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In light of last week's meteor and asteroid, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) today sent NASA Administrator Bolden a fact-finding letter to work with NASA to assess the nation's preparedness for future cosmic incidences.

Text of the letter follows:




February 20, 2013

The Honorable Charles F. Bolden, Jr.

Administrator

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

300 E Street, SW

Washington, DC 20546

Dear Administrator Bolden:

The vivid images of last Friday’s meteor streaking across the Russian sky quickly made their way around the world, captivating the public and leaving many to wonder how such an event could happen without warning.  On the same day, much of the world’s astronomical focus was on an asteroid, 2012 DA14, which safely passed the Earth, but came close enough to warrant attention.  These events, while coincidental, raise questions about our preparedness for future objects coming toward Earth.

The meteor in Russia resulted in nearly 1,000 injuries, mostly due to broken glass caused by the explosion from the meteoroid entering our atmosphere.  This devastation serves as a blunt reminder of the dangers that cosmic objects pose to human safety and wellbeing.  The likelihood of a catastrophic event may be low, but the consequences are sufficiently dire to warrant preparation.  An early warning could enable steps to mitigate damage and limit the loss of human life. 

Locating and tracking these objects is clearly just the first step in preparedness.  The ability to eliminate the threat of an asteroid or meteor impacting Earth, colliding with the Moon, or disrupting our space-oriented communications and scientific equipment could be vital.  We would be remiss if we did not use the recent events as an opportunity to survey our current capabilities and assess how we can better use limited resources to identify potential threats. 

Please respond to the following questions by March 20, 2013:

1)      Please explain the current arrangement for tracking cosmic objects.  To what degree of certainty are the objects which pose a threat to Earth being monitored?  What type of coordination is occurring on an international scale?

2)      What shortcomings are currently present in NASA’s ability to accurately track and predict cosmic objects which may pose a threat to Earth, the Moon, our satellites and other space-oriented apparatus?

3)      How achievable are current NASA plans designed to eliminate the threats posed by cosmic objects on a collision course with Earth? 

4)      How much lead time is necessary between identifying a threat to Earth and its neutralization employing the current NASA strategies?

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.  I look forward to reviewing your response.

Sincerely,

F. JAMES SENSENBRENNER, JR

Member of Congress

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) today introduced legislation to limit the EPA’s ability to mandate that refiners blend more cellulosic biofuel than is actually available.

This bill (text here) will require the EPA to set the mandate for cellulosic biofuel, in part, based on evidence of how much cellulosic biofuel was available the previous year.  

“If EPA cannot base their mandate on realistic projections, Congress should act to protect Americans from the agency’s phantom fuel fine,” Sensenbrenner said. “When EPA fines refiners millions of dollars for failing to use a nonexistent fuel, consumers will end up paying more at the pump. We want our energy policy to encourage innovation and energy security, but the EPA’s unreasonable approach defies common sense and manipulates the law’s intent.”

“The D.C. Court vacated the EPA’s 2012 projection as unrealistic and an abuse of the agency’s power. What did EPA do? They nearly doubled the 2013 mandate for a fuel that is still commercially unavailable. The EPA is on a runaway political agenda, and the purpose of my bill is to rein in the agency to enforce the law, not an ideology or wishful thinking.”

Background:

EPA’s 2013 mandate requires refiners to purchase 14 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel or pay a penalty.  However, there is limited availability of the fuel, and certainly nothing remotely near the EPA mandate.  In fact, prior to 2012, there were zero gallons of this fuel commercially produced.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 set ambitious standards for cellulosic biofuel production as a part of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).  When Congress proposed these aggressive goals, cellulosic biofuel was still a theoretical fuel.  Therefore, it empowered EPA with the authority to reduce the mandate to commercially realistic levels should actual production fall short of the congressional mandate.  Since 2010, the EPA has set unrealistic mandates for cellulosic biofuels.  The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 2012 mandate, 8.7 million gallons, was “an unreasonable exercise of agency discretion,” and rejected that requirement.

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Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) today sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to investigate the agency’s recently released 2013 mandate for cellulosic ethanol. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the EPA’s 2012 projection of cellulosic biofuel production as unrealistic and “in excess of the agency’s statutory authority.”

“Despite a very clear rebuke by the D.C. Court, EPA doubled down on a runaway political agenda to impose unrealistic RFS standards. The agency has been mandating that refiners buy a commercially unavailable fuel and then fining them for not using it. These fines get passed on to consumers with higher prices at the pump. EPA needs to explain how the absurd 2013 projection is reasonable and within the agency’s authority.”

