Summary of Hearings on Water and Ocean Policy

(8/4/10)


  • July 27, 2010: Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Committee on Water and Wildlife Hearing on "Assessing Natural Resource Damages Resulting from the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster"
  • July 15, 2010: House Natural Resource Commite, Subcommittee on Water and Power on "The Bureau of Reclamation and The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: A Progress Report and Planning for the Future"
  • June 17, 2010: House Committee on Natural Resources Water and Power Subcommittee Hearing on "H.R. 4719 and H.R. 5487"
  • April 22, 2010: Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee Hearing on the Environmental and Economic Impacts of Ocean Acidification
  • December 3, 2009: House Science and Technology Committee Energy and Environment Subcommittee Hearing on “Marine and Hydrokinetic Energy Technology: Finding the Path to Commercialization”
  • November 18, 2009: House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Hearing on “Proposals for a Water Resources Development Act of 2010”
  • November 4, 2009: Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee Hearing on "The Future of Ocean Governance: Building Our National Ocean Policy"
  • October 15, 2009: House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Hearing on "The Clean Water Act After 37 Years: Recommitting to the Protection of the Nation's Waters"
  • July 15, 2009: House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Hearing on “Opportunities and Challenges in the Creation of a Clean Water Trust Fund”
  • July 9, 2009: House Science and Technology Committee Energy and Environment Subcommittee hearing on “Technology Research and Development Efforts Related to Energy and Water Linkage”
  • March 31, 2009: Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife hearing “EPA’s Role in Promoting Water Use Efficiency.”
  • March 10, 2009: Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Hearing Entitled "To Receive Testimony on Pending Water Resources Legislation."
  • March 4, 2009: House Committee on Science and Technology Hearing Entitled "21st Century Water Planning: the Importance of a Coordinated Federal Approach."

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Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife hearing on "Assessing Natural Resource Damages Resulting from the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster"
July 27, 2010

Witnesses
Cynthia Dohner

Regional Director, Southeast Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Tony Penn
Deputy Chief, Assessment and Restoration Division, Office of Response and Restoration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Eva Pell
Under Secretary for Science, Smithsonian Institution
Robert Spies
President, Applied Marine Sciences, Former Chief Scientist, Exxon Valdez Trustee Council
Stanley Senner
Conservation Science Director, Ocean Conservancy
Erik Rifkin
Interim Executive Director, National Aquarium Conservation Center
John Young Jr.
Chairman, Jefferson Parish Council

Subcommitee Members Present
Benjamin Cardin, Chairman (D-MD)
Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

Full Committee Members Present
James Inhofe, Ranking Member (R-OK)
David Vitter (R-LA)

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Subcommitee on Water and Wildlife held a hearing on "Assessing Natural Resource Damages Resulting from the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster." The purpose of the hearing was to discuss the assessments that need to be performed in order to quantitatively describe the natural resource damages resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The resounding message of the hearing was articulated by Chairman Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) in his opening statement when he said that "if we are going to get the restoration work done right… then we need to get an accurate and complete assessment of the damage." The committee and witnesses alike expressed a desire to see BP held fully responsible for all damages.

Robert Spies, the former Chief Scientist to the Exxon-Valdez Trustee Council, testified on the lessons learned from the management of the Exxon-Valdez spill, stressing the importance of an ecosystem based approach for determining the overall health of the impacted system. In the case of the Exxon spill, environmental impacts continue today, long past the end of Exxon damage payments. Spies explained that oil continues to have an effect on the Alaskan environment (particularly on fish), even when oil concentrations are as low as parts per billion, and that quantifying these effects is difficult but necessary in the process of restoration.  Spies addressed the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) of 1990. The purpose of the law is to improve the nation’s ability to prevent and respond to oil spills by providing money and resources necessary to respond to spills. The effectiveness of the OPA in dealing with the Deepwater Horizon spill has been limited, in part because of the unique nature of the BP spill.

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) used the hearing as an opportunity to introduce a draft bill (S. 3661) on dispersant safety regulation that would require better testing, approval and disclosure of the health effects of dispersants used in response to an oil spill. Lautenberg added that “we don’t know if they’re safe for sea life,” and we have become “participants in a dangerous science experiment” because of BP’s extensive use of untested dispersants. Later, Lautenberg pushed Tony Penn, Deputy Chief of the Assessment and Restoration Division at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to admit that by extensively using dispersants, we might be introducing a cure that enlarges the danger, and we need to know more about dispersants toxicity in general. In his opening statements, Lautenberg expressed support of the offshore drilling moratorium.

In order for a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) to be performed, baseline pre-spill conditions need to be determined. Witness Eva Pell, Under Secretary for Science at the Smithsonian Institution, spoke on the Smithsonian’s Gulf region near shore sample collection and the institution’s desire to make it publicly accessible. The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) has an extensive collection of near shore invertebrates of the Gulf of Mexico region. Pell described this community of near shore invertebrates as a “robust environmental indicator of the broader ecosystem structure and function.” SERC also houses the National Ballast Information Clearinghouse and samples from salt marshes and mangrove ecosystems around the Gulf, both of which may be useful to baseline studies. The National Museum of Natural History has extensive physico-chemical, oceanographic, sedimentary, and biodiversity data for the Gulf region. The coral sample collection in particular will be important in determining Gulf toxicity before the spill, but much of the collection still needs to be digitally archived. With a budget of only $200,000 annually, progress on the digitizing of sample data has been slow. Chairman Cardin suggested that BP should contribute financially to the effort, with the goal of establishing an objective pre-conditions data set that could help avoid future disagreements.

Cynthia Dohner, the Regional Director of the Southeast Region with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior (DOI) said that DOI is working to assemble baseline data by gathering data from many federal agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey. Penn addressed NOAA’s role in assessing damages to the Gulf. NOAA is “monitoring fish, shellfish, birds, marine mammals, turtles, corals, marine sediments, and wetlands” as well as assessing baseline data like DOI and the Smithsonian in order to “determine how to restore damaged natural resources.”

Objectivity within the DOI’s Natural Resource Damage Assessment was another highly discussed subject throughout the hearing. BP has provided $45 million to federal agencies to conduct environmental assessments, while simultaneously funding $500 million to conduct their own assessments. BP is hiring top scientists under non-disclosure agreements to perform these assessments, and Chairman Cardin expressed concern that the credibility of the DOI NRDA will be lessened because the nation’s top scientists will be involved in the BP report instead of the DOI report. Dohner reassured Cardin that there is “some concern” about the non-disclosure hirings, but the DOI remains confident that they have the “expertise to move forward” while still maintaining a high “standard of independence and objectivity,” despite receiving funding from BP for assessment work. Chairman Cardin applauded witness Eric Rifkin, Interim Executive Director of the National Aquarium Conservation Center, for the work that his group is doing to establish an independently funded, objective natural resource damage assessment.

The National Aquarium Conservation Center, in partnership with the Mote Marine Laboratory and Johns Hopkins University, is conducting a comprehensive study designed to ensure that the “pre- and post- Deepwater Horizon oil spill impact status of Sarasota Bay (western FL) is documented as rigorously as possible.” The project is being funded by the National Aquarium, independent from both governmental and BP funds, and will monitor petroleum accumulation in bottom dwelling organisms, rays, dolphins, sediment, the water column, and in “virtual fish” containing membranes that mimic bioaccumulation. The project will focus on modeling of the movement of toxins through the food chain, as well as performing acute and chronic toxicity tests.

John Young Jr., the Chairman of the Jefferson Parish (LA) Council, testified on the federal response to the oil spill and local efforts to reduce environmental damage in the Gulf. “In contrast to successful state and local efforts, the federal government and various federal agencies have not only not helped us but, in some cases, have actually hindered our efforts to protect ourselves.” Young cited three instances where the local Louisiana government put forth plans to protect their coastline that have been rejected or extensively delayed by the federal government, saying that various federal agencies have “hamstrung our state and local governments” efforts to protect themselves. Young opposes the moratorium on offshore drilling, as well as BP’s extensive use of untested dispersants. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) responded by saying that the “federal government has been completely unprepared” and had no model for response to a spill of this magnitude. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) pushed some of the blame back on the Louisiana state government, saying that rock jetties and sand berms should have been included in oil spill contingency planning so that extensive scientific testing of these structures could have taken place before the spill. On NOAA’s role in the delays to sand berm installation, Penn added that “we didn’t want to stand in the way of the berms, we wanted to monitor them and weight the ecological benefits with the ecological harm.”

The committee emerged from the hearing with no clear timeline on completion of natural resource damage assessments, but with the reassurance that NOAA, DOI, and the Smithsonian Collections are working to push forward Gulf pre-condition surveys.

An archived webcast and witness testimony can be accessed here.

-KW

House Natural Resource Commite, Subcommittee on Water and Power on "The Bureau of Reclamation and The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: A Progress Report and Planning for the Future"
July 15, 2010

Witnesses
Michael Connor
Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation, Department of the Interior
Dan Keppen
Executive Director, Family Farm Alliance
Anthony J. Pack
General Manager, Eastern Municipal Water District of Perris, California
Tom Mallams
President, Klamath Off-Project Water Users

Subcommittee Members Present
Grace Napolitano, Chairwoman (D-CA)
Jim Costa (D-CA)
Tom McClintock, Ranking Member (R-CA)

The House Natural Resources Committee’s subcommittee on Water and Power met to discuss the progress made by the Bureau of Reclamation (BR) in administering American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds, and how the ARRA-funded projects contribute to BR’s overall mission.

Chairwoman Grace Napolitano (D-CA) began the hearing by requesting the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examine the legacy of costs associated with federally funded reclamation projects. This sentiment was later echoed by Ranking Member Tom McClintock (R-CA), who questioned BR use of funds, citing examples where ARRA monies were used to fund overseas conferences and environmental groups. McClintock also questioned the BR’s decision to fund the Klamath dam removal projects in northern California.

In his testimony, Michael Conner detailed the BR spending of the ARRA funds. In 2009, ARRA provided the BR with $1 billion. As of the end of June, BR had obligated 82% of the appropriation, and created about 10,300 jobs. Of the original 191 projects selected to receive funding, 131 have received monies. The remaining $21 million is under review by the BR, and will be allocated in the coming weeks to other projects. Under Title XVI of ARRA, $126 million of the $1 billion was reserved for water reclamation and reuse projects. BOR has allocated a total of $135.79 million to these projects, though there is a $600 million backlog of projects seeking Title XVI funding.

McClintock repeatedly questioned Conner on the motivation behind funding the Klamath, Snake, and Battle Creek dam removal projects, saying that hydropower is ‘the cheapest, cleanest source of energy we have,’ and that it should not be the federal government’s financial responsibility to help private electric companies remove their own dams. Conner explained that particularly in the case of the Klamath dam, ARRA funds were geared towards asking the question “what is the best way to further sustainability with respect to environmental preservation in the region?” The studies were not intended to be dam removal feasibility studies, rather they are looking to decide what makes the most sense from a fisheries management prospective. Conner added that the BR is obligated under the Endangered Species Act and other biological programs to perform this kind of management study, and taxpayer dollars would be used for environmental restoration, not the physical dam removal.

Napolitano asked Conner to discuss the backlog of BR maintenance projects, and explain why only a fraction of ARRA monies went to those maintenance projects. Conner responded that annual maintenance received higher priority than major updates, and did not address how the BR will fund the $3 billion  price tag of backlog maintenance projects that the agency is facing.

Dan Keepen, Executive Director of the Family Farm Alliance, spoke on western water users’ perspective on the use of ARRA funds and future BR projects. Keppen stressed that overall, water users within the allied industries of the 17 states that his company represents are pleased with the use of ARRA funds. Keppen cited several areas where the BR should focus its future work: in the general maintenance of water infrastructure, in the financing of non-federal costs, and in streamlining the environmental authorization process in order to improve the ability of projects to progress.

Anthony Pack, General Manager, Eastern Municipal Water District of Perris, California, spoke on the wastewater utility that he manages in southern California. Pack highlighted recent success within the utility, heralding last year as the “best year ever for recycled water.” His utilities’ private investments have reduced the community’s dependence on imported water, but he argued that it is the federal government, not private industry, that should be involved in developing these kinds of water projects in the west. Pack also recommended that Congress provide BR with guidance for the selection of projects to be funded under Title XVI.

