Bush Administration Rushing Through Lame-Duck Energy And Environment Actions 6

Posted by Brad Johnson Fri, 31 Oct 2008 21:02:00 GMT

The House Committee on Global Warming and Energy Independence has issued a report, Past is Prologue, listing many of the energy and environmental regulations, rulemakings, and notices the Bush administration is expected to issue (or in some cases, illegally avoid issuing) in its final months in office. As R. Jeffrey Smith writes in the Washington Post, “The new rules would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo.” Here’s a partial list:
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to finalize an NSR rule before the end of the administration that would essentially exempt all existing power plants from having to install new pollution control technology when these plants are updated.
  • In a separate NSR rule, EPA plans to exempt so-called “fugitive” emissions – meaning emissions that don’t come out of the end of a stack such as volatile organic compounds emitted from leaking pipes and fittings at petroleum refineries – from consideration in determining whether NSR is triggered.
  • EPA is also set to finalize a third rule weakening the NSR program, by allowing so-called “batch process facilities” – like oil refineries and chemical plants – to artificially ignore certain emissions when determining when NSR is triggered.
  • EPA is also working towards weakening air pollution regulations on power plants and other emissions sources adjacent to national parks and other pristine, so-called “Class I” areas. By changing the modeling of new power plants’ impact on air quality in national parks – using annual emissions averages as opposed to shorter daily or monthly periods – the EPA rule will make it easier for such plants to be built close to parks.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued proposed regulations to implement the EISA fuel economy standards (increase by the maximum feasible amount each year, such that it reaches at least 35 miles per gallon by 2020) in April 2008, and final regulations are expected soon. If NHTSA used EIA’s higher gasoline price scenario—a range of $3.14/gallon in 2016 to $3.74/gallon in 2030—the technology is available to cost-effectively achieve a much higher fleet wide fuel economy of nearly 35 mpg in 2015 – instead of the 31.6 mpg in 2015 under the lower gas prices used in NHTSA’s proposed rule.
  • EPA is expected to issue proposed regulations soon on the renewable fuels provisions passed in EISA that required America’s fuel supply to include 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022 – together with more specific volumetric requirements and lifecycle greenhouse gas benchmarks for “advanced” renewable fuels, cellulosic ethanol, and biodiesel.
  • The Department of the Interior (DOI) has already telegraphed its intention to gut the Endangered Species Act by rushing through 300,000 comments on proposed rules in 32 hours, then providing a mere 10-day public comment period on the Environmental Assessment of the proposed rules change. The proposed rules would take expert scientific review out of many Endangered Species Act (ESA) processes, and could exempt the effects of global warming pollution on threatened or endangered species.
  • DOI intends to finalize new regulations governing commercial development of oil shale on more than 2 million acres of public lands in the West.
  • DOI’s Office of Surface Mining is expected before the end of the administration to issue a final rule that would extend the current rule (which requires a 100-foot buffer zone around streams to protect them from mining practices) so that it also applies to all other bodies of water, such as lakes, ponds and wetlands. But the rule would also exempt many harmful practices – such as permanent coal waste disposal facilities – and could even allow for changing a waterway’s flow.
  • EPA has already missed several deadlines to finalize a rule addressing whether concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are required to obtain permits under the Clean Water Act.
  • EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers may issue a revised guidance memo on how to interpret the phrase “waters of the United States” in the Clean Water Act, which determines what water bodies are subject to regulation under the Act.
  • Under the Omnibus appropriations bill for FY 2008, EPA was directed to establish a mandatory reporting rule for greenhouse gas emissions, using its existing authority under the Clean Air Act, by September 2008. EPA has been working on a proposed rule, which may or may not be issued before the end of the Bush administration. EPA will not issue a final rule before the end of the administration.

The Danger of Deception: Do Endangered Species Have a Chance?