Read the letter Congressman Sensenbrenner sent to EPA here.

Background:

EPA’s 2013 mandate requires refiners to purchase 14 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel or pay a penalty.  However, there is limited availability of the fuel, and certainly nothing remotely near the EPA mandate.  In fact, prior to 2012, there were zero gallons of this fuel commercially produced. 

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 set ambitious standards for cellulosic biofuel production as a part of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).  When Congress proposed these aggressive goals, cellulosic biofuel was still a theoretical fuel.  Therefore, it empowered EPA with the authority to reduce the mandate to commercially realistic levels should actual production fall short of the congressional mandate.  Since 2010, the EPA has set unrealistic mandates for cellulosic biofuels.  The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 2012 mandate, 8.7 million gallons, was “an unreasonable exercise of agency discretion,” and rejected that requirement.

Last Congress, Congressman Sensenbrenner introduced legislation to limit the EPA’s ability to mandate that refiners blend more cellulosic biofuel than is actually available.

You may have read in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) was running an undercover operation that had several very concerning mistakes and problems. The ATF’s mistakes included allowing a machine gun and other weapons to be stolen in the Milwaukee area. We need a full accounting of what happened in the Milwaukee operation and what the ATF will do to make sure something like this does not happen again in our neighborhoods or around the country.

As part of the “Violent Crime Impact Team,” ATF rented a storefront in a Milwaukee neighborhood to purchase drugs and guns. Notably, the ATF chose a neighborhood where aggravated assaults were decreasing and homicide numbers were far fewer than other sections of the city.

ATF has already been the subject of ongoing investigations for their failed gun-walking operation, called "Fast and Furious," where agents knowingly sold guns to drug cartels and traffickers in Mexico. This operation came to light when several of the walked guns were lost and one of the weapons was used to kill a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent.

Now, ATF has conducted another botched operation; this time not in Mexico, but Milwaukee.

A 2006 Department of Justice Inspector General report cited “ineffective oversight” of the Impact Teams and found no evidence showing firearm crimes were actually reduced in the “hot spots” where they performed. Not only do these teams continue to exist today, but the Journal Sentinel reports indicate the Milwaukee operation suffered from the lack of oversight cited in the IG report.

One of the most concerning and incredible facts uncovered in the reports is that ATF, for the second time that we know, has allowed guns to get into the hands of criminals. Three guns were stolen from an agent’s car, including a machine gun which has yet to be recovered. Then, when one gun was resold to the ATF storefront, the agents failed to arrest him for another two months.

After the storefront was burglarized and the ATF finally closed the operation, the agents reportedly left behind sensitive documents with information on the undercover agents.

I sent a letter with my colleagues Chairmen Issa and Goodlatte and Senator Grassley to ATF Acting Director Todd Jones asking him to explain what happened in Milwaukee and why the type of “ineffective oversight” the IG report found in 2006 has continued to persist for seven years.

Beyond "Fast and Furious" and the recent Milwaukee sting, ATF has had a rocky history. In 2006, ATF Director Carl Truscott resigned due to lavish spending, ethical violations, and questionable treatment of employees. The ATF needs an accountable, Senate-confirmed head just like the other law enforcement agencies under the Department of Justice.

The Obama Administration wants to pass new gun laws and give new responsibilities to the ATF, but the agency has been inept at enforcing the laws that we already have. The agency should have rigorous oversight of their operations, but the recent reports indicate the opposite is true. I look forward to hearing back from the ATF. We need to get answers on the botched Milwaukee operation with the goal of preventing other debacles in the future.

Today, Members on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Wis.), Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), Rep. Jerrold L. Nadler (D-N.Y.), Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), and Rep. Melvin L. Watt (D-N.C.), filed a brief as amici curiae in the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Shelby County v. Holder to defend the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits jurisdictions with a history of discrimination from making changes in their voting procedures without first demonstrating to either the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia that the change will not deny a person the right to vote based on their race.  In their amicus brief, the Judiciary Committee Members, who served as the bipartisan leadership at the time of the 2006  reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, defended Congress’s responsibility under the Constitution to remove any impediments to the ballot box and to protect the integrity of the election process. Following the filing of the amicus brief, the Representatives involved released this statement:

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr.: “The Voting Rights Act is the crown jewel of civil rights laws. It protects our most fundamental right—the right to vote. This law has empowered minorities to participate in the election process, but the threat of discrimination is not yet extinct.  In 2006, the House compiled 12,000 pages of extensive testimony. This record shows Section 5 not only worked to correct past injustices, but is unmistakably central to the continued protection of minorities’ right to vote in covered districts. I am proud of this law, and join my colleagues in ardently defending its constitutionality.”

