Friday, March 16, 2007

Senators Send Letter Opposing Democrat's Attempt To Rollback Chemical Security Regulations

Today, Friday, March 16, 2007,  Senator Inhofe joined thirteen Senators in sending a letter to Chairman Byrd and Ranking Member Cochran on the Senate Committee on Appropriations to express their strong opposition to language contained in the House version of the Fiscal Year 2007 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act that would undermine the safety and security of our nation’s chemical facilities. Click here for a link to the letter.

“The Democrat’s attempt to rollback chemical security legislation passed last year will face tough opposition in the United States Senate,” Senator Inhofe said. “I will work closely with my Senate colleagues to reject any Democrat attempt that would undermine the safety and security of our nation’s chemical facilities and the communities that surround them.”

Last year the Senate passed chemical security provisions that were included in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations conference bill. Many of the provisions included in the appropriations conference bill were based upon previous legislation before the EPW Committee. As Chairman, Senator Inhofe worked closely with his Senate colleagues to reach a compromise to ensure passage of a chemical security bill.

EPW Hearing Focuses On Passing WRDA, Army Corps Of Engineers Budget

Link to Senator Inhofe’s Opening Statement

On Thursday, Senator Inhofe attended the EPW Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing: Water Resources Needs and the President’s Budget Proposal. At the hearing, Senator Inhofe stressed the importance of passing the long overdue Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) for Oklahoma and the nation. In addition, Senator Inhofe discussed his public-private partnership provision included in last year’s WRDA bill as a way to provide for more recreation opportunities in Oklahoma. The Corps of Engineers is the largest provider of outdoor recreation - larger than both the National Park Service and the Forest Service.

“Passage of the long overdue WRDA bill is a top priority for me and the entire EPW Committee,” Senator Inhofe said. “The WRDA bill provides numerous project authorizations and policy improvements that are vital to Oklahoma and the nation’s economy, public safety and environment.  As the Ranking Member of the EPW Committee, I look forward to working closely with my colleagues to build on the progress made last year in order to enact WRDA as soon as possible.

“As we move forward with the WRDA bill, I look forward to further exploring public-private partnerships as a means of providing better and more abundant recreation opportunities to our citizens.  Last year’s WRDA bill that passed the Senate included a provision allowing the Corps to experiment with certain policies to see what options are available at Oklahoma’s many lakes to maximize the recreation benefits of public-private partnerships.”

The following provisions were included in last year’s WRDA bill, and Senator Inhofe intends to advocate for inclusion again this year.

Lake Texoma – Local plans for further recreational development on land previously conveyed to the State of Oklahoma at Lake Texoma are being hindered by reversionary interest language included in that conveyance.  The WRDA bill would remove the reversionary interest language, thereby allowing local development plans to move forward.
 
Lake Eufaula - This provision establishes recreation as a project purpose and creates a lake advisory committee that will allow citizens to give recommendations to the Corps regarding the operations of the lake. This section would also authorize a reallocation study.
 
Oklahoma Lake Demonstration - The WRDA bill creates a program in Oklahoma that would encourage development on Corps lakes through public-private partnerships.
 
Arcadia Lake – The City of Edmond has been in dispute with the Corps of Engineers over whether the city owes additional money as interest on water payments.  The WRDA bill clarifies that the city is not liable for interest during the time when the city was not using the water.
 
Waurika Lake Project – The Corps of Engineers and the Waurika Project Master Conservancy District completed the lake project in the 1980s.  Well after completion of the lake, the Corps discovered an accounting error and claimed it had undercharged the Conservancy District.  Language in the WRDA bill clarifies that Waurika is obligated to pay only the amount that was originally agreed to when the project was completed.

Opening Statement from EPW hearing on Water Resources Needs and the President's Budget Proposal

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Link to Statement

Thank you Senator Baucus for holding this hearing.  I’d first like to offer a special welcome to the current Chief of Engineers Lieutenant General Carl Strock, as this is likely the last time he will appear before our Committee.  General Strock will be retiring as soon as his successor is confirmed, which should be soon. 

In July 2004, when he assumed command of the Corps, General Strock faced many challenges with respect to balancing the varied objectives of our nation’s water resources policies, as well as overseeing the Corps’ substantial involvement in reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The challenges only got more numerous and complex in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

While the Chief of Engineers will always have its detractors, I believe General Strock has performed his duties admirably and should be commended for his strong leadership during particularly difficult circumstances.  Thank you, General Strock, for your dedication and service to the nation.  I wish you well in whatever endeavors you decide to pursue next.

Today’s hearing is to look at the President’s fiscal year 2008 budget request for the Corps of Engineers as well as the nation’s water resources needs more generally.  Let me first say that everyone knows how long overdue the Water Resources Development Act is and how important the many project authorizations and policy improvements in the bill are to the country’s economy, public safety and environment. 

We made great progress last year, but, unfortunately, just weren’t able to finalize the last few items during conference.  I intend to continue working closely with Senators Boxer, Baucus and Isakson to build on the progress made last year in order to enact WRDA as soon as possible this year.  I also am committed to getting us back to a biennial cycle by pushing for a WRDA 08 bill.