Tom Mallam, President of the Klamath Off-Project Water Users, spoke on the lack of rancher and farmer support for the Klamath Basin Restoration Project. Mallam went so far as to describe the $11 million project as leading to “the end of an American way of life of farming and ranching in the west.”

Chairwoman Napolitano concluded the hearing by asking witnesses to recommend how the committee should direct the BR to spend future monies if more funds are received. Mallam recommended anything other than dam removal. Keppen suggested improving the existing BR aging infrastructure, particularly in rural areas. Pack would like to see the funding for the backlog of waste water projects as well as increased storage space for water collected during the winter.

Testimony from the chair and all panelists, as well as an audio archive of the entire hearing, can be found here.

-KW

House Committee on Natural Resources Water and Power Subcommittee Hearing on "H.R. 4719 and H.R. 5487”
June 17, 2010

Witnesses
Mr. John Tubbs
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, Department of the Interior
Ms. Joan Neuhaus Schaan
Homeland Security and Terrorism Program Fellow, James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, Rice University
Dr. Deborah L. Swackhamer
Professor, University of Minnesota
Co-Director of the Water Resources Center on behalf of the National Institutes of Water Resources
The Honorable Maurice McTigue
Director, Government Accountability Project, Mercatus Center at George Mason University
Dr. Henry Vaux, Jr.
Professor, Emeritus of Resource Economics at the University of California at Berkeley

Committee Members Present
Grace F. Napolitano, Chairwoman (D-CA)

Tom McClintock, Ranking Member (R-CA)

Joe Baca (D-CA)

Adrian Smith (R-NE)

Other Members Present
Ciro D. Rodriguez (D-TX)

The House Committee on Natural Resources Water and Power Subcommittee held a hearing to discuss two proposed bills, H.R. 4719 and H.R. 5487. H.R 4719 establishes a Southwest Border Region Task Force and H.R. 5487 amends the Water Resources Research Act of 1984 to reauthorize grants for water supply research. Chairwoman Grace Napolitano (D-CA) declared that it was the “right for every American citizen to have clean water on this side of the border” and suggested that the two water bills would ensure this liberty.

Ranking Member Tom McClintock (R-CA) disagreed with Napolitano on the importance of passing the two bills. McClintock questioned the necessity of some of the research conducted using the Water Resources Research Act funds, citing the example of the blind water taste test conducted in Washington, D.C., surmising that “they discovered it tasted a lot like, well, water.” The ranking member pondered the wisdom of spending $90 million on these research efforts, adding, “We don’t have the money to begin with.”

Representative Ciro D. Rodriguez (D-TX), sponsor of H.R. 4719, discussed the importance of the formation of the Southwest Border Region Water Task Force. The region that Rodriguez represents contains 785 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, and Rodriguez briefly educated the committee on the water resources lacking for some of his constituents. He referred to the small towns that “more closely resemble villages in developing nations” than communities in the United States. He used “Las Colonias,” the unincorporated settlements without access to drinking or waste water infrastructure in the border region, as one example of an area in need. He affirmed that H.R. 4719 would create the organizational structure needed to solve this problem.

Mr. John Tubbs, the deputy assistant secretary for water and science at the Department of the Interior (DOI), believes the task force created by H.R. 4719 is unnecessary and would compete for funds with other similar programs, such as the Reclamation of the Colorado River Basin Study or the Water Smart Program, in fiscal year (FY) 2011. However, Mr. Tubbs indicated that the DOI supports H.R. 5487 due to the Water Resources Research Act’s support for student internships, research and education. He stated that these program has proven to be effective.

Ms. Joan Neuhaus Schaan, Homeland Security and Terrorism Program Fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy located at Rice University, testified to the difficulties associated with the protection of water resources in the border region. Neuhaus Schaan alluded to the rumored plot to destroy the Falcon Dam, and while she contended that she does not have specifics, she assured the committee that she understands the potential threats posed to the Rio Grande River. Neuhaus Schaan explained the four areas of security concern to be addressed: access to water supply, means of destroying that supply, knowledge of how to destroy a water supply, and motivation to carry out the threat. She asked the committee to consider including parties that would represent a security perspective when examining H.R. 4719.

Dr. Deborah Swackhamer, a professor at the University of Minnesota and co-director of the Water Resources Center on behalf of the National Institutes of Water Resources, spoke in support of H.R. 5487. Swackhamer said that the scrutiny of the Water Resources Research Act is welcomed because it ensures that researchers use good science. Swackhamer counseled the committee that a five year plan is needed for reporting back research results. She explained that five years is the standard grant cycle, or the time it takes to see results that initial funding supported.

The Honorable Maurice McTigue, the director of the Government Accountability Project at George Mason University, called for an improved system to report research results. He countered Swackhamer’s proposal to wait five years for results. Instead, McTigue ideally wanted to see a system to make preliminary results public even before a final report is published. He emphasized the need for the supporters of the research to know that progress is being made. McTigue had faith that there is plenty of solid research being conducted, and maintained that the system simply is not in place to access it.

Dr. Henry Vaux, professor of resource economics at the University of California at Berkeley, discussed the importance of maintaining federal funding for water research under H.R. 5487. He opined that the intensifying water scarcity combined with a small supply of experts in water resources poses a threat to America’s ability to meet water challenges. Vaux agreed that access and quality controls for research need to be improved, but staunchly supports the continuation of funding for water resources research proposed in H.R. 5487.

When questioned by Napolitano and McClintock on the duplication of research, Vaux contended that duplication follows good science practices. McTigue followed up on this idea by adding that while duplication is necessary, it also needs to advance the research. He thought better access to research would help separate these two distinct types of duplication. Swackhamer informed the committee that external agencies provide advice on what areas of research to fund.

After more questioning from Napolitano, Vaux informed the members that some funding from H.R. 5487 goes towards urban water issues under the current Water Resources Research Act. In California, for example, around 30 percent of funding supports urban water projects. McClintock asked about the late submissions of research reports from 54 of the funded institutions. Tubbs informed him that those reports are currently being processed. Although this pacified McClintock some, the ranking member thought no more funding should be given without proof of research results.

Representatives Rodriguez and Joe Baca (D-CA) focused on H.R. 4719. Rodriguez questioned Mr. Tubbs about the lack of coordination along the border region. Tubbs emphasized the importance of incorporating state and local agencies, and not leaving the burden to the federal government. Rodriquez informed the witness that state and local governments are included in H.R. 4719. Representative Baca made the water conditions of the water in the border region more personal when he asked each witness if he or she would be willing to drink the water available in the border region. After some reluctance, all witnesses agreed that they do not drink water unless they are certain it is safe.

Chairwoman Napolitano closed the hearing by voicing the opinion that communication needs to improve in both protection of water resources along the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as in water resource research. Written testimonies from members and witnesses, along with an audio archive of the hearing, are available on the House Committee on Natural Resources’ web site. The full text of H.R. 4719 is available from Thomas, as is the full text of H.R. 5487.

-EH

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee Hearing on the Environmental and Economic Impacts of Ocean Acidification
April 22, 2010

Witnesses
Ms. Sigourney Weaver
Actress
Mr. Tom Ingram
Executive Director, Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA)
Mr. Donny Waters
Past President, Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance in Florida
Dr. James Barry
Senior Scientist, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI)
Dr. John Everett
President, Ocean Associates, Inc.

Members Present
Maria Cantwell, Chairwoman (D-WA)
Olympia Snowe, Ranking Member (R-ME)
Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Mark Begich (D-AK)

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day the Senate Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee met for a hearing discussing the potential economic impacts of ocean acidification. Senators heard testimony from ocean experts, fishermen and even actress Sigourney Weaver, who shared portions of a new documentary she narrated for the Natural Resources Defense Council on the topic of ocean acidification.

The Subcommittee Chairman Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Ranking Member Olympia Snowe (R-ME) felt that ocean acidification was a real threat—not only to sea life, but to U.S. and global economies as well. Snowe, who felt increased oceanic monitoring would be critical to assessing acidification impacts, questioned the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) ability to adequately implement and maintain monitoring programs.

Barbara Boxer (D-CA) shared that she and her staff conducted their own acidification experiment by dropping chalk into drinking water and sparkling water. “The chalk in the sparkling water started to dissolve almost instantly!” Boxer exclaimed. She explained, using the sparkling water as an analogue for a more acidic ocean, acidic seawater increases stress on calcium carbonate bearing organisms.

She used this moment as a platform to encourage passage of a comprehensive climate change bill, emphasizing that success needed to be “tripartisan” between Democrat, Republican and Independent members. Frank Lautenburg (D-NJ), who sponsored the Federal Ocean Acidification Research And Monitoring (FOARAM) Act of 2009 (S.173) passed as part of the 2009 Public Lands Omnibus, emphasized a large portion of the U.S. economy depended on the ocean as a natural resource. His grandchildren’s safety motivated him to protect the oceans and current legislative efforts were a good start, but he questioned if it was really enough.

Sigourney Weaver is promoting awareness about ocean acidification – a topic she was unaware of only a few year ago. Although not an expert, she shared she was testifying as a “concerned American and earthling,” referencing her extensive science-fiction film career. Nevertheless, she explained her love for the ocean stemmed from her father’s insistence on living near open bodies of water. She feared for the ocean, which despite its vastness was finite and vulnerable. She implored the senators to save it from “our own lack of vision.”

Tom Ingram, a representative of the diving industry, discussed how the aesthetic of the ocean’s coral reefs drove his industry. Acidification, he argued, not only threatened coral reef health but also an estimated 340,000 U.S. jobs in the diving industry. Donny Waters, a commercial fisherman and past president of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance, gave an impassioned testimony that even garnered applause. He described acidification as a “ghost lurking in the shadows” and his anecdotes of the negative impacts were described through tears of frustration and concern.

Dr. James Barry of the Monterrey Bay Aquarium and Research Institution, in an effort to assuage the bleak outlook, cautioned that how these frightening scientific predictions actually affect ecosystems can vary greatly and that even science can be incorrect. He did argue that research clearly demonstrates oceanic systems are under increasing stress from decreasing pH. He presented research showing this could negatively impact organism growth and reproduction of calcium carbonate bearing organisms, and ultimately energy flow through food webs. He correlated the high-stress times with geologically punctuated mass extinctions.

Dr. John Everett, former NOAA employee and consulting firm president, felt quite the opposite. Acknowledging that he would be swimming against the tide he said, “In the ten days I have been preparing for this testimony, I have found no evidence that acidification is a real threat.” He argued geologic data supports the claim that the ocean has always been an alkaline system, even at its most acidic. No geological data, he shared, has ever shown an ocean devoid of shells, corals, or plankton.

Cantwell was curious about the contradictory conclusions between the two scientists, and asked Dr. Barry for his opinion on Dr. Everett’s statements. Barry responded that there was in the natural variability of the ocean. Barry also concurred with Everett’s claims about the ocean being an alkaline system, argued with his semantics. “The ocean is getting more acidic, which the same as saying less alkaline,” Barry said, “but [acidification] still asks an organism to live in an ocean with a range in pH that was outside the ranges in its evolutionary history.”

Lautenberg admitted he was mystified by the range in testimony, and asked if the claims about shell stability were true. Barry, responding to the same question, said that evidence for shell weakening had been globally observed though there are some gaps in the polar regions. Barry found it was especially true in pteropods, a small snail which is part of the salmon food chain. Everett said that, based on the 10 days of research he did for his testimony, the claims were true for some organisms, but he argued many would likely survive. Two weeks ago, Everett explained, his testimony would have reflected the urgency of ocean acidification. Now he felt such urgency was over zealous. However, though he felt ocean acidification was not problematic, the U.S. still needed to limit its carbon dioxide emissions. Lautenberg retorted that 10 days represented a pretty short research study.

Mark Begich (D-AK) noted that climate change has become a prominent topic on the Hill, and he asked the panel if there were any recommendations about prioritizing the issues that have arisen. Barry answered that prioritization was outside of the scope of his expertise. Though, if there was a priority, he named investment in quality research to assign weight to ocean acidification issues.

Cantwell asked the panel for any early warning signs they had seen suggesting climate change concerns were warranted. Ingram recounted bleached coral reefs were becoming a more commonplace sight on his dives. Barry added that when the corals begin to dissolve altogether, the level of acidification will be dire. Talk of hypoxia and ocean acidification frightened Waters greatly, and he expressed, “We must keep our eyes open and not turn our backs. I hope Dr. Everett is right, because I’m scared to death of what Dr. Barry is saying.”

