Eye on Washington

August, 2016



Our Public Lands

Congressman Huffman and outgoing Senator Boxer have slightly different bills on the table to expand protections of existing public lands along the coast, including Trinidad Head and Lighthouse Ranch. Huffman’s bill omits the Lost Coast Headlands near Petrolia, perhaps due to some misguided local concerns. A public meeting was held in September to discuss  the California Coastal National Monument expansion. Conservationists will have an opportunity to support inclusion of all lands including those near the Lost Coast. “Congress has an opportunity to act,” said Deptartment of the Interior  Secretary Jewell this summer. “The President is watching and has an opportunity to act if Congress does not.” Share your comments at www.yourcaliforniacoast.org.

Climate Change

Proud climate-denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is attempting to use a catch-22 to hogtie federal agencies’ desire to include climate change in environmental assessments. Inhofe believes climate change falls outside the scope of federal environmental project review, “so the guidance has no legal basis” and “can have no force or effect as Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ—which develops policy) has no authority to take any official action.” In spite of Inhofe’s objection, CEQ issued final guidance for federal agencies to include climate change in assessments as it has been doing informally for over a decade. The back and forth between conservative members of Congress and CEQ will likely usher in a whole new era of lawsuits based on the inclusion or non-inclusion of possible impacts on projects by climate change.

Energy

While Congress’ energy bill has been sidelined by the elections and incumbents’ fears of voter retribution, there has been movement on several fronts. 

In Sunny Nevada, Solar gets Touchy: A tussle over how to spread the costs of large-scale solar power units on rooftops (as opposed to covering the desert ecosystems) has hit a snag. While rooftop costs have remained steady, ground-based systems have become significantly cheaper.  There are competing studies but, if correct, the latest economic report could result in a decline in the rooftop solar industry—which was hoped to recover in Nevada after the state Public Utilities Commission last year levied new fees on rooftop solar customers. 

Wave Technology: The Department of Energy announced it will provide $40 million toward wave energy projects to help support design and construction of a wave energy testing facility in federal or state waters.

Nuclear Power: The federal government (through the Energy Department) awarded nuclear startup X-energy up to $80 million in subsidies to develop advanced nuclear technologies that would be commercially ready by 2035. The new technology would use “pebbles” rather than traditional fuel rods and would operate at extremely high temperatures but would require less water. Though the company and supporters point to the lower carbon impact, the new technology does not resolve the problem of the resulting radioactive waste nor the lack of safe storage for that waste. 

Meanwhile, traditional nuclear power plants are closing—which is costing taxpayers. This is because many of the companies who built the plants are either suing the federal government or involved in legal settlements after the Department of Energy failed to uphold its 1980s agreements and take possession of spent reactor fuel destined for the stalled repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. So far, the DOE has paid out more than $5 billion, with more lawsuits still mounting. Suitable long term storage plans for nuclear waste still do not yet exist. 

On a positive note, the current energy bill includes permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This fund skims money from power company profits to pay for added conservation lands such as national parks and increases funding for local recreation programs which build and maintain sports facilities. Chairman Bishop (R-UT) is not happy with that provision, however, so we’ll see. 

There is also controversy over language in the bill that would ease regulations for permits for hydro-electric power (dams) in California and Maryland. Native American tribes and environmental, recreational, fishing and water-quality advocates oppose relaxing these permitting processes, saying they would undermine the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. 

Banned Chemicals

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration  (FDA) has finally banned  several antibacterial ingredients from soaps. The FDA banned the chemical triclosan  and several other  synthetic chemicals from antibacterial hand soaps and shower products, saying they are “not generally recognized as safe and effective.”  In the rule, FDA said product manufacturers failed to show “that the ingredients are...safe for long-term daily use.” The agency named 19 ingredients that companies must now remove from their products. 

Current research on some of these drugs suggests that teens may be particularly sensitive to exposures to hormone-disrupting chemicals. Chronic, low-level exposure may contribute to falling levels of fertility, noted especially for American women under 25. The new regulation does not cover hand sanitizers nor triclosan in health care or
food product antiseptics.

Your dedicated NEC legislative tracker will be following all the election year and lame duck session shenanigans as he travels back to Washington for the season. Wish him luck.