Rep. John Conyers, Jr.: “The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy, and the foundation on which all of our other rights rest.  As we have seen in litigation over the past year, Section 5 remains critical to enforcing the constitutional rights of all voters, especially for voters in jurisdictions with a history of discrimination.  We affirm our obligation to the Constitution to defend Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which is the basis of Congress’s authority to enforce equal access to voting for every citizen.  We urge the Supreme Court to consider the arguments presented in our amicus brief, and to uphold Section 5 Voting Rights Act in its entirety.

“It is notable that we are filing this amicus brief just days before the 143rd anniversary of the ratification of the 15th Amendment. The 15th Amendment grants Congress the express power to prevent, through appropriate legislation, the denial of the right to vote based on a citizen’s race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Congress will continue to protect citizens from discrimination in the elections process by guaranteeing equal protection under the law for all voters.”

Rep. Steven Chabot: “The Constitution expressly grants broad authority to Congress to both regulate the time, manner and place of elections and to enact legislation to ensure that no citizen's right to vote is unlawfully denied. As such, Congress was acting at the height of its constitutional powers both when it enacted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and when it reauthorized those provisions in 2006. During the reauthorization process, the House Judiciary Committee conducted 12 hearings, received testimony from 46 witnesses and compiled an extensive record to support its conclusion that Section 5 should be reauthorized. Consequently, I urge the Supreme Court to defer to the judgment of Congress and uphold this important provision in its entirety.”

Rep. Jerrold L. Nadler: “Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has proved a critical tool in protecting minority voters from efforts to disenfranchise them.  As we documented when we reauthorized it in 2006, these practices continue, and stopping them before they can take effect under the preclearance provisions of section 5, is the only way to ensure that voting rights can be protected.  Our brief provides the Supreme Court with the legal basis for the bipartisan judgment of the overwhelming majority of the Congress that the Voting Rights Act remains necessary to protect our most fundamental democratic right.  I believe that, when the Court reviews that record, it will have no choice but to uphold the Voting Rights Act as it has consistently for nearly half a century.”

Rep. Melvin L. Watt: “In 2006, Congress assembled an unprecedented record of evidence to determine whether Section 5 of the Voting Rights Acts continued to protect minority voters and was sufficiently targeted in jurisdictions with a history of discrimination.   That record establishes that voting discrimination is an enduring problem and that Section 5 remains necessary to safeguard the voting franchise for all Americans.  I trust that the Court will recognize, as we did, that Section 5 remains a vital and legitimate component of the voting rights act.”

Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott: "Invalidating Section 5 will essentially allow states and localities, who have a recorded history of discrimination, to implement any voter schemes and benefit from those schemes until the victims of discrimination raise the money for a lawsuit to overturn the scheme.  Victims who are unable to afford expensive litigation will not have their rights protected," said Rep. Bobby Scott.  "Those states and areas that are covered by Section 5 were not chosen randomly, they were selected the old fashion way -  they earned it.  It is my hope that the Court will uphold Section 5."

The amicus brief can be found online here.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) today released this statement on the Senate’s proposed framework for immigration:

“The Senate group laid out some principles today, and the President will do the same tomorrow. But the devil is in the details. I want to see actual legislation and assess the intended and unintended consequences of the policies. Extending amnesty to those who came here illegally or overstayed their visas is dangerous waters. We are a nation of laws, and I will evaluate any proposal through that matrix.”

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The President has held up the Keystone XL Pipeline for far too long. This week, the Governor of Nebraska dismantled the last possible obstruction to this project that would spur the creation of thousands of jobs and improve our nation’s energy security. It is time for the President to put politics aside and place our national interest first.

On Tuesday, the Governor of Nebraska sent a letter to President Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in support of a newly proposed route for the Keystone Pipeline that he says addresses all possible state and environmental concerns. 

In 2009, TransCanada filed an application with the US Department of State to build the Keystone XL to transport 830,000 barrels of crude oil from the sands region of Alberta to refineries in the US.

After completing all the necessary environmental reviews, the Administration moved the goal posts and required additional studies, and additional delays.

Finally, this time last year, the President rejected the pipeline, arguing there were still more environmental concerns because the proposed path could potentially threaten the Sandy Hills area in Nebraska.

This has been a four-year process and has involved exhaustive environmental reviews- as it should. Projects like the Keystone Pipeline should involve studies and reviews that make sure we are not putting the environment and local communities through undue risk.