Weaver encouraged Congress to increase public education to further elucidate possible ramifications of ocean acidification because “we look to leadership to be informed,” she said.

An archived web cast and witness testimony can be accessed here.

-MNM

House Science and Technology Committee Energy and Environment Subcommittee Hearing on “Marine and Hydrokinetic Energy Technology: Finding the Path to Commercialization”
December 3, 2009

Witnesses
Jacques Beaudry-Losique
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Renewable Energy, Department of Energy
Roger Bedard
Ocean Energy Leader, Electric Power Research Institute
James G.P. Dehlsen
Chairman, Ecomerit Technologies, LLC
Craig W. Collar
Senior Manager of Energy Resource Development, Snohomish Public Utility District 1
Gia D. Schneider
Chairman and CEO, Natel Energy, Inc.

Committee Members Present
Brian Baird, Chairman (D-WA)
Bob Inglis, Ranking Member (R-SC)
Lincoln Davis (D-TN)
Paul D. Tonko (D-NY)
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI)
Jay Inslee (D-WA)
Adrian Smith (R-NE)

On December 3, 2009 the House Science and Technology Committee Energy and Environment Subcommittee held a hearing on “Marine and Hydrokinetic Energy Technology: Finding the Path to Commercialization.” Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA) cited studies showing that ten percent of our nation’s electricity demand “may be met through energy generation from river in-stream sites, tidal in-stream sites, and wave generation.” Ranking Member Bob Inglis (R-SC) added that although the hydropower and hydrokinetic technologies may face environmental challenges and competition with recreational activities, they have great potential for energy reduction.

Jacques Beaudry-Losique, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Renewable Energy at the Department of Energy (DOE), stated that DOE “believes the marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) energy technologies have significant potential to contribute to the nation’s future supply of clean, cost-effective, renewable energy.” He added that these technologies could potentially produce 400 TWh per year, which is enough to power 36 million average U.S. homes.

Roger Bedard, Ocean Energy Leader at Electric Power Research Institute, testified that the U.S. has access to a significant amount of wave and tidal hydrokinetic energy resources that have the potential to be cost competitive with other renewable technologies.  He added the technology needed is emerging and ready for testing, but that challenges still remain before commercialization is possible. In his written testimony, Bedard states that his main point is that “MHK energy is a renewable resource that we as a nation should seriously consider as an addition to our national portfolio of energy supply alternatives and that this consideration requires government support and incentives.”

James Dehlsen, Chairman at Ecomerit Technologies, LLC, stated that hydropower and hydrokinetic energy has very little in common and should be considered two separate technologies. He agreed with Bedard and testified that early commercialization would be possible “provided the U.S. government implements an effective program of incentives.” Dehlsen spoke of the discontinuous government support of wind energy, which has stunted the success of the industry. He added that the “fundamental factor of success is sustained federal commitment.”

Craig Collar, Senior Manager of Energy Resource Development at Snohomish Public Utility District No. 1, spoke about the Snohomish Puget Sound Tidal Energy Demonstration Project as well as the European Marine Energy Center (EMEC) studies, both of which use OpenHydro turbines. He stated that the EMEC OpenHydro turbine has been constantly videotaped since its debut in 2006 and that no marine life incidents have been recorded thus far. He added that more data might eliminate the barrier to large-scale commercial deployment of MHK technologies.

Gia Schneider, Chairman and CEO at Natel Energy, Inc., testified that the potential for MHK technologies is significant and that there is particular potential in low-head hydropower. She added that Natel Energy believes that low-head hydropower is the “true low-hanging fruit energy opportunities in this country where we can bring distributed renewable baseload power online relatively quickly.” She stated that out of the 71 GW of low-head hydropower potential available, the U.S. has used less than 2 GW to date. She suggested that low-head projects be developed in existing man-made conduits and canals, as projects there would have low incremental environmental impacts. She stated that the biggest challenge with these technologies is  expense, so support from DOE for R&D would help to speed up innovation.

Chairman Baird spoke of the lack of testing facilities for the MHK technologies on both coasts and asked Bedard to comment on that. Bedard replied that in fiscal year 2008, money was appropriated to initiate National Marine Energy Centers, but “consistent, long-term, sustained support to these test facilities” is needed so developers have a place to go and test their technologies in the water. He added that once a prototype is developed, system test facilities will be needed. Conner stated that one of the main challenges in moving the project forward is a lack of data. It is difficult to get projects permitted with no data, but one needs a permit to get data. He added that one way to deal with this challenge is to do small, contained projects to gain data. Baird asked what the specific concerns are with MHK projects. Conner answered that most concerns are related to the effects on the Ecological Society of American (ESA) listed species.

Ranking Member Inglis asked the panel to comment on the possibility of combining wave barges with wind barges in order to “get a twofer out of the lines running back to the shore.” Dehlsen replied that projects like that are being considered in the United Kingdom. He said it is believed that for every offshore wind turbine, three wave devices could be deployed as well, and that combining the two types of technology is a nice way to save energy. Bedard added that having the two resources together would also lower the combined variability of energy production.

Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) stated that the MHK resources need to be cost-competitive in order to develop the technologies and added, “We don’t want to create technology in order to create technology.” He then asked the panel how competitive the MHK resources would be compared to other electricity generating  resources. Dehlsen answered that the technologies being worked on at Ecomerit Technologies, LLC would range from 10-12 cents per KWh while carbon-based fuels are closer to the range of between 4 and 8 cents per KWh. He added that once you take into consideration the external costs of the carbon fuels, the MHK technologies are competitive.

Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA) asked Bedard to comment on the energy density of water compared to that of wind. Bedard replied that because the power density of MHK resources is much greater than for wind or solar projects, smaller machines are needed, which require less material. He added that the challenge is that these machines are operating in remote, hostile environments. This requires operation and maintenance technology to lower the lifecycle costs in order to make the technologies more competitive compared to other renewable energy technologies.

Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) asked the panel if it would be possible to anchor something to the bottom of the ocean and let the up and down motion of waves create energy. Bedard replied that many devices already take advantage of this motion. Ehlers asked Bedard what technologies seem most promising at this point in time. Bedard replied that the technology is not advanced enough to know which will be the most cost-effective in the future. He added that more testing and evaluations of the different devices will be needed.

Representative Rohrabacher said that people who live on the coast might complain about their view being disturbed and asked for comment. Dehlsen said that, although the turbines have a very strong impact, “people are starting to get that there are priorities beyond the view aspect.” Representative Inglis later added that he thinks the wind turbines create a beautiful scene, especially when one thinks about “how they are out there producing no emissions.”

A link to the witnesses’ testimony and a video archive of the hearing can be found here.

-MMP

House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Hearing on “Proposals for a Water Resources Development Act of 2010”
November 18, 2009

 

Witnesses:
Ed Whitfield
Representative, U.S. House of Representatives (R-KY)
Charles Boustany Jr.
Representative, U.S. House of Representatives (R-LA)
Charlie Melancon
Representative, U.S. House of Representatives (D-LA)
Ron Klein
Representative, U.S. House of Representatives (D-FL)
Dave Loebsack
Representative, U.S. House of Representatives (D-IA)
Steve Scalise
Representative, U.S. House of Representatives (R-LA)
Suzanne Kosmas
Representative, U.S. House of Representatives (D-FL)

Committee Members Present
Eddie Bernice Johnson, Chairwoman (D-TX)  
John Boozman, Ranking Member (R-AR)
Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-LA)
Phil Hare (D-IL)
Grace Napolitano (D-CA)
Tim Bishop (D-NY)

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing on November 18, 2009 entitled “Proposals for a Water Resources Development Act of 2010.” Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) opened by discussing the recent history of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which the committee aims to update every two years. After passing S.2796 in 2000, work on WRDA stagnated for seven years until 2007 when H.R. 1495 passed with broad bipartisan support. The seven years worth of projects in the bill were so well supported that it overrode a veto from President Bush.

This hearing allowed members of Congress to voice their issues and project proposals for a 2010 WRDA bill, which Johnson believed would have just as much bi-partisan support as the last. Ranking Member John Boozman (R-AR) echoed her sentiments, extolling the bipartisanship of the bill. One important difference between this WRDA effort and the last was the 2007 bill was “catch up legislation,” focused only on projects which had already been included in previous WRDA efforts. The 2010 bill would include new projects. Boozman noted the importance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The WRDA for 2010 would authorize the USACE to continue its work of opening the nations waterways, including navigation improvements, flood damage reduction, and environmental restoration of water bodies, all of which would improve commerce and stimulate the economy.

Representative Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-LA) noted the important role the USACE plays in his district and throughout Louisiana, especially after Hurricane Katrina. Still today, though, his district is waiting for the USACE to install storm protection measures they promised after the hurricane. He noted several projects the USACE has completed since Katrina, but that they have been less than reliable in protecting against flooding. Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) also discussed the continued lack of protection for much of the New Orleans area still vulnerable after Hurricane Katrina. Although the USACE is releasing a report in December entitled the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Study, it will lack specific recommendations on action to be taken. Scalise advocated for the Lake Pontchartrain Barrier Plan, which would provide storm surge protection for the north and south shores of the lake. He also advocated for a series of outflow canals and coastal restoration to turn back the rapid level of coastal deterioration Louisiana is experiencing.

Representative Phil Hare (D-IL) commented on the un-appropriated status of many WRDA 2007 projects. While the committee needs to work to see these projects carried through, Hare maintained new projects must be a priority. Hare discussed a lock in his district the lock keeper had him hit, resulting in a “piece of concrete the size of a football” coming down. Hare added that he considered infrastructure investments like this to ultimately be economic investments. Lastly, Tim Bishop (D-NY) noted the USACE’s great work on the beaches of his district in Long Island.

Representative Grace Napolitano (D-CA) urged the committee to look towards recycling, reuse, and desalination, while recognizing the danger posed to our water budgets by climate change. She noted four projects she would be requesting in the future for her district, including cleanup for wells in the Chino Basin which have ceased pumping due to perchlorate contamination.

Representative Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL), introduced a jetty project from her district in east central Florida she hoped to have included in the WRDA bill. The project was first approved by the USACE and included in the 1999 WRDA bill, H.R.1480. Appropriations for the project came several years later, finally being completed last year. Due to the lengthy wait between the project’s authorization and appropriation, though, the USACE revised its cost estimate this summer from the $5.45 million expected in 1998 to $18.7 million today. This requires new authorization, for which Kosmas requested language in this WRDA bill. She concluded that the project will improve navigation and safety in the area and reverse long term beach erosion patterns.

Representative Charles Boustany Jr. (R-LA) discussed his concern for the nation’s federal ports and harbors, describing how harbors must be maintained through regular dredging. In order to fund upkeep projects like those described, Boustany sought “full access” to revenues deposited to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, revenues which come from a harbor tax. Despite collecting $1.6 billion for the purpose of funding dredging projects in 2008, only $766 million was reimbursed to projects, leaving many ports unable to dredge as necessary. The result is ships being required to “light load” when pulling in, taking less cargo, and equating to a drastic economic impact. Due to the economic influence of ports and harbors, Boustany supports fully funding such maintenance projects.

Representative Dave Loebsack (D-IA) detailed the fallout of a 2008 flood on the Cedar River, which devastated the city of Cedar Rapids. This 500 year flood occurred only 15 years after the last such flood. Though the city has already started a hazard mitigation program, flood prevention work remains incomplete. A large flood risk management study is currently underway by USACE, but only about 45 percent complete. Loebsack did not give a specific request for the WRDA bill, but expected to work closely with the committee once the USACE study had been completed.

Representative Charlie Melancon (D-LA) discussed his support for the Morganza to the Gulf project, which would entail a 72 mile stretch of locks, levees, and flood gates in south Louisiana. The project was determined to be of federal significance after a study in the 1990s. It was fully authorized and funded in the 2007 WRDA, but the USACE quickly increased its estimate by roughly 20 percent above the $886.7 million original request, requiring reauthorization of the project. In the mean time, the USACE has halted all progress on the project. Melancon reminded the committee that his area of the country is responsible for one third of domestic oil and gas production, and that this project was one of national security significance. He hoped for authorization in the next WRDA bill. 

