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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Inland Waterways: Recent Proposals and Issues for Congress


Charles V. Stern
Analyst in Natural Resources Policy

Inland waterways are a significant part of the nation’s transportation system. Because of the national economic benefits of maritime transport, the federal government has invested in navigation infrastructure for two centuries. As a result, barge shipping has received significant support through federal funding for operational costs, capital expenditures, and major rehabilitation on inland waterways. Since the Water Resources Development Act of 1986, expenditures for construction and major rehabilitation projects on inland waterways have been cost-shared on a 50/50 basis between the federal government and users through the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF). Operations and maintenance costs for inland waterways typically exceed these construction costs, and are a 100% federal responsibility pursuant to WRDA 1986.

Future financing for the inland waterway system is uncertain. The IWTF is currently supported by a $0.20 per gallon tax on barge fuel, but its balance has declined significantly due to a combination of increased appropriations, cost overruns, and decreased revenues in previous years. Without changes to the financing system, IWTF spending is likely to be extremely limited.

Previously the Bush and Obama administrations have recommended replacing the fuel tax with one or more user fees that would increase revenues beyond their current baseline. However, Congress and industry interests have rejected these proposals. In 2010, the Inland Waterways Users Board (IWUB), a federal advisory committee advising the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on inland waterways, endorsed an alternative proposal that is supported by many barge industry interests. The proposal would increase the fuel tax by $0.06-$0.08 per gallon, but would also require that the federal government handle the full cost for some projects that are currently costshared. The Obama Administration generally opposes this approach, and has previously submitted multiple proposals to increase trust fund revenues with new user fees, in addition to the fuel tax. Most recently, the Administration submitted, in its plan to the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, a proposal for new waterway user fees in 2011, and included new revenues from an unspecified new inland waterways fee in its FY2013 budget request. To date, none of these changes have been enacted.

The user industry (including the barge industry and agricultural groups) argues that changes are necessary to shore up the trust fund, improve deteriorating inland waterway infrastructure, and distribute costs more equitably among those who benefit from the system (e.g., more funding by federal taxpayers for dams). They also note that waterways support jobs and are a vital component of the nation’s transportation mix. The Obama Administration generally agrees that major changes are needed to meet infrastructure needs, but argues against increased costs for the federal government. Some groups also argue that an increased share of waterway costs should be borne by users (i.e., a decreased share for the federal government), and have suggested that operations and maintenance costs (currently a 100% federal cost) should also be a user responsibility.

Legislation currently before the House (H.R. 4342) would authorize the primary components of the aforementioned IWUB proposal. Separately, the Obama Administration’s FY2013 budget proposed $80 million in new revenues for FY2013 from a new, unspecified inland waterway user fee. In considering these and other inland waterways proposals, Congress may consider whether to increase the overall level of inland waterway funding in the future (and by what amount); the appropriate type of user fee to fund the nonfederal share of these costs (fuel taxes, lockage fees, etc.); and the appropriate cost share between the federal government and commercial users.



Date of Report: April 12, 2012
Number of Pages: 29
Order Number: R41430
Price: $29.95

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR): Votes and Legislative Actions Since the 95th Congress


M. Lynne Corn
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Beth A. Roberts
Information Research Specialist


Current law forbids the federal government from offering energy leases or from allowing activities leading to energy development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in northeastern Alaska. For several decades, a major energy debate has been whether to approve energy development in ANWR, and if so, under what conditions; or whether to continue to prohibit development to protect the area’s biological resources. ANWR is rich in fauna, flora, and commercial oil potential. Its development has been debated for over 40 years, and the level of debate fluctuates with gasoline and natural gas prices, terrorist attacks, infrastructure damage from hurricanes, and turmoil in the Middle East.