But there was a point when the Administration seemed more driven by political motivations than environmental or economic ones. USAToday called the decision to deny the pipeline, “the most craven sort of election-year politics. The Obama administration seemed to be on its way to approving Keystone when environmental groups made the pipeline a key test of their support for the president, who suddenly decided the administration couldn't possibly make a decision until sometime after the election.”

As a result, TransCanada resubmitted a route for the pipeline that avoided potentially sensitive lands and received approval from Nebraska’s Governor.

With the state’s key approval and his re-election secured, what is holding President Obama back? The newly-proposed route makes this clear: the President has no possible bureaucratic excuse to deny its approval again.

The President claimed concerns with the proposed route in 2012, and his concerns have now been met. I hope commonsense will prevail in the Administration, and any political concerns with expanding and using fossil fuels will be set aside for the sake of growing our economy and helping our country reach better energy security.

There is concern; however, that commonsense won’t prevail. The President vowed in his Inauguration speech to fight climate change, but did not mention any specific ideas or what that means. Environmental groups are already calling on the President to reject the Keystone Pipeline because it transports “dirty oil.”

The State Department signaled that it would be at least three more months until the government’s own environmental studies would be complete.

In the meantime, the support in Congress to build the Keystone Pipeline is bipartisan and building. Last year, over 100 Democratic Members of Congress requested the President approve the Pipeline, saying it would spur 100,000 direct and spin off jobs. This week, 53 Senators wrote the President to swiftly approve this new Pipeline route because of the economic and energy benefits.

The Keystone Pipeline is a critical opportunity to reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil. If the Administration is honest about pursuing an “all-of-the-above energy strategy,” then fossil fuels, particularly from friendly allies, should be included. Last year, the President risked the possibility that Canada would look elsewhere for partners to whom they could export their resources. He should not delay this project any longer. 

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) today called on the President to lead a thoughtful and reasoned debate on reducing gun violence and denounce a video game inviting users to take shots at National Rifle Association (NRA) officials.

Text of the letter to President Obama:

 

The Honorable Barack Obama

President of the United States

The White House

Washington, DC 20500

 

Dear President Obama:

As the conversation over gun violence continues to unfold in Washington and across the nation, I wanted to bring to your attention a disturbing new online video game.

A website entitled “facepunch” allows users to download a video game inviting them to take head shots at National Rifle Association (NRA) officials.  The game, “Bullet to the Head of the NRA,” specifically targets NRA President David Keene and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. According to reports, one scene depicts Mr. LaPierre standing at a podium, giving a speech with a crosshair over his head, and allows users to shoot him in the head. 

Making threats against public figures who speak out either for or against gun control prevents us from having a reasonable, thoughtful debate.  Although we may have strong disagreements on the best ways to reduce gun violence, it is my hope that we can both agree that video games targeting specific individuals who speak out on this issue, is counterproductive.

I urge you to publicly denounce this video game.  Your voice can serve a powerful tool to emphasize the need for a civilized discussion.

I look forward to a robust debate of the complex issues surrounding gun safety in the new Congress.  Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

 

F. James Sensenbrenner Jr.
Member of Congress

Signed copy attached


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The bill to avert the fiscal cliff passed late in the evening on January 1. I voted against the bill because the so-called deal doesn’t promote economic growth or job creation, it discourages it. Rather than address the drivers of our debt problem, it completely avoids any serious spending reform.

Instead, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said this deal actually adds $4 trillion to the debt and includes forty-one dollars of tax increases for every one dollar of spending cuts.

I don’t want taxes to go up on anyone. I have spent my career fighting to help Wisconsinites keep more of their own money. But this deal only prolongs a debt crisis that will surely hand the taxpayers a bigger bill in the long term and threaten our economic growth.

In 1990, as part of a larger budget agreement, President George H. W. Bush signed a package of tax increases into law— with the promise of future spending cuts. Congress adjourned before the cuts materialized. I will work to make sure history does not repeat itself.

We can’t make that mistake again and we can’t afford to postpone spending cuts. The time to act on our debt is now.

In the next three months, Congress will need to deal with two more fiscal cliff-like situations. On March 1, our nation will hit the debt ceiling again. On March 29, the current funding for the government expires.

Rather than backdoor deals or late-night secret meetings, Congress should legislate transparently and in a way accountable to Americans, through “regular order.” This means that the House would consider legislation through public committee hearings and meetings and conferences with the Senate to work out differences. This ensures that Congress’ deliberations are accountable to the voters who made us their representatives.

The "fiscal cliff" may be over, but our fiscal crisis is not. The upcoming 113th Congress must focus on cutting spending and reforming the structural causes of our debt, including entitlements.