Representative Ron Klein (D-FL) proposed redoubling congressional efforts on the ongoing Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project (CERP) largely funded by the 2007 WRDA bill. Klein advocated for 2010 WRDA inclusion of the Broward Water Reserve Area projects, designed to enhance everglades water quality by adding to the buffer zone between developed areas and wetlands, capture and divert storm water runoff, and reduce underground seepage. The project is shovel-ready, according to Klein.

Representative Ed Whitfield (R-KY) discussed his district’s issues with the Wolf Creek Dam. After being listed in 2007 as one of the five dams in the nation in dire need of attention, emergency action was taken to alleviate stress on it by the Nashville District Army Corps. With water levels lowered, the area underwent additional economic strain as water related business was irreparably hurt. To further complicate the issue, the USACE determined that the project was not safety related, leaving it ineligible for regular federal USACE funds allocated. Whitfield is asking for the next WRDA bill to consider the project as a safety concern, and later to help ease the economic damage done by the situation business owners were left in.

The testimony of the witnesses, opening statements, a webcast of the hearing, and more information can be found here.

-JJF

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee Hearing on “The Future of Ocean Governance: Building Our National Ocean Policy”
November 4, 2009

 

Witnesses:
Panel 1
Nancy Sutley
Chair, Council on Environmental Quality and Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force
Dr. Jane Lubchenco
Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Thad Allen
 Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard
Laura Davis
Associate Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior

Panel 2
Billy Frank Jr.
Chairman, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
Dr. Dennis Takashi-Kelso
Executive Vice President, The Ocean Conservancy
Matthew Paxton
Government Relations Counsel, Coastal Conservation Association
Carolyn Elefant
Legislative and Regulatory Counsel, Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition

Committee Members Present
Maria Cantwell, Chairman (D-WA)
Olympia Snowe, Ranking Member (R-ME)
Mark Begich (D-AK)
Bill Nelson (D-FL)
George LeMieux (R-FL)

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation’s Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee held a hearing on November 4, 2009, in order to discuss the interim report and direction of the President’s Interagency Oceans Policy Task Force (IOPTF). Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-WA) showed strong support for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in her opening remarks, saying that NOAA plays a pivotal role in dealing with these issues. She continued that “the administration should acknowledge and strengthen NOAA’s role, and literally give them a seat at the table of the National Ocean Council.” She then supported the “enactment of an organic act for NOAA.” Ranking Member Olympia Snowe (R-ME) then lamented the term “best available science,” typically used in determining resource management decisions, which she considered sometimes to be inadequate. To that end, she and Cantwell had authored legislation establishing a budget of $8 billion for NOAA by 2011, and an agreement to double that budget to 2013, to allow scientists to achieve “indisputable” science. “NOAA must remain our nation’s leader” in ocean policy, said Snowe, and she criticized the IOPTF’s interim report for not prescribing the agency a great enough role. Mark Begich (D-AK) pointed out that he agrees with the interim report’s support for the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. Bill Nelson (D-FL) finished by thanking NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco for “bringing science to the question of the oceans,” describing how lonely it has been in his fight to prevent open drilling policies in the waters around Florida.

Chair of the IOPTF Nancy Sutley then initiated the testimony. She noted that the interim report contains priorities for the administration in addition to proposals for a national policy, and that they were now moving towards an integrated marine resource management approach. Jane Lubchenco explained NOAA’s role as the nation’s primary ocean agency, and suggested that the agency is well positioned to manage the many aspects of overall ocean policy. According to Lubchenco, “NOAA’s goal… is to move towards a more robust, holistic management approach that reduces ocean-human use conflicts and ecosystem impacts, while enabling sustainable use of oceans.” Lubchenco furthered that NOAA was committed to implementing those recommendations. “The nation’s oceans are counting on us,” she finished. Admiral Thad Allen, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, then commented that “we need to establish a sustainable balance between use and conservation,” and that one of the tools to help achieve this was marine spatial planning. Spatial planning would provide a framework upon which ocean use decisions could be made in a clear and transparent way, and help the Coast Guard to later enforce those policies. He continued by supporting the U.S. signing on to “Law of the Sea,” arguing that it would be good for relations with the international maritime community, and commending the Task Force for considering Arctic issues. Lastly, Associate Undersecretary of the Department of the Interior (DOI) Laura Davis testified by describing some of the process the task force has followed, including a series of local meetings around the country with interested citizens. She noted that the agencies had already elicited a new level of communication for the “sister agencies” involved with stewardship of the oceans.

The predominant question for the panel revolved around leadership of the ocean policy once it has been established. Cantwell asked who should be leading this. Sutley responded that the consensus of the task force was to have a National Ocean Council (NAC) be responsible including representation from all of the involved parties, and to be chaired jointly by the Council for Environmental Quality and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Lubchenco and Allen agreed that one single entity could not be responsible for administering such vast responsibilities, but that it required strong central leadership to bring involved parties together. Lubchenco admitted that NOAA has “a key role to play,” while Allen conferred that the Coast Guard should play a support role. Davis concurred with the recommendations from the witnesses.

Snow remarked that “it defies, frankly, reason” that NOAA would not have a position on the NAC, much less leadership of it. Begich questioned why it would not make more sense for two secretary-level positions to chair the NAC. Sutley responded that it was the consensus that with such broad, inter-agency jurisdiction of this policy, it made sense to have a higher level of administration responsible. Lubchenco responded that in this case, the Secretary of Commerce superseded her responsibilities to represent the Department of Commerce (DOC) on the council. Snowe questioned if then it made more sense for NOAA to be individually chartered and have an “organic act” like other agencies. For NOAA to have an organic act, Lubchenco agreed, but to comment on its removal from within the umbrella of the DOC, Lubchenco said was “beyond my pay grade.”
 
Cantwell asked then how an actual response to an issue would work within the council system. Lubchenco responded that NOAA would work to gather the data and answer the underlying questions behind these problems, but that actually solving them would be an interagency responsibility. Sutley responded that this was something the IOPTF would still have to work on. Begich then questioned the resources to be diverted for this effort, pointing out that NOAA had already admitted it would need to re-prioritize in order to accomplish the tasks assigned it by the new policy. He then questioned the economic considerations that went into the policy, and where the budget for this would come from. Sutley responded that they had been conscious of the economics and will continue to be, so many of the agencies involved are already budgeting in some way for this.

Questioning then drifted to individual components of the policy. Maritime spatial planning came up repeatedly, with Snowe questioning its implementation and Begich sharing his experiences with a small scale project as Mayor of Anchorage. George LeMieux (R-FL) also asked whether there was a place for tidal renewable energy in the policy or the plans of the DOI, which Davis responded was under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rather than DOI.

The second panel then began with Billy Frank Jr., Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. Frank stressed the importance and potential value of including the Indian tribes in the process of crafting and enforcing ocean policy. “If you want success, include the tribes.” He asked that this policy not turn into one that is sitting on a shelf, as so many he has seen come before are now. Frank said that the Commission supports regionalized enforcement of this policy. Dr. Dennis Takashi-Kelso, Executive Vice President of The Ocean Conservancy then testified that although we cannot immediately upend the processes leading to climate change, “the ocean is trying to tell us something” with the effects we have seen so far, and we can deal with its symptoms on a case by case basis. Kelso then stated the Conservancy’s support for spatial planning. The Coastal Conservation Association’s Matthew Paxton warned that the ocean policy being crafted would almost exclusively be the product of bureaucracy. He urged the panel to put additional oversight in place, hold additional hearings, and gain more regional input. Carolyn Elefant of the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition argued that although reports have shown that ocean based renewables could provide roughly ten percent of our nation’s energy needs, there was no prescription for their employment anywhere in the interim report. She argued that while spatial planning is a good process, implementation efforts should be careful not to stop existing activities. Elefant said that the permitting process for ocean renewables is too complicated, and that states and regional roles should be kept in focus.

Questions for the panel first considered NOAA’s role in ocean policy. Cantwell asked whether NOAA has a role to play in spatial planning, which each panel member agreed. Takashi-Kelso pointed out that it would have to be in coordination with local authorities though, to maintain the regional integrity of the program. Takashi-Kelso later pointed out that NOAA would need a mandate to be successful on this, lamenting the “string cheese of authorities” which would permeate a more de-centralized organization. Begich questioned Takashi-Kelso on a discussed moratorium on offshore oil and gas development, which Takashi-Kelso ensured him was more like a “time out” to properly study the individual ecosystems affected by drilling projects and to allow the spatial planning work to be done. Begich then asked if the U.S. should accompany that “time out” with an economic analysis of the measure, to which Takashi-Kelso responded it was more important to do a compartmental approach to instituting the planning process. The government should pick a few silo sites as test runs, and then expand in smaller areas progressively rather than trying to zone the entire ocean at once. Cantwell asked Paxton whether he thought the U.S. should proceed with ecosystem based management, which Paxon said that he supported but would like to see a “very concise explanation of what ecosystem based management is, before we say go do it.” Takeshi-Kelso retorted, “I don’t see how it happens without a mandate.” Frank closed the meeting by further stressing the role the tribes can play in environmental affairs, including their tacit knowledge of climate and its profound changes. Cantwell remarked, “I’ve always said, environmentalists make great ancestors.”

The testimony of the witnesses, statements of committee members, and a webcast of the hearing can be found here.

-JJF

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Hearing on “The Clean Water Act After 37 Years: Recommitting to the Protection of the Nation's Waters”
October 15, 2009

Witnesses:
Panel 1
Lisa Jackson
Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency

Panel 2
Judy Treml
Private Citizen, Luxemburg, Wisconsin
Dennis Kavanaugh
Representative, Sandy Hook Waterman’s Alliance
Dr. Patricia Butterfield, Ph.D., R.N.
American Nurses Association
Washington State Nurses Association

Panel 3
Anu K. Mittal
Director, Natural Resources and Environment Team, Government Accountability Office
Wade T. Najjum
Assistant Inspector General, Office of Inspector General, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
R. Steven Brown
Executive Director, Environmental Council of the States
Tom Porta
President, Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators
John Rumpler
Senior Attorney, Environment America
Jay P. Shimshack
Assistant Professor of Economics, Tulane University
Eric Schaeffer
Executive Director, Environmental Integrity Project

Committee Members Present:

James Oberstar Chair, (D-MN)

John Mica Ranking Member, (R-FL)

Nick Rahall (D-WV)

John Boozman (R-AR)

Steve Kagen (D-WI)

John Duncan (R-TN)

Laura Richardson (D-CA)

Mary Fallin (R-OK)

Harry Teague (D-MN)

Frank Lobiondo (R-NJ)

Mazie Hiromo (D-HI)

Don Young (R-AK)

Phil Hare (D-IL)

Shelley Capito (R-WV)

Gene Taylor (D-MS)

Vernon Ehlers (R-MI)

Grace Napolitano (D-CA)

Robert Latta (R-OH)

John Hall (D-NY)

 

Elijah Cummings (D-MD)

 
Michael Arcuri (D-NY)  

 

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing on October 15, 2009 in order to revisit the Clean Water Act, passed 37 years before. Entitled “The Clean Water Act after 37 Years: Recommitting to the Protection of the Nation's Waters,” the hearing began with Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) welcoming the witnesses and attendees. Oberstar explained this hearing was meant to evaluate the Act’s success and survey water issues today, rather than just observe the Act’s previous success as the hearing just two years ago did for the commemorative 35th anniversary event. There has been much progress made, according to Oberstar, however there is much to be done. He then yielded to a number of members present for opening statements. The Ranking Member John Mica (R-FL) then stated that he and his fellow Republicans also want to preserve our environment, but that they want to do so as efficiently and cost effectively as possible. Numerous Republicans seconded that point. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson then began her testimony, focusing mainly on the need for greater enforcement efforts on the part of the EPA and its delegates.

One of the greatest challenges in overall care for the nation’s water is that most states take responsibility for their own water, setting their own regulations beyond federal measures and enforcing as they see fit. Jackson declared that a significant issue is raised by some states enforcing environmental laws while others do not. Those states being lenient in enforcement are promoting an atmosphere in which business is prone to move in and be equally lenient in its environmental integrity, with the states enforcing the law losing out. These lax states are risking the health of their environment and their citizens in order to promote their economies, effectively rendering an unfair economic playing field throughout the nation. Jackson, in her time thus far with the EPA, has made it a point to concentrate her efforts on stepping up enforcement. She is working to see that agreements can be reached across states so that everyone is on the same page for enforcement issues. Through utilizing creative approaches to isolate the most severe infringements, and enhanced oversight of state enforcement and permitting programs, Jackson intends for EPA to “set the bar” and “hold states accountable.” In the realm of specific compliance issues, animal feeding facilities stood out as a group to more closely monitor. Furthermore, EPA will continue their efforts by working to employ 21st century technology, to more easily gather and publicize information. 

