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Press Releases :: June 16, 2009

Subcommittee Advances Bills to Update Oil Spill R&D, to Authorize National Environmental Research Parks, and to Advance Natural Gas Vehicle R&D

(Washington, DC) – Today, the Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Energy and Environment approved three bills:  H.R. 2693, which will update the federal government’s research and development (R&D) of oil spill prevention, detection, recovery, and mitigation; H.R. 2729, which will formally authorize existing National Environmental Research Parks;  and H.R. 1622, which will restart a natural gas vehicle R&D program at the Department of Energy (DOE).

H.R. 2693, which will now be titled the Federal Oil Pollution Research Program Act, provides a new direction to the existing program by guiding research towards emerging challenges and making the interagency structure for this program more efficient.  The bill also provides grants to institutes higher learning and research centers to improve technologies used to prevent, combat, and clean up oil spills.  
 
“This act would improve the federal government’s research and development efforts to prevent, detect, or mitigate oil discharges,” said Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA).  “Through this reauthorization, the responsible federal agencies will be better equipped to effectively respond to oil discharges both inland and in coastal waters.”
 
“In the aftermath of the Cosco Busan spill, one thing that I heard again and again from the people who were tasked with cleaning up our mess was that the technology they were using just wasn’t adequate to get the job done,” said bill author Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA).  “H.R. 2693 will help to ensure that the federal government is taking an active role to prevent oil spills, and that when they do occur, we have the best possible technology to minimize negative impacts to ourselves and the environment.”
 
The Committee approved amendments from Rep. Woolsey, Subcommittee Chairman Baird, Technology and Innovation Subcommittee Vice Chairman Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), and Energy and Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Bob Inglis (R-SC).
 
“The Manager’s amendment makes a series of changes throughout H.R. 2693 to clarify the intent of the legislation and to incorporate recommendations from the legislative hearing held June 4th,” said Woolsey.  “These changes are based on witness recommendations from the hearing and follow up conversations with the related federal agencies.”
 
“My amendment ensures that the Program will involve research and development in to new technologies and methods to respond to oil pollution in artic regions,” said Baird. “As the polar ice continues to melt, new channels are emerging that allow for increased vessel travel.  As artic transportation increases, we need to have technologies in place to deal with oil spills in these unique environments. Second, my amendment inserts a new requirement into the Assessment section of the bill.  The Assessment should include an investigation into the economic incentives and barriers to the development of new technologies for oil pollution response.  Since large oil spills happen infrequently but carry the possibility of an environmental disaster, it is important that we are creating the correct incentive structure for the development of technologies to mitigate such an accident.” 
 
“Oil spills are not limited to deep waters,” said Luján.  “It is important for this legislation to consider incidents that occur in locations across the country: coastal waters, inland waters, and on land. Since the original Interagency Program focused primarily on coastal oil spills, my amendment adds new requirements to the Program, Assessment and Plan.  Specifically, my amendments requires consideration and investigation of technologies and methods to address oil discharges on land and inland waters.”
 
The Subcommittee also approved H.R. 2729, to authorize the designation of National Environmental Research Parks by the Secretary of Energy, and for other purposes.  The bill formally authorizes the seven existing National Environmental Research Parks as permanent research reserves. Long-term data sets have been collected from the Parks for decades and are used to understand natural ecosystem development and variability, including how ecosystems respond to climate change and other factors.
 
“These parks are truly a national treasure, providing large tracts of land unspoiled for decades in nearly all of the major eco-regions in the United States,” said Baird.  “They are a valuable resource for examining the transport of DOE-related contaminants, long-term impacts of climate change, and the various ways carbon is captured and released within an ecosystem.”
 
“The National Environmental Research Parks enable studies on a broad range of topics—including long-term climate variations, crops that may be used as feed stocks for bio-energy, and maintenance of freshwater ecosystems,” said bill author Luján.  “With this authorization, these Parks will be able to properly support and expand their important research activities. By providing steady funding for these research parks, we will help our scientists participate in long-term research, while supporting collaboration between the research parks and educational institutions. Additionally, this bill provides our students with hands on training in science and technology.”
 
The Subcommittee accepted amendments from Technology and Innovation Subcommittee Vice Chairman Luján and Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairwoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ).
 
“My amendment supports increased coordination between the National Environmental Research Parks and ensures that the Parks include students of all educational backgrounds within their educational outreach programs,” said Luján.  “The amendment instructs the Secretary of Energy to designate a NERP Coordinator to help oversee complementary research activities and ensure that best practices information is shared among the Parks. The amendment also clarifies that the Office of Science will be the lead agency for supporting the parks within the Department. In the amendment, the importance of community colleges is also recognized by including them in the Park’s outreach to schools and students.”
 
The amendment offered by Chairwoman Giffords would encourage ecological researchers to use the Parks to study the environmental impacts of renewable energy sources, as well as traditional energy sources.
 
“Renewable energy technologies are generally considered to have low environmental impacts compared with traditional energy sources, but no energy technology is completely free of effects on surrounding ecosystems,” said Giffords.  “As use of renewables is poised to grow significantly in the coming years, it is essential that we understand their environmental impacts so we can better mitigate them.”
 
The Subcommittee also approved H.R. 1622, to provide for a program of research, development, and demonstration on natural gas vehicles, authored by Rep. John Sullivan (R-OK) and co-sponsored by Full Committee Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX). This bill reauthorizes the DOE’s research, development, and demonstration program in natural gas powered vehicles and related infrastructure. 
 
“To transform our nation’s energy sector we must explore a diverse range of fuels and vehicle technologies,” said Baird.  “While only a piece in very complex puzzle, natural gas can potentially provide us with an option that is both cleaner than petroleum and domestically available.”
 
For more information on this markup, please see the Committee’s website.
 
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