Senator Inhofe on Tuesday, April 27 welcomed Grove Valley Elementary School Principal Debbie Straughn before the Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife. Inhofe asked Straughn to testify at a hearing on "Collaborative Solutions to Wildlife and Habitat Management" about the success of the outdoor classroom created at her previous school, Deer Creek Elementary, utilizing the Private Partners Program. Straughn and Deer Creek Elementary received the U.S. Department of Interior Pride in America Award.
Senator Inhofe with Debbie Straughn
"Debbie is one of Oklahoma's best principals and I was pleased to have her in Washington to testify before the EPW Committee about the outdoor classroom she created at Deer Creek Elementary in Oklahoma," Inhofe said. "She has worked successfully to utilize the Partners program in a way that the entire school can learn more about the outdoors. I am hopeful we can expand this successful concept throughout Oklahoma and the nation."
Introducing Straughn before the Committee, Inhofe noted that Straughn had testified previously at a 2005 EPW field hearing in Oklahoma, "It is very unusual, Debbie, that we have a witness coming back, and so it shows that we hold you in a very high regard. I say to my panel members that Ms. Straughn, she did the, kind of hit it up, the outdoor classroom thing at a school called Deer Creek. And it was so well done that she has now moved over to the current Grove Valley Elementary School and is doing the same thing.... [and] has done a great job and now we are just expanding her talents to other institutions."
Following the hearing, Inhofe joined Straughn in using Skype to talk to second graders back at Grove Valley who watched the hearing online. Inhofe promised to make a trip to the school and see how the outdoor program was proceeding at Straughn's new school. (See Also: The Edmond Sun: Elementary Principal Skypes From Washington)
Senator Inhofe and Debbie Straughn Using Skype to Talk
to the 2nd Grade Class of Grove Valley Elementary School
In 2005, as Chairman of the EPW Committee, Inhofe was pleased to author and see the enactment of the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Act in October 2006. Inhofe also held a field hearing in Tulsa, Oklahoma in April 2005. The Partners Program has developed more than 41,000 private-landowner agreements, resulting in positive ecological and economic effects on tens of thousands of acres nationwide, including nearly 800,000 acres of wetlands, nearly 2 million acres of grassland and prairie habitat, and over 7,000 miles of in-stream habitat. In Oklahoma alone, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Partners for Fish and Wildlife program has provided nearly $5.5 million, while private landowners have contributed over $16.5 million to restore over 300,000 acres of habitat in Oklahoma through over 1,000 individual voluntary agreements with private landowners. The rate of public to private investment is 4 to 1.
Senator Inhofe, in a YouTube video release yesterday, announced the launch of a new web page providing information and answers to homeowners and contractors confused about EPA's new lead-based paint rule. Senator Inhofe also sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to share the same information with his colleagues looking to respond to similar questions from their constituents.
A Path to Environmental Progress
By Sen. Jim Inhofe
April 26, 2010
With all the frenzied speculation on the now-postponed climate change bill from Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), many in Congress have been overlooking the chance to pass landmark legislation that could reduce pollution and provide meaningful health and environmental benefits.
That's right. We can pass bipartisan multipollutant legislation to guarantee significant reductions in mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from power plants - while providing the regulatory certainty needed to advance cleaner, more efficient technologies.
I have worked with Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) on multipollutant legislation for years. In fact, we worked on a bill introduced by former Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) when he chaired the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in 2002.
In 2005, when I served as the committee chairman and Voinovich served as chairman of the Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee, we tried to pass bipartisan legislation. But it died in committee.
Recognizing the need to reduce power plant emissions, the Bush administration had pressed ahead without Congress and issued the Clean Air Interstate Rule and the Clean Air Mercury Rule.
Voinovich and I supported those. But we also warned that they would face legal challenge and an uncertain regulatory future. Sadly, we were proven right, when the D.C. court vacated both rules.
One effect of these decisions has been a severely depressed emissions trading market. Some companies postponed plant upgrades. Progress has stalled.
The Environmental Protection Agency is now busy crafting replacement rules. But just how it will address key questions - for example, how to integrate allowances from the Acid Rain Trading Program into a new trading regime and whether this includes interstate emissions trading - remains unclear.
Only Congress can provide the needed clarity and certainty.
But the global warming debate has been a distraction. The Senate is wasting time on legislation that, even if passed, would fail to achieve its stated goal of reducing global temperatures. There's an opportunity right now to make significant environmental progress - while ensuring cleaner, more affordable and more reliable electricity for consumers.
Fortunately, a group of influential senators is trying to seize that opportunity. That group includes two senior members from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who, along with several Democratic and Republican senators, recently introduced Clean Air Act amendments to reduce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury from power plants.
