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Hurricane Sandy relief bill passes Senate. Provides important aid but House R’s efforts to strip out $ for planning to rebuild survive.

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Tonight the Hurricane Sandy emergency funding bill from the House of Representatives H.R.152 : Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, 2013, was taken up in the Senate with limited debate – quite limited. The bill passed the Senate with 62 votes, a bipartisan rare success in DC, with nine Republicans joining 53 Democrats.

NASA image of Hurricane Sandy

NASA satellite image of Hurricane Sandy which resulted in massive damage to coastal communities

The $50.5 billion aid package to help the region recover is now on its way to President Obama’s desk, but like much legislation that is drafted in DC, it isn’t perfect. Unlike some errors that appear in legislation which are the result of late night drafting under tight deadlines or simple inability to predict a changing set of future circumstances which result in unintended consequences, some problems with legislation are quite intentional, and the bill that passed today contains a very intentional problem.

Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas’s 14th district (Waco, College Park and nearby areas) has been adamant about defunding anything that comes through the House with connections to a wide-reaching set of plans to make government more efficient and improve the planning in our coastal and ocean waters. Those plans, crafted over a number of years by multiple bi-partisan commissions, were combined and announced during President Obama’s first year in office through an Executive Order which established the nation’s first National Ocean Policy.

Rep. Flores’ efforts to object to the President’s plans have thus far aimed at removing the funding for efforts to have more sensible planning occur in the U.S. coastal zone and ocean waters, and he’s been fairly successful in getting provisions added to House spending bills.  In the 112th Congress efforts to oppose the National Ocean Policy in the House were successful, but those successes met a quick end when Senate bills which lack such provisions run into the differing House language in Conference Committee. Ultimately the House language drops out…or it did in the 112th Congress.

To expedite the relief for victims of the Hurricane Sandy disaster Senate leadership fought to bring the House bill up for consideration with the minimum amendments possible. In fact only one Republican – Senator Mike Lee of Utah – had an amendment which was considered. That amendment proposed to fully offset the relief aid costs with cuts to discretionary funding, an amendment popular with Tea Party groups, but which fell well below the necessary 60 votes and failed 35-62.  That meant the Senate was voting on the House version of the bill as-is, including the provision from Rep. Flores to cut $150M in grant support for Regional Planning Bodies.

image of flooded taxis

Flooding resulted in economic losses and also damage to transportation infrastructure communities depend upon. Will we plan better for the next flooding event?

On the surface for those not immersed in governance issues for a living, the Flores amendment looks reasonable as it saves money by eliminating funds for NOAA pass-through funds which look to some to be unrelated to the disaster recovery. But to the informed the cuts which save $150M endanger the effectiveness of the $50.5B in federal dollars slated to flow to the region. The Regional Planning Bodies are structured with a membership that includes federal agencies, states and tribes, with input from a range of groups representing the private sector.  It is precisely that sort of broad membership which would be well positioned to discuss not simply how to rebuild what was lost, but how to make it better and most importantly in the context of disaster response, how to make what is rebuilt more resilient.

Whether Rep. Flores’ efforts are simply naive penny wise pound foolish, or whether they are a calculated effort to frustrate President Obama’s efforts to govern at every available turn is unclear. But what is clear is that $50.5B is a major federal investment, and we can only hope the federal agencies, states, tribes and localities can find ways not prohibited by the legislation to collaborate and rebuild in a coordinated way that is mindful of our changing climatic conditions. We need policies and practices that mitigate a changing climate with a systematic approach to adaptation, not a piecemeal approach that leaves some communities much better planned while others are left unnecessarily in harm’s way. The $150M that was cut from the $50.5B package made just such a well crafted response a bit harder.

