asked by Chairman Hall about the Senate’s plan to shift control of NOAA’s four satellite programs to NASA, Sullivan only acknowledged that the administration is reviewing the proposal, but has not yet taken an official position.

GAO contended that data gaps from the lengthy and ongoing process of updating satellites could adversely affect the ability of NOAA satellites to provide accurate and timely weather forecasting data. While acknowledging the persistent cost overruns and potential forthcoming data gaps, GAO praised the current administration’s management efforts. “I think there’s strong program management there. We’ve seen many program managers over the years testifying before this committee and clearly, when you look at where the program is now, it’s in a much better position than where it’s been in the past,” said GAO Director of Information Technology Management David Powner.

Click here to view the full hearing:
http://science.house.gov/hearing/subcommittee-investigations-and-oversight-hearing-continuing-oversight-nation%E2%80%99s-weather

EPA: GRANTS ANNOUNCED FOR URBAN WATERS

On June 26, 2012 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it is awarding $2.7 million to 46 organizations in 32 states and Puerto Rico for urban waters restoration and community revitalization.

The funding grants, which range from $30,000 to $60,000, would go to urbanized areas with waterways that include canals, rivers, lakes, wetlands, aquifers, estuaries, bays and oceans. The funding is aimed at boosting community efforts to improve their water resources, which can be damaged by sewage, runoff from city streets and abandoned industrial facility contaminants.

The Urban Waters program supports the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, a partnership of 12 federal agencies working to reconnect urban communities with their waterways. Additional information on the Urban Waters Federal Partnership can be found here:
http://urbanwaters.gov/

A list of projects that will be funded through EPA’s Urban Waters program can be viewed here:
http://www.epa.gov/urbanwaters/funding.

For additional information on EPA’s urban waters program, click here:
http://www.epa.gov/urbanwaters/index.html 

CURRENT POLICY

Considered by House Committee/Subcommittee

On July 10, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power held a hearing on the following bill:

H.R. 6060, the Endangered Fish Recovery Programs Extension Act of 2012 – Introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), the bill would reauthorize the Upper Colorado River and San Juan River Basin endangered fish recovery programs.

Approved by House Committee

On July 11, the House Natural Resources Committee approved the following bills:

H.R. 3641, the Pinnacles National Park Act – Introduced by Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Jeff Denham (R-CA), the bill would upgrade Pinnacles National Monument in central California to a full-fledged national park. The measure was amended to include a proposal by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) that eliminates a planned 2,905-acre wilderness designation.

H.R. 4606, to authorize the issuance of right-of-way permits for natural gas pipelines in Glacier National Park – Introduced by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT), the bill would allow the National Park Service to issue a right-of-way permit for maintenance of a natural gas pipeline that crosses into Glacier National Park’s southern boundary for 3.5 miles. The legislation clarifies a question of authority for NPS to issue permits for natural gas pipelines.  Currently, NPS has the authority to issue permits for electricity and communication lines. 

H.R. 4100, the Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2011 – Introduced by Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), the bill would strengthen the government's authority to crack down on illegal fishing.

H.R. 4484, the Y Mountain Access Enhancement Act – Introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the bill would sell an 80-acre parcel along the Y mountain trail in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest in Utah to Brigham Young University.

H.R. 5958, to name the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Visitor Contact Station of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge unit of Gateway National Recreation Area in honor of James L. Buckley – Introduced by Rep. Bob Turner (R-NY), the bill renames the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center in honor of former New York Sen. James Buckley. The National Park Service asserted that there was not enough of a link between the refuge and Buckley, a member of the New York Conservative party.

H.R. 5987, the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act – Introduced by Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), Reps. Charles Fleischmann (R-TN) and Ben Lujan (D-NM), the bill would establish a national park at sites in Hanford, WA; Oak Ridge, TN; and Los Alamos, NM to commemorate the Manhattan Project, the 1940s effort that produced the first atomic bomb. The bill passed the House Natural Resources Committee by unanimous consent.