While the bill can be improved in several important respects, it is a good start. The compromise that eluded us in 2005 is possible in 2010.
One critical point of the multipollutant debate is addressing the long list of overlapping and conflicting air-pollution mandates set to unfold under the Clean Air Act in the next decade.
Some environmental activists may view this as a sure-fire means of reducing pollution. But, in reality, this regulatory morass could lead to a wave of litigation that won't be resolved for years. Some of those very activists may file lawsuits.
This is not meant to cast aspersions - only to make clear that without a multipollutant framework passed by Congress, the timing and extent of emissions reductions could be mired in legal uncertainty.
Yet this future is not carved in stone.
If Congress tackles these issues now, we can lock in emissions reductions for decades. We can also draw a clear legal road map to ease the transition to cleaner technologies and provide consumers with affordable, reliable power to meet their daily demands.
Discussions on multipollutant legislation have already begun. My hope is that they will continue even amid the debate on climate change.
Instead of imposing massive taxes on consumers with no discernible climate benefits - as was talked about in the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman proposal - we can provide real health and environmental benefits and encourage installation of new technologies, while keeping utility costs affordable.
This is the pathway to real environmental progress - one Congress should follow.
Yesterday, Senator Inhofe released the following statement in reaction to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico:
"First and foremost, my prayers are with the families who lost loved ones in this tragic event," Senator Inhofe said. "I also want to commend the Obama Administration, especially EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and her team, for its response and recovery effort. I will provide my assistance to EPA as it works with BP and other federal and state authorities in its clean-up operation. I also believe it's important to investigate how the BP oil spill occurred, and once we have an understanding of the causes, help to prevent this type of accident from occurring in the future."
Summary: In this issue of EPW Policy Brief, we focus on the White House Council on Environmental Quality's (CEQ) draft guidance to clarify how federal agencies should incorporate climate change considerations into decision making under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
We provide some background on NEPA, as well as an overview of CEQ's draft guidance. We also highlight a recent legal settlement involving NEPA, greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), and oil and gas leasing, which caused, among other things, substantial legal uncertainty for federal oil and gas leaseholders.
Unfortunately, CEQ's guidance fails to resolve any of the central questions at issue in this and other similar cases. This is why Congress must pass S. 3230, the NEPA Certainty Act, which would prohibit consideration of GHGs and climate change under NEPA.
Issue: A number of court decisions and legal settlements on climate change have pushed NEPA beyond its traditional scope. On February 18, 2010, Nancy Sutley, Chair of CEQ, issued a draft guidance memorandum to help federal agencies consider the effects of GHG emissions and climate change in their NEPA evaluations. Unfortunately, the guidance is vague and offers no bright lines to clearly direct the way in which federal agencies incorporate climate change into NEPA analyses.
Background of NEPA: Signed into law on January 1, 1970, NEPA established "a national environmental policy and goals for the projection, maintenance, and enhancement of the environment." Moreover, NEPA created "a process for implementing these goals within federal agencies." NEPA's purpose is to ensure that federal agencies carefully consider information concerning significant environmental impacts of federal actions, and to make this information available to the public. NEPA also created CEQ, which was designed to oversee NEPA implementation.
The NEPA process requires federal agencies to use a "systematic interdisciplinary approach" to incorporate environmental considerations in their planning and decision-making processes. NEPA has three levels of analysis, each of which depends on whether the federal action could significantly affect the environment:
1) Categorical exclusion: As CEQ explains, such exclusion describes "a category of actions that do not typically result in individual or cumulative significant environmental effects or impacts." Such exclusions serve a "beneficial purpose," which is that they can help federal agencies expedite environmental reviews.
2) Environmental Assessment: The second level of NEPA analysis involves the preparation of a written environmental assessment (EA), which explores whether a federal action would significantly affect the environment. If the EA determines that the federal action would result in "no significant impact" on the environment, then the agency issues a finding of no significant impact (FONSI). If, however, the EA determined that there may be a significant impact, the third level of analysis, an environmental impact statement (EIS), is triggered.
3) Environmental Impact Statement: An environmental impact statement, or EIS, is a more detailed evaluation of the proposed federal action that includes an analysis of more environmentally stringent alternatives to the action and allows the public, other federal agencies, and outside parties to provide input into its preparation, including providing comments on a draft EIS. Federal agencies have the option, if they anticipate their action may significantly impact the environment, to prepare an EIS without first having to prepare an EA.