As far as the President’s budget request for FY08, although I was pleased to see an increase over the request from FY07, this year’s request is still significantly less than was enacted for FY07.  As a fiscal conservative, I support the overall goal of reigning in government spending, but I firmly believe that the two things government should spend money on are defense and infrastructure. 

Unfortunately, we do not focus enough time, attention or dollars on this important issue on a consistent basis, and therefore, the state of our infrastructure is deplorable.  For example, in its “2005 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure,” the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that fully half of all Corps-operated locks on our inland waterways were functionally obsolete and that that number would increase to 80 percent by 2020. 

In addition to adequately maintaining and updating the infrastructure we have, we need to make investments in new capability as well.  The McKlellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System in Oklahoma and Arkansas could function much more efficiently and productively if we proceed with deepening it to 12 feet from its current 9 foot depth.

Another area needing attention is recreation.  I bet many people aren’t aware of this, but the Corps of Engineers is actually the nation’s largest provider of outdoor recreation – larger than both the Park Service and the Forest Service.  We have a lot of Corps lakes and reservoirs in Oklahoma, but we’re not getting the funding for either operations and maintenance of existing facilities or for developing new facilities. 

The budget request again proposes a Corps recreation modernization initiative that would enable the Corps to use the collected user fees for maintaining and upgrading its facilities.  We had language with the same intent in last year’s WRDA bill, but we ran into scoring problems and had to remove it.  I want to continue discussing this idea and hopefully, we can come up with a plan acceptable to everyone.

The other option we have is to further explore public-private partnerships as a means of providing better and more abundant recreation opportunities to our citizens.  Last year’s WRDA bill included a provision allowing the Corps to experiment with certain policies to see what options are available at Oklahoma’s many lakes to maximize the recreation benefits of public-private partnerships.

Let me conclude by commending the Corps of Engineers for its work with other federal and state agencies at the Tar Creek Superfund Site.  I appreciate your visits to the area.  As you are aware, we have encountered problems such as reprogramming of funds and authorization of funding to assist residents.  However, I appreciate you and your staff working with my office to remedy those issues.  I want to get your continued commitment to make the work at Tar Creek a top priority and to devote resources to continue the necessary work we are accomplishing.   

###

EPW FACT OF THE DAY: Democrat Rollback On Chemical Security

Last year, Congress crafted compromise language that provides for the protection of the nation’s chemical facilities and the communities that surround them.  This carefully constructed proposal ensured that highly sensitive security information was protected from the terrorists who seek to harm Americans through an attack on one of these facilities.  It ensured that security decisions were risk-based rather than premised on an environmental standard. Now, Democrats on Capitol Hill are trying to rollback this compromise.
 
FACT:  House Democratic changes to chemical security compromise language will put more Americans at risk and will substitute environmentally-driven operations changes for risk-based and performance standards. The House language would weaken protection for these facilities in several important ways:
 
It would designate vulnerability assessments and site security plans as “sensitive security information,” (SSI) a lower standard than that in current law.  This change, coupled with the Democrat plan to expose chemical facilities to citizen suits for noncompliance of the law, dramatically weakens the protections provided to this sensitive information.  No one is denying a citizen’s right to know about their local chemical facility.  A careful balance must be achieved so that the wrong information is not given to the wrong people.  Current law achieves that balance. Instead, under Democrat proposals, terrorists can sue to access information regarding the vulnerability of these facilities, the very facilities we are seeking to protect from the terrorists.  Democrats who claim to want to protect Americans, are in fact, putting them in harms’ way.
   
Finally, the Democrat changes would allow Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to dictate manufacturing decisions to chemical manufacturers.  The House language maintains a provision allowing a company to choose its own means of compliance.  However, by allowing DHS to reject a security plan because of a chemical or technology decision, the language essentially nullifies that flexibility.  This Inherently-Safer Technologies (IST) provision gives the Federal Government authority to mandate that a private company change its manufacturing process or the chemicals that it uses. IST is an environmental concept that dates back more than a decade when the extremist environmental community was seeking bans on chlorine.  After 9/11, they decided to manipulate the fears of the American public and repackage IST has the solution to all of our security concerns. This only underscores the fact that IST is not a security measure; it is a backdoor attempt at increasing the regulation of chemicals operating under the guise of security. Our country’s security decisions should not be made by environmentalists.  Instead, they should be made by security experts. DHS secretary Michael Chertoff has said, “We have to be careful not to move from what is a security-based focus…into one that tires to broaden into achieving environmental ends that are unrelated to security.”

Public-Private Partnerships Provide Much Needed Funding

Most Americans are probably unaware that the United States Army Corps of Engineers is the nation’s largest provider of outdoor recreation – larger than both the National Park Service and the Forest Service. Unfortunately, Corps projects across the country are not getting funding for operations and maintenance of existing facilities or developing new facilities, and therefore, many Americans are not able to enjoy these public lands.

FACT: Public-private partnerships are a means of providing better and more abundant recreational opportunities.  The benefits of public-private partnerships have already been realized in Oklahoma. As a result, Senator Inhofe included a provision in last year’s Senate passed WRDA bill allowing the Corps to expand the program and experiment with certain policies to see what options are available at Oklahoma’s many lakes to maximize the recreation benefits.
 
