Wednesday, November 16, 2011

House Approves Controversial Coast Guard & Maritime Bill

Nov 15: By a voice vote, the full House approved H.R. 2838, The "Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2011," which includes a controversial section -- Title VII, the "Commercial Vessel Discharges Reform Act of 2011.The legislation which was approved by the Transportation Committee September 8, was introduced in the House by Coast Guard Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) and co-sponsored by Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL). It authorizes the service for fiscal years 2012 through 2014, and authorizes a service strength of 47,000 active duty personnel. The bill authorizes $8.49 billion for the Coast Guard for fiscal year 2012, $8.6 billion for fiscal year 2013, and $8.7 billion for fiscal year 2014.

    Representative LoBiondo said, "The Coast Guard does an outstanding job for our nation. However, in the current budget environment, it is important for Congress to review the Service's authorities to find ways to improve operations while reducing costs. H.R. 2838 does that in a manner that will not impact the Service's critical missions." According to a release from the Committee, H.R.2838 includes provisions that will give the Coast Guard and its personnel greater parity with the Department of Defense (DoD). Parity among the uniformed services has been a top priority of the Committee for some time and this bill makes significant progress towards aligning the Coast Guard's authorities with those granted to DoD. The bill contains a title intended to reform and improve Coast Guard administration. It also includes several provisions to improve the safety and efficiency of the maritime transportation system, as well as to protect and grow maritime related jobs.

    Also included in the legislation are provisions that set a nationwide standard for the treatment of ballast water that remedies the current patchwork of varying and inconsistent ballast water regulations across states. Currently the Coast Guard and the U.S. EPA have developed separate regulations under two different Federal laws to govern the discharge of ballast water. The Committee said, "The EPA's ballast water program under the Clean Water Act is especially burdensome, as it allows each individual state to add state requirements on top of the federal regulations. Twenty-nine states and tribes have done just that. As a result, small businesses are forced to comply with differing and often conflicting ballast water standards for each of these 29 states and tribal areas."

    Representative LoBiondo said, "Under current law, both the Coast Guard and EPA regulate ballast water, while every state and tribe is allowed to add their own requirements to those regulations. As a result, ships engaged in interstate and international commerce must comply with two federal standards, as well as 29 differing state and tribal ballast water standards, many of which are contradictory and technologically unachievable. The current system is simply impossible. It threatens our international maritime trade. It is driving industry away from coastwise trade. It is undermining our attempts to revitalize the U.S. flagged fleet. It is destroying jobs and it is hurting our economy. This legislation eliminates this ridiculous regulatory regime and establishes a single, uniform national standard that is based on the most effective technology currently available. The EPA must update the standard on a regular basis or at the request of a state."

    The Committee release indicated that H.R. 2838 is "a common sense solution to the problem, immediately putting in place a standard for ballast water treatment that is both achievable and effective." This approach is endorsed by the EPA, the Coast Guard, the National Academy of Sciences, the EPA's Science Advisory Board, the U.S. flagged industry, maritime labor, manufacturers, farmers, energy producers and the nation's largest and most strategic international trading partners.

    Representative Bob Gibbs (R-OH), Chairman of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, who assisted in crafting Title VII portion of the legislation issued a statement saying, "I applaud the passage of H.R.2838, a fiscally responsible reauthorization of the U.S. Coast Guard that will protect maritime industry jobs threatened by the current burdensome ballast water treatment regulations, improve the safety and efficiency of the maritime transportation system, and promote the flow of maritime commerce. Promoting maritime commerce is especially important to us here locally as the Port of Cleveland handles an average of 13.1 million tons of cargo per year and provides 11,000 Ohio jobs.  We must protect our local interstate and foreign commerce industry from unnecessary, burdensome and sometimes impossible to attain requirements that inhibit the flow of maritime commerce. This legislation will immediately put in place a uniform, achievable nationwide standard for vessel ballast water treatment, resolving the current patchwork of varying and inconsistent ballast water regulations across states. This approach is endorsed by the EPA, the Coast Guard, the National Academy of Sciences, the EPA's Science Advisory Board, maritime labor, manufacturers, farmers, energy producers and our largest and most strategic international trading partners."

