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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Effects of Tohoku Tsunami and Fukushima Radiation on the U.S. Marine Environment


Eugene H. Buck
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Harold F. Upton
Analyst in Natural Resources Policy


The massive Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, caused extensive damage in northeastern Japan, including damage to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power installation, which resulted in the release of radiation. Some have called this incident the biggest manmade release ever of radioactive material into the oceans. Concerns arose about the potential effects of this released radiation on the U.S. marine environment and resources.

Both ocean currents and atmospheric winds have the potential to transport radiation over and into marine waters under U.S. jurisdiction. It is unknown whether marine organisms that migrate through or near Japanese waters to locations where they might subsequently be harvested by U.S. fishermen (possibly some albacore tuna or salmon in the North Pacific) might have been exposed to radiation in or near Japanese waters, or might have consumed prey with accumulated radioactive contaminants.

High levels of radioactive iodine-131 (with a half-life of about 8 days), cesium-137 (with a halflife of about 30 years), and cesium-134 (with a half-life of about 2 years) were measured in seawater adjacent to the Fukushima Dai-ichi site after the March 2011 events. EPA rainfall monitors in California, Idaho, and Minnesota detected trace amounts of radioactive iodine, cesium, and tellurium consistent with the Japanese nuclear incident, at concentrations below any level of concern. It is uncertain how precipitation of radioactive elements from the atmosphere may have affected radiation levels in the marine environment.

Scientists have stated that radiation in the ocean very quickly becomes diluted and would not be a problem beyond the coast of Japan. The same is true of radiation carried by winds. Barring another unanticipated release, radioactive contaminants from Fukushima Dai-ichi should be sufficiently dispersed over time that they will not prove to be a serious health threat elsewhere, unless they bioaccumulate in migratory fish or find their way directly to another part of the world through food or other commercial products.

Radioactive contamination of seafood from the nuclear disaster in Japan has not emerged as a food safety problem for consumers in the United States. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the damage to infrastructure in Japan limited food production and associated exports from areas near the Fukushima nuclear facility. FDA and Customs and Border Protection continue to screen imported foods from Japan, including seafood, before they can enter the U.S. food supply.

Based on computer modeling of ocean currents, marine debris from the tsunami produced by the Tohoku earthquake was projected to spread eastward from Japan in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Approximately two to three years after the event, the debris plume was projected to reach the U.S. West Coast, dumping debris on California beaches and the beaches of British Columbia, Alaska, and Baja California. However, initial debris is already arriving. Although most of the radioactive release from Fukushima Dai-ichi is believed to have occurred after the tsunami, there is a slight possibility that some of the tsunami debris might also be contaminated with radiation. A related concern is the transport of nonnative, and potentially invasive, species from Japan to U.S. shores on marine debris. Legislation (H.R. 1171, H.R. 6251, and S. 1119) has been introduced in the 112th Congress to address marine debris concerns.



Date of Report: August 17, 2012
Number of Pages: 11
Order Number: R41751
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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Animal Welfare Act: Background and Selected Legislation


Tadlock Cowan
Analyst in Natural Resources and Rural Development

In 1966, Congress passed the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act (P.L. 89-54) to prevent pets from being stolen for sale to research laboratories, and to regulate the humane care and handling of dogs, cats, and other laboratory animals. The law was amended in 1970 (P.L. 91-579), changing the name to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The AWA is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Congress periodically has amended the act to strengthen enforcement, expand coverage to more animals and activities, or curtail practices viewed as cruel, among other things. A 1976 amendment added Section 26 to the AWA, making illegal several activities that contributed to animal fighting. Farm animals are not covered by the AWA,

In the 110th Congress, the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act of 2007 (H.R. 137; P.L. 110-22) was enacted. The bill amended Section 26 of the AWA to strengthen provisions against animal fighting. The AWA was amended again in 2008 when provisions were included in the 2008 farm bill (P.L. 110-246). These provisions ban the importation of puppies under six months of age for resale, tighten prohibitions on dog and other animal fighting activity, and increase penalties for violation of the act.

Other AWA bills introduced in the 110th Congress included the Pet Safety and Protection Act (H.R. 1280/S. 714) to restrict where research facilities could obtain their dogs and cats; Haley’s Act (H.R. 1947) to make it unlawful for animal exhibitors and dealers (but not accredited zoos) to allow direct contact between the public and big cats such as lions and tigers; the Animal Protection and Accountability Improvement Act (H.R. 2193), to prohibit the use of animals in marketing medical devices and products; and the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act (H.R. 6949/S. 3519), to require an AWA license from USDA of dog breeders who raise more than 50 dogs in a 12-month period and sell directly to the public.

