TIC TOC GOES THE CLOCK. WILL CONGRESS REACH A DEAL?

Welcome to Federal Policy Week, a blog that covers federal policy developments in education, research, science, agriculture, environment and natural resources, and intellectual property.  

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IN THIS ISSUE:

Capitol News.

  • Congress: Senate Committee Leadership; Defense Authorization; Efficiency Standards; Nuclear Waste Storage; Ethanol Mandate; Extreme Weather; New Committee Appointments
  • Administration & Independent Agencies: Sequestration; Wind & PTC; Renewables on Federal Lands; Wind Tariffs; EPA & Interior Chiefs.
  • Courts: EPA & GHG Regulations

Noteworthy News: Tuition Differentials; College Enrollment; College Benefits.

In the Know: A Preview of Upcoming Events in DC.

CAPITOL NEWS: Congressional, Administrative, and Court Actions

CONGRESS:

  • Senate Committee Leadership: In a surprising turn of events, Senator Mikulski (D-MD) assumed the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee after the death of Senator Inouye (D-HI).  More senior Senators on the Appropriations Committee declined the previously most sought after Committee Chairmanship (when earmarks openly ruled the day).  Senator Leahy (D-VT) decided to remain Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senator Harkin (D-IA) chose to remain Chairman of the Senate HELP Committee.
  • Defense Authorization Act.  Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 after a quick conference.  The bill authorizes approximately $633 billion for defense programs and (at least temporarily) settles some contentious policy disputes.  The bill includes provisions on:
  • Biofuels – funding restrictions requiring matching funds from DOE and Ag which are far less draconian than the original House language limiting DOD’s work on biofuels. Export Controls – loosened restrictions on export controls for satellite manufacturers and suppliers. Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act of 2012 – as mentioned in the previous post Moving Policy Forward this bill requires National Cancer Institute to create a scientific framework for tackling lung and pancreatic cancers.
  • Appliance Efficiency Standards.  Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law, American Energy Manufacturing Technical Corrections Act (HR 6582).  The final Act provided a vehicle for several different pieces of legislation on energy efficiency that was stalled in Congress, including Enabling Energy Saving Innovations Act of 2012 (HR 4850), Implementation of National Consensus Appliance Agreements Act of 2011 (S.398), which updates some appliance standards, and Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (ESICA) (S.1000), which mandates a report on the industrial efficiency deployment. The Alliance to Save Energy provides a comprehensive summary of the bill.
  • Nuclear Energy.  The incoming Chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, Senator Wyden (D-OR) plans to look at nuclear waste, including fees charged to utilities according to The New York Times.  Unlike his predecessor Senator Bingaman, the new Chairman appears amendable to using temporary storage sites for nuclear waste from high-risk reactors, as reported in The Hill.
  • Ethanol Mandate.  The debate over the ethanol mandate continues as drought ravaged areas claim mandate reduces the availability of livestock feed.  Utah Senator Lee (R) offered an amendment to the Sandy disaster relief bill to waive the Renewable Fuel Standard in major disaster areas.  This amendment follows up his letter to EPA Administrator Jackson requesting the RFS be waived.
  • Extreme Weather.  Several Senate Democrats, including Kerry (MA), Lautenberg (NJ), and Gillibrand (NY), introduced legislation addressing extreme weather.  As described in the Kerry press release the legislation provides support to states and localities to enable them to prepare and “better manage and withstand extreme weather in the short and long-term.” The legislation requires Office of Science and Technology Policy to first establish and chair an interagency working group to assess extreme weather resiliency activities, and second develop and implement a plan to support resiliency efforts.
  • New Democratic House Appointments. Leader Pelosi announced new committee appointments for newly elected Members and some returning members (switching committees).  The appointments begin in January with the start of the 113th Congress.

