Search Penny Hill Press

Loading...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Biomass: Comparison of Definitions in Legislation Through the 111th Congress


Kelsi Bracmort
Analyst in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy

Ross W. Gorte
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy


The use of biomass as an energy feedstock is emerging as a potentially viable alternative to address U.S. energy security concerns, foreign oil dependence, rural economic development, and diminishing sources of conventional energy. Biomass (organic matter that can be converted into energy) may include food crops, crops for energy (e.g., switchgrass or prairie perennials), crop residues, wood waste and byproducts, and animal manure. Most legislation involving biomass has focused on encouraging the production of liquid fuels from corn. Efforts to promote the use of biomass for power generation have focused on wood, wood residues, and milling waste. Comparatively less emphasis has been placed on the use of non-corn based biomass feedstocks— other food crops, non-food crops, crop residues, animal manure, and more—as renewable energy sources for liquid fuel use or for power generation. This is partly due to the variety, lack of availability, and dispersed location of non-corn based biomass feedstock. The technology development status and costs to convert non-corn based biomass into energy are also viewed by some as an obstacle to rapid technology deployment.

For over 30 years, the term biomass has been a part of legislation enacted by Congress for various programs, indicating some interest by the general public and policymakers in expanding its use. To aid understanding of why U.S. consumers, utility groups, refinery managers, and others have not fully adopted biomass as an energy resource, this report investigates the characterization of biomass in legislation. The definition of biomass has evolved over time, most notably since 2004. The report lists biomass definitions enacted by Congress in legislation and the tax code since 2004 and definitions contained in pending legislation (the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, H.R. 2454; the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009, S. 1462; the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, S. 1733; and the discussion draft of the American Power Act). Comments on the similarities and differences among the definitions are provided. One point of contention regarding the definition is the inclusion of biomass from federal lands. Some argue that removal of biomass from these lands may lead to ecological harm. Others contend that biomass from federal lands can aid the production of renewable energy to meet certain mandates (e.g., the Renewable Fuel Standard) and can enhance forest protection from wildfires. Factors that may prevent a private landowner from rapidly entering the biomass feedstock market are also included in the report.



Date of Report: October 20, 2010
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: R40529
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at
http://www.twitter.com/alertsPHP or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail
Penny Hill Press  or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.

Sage Grouse and the Endangered Species Act


Kristina Alexander
Legislative Attorney

M. Lynne Corn
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy


Western states have seen conflicts over natural resources for more than a century. These conflicts have involved issues such as grazing, roads, fences, oil and gas development, urban expansion, spread of invasive species, water rights, Native rights, timber harvest, and pollution. Recent additions to the list include development of alternative energy such as wind and solar power. In many cases, the more recent conflicts have involved the protection of endangered and threatened species, often with one group of advocates seeing listed species as an obstacle to their development goals or property rights, and another group advocating protection in line with their environmental, scientific, or economic goals. One such controversy is developing in 11 western states over sage grouse, whose numbers can be threatened by roads, fences, power lines, urban expansion, and energy development. This report describes the state of knowledge about these birds, history of efforts to protect them, and current controversies.

In March 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in response to petitions and lawsuits, issued a determination that listing the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was warranted but precluded by the need to list species with a more urgent need of protection. Thus, the sage grouse is treated as a candidate species and does not have the protections that a listed species would have.

The sage grouse, once abundant in western sagebrush habitat in 16 states, has dropped in numbers, and is now found in 11 states. Its decline can be attributed to several factors—increased use of sage grouse habitat by ranching and oil and gas development, decreased sagebrush due to noxious invasive species, and loss of habitat due to more frequent fires. However, the extent of the decline is not certain, and some dispute that the sage grouse is in peril. There is some discussion over how many different species of grouse there are and how they may be related. Currently, two species are recognized by scientists: the Gunnison grouse and the sage grouse. In addition, some experts divide the sage grouse into various distinct populations. FWS received several petitions to list these entities as endangered or threatened.

One factor in making a listing decision is whether other regulations are in place to provide adequate protections of a species so that federal listing is not necessary to prevent extinction. States in primary sage grouse habitat have taken action to forestall an endangered species listing, which some believe would inhibit energy development on vast amounts of public and private property. These issues are at the forefront as Congress considers increased energy development on federal lands, while balancing the mission of the ESA.



Date of Report: October 14, 2010
Number of Pages: 28
Order Number: R40865
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at
http://www.twitter.com/alertsPHP or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail
Penny Hill Press  or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Recreation Fees Under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act


Carol Hardy Vincent
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA in P.L. 108-447) established a new recreation fee program for five federal agencies—the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), National Park Service (NPS), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Forest Service (FS) in the Department of Agriculture (USDA). The law authorizes these agencies to charge fees at recreation sites through December 8, 2014. It provides for different kinds of fees, criteria for charging fees, public participation in determining fees, and the establishment of a national recreation pass. The agencies can use the collections without further appropriation. Most of the money is for improvements at the collecting site, such as operation, maintenance, and capital improvement projects. This program supersedes, and seeks to improve upon, the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program.

The extent of participation in the current fee program varies considerably among the agencies, ranging from fee collection at only one Reclamation site to 4,185 FS sites. The agencies conducted analyses of the extent to which sites charging fees under the former fee program meet the criteria and prohibitions of the FLREA for charging entry, standard amenity, and expanded amenity fees. The NPS and FWS made little change in fees and fee sites as a result of the new law. The BLM made some adjustments, while the FS made the most changes, initially dropping fees at 437 sites. The agencies are determining fee sites and setting fees with public input, with the BLM and the FS using Recreation Resource Advisory Committees for this purpose.

A new national recreation pass became available in January 2007. There are different versions of the pass for seniors, disabled persons, volunteers at recreation sites, and the general public.