HISTORY OF PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS
 
Just a few years ago, a national Demonstration Lake Program was introduced to discover ways to create and foster public-private partnerships in order to grow needed public recreational services on federally managed lakes.  This program was the result of recommendations contained in the Scenic Lakes Commission Report, a national study group proposed and supported by both the Executive and Legislative branches of the federal government.  The program addressed the growing need to build these partnerships, as it recognized that the public sector (at any level of government) could not currently or prospectively afford to provide the growing recreational services that American taxpayers were demanding and deserved. The report clearly suggested that government has generally underperformed in building and maintaining these public use facilities in a sufficient and quality manner.
 
From that initial Demonstration Lake Program, the Corps of Engineers was allowed to select 12 of the 31 pilot federal lakes for the program.  One of the lakes chosen was Skiatook Lake, the only lake selected in Oklahoma.  Northeast Oklahoma very sorely needed more and better recreational activities on its lakes and the selection of Skiatook Lake, one of the state’s newest and cleanest lakes, was a critical component in building an appropriate level of recreational services for the deserving, taxpaying public.
 
In WRDA 2007, Senator Inhofe intends to include language that would extend this expired program to all Oklahoma Corps lakes allowing for recreational development opportunities all across the state.  

From the Blog: Scientific Smackdown: Skeptics Voted The Clear Winners Against Global Warming Believers in Heated NYC Debate

Link to blog post

Just days before former Vice President Al Gore’s scheduled visit to testify about global warming before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, a high profile climate debate between prominent scientists Wednesday evening ended with global warming skeptics being voted the clear winner by a tough New York City before an audience of hundreds of people. 

Before the start of the nearly two hour debate the audience polled 57.3% to 29.9% in favor of believing that Global Warming was a “crisis”, but following the debate the numbers completely flipped to 46.2% to 42.2% in favor of the skeptical point of view. The audience also found humor at the expense of former Vice President Gore’s reportedly excessive home energy use.

After the stunning victory, one of the scientists on the side promoting the belief in a climate "crisis" appeared to concede defeat by noting his debate team was ‘pretty dull" and at "a sharp disadvantage" against the skeptics. ScientificAmerican.com’s blog agreed, saying the believers in a man-made climate catastrophe “seemed underarmed for the debate and, not surprising, it swung against them."

The New York City audience laughed as Gore became the butt of humor during the debate.

"What we see in this is an enormous danger for politicians in terms of their hypocrisy. I’m not going to say anything about Al Gore and his house. But it is a very serious point," quipped University of London emeritus professor Philip Stott to laughter from the audience.

The audience also applauded a call by novelist Michael Crichton to stop the hypocrisy of environmentalists and Hollywood liberals by enacting a ban on private jet travel.

"Let’s have the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), the Sierra Club and Greenpeace make it a rule that all of their members, cannot fly on private jets. They must get their houses off the [power] grid. They must live in the way that they’re telling everyone else to live. And if they won’t do that, why should we? And why should we take them seriously?" Crichton said to applause audience. (For more debate quotes see bottom of article)

The debate was sponsored by the Oxford-style debating group Intelligence Squared and featured such prominent man-made global warming skeptics as MIT scientist Richard Lindzen, the University of London emeritus professor of biogeography Philip Stott and Physician turned Novelist/filmmaker Michael Crichton on one side.

The scientists arguing for a climate ‘crisis’ were NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt, meteorologist Richard C.J. Somerville of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Brenda Ekwurzel of the Union of Concerned Scientists. The event, which was moderated by New York Public Radio’s Brian Lehrer, debated the proposition: "Global warming is not a crisis.”

Skeptics Dramatically Convinced Audience

The skeptics achieved the vote victory despite facing an audience that had voted 57% in favor of the belief that mankind has created a climate "crisis" moments before the debate began.

But by the end of the debate, the audience dramatically reversed themselves and became convinced by the arguments presented by the skeptical scientists. At the conclusion, the audience voted for the views of the skeptics by a margin of 46.2% to 42.2%. Skeptical audience members grew from a pre-debate low of 29.9% to a post debate high of 46.2% -- a jump of nearly 17 percentage points. [Link to official audience voting results]

[Link to full debate pdf transcript]

Scientist Concedes Debate To Skeptics

NASA’s Gavin Schmidt, one of the scientists debating for the notion of a man-made global warming "crisis" conceded after the debate that his side was ‘pretty dull’ and was at "a sharp disadvantage." Schmidt made the comments in a March 15 blog posting at RealCilmate.org.

"…I'm afraid the actual audience (who by temperament I'd say were split roughly half/half on the question) were apparently more convinced by the entertaining narratives from [Novelist Michael] Crichton and [UK’s Philip] Stott (not so sure about Lindzen) than they were by our drier fare. Entertainment-wise it's hard to blame them. Crichton is extremely polished and Stott has a touch of the revivalist preacher about him. Comparatively, we were pretty dull," Schmidt wrote.

‘Advantage: Climate Contrarians’

The ScientificAmerican.com’s blog also declared the global warming skeptics the clear winner of the debate in a March 15 post titled: "Debate Skills? Advantage: Climate Contrarians."