CEQ Guidance: According to CEQ, the draft GHG guidance covers the "ways in which Federal agencies can improve their consideration of the effects of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and climate change in their evaluation of proposals for Federal actions under the [NEPA]." It is intended to help federal agencies analyze climate change issues in consideration of:
(1) The GHG emissions effects of a proposed action and alternative actions; and
(2) The relationship of climate change effects to a proposed action or alternatives, including the relationship to proposal design, environmental impacts, mitigation, and adaptation measures.
At first blush, CEQ's guidance appears measured and reasonable. For example, CEQ recognizes the difficulty inherent in assessing GHG impacts from a single source. "From a quantitative perspective," CEQ wrote, "there are no dominating sources and fewer sources that would even be close to dominating total GHG emissions." CEQ acknowledges further that the "global climate change problem is much more the result of numerous and varied sources, each of which might seem to make a relatively small addition to global atmospheric GHG concentrations." Therefore, CEQ proposes to "recommend that environmental documents reflect this global context and be realistic in focusing on ensuring that useful information is provided to decision makers for those actions that the agency finds are a significant source of GHGs."
Yet, rather than clearly direct how federal agencies should follow these common-sense principles, CEQ offers only vague guideposts, which means federal agencies retain an enormous amount of discretion in how they assess GHG impacts in the context of NEPA.
CEQ attempts to provide a bright line in suggesting that a useful starting point for GHG analysis is whether an action results in 25,000 tons or more of GHGs annually. In CEQ's view, "if a proposed action would be reasonably anticipated to cause direct emissions of 25,000 metric tons or more of CO2-equivalent GHG emissions on an annual basis, agencies should consider this an indicator that a quantitative and qualitative assessment may be meaningful to decision makers and the public." [Emphasis added] However, CEQ then notes that it does not "propose" the 25,000-ton level "as an indicator of a level of GHG emissions that may significantly affect the quality of the human environment, as that term is used by NEPA," but "notes that it serves as a minimum standard for reporting emissions under the Clean Air Act."
CEQ further blurs the 25,000-ton line for "long-term actions" that emit less than 25,000 tons annually. Federal agencies can, according to CEQ, "consider" whether the action's "long-term emissions should receive similar analysis."
NEPA, GHG and Cumulative Effects
When it comes to analyzing the cumulative effects of GHGs under NEPA, CEQ's guidance is equally vague, as it fails to provide clear rules and standards that federal agencies must follow. According to CEQ, when "an agency concludes that a discussion of cumulative effects of GHG emissions related to a proposed action is warranted to inform decision-making, CEQ recommends that the agency do so in a manner that meaningfully informs decision makers and the public regarding the potentially significant effects in the context of the proposal for agency action." This is most appropriately done, in CEQ's opinion, by "focusing on an assessment of annual and cumulative emissions of the Federal action and the difference in emissions that are associated with alternative actions."
CEQ also states that federal programs that "affect emissions or sinks and proposals regarding long range energy, transportation, and resource management programs" can "lend themselves" to a broad or "programmatic approach" in NEPA decision making. [Emphasis added] Here again, CEQ's guidance fails to guide; federal agencies have ample room to decide how a cumulative effects analysis should occur.
NEPA, GHGs and Lawsuits
In sum, CEQ's guidance does nothing to stop the wave of litigation concerning NEPA analysis and climate change. That litigation is having a direct impact on jobs and energy production. Consider the case of Montana Environmental Information Center v. United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The case was filed on January 15, 2009 and was privately settled on March 18, 2010, when BLM agreed to suspend 61 oil and gas leases previously issued covering nearly 38,000 acres of land. In the settlement agreement, BLM stated that it has the authority to void or terminate any lease it deems appropriate.
Similar litigation is pending in New Mexico, where 34 BLM oil and gas leases are being challenged for an alleged failure to consider climate change impacts under NEPA. Also, future oil and gas lease sales in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota have been delayed pending additional analysis of the GHG and climate change impacts of those leases.
Simply put, delaying these leases has immediate negative impacts on jobs, economic growth, and energy dependence, and it raises serious doubts about the legal certainty of holding federal oil and gas leases.
Conclusion: While we applaud CEQ's attempt to provide boundaries to NEPA GHG analysis, its guidance does little, if anything, to resolve the critical legal and policy questions surrounding this issue. CEQ provides few concrete rules or steps agencies must follow in analyzing the GHG impacts of individual projects under NEPA. And one could argue that the guidance in fact worsens the status quo, as federal agencies now have official sanction from CEQ to continue their subjective and uncertain application of NEPA to climate change issues.