In the 111th Congress, two of the bills were reintroduced: the Pet Safety and Protection Act (H.R. 3907/S. 1834); and the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act (H.R. 5434/S. 3424). Both bills were referred to the House Committee on Agriculture, where they saw no further action.

The 112th Congress has reintroduced two bills and introduced several new bills. The Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act was reintroduced as H.R. 835 and referred to the House Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry. The Pet Safety and Protection Act (H.R. 2256/S. 707) was also reintroduced and referred to the House Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry. The Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act (S. 1947) was introduced and referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. The bill would impose criminal penalties for attendance at animal fighting exhibitions. This prohibition on attendance was also added to the Senate farm bill (Section 12213, S. 3240). The Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act (H.R. 3359) would amend the AWA to prohibit the exhibition of an exotic or wild animal in any animal act if, during the previous 15 days, such animal was traveling in a mobile housing facility. Another bill, the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011 (H.R. 1513/S. 810), was also reintroduced in the 112th Congress. The bill would prohibit conducting invasive research on great apes (e.g., chimpanzee, bonobo, gorilla, orangutan, gibbon) and provide a retirement sanctuary for the nearly 1,000 great apes still used for research in the United States. The bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Health of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In the Senate, the bill was ordered to be reported out of the Committee on Environment and Public Works with an amendment favorably.



Date of Report: August 17, 2012
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: RS22493
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Drought in the United States: Causes and Issues for Congress


Peter Folger
Specialist in Energy and Natural Resources Policy

Betsy A. Cody
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Nicole T. Carter
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy


Drought is a natural hazard with often significant societal, economic, and environmental consequences. Public policy issues related to drought range from how to identify and measure drought to how best to prepare for, mitigate, and respond to drought impacts, and who should bear associated costs. The 2012 drought is fueling congressional interest in near-term issues, such as current (and recently expired) federal programs and their funding, and long-term issues, such as improving drought forecasting and the mix of federal drought relief and mitigation actions.

As of August 2012, drought has extended across more than two-thirds of the United States and has adversely affected agricultural producers and others. More than 1,400 counties in 33 states have been designated as disaster counties by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Several bills are pending in Congress that would provide drought assistance or otherwise address current drought conditions. Most attention has focused on the extension of expired disaster assistance programs in separate versions of a 2012 farm bill (Senate-passed S. 3240 and House Agriculture Committee- H.R. 6083), and a House-passed stand alone bill (H.R. 6233) to provide livestock and disaster tree assistance for FY2012. (For information related to drought disaster assistance for agricultural producers, see CRS Report RS21212, Agricultural Disaster Assistance, by Dennis A. Shields. For more information on the 2012 omnibus farm legislation, see CRS Report R42552, The 2012 Farm Bill: A Comparison of Senate-Passed S. 3240 and the House Agriculture Committee’s H.R. 6083 with Current Law, coordinated by Ralph M. Chite.)

Although agricultural losses typically dominate drought impacts, interest in federal drought assistance is not limited to agriculture. For example, the 2012 drought has raised congressional interest in whether and to what extent other federal agencies have and are using authorities to assist with managing drought. Similarly, the President in early August convened the White House Rural Council to assess executive branch agencies’ responses to the on-going drought. The Administration shortly thereafter announced several new administrative actions to address the drought. These actions ranged from waiving certain trucking regulations to increasing federal purchases of meat.

While numerous federal programs address different aspects of drought, no comprehensive national drought policy exists. A 2000 National Drought Policy Commission noted the patchwork nature of drought programs, and that despite a major federal role in responding to drought, no single federal agency leads or coordinates drought programs—instead, the federal role is more of “crisis management.” Congress may opt to revisit the Commission’s recommendations and reevaluate whether current federal practices could be improved or supplemented with actions to coordinate, prepare for, and respond to the unpredictable but inevitable occurrence of drought. Given the daunting task of managing drought, Congress also may consider proposals to manage drought impacts, such as authorizing new assistance to develop or augment water supplies for localities, industries, and agriculture – or providing funding for such activities where authorities already exist. Congress also may move to examine how the two major federal water management agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, plan for and respond to severe drought and account for its impacts.

This report describes the physical causes of drought, drought history in the United States, and policy challenges related to drought. It also provides examples of recurrent regional drought conditions. For information on federal agricultural disaster assistance and related legislation, see the CRS reports noted above.



Date of Report: August 15, 2012
Number of Pages: 34
Order Number: RL34580
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Monday, August 27, 2012

Horse Slaughter Prevention Bills and Issues


Tadlock Cowan
Analyst in Natural Resources and Rural Development

In 2006, two Texas plants and one in Illinois slaughtered nearly 105,000 horses for human food, mainly for European and Asian consumers. In 2007, court action effectively closed the Texas plants, and a state ban in Illinois closed that plant. However, horses continue to be shipped to Mexico and Canada for slaughter, and several states have explored opening horse slaughtering facilities. Animal welfare activists and advocates for horses continue to press Congress for a federal ban. Bills in the 111th Congress would have made it a crime to knowingly possess, ship, transport, sell, deliver, or receive any horse, carcass, or horse flesh intended for human consumption. The bills were referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security and the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, respectively, and no further action was taken. Companion bills entitled the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011 (S. 1176 and H.R. 2966) were introduced by Senator Landrieu and Representative Burton in June and September 2011, respectively. The bills would amend the Horse Protection Act (P.L. 91-540) to prohibit shipping, transporting, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donating horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption. The bills were referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and to the House Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry.

A general provision in the House-passed FY2012 Agriculture appropriations bill (H.R. 2112, §739) would have continued to prohibit any funds to pay salaries or expenses of the Food Safety Inspection Service personnel to inspect horses under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (21 U.S.C. 603). This general provision was not included in the Senate-passed version of H.R. 2112, nor was it included in the final bill (P.L. 112-55). Without this provision, FSIS could again inspect horse meat. A facility in New Mexico became the first to apply for a grant of inspection from FSIS following the lifting of the ban. Another facility in Missouri also has an application pending. However, the FY2013 House agriculture appropriations bill (§744, H.R. 5973) would reinstate the ban.

The provision had been included in Agriculture appropriations bills since 2008. The ban does not prohibit the transport of U.S. horses into Canada or Mexico for slaughter. Its absence in P.L. 112- 55 may have reflected a June 2011 Government Accountability Office report that recommended action on the unintended consequences of ending horse slaughter in 2007. The report provided evidence of a rise in state and local investigations for horse neglect and more abandoned horses since 2007. Some opponents of the horse slaughter ban, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, have argued that humane slaughter in the United States is preferable to lessregulated slaughter in Mexican abattoirs, or more humane than abandoning unwanted horses to starve because owners can no longer afford to feed and care for the animals. Animal welfare groups have countered the argument that there are large numbers of unwanted horses being abandoned.



Date of Report: August 15, 2012
Number of Pages: 11
Order Number: RS21842
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Friday, August 24, 2012

Legislative Options for Financing Water Infrastructure


Claudia Copeland
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy

William J. Mallett
Specialist in Transportation Policy

Steven Maguire
Specialist in Public Finance


This report addresses several options being considered by Congress to address the financing needs of local communities for wastewater and drinking water infrastructure projects and to decrease or close the gap between available funds and projected needs. Some of the options exist and are well established, but they are under discussion for expansion or modification. Other innovative policy options have recently been proposed in connection with water infrastructure, especially to supplement or complement existing financing tools. Some are intended to provide robust, long-term revenue to support existing financing programs and mechanisms. Some are intended to encourage private participation in furnishing drinking water and wastewater services.

Six options that are reflected in current or recent legislative proposals, including budgetary implications, are discussed.

  • Increase funding for the State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs in the Clean Water Act (H.R. 3145 in the 112th Congress) and the Safe Drinking Water Act (H.R. 5320 in the 111th Congress), 
  • Create a federal water infrastructure trust fund (H.R. 6249 and H.R. 3145 in the 112th Congress), 
  • Create a “Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act” Program, or WIFIA (H.R. 3145 in the 112th Congress), 
  • Create a National Infrastructure Bank (H.R. 402 and S. 652 in the 112th Congress), 
  • Lift private activity bond restrictions on water infrastructure projects (S. 939 and H.R. 1802 in the 112th Congress), and 
  • Reinstate authority for the issuance of Build America Bonds (included in the Administration’s FY2013 budget request). 
A number of these issues and options have been examined in hearings by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment (on February 28 and March 21, 2012) and by the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife (December 13, 2011, and February 28, 2012).

Consensus exists among many stakeholders—state and local governments, equipment manufacturers and construction companies, and environmental advocates—on the need for more investment in water infrastructure. There is no consensus supporting a preferred option or policy, and many advocate a combination that will expand the financing “toolbox” for projects. Some of the options discussed in this report may be helpful, but there is no single method that will address needs fully or close the financing gap completely. For example, some may be helpful to projects in large urban or multi-jurisdictional areas, while others may be more beneficial in smaller communities. It is unlikely that any of the recently proposed options could be up and running quickly, meaning that, at least for the near term, communities will continue to rely on the existing SRF programs, tax-exempt governmental bonds, and tax-exempt private activity bonds to finance their water infrastructure needs.



Date of Report: August 9, 2012
Number of Pages: 23
Order Number: R42467
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