House passes military bill, headed to showdown with Senate over alt fuels

Source: Annie Snider and Phil Taylor, E&E reporters • Posted: Monday, June 17, 2013

The House today voted 315-108 in favor of a $638.4 billion 2014 defense policy bill that would repeal a 2007 ban on the government purchase of carbon-intensive fuels and restrict the military’s biofuels program

The vote puts the chamber on a collision course with the Senate, where the Armed Services Committee this week narrowly voted down similar measures, and with the Obama administration (E&E Daily, June 15). In issuing a veto threat against the bill earlier this week, the White House called out the energy provisions, along with others related to detainees, missile defense and budget levels.

“A diverse approach to energy security — one that includes both conventional and new sources — will provide an enduring benefit for our economy and military capabilities,” the administration wrote in its statement of administration policy.

At issue are three provisions penned by Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) that were added as amendments during the House Armed Services Committee’s markup last week.

The first would prevent the military from purchasing alternative fuels for anything other than research until they reach cost parity with conventional fuels or until the Budget Control Act and sequestration are repealed. The second would block the military’s portion of a $510 million interagency effort to spark the commercial-scale production of cost-competitive, drop-in biofuels. The third would repeal a provision of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act that bans the federal government from purchasing alternative fuels that have a higher life-cycle greenhouse gas footprint than traditional fuels (Greenwire, June 6).

Since the 2007 ban was first instituted, House Republicans have been trying to overturn it, especially as applied to the Defense Department, the federal government’s largest energy consumer. Numerous previous attempts to repeal the ban have been stripped out of bills in conference, as happened with last year’s defense policy bill.

The biofuels provisions appeared last year during the defense authorization process with Republicans in both the House and the Senate irked by the Navy’s high-profile push toward biofuels at a time when the department is facing hefty budget cuts. The House defense authorization last year included a provision targeting the military’s biofuels program, and the Senate bill emerged from committee with two of its own.

 

Supporters of the program mounted an aggressive floor campaign, though, and ultimately stripped the provisions from the bill. The final legislation last year included only language blocking further military investment in the biorefineries program until the Department of Energy matches its share of the cost (E&E Daily, Dec. 19, 2012).

Bill would designate new Manhattan Project national park

On a voice vote today, lawmakers adopted an amendment that would establish a new national historical park commemorating the Manhattan Project, which produced the atomic bomb during World War II.

The measure by House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) would establish a park at three sites considered critical to the bomb’s development: Oak Ridge, Tenn.; Los Alamos, N.M.; and Hanford, Wash. The Hanford site produced plutonium for the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, leading to Japan’s surrender five days later.

Development of the atomic bomb is considered one of the most formative events in modern history, spawning the decades-long Cold War. Hastings has said the park would help tell the story of “an unprecedented, and many thought impossible, industrial and scientific achievement.”

If approved, the new national historical park would become the 402nd unit of the National Park System.

The proposal nearly passed the House last year under suspension of the rules but failed to garner the necessary two-thirds of votes amid opposition from some Democrats to commemorating a weapon that killed 200,000 people (E&E Daily, Sept. 21, 2012).

But the bill carries strong bipartisan support in both chambers and was backed in April by the National Park Service and communities that would host the park (E&ENews PM, April 12).

Hastings’ H.R. 1208 was co-sponsored by Reps. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.). The Senate version, S. 507, is backed by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) with co-sponsors Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.).

Cantwell’s bill passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in mid-May, with five Republicans voting against the measure.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that both bills would cost up to $21 million over the next five years. A Park Service study estimated the agency would spend $2.45 million to $4 million annually to operate and maintain the three sites.

The National Parks Conservation Association today cheered the bill’s passage, noting that only a small percentage of national park units are dedicated to interpreting science and technology.

“The complex story of the Manhattan Project and the resulting impacts of atomic power and nuclear technology are an ideal topic for the National Park Service to interpret and to facilitate thoughtful discussion,” said Ron Tipton, NPCA’s senior vice president for policy.

Environmental provisions

The House’s defense authorization would also reauthorize the law governing environmental management practices on U.S. military bases

The Defense Department manages about 30 million acres of land in the United States — much of it prime habitat for endangered and threatened species. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 300 federally listed species live on DOD-managed lands.

In addition to being subject to the same environmental laws as all federal agencies, including the Endangered Species Act, DOD is also subject to the Sikes Act, which requires installations to develop and implement integrated natural resource management plans in cooperation with FWS and state fish and wildlife agencies.

The House bill would reauthorize the Sikes Act and extend a DOD program that aims to reduce restrictions on training by finding and restoring habitat off base. The program develops cost-sharing partnerships among the military services, private conservation groups, and state and local governments (E&E Daily, March 22).

Also included in the final bill is an amendment from Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) that would carve out “military readiness” zones where the military would not face penalties for unintentionally harming sea otters. The amendment, approved by a voice vote, does not include language passed last year by the House that would have exempted fishermen who accidentally harm the animals in the course of their work (E&E Daily, April 20, 2012).

Conservation groups that staunchly opposed last year’s otter amendment say they fear even this language could open the door for changes aimed at fishing interest

“We oppose the amendment because we feel that the Endangered Species Act provides an existing mechanism for the Navy to obtain authorization for any activities that might affect sea otters,” said Jim Curland, advocacy program director for the California-based group Friends of the Sea Otter.

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