The first questions for Jackson regarded her focus on the program. Steve Kagen (D-WI) asked Jackson if there were any sustained efforts in prevention being leveled at the issue, beyond her emphasis on enforcement. Jackson made it clear that enforcement should help to prevent future transgressions, but that there were other components to aid in prevention. The point of the permitting program was to identify potential sources of pollution, so that the EPA knows where they are and can continue to check for compliance in the future.Another sequence of questioning, mainly from Republicans, considered how municipalities could fund large scale clean up efforts. John Duncan (R-TN) asked Jackson if there were any plans, for the creation of a new trust fund, like the aviation or highway trust funds, to help pay for the costs of large scale work. Jackson replied that the administration has no plans for any additional trust funds, but that there has been a significant increase in funds for such projects. Several other Republicans noted such concerns as well, and Jackson reassured them that the EPA was interested in working with them to solve such issues.

Laura Richardson (D-CA) pointed out that Jackson had failed to mention ocean pollution, and that it was still a significant issue. Jackson agreed, explaining that the oceans and coasts are the ultimate resting place for a large percentage of water pollution. She mentioned that the EPA has initiated several programs to target these issues, but that her re-invigorated enforcement efforts would be most helpful. Additionally, Republicans pointed out that some constituents worried that these enforcement issues would be dealt with by an unnecessarily “heavy hand,” and wondered if the EPA would work with such organizations to help them achieve compliance. Jackson noted that these laws have been established for some time and that most of the sources of pollution she is speaking of are from organizations that are repeat, almost habitual offenders. It depends upon the state, Jackson also noted, and explained that in states with strong enforcement records there should be no issue, but that the EPA was willing to work with anyone to reach compliance.

The remainder of the questions leveled at Jackson regarded the clarity of the law. Harry Teague (D-NM) declared that his constituents would very much like to comply with any regulations, but his constituents were unclear on the laws. He asked Jackson if she would be receptive to the idea of removing the word “navigable” from the Clean Water Act, pointing out how contentious this term was, and recommending instead a crystal clear set of specifications on what water was covered. Jackson agreed that clarity is a major issue and welcomed the chance to work with Teague and the chair to reach some standards in this regard. Frank Lobiondo (R-NJ) agreed with the clarity point, acknowledging that the EPA, the Coast Guard, and some thirty states will have individual regulations to meet.. Jackson agreed, planning an effort to get “all the players in a room to try to come up with…a set of rules of the road.” Oberstar then interjected, recommending that rather than trying to amend the Clean Water Act, perhaps a more practical method would be some sort of pact between the states and involved agencies. Jackson agreed, but noted that “it’s hard to put that genie back in the bottle.” Lobiondo agreed that it was a noble effort, but that “it would take a whole bag of pixie dust” to reach such an agreement. Nick Rahall (D-WV) then asked if “clarity and certainty” are the goals for enforcement moving forward, and Jackson agreed that is needed.

The final issue Jackson was questioned on had to do with the EPA’s stance on mountaintop mining. Shelley Capito (R-WV) pressed Jackson for information regarding a series of permits for West Virginia mines which have been held up now for months. Jackson explained that the process entailed the Army Corps of Engineers reviewing and granting permits, while the EPA looked on and determined permits for which it believed “enhanced review” was necessary. The permits in question were under this category, and once EPA had determined that, it was up to the Army Corps to begin a sixty day joint review of the merits of the application with EPA. The permits pending were waiting for the Army Corps to begin review, and were being held up because “valley fill” mining as prescribed in those permits is scientifically shown to increases water quality issues. Rahall frankly admitted to Jackson that many within his state are worried that the administration and the EPA are trying to stop coal mining altogether, asking her if she cared to comment. Jackson stated clearly that no such “hidden agenda” existed, and that there was nothing to worry about in that regard. She added that she believed “coal can be mined safely and cleanly,” and that it is EPA’s role to speak to those issues and those issues only.

The second panel began with Judy Treml of Luxemburg Wisconsin describing how her infant daughter was exposed to e-coli as a result of runoff from a nearby farm contained a large amount of waste, which eventually ended up in the surrounding wells. She pleaded with the committee and the EPA to do something about jurisdiction of ground water, so that such an issue can be avoided in the future. Phil Hare (D-IL) voiced his disgust with the situation, and told Treml that he would personally work with her to have those problems resolved. Jackson then explained during questioning that in scenarios like this, jurisdiction is complicated because of the specific details of the case. Next, Dennis Kavanaugh of the Sandy Hook Waterman’s Alliance discussed the regulations and limitations on a once proud fishing industry due to pollution coming from a series of publically owned sites which discharge into the waterways of Monmouth County, New Jersey. Patricia Butterfield, of the American Nurses Association and the Washington State Nurses Association, noted the research she and her colleagues have done in working with rural families to determine, educate about, and cope with poor water quality. She encouraged a greater connection between public health officials and environmental agencies, and brought attention to the special difficulty poor families have in dealing with polluted resources.

The final panel was kicked off by Anu K. Mittal, the Director of the Natural Resources and Environment Team for the Government Accountability Office (GAO). She summarized a series of reports her office has conducted on the EPA’s enforcement practices, highlighting some of the issues leading to the disparity in enforcement seen: differing philosophies of enforcement staff, limitations on resources, and incomplete and inaccurate enforcement data. Mittal acknowledged that the recommendations from the latest report, including collecting more data and developing improved performance measures, still stand. Wade T. Najjum, from the Office of the Inspector General of the EPA, testified that oversight of delegations to the states, as well as EPA’s organization and infrastructure prevent effective management and enforcement. R. Steven Brown, Director of the Environmental Council of the States, then testified on some of the issues facing state enforcement activities, including clarity of communication with the EPA, and state resource cuts.

Tom Porta of the Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators described the scope of the challenge to enforce water quality standards, and noted that considering the great difficulty of the task at hand, water quality professionals are doing a good job. John Rumpler of Environment America then countered with data demonstrating that the number of on-compliance incidents in the U.S. every year is still dramatic. Jay P. Shimshack, professor of economics at Tulane University, then demonstrated that substantial increases in enforcement effectiveness can be seen by a “modest additional investment” in traditional monitoring initiatives. Finally, Eric Schaeffer of the Environmental Integrity Project testified as a former Director of EPA’s Office of Civil Enforcement. He maintained that enforcement efforts need to be expanded, through EPA stepping up oversight of state enforcement programs, funding for such programs allowed by permit fees, closing of Clean Water Act loopholes and making high enough penalties so non-compliance is more expensive than compliance.

Questions for the last panel primarily concentrated on the issue of disparities between states programs before reiterating several issues previously discussed. Oberstar queried how the economic benefit to companies is calculated in assessing fines for their noncompliance. Mittal remarked that the GAO’s survey shows huge disparities between states’ calculation methods. Porta added that the EPA does have a program by which economic benefit can be calculated, but that it tends to produce exorbitant numbers for rather innocuous offenses, and that it would need to be recalibrated if it were to be used more seriously and widely. Additionally, it is difficult to asses the true economic benefit companies derive from noncompliance because so many cases are different, and the number of factors involved are complicated and data with which to calculate it is limited. Oberstar then asked Najjum to comment briefly on the issues he had mentioned regarding the organization of the EPA, which Najjum responded is a fairly complicated issue. Essentially, the structure by which EPA is organized is built on stovepipes of “media” rather than “function” as would be more efficient. The agency has been incapable of making the changes necessary to reorganize itself around “function”.

Oberstar then reviewed the policies that seemed to be take away points from the day, including: publication of enforcement action, data access, research funding, traditional monitoring, oversight of state programs and staffing, inconsistency in enforcement, and functional administrative problems within the agency.  Oberstar concluded that these issues committed the committee to “serious oversight of the EPA enforcement program,” including impressing upon the agency changes which can be made administratively, and taking legislative action where necessary.

A link to the witnesses’ testimony and a video cast of the hearing can be found here.

-JJF

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Hearing on “Opportunities and Challenges in the Creation of a Clean Water Trust Fund”
July 15, 2009

Witnesses
Panel I
The Honorable Earl Blumenauer
Oregon’s Third District, U.S. House of Representatives

Panel II
Ms. Anu Mittal
Director, Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. Government Accountability Office
Dr. Robert M. Summers
Deputy Secretary, Maryland Department of the Environment
Mr. Thomas Walsh
Engineer-Director/Treasurer, Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District, Testifying on behalf of the National Association for Clean Water Agencies
Ms. Dereth Glance
Executive Program Director, Citizens Campaign for the Environment
Ms. Kristine L. Young
President and Chief Executive Officer, Miller the Driller, Testifying on behalf of the Associated General Contractors of America
Mr. Bill Hillman
Chief Executive Officer, National Utility Contractors Association
Mr. Dale Jacobson, P.E.
Jacobson Satchell Consultants, Inc, Testifying on behalf of the American Society of Civil Engineers
Mr. Hamlet J. “Chips” Barry
Manager, Denver Water, Testifying on behalf of the American Water Works Association

Subcommittee Members Present
Eddie Bernice Johnson, Chairwoman (D-TX)
John Boozman, Ranking Member (R-AR)
Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA)
Phil Hare (D-IL)
Donna F. Edwards (D-MD)
Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI)
Steve Kagen (D-WI)
Tom Perriello (D-VA)
Solomon P. Ortiz (D-TX)
Robert E. Latta (R-OH)
Harry Teague (D-NM)
Tim Bishop (D-NY)
Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL)
Bill Shuster (R-PA)
Lynn A. Westmoreland (R-GA)
Gene Taylor (D-MS)

On July 15, 2009, the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing on “Opportunities and Challenges in the Creation of a Clean Water Trust Fund.” Acting Chair Grace Napolitano (D-CA) called for an “increase in infrastructure spending that will benefit the entire country.” Ranking Member John Boozman (R-AR) called for “adequate wastewater treatment” and stated the need to close the “funding gap between needs and investment.”

The first witness was Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) who is sponsoring the Water Protection and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (H.R. 3202). He testified that we are “at risk of losing all our progress from the last 40 years” in water infrastructure due to the increasing gap between needs and funding. He cited that 78 percent of funding to comply with the Clean Water Act (CWA) came from the federal government during the Carter Administration, now only 3 percent is contributed. He also said that not just one sector should pay for the new wastewater infrastructure saying, “We will not find a single source to finance this.” Blumenauer suggested that fees be assessed, such as 4 cents on water-based beverages, 3 percent on products designed to be disposed in wastewater (like toothpaste), and one-fifteenth percent on pharmaceuticals with profits over $4 million. He cited these as in line with the Reagan and Eisenhower policies that “user fees benefit everyone.” Blumenauer also cited the Fred Luntz survey conducted in January 2009 that showed 94 percent of the American public is concerned about the nation’s infrastructure, and 84 percent want the federal government to spend more on infrastructure.

Ms. Anu Mittal of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified that GAO’s study on wastewater infrastructure showed a Clean Water Trust Fund could generate $10 billion annually depending on which activities are chosen to fund it. She said the committee must decide how to administer the fund, which agency will run it, what type of financial assistance will be offered, and which activities will be eligible to be taxed. The options GAO suggests include excise taxes on beverages and flushable products, taxes on corporate income, taxes on water use, and taxes on industrial discharges. Mittal added that “each option poses implementation challenges” and some type of combination may be needed. She said that clear definitions of products to be taxed must be developed and wide stakeholder support must be gained, which is likely to be the “biggest challenge.”

Dr. Mark Summers from the Maryland Department of the Environment testified that he “strongly supports” the effort to “strengthen these funds” and that the “structure of the fee is critical to its success.” Summers told the committee the success of the Bay Restoration Fund in Maryland would have been “difficult without broad support” and also contributed the success to good public education, understanding of the source of the fee, and equitable distribution of the funds.

