Federal Update for August 2007

H.R.2643, the Norm Dicks-sponsored House appropriations bill for the Department of the Interior, Environment, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, was sent to the Senate at the end of June. There it still awaits action on the Senate Legislative Calendar. Senate counterpart S.1696, sponsored by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-CA, is also on the Senate Calendar. The Senate’s $27.2 billion bill would provide $745 million more than 2007. The allocation is $448 million less than the House bill, however. It would provide increases over fiscal 2007 for EPA ($48 million) and the Fish and Wildlife Service ($50 million), but more substantial increases for National Park operations ($196 million) and the U.S. Forest Service ($225 million more). EPA’s clean water fund would be cut by about $197 million, although it is $199 million more than Bush requested.

The $27.2 billion Interior-Environment measure would cut the EPA’s clean water state revolving fund by 18 percent while boosting funding for most other activities. It would provide $887 million for the clean water fund, $197 million below current levels but $199 million more than Bush requested. House appropriators provided $1.1 billion in their committee-reported bill. That $238 million difference accounts for more than half the additional $448 million the House bill would provide. The draft would meet Bush’s request of $2 billion for National Park System operations. Smaller increases would be provided for other priorities, including the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management. Subcommittee chairwoman Feinstein said $1.1 billion would be provided for wildfire suppression, the 10-year average of actual expenditures. Highlights from the draft Senate bill and report will follow subsequent to the full committee markup.

The total discretionary funding for the Department of Interior is $26.41 billion, compared with Bush’s Request of $25.65 billion. For the National Park Service, it’s $2.46 billion, $98 million over Bush’s request. For USFWS, it’s $1.38 billion, $94 million over Bush’s request. A $9 million increase has been penciled for endangered species over FY 2007 and a $6.5 million increase for habitat conservation. The National Wildlife Refuge System is increased $19 million in the bill. Law enforcement: Increase of $3.5 million over FY 2007 to restore funding for international and domestic illegal wildlife trade investigations. The National Fish Hatchery System and Aquatic Habitats are pegged for an increase of $5.25 million over FY 2007 for Hatchery operations & maintenance and for marine mammals. The BIA proposed budget is $2.27 billion, $42.6 million below FY 2007 enacted level, but $36.8 million above Bush’s budget request. The U.S. Geological Survey would receive $1.01 billion, $27.2 million above the FY2007 enacted level and $35 million above Bush’s request to restore proposed major reductions to base scientific research programs, including the Minerals Resources program, the Water Resources Research Institutes program and Geographic Research.

NWIFC FY08 requests have been submitted to Congress and testimony provided to the appropriations committees. Chairman Norm Dicks’ first major spending bill passed on June 27 after two intensive days of debate. It tops Bush’s request for the BIA budget but because without earmark language it’s unclear how much is included for Northwest accounts. It includes $7 million for the shellfish settlement and $20.6 million for rights protection implementation. But it’s unclear if the amount in rights protection includes all previous earmarks such as TFW and mass marking, or whether it means an increase or decrease from FY07. Clarification has been requested. The bill doesn’t add funding for hatchery maintenance/rehabilitation. It reduces the forestry account that supports SSHIAP, but includes $15 million for the Puget Sound Partnership in EPA’s budget. It’s important to watch these issues as the bills move into conference. The Senate Appropriations Committee has marked both the Interior and Commerce bills. Sen. Murray was able to include earmarks of $1.74 million for TFW and $90 million for the PCSRF. This $90 million mark contrasts with a $67 million mark in the House bill and Bush’s request. The House-Senate Conference for the Interior bill will likely occur in September. If there is no veto a budget could be in place on October 1, at least for Interior. If there is a veto and it’s not overcome, it would jeopardize the budget and possibly result in another CR situation like FY07.

The following bills, listed on the Federal Bills List, have seen action in the past month: S 1, Transparency In The Legislative Process, by Sen. Harry Reid, D-NV; HR 407, the Columbia-Pacific National Heritage Area Study Act sponsored by Rep. Brian Baird, D-WA ; HR 1285, the Snoqualmie Pass Land Conveyance Act, by Rep. Doc Hastings, R- WA; S 278, the Heritage Areas Partnership Act, by Sen. Craig Thomas, R-WY; S 280, Reducing Greenhouse Emissions, by Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-CT; S 817, the National Heritage Areas, HR and National Heritage Corridors Act, by Sen. George Voinovich, R-OH; S 1258, the Dam Security Act, by Sen. Maria Cantwell and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s energy bills, HR 3220 and 3221. Brief articles on a few of these bills follow. For additional information, please call Steve Robinson at (360) 528-4347 or email [email protected] or visit the Library of Congress website, http://thomas.loc.gov/.