"The proponents [of a climate crisis] seemed underarmed for the debate and, not surprisingly, it swung against them, particularly when Schmidt made the fatal debating error of dismissing the ability of the audience to judge the scientific nuances," ScientificAmerican.com’s David Biello wrote.

The advocates of climate alarmism "were faced with the folksy anecdotes of Crichton and the oratorical fire of Stott," Biello wrote at ScientificAmerican.com.

Biello concluded, "…the audience responded to Crichton's satirical call for a ban on private jets more than Ekwurzel's vague we need to throw ‘everything we can at the climate crisis.’ By the final vote, 46 percent of the audience had been convinced that global warming was indeed not a crisis, while just 42 percent persisted in their opinion that it was."

Biello also criticized climate "crisis" advocate Richard Somerville as "perplexed" and "hardly inspiring."

Skeptic’s ‘Very Popular’

Debate participant Schmidt lamented that the evening turned into one of futility for believers in a man-made global warming catastrophe.

"Crichton went with the crowd-pleasing condemnation of private jet-flying liberals - very popular, even among the private jet-flying Eastsiders present and the apparent hypocrisy of people who think that global warming is a problem using any energy at all."

Schmidt continued, "Stott is a bit of a force of nature and essentially accused anyone who thinks global warming is a problem of explicitly rooting for misery and poverty in the third world. He also brought up the whole cosmic ray issue as the next big thing in climate science."

Schmidt appeared so demoralized that he mused that debates equally split between believers of a climate ‘crisis’ and scientific skeptics are probably not “worthwhile” to ever agree to again.

Selected Quotes from the climate debate from transcript: [Link to full debate pdf transcript]

Skeptical quotes from Novelist Michael Crichton:

"I would like to suggest a few symbolic actions that right—might really mean something. One of them, which is very simple, 99% of the American population doesn’t care, is ban private jets. Nobody needs to fly in them, ban them now. And, and in addition, [APPLAUSE] "Let’s have the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), the Sierra Club and Greenpeace make it a rule that all of their members, cannot fly on private jets. They must get their houses off the [electrical] grid. They must live in the way that they’re telling everyone else to live. And if they won’t do that, why should we? And why should we take them seriously? [APPLAUSE]"

"I suddenly think about my friends, you know, getting on their private jets. And I think, well, you know, maybe they have the right idea. Maybe all that we have to do is mouth a few platitudes, show a good, expression of concern on our faces, buy a Prius, drive it around for a while and give it to the maid, attend a few fundraisers and you’re done. Because, actually, all anybody really wants to do is talk about it."

"I mean, haven’t we actually raised temperatures so much that we, as stewards of the planet, have to act? These are the questions that friends of mine ask as they are getting on board their private jets to fly to their second and third homes. [LAUGHTER]"

"Everyday 30,000 people on this planet die of the diseases of poverty. There are, a third of the planet doesn’t have electricity. We have a billion people with no clean water. We have half a billion people going to bed hungry every night. Do we care about this? It seems that we don’t. It seems that we would rather look a hundred years into the future than pay attention to what’s going on now. I think that's unacceptable. I think that’s really a disgrace."

Skeptical quotes of University of London’s emeritus professor of biogeography Philip Stott:

"What we see in this is an enormous danger for politicians in terms of their hypocrisy. I’m not going to say anything about Al Gore and his house. [LAUGHTER] But it is a very serious point."

"In the early 20th century, 95% of scientists believe in eugenics. [LAUGHTER] Science does not progress by consensus, it progresses by falsification and by what we call paradigm shifts."

"The first Earth Day in America claimed the following, that because of global cooling, the population of America would have collapsed to 22 million by the year 2000. And of the average calorie intake of the average American would be wait for this, 2,400 calories, would good it were. [LAUGHTER] It’s nonsense and very dangerous. And what we have fundamentally forgotten is simple primary school science. Climate always changes."

"Angela Merkel the German chancellor, my own good prime minister (Tony Blair) for whom I voted -- let me emphasize, arguing in public two weeks ago as to who in Annie get the gun style could produce the best temperature. ‘I could do two degrees C said Angela.’ ‘No, I could only do three said Tony.’ [LAUGHTER] Stand back a minute, those are politicians, telling you that they can control climate to a degree Celsius.”

“And can I remind everybody that IPCC that we keep talking about, very honestly admits that we know very little about 80% of the factors behind climate change. Well let’s use an engineer; I don’t think I’d want to cross Brooklyn Bridge if it were built by an engineer who only understood 80% of the forces on that bridge. [LAUGHTER]”

Skeptical quotes of MIT’s Professor of Atmospheric Science Richard Lindzen:

"Now, much of the current alarm, I would suggest, is based on ignorance of what is normal for weather and climate."

"The impact on temperature per unit carbon dioxide actually goes down, not up, with increasing CO2. The role of anthropogenic greenhouse gases is not directly related to the emissions rate or even CO2 levels, which is what the legislation is hitting on, but rather to the impact of these gases on the greenhouse effect."

"The real signature of greenhouse warming is not surface temperature but temperature in the middle of the troposphere, about five kilometers. And that is going up even slower than the temperature at the surface."