Posted by Wonk Room Wed, 21 May 2008 14:00:00 GMT

Witnesses

Panel 1
  • Robin Nazarro, Director, Natural Resources and Environment Program, U.S. Government Accountability Office
  • R. Lyle Laverty, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, U.S. Department of the Interior
  • Accompanied by: Ren Lohoefener, Fish and Wildlife Service and Ed Shepard, Bureau of Land Management
  • Jane Luxton, General Counsel, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Dr. Francesca T. Grifo, Ph.D., Senior Scientist and Director, Scientific Integrity Program, Union of Concerned Scientists
Panel 2
  • Scott D. Kraus, Ph.D., Vice President of Research, New England Aquarium
  • Dr. Jerry F. Franklin, Ph.D., College of Forest Resources, University of Washington
  • Scott Hoffman Black, Executive Director, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
  • David Parsons, Science Fellow, The Rewilding Institute
  • Larry Irwin, National Council for Air & Stream Improvement
From E&E News:
Political appointee at center of polar bear decision to testify (05/19/2008) Allison Winter, E&E Daily reporter

House lawmakers will get the chance this week to grill a key Interior Department official on whether there was any political manipulation in the decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species.

Lyle Laverty, a political appointee who serves as Interior’s assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, is scheduled to appear before the House Natural Resources Committee.

The hearing is a follow up on an investigation committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) started after Julie MacDonald, a deputy assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, resigned in the wake of a scandal that linked her to meddling in and editing scientific decisions on endangered species issues.

Lawmakers will take a broad look at political influence on endangered species decisions, Rahall said in an interview last week. But given that it is following on the heels of the polar bear listing decision, questions about the bear would likely be a focus.

“Decisions in regard to ESA should always be based on sound science and not politics,” Rahall said. “I am sure it will be an item for discussion.”

Laverty has been a key figure in the polar bear decision. In court filings submitted in response to the lawsuit over the listing, Laverty described months of back-and-forth discussions over the listing among Interior lawyers and representatives in his office.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced last week he would list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The listing is based on threats to the bear from the effects of climate change on its polar habitat, but Kempthorne specified that it should not allow the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions linked to warming temperatures.

The agency included a special rule to allow continued development of natural resources in the Arctic and power plants in the lower 48 states. That rule ignited the outrage of some Democrats on Capitol hill, including Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), who sits on the Natural Resources Committee.

“This is a fraud,” said Inslee. “The administration effectively decided to make a listing, but said it wouldn’t make a difference in government action. That’s not a listing, it’s a cop out.”

The announcement came after multiple delays and lawsuits to force protection of the bear. Environmentalists and several Democratic lawmakers – including Inslee – have suspected the administration was stalling to try to avoid protecting the bear, or to allow oil leasing in its habitat in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea to go forward. Administration officials have maintained they were just trying to complete a thorough review of a very complicated listing.

Questions for lawyers?

The listing decision was originally mandated by law for early January, but Interior officials postponed it until a lawsuit forced them to complete the decision last week. Kempthorne said last week that the January postponement was necessary because the agency needed time to complete its analysis of the scientific data.

In court filings about the polar bear listing, Laverty described a back-and-forth process among agency lawyers in D.C. while the listing stalled.

The Alaska field office sent its draft final listing recommendation to Washington on Dec. 14. On the basis of that recommendation, Fish and Wildlife Service officials developed a draft listing determination, which they completed in early February. That decision “raised various factual and legal issues” with the Office of the Solicitor, according to Laverty’s legal filing.

Interior then developed a working group with staff from both FWS and the solicitor’s office. That group concluded its work in mid-February, and FWS Director Dale Hall approved their recommendation. The decision then went to Laverty, who sent it back to the solicitor’s office for further review.

“I am informed that public comments and internal departmental review of this listing determination raised significant and complex factual and legal issues,” Laverty wrote in his court testimony.

Among the questionable items, Laverty said, were the reliability of data used for the listing and the degree of uncertainty around the climate modeling tools. Before the final listing was released, Laverty’s office and the solicitor’s office continued to review it.

“These are not questions for lawyers, these are factual questions for scientists in the field office,” said Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that sued the administration to force the listing.

GAO investigation

The panel will also hear from the director of natural resources at the Government Accountability Office, the general counsel at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and wildlife experts from nonprofits and universities.

GAO is also expected to release this week new findings in its review of Interior’s self-review of its endangered species listing program. FWS is revising several rulings MacDonald was involved in and developed a new policy intended to keep scientific decisions from reaching political levels.

Kempthorne: Polar Bear 'Threatened' By Decline of Arctic Sea Ice, But Drilling Can Continue

Posted by Wonk Room Thu, 15 May 2008 12:16:00 GMT

Originally posted at the Wonk Room.

After years of delay, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne made a landmark decision on whether global warming pollution is regulated by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Kempthorne ruled that the polar bear should be classified as a “threatened species” due to the decline of polar sea ice, critical to its survival. Kempthorne stated:

They are likely to become endangered in the near future.