On July 12, the House Agriculture Committee approved the following bill:

H.R. 6083, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2012 – Introduced by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN), the comprehensive $957 billion farm bill reauthorization cuts spending by $35 billion, with most cuts coming from the food stamp program. In contrast, the recently Senate-passed $969 billon bill cuts $23 billion by restructuring and consolidating various programs. The House bill’s conservation title, which provides farmers assistance to fund environmental improvements, would slash this funding by $6.1 billion. The House bill also lacks the Senate’s $800 million mandatory funding for rural energy programs that help landowners invest in biofuels, renewable energy and make energy efficiency improvements.

The House Agriculture Committee approved the bill by a vote of 35-11, including all but three Republicans and eight of 20 Democrats. The 11 dissenters included Reps. Bob Gibbs (R-OH),  Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), Marlin Stutzman (R-IN),  Joe Baca (D-CA), Joe Courtney (D-CT), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), James McGovern (D-MA), Chellie Pingree (D-ME),  David Scott (D-GA), Terri Sewell (D-AL). The House and Senate bills must either be reconciled or Congress must past an extension bill before Sept. 30, 2012, when current farm bill authorizations expire. Additional information on the bill is available here:
http://agriculture.house.gov/singlepages.aspx?NewsID=1227&LSBID=1271

Passed House

H.R. 5892, the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act – Introduced by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the bill would streamline the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) process for permitting small hydropower and conduit projects. The bill would allow FERC to extend the life span of preliminary permits for developers to investigate sites for new projects. It would also direct the Department of Energy to study whether pumped storage could be used to back up intermittent renewable energy generation such as wind and solar. The bill passed the House July 9 by a vote of 372-0.

H.R. 4402 – the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act – Introduced by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), the bill reclassifies certain mining operations as “infrastructure projects” to streamline the permitting process for mining on federal lands. The bill also requires federal agencies to expedite environmental reviews of proposed mining process and limits the judicial review process for challenges to approved mining permits on federal lands.

Critics of the measure charge that the bill drastically reduces or eliminates environmental reviews, gives mining companies control over the timing of permitting decisions for virtually all mining operations on public land and elevates mining above all other uses of public lands, including hunting, fishing, grazing, and recreation. The bill passed July 12 by a vote of 256-160 with 22 Democrats joining all Republicans in support of the measure.

Introduced in Senate

S. 3375, a bill to designate the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area in the State of California – Introduced July 11 by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the bill would designate as a national conservation area 319,000 acres of federal land to protect the Berryessa Snow Mountain region in Lake, Mendocino, Napa and Yolo counties in northern California. Companion legislation (H.R. 5545) has been introduced by Mike Thompson (D-CA), John Garamendi (D-CA) and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA). The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Signed by President

H.R. 4348, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP 21) – Introduced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL), the $105 billion bill would reauthorize federal surface transportation programs for 27 months. The comprehensive bill includes a provision to allow Deepwater Horizon spill penalty money to the Gulf Coast states to pay for economic and environmental restoration. Despite inclusion in the House-passed measure, Republicans were unsuccessful in including any provision related to the Keystone pipeline.

The comprehensive legislation also includes the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, a bill reauthorizing the nation’s flood insurance program. The words "global warming" were stripped from the legislation before it was passed, but the change is not expected to alter the program’s consideration of climate change. The bill still requires FEMA officials to ascertain the effects of sea level rise, intensifying rainfall and hurricane-driven ocean surges.

The final legislation was a compromise bill agreed upon by leaders in both chambers, which included much of the language of the bipartisan Senate transportation bill introduced by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK). The legislation passed the House June 29 by a vote of 373-52 and the Senate 74-19 with one “present” vote from Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME). Opposition in both chambers came solely from Republicans. President Obama signed the measure into law July 6.


Sources: Department of Interior, Energy and Enterprise Institute, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, NDD Summit, U.S. Forest Service

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