Archive for the ‘Budget’ Category

More Efficiency Standards, and Transportation Finance

Photo by Andrew Curtis. Some rights reserved.

Earlier this week, the Obama administration announced its fuel efficiency standards for cars in an effort to curb U.S. dependency on oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In a related measure, on Thursday President Obama issued an executive order to spur energy efficiency upgrades at manufacturing facilities across the country. Energy efficiency policy, put on the back burner for years, has hardly moved forward despite support from members of both political parties. Some of that support comes from DOE studies indicating that doubling the nation’s industrial efficiency could create 1 million skilled jobs and bring in $234 million of investment.

The directive aims to boost combined heat and power capacity to 40 gigawatts by 2020, an increase of 50 percent compared with today. Agencies will craft best practices and help states encourage combined heat and power implementation. The administration said that reaching the goals outlined in the order would reduce energy costs by $10 billion annually in addition to attracting $40 to $80 billion in private investment.

Combining heat and power facilities to produce both simultaneously on-site is more efficient than having separate facilities. By burning less fuel, the combined heat and power technology reduces greenhouse gas emissions and lowers energy costs. By having a fuel source on-site, manufacturing facilities are protected from electricity outages.

Also in the news are the fiscal policy repercussions of the new vehicle mileage standards announced earlier, because the requirements will make less fuel tax money available for road construction and maintenance. The highway trust fund, which pays for a large portion of road projects, will take a $71 billion hit due to the requirements. Already included in the current transportation bill, set to expire in 2014, are tax loopholes and fee increases to cover a $10 billion shortfall in gas tax revenue. Expect to hear more about financing transportation projects as the gas tax brings in less revenue in the future.

 

 

 

 

2012 Transportation Bill “Worst Ever”?

Photo by Ben Brooksbank. Some rights reserved.

A press release from the House Sustainable Energy & Environment Coalition (SEEC) back in February of 2012 urged House Leadership to stop consideration of H.R. 7 (which authorizes funding for federal surface transportation), claiming that the bill would “kill jobs, undermine safety, eliminate important funding for public transit and other transportation options, and destroy environmental protections.”

The SEEC’s press release went on to point out that this “worst transportation bill ever” is the first in recent history to be developed without bipartisan support, and could face delays due to “apparent lack of Republican support.”

Now, however, the SEEC is complaining because the Republicans found a way to support it: through a series of amendments that the SEEC calls “anti-environmental.”

According to The Hill’s Transportation Report, the SEEC sent a letter to transportation bill negotiators in late May, calling for the exclusion of three House environmental provisions from a final version of the bill. Transportation Issues Daily summarized the three provisions:

  • a mandate forcing the approval of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline
  • a revision in requirements for transportation projects to comply with National Environmental Protection Act
  • blocking EPA authority over coal waste (aka “coal ash” provision)

Now it’s up to the conference committee that is considering the bill to make a final decision. The Hill suggests that it may not meet its deadline for reaching a compromise.

Government Shutdown Versus The Environment

An article published in Law360 by law firm Faegre & Benson used as an example the recent government shutdown in Minnesota to demonstrate the potentially unforeseen impacts of such a shutdown on the environment and environmental regulation.

Photo by Phil Roeder. Some rights reserved.

The most tangible interruption seemed to be the permitting and review process usually undertaken by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. An estimated 240 construction stormwater permits would have been reviewed during the 20-day shutdown had everything been running normally.

And what would such a shutdown look like at the federal level, for the EPA?

While the budget itself almost crippled the EPA – riders that would have prevented the EPA from regulating GHG emissions were cut from the final agreement at the last minute – the narrowly missed shutdown could have had widespread effects on businesses, parks, and more.

A piece in the Huffington Post recalls the last government shutdown, in which 600+ sites halted toxic waste cleanup work, 300+ National Park Service sites were closed, and 12 national marine sanctuaries were shut down. Not to mention the approximately 18,000 employees at the EPA that were furloughed for the duration of the shutdown.

Of course, this is all according to plan. The Antideficiency Act (31 USC 1341, 1342) authorizes agencies to incur obligations in advance of appropriations only in certain “excepted” situations. For instance, agency functions that addresses emergency circumstances, such that the suspension of the function would imminently threaten the safety of human life or the protection of property, may continue to perform during a shutdown. Examples of excepted activities at the EPA include certain Superfund response site work and emergency response readiness operations.

The week of April 4th, when a government shutdown seemed well within the realm of possibility, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson sent an email to EPA employees, urging them to plan for an “orderly shutdown.” A few days later, the EPA released a Contingency Plan for Shutdown, which got down to the nitty gritty of who was to do what, when, and how, in the event of an actual shutdown.

We scraped by un-shutdown this time, but given the recent economic volatility, I suppose I should at least feel relieved that there’s a plan in place in the face of chaos. Let’s just hope we never have to use it.

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