Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act Introduced in Senate and House

On May 27, Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Udall (D-NM) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act of 2011.  The bill’s sponsors say that the measure would address the nation's water quality challenges by encouraging the research, development and promotion of new technologies and designs that use natural processes to combat polluted stormwater runoff.  The bill calls for EPA to use a competitive grant program to establish Centers of Excellence for green infrastructure, each charged with conducting research on green infrastructure that is relevant to the geographic region in which the Center is located, and provide communities with training and technical assistance on how to implement green infrastructure best management practices.  The legislation would also provide incentive funding to help communities develop green infrastructure technologies, and would establish a green infrastructure program within the EPA's Office of Water to coordinate and promote the use of new stormwater technologies.

Companion legislation has been introduced in the House by Representatives Donna Edwards (D-MD-4) and Russ Carnahan (D-MO-3) (the House measure has 15 co-sponsors).   

Comparable Senate and House versions of the same legislation were introduced during the last session of Congress, but neither advanced out of their respective committees.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Leaders Introduce EPA-Limiting Legislation

On May 26, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair John Mica (R-FL-7) and Committee ranking member Nick Rahall (D-WV-3) introduced H.R. 2018 (the “Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011”) to "amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to preserve the authority of each State to make determinations relating to the State's water quality standards."  The bill, which has 23 co-sponsors, would restrict EPA's ability to issue revised or new water quality standards without a state's permission.  The bill can be viewed or downloaded as a PDF file here. Here is a link to Chairman Mica's press release accompanying the introduction of the legislation.   According to that release, the bill would:
  • Restrict EPA’s ability to issue a revised or new water quality standard for a pollutant whenever a state has adopted – and EPA has already approved – a standard, unless the state concurs;
  • Prohibit EPA from superseding a water quality certification (that a discharge will comply with applicable water quality requirements) granted by a state under Clean Water Act ("CWA") section 401;
  • Prohibit EPA from withdrawing approval of a state water quality permitting program under CWA section 402 (regarding the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (or "NPDES")), or from limiting federal financial assistance for the state program, on the basis that EPA disagrees with the state regarding a (i) water quality standard that a state has adopted and EPA has approved, or (ii) the implementation of any federal guidance that directs a re-interpretation of the state’s approved water quality standards; and
  • Prohibit EPA from objecting to a state’s issuance of an NPDES permit on the basis of (i) EPA’s differing interpretation of an approved state water quality standard, or (ii) the implementation of any federal guidance that directs a re-interpretation of the state’s approved water quality standards.
The release also notes that the bill would limit EPA’s ability to veto dredge and fill permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers and "gives states more flexibility to administer these permitting programs."

House Hearings and Markups for the Week

Here are the US House Committee hearings and meetings scheduled for this week that are particularly relevant to Mississippi River Basin issues (along with links to the respective committee hearing web sites).  The algal blooms bill that will be introduced at tomorrow’s Science, Space and Technology's subcommittee hearing reportedly will be similar to the “Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2010” that was introduced in the last session, passed in the House, but not considered by the Senate.

The Senate is in recess this week and will be back in session next week.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week - Early Edition

Calendars and Holidays
Over the next two weeks, the US Senate and House will be having a go at "tag-team" legislating.  All of next week the Senate will be on Memorial Day recess (returning the week of June 6), while following an off-day on Memorial Day, the House remains in session through Friday (the House will be off for a district work week starting June 6). This "early edition," pre-holiday e-newsletter is coming out a day sooner than usual, as your FNB ("Friendly Neighborhood Blogger") is taking off this afternoon for a long Memorial Day weekend outside the Beltway and back in cooler Pennsylvania. Here's wishing you all a safe and rest-filled Memorial Day weekend! 

