The freshmen have been initiated, the committees settled and the staffs filled. Now comes the law making. Here’s the first batch of water-related bills in the 113th Congress:
- Harry Reid (D-Nevada) reintroduced the farm bill that the Senate passed in June 2012. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), the Senate Agriculture Committee chair, said that she would hold a mark up session as soon as possible, to update the bill. Stabenow’s staff told Circle of Blue that those updates are “unclear at this point” and depend on which amendments committee members propose. The Senate bill includes $US 23 billion in spending cuts.
- Reid also introduced two bills that amount to a mission statement for the Democrat-controlled Senate – the Rebuild America Act and the Extreme Weather Prevention and Resilience Act. The former encourages federal investment in the nation’s water, sewer, and flood-protection infrastructure. The latter declares the federal government should take a host of actions to protect communities against floods, droughts, rising seas, and wildfires: coordination with state and local officials, infrastructure investment, as well as promoting clean energy technology and energy efficiency to reduce carbon emissions.
- Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) introduced a bill to improve security at high-risk chemical plants and water treatment facilities.
- Rep. Tom McClintock (R-California) proposes several changes to the Clean Water Act, applicable only to publicly owned water treatment plants. His bill would extend the term of discharge permits from five years to 15 years and limit the types of citizen lawsuits that can be brought against such facilities.
- Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Michigan) proposes that 32,557 acres of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in northwestern Michigan be designated as wilderness.
Climate Change in Congress
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California) announced a bicameral task force on climate change, open to all members of Congress.
“The polluters deny the ability of the United States to lead,” Whitehouse said, speaking Thursday from the Senate floor. “Well, they are wrong. They are wrong. They are very wrong. With our vast economy, with our ingenuity, and with the trust the rest of the world has put on our experiment in democracy, we can lead. We can lead the world toward a cleaner future.”
Republican climate hardliners in Congress will not be easily swayed. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) compared such leadership to an economic fool’s errand:
“It is not that we are going to provide the leadership, and all of a sudden China is going to say, ‘Hey, they are doing it, so maybe we ought to do it,” Inhofe said. “China, instead, is sitting back hoping that will happen in this country, so they can have all the jobs that are chased away from our manufacturing base.”
Wild and Scenic Rivers
The National Park Service has released draft environmental reviews for how it plans to manage the Merced and Tuolumne rivers, both of which flow through California’s Yosemite National Park and have Wild and Scenic River designations.
And Now for Something Completely Different
The Pacific Southwest Region of the U.S. Forest Service used lyrics from Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-changin’” to announce that it is starting the first phase of a new forest planning rule that went into effect last year and will guide forest management for the next ten to 15 years. Such levity is rare in the Federal Register.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton