The agenda for the 111th Congress issued by the House Committee on Natural Resources would contribute to US preparedness for climate change impacts if developed and implemented.

post by Anne Polansky

With most of the limelight on cap-and-trade and CO2 mitigation policy, less national policy attention is being focused on ways to help communities across the nation build in the resiliency needed to cope with and, hopefully adapt to, climate disruption.  Other Senate and House Committees with jurisdiction over our environment and natural resources should follow suit—preferably not in an ad hoc, disparate, fashion but in a way that is coordinated through Congressional leadership

These are some of the more climate change-related elements of the Committee’s agenda:

Planning for the Effects of Climate Change on Land and Water Resources

Climate change is altering our natural landscape and affecting our water, land, and biological resources. For example, changing precipitation patterns related to climate change affect the ability of our water delivery infrastructure to capture and provide water in traditional ways. Further, both aquatic and terrestrial species that rely on water for survival are adversely impacted by critically dry times. The distribution of these species and their habitats is projected to shift in response to changes in ecological processes. At the same time, coastal and marine habitats and species will be impacted by sea level rise and increased ocean acidification. It is critical that we better understand how climate change will affect the hydrologic cycle as well as our water, land, and biological resources and ensure that federal agencies and states are preparing to address how climate change affects their programs and management decisions. The Committee will continue its efforts to bring together scientists and the managers of our water, land, and biological resources to discuss the federal role in identifying the effects of climate change and to promote problem-solving strategies to sustain our natural resources and the ecosystems upon which they depend.

Promoting a New Era of Western Water Management

Water is the lifeblood of communities and economies throughout the West. Drought conditions, effects of climate change, and conflicts over allocation are undermining the reliability of water supply for municipal and agricultural use. Small farmers are feeling the pressure to convert their lands for development. Improving the reliability of water supplies requires innovative approaches and coordination with local water managers.

Over the past fifteen years, it is clear that the era of large, new federal water projects is ending. New water supplies for the growing West will come from water reuse projects, water conservation efforts, or appropriately scaled storage. The demand for water reuse projects is increasing yearly and outpacing federal funding. Currently there is a nearly $1 billion backlog in water reuse funding at the Bureau of Reclamation. The Committee will work with the new Administration to usher in a new era of water management that promotes collaboration, conservation, restoration, and the integration of new technologies.

A Meaningful Commitment to Combating Catastrophic Wildfires

Emergency responses to huge, dangerous wildfires now consume nearly half the annual budget of the Forest Service, leaving ever-shrinking resources for investment in the health of our forests and forest communities. The Congress and the new Administration must work cooperatively to create a dedicated funding source for combating wildfires so that funds appropriated annually for other aspects of the Forest Service’s mission can be used for those vital programs. Our national forests provide critical habitat for fish and wildlife, unparalleled opportunities for outdoor education and recreation and safeguard the quality of our drinking water. The 111th Congress presents a unique opportunity to fund fire fighting in a new way and, working with our forest communities, to make real progress in improving forest health.

Protecting and Restoring our Oceans

The world’s oceans are crucial to life on Earth. Yet, the synergistic effects of human activity, including habitat destruction and overfishing – both domestically and internationally – as well as the spread of invasive species, climate change, and pollution have initiated changes of untold magnitude. Healthy oceans are key not only to our survival but also to our quality of life; without healthy oceans we are ecologically and economically diminished. Science must inform our utilization of ocean goods and services so that we may enjoy the abundance that healthy oceans can provide. Our stewardship responsibilities will include realizing federal and regional ocean governance reforms, reviving our traditional international leadership role, implementing improvements in the management of fisheries and marine mammals, protecting special places in the marine environment as the inheritance of future generations, planning for the effects of climate change and offshore energy development, and providing the funding necessary to set a meaningful pace of positive change.

Recovering Endangered Species

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) serves as the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation in the United States. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has spent the past eight years trying to undermine the fundamental tenets of the ESA and the species protections that it provides. Continuing the Chairman’s commitment to the conservation of endangered species, the Committee will work with the new Administration to explore innovative measures to recover endangered populations of fish, wildlife, and plants in an era of limited budgets. Using the findings of the Government Accountability Office and promoting the use of the best available science, we will seek collaborative solutions to improve the management of the endangered species programs at the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service. By encouraging the issuance of appropriate guidance, regulations, and federal/non-federal partnerships, the Committee will play a leadership role in endangered species conservation.

Enhancing Renewable Energy Development

Demand for renewable energy is surging throughout the West. State renewable energy goals are driving the development of solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower generation. One of the biggest constraints to meeting renewable energy goals is the challenge of transmitting the energy from the generation site to the demand centers, often across state lines. Four federal power marketing administrations exist under the jurisdiction of the Committee, which will continue to discuss the role of the Bonneville Power Administration, Western Area Power Administration, Southwestern Power Administration, and Southeastern Power Administration in meeting the demands for renewable energy through transmission infrastructure or other means.

Providing for Carbon Capture and Sequestration

Coal plays a major role in meeting U.S. energy needs and is likely to continue to do so in coming decades. Today, 50% of the electricity in the United States is generated from coal. At current consumption rates and with current technology and land-use restrictions, U.S. coal reserves are projected to last well over 250 years. And, with improved technologies, estimated recoverable coal reserves, at current consumption rates, are estimated to be sufficient for 500 years or longer.

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is the key enabling technology to ensuring that the United States continues to take advantage of our vast domestic resources of coal without contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. CCS entails injecting carbon dioxide underground in ultra-deep geological reservoirs. The U.S. has the geological capacity to store carbon emissions in depleted oil and gas reservoirs for several decades. Capacity in other geological reservoirs is estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of tons, enough to store current levels of domestic emissions for over 300 years. The technology is still under development, but many experts are optimistic about its advancement. The Committee is committed to advancing carbon sequestration on public lands and ensuring that this technology is safely developed and disseminated.