Friday, March 27, 2015

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource Weekly News

~Most of the Water News - None of the Spin~

Mississippi River Collaborative Meets in New Orleans
Representatives of the Mississippi River Collaborative, along with supporting regional and national organizations, gathered in New Orleans, Louisiana this week to review the Collaborative's progress and plan future initiatives designed to advance Mississippi River water quality improvements, and wetland restoration and protection.  Founded by the McKnight Foundation, the Collaborative's goals in the ten-state Mississippi River corridor are to leverage its members' respective capabilities to restore the water quality and resilience of the Mississippi River, restore and protect floodplains and wetlands, achieve cross-boundary and interagency coordination among government agencies to foster improvements to the River's water quality and resilience, and (particularly within Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois) reduce agricultural pollution - focusing on areas with high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus input to waterways.

Senate Budget Resolution Amendment Votes Provide Opportunities for Issue-Testing
A wide ranging and lengthy series of votes on non-binding amendments to the Budget Resolution were debated on the Senate floor this week, providing issue-backers and opponents opportunities to see who is supporting a variety of issues. Several of the amendment issues are relevant to agriculture and water resources in the Mississippi River Basin and elsewhere. For example, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) offered an amendment limiting the EPA's ability to adopt "an expanded and broad regulatory definition of ‘Waters of the United States,’" which was approved on a 59-40 vote (Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), already on record opposing the rule, did not vote). In the Mississippi River Basin, Democratic Senators McCaskill (MO), Manchin (WV), Heitkamp (ND) and Klobuchar (MN) joined Republicans in voting to approve the Barrasso amendment. Klobuchar voted against a similar Barrasso amendment in 2013.  In light of the Klobuchar stance shift, and the missing Cruz opposing vote, Senate opponents of the proposed water jurisdiction rule may have the 60 votes needed under Senate rules to pass legislation limiting the its implementation.

Ninety-nine senators voted to approve an amendment from Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) establishing what amounts to a budgetary placeholder for "keeping the Federal Water Pollution Control Act focused on protection of water quality." Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AL) offered an amendment to require the Fish and Wildlife Service to consider the "cumulative economic effects" of critical habitat designations, which was agreed to, 52-42.

The amendment roulette proceeded into the early hours of Friday morning, when the Senate passed its budget resolution before recessing for two weeks (here is the final list of 52 amendments voted on Thursday and Friday, and the results of each vote).

Up Next
House Republicans on Wednesday narrowly passed their Budget Resolution; one that would arguably balance the federal budget in nine years while increasing overseas' war spending, cutting domestic programs and beginning the process of Medicare privatization.  GOP negotiators will now attempt to reconcile the two similar plans with the goal of presenting a unified Republican budget to both chambers for approval sometime in mid-April.  The final Budget Resolution, if passed, is not sent to the President, but provides top-line funding limits within which the House and Senate appropriation committees are to work as they draft fiscal year 2016 spending bills.

