Federal Legislative Update
As Congress adjourned for its August recess, several contentious issues remained unresolved. Below are reviews of some of the highlights of recent legislative developments.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee recently approved legislation that would require chemical plants to review their facilities for security flaws then draft plans to respond to those flaws. These plans would then be provided to the EPA and the Office of Homeland Security for review. The legislation (S. 1602), sponsored by Senator John Corzine (D-NJ), also allows the Justice Department and the EPA to designate some plants as high risks for accidents or terrorist attacks and require their owners to increase security. Senate Republicans have voiced their opposition to the bill and House Republicans have said they plan to block it even if it passes the Senate.
Competing air pollution bills have emerged in the Senate, and a partisan stand-off is likely as the differences are worked out between the Bush Administration, Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats. Senator Robert Smith has introduced legislation (S. 2815) that would implement President Bush’s “Clear Skies” initiative. This plan, unveiled last winter by the Administration, calls for a 73-percent reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants by 2018 and similar reductions in nitrogen oxide and mercury emissions. Earlier this summer, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Jeffords (I-VT) moved a bill through his Committee (S. 556) that calls for much steeper cuts in those same emissions as well as cuts in carbon dioxide emissions. The Bush Administration has consistently opposed any carbon dioxide controls. This issue is likely to provide some vibrant debate when either or both of these bills come to the Senate floor after the August recess.
As the House of Representatives recently approved the Interior Appropriations bill, House Republicans were successful in their attempts to remove a provision that they overwhelmingly opposed. At issue was a provision that sought to boost the Department of the Interior’s role in the Everglades Restoration Plan by giving the Agency equal standing with the Army Corps of Engineers on a scientific advisory board for the program. In the end, House Resources Committee Chairman James Hansen (R-UT) raised points of order against the provision and it was stricken from the bill.
In June, EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman proposed changes to the new source point review (NSR) air pollution program. A bipartisan group of 33 House members recently wrote her a letter outlining their opposition to those changes. The group, headed by House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee Henry Waxman (D-CA), asked Whitman to refrain from NSR changes that would result in more emissions than could occur under present NSR laws. These laws require power plants to install expensive pollution control mechanisms for any physical change in operations that would cause increased emissions. Among the changes proposed by Whitman was using a higher baseline as a limit for a given plant’s emissions. The opposition letter maintains that this will increase emissions. The EPA is making the case that it is simply more representative of long-term emissions.