Friday, February 18, 2011

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week

 2011 and 2012 Federal Budget Picture 
"First Word" - As we have noted here before, the budget debate within the halls of Congress that we discuss below will best be served if it is well-informed by educated perspectives from the River Basin region. Contact information for individual Senators and House Members and for the House and Senate Appropriations Committees and Subcommittees central to the Federal funding debates our outlined in this "Regional Voices Inform the Budget Debate" blog entry.

2011 Federal Funding - House Republican leaders plan to conclude debate today (Friday, February 18) on HR 1, the Continuing Resolution (CR) that would fund the Federal government through the remainder of the 2011 Fiscal Year (through September 2011).   After GOP leaders made the unusual decision to lift restrictions on proposing changes to the legislation, House Members proposed hundreds of amendments, many of which would effectively eliminate or severely limit Executive Branch environmental programs and initiatives.  Given the huge number of proposed amendments, the debate on the Federal funding measure (first officially proposed by the House last Friday) will roll on into the evening hours Friday in the House, when it will likely be passed, largely along party lines.

What's next - The Senate is expected to take up the CR legislation after it returns from its Presidents Day, week-long recess at the end of the month, but the House measure - however it turns out - is unlikely to pass that chamber.  The CR currently funding the Federal government expires on March 4.  There is essentially no chance that the Senate will pass its version of an appropriations bill and then come to a compromise agreement with the House that the President would endorse in the five days between February 28, when Congress returns from its recess, and March 4. So another short-term CR will almost certainly be passed during that post-recess period.  House Speaker Boehner (R-OH-8th) on Thursday said that even that short-term, stop-gap bill would have to contain spending cuts to be entertained by the House, stating, “I am not going to move any kind of short-term CR at current levels," setting up the specter of a possible government shutdown after March 4.

2012 Federal Funding - The Obama Administration released its 2012 Fiscal Year budget proposal on Monday in a move that kicks off months of debate among  members of Congress and the Administration regarding which Federal programs to cut, and by how much for the fiscal year starting October 1.  The implications of the President's budget proposal for various programs that intersect with Mississippi River Basin environmental issues are outlined here, in an article we posted on Monday.

What's Next - Keep in mind that the Administration budget proposal is just that - a proposal.  House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI-1st) is reported to be preparing his own 2012 budget plan, called a budget resolution, which he plans to release in April.  The budget resolution will be Congress’s response to the President’s proposed budget, and, in part, is used to set spending ceilings for appropriations in the upcoming fiscal year.  Following release of the budget resolution, the House Appropriation Committee and its subcommittees will go about the business of crafting a 2012 spending bill that (traditionally, but not always) would be then passed onto the Senate for consideration.

What this means - Not as much as it seems.  Despite likely cuts (some deep) to Federal conservation and environmental  programs, we see daily in the news reminders (many posted here) that it will be the macro socio-economic trends that will more significantly influence land and water conservation and restoration in the near- and long-term.  Federal programs that target millions of dollars toward water quality improvement, land conservation and the like are but a thumb in the proverbial floodwall compared to the billions and trillions of dollars exchanging hands worldwide and influencing the future of agriculture, water resource allocation, land use, development patterns, energy systems, global climate and human population growth.  From that perspective, how the Federal budget impacts US and global economic stagnation, recession or recovery may be more important to environmental sustainability than the gains or losses to any individual program, project or agency.

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week

Agriculture -
  • USDA issues report to Congress on indirect land-use change associated w/ increased biofuel feedstock production
  • USDA report considers how increased commodity prices might impact enrollment in/benefits of Conservation Reserve Prog
  • USDA ERS: Net farm income is forecast to be $94.7 billion in 2011, up 19.8% from 2010
  • Sens Baucus & Grassley introduce bill to permanently extend tax relief for agricultural land donated for conservation
  • Farmland values in much of Midwest climbing at fastest rates since 2008 boom
  • Ag Committee Chair Lucas to GOP Leaders: USDA program cuts should be out of budget debates & decided in new Farm Bill
  • Sec of Agriculture Vilsack spent  ~4 hours testifying re: US farm economy Thursday on Capitol Hill; good overview:
  • USDA Economic Research Service releases Atlas of Rural & Small-Town America, valuable map-based resource:
  • Des Moines Register (IA) considers local effect of rising global food prices
  • USDA smart phone apps under ARS development will improve efficiency of conservation model services for farmers 80-90%
Water Quality-
  • Industry coalition to Congress - EPA water quality regulations in FL coming to a state near you
  • RT @InvasiveNotes: RT @DianeN56: UN sounds alarm on ocean pollution: [re: phosphorus runoff into oceans]
In the States -
  • Kentucky State Capitol sit-in protests mountaintop-removal mining in Eastern KY
  • Opposition to Iowa House proposed cuts in spending on parks and trails is expected in State Senate
  • Minnesota Governor Dayton says he did best he could to protect DNR in state budget
  • KY Senate could vote Friday to make KY a “sanctuary state” from USEPA's coal mining regs
Flooding, Floodplains, Dams and Navigation -
Federal Budget-
  • Here is the detailed breakout of the Presidents' FY 2012 budget (note it's a 1000+ page pdf file)
  • Here is our first take of the President's budget proposal & impact on water resource programs:
  • In proposed 2012 budget, Obama proposes to cut direct subsidies to wealthiest farmers &
  • Federal Funding Continuing Resolution Status Update - schedule for vote slipping as flood of amendments slow debate 
  • House comes to agreement to limit debate on amendments so continuing resolution can sent to Senate by Friday
Events -
  • U of MN Freshwater Society to sponsor talk "Taking the Pollution out of Agricultural Production" Feb. 24, 7 PM (CST)
  • Bottomland Ecosystem Restoration Conference; Collinsville, IL; March 8-10
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • Public gives feedback at Great Lakes & Mississippi River Interbasin (invasive species) Study, Alton, IL meeting
  • Obama unveils plans to conserve 'Great Outdoors,' improve recreational access & boost economy
Other news-
  • Construction soon on Mississippi River steamboat museum in Ascension Parish, La.
  • Nancy Stoner begins this week as USEPA acting assistant administrator for water.  Bio here:
  • Army Corps seeks public comment on proposal to renew & revise nationwide permits re: wetlands & other waters (pdf)
  • Very informational online USDA map atlas of rural & small town America with population & farm info down to county level
  • Interesting map of the Mississippi River Watershed drawn in subway map style:
  • Doubly "green" machine? Algae clean wastewater of nutrients & then become biodiesel feedstock
Political Scene -
  • Poll-43% of TN GOP voters prefer more conservative US Senate 2012 candidate than Sen Corker but 60% approve of his job  
  • League of Conservation Voters releases its latest congressional environmental scorecard
"Last Word" - "Being nice goes a long way. People don't like to help jerks." - Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), giving advice to incoming new lawmakers.

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