This report provides a summary of legislative attempts to address issues of energy development and preservation in the Refuge from the 95th Congress (1977-1978) through March 2012 in the 112th Congress, with emphasis on the 108th through 112th Congresses. (The substance of the issue is covered in other CRS reports.) There were several periods of active congressional consideration, punctuated by periods of less activity and debate. In the 96th Congress (1979- 1980), multiple floor votes occurred in the House and Senate, leading ultimately to the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (P.L. 96-487). In the 104th Congress (1995- 1996), there were also floor votes in both bodies; these related to ANWR development measures contained in budget reconciliation bills. These led, eventually, to a presidential veto. The 107th Congress (2001-2002) saw votes in both bodies in the context of measures to address energy resources. Ultimately, no ANWR provisions were approved. In the 108th and 109th Congresses (2003-2006), there were multiple floor votes in both the House and Senate, in some cases over amendments that were identical in each Congress. The ANWR development provisions were considered as parts of bills concerning energy programs, budget resolutions, and defense authorization.

While there were no floor votes in the House or the Senate on the Refuge during the 111th Congress, in the 112th Congress, the House approved H.R. 3408 on February 16, 2012. The measure includes a provision to open the 1.5 million acre Coastal Plain to energy development. On March 13, 2012, the Senate rejected S.Amdt. 1826 to S. 1813 that would have expanded drilling into areas including the ANWR Coastal Plain.



Date of Report: March 28, 2012
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: RL32838
Price: $29.95

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Ballast Water Management to Combat Invasive Species


Eugene H. Buck
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

The 112th Congress may consider legislation to amend and reauthorize the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990 to further study vessel ballast water management standards and modify how ballast water is handled.

In recent years, people have become increasingly aware that the globalization of trade, the increased speed of travel, the massive volume of cargo shipments, and rising tourism have combined to increase the chance of accidental introductions of foreign species into the United States. Aquatic species arrive through a variety of mechanisms—unintentionally when attached to vessel hulls or carried in vessel ballast water and intentionally when imported for aquaria display, as live seafood for human consumption, or as a transplant to increase sport fishing opportunities.

The arrival of zebra mussels in the Great Lakes and their subsequent damage to city water supplies and electric utilities focused significant attention on ballast water discharge by cargo ships as a high-risk mechanism for species invasion. New management efforts attempt to address this concern.

On March 23, 2012, the U.S. Coast Guard published a final rule establishing quantitative standards for ballast water treatment. The new standards initially follow standards developed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). In a subsequent phase, the quantitative standards would become much more stringent, given sufficient technological development to support achievement of the higher standards. The Coast Guard standards do not preempt existing state ballast water management standards.

In response to litigation, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published regulations on December 28, 2008, to regulate ballast water discharge under the Clean Water Act through vessel general permits (VGPs). Environmental groups expressed concern over the effectiveness of the EPA regulations and filed a court challenge. In a March 2011 settlement, EPA was required to revise its VGP program to require numeric limits on organisms in ballast water discharges as well as additional monitoring and reporting of vessel discharges. Under the terms of this settlement, EPA proposed two new VGP programs on November 30, 2011. Meanwhile, P.L. 110-299 provided a two-year moratorium from the VGP program for commercial fishing vessels and nonrecreational vessels less than 79 feet in length, and the 111th Congress enacted legislation (P.L. 111-215) to further extend this moratorium through December 18, 2013. EPA expects to take final action on the draft permits by November 30, 2012.

In addition to federal programs and sometimes in response to perceived deficiencies in federal regulation, several states have chosen to regulate aspects of ballast water management. Concerns have arisen over particularly stringent state ballast water regulations as to whether the technology exists to meet their standards. In the 112th Congress, Section 459 of H.R. 2584, as reported by the House Committee on Appropriations, would prohibit EPA from providing funds to any Great Lakes state that has a more stringent performance or ballast water exchange standard than either a revised Coast Guard standard or the IMO standard.

This report provides background on various approaches to ballast water management and reviews current ballast water management laws and programs. This report will be updated as this issue evolves.



Date of Report: April 10, 2012
Number of Pages: 16
Order Number: RL32344
Price: $29.95

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Mountaintop Mining: Background on Current Controversies


Claudia Copeland
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy

Mountaintop removal mining involves removing the top of a mountain in order to recover the coal seams contained there. This practice occurs in six Appalachian states (Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Ohio). It creates an immense quantity of excess spoil (dirt and rock that previously composed the mountaintop), which is typically placed in valley fills on the sides of the former mountains, burying streams that flow through the valleys. Mountaintop mining is regulated under several laws, including the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA).

