Friday, January 7, 2011

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week

112th Congress and Federal Funding
The 112th Congress convened on Wednesday, January 5.  One of the priority tasks facing the new Congress will be providing funding for Federal programs beyond March 4, 2011, when a Continuing Resolution (CR), passed and signed into law on December 21, expires.  Before then, Congress will have to enact spending measures for the balance of the 2011 Fiscal Year, ending September 30, either (1) passing a series of twelve individual appropriations bills for the remainder of the Fiscal Year, (2) passing an omnibus appropriations package, containing an amalgam of the twelve separate appropriations bills, or (3) passing at least one additional CR that would keep the Federal government programs funded through all or part of the Fiscal Year. 

The House Appropriations Committee sets the appropriations agenda, and the very tight legislative schedule established by House Republicans makes it very unlikely that the House could pass separate appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2011.  Between now and March 4, the House is scheduled to be out of session for 20 working days out of 41 remaining possible legislative days.  The Senate, with its Democratic majority, will have to buy into any House spending plan, and the Senate is currently in recess until January 25.

Complicating that Fiscal Year 2011 appropriation's picture is the fact that Congress at the same time will begin considering appropriations for the 2012 Fiscal Year, which begins October 1, 2011.  Congressional consideration of the next budget historically begins with the release of the President's annual budget proposal.   The release date for the Obama Administration's 2012 Fiscal Year budget proposal has been pushed back from a planned, Monday, February 7 date to some time the following week.

One spending issue that will dominate the new Congress is that of earmarks: legislative provisions directing that authorized funds be spent on specific projects (often at the request of a single legislator).  House Speaker John Boehner (OH-8th) has told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) that he will not allow spending bills with earmarks to be considered on the House floor.  And Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (IL) has said that he does not believe that the Senate would have the 60 votes necessary right now for passing spending bills that include earmarks.  A key earmark question that remains and is currently in the process of being clarified on the Hill is what, exactly, determines the definition of an earmark (for example, would the EPA's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative or USDA's Mississippi River Basin Initiative be considered earmarks?).  Attempts have been made in the past to define earmarks in either ethics and budget reform legislation.   However, none of those definitions have been widely accepted.

Although many Republicans generally oppose earmarks, especially in the House chamber, that opposition is not unanimous.  For example, Senator Lamar Alexander (TN), the number three leader in the Senate Republican Conference, has noted that “Earmarks are still a subject that we have to work out.  A moratorium is a good idea so members of Congress understand exactly what an earmark is. They are finding out that some of the things we call earmarks we need to do."

House Committee Assignments
House Committee assignments announced to date are summarized here (pdf file).  House committees and subcommittees are now chaired by members of the chamber’s Republican majority, while their House Democratic colleagues take on committee “Ranking Member” and minority statuses.   Key Committee Chair assignments that impact directly upon Mississippi River Basin water resource issues include: Agriculture (Frank Lucas (OK-3rd)); Appropriations (Harold Rogers (KY-5th)); Budget (Paul Ryan (WI-1st)); Natural Resources (Doc Hastings (WA-4th)); and Transportation and Infrastructure (John Mica (FL-7th)).

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the End of 2010 and First Week of 2011: 