The Reducing Greenhouse Emissions bill would establish a program to accelerate the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by establishing a market-driven system of greenhouse gas tradeable allowances. It would support the deployment of new climate change-related technologies, and ensure benefits to consumers from the trading in such allowances. The latest action on the bill was July 24, when a hearing was conducted by the Committee on Environment and Public Works’ Subcommittee on Private Sector and Consumer Solutions to Global Warming and Wildlife Protection.

The Transparency bill, which has been sent to the White House for signature, would make it far more difficult for any given senator to push consideration of any bill without submittal to either House or Senate conferees. In more technical terms, a three-fifths vote (60 Senators) would be needed to waive the action and the same number of votes to sustain an appeal of a chairman’s decision regarding on a point of order raised under the bill. It also requires, if appropriate, a statement for the Internet, or if the legislation was not reported by a committee, publication in the Congressional Record, that the legislation contains no congressional earmarks or limited tax or tariff benefits. It is a strike against “midnight riders” or other such actions intended to sneak or bully through legislation.

The House has passed one of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s energy bill which includes a renewable electricity standard of 15 percent by 2020, strong lighting efficiency standards, increased incentives for investment in renewable energy, and safeguards to protect sensitive public lands from oil and gas drilling. The House failed to vote on fuel economy improvements. The RES requires utilities to obtain at least 15 percent of their power from a combination of energy efficiency and renewable sources such as wind, solar and biomass energy by 2020.  

“By passing the renewable electricity standard the House of Representatives has taken a real step forward in enacting the clean energy policies we need to reduce global warming pollution. This shows the House is ready to take strong action on global warming in the fall,” said Karen Wayland, legislative director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.  “We need this same leadership in the conference committee. By combining a strong renewable energy standard with the Senate’s fuel economy improvements, this Congress can make a serious down payment on preventing the worst impacts of global warming.”

Measures that were not included in the House bill but must be addressed in the conference committee with the Senate to make meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and protect the environment are: Matching the Senate’s fuel economy improvement provision of 35 miles per gallon by 2020; adequate safeguards to ensure that intensive biofuels production does not result in water pollution, habitat destruction, or loss of forests and a greenhouse gas standard that would require advance biofuels to emit 50% less global warming pollution than gasoline. Unfortunately, Bush has already threatened a veto. He criticized the bill, saying it’s "not a serious attempt to increase our energy security or address high energy costs," but that it would reduce domestic oil and gas production, make the nation more dependent on foreign energy sources and “unfairly” target the oil and gas industries with higher taxes.
Speaker Pelosi, D-CA, has strongly promoted strong action toward curing the nation’s energy glut and says she’ll continue to do so. The House must reconcile the legislation with the Senate, upon returning to D.C. after the August recess, although many of the provisions are similar. Pelosi has made it one of her top priorities to help move the U.S. toward greater energy independence and security as well as develop new technologies, reduced carbon emissions, the creation of “green” jobs, consumer protection, increased clean energy production and modernization of the energy infrastructure. Here legislation also provides a framework to address impacts of global warming on wildlife, lands and coastal areas, and begin to "decarbonize" the tax code by cutting subsidies to oil and gas companies and redirecting the revenue to better use. In total, the bills cut more than $15 billion from oil and gas companies and closes down a tax break for the purchase of SUVs, and then reinvests the funding in renewable energy and energy conservation. At this juncture H.R.3221 is a primary vehicle for these efforts.
S 2440, a bill introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA, would take strong steps to reduce the risk of catastrophic oil spills in Northwest waters, and would help limit the number of small spills that leak oil into those waters every year. The Oil Pollution Prevention and Response Act would build on the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, passed by Congress in response to the devastating 1989 Exxon Valdez spill (a spill that is still a mess, nearly two decades later). A single incident from a large vessel could devastate increasingly fragile marine ecosystems, and smaller spills continue to degrade the coastal environment. Specifically, the proposal would encourage the use of safer vessels, direct the Coast Guard to route vessels around environmentally sensitive areas, and reduce the risk of spills resulting from human error. Locally, it would reduce traffic in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary and require a year-round response tug at the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. To improve spill response, the legislation would make sure adequate response vessels and equipment are stationed at strategic locations across the country, including along the entire Strait of Juan de Fuca. Since 1964, vessels have spilled approximately 4.8 million gallons of oil in Northwest waters. Of this total, 184,000 gallons were spilled after the Oil Pollution Act. Fifteen billion gallons of oil pass through Northwest waters every year.

