Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Spending bill has $90 million in funding for Appalachian coalfield, guts country-labeling law

"Congressional leaders unveiled a $1.15 trillion fiscal 2016 spending bill overnight" that includes $90 million in abandoned-coal-mine funding for Appalachian states hit hard by the mining downturn,  Manuel QuiƱones, Geof Koss and Phil Taylor report for Environment & Energy News. "House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers' (R-Ky.) original proposal was $30 million. The provision is meant to be a rolled-back version of a White House proposal to speed up the release of $1 billion from the abandoned-coal-mine reclamation fund. Another section of the omnibus includes $19 million in aid for dislocated coal-mine and power-plant workers."

The Abandoned Mine Land Fund has nearly $2.5 billion, accumulated over the years in fees paid by coal companies but not spent because most abandoned mines have been reclaimed. President Obama had proposed spending $1 billion over five years to keep his promise to help areas that are economically distressed because of his anti-coal policies. When the plan stalled in Congress, local communities in the Central Appalachian coalfield began asking for its passage.

"Negotiators kept an existing provision prohibiting the administration from changing the definition of 'fill material' under the Clean Water Act, a move that could restrict mining," reports E&E News. "The omnibus spending bill also includes a provision rolling back the Obama administration's moves to limit financing for overseas coal-fired power plants. The deal directs $160 million to boost demonstration projects aimed at commercializing technology to capture and reuse carbon emissions from power plants."

Also in the bill "payments in lieu of taxes (PILT), a program that compensates rural counties with large blocks of tax-exempt federal lands, would receive $452 million, marking the second straight year the program has been funded through the appropriations process," reports E&E News. "While PILT is a relief for Western counties, its inclusion in the omnibus bill comes at the expense of other Interior, Forest Service and EPA investments. It used to be funded through mandatory dollars."

Also included is a three-year re-authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, funding the program for $450 million in fiscal 2016, a significant increase over the current level of just over $300 million, reports E&E News. Legislation also "includes increases for fossil fuel and nuclear research and development, including $632 million for coal, oil and natural gas."

The bill’s country-of-origin labeling (COOL) "provision would gut a law that was first enacted as part of the 2002 farm bill," reports Agri-Pulse. "In a small victory for supporters of the COOL law, the spending bill would leave in place the labeling requirements for chicken, while eliminating the rules for beef and pork. Those were the two commodities at the center of the WTO case in which Canada and Mexico recently won approval to impose more than $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs against U.S. exports."

"The bill also won’t stop the Obama administration from enforcing its new 'waters of the United States' (WOTUS) rule if a court stay is lifted," reports Agri-Pulse. "The WOTUS rider was a top priority for many farm groups and developers, who said the rider was needed as insurance should the courts allow the administration to start enforcing the rule, which re-defines the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. However, the White House strongly resisted including it, lawmakers said." Agri-Pulse is subscription-only but offers a four-week free trial.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) "said the final sticking point Tuesday was Republicans' demand to lift a 40-year ban on the export of U.S. crude oil," Erin Kelly reports for USA Today. "Democrats agreed to lift the ban but only after they apparently won a five-year extension of tax credits for wind and solar energy. They also beat back Republican efforts to derail President Obama's clean air and climate change regulations."

The bill also includes "provisions to ensure reimbursement policies don't change for mammograms and to exempt some rural long-term care hospitals from a billing change related to treating severe wounds," Erin Mershon reports for Politico. The House is expected to vote on the spending bill on Friday.

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