# # #

Bloomberg Article Highlights Inhofe's Concerns with New EPA Proposal

Bloomberg reporter Cindy Skrzycki writes in her article yesterday, March 13, 2007 Cash-Poor EPA Passes Buck in Water Fee Fight, about the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) new proposal to make permit holders pay for more of the cost of managing pollutants discharged into the nation's waterways. Skryzycki includes the concerns of interested parties, including those of several US Senators. She cites two letters in her article sent by Senator Inhofe and other Senators:

December 20, 2006 letter to the Office on Management and Budget Director Rob Portman

March 5, 2007 letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson

FACT: EPA’s new proposal would fundamentally alter the way that Section 106 grants flow to the states and penalize those that fail to fund at least 75% of their National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit programs through user fees. 

Funding under the Section 106 is used by states to pay for the costs of administering their Clean Water Act programs.   States determine how to use the funds and how to pay for their share of the administrative costs.   Most states charge a fee on permit holders to cover some of the costs of administering the permit.  However, the cost of the fee is entirely determined by the state and in most cases with input from, if not action by, state legislators, themselves sensitive to raising taxes on stakeholders.
 
EPA has proposed a rule to take all 106 funds in excess of FY06's appropriations level ($169 million) and hold it as an incentive for states that raise fees enough to pay for between 75% and 100% of their NPDES programs.  The Administration modeled their proposal after the Clean Air Act in which Congress directed that fees shall be raised to cover the cost of administering Clean Air Act permits. 
 
Senator Inhofe believes this is a decision to be left to the States unless Congress determines, as it did in the Clean Air Act, that fees must be levied. EPA does not have the authority to unilaterally decide it is federal policy that states should tax municipal governments.
 
EPA is correct that there are significant demands for section 106 funding.  They should be commended for attempting to relieve some of the pressure on the account.  Senator Inhofe believes Congress needs to thoroughly examine the funding for this and other clean water programs and determine if there are ways to relieve the administrative burden on states and permittees or create alternative incentives and funding options.
 
Bloomberg
 
Cash-Poor EPA Passes Buck in Water Fee Fight
By Cindy Skrzycki
Tuesday, March 13, 2007; D01

Web link  

It's hard to find anyone who likes the Environmental Protection Agency' s new proposal to make permit holders pay for more of the cost of managing pollutants discharged into the nation's waterways.

The EPA's goal was to find a stable new funding source for the poetically named National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, which governs how states grant permits for about 600,000 facilities across the country.

The idea was to set aside a $5 million pot of federal money to share among states that increase the portion of their funding that comes from user fees to at least 75 percent. Only a few states meet that standard.

Farmers, utilities and other business interests, many state water-quality officials and some members of Congress -- including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) -- have expressed opposition. In a March 2 comment, Michael Baise, representing the Indiana Farm Bureau's 78,000 members, called an increase in permit fees a tax.

The dispute is one example of the infighting that can take place when a federal agency, strapped by budget constraints, tries to pass the buck, literally, to someone else.

"This rulemaking has been an end-run without meaningful consultation, and it would jack up permit fees without improving program performance," said Paul Noe, a former top aide at the Office of Management and Budget's regulatory review office who now heads a coalition of opponents.

Noe's group, the Coalition Against Permitting Unfunded Mandates, includes state and municipal utilities, water-treatment authorities, state regulators, and agriculture and other trade groups.

The discharge permit program was created under the Clean Water Act as a federal-state partnership. The EPA sent states $169 million for it in fiscal 2006. The states pick up the other two-thirds of the cost through a mix of their revenue and user fees.

The EPA explained in its Jan. 4 proposal that the rulemaking was designed to "shift part of the financial burden to those who benefit" from the permits.

Benjamin H. Grumbles, the EPA's assistant administrator for water, said the rule is meant to encourage the states, "not take anything away" from them. He called user fees "an attractive market-based approach."

State officials complained about the idea in discussions last year, according to a summary of meetings on the agency Web site. Last July, a Hawaii official described how utilities and municipalities, the state's "largest dischargers," lobbied against higher fees, and expressed concern that state legislators would cut the program budget by any amount generated by fees.

The agency is also getting flak over whether it has the authority to make the change and over the process it used. By calling the proposal an amendment to an existing grant program, the EPA said it didn't need to ask Congress to change the law. And it said the change wasn't significant enough to require the usual reviews and analyses that can add layers of scrutiny to rulemaking.

The comment period on the proposal closed March 5. Of the 50 comments received by the agency, none were positive, and some asked the EPA to withdraw the proposal.

"Is there anyone other than EPA supporting this?" said Michael Formica, environmental policy counsel for the National Pork Producers Council, a trade group in the District. Some members of his group apply for permits to cover manure lagoons even though the industry maintains it is "discharge-free."

Some state officials and permit holders said they interpret the proposal as the Bush administration's first step toward withdrawing federal financial support for the program and substituting user fees.

They cite the latest OMB budget documents, which say the EPA will complete the rule this year to provide "financial incentives to States to implement fee programs" for the discharge program. To Linda Eichmiller, executive director of the Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators, a Washington-based group of regulators, "This isn't about incentives but forcing states to adopt fee programs."

Clinton and Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) warned the administration in a Dec. 20 letter that the "decision to create a mandatory funding source is one to be made by Congress, not the EPA." Both are members of the Senate committee overseeing the EPA.

