Tuesday, December 30, 2008

California Tries to Block Bush ESA Changes

The state of California has filed a lawsuit challenging the Bush Administration's last-minute changes to Endangered Species Act regulations.

In a filing Monday night with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, attorney general Jerry Brown alleged that the Interior Department's proposed changes, which would eliminate agency obligations to consult with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service or NOAA Fisheries before engaging in development activities that might impact a listed species, violate the ESA itself.

“The Bush Administration is seeking to gut the Endangered Species Act on its way out the door,” Brown said. “This is an audacious attempt to circumvent a time-tested statute that for 35 years has required scientific review of proposed federal agency decisions that affect wildlife.”

The lawsuit also alleges that the Interior and Commerce departments, by issuing the new regulations, violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to consider the environmental ramifications of the proposed new regulations and the Administrative Procedures Act by not adequately considering public comments.

The Bush administration's late changes to the ESA regulations also remove a requirement that federal agencies consider greenhouse gas emissions before approving development projects on public land.

The regulations were proposed in August and finalized Dec. 16.

The complaint is here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Salazar Nominated to Lead Interior

Colorado Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar will be the next Secretary of the Interior.

President-elect Barack Obama announced today in Chicago that he has asked Salazar, a first-term Senator, to join his cabinet.

Obama called Salazar, a “champion for farmers, ranchers, and rural communities,” that will “bring to the Department of Interior an abiding commitment to this land we love.”

He criticized the Bush Administration Interior Department as having had "too many problems and too much -- too much emphasis on big-time lobbyists in Washington and not enough emphasis on what's good for the American people."

Salazar said he would work to build American energy independence.

"I will do all I can to help reduce America's dependence on foreign oil,” Salazar said. “I look forward to working directly with President-elect Obama, as an integral part of his team, as we take the moon-shot on energy independence.”

The nominee later said in a press release that he would focus on the traditional priorities of the department, but with a new emphasis on renewable energy. He also mentioned protection of public lands.

"I look forward to helping build our clean energy economy, modernize our interstate electrical grid, and ensure that we are making wise use of our conventional natural resources, including coal, oil, and natural gas," Salazar said. "I look forward to protecting our national parks, public lands and open spaces, and America’s farm and ranchlands. I look forward to restoring our Nation’s rivers and working to resolve our water supply challenges."

Salazar will be replaced in the Senate after confirmation by an appointee of Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Senate Committee Chairs in 111th Congress Announced

Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced the names of Democrats who will chair the upper chamber's committees in the 111th Congress yesterday and there are some important changes.

The biggest is at Appropriations, where Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, takes over for ailing, 91-year old Sen. Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia. Inouye, who was first elected to the Senate in 1962, is 84.

West Virginia's junior U.S. senator, Jay Rockefeller, will chair the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, will continue to chair the Environment and Public Works Committee. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico remains chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, while Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin continues as chair of the Agriculture Committee and Kent Conrad of North Dakota chairs the Budget Committee.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Salazar Named Interior Secretary

The Denver Post is reporting that Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., has accepted President-elect Barack Obama's offer to become U.S. Interior Secretary.

Salazar, who is in his first term in the Senate, formerly served as Colorado's attorney general and director of the state department of natural resources. He sits on the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Obama's Environmental Team Coming Together

President-elect Obama has chosen his key environmental policy advisors, according to an article in the New York Times, and among those who will administer the nation's pollution control laws and determine energy policies may be a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.

From John Broder's article:

President-elect Barack Obama has selected his top energy and environmental advisers, including a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, presidential transition officials said Wednesday.

Collectively, they will have the task of carrying out Mr. Obama’s stated intent to curb global warming emissions drastically while fashioning a more efficient national energy system. And they will be able to work with strong allies in Congress who are interested in developing climate-change legislation, despite fierce economic headwinds that will amplify objections from manufacturers and energy producers.

The officials said Mr. Obama would name Steven Chu, the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as his energy secretary, and Nancy Sutley, deputy mayor of Los Angeles for energy and environment, as head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Mr. Obama also appears ready to name Carol M. Browner, the E.P.A. administrator under President Bill Clinton, as the top White House official on climate and energy policy, and Lisa P. Jackson, who until recently was New Jersey’s commissioner of environmental protection, as the head of the E.P.A.

Aides cautioned that while Mr. Obama appeared to favor Ms. Browner for the new White House post, there were still issues to be resolved before the appointment can be formalized. Mr. Obama plans to name the environmental team next week in Chicago, aides said.