The Department of Interior, under Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, fought for several years in the courts since 2005 to avoid making a decision on whether the precipitous decline in Arctic sea ice due to global warming is making the polar bear an endangered species. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dale Hall testified in January that there was no significant scientific uncertainty in the endangerment posed by global warming to polar bears—the only legal justification under the Endangered Species Act for a delay.

Kempthone’s decision to follow the science is in marked contrast to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson’s action to override his staff in refusing to regulate tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions.

However, Kempthorne also argued vigorously that his decison does not compel the Bush administration to construct a plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, repeating President Bush’s entirely spurious claim that would be a “wholly inappropriate use” of the Endangered Species Act. The Interior news release announces, “Rule will allow continuation of vital energy production in Alaska.” Kempthorne claimed that the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) is “more stringent” than the ESA, despite the court ruling that compelled him to make today’s ruling stating that “the protections afforded under the ESA far surpass those provided by the MMPA.”

Despite his protestations, Kempthorne’s decision clearly calls into question the legality of the sale of oil and gas drilling rights in polar bear habitat on February 6, while the polar bear decision was being illegally delayed.

Kempthorne complained that the Endangered Species Act is “one of the most inflexible” pieces of legislation because it didn’t allow him to consider economic impacts when protecting species like the polar bear from extinction.

From the Department of Interior press release on the 368-page rule:
To make sure the ESA is not misused to regulate global climate change, Kempthorne promised the following actions:
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing a 4(d) rule that states that if an activity is permissible under the stricter standards of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it is also permissible under the ESA with respect to the polar bear. This rule, effective immediately, will ensure the protection of the bear while allowing us to continue to develop our natural resources in the arctic region in an environmentally sound way.
  • Director Hall will issue guidance to staff that the best scientific data available today cannot make a causal connection between harm to listed species or their habitats and greenhouse gas emissions from a specific facility, or resource development project or government action.
  • The Department will issue a Solicitor’s Opinion further clarifying these points.
  • The Department will propose common sense modifications to the existing ESA regulatory language to prevent abuse of this listing to erect a back-door climate policy outside our normal system of political accountability.

Andy Revkin at Dot Earth concludes, “So this leaves everything as it was, in a way, with the bears facing a transforming ecosystem and environmentalists successful in their litigation, but not necessarily empowered by the listing.” At Climate Progress Joe Romm calls the decision “bye-polar disorder.”

Sierra Club spokesman Josh Dorner tells the Wonk Room, “This is the regulatory equivalent of a signing statement—only this one gets to be challenged in court.”

The Listing Decision for the Polar Bear Under the Endangered Species Act

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 02 Apr 2008 14:00:00 GMT

Dirk Kempthorne has not confirmed attendance.

Witnesses
  • The Honorable Dirk Kempthorne, Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior (INVITED)
  • Dr. Douglas B. Inkley, Senior Scientist, National Wildlife Federation
  • Kassie R. Siegel, Director of the Climate, Air, and Energy Program, Center for Biological Diversity
  • William P. Horn Esq., Birch, Horton, Bittner & Cherot

Boxer Requests Hearing with Interior Secretary over Polar Bear Delays

Posted by Brad Johnson Mon, 24 Mar 2008 15:34:00 GMT

On Thursday March 20, Sen. Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne asking him “to appear before the Committee as soon as possible for an oversight hearing” on the “considerable delays in taking final action” over the Endangered Species Act listing of the polar bear. Boxer told him that the hearing would be planned for April 2 or 8.

The following day, Lyle Laverty, Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, faxed back a response at 5:56 PM saying:
I understand Secretary Kempthorne called you on March 17, 2008, and expressed his commitment to testify before the Committee on the polar bear proposal once a decision is made on the issue. I also understand the Secretary committed to calling you on Tuesday, April 1, 2008, with an update on the progress towards a decision.

Boxer immediately responded, calling the offer of a telephone briefing and a hearing after a decision has been made “wholly inadequate,” and again requested the April 2 or 8 date for a hearing discussing “this serious breach of the Department’s duty to follow the law.”

It has been nearly a month since FWS director Dale Hall stated in a House Appropriations Committee hearing that he had submitted his decision on the polar bear listing to Secretary Kempthorne.