To resolve the uncertainties inherent in GHG issues under NEPA, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, along with several cosponsors, recently introduced S. 3230, the NEPA Certainty Act, which prohibits the use of NEPA to document, predict, or mitigate the climate effects of specific federal actions.
Inhofe EPW News Roundup
"Stalemate Continues" - "Impasse Lingers" - "Prospects are 'Virtually Zero'"
Congress Daily: Reid-Graham Feud May Be Intensifying - The rift between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., may be deepening. As Senate Democrats rolled out an immigration reform outline Thursday, Reid signaled that he would try to move an energy and climate plan even without the help of Graham, who walked away from those talks because Democrats say they plan to bring up immigration this year. "There are 40 other Republicans -- why Lindsey Graham?" Reid said, adding, "He cannot logically use immigration as an excuse to not help with energy."
Congress Daily: Senate Trio Sends Climate Bill To EPA, But Impasse Lingers - Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Wednesday sent their climate and energy plan to EPA, starting the clock on an economic analysis that the agency says could take up to eight weeks. The three senators sent EPA a "description of their draft bill" and not any actual legislative text, according to an EPA statement. "EPA's modelers are now examining the description to determine whether it contains all of the information that EPA needs in order to run its models." Once that modeling starts, it will take between six and eight weeks to produce a report, according to the agency. Senate aides have more optimistically predicted it should only take the agency between four to six weeks.
NYT: David Brooks: Larded with special interest provisions - The bill, like all politically plausible bills these days, is larded with special-interest provisions and public giveaways to defuse opposition and win votes. But it does perform a few essential tasks. To boost innovation, it raises the price on carbon and devotes some of that money (though not nearly enough) to research and development. In addition, it establishes a predictable price for carbon. Lew Hay, the chief executive of the power provider FPL Group, e-mailed me on Thursday to say that if he can get that certainty on the carbon price and if there can be a renewable energy standard to create a market for carbon-free energy, his company could boost investments right away.
WSJ: Switzer: Prospects are “Virtually Zero” - It was always going to be an uphill battle for the U.S. Congress to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation in an election year. But with Senator Lindsey Graham's likely decision to withdraw his support from the landmark bill, the prospects are now virtually zero. That is not just because Mr. Graham had been the only Republican senator to endorse a broad approach to tackling global warming. All over the globe, politicians of different ideological stripes are reconsidering the costs of slashing greenhouse gases to combat the speculative problem of global warming.
NYT: The Senate Stalemate Continues - Senate Democratic leaders scrambled yesterday to untangle the political puzzle hindering efforts to move comprehensive energy and climate change legislation, but the impasse with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) remains. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pledged to give higher priority on the floor to the global warming bill crafted by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Graham, saying that measure has progressed down the legislative track faster than the hot-button immigration issue he would also like to take up this year.
Reuters: Climate bill analysis to take up to eight weeks: EIA - Because of the way of it was delivered some stakeholders such as environmentalists and utility lobbyists are openly wondering if the bill is complete, despite six months of work on it by Kerry, a Democrat, and Senators Lindsey Graham, a Republican, and Joseph Lieberman, an independent. Kerry also has been careful not to commit any of the bill's details to paper but some of its key features have been leaked by sources. Previously, government agencies have found the impact of climate legislation on consumers to be negligible. The EIA found last August that a bill passed in the House of Representatives would raise household costs about $134 in 10 years.
The Hill: Voinovich still wants 'comprehensive' EPA analysis of climate bill - Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) is still insisting a "comprehensive" EPA analysis of climate legislation is completed before he votes on the bill. Last year, Voinovich and other Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee boycotted a panel vote on climate legislation introduced by Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) because they did not have an EPA cost analysis of the bill. Committee Democrats had argued that the bill was similiar enough to House-passed climate legislatoin that a separate EPA analysis was not necessary.
NYT: Pressing for public release - Kerry, Graham and Lieberman have no plans to publicly unveil their bill after scrapping a press conference that had been scheduled for Monday. Graham has left the negotiations over Reid's decision to put immigration on the agenda this year, and he has given no indication since that he is ready to come back. EPA officials did not respond yesterday to requests to disclose the materials they got from the senators' offices. And Cogan said he did not expect EIA would release any information about the Senate bill until its analysis is finished. The free-market energy group American Energy Alliance filed a Freedom of Information Act request yesterday to EPA seeking to gain access to the senators' legislative details.
CNN: Why Democrats shouldn't toy with Lindsey Graham - Here's the truth: Senators are not excited about voting on either measure before the election. Climate change legislation could require tax increases, although one late compromise version eliminates the "carbon linkage fee" and replaces it with a plan that would allow companies to buy carbon allowances. Even so, as one aide to a senator in the Democratic leadership told me, "after stimulus, after the bailouts, after health care, the last thing Democrats want to do is vote on something that could be called a tax raiser."