ADMINISTRATION AND INDEPENDENT AGENCIES

  • Sequestration: The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) provided guidance to the federal agencies on sequestration.  Both defense and non-defense spending will take a hit if a deal cannot be reached.  Department of Defense released a memorandum on the impacts of sequestration, in which Secretary Panetta states “I do not expect our day-to-day operations to change dramatically on or immediately after January 2, 2013, should sequestration occur.”
  • Wind Energy.  Energy Secretary Chu and Senator Udall (D-CO) held an event on the future of the wind industry.  As expected, the two touted the benefits of a strong wind industry and called for the extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) that is set to expire at the end of the year.  As mentioned in previous blog postings like Holding Our Breath, the coalitions for and against extension cross party lines (with the Republicans most divided).  The American Wind Energy Association has a nice blog posting on the efforts to extend the PTC.  E&E News provides a full summary of the status and outlook of the PTC.
  • Interior Development. The Department of the Interior continues its push for developing renewable fuels on public lands.  In an announcement by Secretary Salazar, for a solar energy project in the California desert, he touted President Obama’s “all-of-the-above strategy to expand domestic energy production.”  If approved, this project would be the 35th renewable project approved for development on federal lands since 2009.
  • Commerce & Tariffs.  While the debate on wind and extension of the PTC continues, Commerce announced new import duties on steel towers built for wind turbines by Chinese and Vietnamese manufacturers, according to Bloomberg.  The previous posting Energy in the Spotlight provides details on the saga and deliberations over dumping charges against Chinese manufacturers.
  • EPA & Interior– EPA Administrator Jackson is not expected to remain at the Agency for Obama’s second term.  Recent rumors indicate she may return to her alma mater (MS, Chem Eng), Princeton University to replace outgoing President Tilghman. The Washington Post reports that one possible replacement is the current Deputy Administrator, Bob Perciasepe. The Post article also mentioned Washington Governor Gregoire and Congressman Dicks (D-WA), who is retiring from Congress as possible replacements for Interior Secretary Salazar, who is also expected to leave. I will keep you posted on all Administration leadership positions.

COURTS

  • In a victory for EPA and the public, the US Court of Appeals of DC rejected an appeal by business groups and some states to overturn a lower court’s ruling in Coalition for Responsible Regulation, Inc. vs. US EPA that allows EPA to regulate and limit greenhouse gases emissions.  In a strongly worded opinion, as reported by The Washington Post, the Court found that EPA correctly interpreted the Clean Air Act.  In rejecting the argument that EPA wrongly relied on the scientific work of others, the opinion concludes, “This is how science works. EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question.” An appeal to the full Circuit Court or the Supreme Court is likely, and in the meantime the politics and policy of regulating greenhouse gases and climate change will certainly remain in play in DC.

NOTEWORTHY NEWS:

  • Tuition Differentials.  As mentioned in the last blog posting Holding Our Breath, officials in Florida are examining a tiered tuition approach, with tuition freezes for certain majors (eg STEM).  As reported in Inside Higher Education, some professors are speaking up and opposing this recommendation.  University of Florida history professors created an online petition directed at Governor Scott that objects to differential tuition and demands faculty input (and much more).
  • College Enrollment.  Despite efforts to increase college enrollment (see The Supremes Return for a discussion of the Project Degree Completion effort), the latest numbers appear to be trending in the opposite direction.  According to National Student Clearinghouse, enrollment dropped by 1.8% in Fall 2012 from the 2011.  The steepest drops occurred at four‐year for‐profit institutions (‐7.2%), followed by two‐year public institutions (‐3.1%).
  • College Benefits.  The latest study touting the benefits of a college degree comes from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.  According to the press release, the report “The Economic Benefits of Postsecondary Degrees” finds “the evidence indicates that almost without exception, despite variation across states and disciplines, each successive level of higher educational attainment yields additional economic benefit.”  While the data indicate a generally positive correlation between degree production and economic payoff, this was not found in STEM disciplines.

IN THE KNOW: EVENTS PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE

Upcoming Events (listed by date):

 

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