Rep. Don Young, R-AK, and Sen. Ted Stevens, R-AK, are under investigation in a continuing criminal probe of alleged political favors for an Alaskan company. Federal investigators are examining whether they accepted bribes or unreported gifts from Alaska’s largest oil-field engineering firm, VECO Corp. They are among the highest-ranking members of either party to come under scrutiny in the wave of public-corruption probes that has swept Washington. In the past year, two congressmen have been sent to prison, a third has been indicted for bribery, and 6 others are under investigation in separate cases. It isn’t known what VECO allegedly may have received in return. The company has been awarded a series of federal contracts since 2000, including contracts to provide logistics support for arctic research. For a decade, former VECO Chief Executive Bill Allen has held fund-raisers for Young in Anchorage every August, known as "The Pig Roast" and records show contributions of at least $157,000 from VECO employees and its political-action committee between 1996 and 2006, the last year the event was held. Young has also faced questions about campaign donations received from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The burly, bearded congressman has been Alaska’s sole House member for 36 years, and is perhaps best known as the architect of the "bridge to nowhere"—a project in a $286 billion 2005 transportation bill he named after his wife, Lu. The proposed bridge to a sparsely populated island off Ketchikan, Alaska, came to symbolize out-of-control congressional spending to fund pet projects by lawmakers in both parties. VECO was acquired in June by CH2M Hill, a closely held Colorado engineering firm, after Mr. Allen, VECO’s former CEO, agreed in May to plead guilty to charges of bribery, conspiracy and extortion. Stevens has publicly said he was asked to retain documents related to the federal investigation of his son, Ben Stevens, and other members of the state legislature, and related to VECO’s role in the remodeling of a family home in Alaska in 2000. Sen. Stevens recently hired a criminal-defense lawyer. He has said he isn’t a target of the Alaska probe and hasn’t violated any law. VECO executives, including Mr. Allen, have been big Stevens supporters as well. Stevens was directly involved in funding contracts with the National Science Foundation, for example, which went to support arctic research. But there is no evidence he sought to influence the award of contracts to VECO, officials at the NSF said. Congressional records show that Stevens on several occasions added extra funding to the budget for arctic research above what the agency sought.

The Fish and Wildlife Service may re-examine the status of animals and plants under the Endangered Species Act affected by decisions by former Interior Department official Julie MacDonald. Director H. Dale Hall is reviewing decisions affecting the status of numerous species. The re-review list includes bulltrout, though it remains to be seen if the effort will affect other Northwest species. There are signs the list will expand, and that the problem runs far deeper than has been indicated to date. MacDonald resigned in May as Deputy Assistant Secretary for fish, wildlife and parks after Interior Inspector General Earl Devaney issued a scathing report saying she had violated ethics rules, edited scientific decisions on endangered species issues, and passed internal agency information to outside parties. Stay tuned.

The Senate will not wrap up work this session until mid-November at the earliest, but as a concession, members will get a week-long recess starting Oct. 8, Columbus Day, according to Majority Leader Harry Reid. He has told senators he hopes the body can finish its work for the year by Nov. 16, but if that is not possible, he would reconvene the Senate Dec. 3. Reid also said the Senate would not be in session Sept. 13-14 for Rosh Hashana.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, has been confirmed as the new Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, making her the first woman and first Alaskan to be appointed to the post. Alaska Natives make up 20% of her state’s population. Murkowski recently spoke at the NCAI Mid-Year Session in Anchorage, reaffirming her support in protecting the rights of Indians and Alaska Natives. "On behalf of NCAI, I congratulate Sen. Murkowski on her appointment and look forward to our continued working relationship on behalf of Native people," said NCAI President Joe A.Garcia. "She has proven to be a good friend to Native people and will be an essential component to bi-partisan work on the Committee." Senator John Barrasso, R-WY, who was appointed to replace the late Senator Craig Thomas, R-WY, has also been appointed to the committee.

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