The author of this blog is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy, government relations and strategic communications firm in Washington, DC.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert and on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/willnuckols/

House Republicans broadly support amendment to block President’s efforts to make federal ocean agencies more efficient

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On Wednesday afternoon on the floor of the House of Representatives Representative Bill Flores, (R-TX), introduced an amendment to H.R. 5326 the FY2013 appropriations bill for those agencies in Commerce, Justice, Science budget block. The Amendment would block the expenditure of any funds provided by the Commerce Justice Science (CJS) appropriations bill for FY2013 to be used for the implementation of the “National Ocean Policy,” thereby blocking the coordination of the multitude of laws passed by Congress in a more efficient manner.

While the vote in the House of Representatives occurred largely along party lines, it is a mistake to characterize the issue as one which Democrats understand more clearly than Republicans. A handful of Republicans, including the House Natural Resources Committee chair Rep. Doc Hastings from Washington, are seemingly perpetually confused about the meaning of the National Ocean Policy, the Executive Order which created it and the policies that it espouses.

Flores Amendment to block funding for National Ocean Policy presented on the House floor 10May2012

However, this lack of understanding has not been consistent in the Republican Party. In the prior Administration President Bush (43) called for a Presidential Commission to examine America’s policies regarding our oceans and coasts, and that group’s report, dovetailed remarkably well with the Pew Ocean Commission, Chaired by Leon Panetta, which released its own report shortly before President Bush’s Commission released its findings. None of the findings in either Commission’s reports support a call from current Republicans in the House to further frustrate coordination and collaboration among the dozens of federal agencies involved in implementing the laws passed by Congress which impact our oceans and coasts.

The Flores amendment passed on a 246-174 vote, largely along party lines. A detailed listing of the vote is listed below.

The text of the amendment language is:

“At the end of the bill (before the short title), insert the following:

    Sec. __. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to implement the National Ocean Policy developed under Executive Order 13547 (75 Fed. Reg. 43023, relating to the stewardship of oceans, coasts, and the Great Lakes).”

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy, government relations and strategic communications firm in Washington, DC.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert and on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/willnuckols/

FINAL VOTE RESULTS FOR ROLL CALL 234(Republicans in roman; Democrats in italic; Independents underlined)

—- AYES    246 —

Adams
Aderholt
Akin
Alexander
Altmire
Amash
Amodei
Austria
Barletta
Barrow
Bartlett
Barton (TX)
Benishek
Berg
Bilbray
Bilirakis
Bishop (NY)
Black
Blackburn
Bonner
Bono Mack
Boren
Boustany
Brady (TX)
Brooks
Broun (GA)
Buchanan
Bucshon
Buerkle
Burgess
Burton (IN)
Calvert
Camp
Campbell
Canseco
Cantor
Capito
Carter
Cassidy
Chabot
Chaffetz
Coble
Coffman (CO)
Cole
Conaway
Cravaack
Crawford
Crenshaw
Critz
Cuellar
Culberson
Davis (KY)
Denham
Dent
DesJarlais
Diaz-Balart
Dreier
Duffy
Duncan (SC)
Duncan (TN)
Ellmers
Emerson
Farenthold
Fincher
Flake
Fleischmann
Fleming
Flores
Forbes
Fortenberry
Foxx
Franks (AZ)
Frelinghuysen
Gallegly
Gardner
Garrett
Gerlach
Gibbs
Gibson
Gingrey (GA)
Gohmert
Goodlatte
Gosar
Gowdy
Granger
Graves (GA)
Graves (MO)
Green, Al
Green, Gene
Griffin (AR)
Griffith (VA)
Grimm
Guinta
Guthrie
Hall
Hanna
Harper
Harris
Hartzler
Hastings (WA)
Heck
Hensarling
Herger
Herrera Beutler
Hochul
Holden
Huelskamp
Huizenga (MI)
Hultgren
Hunter
Hurt
Issa
Jenkins
Johnson (IL)
Johnson (OH)
Johnson, Sam
Jordan
Kelly
King (IA)
King (NY)
Kingston
Kinzinger (IL)
Kissell
Kline
Labrador
Lamborn
Lance
Landry
Lankford
Latham
Latta
Lewis (CA)
LoBiondo
Long
Lucas
Luetkemeyer
Lummis
Lungren, Daniel E.
Mack
Manzullo
Marchant
Marino
Matheson
McCarthy (CA)
McCaul
McClintock
McCotter
McHenry
McKeon
McKinley
McMorris Rodgers
Meehan
Mica
Miller (FL)
Miller (MI)
Miller, Gary
Mulvaney
Murphy (PA)
Myrick
Neugebauer
Noem
Nugent
Nunes
Nunnelee
Olson
Owens
Palazzo
Paul
Paulsen
Pearce
Pence
Peterson
Petri
Pitts
Platts
Poe (TX)
Pompeo
Posey
Price (GA)
Quayle
Rahall
Reed
Rehberg
Reichert
Renacci
Ribble
Rigell
Rivera
Roby
Roe (TN)
Rogers (AL)
Rogers (KY)
Rogers (MI)
Rohrabacher
Rokita
Rooney
Ros-Lehtinen
Roskam
Ross (AR)
Ross (FL)
Royce
Runyan
Ryan (WI)
Scalise
Schilling
Schock
Schweikert
Scott (SC)
Scott, Austin
Sensenbrenner
Sessions
Shimkus
Shuler
Shuster
Simpson
Smith (NE)
Smith (NJ)
Smith (TX)
Southerland
Stivers
Stutzman
Sullivan
Terry
Thompson (PA)
Thornberry
Tiberi
Tipton
Turner (NY)
Turner (OH)
Upton
Walberg
Walden
Walsh (IL)
Webster
West
Westmoreland
Whitfield
Wilson (SC)
Wittman
Wolf
Womack
Woodall
Yoder
Young (AK)
Young (FL)
Young (IN)