Noteworthy @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week

Water Quality -
  • The Senate Agriculture Committee met Monday to consider “the impacts of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed ‘Waters of the United States’ (WOTUS) rule” http://ow.ly/KM9Qw
  • Former assistant secretary of Army for Civil Works says proposed water rule could be vulnerable in court http://ow.ly/KNj3Q
  • Key Senate Democrats seem to be open to delaying controversial EPA-Army Corps' proposed clean water rule http://ow.ly/KMUo9 (link to Barrasso amendment: http://ow.ly/KMU7q)
  • In an indication of support, a non-binding Sen. Barrasso amendment limiting the scope of EPA's ‘Waters of the United States’ definition passes Senate 59-40 http://ow.ly/KOY0m
  • Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) sees "major problems" with proposed "Waters of the U.S. rule" (bottom of transcript) http://ow.ly/KS5vY
  • After a quarter century, Ohio EPA lifts all "Do Not Eat" fish consumption advisories for the Mahoning River (Ohio River tributary) http://ow.ly/KFW3K
  • Now-bankrupt Freedom Industries pleads guilty to three pollution charges related to 2014 spill that contaminated West Virginia river http://ow.ly/KJorW
  • Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission will hold an April 14 public hearing on changing a prohibition of mixing zones for bioaccumulative chemicals of concern http://ow.ly/KSaDQ
Water Resource Management (Floodplains, Dams, Navigation, Wetlands, Flooding, Supplies, etc.) -
  • Army Corps seeks public input on its plans to revise policy relating to eligibility criteria for levee and coastal projects http://ow.ly/KNnRB
  • Scientific advisory panel gives green light to Louisiana's continued planning for major lower Mississippi River sediment diversions http://ow.ly/KP7mq (see related article below)
  • Opposing opinions on Mississippi River diversions highlight contentious nature of coastal Louisiana master plan http://ow.ly/KSdvg
  • Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Urges Integrated Approach By Utilities,
    Mississippi River at Natchez, Mississippi
    Officials to Address Water Issues http://ow.ly/KJnNT
  • Corps of Engineers chief says Mississippi River’s infrastructure will need money from a variety of sources http://ow.ly/KSbvi
  • NOAA spring outlook: Risk of moderate flooding for parts of central and eastern United States http://ow.ly/KJeYW
  • Mississippi River at Natchez is projected to reach flood stage today (Tuesday) http://ow.ly/KJfKD
  • Modernizing water infrastructure in the Ohio River Basin http://ow.ly/KArnl
  • United Nations: water consumption practices will cause a 40 percent shortfall in global water supplies in 15 years http://ow.ly/KB4M4
  • Supreme Court declines to review Army Corps' Louisiana Clean Water Act jurisdiction case http://ow.ly/KHhKZ
  • New Madrid flood-control project finds supporters, few foes at Mississippi River Commission New Madrid meeting http://ow.ly/KJdta (related article below)
  • Environmental groups plan to continue urging Clean Water Act veto of planned Southeastern Missouri flood-control project http://ow.ly/KP5Bm
  • Barge traffic has begun moving again on the Mississippi River in the Quad-City area http://ow.ly/KJgyt
  • Project intended to carry Missouri River water to Red River valley to augment local water sources on hold http://ow.ly/KJhZ1
  • Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduces a bill to modify Corps small-port dredging; story: http://ow.ly/KJAtX; bill: http://1.usa.gov/1boWvgt
  • FEMA ties state natural disaster mitigation planning to funding http://ow.ly/KMQrX
  • Louisiana state legislators are confident they will obtain state/federal funds to raise Mississippi River levee in Tensas Parish http://ow.ly/KSa1n
  • Oklahoma cities looking to build low-water dams on the Arkansas River look to wetland mitigation banks as a solution http://ow.ly/KSdaF
Agriculture -
  • For the first time this century, Corn Belt farmland cash rents are beginning to recede
    Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media/KUNC
    http://ow.ly/KFMtM
  • “Sustainable agriculture” is a trendy term. It sounds impressive, but what is it? http://ow.ly/KFUg9
  • The Atlantic: Farmland without farmers: As industrial agriculture replaces people with machines, the landscape loses its stewards http://ow.ly/KJ7vw
  • Coast to coast, the topic of U.S. water and agriculture is flooding the conversation in farmland http://ow.ly/KM8sO
  • POLITICO analysis shows the total 2014 farm bill package still "bends farm aid downward" http://ow.ly/KP3Ho
  • U.S. farm groups want the Federal Aviation Administration to relax proposed regulations on commercial drones http://ow.ly/KPbc2
  • Organic dairy farming struggles to keep up with demand http://ow.ly/KSeT2
  • NPR: Colorado may be poised "to become the Silicon Valley for agriculture in the 21st century" http://ow.ly/KSf8C
  • Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) suggests he may introduce legislation to reverse what he calls cover crop disincentives http://ow.ly/KSmsS
click to enlarge
Climate and Weather -
  • More Iowa rainfall means six times as many flood events, eroding soil, stripping nutrients, difficult water management http://ow.ly/KFTS3
  • NOAA: December 2014 to February 2015 was warmest winter ever recorded worldwide http://ow.ly/KGT05
  • US weekly drought summary: Abnormal dryness, moderate drought in western Dakotas, Minnesota; steady or worsening drought over central Plains http://ow.ly/wmTdv
  • The Gulf Stream system may be weakening sooner than anticipated; story: http://ow.ly/KJnes and study: http://ow.ly/KJnjS
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
In the Cities -
New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Mayor Roy Buol attends meeting in Washington, DC with Viking River Cruises to discuss possible cruise stop in Dubuque's future http://ow.ly/KJex4