Seven other senators joined them last week in a letter to EPA chastising the agency for overstepping its authority.

"EPA would not only be working to micromanage this successfully state-run program, it would also in effect be forcing states to raise costs for millions of consumers by limiting the amount of funding going to a majority of states," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a statement.

Business doesn't always oppose user fees -- as long as it gets something back, such as faster processing of permits or expedited drug reviews.

"It's hard for industry to favor user-fee increases if they don't receive any service improvement in return," said Rosario Palmieri, director of energy and resources policy for the National Association of Manufacturers, a trade group in the District.

The effect of new user fees may depend on the size of the business. KeySpan, a natural gas distributor and electricity generator based in Brooklyn, N.Y., already pays $300,000 in permitting fees for six of its plants, according to Steven Dalton, manager of environmental compliance.

For a company with $7.2 billion in revenue, an increase wouldn't be a substantive issue, he said, though the company thinks the fee already is "fairly robust."

On the other hand, Stewart Stone, a quarrying operation in Cushing, Okla., that employs 20 people, pays $1,653 annually for a stormwater permit and has had to apply for an increasing number of state and federal permits over the years.

"The regulations are getting so absurd and costly," said Lee Barrows, Stewart's chief financial officer. "They are going to put the small guy out of business."

Barrows said she doesn't favor any kind of fee increase, especially since the company just had to curtail its operations.

The EPA's Grumbles said the agency would not withdraw the rule, despite the clamor of opposition. It will open another comment period instead.

"We got some very good comments," he said. "We truly welcome more discussion."

In Case You Missed It...From a Rapt Audience, a Call to Cool the Hype

The New York TImes

From a Rapt Audience, a Call to Cool the Hype

March 13, 2007

Web link

Hollywood has a thing for Al Gore and his three-alarm film on global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth,” which won an Academy Award for best documentary. So do many environmentalists, who praise him as a visionary, and many scientists, who laud him for raising public awareness of climate change.

But part of his scientific audience is uneasy. In talks, articles and blog entries that have appeared since his film and accompanying book came out last year, these scientists argue that some of Mr. Gore’s central points are exaggerated and erroneous. They are alarmed, some say, at what they call his alarmism.

“I don’t want to pick on Al Gore,” Don J. Easterbrook, an emeritus professor of geology at Western Washington University, told hundreds of experts at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. “But there are a lot of inaccuracies in the statements we are seeing, and we have to temper that with real data.”

Mr. Gore, in an e-mail exchange about the critics, said his work made “the most important and salient points” about climate change, if not “some nuances and distinctions” scientists might want. “The degree of scientific consensus on global warming has never been stronger,” he said, adding, “I am trying to communicate the essence of it in the lay language that I understand.”

Although Mr. Gore is not a scientist, he does rely heavily on the authority of science in “An Inconvenient Truth,” which is why scientists are sensitive to its details and claims.

Criticisms of Mr. Gore have come not only from conservative groups and prominent skeptics of catastrophic warming, but also from rank-and-file scientists like Dr. Easterbook, who told his peers that he had no political ax to grind. A few see natural variation as more central to global warming than heat-trapping gases. Many appear to occupy a middle ground in the climate debate, seeing human activity as a serious threat but challenging what they call the extremism of both skeptics and zealots.

Kevin Vranes, a climatologist at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, said he sensed a growing backlash against exaggeration. While praising Mr. Gore for “getting the message out,” Dr. Vranes questioned whether his presentations were “overselling our certainty about knowing the future.”

Typically, the concern is not over the existence of climate change, or the idea that the human production of heat-trapping gases is partly or largely to blame for the globe’s recent warming. The question is whether Mr. Gore has gone beyond the scientific evidence.

“He’s a very polarizing figure in the science community,” said Roger A. Pielke Jr., an environmental scientist who is a colleague of Dr. Vranes at the University of Colorado center. “Very quickly, these discussions turn from the issue to the person, and become a referendum on Mr. Gore.”

“An Inconvenient Truth,” directed by Davis Guggenheim, was released last May and took in more than $46 million, making it one of the top-grossing documentaries ever. The companion book by Mr. Gore quickly became a best seller, reaching No. 1 on the New York Times list.

Mr. Gore depicted a future in which temperatures soar, ice sheets melt, seas rise, hurricanes batter the coasts and people die en masse. “Unless we act boldly,” he wrote, “our world will undergo a string of terrible catastrophes.”

He clearly has supporters among leading scientists, who commend his popularizations and call his science basically sound. In December, he spoke in San Francisco to the American Geophysical Union and got a reception fit for a rock star from thousands of attendees.

“He has credibility in this community,” said Tim Killeen, the group’s president and director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a top group studying climate change. “There’s no question he’s read a lot and is able to respond in a very effective way.”

Some backers concede minor inaccuracies but see them as reasonable for a politician. James E. Hansen, an environmental scientist, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a top adviser to Mr. Gore, said, “Al does an exceptionally good job of seeing the forest for the trees,” adding that Mr. Gore often did so “better than scientists.”

Still, Dr. Hansen said, the former vice president’s work may hold “imperfections” and “technical flaws.” He pointed to hurricanes, an icon for Mr. Gore, who highlights the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and cites research suggesting that global warming will cause both storm frequency and deadliness to rise. Yet this past Atlantic season produced fewer hurricanes than forecasters predicted (five versus nine), and none that hit the United States.

