Eye On Washington | September 2022

Dan Sealy, NEC Legislative Analyst

The US Senate passed a sweeping  version of the “Water Resources Development Act of 2022”  S. 4137  lead by Senator Capito (R-WV). That bill which passed with a vote of 91 – 1, encompasses water infrastructure, flooding, drought, sea-level and coastal erosion. The bill includes over 454 million to five counties in California. The Senate bill will need to go through a committee to work out differences with the House version, H.R. 7776, but with overwhelming bipartisan support, the bill is likely to pass in some form by the end of this congressional session. Though there were no specific mentions of any of the rivers in Northern California, we will be looking at the details as they emerge. The bill also includes language and funds to help retore the Lake Tahoe Basin and set up a “Good Neighbor” pilot program for “authorized restoration services’’ on forest, rangeland, and watersheds carried out on Federal lands. The current version of this biennial bill does not include any specifics for dams California. There is, however, a concern that more controversial elements demanded by the other West Virginia senator, Manchin (D-WV.) Sen. Manchin has already received support from President Biden, Senator Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi to increase energy production by completing his troubled Mountain Valley Pipeline and implementing federal permitting reform. That permitting reform for power plants and other energy infrastructure such as power lines, was not allowed in what Congress considers a “reconciliation bill” thus requiring a second bill. Sen. Manchin has been clear he expects that companion bill to be passed as well proving there are few if any “perfect” legislative deals.

Grazing on Federal Lands

Decades ago, permitting livestock grazing on federal lands, including wilderness, was seen as necessary and positive to get federal lands bills passed and provide food for people. But the destruction of our public lands by grazing coupled with the extremely low rates for those grazing permits and exploiters of the public lands like the Bundy’s, have led some groups to tackle legislations to slowly offer changes to the system in a few paces. The Sierra Club has long decried the grazing on public lands that amount to what John Muir called their sheep livestock counterparts, “hoofed locusts.” Indiscriminately grazing on meadows of wildflowers and native grasses. Senate Bill, S. 2980,  sponsored by Senator Heinrich (D-NM)  would allow a grazing permit “donation” on some Federal lands in New Mexico. Some Senators such as Barrasso (R-WY) are pushing back, saying:  “Passing this bill would open the door to retiring grazing permits in other Western states.”  Heinrich reminded legislators grazing “permittees in New Mexico have asked me for voluntary grazing permit retirement.”

The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022: Imperfect Progress 

President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law, a bill that uses a title to address currents concerns about inflation, to promote some positive actions to address climate change. The bill reflects the US House H.R. 5376, along party lines, to match the recently passed Senate version. Congress used the “reconciliation” process which requires a simple majority but resulted in some progressive legislators questioning the bill’s impact. 

The “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022” includes $369 billion in Energy Security and Climate Change programs. There are no new taxes, but the bill’s title is derived by its goal to reduce inflation by assuring a 15% minimum tax rate for large corporations. 

Some takeaways: The bill has the potential to reduce emissions by 40% by 2030.  “This legislation will be the greatest pro-climate legislation that Congress has ever passed,” said Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY.) 

The bill attempts reduce methane by placing $700 million in a “Methane Emissions Reduction Program” at conventional gas wells coupled with increasing fees for big polluters. The bill will address cows’ methane gas emissions by adjusting feed and diet.  

Environmental justice emerged as a major winner in the bill with $60 billion allocated for environmental justice, including $3 billion for block grants to impacted communities and funds for new clean school busses, garbage trucks and U.S. Postal Service vehicles.

The bill provides for a rebate program that awards grants to state energy offices and tribes which then award the rebates to low- and moderate-income homeowners that retrofit their homes for energy efficiency while also giving incentives to states and local governments to adopt and implement energy efficient building codes. 

The bill includes $1.8 billion for “hazardous fuels” reduction in the “wildland-urban” interface, $200 million for forest-thinning in watersheds and probably most controversial, adds $100 million to “streamline” National Environmental Policy Act review process to make it more “effective and efficient.” Although occasionally promoted by both conservationists and the timber interests depending on project goals, streamlining typically means fast tracking which inevitably means less opportunity for public review and comment. 

The bill would provide $50 million as startup for a new inventory of old growth and mature forests.

In recognition of recurring drought conditions, especially in the southwest, the bill would fund emergency drought relief on tribal land with $12.5 billion to provide, through direct financial assistance or cost-share and matching to address current and eminent drinking water shortages for tribes. 

The package increases funding for endangered species recovery plans, conservation and habitat restoration and staffing on some federal lands. 

You can read more details here:  H.R.5376 – 117th Congress (2021-2022): Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 | Congress.gov | Library of Congress

Choose Your Poison 

Oil and gas cut-offs resulting from Russia’s Aggression on Ukraine along with international inflation pushed the global community to backtrack on progress to reduce fossil fuel and nuclear power production. Examples include Gov. Newsom’s support for keeping Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant online beyond the agreed-upon deadline and the Department of Energy’s  (DOE) announcement to use much its $2 billion to build a sodium-cooled test reactor in Idaho to speed research on fuels and other components for new advanced nuclear plants  that DOE hopes will switch dirty climate changing fossil fuels for dirty radioactive waste which still have no permanent safe storage plans.