Critics say that, as a result of valley fills from mountaintop mining, stream water quality and the aquatic and wildlife habitat that streams support are destroyed by tons of rocks and dirt. The mining industry argues that mountaintop mining is essential to conducting surface coal mining in the Appalachian region and that it would not be economically feasible there if operators were barred from using valleys for the disposal of mining overburden. Critics have used litigation to challenge the practice. In a number of cases discussed in this report, environmental groups have been successful at the federal district court level in challenging issuance of permits for mountaintop mining projects, but each has been later overturned on appeal. Nonetheless, the criticisms also have prompted some regulatory changes, also discussed here.

In June 2009, officials of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), and the Department of the Interior signed a Memorandum of Understanding outlining a series of administrative actions under these laws to reduce the harmful environmental impacts of mountaintop mining and surface coal mining in Appalachia. The plan includes a series of near-term and longer-term actions that emphasize specific steps, improved coordination, and greater transparency of decisions. The actions are being implemented through regulatory proposals, guidance documents, and review of applications for permits to authorize surface coal mining operations in Appalachia. Viewed broadly, the Administration’s combined actions on mountaintop mining displease both industry and environmental advocates. The additional scrutiny of permits and more stringent requirements have angered the coal industry and many of its supporters. Controversy also was generated by EPA’s January 2011 veto of a CWA permit that had been issued by the Corps for a surface coal mining project in West Virginia. At the same time, while environmental groups support EPA’s steps to restrict the practice, many favor tougher requirements or even total rejection of mountaintop mining in Appalachia. Federal courts have recently rejected some of the Administration’s actions, including overturning EPA’s veto of the West Virginia mine permit. This report provides background on regulatory requirements, controversies and legal challenges to mountaintop mining, and recent Administration actions.

Congressional interest in these issues also is discussed, including legislation in the 111
th Congress seeking to restrict the practice of mountaintop mining and other legislation intended to block the Obama Administration’s regulatory actions. Attention to EPA’s veto of the West Virginia mining permit and other federal agency actions has increased in the 112th Congress. Several bills have been introduced to clarify or restrict EPA’s authority to veto CWA permits issued by the Corps (H.R. 457/S. 272; H.R. 517; H.R. 960/S. 468; and H.R. 2018, which the House passed in July 2011).


Date of Report: March 29 , 2012
Order Number: RS21421
Price: $29.95

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A Separate Consumer Price Index for the Elderly?


Linda Levine
Specialist in Labor Economics
The federal government, in an effort to protect the purchasing power of Social Security beneficiaries, indexes benefits to increases in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). Concern has periodically been expressed that the CPI-W may understate the impact of inflation on the elderly population and that it therefore may not be the most appropriate measure of inflation’s impact on the elderly.

At the behest of Congress, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) developed an experimental price index to track changes in the cost of living for the population aged 62 and older. In most years since 1982, the start of the experimental consumer price index (CPI-E) for the elderly, the annual rate of change in the CPI-E has exceeded that of the CPI-W and CPI-U. But, methodological limitations in the experimental index may have contributed to this pattern. Were BLS to construct an index that is more representative of the elderly population than the CPI-E, there is no guarantee that the relationship between the new index and the CPI-W would be the same.

Interest in the CPI-E most recently emerged in response to deficit-reduction plans issued in 2010 and 2011 that recommend inflation-indexed provisions in federal law be based on the Chained Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (C-CPI-U). Because the C-CPI-U has typically risen more slowly than the CPI-W, this proposal raised concern at the time among those Social Security recipients who already believe they have not been fully compensated for increases in their cost of living. Bills were then introduced to switch for purposes of Social Security indexation from the CPI-W to a CPI for those aged 62 and older (H.R. 456, H.R. 539, H.R. 776, H.R. 798, and S. 1876). As suggested by an amendment in the nature of a substitute to the FY2013 budget resolution in the House, interest has lingered into 2012 among some Members to switch to the C-CPI-U as a means of curbing the rate of growth in the budget deficit.




Date of Report: March 30 , 2012
Order Number: RS20060
Price: $29.95

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