Chu has been a leading voice on climate change. A supporter of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he nevertheless is a skeptic when it comes to claims that technology to resolve the world's energy needs is available. Check out this video of a talk Chu gave at a National Clean Energy Summit last summer:

Andrew Revkin interviewed Chu in 2006 and the professor's responses are interesting, as they certainly relate to the issues he is likely to face while running the Department of Energy:

Q. Are the intellectual forces that need to be focused on the energy-climate problem on board (top-flight physicists, for one)? If not, what needs to be done?

A. There is a growing awareness that the danger of substantial, disruptive climate change is of a high enough probability that more and more scientists are beginning to ask themselves and each other what they can do to contribute to a solution.

Q. Has the scale of what needs to be done been adequately expressed by folks in the climate discourse? If not, how could this be done and be taken seriously?

A. I am not sure most of the public realizes that the greenhouse gases that we are emitting today ha[ve] 100+ year consequences.

Q. I’ve been talking with others about the “valley of death” — the gap between near-term R and D money from venture capital and short-term-oriented government programs and long-term R and D money for “safe” perennials like fusion. What research needs lie in the middle that are not getting addressed? (This presumes you agree on the “valley.” If you disagree, I would love to know your view.) How can these needs get targeted given hurdles out there (earmarking, thirst for short term payoff, aversion to failure)?

A. I was part of the report “Rising Above the Gathering Storm.” In that report we recommended a ARPA-E [Advanced Research Project Agency - Energy; akin to the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency] as a potential solution to this problem. Ultimately, it will depend on the quality of the people who will manage any new program and the discipline of Congress NOT to earmark.

Q. What is your vote for the best role of government in shaping long-term efforts? (Is FutureGen the right kind of model? If not, what is..? is N.I.H. a good model? Is the Energy Department the wrong venue?) A lot of economists say industry is just not able to focus that far forward in R and D. Do you agree?

A. We need to alter the playing field with tax and fiscal polices (such as a carbon cap and trade with a minimum trading value so that companies could plan for sensible, long-term investments). This has to be done in order to account for the so-called “externalities” - real costs that are not yet included in the price of various forms of energy. Developed countries have made this step with air and water pollution by enacting outright regulations and installing a cap and trade system.

Once industry is assured that the bottom will not fall out (such as price of oil, gas, or the trading value of avoided carbon, etc., suddenly plummeting) long-term investments will be made. The wind industry in Denmark and Germany proceeded in this way. Off the top of my head, $70/avoided ton would work wonders in spurring long-term investments and innovation.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Interior Drops Rule Provision Recognizing Congressional Veto on Mining Permissions

The Interior Department has finalized a regulation that would purport to override a provision of the Federal Land Policy & Management Act of 1976 that gives Congress the authority to block mineral extraction activities approved by the agency.

Congress has used that authority, called a "legislative veto," six times in the past 32 years.

Most recently, Congress moved in June to block uranium mining on about one million acres near the Grand Canyon. The Bush administration has ignored Congress' wishes on this issue, moving forward with authorization of such mining anyway.

The rule has moved quickly through the regulatory apparatus. It was proposed in October and the public was allowed only 15 days to submit comments.

Three environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the Department of Interior in September, alleging that Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has unlawfully ignored Congress' mandate on the Grand Canyon mining claims.

The legislative veto in the Grand Canyon case was approved by the House Natural Resources Committee, not by the entire House of Representatives. No resolution from the Senate or any of its committees were adopted.

FLPMA provides that a resolution of disapproval by the relevant committee of either chamber of Congress is enough to block a regulation issued under that statute.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bush Seeks to Legalize Mountaintop Stripping

The Bush Adminisration's Environmental Protection Agency has approved a proposed rule that would allow the practice of stripping off mountain tops to find coal, and then dumping the debris into streams, to resume, according to a report in the McClatchy Newspapers.

A 1983 regulation prohibits the dumping of such mining debris, which often results from a common mining practice in the coal regions of Appalachia. The government in recent years has declined to enforce this rule.

Government figures show that about 535 miles of streams were buried or diverted between 2001 and 2005, about half of them in Appalachia.

The Department of Interior intends to finalize the rule this month, according to a report in the McLatchy Newspapers, and it will go into effect before President-elect Barack Obama takes office.

The Obama-Biden transition office has not commented on its plans for seeking the reversal of this and other recent changes to federal regulations.