Mr. Thomas Walsh of the National Association for Clean Water Agencies testified about the importance of improving our wastewater infrastructure to protect water resources, public health, and the economy. He called a Clean Water Trust Fund “critical” and commended the GAO and Rep. Blumenauer for their efforts in establishing such a trust fund. He said there is “a need for more investment in the nation’s water infrastructure” because gains in water quality as a result of the CWA have “plateaued.” Walsh said that we need to “focus on a dedicated funding system” that will ensure infrastructure will be able to be improved without constraint from annual appropriations.

Ms. Dereth Glance of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment testified that the establishment of a “dedicated fund” for water infrastructure is “long overdue” and that “investing in clean water is often ignored until it’s too late.” She called H.R. 3202 “the solution” to the infrastructure problem and said, “Its economic benefits will be felt far and wide.” She supported funding more research and development so our infrastructure could be developed with “21st century science and engineering.”

Ms. Kristine Young of the Associated General Contractors of America testified that investing in infrastructure “enhances quality of life” and results in more jobs for Americans. She supports a Clean Water Trust Fund saying “it would get the job done” because it would be deficit neutral and not subject to annual appropriations.

Mr. Hamlet “Chips” Barry of the American Water Works Association testified that “aging infrastructure is an issue, but it’s not a crisis” and called for primary infrastructure to be dealt with at the local level. Barry said that the funding gap between needs and investment can “largely be closed” if they increase water rates by only 3 percent above inflation. He said the “federal government can help” with water infrastructure but he “doesn’t want to see the federal government take control” and the “history of trust funds shows it’s a false promise.” Barry added that he “is not in favor of a national water tax” because it unfairly punishes some local communities that are keeping their infrastructure up to date.

Mr. Bill Hillman from the National Utility Contractors Association testified that he supports “the concept” of a trust fund, adding that “failure to address this gap effectively puts a straightjacket on our economy.” He said that it is possible to create 27,000 jobs with an average salary of $50,000 for every $1 billion invested in the trust fund. Hillman added that we need to act because business as usual “hasn’t been working.”  He said we need a funding mechanism that can raise enough money for consistent funding of water infrastructure, with the federal government playing a role in the process.

Mr. Dale Jacobson testified on behalf of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) that they support the establishment of a Clean Water Trust Fund saying of H.R. 3202, “this legislation is vitally needed.” In ASCE’s report card on the state of U.S. infrastructure, they gave drinking water infrastructure a D-. He said they need this trust fund because it “would provide source funding for many years to come.”

Napolitano asked the witnesses if they could demonstrate more clearly where the funding gap exists and why it exists. Mittal responded that their GAO report showed “strong consensus” that there is a funding gap and the trust fund could help small communities that cannot meet their funding needs on their own. Glance responded that New York State is facing a $38 billion gap for drinking water and $36 billion gap for wastewater. She added that stimulus funding this year has helped them and there are many water projects that have been approved and are ready to go as soon as they have the funding. She also said they found that $80 billion in economic benefits can be gained from $26 billion in investment. Young responded that many small communities in the Midwest “regularly have problems” with their water infrastructure and they do not address the problems “until they have a catastrophe.”

Boozman asked the panelists about how the trust fund should be administered and for what purposes it should be administered. Both Walsh and Glance agreed that state revolving funds (SRF) have worked well in the past and could be used in the future. Walsh said the trust fund could be used for nutrient removal, management of sewer overflows, and better maintenance of the systems. Glance added that pollution prevention was important because costs of water treatment would be “cheaper in the long run.” Young said that public education on how water is treated and brought to them is important to gain support from the public. Boozman asked about how to gain support when people do not want to pay higher utility rates. Summers responded that Maryland’s experience has shown “when people understand what’s going on, they support it.”

Testimony from the chair and panelists can be found here, as well as a video archive of the entire hearing.

-SMP

House Science and Technology Committee Energy and Environment Subcommittee hearing on “Technology Research and Development Efforts Related to Energy and Water Linkage”
July 9, 2009

 

Witnesses
Dr. Kristina M. Johnson
Under Secretary, Department of Energy
Ms. Anu Mittal
Director of Natural Resources and Environment, Government Accountability Office
Dr. Bryan Hannegan
Vice President of Environment and Generation, Electric Power Research Institute
Mr. Terry Murphy
President of SolarReserve
Mr. Richard L. Stanley
Vice President of the Engineering Division, General Electric Energy

Committee Members Present
Brian Baird, Chairman (D-WA)
Bob Inglis, Ranking Member (R-SC)
Ben R. Lujan (D-NM)
Paul D. Tonko (D-NY)

On July 9, 2009, the House Science and Technology Committee Energy and Environment Subcommittee held a hearing to discuss the research and development (R&D) of technologies relating to the interdependence of energy production and water use. As climate change decreases available freshwater while population growth increases demand, ways to reduce the amount of water used during electricity generation are being developed. The hearing discussed the status of these technologies and their potential for implementation.

Dr. Kristina Johnson of the Department of Energy opened the hearing with testimony of the impacts of climate change on water supply and a discussion of the intimate relationship between energy and water. She explained that 90 percent of electricity generation is thermoelectric and requires a large amount of water to cool the system. However, 80 percent of these power plants are over 30 years old, and improvements could greatly decrease their water use. She also discussed efficiency of energy use, applauding the energy standards proposed by Energy Secretary Steven Chu for buildings and lighting. She succinctly summed up the issue under consideration, saying, “Climate affects water, water affects energy, and energy affects climate.” 

The other members of the witness panel concentrated on the available technology for increased water efficiency during energy production. Ms. Anu Mittal described the water used in biofuel and cooling technologies for electricity generation, information which will be released as two reports by the Government Accountability Office. She commented that R&D is needed in all steps of biofuel production: cultivation, conversion, distribution and storage. An example of problems with distribution is the corrosion of pipelines by ethanol and the possible contamination of groundwater. For cooling technologies, more efficient air cooling needs to be developed, and a lower cost solution for using brackish water instead of freshwater is required. Dr. Bryan Hannegan of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) also discussed air cooling and the need for cost reduction. He spoke of the problems associated with ocean water withdrawal and marine life, suggesting more research is needed for withdrawal techniques that do not disturb the ocean ecosystem. He also discussed the technology to reuse treated sewage water for cooling.

Mr. Terry Murphy of SolarReserve talked about their technology that stores heat from solar plants in molten salts in order to make solar energy more reliable. He then cautioned that dry cooling encounters problems on hot days because it is not yet efficient enough, and suggested that hybrid systems combining wet and dry cooling techniques could reduce water consumption by 80 percent. He also pointed out that power plants will not voluntarily switch to dry cooling without some kind of policy regulation. Lastly, Mr. Richard Stanley discussed the General Electric (GE) gas turbine and commended the House for including text from H.R. 3029 to establish R&D of gas turbines in section 175 of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454) that passed in a House vote in June.

To start off the questioning, Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA) inquired if the projected population growth was factored into calculations of future energy and water needs. Dr. Hannegan said that this only adds urgency to develop more water efficient technologies for energy generation, since drinking water and agriculture are given priority over water needed for energy. Johnson stressed that behavioral changes are imperative to reduce the amount of water wasted as population is projected to reach 9 billion by mid-century. She remarked that legislation to establish standards would help. Baird commented that the term “global warming” is too passive, and people would pay more attention if it were called “lethal overheating.”

Continuing with the global warming discussion, Hannegan added that combining water regulation with power plant hybridization of solar and other energy sources would aid in achieving a low carbon future. However, Mittal warned that it is a “3-D equation” and there may not be a way to keep carbon emissions down while using less water during energy production. Stanley was more optimistic, and mentioned that the U.S. reuses only 6 percent of water during energy production. Other countries reuse more, so he believes the U.S should accelerate its efforts for reusing water and that gains can be made in water efficiency and conservation.

Baird also asked about the water that carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) would require. Hannegan stated that the process to treat carbon dioxide for pipeline transport would need more power and more heat, implying higher water use. He said mitigation of the rising energy and water demands is a challenge, but possible, citing an EPRI $40 million solution to reuse water through evaporation. Baird said he would look into this plan because it is much cheaper than FutureGen, a proposed $1.5 billion near-zero emissions coal power plant that would capture carbon as well as producing hydrogen and other byproducts for other uses. He also commented that he believes too much stake is put into CCS as a deployable solution within the next 20 years.

Congressman Ben Lujan (D-NM) emphasized the importance of innovation, asking Johnson if there are useful collaborations between academia and the private sector right now. Johnson replied that the best and the brightest from universities and industry are brought together and encouraged to maintain their collaborative relationships. Lujan then asked about energy efficiency within the power plants, to which Murphy responded that coal power plants produce more energy than needed at night because they do not change  production levels based on consumption rates. Stanley added that power plants are designed to produce power at peak demand rates, and become less efficient during “part load periods.” Turbine efficiency also depends on how hot or cold the day is. Hannegan cautioned that the challenge will be getting the utilities to switch to more efficient technologies, because they only consider the lowest costs and not the big picture.

Ranking Member Bob Inglis (R-SC) asked if there is technology or research focused on the combination of nuclear power plants and desalination of water. Stanley responded that nuclear and gas turbine plants use their heat to evaporate and recover water in closed circuit systems to limit the amount of water lost. Inglis queried about the large quantities of water that have to be used for cooling, and Hannegan responded that the amount of water withdrawn to keep temperatures down can be reduced by cooling ponds. These ponds let water equilibrate with the outside temperature before it is returned to its source, limiting the thermal shock on the ecosystem.

Inglis asked if GE was in favor of the cap and trade bill, commenting that currently there is no accountability, so companies will continue to “belch and burn” instead of buying GE energy efficient products. He emphasized the need “to attach a price to carbon.” Stanley replied that new technologies are coming, whether it is gas, wind, or solar, and the carbon legislation will help reduce the costs of these technologies.

Paul Tonko (D-NY), who introduced the original bill that would establish more R&D of the gas turbine, inquired if ripple effects would come from funding GE. Stanley replied that this would lead to improvements for land based turbines and aerospace technology. He also discussed the development of heat transfer technology, where a carbon composite would allow turbines to operate at higher temperatures where they are more efficient. Tonko asked if funding would be “a down payment” for the future, and Stanley agreed that developing this technology allows the U.S to remain at the forefront of gas turbine technology, leading to increased energy efficiency and more jobs.    

Links to the testimonies from the witnesses and a video archive of the hearing can be found here.

-RHP

House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans, and Wildlife Hearing on “H.R. 21: Ocean Conservation, Education, and National Strategy for the 21st Century Act”
June 18, 2009

 

Witnesses
Panel I
The Honorable Sam Farr
Member of Congress (D-CA)
Ms. Monica Medina
Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, United States Department of Commerce
Ms. Kristen M. Fletcher
Executive Director, Coastal States Organization

Panel II
Ms. Margaret R. Caldwell
Executive Director, Center for Ocean Solutions
Mr. Pietro Parravano
President, Institute for Fisheries Resources and Commissioner, Joint Ocean Commission Initiative
Mr. Christopher G. Mann
Senior Officer, Pew Environment Group, The Pew Charitable Trusts
Dr. James P. Ray
President, Oceanic Environmental Solutions, LLC
Mr. James A. Donofrio
Executive Director, Recreational Fishing Alliance

Committee Members Present
Madeleine Z. Bordallo, Chair (D-GU)
Henry E. Brown, Jr., Ranking Member (R-SC)
Doc Hastings* (R-WA)
Don Young (R-AK)
Gregorio Sablan (I-MP)
Donna M. Christensen (D-VI)

*Ranking Member of full House Committee on Natural Resources

On June 18, 2009, the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans, and Wildlife of the House Committee on Natural Resources held a hearing on H.R. 21, Ocean Conservation, Education, and National Strategy for the 21st Century Act. Chairwoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU) said H.R. 21 is “an important step forward” towards protecting our oceans, saying “it is time for us to formally recognize the importance of the ocean to this nation’s economic, environmental, and social well-being.”

Representative Sam Farr (D-CA), a sponsor of the bill, testified that H.R. 21 would not create a new federal agency or take power away from existing agencies, but instead “create a framework that would help the existing agencies work together in the way that they manage our shared ocean resources.” The bill establishes a National Ocean Policy (NOP), an organic act for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), promotes the implementation of NOP at the regional level, and creates an Ocean and Great Lakes Conservation Trust Fund as a permanent source of funding for this act. Farr testified that “our health and survival as a species are inextricably linked to the health and productivity of the oceans.” He added this bill “establishes both the top down policy andthe bottom up regional structure by organizing features of our pre-existing ocean bureaucracy into a more streamlined and effective program.”