“We need to be more careful in describing the hurricane story than he is,” Dr. Hansen said of Mr. Gore. “On the other hand,” Dr. Hansen said, “he has the bottom line right: most storms, at least those driven by the latent heat of vaporization, will tend to be stronger, or have the potential to be stronger, in a warmer climate.”

In his e-mail message, Mr. Gore defended his work as fundamentally accurate. “Of course,” he said, “there will always be questions around the edges of the science, and we have to rely upon the scientific community to continue to ask and to challenge and to answer those questions.”

He said “not every single adviser” agreed with him on every point, “but we do agree on the fundamentals” — that warming is real and caused by humans.

Mr. Gore added that he perceived no general backlash among scientists against his work. “I have received a great deal of positive feedback,” he said. “I have also received comments about items that should be changed, and I have updated the book and slideshow to reflect these comments.” He gave no specifics on which points he had revised.

He said that after 30 years of trying to communicate the dangers of global warming, “I think that I’m finally getting a little better at it.”

While reviewers tended to praise the book and movie, vocal skeptics of global warming protested almost immediately. Richard S. Lindzen, a climatologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, who has long expressed skepticism about dire climate predictions, accused Mr. Gore in The Wall Street Journal of “shrill alarmism.”

Some of Mr. Gore’s centrist detractors point to a report last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body that studies global warming. The panel went further than ever before in saying that humans were the main cause of the globe’s warming since 1950, part of Mr. Gore’s message that few scientists dispute. But it also portrayed climate change as a slow-motion process.

It estimated that the world’s seas in this century would rise a maximum of 23 inches — down from earlier estimates. Mr. Gore, citing no particular time frame, envisions rises of up to 20 feet and depicts parts of New York, Florida and other heavily populated areas as sinking beneath the waves, implying, at least visually, that inundation is imminent.

Bjorn Lomborg, a statistician and political scientist in Denmark long skeptical of catastrophic global warming, said in a syndicated article that the panel, unlike Mr. Gore, had refrained from scaremongering. “Climate change is a real and serious problem” that calls for careful analysis and sound policy, Dr. Lomborg said. “The cacophony of screaming,” he added, “does not help.”

So too, a report last June by the National Academies seemed to contradict Mr. Gore’s portrayal of recent temperatures as the highest in the past millennium. Instead, the report said, current highs appeared unrivaled since only 1600, the tail end of a temperature rise known as the medieval warm period.

Roy Spencer, a climatologist at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, said on a blog that Mr. Gore’s film did “indeed do a pretty good job of presenting the most dire scenarios.” But the June report, he added, shows “that all we really know is that we are warmer now than we were during the last 400 years.”

Other critics have zeroed in on Mr. Gore’s claim that the energy industry ran a “disinformation campaign” that produced false discord on global warming. The truth, he said, was that virtually all unbiased scientists agreed that humans were the main culprits. But Benny J. Peiser, a social anthropologist in Britain who runs the Cambridge-Conference Network, or CCNet, an Internet newsletter on climate change and natural disasters, challenged the claim of scientific consensus with examples of pointed disagreement.

“Hardly a week goes by,” Dr. Peiser said, “without a new research paper that questions part or even some basics of climate change theory,” including some reports that offer alternatives to human activity for global warming.

Geologists have documented age upon age of climate swings, and some charge Mr. Gore with ignoring such rhythms.

“Nowhere does Mr. Gore tell his audience that all of the phenomena that he describes fall within the natural range of environmental change on our planet,” Robert M. Carter, a marine geologist at James Cook University in Australia, said in a September blog. “Nor does he present any evidence that climate during the 20th century departed discernibly from its historical pattern of constant change.”

In October, Dr. Easterbrook made similar points at the geological society meeting in Philadelphia. He hotly disputed Mr. Gore’s claim that “our civilization has never experienced any environmental shift remotely similar to this” threatened change.

Nonsense, Dr. Easterbrook told the crowded session. He flashed a slide that showed temperature trends for the past 15,000 years. It highlighted 10 large swings, including the medieval warm period. These shifts, he said, were up to “20 times greater than the warming in the past century.”

Getting personal, he mocked Mr. Gore’s assertion that scientists agreed on global warming except those industry had corrupted. “I’ve never been paid a nickel by an oil company,” Dr. Easterbrook told the group. “And I’m not a Republican.”

Biologists, too, have gotten into the act. In January, Paul Reiter, an active skeptic of global warming’s effects and director of the insects and infectious diseases unit of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, faulted Mr. Gore for his portrayal of global warming as spreading malaria.

“For 12 years, my colleagues and I have protested against the unsubstantiated claims,” Dr. Reiter wrote in The International Herald Tribune. “We have done the studies and challenged the alarmists, but they continue to ignore the facts.”

Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton who advised Mr. Gore on the book and movie, said that reasonable scientists disagreed on the malaria issue and other points that the critics had raised. In general, he said, Mr. Gore had distinguished himself for integrity.

“On balance, he did quite well — a credible and entertaining job on a difficult subject,” Dr. Oppenheimer said. “For that, he deserves a lot of credit. If you rake him over the coals, you’re going to find people who disagree. But in terms of the big picture, he got it right.”