  • World's largest river cruise line wants to make Davenport a tourist destination in 2017 http://ow.ly/KJgNS
  • Port of New Orleans cargo shipments hit 14-year high in 2014 at 8.37 million tons http://ow.ly/KJiee
  • St. Cloud Times editorial: Costly St. Cloud, Minnesota trail should be tied to vision for the entire Mississippi riverfront http://ow.ly/KJiKT
  • Plans move forward on a potential riverfront development along the Mississippi River in Brainerd, Minnesota http://ow.ly/KP6HV
In the States-
  • Op-ed: Another stark contrast between Wisconsin and Minnesota governors: The environment
    States in the news this week
    http://ow.ly/KJoN1
  • Grand Forks Herald op-ed: Dayton targets farmers with Minnesota buffer-zone proposal http://ow.ly/KPkAL
  • Bill Introduced in Minnesota Legislature to incentivize biomass, biofuels, biobased-chemicals http://ow.ly/KFPiN (link to bill: http://ow.ly/KFPnr)
  • St. Cloud Times op-ed: "Ag runoff needs attention; mandated buffers won't help" (Minnesota) http://ow.ly/KGgAB
  • Minnesota state House Ways and Means Committee sets state spending targets cutting into Governor's environmental budget http://ow.ly/KM7eI
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency releases plan to protect wild rice from industrial pollution; calls for sediment monitoring http://ow.ly/KNkg0
  • Missouri lawmakers pass bill aimed at spurring dairy industry growth; providing insurance subsidies, other incentives http://ow.ly/KFUMm
  • Proposed Louisiana DEQ policy change re: focusing resources on highest-priority water bodies open for public comment http://ow.ly/KGdrD (link to draft policy: http://ow.ly/KGeBH)
  • Colorado state lawmakers vote to allow people to store up to 110 gallons of rainwater flowing off their roofs http://ow.ly/KMRSI (bill: http://ow.ly/KMRXj)
  • The top policy issues in the 50 states, according to the reporters who cover them http://ow.ly/KAuZT (Washington Post story http://ow.ly/KAv2N)
Gulf Coastal Region-
  • BP report: Gulf rebounding from Deepwater Horizon explosion, oil spill; government officials, environmentalists: BP results are "cherry-picked" http://ow.ly/KFXiD
Resource Development -
  • Obama administration announces new fracking standards requiring companies to disclose chemicals used in natural-gas extraction http://ow.ly/KFQXP
  • Algae from clogged waterways could serve as biofuels and fertilizer http://ow.ly/KS3RE
Federal Budget -
Events - Information on all past and future events listed here each week can be viewed in the on-line calendar, located above and to the right (and here as a stand-alone calendar)
  • Midwest Biodiversity Institute and Ohio Wetlands Association 2015 Vernal Pool Workshop; March 28, Delaware, OH http://ow.ly/KFOvi
  • Registration open: “The Once and Future River: Imagining the Mississippi in an Era of Climate Change” U of MN, April 8-10 http://ow.ly/KB2oW
  • 10th National Monitoring Conference – Working Together for Clean Water; May 2 - 6, Tampa, Florida http://ow.ly/KHv7C
e-Newsletters, Publications, Journals, Multimedia  -
  • Gulf Restoration Network March 20 GulfWaves e-newsletter http://ow.ly/KJcBG
  • March Missouri Coalition for the Environment update: http://ow.ly/KM5mB
  • Green Lands Blue Waters Update on efforts to advance Mississippi River Basin agricultural land Continuous Living Cover http://ow.ly/KMaQ0
  • Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy's March 25 TUWaterWays e-newsletter will be eventually found here: http://ow.ly/KOWYb
Other news-
  • Popular weedkiller Roundup's active ingredient glyphosate declared a "probable carcinogen" by World Health Organization http://ow.ly/KFVzA
  • Monsanto calls for World Health Organization to retract report calling Roundup ingredient glyphosate a "probable carcinogen" http://ow.ly/KMaiW
  • New York Times op-ed (by Mark Bittman) re: glyphosate - "Stop Making Us Guinea Pigs"  http://ow.ly/KMQWI
  • American Society of Microbiology’s journal mBio study links three widely used herbicides to antibiotic resistance http://ow.ly/KMYXA
  • Most federal funding for public transportation, bikeways, pedestrian trails would be eliminated under House bill introduced last week by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY-4):  http://ow.ly/KFZIX  (link to bill: http://ow.ly/KG0EJ)
  • River farm commodity markets become active as ice dissipates on upper Mississippi River and high water drops on Ohio http://ow.ly/KJhFQ
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture issues new regulations for its rural business development grant program http://ow.ly/KM7PJ
  • Three-judge U.S. Court of Appeals panel orders Army Corps to reevaluate streamlined strip mining permitting process http://ow.ly/KMbtC
  • U.S. EPA defends its new rule to address the disposal of coal combustion waste at House hearing http://ow.ly/KMVEn (hearing web site: http://ow.ly/KMVwC)
  • House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee votes 16-5 to create state-focused system to regulate coal combustion waste disposal http://ow.ly/KNjwS
  • Obama administration is set to release long-awaited plan to fight spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria http://ow.ly/KS55u
Politics and People-
  • Former U.S. Rep. Robert Kastenmeier (D) who represented the Wisconsin 2nd District for 32 years, dies at 91 http://ow.ly/KJbnR
  • Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) announces that he will not seek reelection in 2016 http://ow.ly/KK4wi
  • Gallup poll: U.S. adults less worried about most environmental problems than they were a year ago, or in the late 1990s-early 2000s http://ow.ly/KNhs7
  • Senate budget resolution "vote-a-rama" - A charade with consequences http://ow.ly/KP3YO
Your Moment of Zen -
Bettendorf, Iowa Photo Credit: Nicolas Doak