CQ: Political Atmosphere Choking Climate Bill - Election year politics, pressure from the ideological bases of both parties and action by a state legislature more than 2,000 miles from Washington may have doomed the last chance for the 111th Congress to finish climate change legislation. A feud with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., that led South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham to abandon bipartisan climate change negotiations continued to escalate Tuesday. Reid rejected Graham’s demand that Democrats pull immigration legislation off the table for the year before he agrees to return to climate talks
E&E: Green groups battling to keep their issue atop Senate to-do list - It's been a rough week for environmentalists. Green groups had expected to spend the week on the offensive, trying to beef up a comprehensive climate change bill written by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). But Washington can be cruel. Graham abandoned talks on climate legislation late last week over a heated political debate on immigration, and Kerry and Lieberman shelved the proposal's unveiling -- which had been scheduled for Monday morning -- until they can win him back.
NYT: Sen. Graham Has Backing at Home, but Not on Climate - The Lindsey Graham from small town Seneca, a leafy place in the South Carolina's piedmont dotted on the edges by places named Retreat, Hicks Store and Singing Pines, has no business siding with Democrats. He is not seen as a centrist Republican, nor one who needs moderate issues to gladden an electorate that straddles political divisions. This is Graham the southern conservative, whose state sought Sarah Palin as vice president and which yields some Democrats that are redder than many members of the nation's grand old party. That is, at least, the Lindsey Graham that some state party colleagues believe he should be. At 54, Graham is embroiled in his newest test to build a bridge from a bucking Republican Party to a Democratic majority that, perhaps this time, asked too much.
The Hill: Lieberman ‘not even thinking’ about pushing climate bill without Graham - “Right now Senator Kerry and I are not even thinking about that,” Lieberman said late Tuesday afternoon when asked about pushing the measure without Graham. “We are just focused on getting him back, because he wants to come back.” “I don’t want to even consider that at this point in time,” Kerry said when similarly asked about trying to advance the measure without the South Carolina Republican. “We will do what we need to do to get the bill passed, but right now everybody prefers to put this thing back on track, and that is what we are going to try and do.” Graham has backed away from the joint effort because he’s angry about plans by Democratic leaders to bring an immigration bill to the floor this year. His decision to suspend backing for the climate and energy package scuttled the bill’s planned unveiling Monday.
NYT: Oil Rig Blast Complicates Push for Energy and Climate Bill - The energy initiative is already in trouble because a crucial sponsor, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, has walked away from negotiations as a result of a dispute with the White House and Senate Democratic leaders over immigration policy. The oil spill may have added to its distress. Several senators said they were troubled by the accident and might not support broad climate and energy legislation if it contains expanding drilling without adequate safeguards. Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, said he had many concerns about the energy bill that appears to be taking shape, chief among them the aggressive pursuit of offshore oil.
Roll Call: Senators Fight to Revive Climate Bill - Senate Democrats struggled Monday to salvage a compromise climate change bill after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) walked away from the deal over the possibility of immigration reform taking center stage on Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) agenda. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), who have worked with Graham on climate change for months, were hoping a Monday evening meeting with their erstwhile GOP collaborator would convince him to return to the fold. David Wade, Kerry’s chief of staff, said Monday that Kerry “absolutely believes we can get around this roadblock, and many people inside the Senate and the administration are working overtime in good faith to make that happen.
Politico: Green groups welcome delay - The news that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was walking away from tripartisan talks over climate and energy legislation, “temporarily” delaying a rollout of the bill, disappointed many of the key players who worked on it. But some environmental groups, frustrated over the senators’ plans to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority and make concessions to fossil-fuel emitters, are seeing opportunity in the breakdown. “There’s definitely a silver lining,” said Nick Berning of Friends of the Earth, an environmental group that said last week it didn’t expect to support the bill drafted by Sens. Graham, John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).
latimes.com: Senators scramble to keep climate bill alive - As thousands of activists rallied on the National Mall on Sunday for federal legislation to curb global warming, Obama administration officials and leading senators worked behind the scenes to rescue a climate bill that appeared close to flat-lining over the weekend. By day's end, supporters said its prospects were brightening slightly, with the Republican coauthor of the legislation, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, again discussing it with Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). Graham had backed away Saturday after months of negotiations because of a dispute with Senate Democratic leaders over the timing of votes on climate and immigration legislation. His move prompted Kerry and Lieberman to postpone the rollout of the climate bill, which had been scheduled for Monday.