House Appropriations Committee to Consider Fiscal Year 2012 Agriculture Spending Bill Next Tuesday
The full House Committee on Appropriations will hold a mark-up meeting on the Fiscal Year 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Bill on Tuesday, May 31, at 4:00 PM (Eastern) in Room 2359, Rayburn House Office Building. The meeting will be webcast.  Audio and video of the hearing will be available here, and an audio-only feed will be available here.  During a Tuesday meeting of the Appropriations Agriculture subcommittee, the Agriculture Appropriations Bill was marked up and passed on a voice vote to the full Committee for mark-up.  The bill is primarily designed to set levels of discretionary spending for the USDA, the Food and Drug Administration and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (here is a brief summary of the bill on the Institute's Mississippi River Basin blog, and a bill overview that has been posted on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition blog site).  A list of House Appropriations Committee members and additional Committee member information can be found here.

Report on Farm Bill Negotiation Opportunities
The Northeast-Midwest Institute and The Horinko Group have completed the first phase of what could potentially evolve into a multiphase effort to develop a sustainable, mutual working relationship among agricultural and conservation stakeholders who have not traditionally collaborated on Farm Bill-related issues. The preliminary scoping phase of the project and its outcomes are described in a May 23 report, which is summarized in more detail (with a link to the full report) here.

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week:

Current Flooding-
  • Mississippi River flood not only big but also long: will last well into June http://wapo.st/j7bbhM
  • London Guardian: Americans take a gamble with the Mississippi floods http://bit.ly/l3eCyT
  • Army Corps: Mississippi River flood-damaged levees must be repaired quickly http://bit.ly/lEXv8y
  • Fed inspectors check flood damage at >1400 homes & businesses near Mississippi River so far; more surrounded by H2O http://1.usa.gov/imW7MD
Floodplains, Dams and Navigation -
  • Massive surge gate installed across Lake Borgne marshes by Army Corps of Engineers http://bit.ly/kPPoW8
  • Corps: destroyed Birds Point levee could be replaced by mechanical gates if Congress authorizes project http://bit.ly/jJs1bT
  • Great 2009 compendium of papers re: Upper/Middle Mississippi flood/management issues http://bit.ly/luhJ6z (PDF 93 p)
  • RT @unifymissriver: Re-engineering Mississippi River's flood defenses considered within climate change context http://bit.ly/jIDpR2
Water Quality-
Agriculture -
  • 17 farm & food orgs send letter to US House & Senate leaders requesting next farm bill completion in 2012 http://bit.ly/kw7wq7 (pdf)
  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation plans to file motion in US District Court to intervene in EPA-Farm Bureau lawsuit http://on.wsj.com/igfRcw
In the States -
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
Federal Budget -
Events -
  • America's Waterway blog: “Who should make such decisions for the future of the Mississippi River?” http://bit.ly/iR35BX
  • The May Northeast-Midwest Institute Update on Mississippi River Basin issues is now available http://bit.ly/jvF0ZX
  • May 25 issue of "Delta Dispatches" is now on line; with latest news on Gulf Coast restoration issues http://bit.ly/iUKCkY
Political Scene -
  • Tim Pawlenty launches campaign for Republican Presidential nomination in Iowa with corn ethanol challenge http://bit.ly/j8s8OR
Other news-
  • Ohio State U professor touts new national riverine park at confluence of Ohio & Mississippi rivers http://bit.ly/jXR6mB
Last word
Vicksburg, Mississippi house surrounded by floodwaters

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

May Northeast-Midwest Institute on Mississippi River Basin Update

Here is the link to the May Update (PDF file) from the Northeast-Midwest Institute on Mississippi River Basin issues.  The May Update contains these items:

  • Farm Bill Discussions Offer New Opportunities for Environmental and Agricultural Sustainability
  • Three Mississippi River Basin Waterways Listed on American Rivers "Most Endangered Rivers" List - Mississippi River Receives "Special Mention"
  • Mississippi River Basin Flooding Prompts Renewed Calls for Policy Reconsideration
  • Pressure Builds from Environmental Groups and the EPA to Improve Chicago River Water Quality
  • Upper Mississippi and Ohio River Basin State Nutrient Reduction Strategies Workshop
  • Stakeholder Meeting on EPA’s Development of New or Revised Recreational Water Quality Criteria
  • Obama Administration Seeks to Clarify Clean Water Act Interpretation
  • Publications of Note
  • Upcoming Conferences, Events and Workshops 
  • Flood Insurance Reform Act Passed Out of House Committee
    • Fiscal Year 2012 Appropriations
    • Long-Term Budget Deal and Debt Ceiling Issues