What We Learned This Week - "What? Me Worry?"

NOAA predicts a moderate risk of flooding this spring for parts of the central and eastern United States. Both supporters  and opponents of a large New Madrid floodway levee project voiced their opinions at a Mississippi River Commission, New Madrid meeting.  A former Army Corps of Engineers official said that the proposed EPA-Corps clean water rule could be vulnerable to a judicial overturn.  Key Senate Democrats seemed to be open to delaying the controversial rule, including Minnesota's Senator Amy Klobuchar, who says the proposal has "major problems." A scientific advisory panel gave Louisiana the go-ahead to plan for major lower Mississippi River sediment diversions.  U.S. adults are less worried about most environmental problems than they were just a year ago, or in the late 1990s-early 2000s. BP said that the Gulf of Mexico is rebounding from the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill; others say that BP "cherry-picked" its results.  The Gulf Stream system may be weakening sooner than anticipated.  The active ingredient in the popular Roundup herbicide was declared a "probable carcinogen" by the World Health Organization.  Monsanto - who makes Roundup - objected.  The earth has just experienced its warmest winter ever recorded.  Louisiana proposed an environmental policy change it says would focus resources on the most-polluted water bodies. After a quarter century, Ohio state officials reported that people can now eat all of the fish taken from the Mahoning River, within limits. And last but not least, the redeveloped Memphis Pyramid along the Mississippi River will one day be a "Disneyworld for outdoorsmen" (there was no mention of the other half of the outdoor-loving population, however).

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Senate Budget Resolution Amendment Votes Provide Opportunities for Issue-Testing

A wide ranging and lengthy series of votes on non-binding amendments to the Budget Resolution being debated on the Senate floor this week is providing issue-backers and opponents opportunities to see where Senators stand on a variety of matters. Several of the issues in amendments being offered are relevant to water and agricultural resources in the Mississippi River Basin and elsewhere. For example, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) offered an amendment limiting EPA's ability to adopt "an expanded and broad regulatory definition of ‘Waters of the United States,’" which was approved on a 59-40 vote (Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), already on record opposing the rule, did not vote).  In the Mississippi River Basin, Democratic Senators McCaskill (MO), Manchin (WV), Heitkamp (ND) and Klobuchar (MN) joined Republicans in voting for the Barrasso amendment. Klobuchar voted against a similar Barrasso amendment in 2013.

Ninety-nine senators voted to approve an amendment from Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) establishing what amounts to a budgetary placeholder for "keeping the Federal Water Pollution Control Act focused on protection of water quality." And Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has sponsored several amendments critical of USDA's crop insurance program (not voted on yet).

The Senate's amendment roulette is set to proceed into the early hours of Friday morning, after which the chamber is expected to pass its budget resolution, before recessing for two weeks (here is the current list of pending amendments).

In the meantime House Republicans yesterday narrowly passed their Budget Resolution; one that would arguably balance the budget in nine years while increasing overseas' war spending, cutting domestic programs and beginning the process of privatizing Medicare.

Assuming the Senate passes its budget, GOP negotiators will attempt to reconcile the two similar plans with the goal of presenting a unified Republican budget to both chambers for approval sometime in mid-April.  The final Budget Resolution, if passed, is not signed by the President, but provides top-line funding limits within which the House and Senate appropriation committees are to work as they draft their fiscal year 2016 spending bills.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Capitol Hill This Week - What to Watch For

The U.S. Senate and House are each planning to consider their respective budget resolutions this week. Under the textbook legislative scenario, each chamber will vote on its own budget before resolving differences, merging them and then voting on a unified budget plan.  That compromise resolution (if passed) would set overall spending levels to guide Senate and House appropriators as they draft spending bills for the upcoming (2016) fiscal year. Congressional leaders are aiming to approve the House and Senate resolutions this week before Congress recesses for a two-week spring break. Leaders then hope to have the differences resolved by mid-April to give the appropriations committees their fiscal year 2016 spending maximums.

In addition to that action on the Senate and House floors, below are the House and Senate activities currently scheduled for the week that relate to Mississippi River Basin water resources.  Links are provided to the relevant committee web pages, and, where appropriate, to pieces of legislation. Many Congressional proceedings are webcast live, and these should be, as well (follow the appropriate link).  All times are Eastern.  This page will be updated as warranted. 

Tuesday
  • Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on "Waters of the United States: Stakeholder Perspectives on the Impacts of EPA’s Proposed Rule;" 10:00 AM, room 106 Dirksen Senate Office Building.
  • Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on management reforms to improve forest health and socioeconomic opportunities on the nation’s forest system; 10:00 AM, room 366 Dirksen Senate Office Building.
  • House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands oversight hearing on "Examining the Spending Priorities and Missions of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management in the President's FY 2016 Budget Proposals;" 10:00 AM; room 1324 Longworth House Office Building.
  • House Judiciary Committee markup of several "regulatory reform bills" that aim to cut back government rules, simplify the rulemaking process and speed up environmental reviews: H.R. 348 the “Responsibly And Professionally Invigorating Development (RAPID) Act of 2015,” H.R. 712, the “Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act of 2015:” H.R. 1155, the “Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome (SCRUB) Act of 2015:” and H.R. 690,the “Providing Accountability Through Transparency Act of 2015;” 10:00 AM, room 2141 Rayburn House Office Building.
  • House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies budget hearing - Department of Agriculture Research Agencies;10:00 AM, room 2362-A Rayburn House Office Building.
  • House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security budget hearing - Coast Guard; 10:00 AM , room H-309 Capitol Building.
  • House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power, and Oceans oversight hearing on "Examining the Spending Priorities and Missions of the Bureau of Reclamation, the Power Marketing Administrations and USGS Water Division in the President’s FY 2016 Budget Proposal;” 10:30 AM, room 1334 Longworth House Office Building.
  • House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources oversight hearing on "Examining the Spending Priorities and Mission of the U.S. Geological Survey in the President’s FY 2016 Budget Proposal;” 1:00 PM, room 1324 Longworth House Office Building.
  • House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy hearing on (and subsequent 5:00 PM markup of) H.R. ___, the Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act of 2015;  2:00 PM, room 2123 Rayburn House Office Building.
Wednesday
  • House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy continued markup of  H.R. ___, the Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act of 2015;  9:30 AM, room 2123 Rayburn House Office Building.
Thursday
  • House Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management hearing on Implementing the Agricultural Act of 2014: Commodity Policy and Crop Insurance; 9:00 AM, room 1300 Longworth House Office Building.
  • House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources hearing on how BLM and Forest Service policies affect domestic mineral production, job growth and the federal deficit; 9:00 AM, room 1324 Longworth House Office Building.