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In Case You Missed It...Fighting The Real Gridlock (George WIll, Washington Post, 3/11/07)

Washington Post columnist George Will, in his column “Fighting The Real Gridlock (March 11, 2007),” raised the important issue of highway congestion and the impact on the American people.

According to the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) in 2003, the most recent year with complete data, congestion caused 3.7 billion hours of travel delay and 2.3 billion of gallons of wasted fuel, for a total cost of $63 billion.  Total costs would be much higher if they included the intangible cost of delayed goods and services, which rely on an accountable and free flowing and reliable transportation network.  The Los Angeles area alone, the largest and most congested metro area in country, is responsible for a total estimated cost of congestion of $10.5 billion with an individual cost per rush-hour traveler of $1,598 a year; following Los Angeles is San Francisco at $2.6 billion and $1,224 and the Washington metro area at 2.4 billion and $1,169 per individual. 

Congestion has increased dramatically over the last 2 decade, centered primarily in the country’s urban areas.  In fact, drivers in the 13 largest cities spend the equivalent of almost 8 work days a year stuck in traffic. Congestion affects the very fabric of our economy by threatening American business and consumer preference for just-in-time delivery.  

The Washington Post

Fighting The Real Gridlock

By George F. Will
Sunday, March 11, 2007; B07

It is peculiar: The secretary of transportation is not a household name. But Mary Peters -- now you know -- is more important than most public officials to improving America's economic dynamism and reducing the aggravation of everyday life.

It is perverse: In today's information-intensive economy, the costs of information often approach zero and the speed at which it moves approaches instantaneousness. But the speed that many users of information travel to where they use it to produce goods and services is slowing, and the costs of this are rising.

Traffic congestion is even worse than you think, according to Peters, a fourth-generation Arizonan and a grandmother whose preferred mode of transportation is her Harley-Davidson. In the past 20 years, congestion in the 85 largest cities has caused the number of hours lost each year by the average driver in rush hours to increase from 16 to 47. In the 13 largest cities, drivers are stuck in traffic the equivalent of nearly eight workdays. Congestion's immediate and indirect economic costs -- not including lost serenity, family time and civic engagement -- just begin with fuel and wear and tear on vehicles.

Innovative "just in time" delivery practices have enabled businesses to control inventories, thereby modulating business cycles. Congestion, however, is forcing supply-chain managers to hold larger inventories or build more distribution centers, thereby increasing the transportation and logistics components of gross domestic product.

In 2009, Peters says, the highway trust fund, largely filled by the federal gasoline tax (18.4 cents per gallon), will go into deficit. Because inertia usually governs the government, Congress might simply increase and index the tax, thereby avoiding two inconveniences: fresh thinking and departures from the status quo.

There must be new highways and new lanes on some old ones. But there also must be new ways -- made possible by new technologies -- of using lanes.

The usual scolds -- environmentalists, urban "planners," enthusiasts for public transit (less than 5 percent of the workforce uses it) -- argue that more highways encourage more driving ("induced demand") and hence are self-defeating. But as Ted Balaker and Sam Staley respond in their new book on congestion, " The Road More Traveled," among the 10 largest metropolitan areas, Los Angeles has the least pavement per person; Dallas has twice as much per person and half as much congestion. Furthermore, when new schools are built because old ones have become congested and then the new ones fill up with children from families attracted by new schools, who argues that building the new ones was a mistake?

The congestion crisis requires joining an old material -- concrete -- with new technologies. Toll highways or lanes can do what restaurants and movie theaters do -- use differential pricing to draw traffic to off-peak hours. Peters cites Interstate 15 in Southern California. It uses dynamic pricing, under which the continually varying cost of access to special lanes is posted on electronic signs. Changing the price as often as every six minutes prevents congestion. Another California highway that uses prices posted on a printed schedule has increased traffic flow 40 percent.

When taxpayers pay the gas tax, they do not know what they are buying -- except "Bridges to Nowhere" and other pork. When drivers pay a toll, they know exactly what they are getting -- life's most precious scarce thing, time.

Peters says there are large sources of private capital available for investments in transportation infrastructure. Indiana has leased its toll road to a private consortium that will have an incentive -- profit -- to use electronic toll collection rather than human collectors who slow traffic and sometimes cost twice as much as the tolls they collect.

Transportation innovations always have been prerequisites for America's growing prosperity. In 1815, the cost of moving goods 30 miles inland from an Atlantic port, over rutted roads that were impassable in wet weather, equaled the cost of moving the goods across the Atlantic. But soon America's first great transportation innovation, the Erie Canal, reduced the cost of shipping a ton of wheat from Buffalo to the port of New York from $100 to $10. Because of railroads and macadamized roads, the difference between the wholesale price of pork in Cincinnati and New York fell 90 percent.

Modernization of surface transportation infrastructure depends on Peters and like-minded visionaries persuading federal and state governments to abandon the inefficient dispensing of money by politically driven formulas and earmarks. New electronic technologies, harnessed to private capital and the profit motive, can nimbly use price incentives to produce new traffic patterns and driving habits, thereby increasing Americans' freedom to pursue happiness, speedily.

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