Congress Departs for Recess

Members of Congress have departed from Washington D.C. for a seven-week recess. Congress will return following Labor Day in early September.

Recent Activity of Interest to CWSF Members

Senate Approves Vote to Begin Energy Conference

Following a period of uncertainty on whether the Senate would vote to enter into formal energy conference negotiations, Senate leadership and leaders of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources came to agreement on a process to move forward. Quickly following, the Senate voted 84-3 to begin conferencing and negotiating the differences on the competing House and Senate energy bills. The bill - S. 2012, the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 - passed the Senate in April of this year. Western Senate conferees named to the energy conference include Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), John Barrasso (R-WY), Jim Risch (R-ID), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

In May of this year, the House named 24 Republican and 16 Democrat conferees after passing a revised House energy bill 241-178. The revised version of the energy bill includes the Resilient Federal Forests Act (H.R. 2647) and the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (H.R. 2406). The revised bill has been controversial as some of the added proposals have previously garnered veto threats from the White House. Western House energy conferees include Don Young (R-AK), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Jeff Denham (R-CA), Lois Capps (D-CA), Mike Pompeo (R-KS), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Cresent Hardy (R-NV), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Rob Bishop (R-UT), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY).

Over the recess congressional staffers of energy conferees may begin negotiations to reconcile the differences between the two bills. Other items of interest that may be considered as part of the negotiations include the reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and language relating to the carbon neutrality of forest biomass.

A link to the revised House energy bill can be found here. A link to the Senate energy bill can be found here.

House approves FY 2017 Interior Appropriations Bill

In mid-July, the House passed its fiscal year (FY) 2017 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies (Interior) spending bill (H.R. 5538) on a 231-196 vote. The spending bill funds the USDA Forest Service (Forest Service), the Department of the Interior (DOI), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other agencies. The topline spending level for the bill is $32.1 billion, $64 million below enacted FY 2016 levels. Over 130 amendments were considered for inclusion in the House bill; two amendments that were approved redirect funds from the EPA to the Forest Service’s Hazardous Fuels and Research & Development programs. The White House has issued a veto threat to the bill in its current form.

While the Senate passed its version (S. 3068) of the FY 2017 Interior appropriations bill out of the Appropriations Committee in June, the full chamber has not yet taken up floor consideration on the spending measure. With Congress set to return after Labor Day there will be limited time to enact FY 2017 spending measures before government spending runs out at the conclusion of September 2016. This limited time raises the possibility of a Continuing Resolution, also known as a stop-gap measure, to begin FY 2017 and continue through the elections.

The Western Forestry Leadership Coalition summary of the Forest Service budget can be found here. The House Interior Appropriations bill can be found here. The Senate Interior Appropriations bill can be found here.

Recent Congressional Hearings and Engagement

On June 23, Chief Ken Pimlott, California State Forester and Director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), and member of the Council of Western State Foresters (CWSF) and the National Association of State Foresters (NASF), testified at a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing in Washington D.C.

The purpose of the hearing was to receive testimony on the discussion draft titled the “Wildfire Budgeting, Response, and Forest Management Act of 2016.” (See June 2016 CWSF Newsletter for details on the discussion draft.) Chief Pimlott was one of eight witnesses including USDA Under Secretary, Natural Resources & Environment Robert Bonnie, Director of the Office of Wildland Fire for the Department of the Interior Bryan Rice, and Washington State Department of Natural Resources Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark.

Chief Pimlott’s testimony focused on the state of California’s forests and 2016 fire season, including the state’s response to the tree mortality crisis and CAL FIRE’s preparation efforts for another challenging fire season. In addition, Chief Pimlott’s testimony called attention to one of State Foresters’ priority issues - enact a long-term solution for wildfire suppression funding for the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior. His testimony included the urgent need for a comprehensive wildfire funding fix that: (1) Addresses the growing cost of the 10-year rolling average for fire suppression and its detrimental impacts to the overall agency budgets, and (2) Minimizes the need for ‘fire borrowing’ from non-fire programs to pay for wildfire suppression costs when appropriated funds run out.

A copy of Chief Pimlott’s testimony can be found here. The archived Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing webcast and the testimonies from other hearing witnesses can be found here.  

EPA Notice of Decision Not to Regulate Forest Road Discharges Under the Clean Water Act

In June 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a notice of agency decision that no additional regulations are needed to address stormwater discharges from forest roads under Section 402(p)(6) of the Clean Water Act at this time. This decision stems from a case that was brought against EPA by the Environmental Defense Center over the Clean Water Act Phase II stormwater regulations. Under court order, EPA was required to issue a determination to the question remanded to the agency on whether stormwater discharges from forest roads require additional regulation. For more information and additional details, please visit the National Association of State Foresters’ blog post.

The Federal Register Notice and more information can be found on EPA Forest Roads webpage.