Friday, March 20, 2015

What We Learned This Week - "We'll Always Have Paris"

EPA Administrator McCarthy told farmers and ranchers that her agency could have done better rolling out its clean water proposed rule.  County government and state agriculture representatives agreed with her.   Meanwhile, the EPA's water chief told lawmakers that "it's time for us to go final with the rule." The Ohio River once again tops the nation for industrial releases into that water body. It's dry and it's getting drier in the northern Corn Belt.  That could mean increased and more intense wild fires.   Minnesota Governor Dayton asked farmers to support his state stream buffer plan, but some farmers view the proposal as a land taking.  In a blow to the companies, federal judges returned seven environmental damage lawsuits filed against oil and gas companies by Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes to Louisiana state courts. Eighteen Mississippi River mayors visited Washington, DC to talk about River issues of mayoral importance.  Some of those Mississippi River mayors are going to Paris.  House and Senate Budget Committee Republicans released and then approved their respective budget plans for next year. Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock will leave Congress at end of March.  The House passed the EPA "Science Advisory Board Reform Act" and the "Secret Science Reform Act;" both mostly along party lines. And last but not least, Americans are more upbeat than people in other wealthy nations about how their day is going, and are more likely to believe that hard work pays off.

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource Weekly News

~Most of the Water News - None of the Spin~

Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative Mayors Promote 2015 Policy Priorities
Over two and one-half days this week, a contingent of 18 mayors representing the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative met with Federal agency representatives, business and environmental leaders, and members of Congress to discuss and promote the Initiative's 2015 federal policy agenda (meeting agenda here). Each year since 2013, the Initiative has presented lawmakers and Administration representatives its policy platform for the year during an annual Washington, DC meeting.  The 2015 four-point policy platform seeks to advance priorities related to trails, byways and bridges; a new USDA "Landscape Resiliency" initiative; restricting coal ash disposal within flood plains; and supporting sustainable River, economic federal spending. More details regarding the 2015 priorities can be seen here.  And here are overviews of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative's 2013 and 2014 policy priorities.

This Week and Next
There was more fallout this week surrounding the Des Moines Water Works water quality lawsuit and the Administration-proposed clean water act jurisdiction rule, including a threat to send the rulemaking process back to square one (see below, under "Water Quality").

Also this week, House and Senate Republicans released and then the Budget Committees approved their respective symbolic wish-lists (otherwise known as budget resolutions), proposing to slash federal spending.  Rumored deep cuts to farm bill programs in the House plan never surfaced in its final resolution.  The Senate and House will each consider their resolutions next week.  Under the textbook legislative scenario, each chamber will vote on its own budget before resolving differences, merging them and voting on a unified budget plan.  That compromise resolution (if passed) would set overall spending levels to guide Senate and House appropriators as they draft spending bills for the upcoming (2016) fiscal year. Congressional leaders are aiming to approve their two resolutions next week before Congress recesses for a two-week spring break.  Leaders then hope to have the differences resolved by mid-April to give the appropriations committees their 2016 spending targets.

Also next week, there are several water resource-related Congressional hearings, including yet another "Waters of the United States"-impact hearing, a second of two hearings on the management of coal combustion residuals, a hearing on the implementation of farm bill crop insurance program, and a handful of agency budget priority oversight hearings.  To see the full list with links to the committees' hearing web sites, you can visit this page.

