House and Senate appropriators have wrapped up negotiations over the 2010 spending bill for environmental agencies, opting to include several controversial amendments that have stalled a conference on the bill.
"We're all settled," said Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). A House-Senate conference meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. today.
The conference report will include riders to exempt some Great Lakes ships from pending U.S. EPA regulations and exempt manure management systems at factory farms from an EPA greenhouse gas reporting requirement for one year, Feinstein said.
The rider from House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) would exempt certain steamships that operate on the Great Lakes from pending regulations that set limits on the sulfur content of fuel used in internal U.S. waters and along U.S. coastlines.
The Lake Carriers' Association -- a group that represents 18 companies operating vessels on the Great Lakes -- has argued that the rule would force the retirement of 13 steamships that are more than 50 years old. In September comments to EPA, the association's president, James Weakley, said it would be "economically unjustifiable" to switch the fuel of those ships.
The rider would also allow more than 40 other diesel-powered ships operating in the Great Lakes to qualify for an "economic hardship" exemption that could give them added time before they have to switch to cleaner fuel, according to the advocacy group Clean Air Watch.
Environmental groups have urged lawmakers to oppose any rider that would restrict EPA regulations for large ships or adversely affect international efforts to reduce shipping emissions.
As part of a coordinated strategy to slash shipping emissions, the United States and Canada in March asked the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to designate thousands of miles of the countries' coastlines as "emission control areas" subject to emission regulations. IMO is expected to act on the request in March, but environmentalists have said that an appropriations rider could sway its decision.
But Feinstein said that the amendment would be limited in its scope.
"We've worked with EPA, and the effect is, it simply grandfathers 13 ships," she said. "It does not interfere with the rule, with the EPA rule." Nor will it interfere with the international negotiations, she added.
Rich Kassel, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council and director of NRDC's clean vehicles and fuels project, said he has not seen the language of the amendment. "If the language is what people are saying it is, we think that the emission control area ... is protected," he said. "But we still need to get to work to figure out how to clean up those very dirty steamships on the Great Lakes."
Factory farm, Davis-Bacon amendments
The conference report will also include an amendment that will exempt manure management systems at factory farms for one year from an EPA rule requiring large farms to report their greenhouse gas emissions, Feinstein said. The amendment from Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) was included in the House-passed bill but had been removed from the conference report (E&E Daily, Oct. 27).
But Feinstein said today that the measure was reinserted. "It's in the compromise," she said. "It's not something that I particularly like, to be honest with you, but I want to get a bill."
This afternoon, the House voted, 267-147, to accept a motion to instruct conferees to insist on the Latham amendment.
Lawmakers have also come to an agreement on a water infrastructure amendment included in the House version but not the Senate bill, Feinstein said. The provision would impose Davis-Bacon requirements -- which compel federal contractors to pay employees at least the area's prevailing wage -- on all construction projects that use money from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.
"It's going to be in. It's one year -- at least, that's my understanding," Feinstein said.
Similar amendments repeatedly have caused controversy in both chambers. House lawmakers sparred over the Davis-Bacon requirements contained in a water projects bill that passed in March, with Democrats generally in favor of the wage measure and Republicans generally opposed.
"I don't like the amendment," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), ranking member of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. "We're going to spend this money on clean water. We don't need to be telling Nebraska and Tennessee and right-to-work states how to spend their money."
Feinstein said congressional leaders may include a continuing resolution in the spending bill to keep the federal government funded beyond Saturday, when the current CR expires. Such a resolution would give Congress more time to finalize the remaining fiscal 2010 spending bills.
"That's the talk," she said. "We'll see what happens at the conference this afternoon, but that's the talk."