—- NOES    174 —

Ackerman
Andrews
Baca
Baldwin
Bass (CA)
Bass (NH)
Becerra
Berkley
Berman
Biggert
Bishop (GA)
Blumenauer
Bonamici
Boswell
Brady (PA)
Braley (IA)
Brown (FL)
Butterfield
Capps
Capuano
Cardoza
Carnahan
Carney
Carson (IN)
Castor (FL)
Chandler
Chu
Cicilline
Clarke (MI)
Clarke (NY)
Clay
Cleaver
Clyburn
Cohen
Connolly (VA)
Conyers
Cooper
Costa
Costello
Courtney
Crowley
Cummings
Davis (CA)
Davis (IL)
DeFazio
DeGette
DeLauro
Deutch
Dicks
Dingell
Doggett
Dold
Doyle
Edwards
Ellison
Engel
Eshoo
Farr
Fattah
Fitzpatrick
Frank (MA)
Fudge
Garamendi
Gonzalez
Grijalva
Gutierrez
Hahn
Hanabusa
Hastings (FL)
Hayworth
Heinrich
Higgins
Himes
Hinchey
Hinojosa
Hirono
Holt
Honda
Hoyer
Israel
Jackson (IL)
Jackson Lee (TX)
Johnson (GA)
Johnson, E. B.
Jones
Kaptur
Keating
Kildee
Kind
Langevin
Larsen (WA)
Larson (CT)
LaTourette
Lee (CA)
Levin
Lewis (GA)
Lipinski
Loebsack
Lofgren, Zoe
Lowey
Luján
Lynch
Maloney
Markey
Matsui
McCarthy (NY)
McCollum
McDermott
McGovern
McIntyre
McNerney
Meeks
Michaud
Miller (NC)
Miller, George
Moore
Moran
Murphy (CT)
Nadler
Neal
Olver
Pallone
Pascrell
Pastor (AZ)
Pelosi
Perlmutter
Peters
Pingree (ME)
Polis
Price (NC)
Quigley
Rangel
Reyes
Richardson
Richmond
Rothman (NJ)
Roybal-Allard
Ruppersberger
Rush
Ryan (OH)
Sánchez, Linda T.
Sanchez, Loretta
Sarbanes
Schakowsky
Schiff
Schrader
Schwartz
Scott (VA)
Scott, David
Serrano
Sewell
Sherman
Sires
Smith (WA)
Speier
Stark
Stearns
Sutton
Thompson (CA)
Thompson (MS)
Tierney
Tonko
Towns
Tsongas
Van Hollen
Velázquez
Visclosky
Walz (MN)
Wasserman Schultz
Waters
Watt
Waxman
Woolsey
Yarmuth