Noteworthy @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week

Water Quality -
  • Delay or restart of EPA-Army Corps of Engineers' proposed clean water rulemaking process floated as possibilities by House Republicans http://ow.ly/KuiAq
  • EPA water chief: proposed clean water rule issues "thoroughly vetted . . . it's time for us to go final with the rule" http://ow.ly/Kx5DC
  • EPA Administrator McCarthy to farmers, ranchers: agency could have done better rolling out clean water proposed rule http://ow.ly/KqKZG
  • Opinions on proposed federal water rule aired at Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) field hearing in Lincoln  http://ow.ly/Ko1zw
  • House Subcommittee reviews definition of “waters of the United States” proposed rule, impact on rural regions; story: http://ow.ly/KtHm1 (Subcommittee press release, links to testimony: http://ow.ly/KtH32)
  • County government, state agriculture representatives tell House Agriculture subcommittee that EPA has yet to consult with them on proposed clean water rule http://ow.ly/Ku2U7
  • Des Moines Register Editorial: Not enough was done to avoid Des Moines Water Works' water quality lawsuit http://ow.ly/KiKoD
  • Des Moines Water Works water quality lawsuit is part of intensifying efforts around the country to treat agriculture like other industries http://ow.ly/KwUB5
  • Iowa DNR Director: Enforcement would be difficult if the Des Moines Water Works nutrient lawsuit is successful http://ow.ly/Kuk54
  • Updated ORSANCO report: Ohio River once again leads the nation for industrial pollution http://ow.ly/KnNMI
  • Louisiana lists lists bodies of water where work is needed to meet Clean Water Act criteria; public comments open through March http://ow.ly/KrbKD
  • Two former Freedom Industries officials plead guilty to criminal water pollution charges related to 2014 Elk River, West Virginia chemical spill http://ow.ly/KraGi
  • More guilty pleas for polluting Elk River, West Virginia in 2014 http://ow.ly/KxQQk
  • House Agriculture Committee approves H.R. 897, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act, regarding pesticide regulation in or near waterways http://ow.ly/KxoJl (hearing web page: http://ow.ly/KxoZV)
  • Proposed oil drilling and fracking project in St. Tammany Parish receives Louisiana water quality certification http://ow.ly/KAa6A (still needs a wetlands permit from the Army Corps of Engineers)
Water Resource Management (Floodplains, Dams, Navigation, Wetlands, Flooding, Supplies, etc.) -
  • Federal judges return seven environmental damage lawsuits filed against oil and gas companies by Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes to Louisiana state courts http://ow.ly/KiQeg
  • FEMA State Mitigation Review Guide (March 2015, effective March 2016),  emphasizing community risk reduction planning http://ow.ly/KlEBw
  • Senate Democrats introduce  S. 741, "The Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Act" (Sen. Cardin press release) http://ow.ly/KtL1M (bill: http://ow.ly/KtLho)
  • Early signs are positive for the latest crop of big infrastructure public-private partnerships http://ow.ly/KxwuH
  • Kansas officials: current plan to pump Missouri River water 360 miles uphill to water-thirsty western Kansas will probably never flow http://ow.ly/KzOen
  • Leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduce Federal Emergency Management Agency reauthorization bill: FEMA Disaster Assistance Reform Act http://ow.ly/KzUnq (bill: http://ow.ly/KzUA8)
Agriculture -
  • Farm, anti-hunger groups well-positioned to avoid major cuts in agriculture, nutrition spending under GOP budget plans http://ow.ly/KwWiK (see more under "Federal Budget," below)
  • Op-ed: A serious deterioration of the farm economy could happen if the farm bill is altered again http://ow.ly/KnMg6
  • Agriculture is an industry that is particularly suited to benefit from drone technology; however it's a legal “gray area” http://ow.ly/KnQ9B
  • Washington Post editorial: "A costly farm bill" http://ow.ly/Ku1m4
  • Planting is expected to start early in the northern U.S. Corn Belt after a dry winter, but it's stalled in the south http://ow.ly/KA0p9
Climate and Weather -
  • Tale of five droughts - There are five distinct U.S. agricultural regions currently experiencing various levels of drought http://ow.ly/KkgMf
  • US drought update: Abnormally dry area expands in much of Upper Plains; moderate drought occupies most of Minnesota http://ow.ly/JGxqP  (more detail: drought pressure is expanding in the northern Corn Belt centered on Minnesota and adjacent states http://ow.ly/KA0DB)
  • Growing Minnesota drought may spur increased and more intense wild fires http://ow.ly/KrboU
  • Group of Mississippi River mayors to send a delegation to this year's international climate talks in Paris http://ow.ly/KzP8G
Karner blue butterfly photo
by John and Karen Hollingsworth, USFWS