Don Young (R-AK) stated after Farr’s testimony that this is “bad legislation,” and even if it is passed in the House he will do everything he can “to kill it in the Senate.”

Ms. Monica Media testified that NOAA “strongly supports the intent of H.R. 21,” and even broad principles in the bill like “management of ocean resources through ecosystem-based approaches.” She cited that the recent establishment of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force by President Obama as demonstration of the need for a comprehensive national ocean policy. She added that “we believe NOAA would be strengthened by an organic act to combine and synthesize the comprehensive set of authorities for the agency, which now reside in over two hundred separate statutes,” thus allowing them to “focus on its core missions.” NOAA also supports regional partnerships to manage oceans because they are “most effective in identifying and communicating needs at the regional, state and local levels.”

Ms. Kristen Fletcher of the Coastal States Organization testified that “ocean governance reform is critical.” She highlighted that right now U.S. coasts and oceans are managed on a sector-by-sector basis “that is primarily reactive rather than proactive.” She stated that H.R. 21 “will allow both federal and state partners to be better positioned to respond to the numerous emerging uses of our public trust resources.” She added that “an important part of this national policy is a legislative provision that directs improvement of coordination of the federal agencies,” because currently the uses of our ocean are regulated separately.

Ms. Margaret Caldwell of the Center for Ocean Solutions testified that the ocean’s “natural and physical resources are our economic endowment,” citing that four out of five jobs in the U.S. are in coastal states and almost half of U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is produced in coastal counties. She called for a new framework for our oceans to be protected by, saying “we need a new blueprint for our ocean’s governance.” She pointed to other countries like Canada, Norway, and Australia who have recognized the importance of establishing a national ocean policy and she asserted that the U.S. should do the same to signal the importance of our oceans to the international community. Caldwell recommended that we “adopt a unified approach to the management of one of its most critical resources and establish a national ocean policy without delay.”

Mr. Pietro Parravano, from the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, testified that “H.R. 21 would vastly improve how we as a nation care for and manage our oceans and the essential resources they provide for the nation.” He added that currently there are over 140 laws governing the oceans, and this bill would “provide a unifying voice and address growing threats including overfishing, pollution, and climate change.” Parravano called for Title IV of the bill to be modified to include “an Ocean Trust or Investment Fund in the U.S. Treasury” from revenue generated from activities like offshore oil and gas development and other emerging offshore energy technology. He concluded that the potential benefits from H.R. 21 “are enormous and are essential to revitalizing the economic and ecological health of our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes.”

Mr. Christopher Mann of The Pew Charitable Trusts testified to the degradation of our oceans through misuse of marine resources saying, “There is no better example of the Tragedy of the Commons than our oceans.” He stated “the essential package,” which H.R. 21 also contains, contains the establishment of a national policy, provisions for implementation at the federal and regional levels, and a permanently established federal trust fund.

Dr. James Ray of Oceanic Environmental Solutions, LLC testified that “the approach laid out in H.R. 21 is “fatally flawed” given his experience in dealing with competing uses of ocean resources, citing “establishing a national ocean policy in law is fraught with potential unintended consequences.” Ray was also concerned that the bill “increases ocean’s bureaucracy” and could potentially hurt the economy by regulating off-shore activities that could help in meeting the nation’s energy needs. He recommended that our national ocean policy be coordinated with our national energy policy, and the Department of the Interior should be involved in marine spatial planning, which should not be used as a way to “zone off important uses of our natural resources.” He supported the recommendation of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy to establish someone in the Office of the President to manage interagency coordination related to ocean policies.

Mr. James Donofrio, from the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), testified that RFA has “substantial objections” to some parts of H.R. 21, particularly “the additional layer of bureaucracy” the bill will add. He added that the bill is vague in how it will apply to fisheries management. However, RFA does support the purpose of the bill that “managing our nation’s marine resources is for the benefit of the public.” RFA also supports the concept of ecosystem based management, as long as activities like recreational fishing are protected. However, he said, “One must respect the limitations of our current science and not force ecosystem based management simply to advance a political goal.”

The hearing was cut short due to all-day voting on the House floor, but members will be submitting questions to the panelists in writing.

Testimony from the chair and panelists can be found here.

-SMP

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife hearing “EPA’s Role in Promoting Water Use Efficiency”
March 31, 2009

 

Witnesses
Panel 1
Michael Shapiro, Acting Assistant Administrator, Office of Water, Environmental Protection Agency

Panel 2
Martha Davis, Executive Manager for Policy Development, Inland Empire Utility Agency
Mary Ann Dickinson, Executive Director, Alliance for Water Efficiency
Dr. Mark Shannon, Director of the Center of Advanced Materials for the Purification of Water with Systems, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana
Dr. G. Tracy Mehan III, Principal, The Cadmus Group, Inc.

Committee Members Present
Ben Cardin, Chairman (D-MD)
Mike Crapo, Ranking Member (R-ID)
Tom Udall (D-NM)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

The Water and Wildlife Subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee conducted a hearing on March 31, 2009 to receive testimony on how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can promote and improve water efficiency. At the hearing, the subcommittee gained insight on how the EPA can achieve this goal through research and development (R&D), technology, education, and public outreach. This was the first hearing on water efficiency for the subcommittee in the 111th Congress.

In his opening comments, Chairman Ben Cardin (D-MD) painted a somewhat bleak picture of the current state of water supply, infrastructure, and water use trends. “Water seems to be so abundant that we often forget how precious it is and what a limited resource we have,” stated Cardin, reflecting how many Americans view the resource. Cardin stated that since 1950 the U.S. population has increased 90 percent, but per capita use of water has increased 209 percent. He also shared that according to a 2003 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, 36 states will have water shortage issues by 2013. Cardin also stated that the current centralized system of fresh water and waste water transport is inefficient and ineffective, and noted that the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) graded the water infrastructure in the U.S. with a lowly “D-.” Despite these facts and trends, Cardin expressed optimism in the “huge potential” the nation has to become more water and energy efficient, and noted several states were already ahead of federal efforts to improve the status of their water resources.

Mr. Michael Shapiro was the lone witness providing testimony in the first panel. His testimony discussed WaterSense, a partnership created by the EPA in 2006 with businesses, consumers, and governments to help improve water efficiency. WaterSense established a product labeling system that identify products that use at least 20 percent less water and perform as well or better than conventional models. Shapiro also noted that improved water efficiency not only reduces the demand of an already limited supply of water, but can reduce energy consumption needed to obtain drinking water and treat waste water. Currently, electricity for these purposes amounts to over 4 percent of the nation’s total use.

In the second panel, Ms. Martha Davis provided testimony on the progress being made in water and energy efficiency by the Inland Empire Utility Agency in southern California’s San Bernardino County. Davis provided her advice on integrated water management strategies that include using green technology to mitigate climate change and save significant amounts of water. Ms. Mary Ann Dickinson of the Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE) shared testimony regarding the current effectiveness of WaterSense and how increased funding could make the EPA program more effective and far-reaching. Dr. Mark Shannon shared with the subcommittee the need to “grow” the U.S. water supply, noting that based on current rates of water use the supply will need to increase by 62 percent in the year 2040. Shannon shared an optimistic outlook on the state of water issues as described by Cardin, indicating that “there are many opportunities, and we are far from reaching the natural law of limits” in terms of actual water supply. His optimism stemmed from what he sees occurring around the world in technology development and management approaches. Unfortunately the U.S. is not improving in either water technology or management like other nations. Dr. G. Tracy Mehan III gave testimony on the economics of water, suggesting that the EPA considers the price of water when developing future efficiency strategies, noting that the current price structure for the cost of water nationally is significantly below where it should be for infrastructure improvement.

Cardin questioned Shapiro on how Congress could assist the EPA with the WaterSense program. Shapiro indicated legislation could be helpful in promoting water efficient products nationwide, but that is a delicate issue because of the implications of product endorsement. Cardin also expressed concern as to the enforcement of WaterSense standards, citing problems with certain products being misrepresented as meeting energy standards under WaterSense’s cousin program, Energy Star. Shapiro indicated that there cannot be 100 percent certainty at all times, but that products are rigorously tested directly off the manufacturing assembly line.

Shapiro also suggested that congressional action could be crucial in modifying water management in areas such as urban water planning and storm water drainage systems. Shapiro indicated that traditionally there has been a reluctance among major water utilities to implement green measures in water planning, but the 20 percent of the EPA’s allocation from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) designated for improving public infrastructure is a good start in replacing aging infrastructure and outdated technology. Shapiro also indicated that a separate research branch within the EPA would be a great asset in developing water efficiency methods and technologies, a branch the EPA currently does not have.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) quizzed the panel on their thoughts regarding bottled water, a consumer product he identified was representative of the waste that occurs within the water-energy nexus. Whitehouse stated, “Many people will walk by a tap that, at the flick of a wrist, will produce better quality water than the water that’s been sitting in the plastic bottle for however long, or at least as good” and questioned the panel, “How is it that we attract Americans back to the tap?” Davis indicated that the beverage industry has developed a market of convenience, and that people do not realize the excessive cost of water in terms of energy and materials needed for one-time use containers. Dickinson indicated from a study earlier in her career that consumers do not trust tap water based on taste. She recommended that improvements be made in tap water taste and in the visibility and appearance of public drinking fountains for consumers to regain trust in this water source.

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) asked the panel about the costs of water desalinization and its potential for addressing water supply issues nationwide, noting that arid western states that have exhausted their traditional supplies are beginning to implement the technology on water from deep brine aquifers. Shannon shared that ongoing research in desalinization is occurring worldwide, including development of a solar-powered desalinization plant in Saudi Arabia. Shannon said that costs should come down 2 to 4 fold over the next few years, and will continue to drop even more as energy efficiency improves in desalinization infrastructure. Mehan indicated that the prices continue to drop, and that desalinization research projects are “definitely a bright spot on the horizon.”

Cardin asked Shannon how the U.S. government compares to other countries and the private sector in terms of water efficiency. Shannon provided numerous examples of efforts in other countries, including Switzerland, where future water supplies are threatened by retreating glaciers and smaller annual snow packs in recent decades. Shannon indicated that U.S. investments in technology and research are quite modest compared to other countries, not just in per capita expenditure, but in absolute dollars. Cardin noted that the subcommittee has recognized not only the potential water and energy resources saved by developing new strategies, but that if no action is taken economic opportunities will be missed as well.    

Links to witness testimonies and a video archive of the hearing can be found here.

-CPC

 

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
Hearing Entitled “To Receive Testimony on Pending Water Resources Legislation”

March 10, 2009

Witnesses

Mr. Carl Bauer, Director of the National Energy Technology Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy
Mr. Stephen Bolze, President and Chief Executive Office, General Electric Water and Power
Dr. Michael Webber, Associate Director, Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy, the University of Texas at Austin
Dr. Peter Gleick, President, Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security
Dr. Lon House, Energy Advisor to the Association of California Water Agencies

Committee Members Present

Jeff Bingaman, Chairman (D-NM)
Lisa Murkowski, Ranking Member (R-AK)
Mark Udall (D-CO)
Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
Bob Corker (R-TN)
John Barrasso (R-WY)
Robert Bennett (R-UT)
Sam Brownback (R-KS)

In the March 10, 2009 hearing “To receive testimony on pending water resources legislation,” the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee received testimony from five expert witnesses on the symbiotic relationship of water and energy in support of the drafted Bingaman-Murkowski Energy and Water Integration Act (S. 531).

In his opening remarks, Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) addressed the panel on the interdependency of water and energy and noted that issues involving management of these resources “are likely to intensify” in the coming years. Bingaman briefly described how energy consumption affects the supply of water, and the scarcity of water affects the cost of energy. He indicated the water-energy nexus is beginning to influence permitting decisions for new energy facilities across the nation.

