Saturday, December 22, 2007

Rain Forest: Here Comes Santa Claus? [Dec. 22]

December 22, 2007, 5:30 a.m.

Another addition to Nicholas Johnson, "Earthpark: Resources and Updates," December 18-20, 2007

Is there still a possibility that -- notwithstanding Congress' removal of the $50 million earmark matching grant Senator Grassley provided his Earthpark friends -- that they could still get the money?

As reported in the blog entry linked above, Congress stripped the grant from the omnibus budget bill. But two possibilities for funding remained: (1) That the DOE would grant the money before the president signed the bill, and (2) that President Bush would not get it signed by Friday.

So what's happened during the last 24 hours? It's not clear -- at least not to me. And here are two reasons why.

(1) The AP had a story about the $555 billion bill the Washington Post ran yesterday that concludes, "The provisions [for Pakistan aid] were part of a $555 billion spending bill Congress passed Wednesday . . .. President Bush is expected to sign the bill into law." AP, "White House Expresses Confidence Over Pakistan Aid," Washington Post, December 21, 2007, p. A17.

What's troublesome about that story? A story running Friday morning, saying the president "is expected to sign" is a long way from "the president signed Friday." And I haven't seen the latter anywhere.

(2) The Gazette carries a story this morning (no byline; dateline Washington) with the headline, "Rain Forest Review Continues; Congress Voted This Week to Withdraw Earthpark Funding," The Gazette, December 22, 2007, p. B9. (And see, "Earthpark Application Review Not Yet Complete," The Gazette Online, December 21, 2007, 5:12 p.m.)

It says, in part,

The U.S. Energy Department on Friday did not complete reviewing an application that could have helped Earthpark receive a $48.3 million federal grant, even though Congress voted this week to withdraw the funds. ["Even though"? What's the logical nexus between those two clauses?]

Department spokesman Brian Quirke said the review will not be completed before Wednesday.

. . .

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, secured federal funds for the project, slated for Pella, in 2003. In 2005, he put a hold on the grant, which originally totaled $50 million, until Earthpark officials could show they had raised an equal amount from private sources. That documentation is what’s now under review."
What are we to make of this?

(a) Does it mean that there was, in fact, a pre-condition for the removal of the funds: That the president sign the bill by Friday; that he failed to do so; and therefore the money is still, potentially, available?

(b) Clearly, the "documentation" from Earthpark remains a "public record" that should have been made available to the public and media regardless of what the facts may be.

(c) But why does DOE "now" still have that documentation "under review" -- unless there is the possibility of a grant? Why would DOE continue to invest human resources into reviewing a grant that Congress has forbidden the Department to make, and the Department does not intend to make?

I'll be asking Brian Quirke these questions in my effort to seek clarification, but meanwhile confusion reigns. Is there still a chance they'll soon be singing "Here Comes Santa Claus" in Pella?

Perry Beeman, "Official: No Plans to Fund Earthpark," Des Moines Register, December 22, 2007, provides the most clarification:

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Ia., had said the department could still issue the grant if it did so before President Bush signs the bill, which was expected as early as Friday.

"We don't plan an announcement today," Quirke said. "We don't plan an Earthpark announcement anytime soon."

Asked if the grant is officially dead, with the president expected to make it final, Quirke said "If the grant is rescinded, we won't have any money to grant."
What this sounds like is that (1) the president has not yet signed the appropriations bill, but (2) until he does, the DOE remains athorized to give Oman the $50 million, and (3) is therefore obliged to continue its review of the documentation, although (4) (while not stated in so many words) is disinclined to make an award knowing that Congress has ordered it not to, because (5) apparently there was no provision in the bill requiring the president to sign it by Friday in order to strip the $50 million; it will be removed whenever he does sign the bill.

In short, the rainforest may be on life support, but I haven't yet seen solid evidence anyone's actually pulled the plug.

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