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • Conservation and food safety groups threaten lawsuit vs. EPA over impacts of pesticide Sivanto on native pollinators http://ow.ly/KqLsH
  • First comprehensive assessment for continental US finds that nonnative plants are more widely distributed than natives http://ow.ly/KtMkB
  • University of Maryland research: widely used imidacloprid insecticide tied to honeybee deaths isn’t sole cause of fatalities http://ow.ly/KwX23
In the States-
  • Governor Dayton asks farmers to support Minnesota stream buffer plan http://ow.ly/KnQG7
  • Minnesota Public Radio: Farmers see Minnesota 50-foot stream buffer proposal as a taking http://ow.ly/Ku103
  • 5,000 acres of wildlife management areas would be impacted by Minnesota state land sell-off bill http://ow.ly/KtEyr
  • State Rep. Paul Thissen proposes Minnesota bill to modify the makeup of the state's Clean Water Council http://ow.ly/KzZjS
  • Green Bay Press-Gazette op-ed:  Wisconsin Gov. Walker's proposal to eliminate citizen 
    States in the news this week
    oversight of Department of Natural Resources is wrong for state http://ow.ly/Kx7Us
  • Out of water pollution concerns, Wisconsin Senate bill would prohibit making personal care products containing microbeads in 2018; selling them in 2019 http://ow.ly/KxaFG  (bill: http://ow.ly/Kxb86)
  • West Virginia lawmakers approved a measure on Saturday to roll back strict water-protection rules enacted last year http://ow.ly/KnNk8
  • Columbus Dispatch editorial: Strong Ohio algae rules needed; rules should apply statewide, with no sunset clause http://ow.ly/KnOJH
  • Indiana lawmakers approve bill reauthorizing council focused on invasive species threats; story: http://ow.ly/KzM2y bill: http://ow.ly/KzM1b
In the Cities -
  • Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative mayors in Washington, DC to promote 2016 Federal policy priorities http://ow.ly/KxcBK
  • Eldon, Missouri to receive free place-based sustainability technical assistance for trail project under EPA program http://ow.ly/KiIZn
    From NOAA Gulf Coast Report
    Gulf Coastal Region-
    • House Democrats quietly back President's proposal to divert billions in future offshore oil and gas dollars from Gulf Coast states http://ow.ly/KulCU
    • NOAA releases series of reports detailing changes in land cover across U.S. from 1996 to 2010 http://ow.ly/Ky0MV including Gulf of Mexico Coastal Area http://ow.ly/Ky0VY
    Forestry -
    Resource Development -
    • Uneven state rules, trade secrets fuel fracking debate; Industry disclosure requirements vary state to state http://ow.ly/Kogw0
    • Meskwaki Tribe objects to Texas company's plans to construct a 343-mile crude oil pipeline across 18 Iowa counties http://ow.ly/KohIn
    • Fight over Keystone XL pipeline project doesn't stall new oil pipeline boom http://ow.ly/KoieL
    • Environmental groups push Interior Department to strip West Virginia regulators of mining oversight powers http://ow.ly/KtN1u
    Federal Budget -
    • House Budget Committee passes Budget Resolution on a party-line vote, sending it on to the full House http://ow.ly/KxHAr
    • Senate Budget Committee approves GOP budget resolution in 12-10 party-line vote, sending it on for full Senate debate next week http://ow.ly/KzKFK
    • House Budget Committee FY 2016 budget instructs Agriculture Committee to cut $1 billion, Natural Resources, and Transportation and Infrastructure Committees to cut $100 million each over ten years; proposes to convert Supplemental Nutrition Insurance Program to state block grant program (State Flexibility Fund); ignores sequestration http://ow.ly/KruCz
    • Senate Republican budget resolution calls for balancing the budget in 10 years; deep cuts in non-defense spending http://ow.ly/KwVyM
    • Long-term budget plan unveiled by House Republicans would leave farm bill programs virtually untouched http://ow.ly/Ku2fP
    Events - Information on all past and future events listed here each week can be viewed in the on-line calendar, located above and to the right (and here as a stand-alone calendar) 
    • Mississippi River Commission schedules annual high-water inspection trip for March 23-27, four stops from New Madrid, Missouri to Baton Rouge, Louisiana http://ow.ly/KrS0m
    • Security and Sustainability Forum Webinar: The Mississippi River: Is Sustainable Infrastructure a Watershed Solution; March 25; 12 PM EDT http://ow.ly/KkilM
    • St. Croix River Association March and April events listing http://ow.ly/KxQ7Z
    e-Newsletters, Publications, Journals, Multimedia  -
    Other news-
    Politics and People-
    • Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL-18) to resign at end of March, following new questions about expense reimbursements http://ow.ly/KtJl0
    • Special election will be held to replace resigning Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock http://ow.ly/KtYZC
    Your Moment of Zen -

