Welcome to Federal Policy Week, a blog that covers activities impacting federal policy in the areas of conservation, energy, environment, animal welfare, and natural resources. For education policy issues, please visit my new blog Fed Ed Policy.

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Capitol News:

Congressional, Administrative, Courts

  • CONGRESS: Keystone; Nuclear Waste; RFS; Hearings, Mark Ups, and Meetings
  • Administration & Independent agencies: Nominations, Confirmations, & Departures; Renewables & Electricity; SMR; Killing Eagles; Antibiotics & Livestock; Cost of Carbon; Fuel Economy.
  • COURTS: States: Air Pollution Across Borders

Noteworthy News: Methane; Climate and Companies

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

Capitol News.


Keystone: The debate over approval of the Keystone XL pipeline continues.  In the latest salvo, a group of House Democrats wrote a letter to President Obama asking that any decision be delayed until the State Department IG finishes its review of the environmental aspects of the project.

Nuclear Waste.  A mark up of the bipartisan legislation (Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013, S.1240) that forms an agency that would be charged with locating sites for waste storage and repositories for nuclear waste will not occur until 2014, reports E&E News PM (subscription required).

Renewable Fuel Standard:  Once again, the RFS debate has drawn together unlikely partners.  Senators Feinstein (D-CA) and Coburn (R-OK) have joined forces, with several other Members, to introduce legislation (Corn Ethanol Mandate Elimination Act of 2013) that would remove the RFS portion from corn-ethanol.  The press release identifies two problems with the corn-ethanol mandate: (1) Almost half of corn production goes to ethanol, raising feed prices and harming the environment; and (2) problems with blending of ethanol by refiners.  At the same time, Senators Cardin (D-MD) and Vitter (R-LA) announced they intend to introduce legislation that would dramatically reduce the corn-based ethanol part of the RFS mandate.

Notable Congressional Hearings & Mark Ups:

Senate EPW:

Hearing: Nominations, December 17, 2013

  1.            R. Suh, Ass. Sec for F&W and Parks, US Department of Interior;
  2.             V. Wassmer, CFO EPA
  3.             R. Williams, Ass. Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development
  4.             T. Burke, Ass. Administrator for R&D, EPA

Senate Energy:

Meeting: Nominations, December 17, 2013

  1.            Mr. Steven P. Croley, General Counsel of the Department of Energy
  2.            Mr. Christopher A. Smith, Assistant Secretary of Energy (for Fossil Energy)
  3.            Ms. Esther P. Kia’aina, Assistant Secretary of the Interior (for Insular Areas)

Business Meeting: Legislation, December 19, 2013 (edited list).

  1. S.1237, a bill to improve the administration of programs in the insular areas, and for other purposes
  2. S.1300, a bill to amend the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 to provide for the conduct of stewardship end result contracting projects
  3. S.1341, a bill to modify the Forest Service Recreation Residence Program as the program applies to units of the National Forest System derived from the public domain by implementing a simple, equitable, and predictable procedure for determining cabin user fees, and for other purposes
  4. S.1491, a bill to amend the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 to improve United States-Israel energy cooperation, and for other purposes

Administration & Independent Agencies:

Nominations, Confirmations, Entrances, and Departures:

  • White House.  John Podesta will return to the White House.  He will be responsible for energy and climate issues.  At the same time, several senior White House – Council on Environmental Quality – staff has announced plans to leave, including CEQ Director Sutley and CEQ Deputy Director Guzy.
  • EPA: Staff changes at EPA reflect intent for the agency to focus on climate matters.  Specifically, Administrator McCarthy nominated a former Hill staffer, Joel Beauvais, with experience on climate issues EPA policy office associate administrator.

Renewables and Electricity.  The White House issued a memorandum requiring agencies to have a goal of having 20 percent of their electric energy consumption from renewable energy.

SMR.  In a move to promote the development of small (nuclear) modular reactors (SMR), DOE announced a second award of $226 million for a company in Oregon to develop a new SMR.  Unlike larger, more expensive nuclear reactors, many believe that SMRs will be competitive and safer.

Killing Eagles.  In an unfortunate move, Interior announced a new rule that will provide long-term permits to wind farms that will kill eagles, including bald and golden eagles.  Interior claims that the new rule will require companies to take steps to mitigate the number of deaths and periodic (5 year reviews).  However, there are questions whether the reviews will actually take place.  At the same time, a study just published found that over 300,000 birds (and 600,000 bats last year) die each year in collisions with wind turbines.

Antibiotics and Livestock.  In a positive move, FDA announced new rules calling for the voluntary phase out of some antibiotic use in livestock.  The three-year phase out will prevent the use of antibiotics for non-medical uses (or for simply making a healthy animal gain weight). Unfortunately, the voluntary nature of the rule, combined with a fear of potential loopholes, gives many supporters of the ban on the unnecessary use of antibiotics on livestock serious pause.

Cost of Carbon.  The White House released a document on the social cost of carbon for public comment.  The document provides the methods the administration utilized for determining greenhouse gas emissions regulations’ benefits.

Fuel Economy.  EPA released its yearly report showing that fuel economy grey to 23.6 mpg in 2012 vehicles (and increase of 1.2 mpg).


State Border Pollution. EPA had its day in front of the Supreme Court recently in a hearing (US EPA. American Lung Association vs. EME Homer City Generation) pitting it against states (and industries) objecting to EPA regulation of emissions across state borders under the Clean Air Act.  The DC Circuit ruled against EPA’s approach under the Transport Rule, which includes a pollution credit system, finding EPA exceeded its authority.  The Supreme Court opinion is expected to address the question of EPA’s authority, especially absent a clear methodology assessing one state’s (upwind state) pollution contribution to another state (downwind state)


Methane: While less methane gas is released by human activities than carbon dioxide in the US, the potential for damage to the climate from methane may exceed carbon dioxide over time.  Recent reports have questioned EPA’s estimates of methane gas release from fraking, however, a recent NAS study found that government estimates of emissions of methane gas are significantly under the actual amount. Specifically, the study questions EPA’s decision to lower methane emissions estimates and found “animal husbandry and fossil fuel industries have larger greenhouse gas impacts than indicated by existing inventories.”

Climate and Companies. In what may prove to be a major breakthrough for climate change policy, major American corporations, including five significant oil companies, with ties and support for the Republican Party, appear to be embracing the inevitability of a tax or pricing scheme on carbon emissions reports The New York Times.  While ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Shell are planning for a carbon price, Koch Industries (which has significant oil interests and provides significant funding to the Tea Party) is doubling down in its efforts against climate change science. Other companies planning for a carbon price include ConAgra Foods, DuPont, Microsoft, and Delta Air Lines.


Upcoming Events (listed by date):




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