—- NOT VOTING    11 —

Bachmann
Bachus
Bishop (UT)
Donnelly (IN)
Filner
Kucinich
Napolitano
Schmidt
Slaughter
Welch
Wilson (FL)

Administration blocks Oil Spill Report lead investigators from testifying before Congress

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House Resources Chairman Doc Hastings request for a “Prompt Hearing on BOEMRE/Coast Guard Spill Report” is foiled by Administration delays. 

In an odd game of who gets to talk to whom, the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee’s attempts to have, in the words of the Committee’s press release a “Prompt Hearing on BOEMRE/Coast Guard Spill Report” on the oil spill at the Macondo well and the loss of the Transocean drill platform which resulted in the spill of millions of gallons of oil and the loss of 11 lives, has been foiled – or at least delayed a bit.

photo of the drilling platform Deepwater Horizon

The loss of Transocean's Deepwater Horizon drilling platform and the wellhead blowout spilled millions of gallons into the Gulf of Mexico and took the lives of 11 workers on the platform. A joint U.S. Coast Guard and DOI report has been released detailing the government's findings on the causes of the disaster. Now Congress has expressed interest in quickly speaking with the lead investigators in a hearing in the House, but disagreements between the Committee and the Administration over who can speak about the report is resulting in delays in the hearing schedule. Originally scheduled for this morning, the hearing has been moved to October 6, 2011.

On September 14th the Natural Resource Committee released a statement that “On Friday, September 23rd, the Natural Resources Committee will hold a Full Committee oversight hearing on the final report of the BOEMRE/U.S. Coast Guard Joint Investigation Team.”

It then went on to add that:

“After repeated delays, the federal government is finally releasing the findings of its investigation into the tragic Deepwater Horizon incident,” Chairman Hastings said. “This is another significant report on the disaster and I’m hopeful it will give us a clearer picture about what happened so Congress, industry and the Administration can move forward responsibly and appropriately. We have waited far too long for this report, but the Committee is ready to take action and a hearing is now officially scheduled for next week. I’m confident that with a far more complete reporting of the facts, we will be able to take a thoughtful approach to real reforms to ensure continued safe American energy production.”

However, in order to get down to a back and forth dialogue about the facts and findings in the report there needs to be witnesses to testify to the facts and answer questions from members of both parties.  That part isn’t going very well at the moment.

In a press release on September 23rd House Natural Resource Committee Chairman Doc Hastings announced that “tomorrow’s Full Committee oversight hearing on the final report of the BOEMRE/U.S. Coast Guard Joint Investigation Team (JIT) will be postponed until October 6, 2011 due to the Obama Administration’s last-minute refusal to allow investigation team members to testify.”

“It took far too long for the final report to be issued and the Obama Administration is now further delaying proper oversight by suddenly refusing to allow members of the investigation team to testify. Based on numerous conversations between Committee staff and the Administration, it was confirmed that investigators from the BOEM and Coast Guard team would be testifying at Friday’s hearing. We were informed today, one day prior to the hearing, that this had changed. It’s unacceptable for the Committee not to be able to hear from the actual investigators who conducted the investigation and wrote the report.

“It’s always been my intention to first hear from the investigators about their findings, in order to get all the facts, and then hear from the specific companies that are cited in the report. The companies have been notified of this fact. The Administration’s actions are complicating and compromising the Committee’s ability to move forward on this matter.