    Tuesday, May 24, 2011

    2012 Farm Bill Discussions Offer New Opportunities for Environmental and Agricultural Sustainability

    The Northeast-Midwest Institute and The Horinko Group have completed the first phase of what could potentially evolve into a multiphase effort to develop a sustainable, mutual working relationship among agricultural and conservation stakeholders who have not traditionally collaborated on Farm Bill-related issues.  The two organizations launched a scoping project this spring to: (1) forge a better understanding among representatives of the environmental and farming communities with respect to their Farm Bill interests; (2) understand and help improve the level of trust among those parties; and (3) develop a consensus centered upon common 2012 Farm Bill interests (which could then productively inform the legislative Farm Bill debate). 
    The preliminary scoping phase of the project and its outcomes are described in a May 23 report, which concludes that an opportunity exists within which agricultural and conservation parties can negotiate Farm Bill issues productively – if those negotiations are conducted within an interest-based atmosphere.  Specifically, there exist at least 17 Farm Bill-related issue areas on which substantial progress toward meeting common interests might be realized.  And there appears to be a “critical mass” of enough parties, representing a diverse enough suite of Farm Bill stakeholders, that successful interest-based negotiations can proceed. 
    The report, entitled "The Next Farm Bill: New Opportunities for Environmental and Agricultural Sustainability," can be read or downloaded here in its entirety (as a PDF file). Recommendations are offered to help facilitate a successful outcome to any subsequent negotiation phases.

    June 14 Stakeholder Meeting on EPA’s Development of New or Revised Recreational Water Quality Criteria

    A June 14 2011 Stakeholder Meeting has been scheduled in New Orleans, Louisiana (9:00 am Central) to provide a forum for interested persons to provide input to EPA on the development of new or revised recreational water quality criteria.

     Recreational Water Quality Criteria are designed to protect swimmers from illness caused by exposure to pathogens in recreational waters. The existing criteria are more than 20 years old. Since then, according to the EPA, "scientists have learned much about molecular biology, virology, and analytical chemistry. This new information will help us build a stronger scientific foundation for up-to-date recreational water quality criteria."

    At the June 14 meeting, EPA will seek stakeholder feedback on EPA’s evaluation, synthesis, summarization and statistical analysis of relevant research conducted to date, and on the development of options for the overall structure and content of the criteria. 

    The stakeholder meeting will be the fourth in a series of public input forums on the issue. EPA conducted three multi-stakeholder meetings (one internet-based) in 2008, 2009 and 2010. An agenda for the June 14 meeting is available as a PDF file here.

    House Appropriations Committee Releases FY 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Bill (Updated May 25)

    On May 23, the House Appropriations Committee released the Fiscal Year 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Bill (Committee announcement here).  By voice vote on May 24, the Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee passed the bill along to the full Appropriation's Committee for markup (Subcommittee meeting link here).  Here is a table (PDF file) comparing the FY 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill with last year’s levels and the President’s FY 2012 budget request. The full text of the bill (as a PDF file) can be found here.

    According to the Committee release, the agencies and programs funded under provisions of the bill, including the USDA, would receive $125.5 billion in discretionary and mandatory funding, a reduction of more than $7 billion from the President’s FY 2012 budget request. Discretionary funding is reduced by $2.7 billion from 2011 levels ($5 billion below the President’s request).  Mandatory funding in the bill "increases by nearly $3 billion over last year to a total of $108 billion, and equals more than 86% of the total funding in the bill."

    Domestic nutrition programs were particularly hard hit by the bill's cuts.  The bill proposes cutting $832 million (11 %) from the FY 2011 budget for the Women, Infants and Children program, and $2 billion (1.3%) from the food stamp (SNAP) program.  Republicans who wrote the bill said the cuts in domestic food programs are taken from excess dollars in those accounts, and participants would not see a decrease in services.

    Some of the bill's other major funding cuts relating to Mississippi River Basin conservation issues include:
    • $770 million for Natural Resources Conservation Service conservation operations, designed to help farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners to conserve, protect and enhance their land (a decrease of $99 million below the FY 2011 funding level).
    • The Environmental Quality Incentives Program would be cut by $350 million. 
    • Acreage for sign-up to the Wetlands Reserve Program and Grassland Reserve Program is reduced by 64,200 acres and 96,000 acres, respectively.
    • The Conservation Stewardship Program would be cut $171 million relative to the spending level authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill.
    • $2.2 billion for agriculture research programs, including the Agriculture Research Service and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture(a decrease of $354 million below the FY 2011 funding level).
    • $15 million for dam rehabilitation to help small communities ensure their small watershed projects meet current safety standards.

    Monday, May 23, 2011

    House and Senate Hearings and Markups for the Week

    Here are the Mississippi River Basin - relevant House and Senate hearings and bill markups scheduled for the upcoming week, with links to the applicable committee or subcommittee web site:

    Friday, May 20, 2011

    Mississippi River Basin Water Resource News for the Week

    Upper Mississippi and Ohio River Basin State Nutrient Reduction Strategies Workshop
    US EPA's Region 5 is sponsoring a "State Nutrient Reduction Strategies Workshop -Agricultural Component" on June 13-15, 2011 at the Hyatt Regency Columbus, in Columbus, Ohio.  The workshop is intended to help states in the Upper Mississippi and Ohio River Basin develop the agricultural component for their State Nutrient Reduction Strategies, which are key components of the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force Action Plan.  Registration details and a workshop agenda are available here: http://agnutrientworkshop2011.rti.org/.  Questions about the conference can be directed to Cynthia Curtis, at US EPA Region 5 by phone (312-353-6959) or email (curtis.cynthia@epa.gov).

    Flood Insurance Reform Act Moves Out of House Committee
    The "Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2011" – H.R. 1309 was passed out of the House Financial Services Committee to the full House by a unanimous (54-0) vote on May 13, in an effort the bill's supporters say would save the National Flood Insurance Program from all-but-certain insolvency.

    The bill would reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program (a program intended to reduce flood risk, encourage smart floodplain management and provide affordable flood insurance) through September 30, 2016.   It proposes to reduce the program's current deficit with phased-in annual policyholder rate increases over the five-year term of the legislation.  Among other changes, the bill would also create a "Technical Mapping Advisory Council" to propose new mapping standards for 100-year flood insurance rate maps used under the national flood insurance program, which would, among other things, "ensure that the flood insurance rate maps reflect true risk" to each property.

    Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week

    Current Flooding-
    Floodplains, Dams and Navigation -
    • Mississippi River flood spending empties Army Corps' River dredging budget, delays hurricane levees http://bit.ly/j5Tqcs
    • Washington U research: 99.9% chance official Mississippi River flood predictions are incorrect-flooding more severe http://nyti.ms/kRAaFH
    • NOAA, Army Corps & USGS sign memorandum of understanding to support water resources management goals http://bit.ly/kveBmg (pdf file)
    • Editorial on Mississippi River & spending on flood control: "The river is winning. The river always wins." http://bit.ly/kJd1ef
    • Op-ed: "Old Man River Shouldn't Be Shackled" http://cour.at/j3o6H3
    • Senators' letter to CEQ urges new guidelines development that mirrors congressional water resource planning mandates http://bit.ly/kHS9UJ
    • NWF releases report on ways federal policy/action exacerbate flooding & recommendations to change http://bit.ly/ipioV8
    • MN DNR criticizes state House committee for killing new Coon Rapids "carp-stopping" Mississippi River dam http://bit.ly/mRUdvU
    Water Quality-
    Agriculture -
    Agricultural federal funding
    • 2012 farm bill will be no easy task amid earmark ban, budget cuts http://bit.ly/lcBI6S
    • USDA is expected to have more program funding cuts in the 2012 federal budget http://bit.ly/msCS9U
    • Liberals & conservatives may soon reach consensus on common agriculture subsidy target for spending cuts http://bit.ly/mbRAuT
    • Chief of USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service: budget cuts helps NRCS refocus on highest priorities http://bit.ly/jNGCWW
    • Ten Senate Dems "strongly oppose the extreme level of budget cuts to agriculture" in letter to Obama http://bit.ly/iAGDH8 (pdf)
    • House Ag Committee Chair Lucas (R-OK): money will be a major uphill battle in writing of 2012 farm bill http://bit.ly/ltizLH
    Other Agriculture news
    In the States -
    • MN House OKs invasive species plan over objections it would weaken environmental protections http://bit.ly/kTNDUf
    • IA DNR eliminates more than 100 positions http://bit.ly/iN1Rde
    • Gov. Walker considers turning WI DNR into self-contained agency, operating outside many WI rules & regulations http://bit.ly/iMQcXR
    • EDITORIAL: Improving the Wisconsin DNR-good idea if protections  not weakened http://bit.ly/iPFSRT
    • Morris City Council approves plan to stop sanitary sewer system overflow into Illinois River http://bit.ly/iq9AT8
    • Minnesota River Board challenges criticism of Minnesota River cleanup http://bit.ly/k8xYMs
    Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
    Federal Budget -
    • Treasury Secretary Geithner: it's official - government has reached its $14.3 trillion debt limit; default on loans Aug. 2 http://nyti.ms/kbsckr
    • Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) pulls out of "Gang of 6" negotiation group as budget talks break down http://bit.ly/kBHgUJ
    • After "Gang of Six" dissolution, people look to Biden-led deficit /budget negotiations http://bit.ly/mFmTi0
    • VP-led bipartisan group of 6 Senators & House members makes budget deal progress; includes farm subsidy cuts http://bit.ly/kWwLEh
    Events -
    • National Great Rivers Research & Education Center May 23 speaker series: Midwestern Rivers & Environmental Dynamics http://bit.ly/mK9Muu
    • Upper Mississippi & OH River Basin State Nutrient Reduction Strategies Workshop-Agricultural June 13-15, Columbus, OH http://bit.ly/jm9xXb
    • Panel Discussion on Global Concern over Water, Food & Energy Security, May 20, 7:45 PM, Washington, DC http://bit.ly/jtP1Oe
    • Free webinar: Green Infrastructure in Your Backyard: Central US Area; June 9, 2 PM (EDT) http://bit.ly/jfGMQg
    • Free webinar: Green Infrastructure in Your Backyard: Northeast & Great Lakes Area; Thursday, May 26, 2011; 2:00 PM http://bit.ly/lRD5Dl
    • River Action's 4th Annual Upper Mississippi River Conf; Sept 21-23; Isle of Capri Convention Center Bettendorf, IA http://bit.ly/lp0jXH
    • 12th National Conference on Science, Policy, and the Environment; January, 2012; Washington, DC http://bit.ly/mFPshp
    Political Scene -
    • Former state Rep. Dan Severson said Monday he will challenge first-term Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in 2012 http://bit.ly/jkx5M7
    • Former WI Gov Tommy Thompson (R) plans to run for Wisconsin US Senate seat to be vacant when Sen. Kohl (D) retires http://bit.ly/jnl78W
    • David Williams wins KY Republican primary for governor, setting up general election campaign vs. Gov. Steve Beshear http://bit.ly/mIHclG
    • Six-term Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2) officially announces Missouri US Senate bid http://bit.ly/iGON46
    • Sen McCaskill (D-MO) to E&E: environmentalists should not target her for 2012 defeat; she is probably most environmentally friendly option
    Gulf Coastal Area-
    Other news-
    • 3 Mississippi Basin rivers on "Most Endangered" list; in unprecedented move, Mississippi River gets "Special Mention" http://bit.ly/kEDcAi
    • EPA: Most coal ash impoundments in 'satisfactory' or 'fair' shape http://1.usa.gov/dkwC20
    • Proposed central Wisconsin woody biomass power plant moves forward http://bit.ly/ipeCqK

    Last word - "I’m not going to bang my head against a wall anymore." -  U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), quoted by the Wall Street Journal explaining why he was withdrawing from negotiations among the "Gang of Six" senators seeking to craft a bipartisan, comprehensive deficit-reduction deal.