    Detail from Echinus-Diadema 2009. ©Philip Taafe
    Photograph: Carl-Strüwe Archive


    Wednesday, March 18, 2015

    Capitol Hill This Week - What to Watch For (UPDATED)

    This week, the House Budget Committee (on Wednesday) and Senate Budget Committee (on Wednesday and Thursday) are each poised to mark up their respective budget resolutions, which will effectively be a Republican response to the President’s proposed budget.  The full House and Senate would then be expected to debate their respective bills during the week of March 23.

    Best indications are that the House and Senate resolutions will be significantly different relating to a variety of spending items, including agricultural-related matters.  To resolve the differences, Congressional leaders may choose to follow a legislative, cost-cutting path known as budget reconciliation, which would change the routine way that the budget resolution is agreed upon (see footnote [1], below, for more on the reconciliation process). Assuming the Senate and House eventually agree on and pass a common Budget Resolution, it will be used, in part, to set spending ceilings for bills developed by House and Senate appropriators to fund the government during the 2016 fiscal year.

    Following approval of the Budget Resolution (assuming it is, in fact, approved), Appropriations Committees in both the Senate and House would develop legislation to allocate funds.  An informative, November 2014, Congressional Research Service introduction to the Congressional budget and appropriations process can be read online or downloaded here (PDF file).  Once appropriations activities start, the latest news on appropriations efforts in Congress can be tracked in this blog and on the respective House and Senate Appropriations Committee’s web pages, as well as on this Congress.gov web page.

    The House has scheduled votes during the week on two contentious GOP bills designed to change the way the Environmental Protection Agency conducts its rulemaking: H.R. 1029 - the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2015, and H.R. 1030, the Secret Science Reform Act of 2015.  Both will likely pass, as did similar measures in 2014.

    Below are the House and Senate activities currently scheduled for this week that relate to Mississippi River Basin water resources. Links are provided to committee hearing web pages, and to any associated pieces of legislation.  All times are Eastern.  This page will be updated as needed throughout the week.

    Tuesday -
    • House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies budget hearing - United States Fish and Wildlife Service; 9:00 AM, room B-308 Rayburn House Office Building.
    • House Committee on Natural Resources oversight hearing on "Examining the Spending Priorities and Missions of the National Park Service in the President's FY 2016 Budget Proposal;" 9:30 AM, room 1334 Longworth House Office Building.
    • Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration hearing to examine proposed budget estimates and justification for fiscal year 2016 for the Department of Agriculture; 10:00 AM, room SD-192 Dirksen Senate Office Building.
    • Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife hearing to examine S.659, a bill "to protect and enhance opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing, and shooting;" 10:00 AM, room SD-406 Dirksen Senate Office Building (no link to hearing yet).
    • House Appropriations: Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies budget hearing - National Science Foundation; 10:30 AM, room H-309 Capitol Building.
    • House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies budget hearing - National Park Service; 1:00 PM, room B-308 Rayburn House Office Building.
    • House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry hearing "to review the definition of “waters of the United States” proposed rule and its impact on rural America;" 2:00 PM, room 1300 Longworth House Office Building.
    Wednesday
    • House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Public and Outside Witness Hearing; 9:00 AM, room B-308 Rayburn House Office Building.
    • NEW - House Transportation and Infrastructure Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee roundtable on the rising toll of disasters in the United States; 9:30 AM, room 2253 Rayburn House Office Building.
    • House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy hearing on: "H.R.__ the Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act of 2015," which would give states the enforcement authority to implement the EPA’s coal ash standards; 10:00 AM, room 2322 Rayburn House Office Building.
    • Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies hearing to examine proposed budget estimates and justification for fiscal year 2016 for the Forest Service; 10:00 AM, room SD-124 Dirksen Senate Office Building.
    • House Appropriations: Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies budget hearing - Department of Agriculture Rural Development; 10:00 AM, room 2362-A Rayburn House Office Building.
    • House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies budget hearing - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; 10:30 AM, room H-309 Capitol Building.
    • House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment hearing on the President's Fiscal Year 2016 Budget: Administration Priorities for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; 10:30 AM, room 2167 Rayburn House Office Building.
    • House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Hearing: Public and Outside Witness Hearing; 1:00 PM, room B-308 Rayburn House Office Building.
    Thursday
    • NEW - House Agriculture Committee business meeting to consider H.R. 897, "Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2015" (regarding the regulation of the use of pesticides in or near navigable waters); 9:30 AM, room 1300 Longworth House Office Building.
    • House Natural Resources Committee Joint Oversight Hearing on "Examining the Spending Priorities and Missions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the President's FY 2016 Budget Proposal;" 9:30 AM, room 1334 Longworth House Office Building.
    • House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies budget hearing - Bureau of Land Management; 9:30 AM, room B-308 Rayburn House Office Building.
    • House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies budget hearing - Department of Agriculture Farm and Foreign Agriculture Services (including RMA and FSA); 10:00 AM, room 2362-A Rayburn House Office Building.
    [1]   An overview of the reconciliation process:  Should Congressional leaders decide to invoke the reconciliation process, language known as a "reconciliation directive" or "instructions" are included in the budget resolution. The reconciliation directive instructs the authorizing committees (for example, the Committee on Agriculture) to produce legislation by a specific date that meets certain spending or tax targets, oftentimes involving prescribed program cuts. Should the authorizing committees fail to produce this legislation, the Budget Committee chair typically has the authority to offer floor amendments to meet the reconciliation targets, a threat that is designed to produce compliance with the reconciliation directive.  The Budget Committee then packages all of the spending bills into one package that goes to the House and Senate floors for an up-or-down, simple majority, vote, with limited opportunity for amendment. After the House and Senate resolve any differences between competing bills, a final conference report is considered on the floor of each chamber, and is to the President for approval or veto.