In the States -
  • Keokuk, IA reaches agreement with EPA to address untreated sewage discharges  to Soap Creek & Mississippi River 
  • County Board of Supervisors wants to establish new Mississippi River Basin Water Quality Center in Dubuque IA 
  • Beef Feedlot in Sioux County IA to Pay $30,000 Civil Fine for Wastewater Discharges into Otter Creek 
  • NGO groups: Governor-elect Branstad's ideas on deregulating Iowa's ag industry are risky
  • U.S. District Judge signs settlement requiring Lexington KY to overhaul sewer system over 10 years
  • MN Legislature to be presented with 25-year plan for clean water on Wednesday 
  • One MN ethanol production facility pays water pollution fines ; another seeks to expand (pdf)
  • Potentially controversial (for some GOPs) Aasen chosen by new Governor to head MN Pollution Control Agency 
  • Environment, outdoors issues up for debate in MN state legislative environmental committees starting tomorrow 
  • Mankato Free Press editorial: Don't let up on fixing Minnesota river 
  • MN AG files suit against 3M for pollution cleanup costs caused by chemicals leaching into Mississippi River 
  • MN NGO analysis from 2005-2009: 2/3 of wastewater facilities violated permits at least 1x, but only 11% paid penalty 
  • Environmental law firm report: MN fines water polluters only about one in 10 times 
  • MN Beet processor to pay $50,000 penalty & promises to implement corrective action re: East Grand Forks facility 
  • St. Cloud State U study of endocrine disruptors in 11 MN lakes published (news piece:
  • Water quality groups worried about WI Gov Scott Walker agenda
  • WI DNR aggressive waterways P clean-up plan could face stiff opposition from incoming GOP administration & Legislature
Floodplains, Dams and Navigation -
  • Des Moines Register Editorial: Maintain Mississippi waterway infrastructure
  • MN state order for Xcel Energy to either remove or renovate Minnesota River dam presents dilemma
Agriculture -
  • USDA 2011 Conservation Stewardship Prog sign-up extended from Jan 7 to the 21st w/ 20 new conservation enhancements
  • USDA's Conservation Reserve Program faces threats from budget constraints, ethanol demand & high crop & land prices
  • American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting in Atlanta next week - the first farm-policy debate of 2011
  • Minnesota River-Lake Pepin Friendship Tours: Farmers Talking to Farmers about Protecting Water Quality
  • Farm Bureau leader Rick Robinson aims to shape ag policy in 2011
  • Food prices globally rising to dangerous levels with talk of coming crisis
  • Rep. Kind (D-WI): We are going to have to say ‘no’ (to farm bill spending) to get serious about deficit reduction
  • Rep. Lucas (R-OK), chairman-designate House Ag Comm, to wait until current Farm Bill expires to begin work on new bill
  • NGO groups: Governor-elect Branstad's ideas on deregulating Iowa's ag industry are risky
  • Good primer: Congressional Research Service's Report “Farm Safety Net Programs: Issues for the Next Farm Bill”
  • Tide turns against corn ethanol, as it's buffeted by economic crisis & oil price drop
  • Several US oil refiners won’t sell gas containing 15% (usually corn) ethanol despite recent EPA authorization
Water Quality-
  • EPA Completes Research to Inform Development of New Recreational Water Quality Criteria under Fed Court settlement
Events -
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • As many as 50,000 Pacific coast eagles may range as far as Mississippi River in search for food
  • Army Corps Launches Scoping of Great Lakes & Mississippi River Interbasin Study Amidst Environmental Group Concerns
  • Op-ed: Wisconsin's Oneida County Should Drop Aquatic Invasive Species Coordinator Position
  • Invasive curly-leaf pondweed treatments will continue at SW Minnesota's Lake Benton
  • Minnesota's Minnehaha Creek  Watershed District proposes new invasive species rules
Other news-
  • Director of Southern Cotton Ginners Association reappointed for 9 years on Mississippi River Commission
  • U.S. environmental groups are switching from DC-centered to grassroots approach to change
  • EPA's 2011 Regulatory Agenda released (semiannual publication of its regulatory agenda)
  • New Kansas City Federal Reserve economic analysis report released: “A Rural Rebound in 2010.” (pdf file)
  • New MN "normal" temperature, rainfall & snow settings to be published later this year by National Climate Data Center
  • New study: No-till farming releases far smaller amounts of greenhouse gas than conventional farming
Political Scene -
  • Iowa’s 2012 musical chairs: 5 House members to run for reelection; but only 4 seats will remain
  • 112th Congress House of Representatives Committee Chairs & House Committee Ranking Member
  • 111th Congress historically chaotic in Senate with highest turnover (20%) since Congress of 1945-47
  • MN Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann isn't ruling out 2012 run for Senate vs incumbent Democrat Sen. Klobuchar
  • US Census Bureau announcement today of census #s determines what states gain/lose House seats in reapportionment
  • Census Bureau: Rustbelt will lose House seats; Sunbelt gain them in 2012

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