One presumed rationale for asking the report’s lead investigators and authors to directly testify, rather that having senior Administration officials from DOI and the USCG testify – a common practice in DC where leadership typically responds to Congressional inquiries, not the career rank an file – if because Chairman Hastings is believed to be interested in asking not only substantive questions about the report itself, but to also ask questions about the reasons for the multiple delays in the production of the report. While that question has not yet been posed to any investigators from the joint report, some on the Hill are assuming that the delays are the result of DC agency leadership fighting with the report’s authors about language which would appear in the final report. At this stage there seems to be little evidence of a heavy hand by the agency leaderships or by the White House, but proving or dispelling that theory is being made difficult by the Administration’s refusal to allow the investigation team members to testify.

The current employment status of one of the lead investigators is surely a concern for the Administration – the Department Interior’s lead investigator, David Dykes, a former Minerals Management Service employee who worked for over a decade for MMS, has left government employment and now holds a new job.

On September 14th Time Magazine Senior Reporter Brian Walsh Tweeted “BOEMRE’s lead investigator on BP spill, J. David Dykes, left the agency earlier this month. New job: Chevron”

While this is obviously awkward for the Administration, it is unclear why efforts would be made to block the U.S. Coast Guard’s lead investigator as his failure to appear before the Natural Resources Committee only invites theories about the Administration’s motives, and gives fuel to the fire of those positioning to paint the report as something other than an accurate description of the investigators’ findings.

The Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team Final Report can be found through the following links:

Chapters of the final JIT Investigative Report:

The Natural Resources Committee hearing, now scheduled for October 6, 2011, will occur in room 1324 of the Longworth House Office Building.  For those not in Washington DC and unable to attend in person the Committee will stream the video live on the internet.  Check out http://naturalresources.house.gov/ URL for the link to the live webcast on October 6, 2011.

photo of the The blowout preventer of the Deepwater Horizon on a barge

The blowout preventer of the Deepwater Horizon is transported on the Mississippi River into New Orleans, Sept. 11, 2010. The blowout preventer was DOI BOEM/US Coast Guard investigation determine the circumstances surrounding the explosion, fire, pollution, and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon platform. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Stephen Lehmann.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert

 

 

2010 Census and Congress: As people move to the south and the coast, influence will be changing

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The 2010 Census numbers are out, and today the Department of Commerce released the data showing the impact on reapportionment in Congress for the next Congressional race.  Given my interests in all things ocean oriented, it is only natural for me to examine the implications on coastal states – and when I say “coastal” I am focusing on the salty coasts.

Generally speaking, people are moving south and they are moving to the coasts. Texas has a huge jump, gaining 4 seats, and Florida is the next biggest winner gaining two.  In all, if you leave aside our coast to the north that we share with Canada (Great Lakes), the coastal states are poised to gain 4 seats on the whole. Whether this means more political influence will get directed to coastal issues, or whether it simply means more people on the coast will result in even more stress on our coastal ecosystems, or some of both, remains to be seen.

But gains in seats aside, looking at the map one becomes hard pressed to understand why coastal issues struggle to be a major part of Congress’s portfolio given the representation in the House.  Texas, Florida and California combined will have 126 seats between just those three coastal states. What we need to do is make “coastal issues” increasingly relevant to the voting public and the elected officials if the ocean portfolio of issues is to move forward.

map of 2010 Cencus apportionment impats on Congress
There’s winners and losers, and trends to be sure.  And one of the policy implications of reapportionment will be on how coastal and ocean issues fare in future Congressional cycles.
For those of you who don’t recall how many seats each state had for the last decade and therefore can’t easily see how many seats were added or lost, here’s a quick breakdown:

States gaining seats in the House of Representatives
ARIZONA +1
FLORIDA +2
GEORGIA +1
NEVADA +1
SOUTH CAROLINA +1
TEXAS +4
UTAH +1
WASHINGTON +1

States losing seats in the House of Representatives
ILLINOIS -1
IOWA -1
LOUISIANA -1
MASSACHUSETTS -1
MICHIGAN -1
MISSOURI -1
NEW JERSEY -1
NEW YORK -2
OHIO -2
PENNSYLVANIA -1

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.  
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com
 

 

Written by Will Nuckols

December 21, 2010 at 2:15 pm