In FY2009, the agencies collected a total of $258.4 million in recreation receipts under the FLREA, with the NPS collecting about two-thirds of the revenue. Together with fees carried over from previous years, $574.4 million was available for obligation in FY2009. For the first time since the collection of recreation fees under the former fee program, more than 50% of available funding was obligated in FY2009.

Recreation fees have been controversial for decades, and there continues to be a difference of opinion as to the need for recreation fees and how fee programs should operate. The current program has supporters and critics. Many assert that the program improves recreation and visitor services, keeping most fees on-site for improvements that visitors desire. Supporters contend that the current program improves upon the former one, in allowing fees to be charged only in appropriate circumstances, setting fair and similar fees among agencies, providing for public involvement in setting fees, and establishing a single national pass. Some critics continue to oppose recreation fees in general, or believe that they are appropriate for fewer agencies or types of lands. Others find fault with the current program, for instance, for not simplifying fees enough, ensuring that most fees are used to reduce the maintenance backlogs of agencies, or obligating funds more quickly. Still others contend that it is difficult to implement one national pass, given differences in agency lands and issues regarding pricing and sharing of revenues.

Congress continues to oversee agency efforts to establish, collect, and spend recreation fees under the FLREA. Issues regarding the structure of the program—whether to let the program expire in 2014, or whether to extend it or make it permanent—will likely be addressed in congressional deliberations.



Date of Report: October 21, 2010
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: RL33730
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at
http://www.twitter.com/alertsPHP or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail
Penny Hill Press  or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Banning Crush Videos: Legislative Response to the Supreme Court’s Ruling in U.S. v. Stevens and Lingering First Amendment Questions



Kathleen Ann Ruane
Legislative Attorney

In 2000, Congress enacted 18 U.S.C. § 48 to criminalize the creation and sale of some depictions of animal cruelty. On April 20, 2010, the Supreme Court found the provision to be unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Congress has expressed interest in drafting a new statute to replace 18 U.S.C. § 48 that would more narrowly define the prohibited depictions and survive First Amendment scrutiny. The House of Representatives passed H.R. 5566, entitled the Prevention of Interstate Commerce in Adult Crush Videos Act of 2010 on July 21, 2010, which was submitted to the Senate. The Senate passed its amended version of H.R. 5566, entitled the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act on September 28, 2010 (S. 3841). This report will give a brief background of the earlier version of § 48, provide an analysis of the Supreme Court case, and discuss the legislative response.


Date of Report: October 18, 2010
Number of Pages: 11
Order Number: R41457
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at
http://www.twitter.com/alertsPHP or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail
Penny Hill Press  or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Coastal Wetland and Wildlife Impacts and Response


M. Lynne Corn
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Claudia Copeland
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy


The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, and the resulting oil spill began a cascade of effects on the coastal areas of the Gulf and on the wealth of species that inhabit those areas, effects that continue even though oil stopped flowing in July and the well was sealed in September. Gulf coast wetlands, like those elsewhere, have value for water quality, flood control, shoreline protection, and recreation. They serve as nurseries for many species, including fish and shellfish of commercial significance, waterfowl, and a host of resident and migratory species. They also have cultural importance to the people of the Gulf. The effects of the spill come on top of historic wetland losses due to subsidence, drainage, and saltwater intrusion, along with rising sea levels, coastal erosion, and global climate change.

Impacts of oil spills on wetland ecosystems depend on multiple factors, including the type of oil, exposure of the oil to weathering factors before it reaches the shore, the season in which the spill occurs, etc. Mitigation and cleanup of damage to wetlands is far from an exact science and involves many tradeoffs; there is no single, best solution. A number of options exist, ranging from mechanical recovery and use of dispersants to doing nothing. Estimating wildlife impacts is particularly difficult in this case because the spill occurred far offshore, and the initial wildlife mortality came far out in the Gulf, where animals sank without reaching the shore. When oil arrived at the shore, more animals began to be counted. Moreover, because the Gulf wetlands host many species of birds during seasonal migrations, impacts of the spill could be felt in areas well away from the Gulf.

Among other issues is a seemingly simple question: who decides what to do when such an event occurs? But the answer is complex. The organizational structure for deciding how to respond to oil spills is specified in the National Contingency Plan (NCP), which was created administratively and has been broadened by the Clean Water Act, the Superfund law, and the Oil Pollution Act. Under the NCP structure, the Coast Guard is the lead federal agency for overseeing response and cleanup. Until oil from the well stopped flowing, very little cleanup of wetlands was occurring, because of both the ongoing risk of greater harm from cleanup and the potential for re-oiling. As cleanup proceeds, a number of questions arise. To cite only two, what factors will determine cleanup strategies, and how are needs to improve scientific understanding of the impacts of oil spills being considered?

Decisions about cleanup of wildlife are no easier. Cleanup of individual animals is laborintensive, and some scientists argue that the survival of an animal that has been cleaned is so uncertain as to call into question whether treatment is, in fact, humane. Rescue groups are dedicated to salvaging those that can still be saved. The effects on a species as a whole vary markedly from one species to another, depending on that species’ abundance and ecological needs; appropriate responses at the species level are unclear.

History, particularly from the relatively well-studied Exxon Valdez spill of 1989, offers insight into the future of Gulf resources as well. First, some cleanup efforts might do more harm than good in the long run. Second, it is not possible to predict all of the ramifications for the complex Gulf ecosystem in the decades to come, but history suggests that at least some effects will continue for decades. Finally, litigation could play a major role in disseminating—or not disseminating—scientific information about the spill and its effects.



Date of Report: October 15, 2010
Number of Pages: 31
Order Number: R41311
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at
http://www.twitter.com/alertsPHP or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail
Penny Hill Press  or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.