Eye on Washington - Apr/May 2015
Federal Budget Scuffles
When Congress began committee hearings, there was a verbal scuffle between Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Jewell and newly appointed Chairman of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). When Sec. Jewell came before Murkowski’s committee to discuss the 2016 DOI budget increases, Murkowski reminded Jewell of Congress’ power over the budget and made veiled threats such as cutting the budget for seasonal hiring of rangers and biologists in DOI. Some of the DOI’s increased budget request acknowledges the Departments plans to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service; a celebration that has engaged large sums of private donors to match federal dollars to help repair and enhance the national park system.
The Secretary of Agriculture (USDA) is proposing a smaller budget for his agencies, particularly the National Conservation Service, which provides hands-on advice as well as dollars to private landowners that agree to step up conservation and fire prevention on private lands. With non-negotiable USDA programs from food stamps to US Forest Service functions to fund, the conservation services seem one of only a few programs to cut.
Congress was determined and able to pass a bill through both chambers to force the hand of President Obama to permit the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline through the central states but lost steam when it came to garnering the necessary votes for an override to Obama’s veto. The issue has energized a new generation of conservationists, working with those who have worked the conservation trenches for decades. Will the new enthusiasm persist to provide a meaningful voice in the future or was this just a convenient campaign which will be shortly forgotten. Keystone will not likely be a deal breaker in 2016 elections but both sides will use the votes to seek campaign donations. The fight is generally considered to be a draw at this point.
No Easy Energy Answers
“All of the Above” is an easy platitude for politicians to say when talking about America’s energy policy, but it means very little in practice. Each project has its own set of short-term and long-term environmental and public health issues.
Solar energy is popular with homeowners who cover roofs and small areas for personal consumption but we are moving into corporate solar production. According to a Federal Register Notice on March 6th of this year, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is beginning the evaluation of a proposed project “…on 4,845 acres of public land with the solar field occupying approximately 2,453 acres on lands within the Riverside East Solar Energy Zone (SEZ), southwest of Blythe, California.” This project would begin what could become the largest solar producing plant in the world but would rob thousands of acres of desert ecosystems of the sun that defines it and may pose a threat to passing birds.
Nuclear energy is a constant undercurrent topic on Capitol Hill but seems to be under the radar for most Americans in spite of lack of a safe storage plan for radioactive waste generated and the real possibility that nuclear energy is not economically sustainable without large sums of taxpayer subsidies. Decades of research has not solved the problem of radioactive waste.
Check out the local nuclear power plant employees book, “My Humboldt Diary” and our article about his very personal story on our website at www.yournec.org/econews/myhumboldtdiary
Huffing and Puffing Over Wolves
Alaska’s multi-decade US Representative Don Young made headlines at a hearing about delisting the endangered gray wolf when he said the following about fellow representatives opposing the delisting: “They haven’t got a d _ _ _ wolf in their whole district. I’d like to introduce them to your district, and you wouldn’t have a homeless problem anymore.”
Unfortunately, shenanigans like these may be the most productivity to come from this deeply divided Congress.