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Capital Report


February 2013 Issue

US House Approves $51 Billion for Hurricane Sandy Relief, Helps Fulfill White House $60 Billion Target
The U.S. House of Representatives passed by a vote of 241 to 180 in January a $51 billion aid package to provide emergency relief and funding for long-term structural repairs to the region devastated by Hurricane Sandy, TIME reported. This is the first major legislation of the 113th Congress.

Democrats supported the bill almost unanimously, and 49 Republicans helped to pass it, many of them from Sandy-affected areas.

President Barack Obama's administration wanted a $60 billion aid package, which was passed by the Senate late 2012. Congress allocated about $10 billion earlier in January to fund flood-insurance programs, which, combined with the House bill, fulfills the $60 billion target.

The House's Sandy relief bill was broken into two packages. The first, authored by Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), was a $17 billion tranche of mostly emergency funding.

The second, authored by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), contained about $12 billion in long-term development projects open to almost all states, which some House Republicans disapproved of as earmarks.

The first package passed easily, unlike the second, which only had 38 House Republicans supporting it.

Republicans control the House, but the Sandy aid package showed divisions within the party. It also had Speaker of the House John Boehner conflicted: He violated the Hastert Rule by bringing the bill to the floor without the majority support of the ruling party.

Congressman Paul Broun Questions NOAA's Termination of NWS Sandy Assessment
In a'letter'to NOAA, U.S. House'Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun (R-Ga.)'has requested additional clarification on NOAA's rationale for terminating a National Weather Service (NWS) assessment of Hurricane Sandy.'Broun also questioned the limitations and independence of the new assessment.

In response to an earlier letter from Broun, NOAA gave two reasons for terminating the first service assessment team: a potential interest in initiating a broader federal collaboration and speculation that the original assessment team would have violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) due to the participation of nonfederal employees.

Broun's follow-up letter questioned why NOAA would prohibit external advisers because of FACA: 'If the Sandy service assessment team was terminated because NOAA and NWS were concerned about violating FACA, then they must have also violated FACA on several prior weather service assessments that included outside experts. Conversely, if those previous assessment teams did not violate FACA, then this rationale makes no sense.'

Broun also questioned the diminished scope and independence of the new charter. He sees it as giving a lot of control to a limited number of senior NOAA employees, including Administrator Jane Lubchenco, who must approve the public release of the service assessment report.

'I hope the initial Sandy Service Assessment was not terminated because it was too independent, or because it was asking questions that the government found uncomfortable,' Broun wrote. 'The new service assessment charter lacks sufficient independence given that nongovernmental participation has been scaled back, confidentiality clauses have been added, and management influence has grown. NOAA has also narrowed the focus of the assessment to the point that it may not substantively inform future agency actions.'

US Congress Extends Wind Energy Tax Credits As Part of Fiscal Cliff Bill
The U.S. Congress has included the extension of the wind energy production tax credit and investment tax credits as part of a bill passed to avert the fiscal cliff. This would cover all wind projects that start construction in 2013. Manufacturers and installers of wind turbines sought that definition to allow for the 18 to 24 months it takes to develop a new wind farm.

The House of Representatives passed the bill in January with a 257-167 vote, after the Senate passed it with a vote of 89 to 8. It was then signed into law soon after by President Barack Obama, who supported the wind energy tax credits.

Nine offshore project proposals in U.S. state and federal waters are in various stages of development, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said. Of the contiguous 48 states, 28 have a coastal boundary, and they use 78 percent of U.S. electricity. If shallow-water offshore potential is included in the wind-resource mix, 26 of these 28 states would have the wind resources to meet at least 20 percent of their electricity needs.

The potential generating capacity from offshore wind totals 4,150 gigawatts, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory said. In context, the total electric-generating capacity of the U.S. was 1,025 gigawatts at the end of 2009.

US Coast Guard Gets FY 2013, 2014 Funding Under USCG and Maritime Transportation Act
The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012 (H.R. 2838), which has been signed into law by President Barack Obama, authorizes $8.6 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2013 and $8.7 billion in FY 2014 for the USCG.

The bill, introduced in the U.S. House by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-Fla.) and Coast Guard Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), will provide USCG reforms, reduce regulatory burdens on small business and port workers, and require a decision to either reactivate or decommission the USCG's sidelined heavy icebreaker.

H.R. 2838 also eliminates the Transportation Security Administration requirement for maritime workers to make multiple trips to a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) enrollment center to receive the TWIC ID card, includes compliance deadlines for new USCG regulations on fishing vessels and extends the duration of medical certificates so mariners can continue to work while the USCG reduces its backlog of applications.

The bill also extends for an additional year the moratorium for fishing and small commercial vessels' compliance with Environmental Protection Agency regulations governing vessel incidental discharges, such as rainwater runoff.


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