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Geoscience Policy Monthly Review: January 2014

The Monthly Review is part of a continuing effort to improve communications about the role of geoscience in policy. Current and archived monthly reviews are available online.

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  • House bill amends CERCLA, expanding states rights

The Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act (H.R. 2279) passed the House of Representatives 225-188 on January 9. In an attempt to speed up the process and give states more control, the bill amends the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) to provide fewer deadline regulations and require federal entities to give priority to state and local laws when conducting CERCLA cleanups. Environmental groups, however, are skeptical that the bill provides for due diligence, and the White House has threatened to veto the bill.

CERCLA is the foremost piece of legislation holding corporations responsible chemical, petroleum or otherwise hazardous spills. It imposes a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries, collecting those funds for use in case of hazardous spills or to facilitate in the cleanup of abandoned hazardous waste sites.

Sources: E&E News; Environmental Protection Agency

  • Update on OSM stream protection rule

The House Natural Resources Committee has launched a new set of hearings devoted to analyzing the potential socioeconomic impacts of the Office of Surface Mining’s (OSM) proposed Stream Protection Rule (SPR).

The OSM is working to overcome a controversy in which sensitive documents leaked indicating the proposed SPR would result in greater job losses than previously expected. Many House Republicans are working to pass legislation barring the OSM from passing any more regulations on the coal industry, while most Democrats agree that additional limitations are needed.

Over the past several years, the federal government has endeavored to enact stricter regulations on coal mining in the United States to protect local communities and the environment from runoff and pollution associated with mining activities. The latest regulatory strategy, the Stream Protection Rule, focuses on the effects of surface coal mining on aquatic environments.

Sources: The Hill; House Natural Resources Committee; Office of Surface Mining

  • EPW Committee evaluates President Obama's Climate Action Plan

On Thursday, January 16, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) held a full committee hearing on the implementation and effects of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan (CAP). Witnesses included the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, and the Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Instituted in June 2013, CAP plans to reduce carbon pollution, grow the green economy, prepare for the adverse effects of climate change, and commit U.S. leadership in a global initiative to combat climate change. Proponents of the President’s climate policy believed that the plan will help improve environmental health while maintaining a robust, competitive economy. Opponents of the President’s plan argued that unnecessary CAP regulations will stymie economic development.

Democratic members mentioned anecdotal accounts of the detrimental effects of climate change in their respective states, such as the economic damage to infrastructure and tourism in New Jersey caused by hurricane Sandy, while Republicans criticized the EPA, which is charged with implementing a number of CAP regulations, and argued that climate science is not wholly undisputed.

Because cutting carbon pollution is integral to the CAP, debate ensued over the EPA’s right to regulate CO2 under the Clean Air Act. The EPA’s new directive focuses on standards associated with power plant emissions, which currently contribute to 33 percent of total carbon emissions in the U.S. Many opponents of CAP also expressed concerns about the Treasury Department’s reticence in their development of the carbon tax. Opponents also stated that without international participation, U.S. efforts to curtail emissions will have little effect on global climate.

A summary of the hearing will be posted to AGI’s website.

  • EPA releases outline of decision to raise the Social Cost of Carbon

On January 16, Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee David Vitter (R-LA) received a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explaining the Obama Administration’s new definition of the social cost of carbon (SCC). In 2013, the Administration raised the SCC estimate from $24 per ton of CO2 released into the atmosphere (a 2010 estimate) to $33 per ton. Lost agricultural output, increased energy use, impacts to human health, and property damage, among other adverse climate-related effects, factored into the elevated cost.

The EPA letter was in response to a June 2013 letter from Sen. Vitter and other Republican senators who questioned the process for recalculating the SCC. The SCC is used in cost-benefit analyses for CO2 regulation and there are concerns that the increased estimate could produce added costs for industry and consumers.

The EPA reply stated, “The SCC imposes no cost, but instead, allows the benefits of emissions reductions to be compared to the costs of mitigation policy within cost-benefit analyses.” According to the EPA, versions of the SCC have been used in regulation of light duty vehicles, sewage sludge incinerators, and a 2012 utilities air toxics rule.

Source: E&E Daily; Senate Energy & Public Works Committee, Minority web page











Monthly Review prepared by: Maeve Boland, Geoscience Policy Director; Abby Seadler, Geoscience Policy Associate; and Scott Miller, AGI/AAPG Spring Intern.



Compiled February 10, 2014