Bingaman’s initial comments were further supported by commentary in individual testimonies by the witness panel. Mr. Carl Bauer emphasized the “inextricable” connection of water and energy, and stated most Americans do not realize they use more water by turning on lights and appliances in their houses then they do through washing clothes and lawn watering on a daily basis. Bauer further explained the potential impacts carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies installed at fossil fuel power plants would have on water resources. Bauer shared with the panel that analyses performed by the National Energy Technology Laboratory indicated that with current CCS technology, power plants would need to consumer twice the amount of water currently used for operations, a condition that could substantially raise electricity prices for consumers.  Mr. Stephen Bolze presented the committee a brief overview of how General Electric (GE) is working on the water-energy nexus to reduce withdrawals and consumption in energy production. He shared with the committee several sectors GE is involved with, including development of clean-coal technology that consumes 30 percent less water than conventional coal plants, developing new methods of oil and natural gas extraction that use less water, and working with industry throughout the world to expand methods of water reuse. The remaining three panelists each shared with the committee more statistics and trends in the water-energy interrelationship and provided several suggestions regarding improved management of this relationship in their testimony.

The committee brought the topic of water reuse to the forefront during the open question portion of the hearing. The witness panel first explained the difference between water consumption and water withdrawal to clarify some misunderstanding among a few of the Senators. Bingaman questioned the status of water reuse in power generation and industry in the U.S. Bolze informed the panel that nationwide, around 6 percent of water for these purposes is reused. Comparatively, Israel currently reuses 70 percent of their water devoted to energy and industry, Singapore reuses 15 percent, and Australia reuses eight percent with plans set to increase to 30 percent. Bolze told the committee that the simple answer as to why the U.S. reuses so little water is economics. At the present time, it is cheaper to withdraw water from surface sources or aquifers than it is to reuse the same water in industrial or energy producing activities. He suggested tax credits as a way to spur holistic reuse. Dr. Peter Gleick also indicated how economics plays a role in developing new water sources, such as the energy intensive process of ocean water desalinization. Gleick told the subcommittee that the only way desalinization will become a more reliable source of fresh water is when the process becomes more cost effective. He indicated that based on a National Academy of Sciences study the energy required for water desalinization was decreasing as the technology evolved, but rising energy costs in recent years, partly attributed to greater scarcity of fresh water, has again forced the cost of desalinization to levels prohibitive for large-scale development.

Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) questioned the panel as to where federal engagement is needed for improving management of the water-energy nexus stating, “Water is the next oil in terms of the fight and the competition [of resources], and I truly believe we’re going that way.” Dr. Michael Webber suggested more involvement from the Department of Energy (DOE), and an expanded role of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in obtaining water data across the nation. The USGS is the primary agency for collecting water information, but Webber pointed out that their current resources are too limited and measurements are too infrequent for developing a comprehensive nationwide database of water resources. Gleick offered further support for a national census of water uses and resources, stating that “the USGS is the perfect place” for conducting a census. Although many water issues are local in nature, Gleick emphasized the need for federal involvement, noting that state and watershed boundaries are rarely identical and federal oversight can provide more comprehensive cross-boundary watershed analyses than individual states are likely to do.

Murkowski also asked the panel about water rights issues and the role they play in management of the water-energy nexus. She cited a recent article in the Denver Post on a water rights case Shell Oil, Inc. is facing for development of oil shale in western Colorado. She indicated a lack of involvement by the federal government and asked if in lieu of federal government involvement, water courts in western states are starting to consider “the big energy picture.” Gleick responded to Murkowski’s question stating, “It’s a key question, the whole question of water rights, especially in the western U.S. is central to a lot of the debates we’ve been having for 100 years about water, and now energy policy.” He cited an example of how long-term drought has forced Australia to restructure its water rights system, a move that is “something some of us might wish we could do in the U.S. but aren’t holding our breath for.”      

Also raising questions from the committee is the emerging water issue facing an energy industry trying to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). Currently, CCS technologies double the amount of water needed to generate electricity at conventional fossil fuel plants. “I’m a skeptic. It’s sort of like when donkeys fly we’ll be doing it on a commercial basis,” stated Bob Corker (R-TN) about the CCS process. He asked the panel for their thoughts about impacts CCS might have on water resources. Webber indicated that CCS could have impacts on groundwater quality if not properly stored in aquifers and stated, “It’s an important, complicated system. You start to see the energy-water-carbon tradeoff. We have to be very thoughtful about this.” Dr. Lon House shared with the committee that water agencies in California are investing more into renewable energies to offset their carbon footprints caused by the energy needed to transfer water throughout the state. Gleick added that he was unaware of any comprehensive research that has been done on CCS impacts to water resources, and that the question further supports the need for a national water census. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) asked the panel what could be done to improve the efficiency and potential for widespread use of CCS. Mr. Bauer replied that the question is location dependent- the appropriate amount of water needs to be available for CCS to occur, and, the right types of geologic formations are essential for the proper disposal of the liquefied carbon dioxide.

Murkowski questioned the panel on the role water plays in national security issues, as noted by her comparison of water to oil. Gleick informed the committee that there is a strong connection and long history of the role water plays in conflict and stated, “I actually think we’re more likely to see more conflicts over water issues than oil in the long run.” He did indicate however that there are solutions to reducing the potential for conflicts over water. Webber addressed the committee with a glass-half-full outlook, stating, “Water scarcity can be a source of war, or water availability can be a source of peace. We can use our technology and our prowess as a nation to improve our foreign policy in offering clean water and clean energy to different parts of the world.”

Links to witness testimonies and a video archive of the hearing can be found here.

-CPC

House Committee on Science and Technology
Hearing on “21st Century Water Planning: The Importance of a Coordinated Federal Approach”

March 4, 2009

Witnesses

Dr. Peter Gleick, President, Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security
Mr. Mark Modzelewski, Co-founder, Water Innovations Alliance
Dr. Henry Vaux, Jr., Professor Emeritus, University of California at Berkeley
Ms. Nancy Stoner, Co-Director, Water Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council
Ms. Christine Furstross, General Manager of Technology, General Electric (GE) Water and Process Technologies

Committee Members Present

Bart Gordon, Chairman (D-TN)
Ralph Hall, Ranking Member (R-TX)
Brian Baird (D-WA)
Bob Inglis (R-SC)
Lincoln Davis (D-TN)
Ben Lujan (D-NM)
Donna Edwards (D-MD)
Adrian Smith (R-NE)
Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ)
Marcia Fudge (D-OH)
Paul Tonko (D-NY)
Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA)
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
Suzanne Kosmas (R-FL)

On March 4, 2009, the House Science and Technology Committee conducted a hearing titled, “21st Century Water Planning: the Importance of a Coordinated Federal Approach.” In this hearing, five expert witnesses provided testimony focused on the status of our nation’s ability to assess and manage water resources and the challenges of meeting the water quality and supply needs in the coming decades. The most prevalent theme from the witness testimony was the urgency for streamlining efforts at the national level in areas of water supply and quality management, incorporating new water-treatment and monitoring technologies in the U.S. and abroad, and bolstering water science research.

Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) began the hearing by sharing predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for continued drought in many areas of the country already experiencing abnormally dry conditions over the past several years. He stated that “constraints on the water supplies are taking a toll on society, our economy, and the environment. Water is too valuable a resource for us to manage in a crisis-by-crisis fashion.” Gordon then explained the committee’s efforts in addressing water resources assessment and management issues, most notably with the drafting of the bill titled, “To Implement a National Water Research and Development Initiative, and for Other Purposes” (H.R. 1145). The bill was re-introduced in February after an initial proposal was introduced in the 110th Congress. The bill is based on recommendations from a 2004 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report and witnesses’ testimony during the 110th Congress. The bill would ensure that the 20 federal agencies that conduct and fund water resources research and development activities coordinate efforts through an interagency committee. This committee would be responsible creating a National Water Research and Assessment Plan that would oversee cooperative efforts among federal agencies to avoid duplication of efforts and ensure optimal uses of resources and expertise. In addition, the bill calls for facilitating technology transfer and enhancing communication with state and local governments, non-governmental organizations, and industry. 

Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) commended the chairman on continuing the work that began under the previous administration. He noted that water is a resource critical to all parts of the country by stating, “There is not one district I am aware of that has not had to deal with water problems in the last few years, whether it’s because there is too much of it or not enough of it.”

Dr. Henry Vaux, who chaired the NAS studies leading to H.R. 1145, first provided witness testimony to the committee. Vaux candidly shared with the committee his opinion on the uphill challenges our nation faces with water resources. “The federal water research portfolio suffers from a variety of ills, [and] how we adapt to water scarcity will depend on the willingness to invest in science.” Vaux also laid out his recommendations for how H.R. 1145 could be improved, noting that increased funding, modernization of how water resources research is conducted, and more involvement by academic institutions would improve the bill’s effectiveness towards improving the nation’s management of water.   

Dr. Peter Gleick further added to the urgency of the issue by stating, “The water crisis around the country is growing.” Gleick stated that many of the water problems across the country are local in scale, but the federal government has a responsibility to develop a national policy as well. He pointed out that the current arrangement of over 20 federal agencies involved in some capacity in the water resources arena makes progress on urgent issues more difficult without effective coordination. He indicated that some agencies “don’t speak well to each other, and they don’t speak often to each other.” He also recommended that H.R. 1145 should include an inventory of water use in the bill’s proposed water census, as well as greater emphasis on research of climate change’s influence on water resources.

Mr. Mark Modzelewski offered his thoughts on areas he felt needed to be addressed to better manage water. He recommended creating a nationwide water assessment census, incorporating “smart-grid” information technology applied to tracking water use, creating more National Science Foundation water centers, and creating national testing facilities to more easily bridge the gap for innovative technologies to get from the research laboratories to the market place. In regards to managing water efficiency, Modzelewski pointed out that nearly 60% of Chicago’s water consumption is lost before it even reaches the tap, and that information technology could greatly reduce these losses.

Ms. Nancy Stoner shared her thoughts on the pending water crisis. She implored that the U.S. “can’t continue to use the same strategies” to undertake the issues facing the nation in the 21st century. She indicated the beneficial economic potential of investing in research and development, noting that implementation of innovative water technologies into the global market could be worth billions, if not trillions of dollars. She also urged the committee to continue support of research on climate change impacts on water resources, and promoting advanced water treatment technologies that are more energy efficient.

In her opening statements, Ms. Christine Furstross explained that if the nation is to truly change how it thinks about water and water resource management, it is going to take a “community,” a community of federal agencies and laboratories, academia, private institutes, and industry. She then explained the direction her company (General Electric) is taking in the areas of water reuse, water conservation and water purification.

Following opening statements, the committee members pressed the witness panel with numerous questions pertaining to their testimony. Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) both asked the panel about the relationship between water resources and national security. Giffords pointed out that it is often suggested that the next wars will be over water, and asked the panel how a uniform federal plan would work in a nation with diverse water issues and resources. Gleick responded, “Some things need to be done at the federal level, some things need to be done at the local level [and] we can’t have 50 different policies for 50 different states.” He then suggested that regional modifications in a federal management plan would likely be necessary. Edwards asked if U.S. technology is being transferred worldwide to areas where it is needed the most. Gleick expressed his support for a re-evaluation of how foreign aid is applied to developing countries, and stated that a million $1000 projects would probably be more effective in helping people worldwide than millions of dollars applied to one or two concentrated areas.

The issue of the price of water was questioned by both Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Adrian Smith (R-NE). Fudge asked the panel if any research has been or should be conducted on the actual price of water. Vaux responded by noting that water has historically been underpriced, but it is going to go up substantially in the future due to degrading water quality and finite supplies. He did indicate however that research and development of emerging technologies may reduce the rate of increasing costs. Smith asked the panel if scarcity should be added to the price of water, and Vaux responded that it would be an important step in better management of the resource.

Although the testimony presented in the hearing painted a relatively bleak outlook of the current state of water resources management efforts nationwide, the panel indicated that unlike the energy crisis where beneficial technologies are still potentially decades away, technologies that could greatly improve the current status of our nation’s waters and meet the goals set forth in H.R. 1145 already exist today.    

-CPC

 

Sources: Hearing testimony.

Contributed by GAP Staff; Clint Carney, AGI/AAPG Spring 2009 Intern; Stephanie Praus, AGI/AIPG Summer 2009 Intern; Rachel Potter, AGI/AIPG Summer 2009 Intern; Joey Fiore, AGI/AIPG Summer 2009 Intern; Mollie Pettit, AGI/AAPG Fall 2009 Intern; Maureen Moses, AGI/AAPG Spring 2010 Intern; Elizabeth Huss, AGI/AIPG Summer 2010 Intern.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated August 4, 2010