    The bill also includes a highly controversial provision that would allow the S.S. Badger, the Ludington, MI to Manitowoc, WI carferry, operated by the Lake Michigan Carferry Company, to continue the practice of dumping coal as in Lake Michigan -- an exemption that was scheduled to expire at the end of 2012. In a series of articles, the Chicago Tribune has drawn attention to the S.S. Badger, the only coalfired ferry still operating in the United States. As the ship travels from its home port of Ludington, to Manitowoc, it dumps 509 tons of coal ash into Lake Michigan each year -- a quantity greater than the total waste dumped annually by the 125 other largest ships operating on the Great Lakes. The coal ash contains arsenic, lead, and mercury, all of which can cause cancer when consumed in drinking water, cause serious damage to fish populations, and poison fish that are part of our food supply.

    Under an agreement negotiated between the owners of the S.S. Badger and the U.S. EPA, the current EPA vessel general permit gives the Badger a December 2012 deadline to retrofit the ferry with a new boiler that would prevent further coal ash dumping. In an attempt to circumvent these standards the owners of the Badger have attempted to secure both the designation of the S.S. Badger as a National Historic Landmark and legislative language that would exempt "vessels of historic significance" from EPA regulation of discharge. 

    U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) has led an effort to end the coal ash practice. On November 9, following a meeting with the EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson, he wrote to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and the Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee to oppose efforts to protect the S.S. Badger from having to comply with EPA standards. Durbin wrote in his letter to Salazar, "Lake Michigan is the primary source of drinking water for more than ten million people and a key component of the $7 billion Great Lakes fishing industry. We cannot let Historic Landmark Status be used to evade the federal regulations we rely on to protect public health and the environment. . . This is more than a car ferry with a venerable tradition. This is a vessel that generates and dumps four tons of coal ash laced with mercury and arsenic into Lake Michigan every day. Lake Michigan cannot take any more toxic dumping, no matter how historic or quaint the source may be."

    The "Badger amendment" was offered by Representative Bill Huizenga (R-MI) and supported by Representatives Tom Petri (R-WI) and Dan Benishek (R-MI). In offering the amendment, Representative Hiizenga said, "The Badger is currently operating
under special rules developed by the EPA in 2008. These rules are set to expire at the end of 2012. Without certainty provided by this amendment, the Badger could very easily, frankly, be forced off the Great Lakes at the end of 2012." Representative Benishek said, ". . .this is a simple amendment that addresses a growing problem with our friends at the EPA -- their love of bureaucratic red tape. I represent a district with more Great Lakes coastline than any other. Shipping and ferries are a part of the Great Lakes heritage. The USS Badger continues this tradition, transporting travelers, cars, trucks, and equipment across Lake Michigan." The amendment was approved by a voice vote.
    Access the Republican Committee release (click here). Access a release from Rep. Gibbs (click here). Access legislative details for H.R.2838 (click here). Access a release and the letter from Senator Durbin (click here). Access the Congressional Record discussion of the Badger amendment (click here[#Water, #Wildlife, #GLakes]

Study Shows Generally Low Ecological Impacts Of Wind Energy

Nov 16: A report by the Great Lakes Wind Collaborative (GLWC), analyzing wind energy impacts on birds, bats, fisheries and wildlife indicates that mortality rates for birds flying into the turbines of Great Lakes wind farms vary, but are generally low. The report reviewed data from a number of wind turbine sites in the Great Lakes region and found mortality rates for songbirds ranging from 2.5 bird deaths per year per turbine at an Ontario, Canada site to 11.8 at a Wisconsin site. Additional research on raptors and waterfowl found them to be less prone to turbine collisions than songbirds, while bat mortality was very similar to songbirds, ranging from two to 11 bat deaths a year per turbine.
    The report, State of the Science: An Assessment of Research on the Ecological Impacts of Wind Energy in the Great Lakes Region, was compiled from research presented at a GLWC-sponsored workshop. Wind turbine impacts on wildlife, particularly birds and bats, have figured prominently in the public discussion of wind energy and the siting of wind farms. While the information collected for the new report adds to the science of wind energy impacts, the report also identified several data gaps to be filled. Impacts of offshore wind turbines in the Great Lakes, for instance, can only be theorized as there are no offshore wind farms in the Lakes as yet.
    Steve Ugoretz, past co-chair of the GLWC Siting and Planning Workgroup said, "This compilation of the current state of knowledge is intended to give a head start to all parties dealing with these issues, and to help them make well-informed decisions in the real world." Priorities for research going forward, as laid out by the report, include more data on the effects of wind farms on migratory corridors, establishment of ecologically defensible mortality thresholds and setbacks, and research on potential impacts from artificial reef habitat creation for offshore installations.
    Access the complete report (click here). Access the GLWC website for more information (click here). [#Energy/Wind]