PEER: FWS Scientists in "Ethics Tug of War"; IG Launches Inquiry

Posted by Wonk Room Tue, 18 Mar 2008 16:11:00 GMT

This is crossposted from the newly launched Think Progress Wonk Room, which will be covering policy news from climate change to national security. The issues covered by Hill Heat writer Brad Johnson will enjoy deeper coverage at the Wonk Room, where he is now a full-time staffer.

The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility today highlighted the ethical conundrum facing scientists currently serving under Fish & Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall.

In addition, this month the Interior Inspector General opened a preliminary inquiry into whether Hall violated the code of conduct for repeatedly missing Endangered Species Act deadlines to list the polar bear, despite clear scientific guidance.

PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch asks: “How can we expect scientists to obey a code of conduct that their director ignores?”

The latest delay has also triggered a lawsuit from environmental groups.

Allison Winter reports for E&E News:
The Interior Department’s internal watchdog said today it has begun a preliminary probe of the delayed polar bear decision.

Responding to requests from environmental groups, the Inspector General’s Office official said its preliminary review will determine if there is a need for a full investigation.

The Sierra Club, Alaska Wilderness League and four other organizations requested a review by Inspector General Early Devaney, claiming the delay violates the Fish and Wildlife Service’s scientific code of conduct and rules of the Endangered Species Act by allowing MMS to proceed with Chukchi lease sales.

Enviros, Democrats Respond to Polar Bear Delay

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 12 Mar 2008 00:51:00 GMT

Sixty days have now passed since January 8, 2008, when the U.S. Department of the Interior failed to meet its legal deadline to determine whether the polar bear is endangered by global warming, triggering a joint lawsuit over this latest delay from the Center for Biological Diversity, NRDC, and Greenpeace, pursuant to the notice of intent filed in January.

In the intervening months, U.S. Fish and Wildlife director Dale Hall took responsibility for the delay, but two weeks ago he told House appropriators that the decision had been given to Dirk Kempthorne, Secretary of the Interior, for final review.

In addition, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chair of the House global warming committee, today introduced legislation to block further activity in the lease sale area. This legislation, which does not yet have a bill number, is a revision of his proposed legislation from January, before the lease sale took place. The amended legislation would now prevent the Secretary of the Interior from authorizing any “related activity (including approving any seismic activity, offering any new lease, or approving any exploration or development plan)” until an ESA determination and critical habitat designation is made.

FWS Chief Admits Administration Budget Cuts Indefensible

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 05 Mar 2008 16:08:00 GMT

In last week’s budget hearing, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dale Hall was confronted by Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) in a revealing exchange:
Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) I know that you all have talked some about the alarming loss of common birds in our country. Alarming it is. I almost can’t believe it. The numbers that I’ve seen are absolutely atrocious. And one thing that I’d like to explore with you real quick, the Audubon Society has stated that the cause of the dramatic decline of birds is the outright loss of habitat due to poor land use, the clear-cutting of forests, the draining of wetlands and sprawl. Now, in light of such a stinging indictment as that, how does the administration justify a 70 percent cut in land acquisition?

Hall I don’t know.

The Audubon Society analysis found that many common U.S. birds species have collapsed in recent years, some by at least 80 percent. In addition, the Society has identified 218 U.S. bird species at risk “amid a convergence of environmental challenges, including habitat loss, invasive species and global warming”.

Former Deputy Interior Secretary Julie MacDonald interfered with the Endangered Species Act listings of several of those at-risk: the Greater Sage Grouse, Gunnison Sage Grouse, Southwestern bald eagle, Southwestern willow flycatcher, Sacramento splittail and the recovery plan of the Northern spotted owl

Interior Holding Back Polar Bear Decision; CBD Sues Over Penguins

Posted by Brad Johnson Mon, 03 Mar 2008 12:47:00 GMT

At last week’s House Appropriations hearing on the FY 2009 Fish and Wildlife Service budget, FWS chief Dale Hall was grilled on the service’s implementation of the Endangered Species Act. The Bush administration has listed dramatically fewer species than previous administrations after dramatically reinterpreting the Act under Secretary Gale Norton’s “New Environmentalism” initiative to limit its protections for critical habitats. Further, Deputy Secretary Julie MacDonald was found to have interfered with a series of listing decisions (such as the prairie dog and sage grouse) until her dismissal in 2006.

