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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BREAKING NEWS: Obama will send his FY15 budget to Congress on March 4, 2014.
IN THIS ISSUE:
CONGRESS: Omnibus Stops Horse Slaughters; Hearings & Mark-Ups.
Administration & independent agencies: Nominations, Confirmations, & Departures; Environment & Trade Treaties; EPA & Fracking; FutureGen; Ag. Land Use.
COURTS: Alaska Drilling; Cape Wind Project; EPA Power Plant Rules.
Noteworthy News: Keystone XL Pipeline.
In the Know: A Preview of Upcoming Events in DC.
Horse Slaughter Stopped: Section 754 of the recently passed Omnibus bill contains language that prevents funding for inspections of horses under the federal programs. If inspectors can’t work in the slaughterhouses, horse meat cannot be sold. (“None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to pay the salaries or expenses of personnel to—(1) inspect horses under section 3 of the Federal Meat Inspection Act (21 U.S.C. 603); (2) inspect horses under section 903 of the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (7 U.S.C. 1901 note; Public Law 104–127); or (3) implement or enforce section 352.19 of title 9, Code of Federal Regulations”).
Notable Congressional Hearings & Mark Ups:
Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee:
Administration & Independent Agencies:
Nominations, Confirmations, Entrances, and Departures:
The Senate Energy Committee voted favorably on 11 nominees, sending them to the full Senate for consideration, including:
- Dr. Elizabeth M. Robinson, to be the Under Secretary of Energy
- Dr. Franklin M. Orr, Jr., to be the Under Secretary for Science
- Mr. Steven P. Croley, to be General Counsel of the Department of Energy
- Mr. Christopher A. Smith, to be an Assistant Secretary of Energy (Fossil Energy).
- Dr. Marc A. Kastner, to be Director of the Office of Science
- Dr. Ellen D. Williams, to be Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy
- Mr. Jonathan Elkind to be an Assistant Secretary of Energy (International Affairs)
- Mr. Tommy P. Beaudreau, to be an Assistant Secretary of the Interior (Policy, Management, and Budget)
- Mr. Michael L. Connor, to be Deputy Secretary of the Interior
- Ms. Esther P. Kia’aina, to be an Assistant Secretary of the Interior (Insular Areas)
- Mr. Neil G. Kornze to be Director of the Bureau of Land Management
Environmental Promises Retreat: Despite promises to uphold environmental requirements as part of any trade deals, the Obama Administration appears to be backing down in negotiations with Asian countries.
EPA & Fracking: EPA Administrator McCarthy, in a letter to the President of NRDC, outlined steps EPA plans to take to ensure protection of the environment, including drinking water, from hydraulic-fracturing. McCarthy promises permitting guidance for fracking using diesel fuels; proposed rules under TSCA; and mentions EPA’s work with BLM to develop guidance for fracking on federal and tribal lands.
FutureGen: As expected, DOE finally approved the FutureGen project – to demonstrate carbon, capture, and sequestration (CCS) – so construction can commence (pending finalized financing and permits). The project, which will retrofit a coal-fired power plan, has faced several delays over the years, has received $1 billion from DOE (the rest of the funds -$650 million – come from the coal companies running the project).
Agriculture Lands: NRCS released the 2010 National Resources Inventory Summary on the state of lands in the US. The report contains details on the changes of land use and the impact on natural resources over time. Some findings include: A 0.5 increase in cropland acreage (2 million acres) from 2007 – 2010; Conservation Reserve Program (a land set-aside program); acreage fell nearly 18%, from 32.3 to 26.6 million acres over the same time period, with nearly half of the land returning to cropland; Erosion generally decreased on crop lands – soil by 41% from 1982 to 2010, water by 682 million tons per year and wind by 640 million tons per year.
Alaska Drilling: The Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit found that for the lease sale for development of oil and gas in the Chukchi Sea in Alaska relied on a flawed environmental assessment. Since the EA failed to pass muster, by inadequately justifying the amount of oil if determined could be extracted, the Court send it back to Interior to redo. The lease, which Royal Dutch Shell acquired in 2008 – and experienced accidents and mishaps in 2012 drilling, has been supported by both the Bush and Obama Administrations.
Cape Wind: The Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit turned down another effort to stop the construction of the Cape Wind offshore wind project, concluding that the FAA’s finding that the project would not interfere with air traffic was sound. Residents of the wealthy cape towns have continued to challenge the project since it may obstruct views of the ocean.
EPA Power Plant Rules. The EPA scientific advisory panel determined there is no need to review the science underlying the agency’s new proposed rule regulating emissions from power plants, upholding EPA’s reliance on CCS technology for coal-fired plants. Congressional Republicans have based much of their criticism of the EPA proposed rules on the fact that CCS is not ready for prime time – and not yet a viable option for coal plants to use to reduce emissions and remain in production.
Keystone XL Pipeline: Once again, the Keystone Pipeline is in the news, as shipments of crude oil commenced shipping through the southern stretch (Oklahoma to the Gulf at Port Arthur, TX) of the pipleline. Meanwhile, the northern portion, which crosses the Canadian-US border, remains in limbo waiting approval by the Administration. Many environmental groups oppose the pipeline and are at odds with President Obama who apparently supported the opening of the southern stretch, with concerns ranging from increased carbon emissions to leaks and spills.
IN THE KNOW: EVENTS TO CONSIDER
Upcoming Events (listed by date):
- ITIF: Leveraging Innovation Clusters to Accelerate Clean Energy Research, January 23, 2014
- Wilson Center, The Year Ahead in Environment and Energy, January 24, 2014
- Wilson Center, In Search of Arctic Energy, January 29, 2014
- ITIF: ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit, February 24, 2014