Hall stated that he finally submitted his decision on the endangerment of polar bears due to climate change to Dirk Kempthorne, the Secretary of the Interior, saying that he expected a final decision to come in a few weeks. Hall justified the further delay to reporters: “It needs to be reviewed and explained to Interior, it can take a while to understand.”

On February 27, the Center for Biological Diversity announced a lawsuit protesting the FWS’s illegal delay on considering the endangerment of ten species of penguins:
The legal deadline at issue in today’s suit was triggered by a scientific petition the Center filed in November 2006 seeking Endangered Species Act protection for many of the world’s most threatened penguin species, including the emperor penguin in Antarctica. In July 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took the first of the three steps in the listing process when it found that 10 penguin species may deserve protection and began status reviews for those species. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s finding for the 10 penguin species triggered the duty to decide by November 29, 2007, whether the penguins qualify for listing under the Endangered Species Act, and if so, to propose them for listing. That decision is now more than two months overdue.

FY 2009 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Geological Survey Budget

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 28 Feb 2008 15:00:00 GMT

Witnesses
  • Dale Hall, Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Mark D. Myers, Director, U.S. Geological Survey
Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) I know that you all have talked some about the alarming loss of common birds in our country. Alarming it is. I almost can’t believe it. The numbers that I’ve seen are absolutely atrocious. And one thing that I’d like to explore with you real quick, the Audubon Society has stated that the cause of the dramatic decline of birds is the outright loss of habitat due to poor land use, the clear-cutting of forests, the draining of wetlands and sprawl. Now, in light of such a stinging indictment as that, how does the administration justify a 70 percent cut in land acquisition?

Hall I don’t know.

Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) That’s a good answer.

Chandler That’s one of the best answers I’ve heard in a while, because I think that’s accurate. I appreciate that.

E&E News:

Interior will decide 71 listing proposals this year, FWS says

Allison Winter, Greenwire reporter

The Interior Department will decide this year on proposed endangered species listings for 71 species, a nearly tenfold increase in the number of species listed in the Bush administration’s first seven years.

Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall told a House panel yesterday that the administration would chip away at a backlog of hundreds of species awaiting protection. The service will decide on listings for 71 species this year and 21 more in 2009.

There are more than 280 species on the candidate list, whose listing is “warranted but precluded” because of lack of funding or other higher priorities, federal scientists say. And there are hundreds of additional plants and animals on whose behalf environmentalists have filed petitions.

Among species the agency plans to consider this year: the sand dunes lizard, three kinds of mussels, two snails, insects and dozens of plants.

The effort marks a turnaround for the administration that has hesitated to list any new plants or animals. President Bush’s Interior Department has listed only eight species – compared with 62 by the Clinton administration and 56 under President George H.W. Bush. All eight listings came in response to lawsuits.

If the agency decides to protect any of the 92 species on its list for determinations, the long timeline for such considerations would likely move final decisions to the next administration.

“It took us a little bit, but we hope this will help us to get on track,” Hall said. “We slipped out of the mode.”

Environmentalists have criticized the administration for its hesitance in listing species and said that while this announcement is welcome, there would still be a backlog of hundreds of species.

“I think it certainly indicates a little movement, but this is long overdue movement,” said Bill Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity, which has petitioned and sued for the protection of hundreds of plants and animals under ESA.

“I guess that’s a decent baby step, but the listing program has so many problems associated with it, it is really hard to be overjoyed at this point,” Snape added. In wake of scandals

The service is acting after the Interior inspector general found that the department’s deputy assistant secretary had edited scientific decisions on endangered species. The agency is revising seven rulings that former Deputy Secretary Julie MacDonald was involved in, and Hall said the service has a new policy to keep scientific decisions from reaching political levels.

“The department has allowed me to separate and have the science stop with the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service,” Hall said yesterday. “It should not be creeping up to non-scientists.”

The service director is a political appointee required by law to have a background in biological sciences. MacDonald had a degree in civil engineering and no formal education in natural sciences.

‘Weeks’ until polar bear decision

The administration’s most high-profile listing decision, the polar bear, should be made “within weeks,” Hall said. He said the service has completed its work and the Interior Department is reviewing the decision.

“It needs to be reviewed and explained to Interior, it can take a while to understand,” Hall told reporters.

If listed, the polar bear would be the first mammal protected under ESA because of global warming. Hall said the agency has been “trying to make the decision the best it can be,” but still expects legal challenges.

“We expect a lawsuit no matter what decision we make on almost anything,” Hall said.

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