October 11, 2013

In this Issue

GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN: GRIDLOCK CONTINUES IN CONGRESS, NO END IN SIGHT

This week, Congressional leaders continued debating bills to temporarily fund the government, as well as yet-to-be-introduced legislation to prevent the nation from defaulting on its debt. The government shut down its “nonessential” functions on Oct. 1, the start of current Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, after the House and Senate failed to reach agreement on the contents of a temporarily spending bill. With the US Department of Treasury indicating the federal government may reach the debt ceiling on Oct. 17, it appears that a deal to continue federal spending for FY 2014 may be tied to a deal to raise the debt ceiling, which must be periodically increased to pay for federal spending already authorized by Congress.  

In the week leading up to the shutdown, the House had passed a continuing resolution (CR) that funded the government through Dec. 15 with the exception of provisions related to implementation of the Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148). The Senate took up the bill and amended it by striking the Affordable Care Act provisions and shortening the CR’s length to Nov. 15. The shorter time frame on the CR was intended to incentivize Congress to address the sequester in a manner that does not continue or increase existing cuts to discretionary spending (reaching such a deal would free appropriators to fund government agencies at the higher spending caps outlined in the Budget Control Act of 2011). The House Republican leadership would not take up the Senate’s “clean” CR bill for a vote and, thus far, has only allowed a vote on CRs that contain provisions to defund the Affordable Care Act.

Since the federal government shutdown began, Congressional Republicans and Democrats have sought to sway public opinion through messaging tactics. Republicans in Congress contend the president and Senate Democrats are being obtuse in refusing to negotiate over whether to include provisions to delay or repeal the Affordable Care Act in the short-term CR. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) contends there are not enough votes in the House to pass a temporary clean CR or a clean increase in the debt limit. The House has sought to address many of the general public’s concerns with the shutdown by taking up piece meal bills that open various parts of the government to address healthcare treatment, assistance to veterans and military families as well as national park service closures, issues that tend to gain extensive media coverage and deep empathy from the general public.

Congressional Democrats and the White House equate the Republican tactics to holding the government hostage or ransom, asserting that they will not negotiate while a government shutdown is in effect. Senate Democratic leaders maintain that they have been willing to negotiate budget issues for several months preceding the shutdown. Senate Democrats also argue that the piecemeal approaches passed by the House amount to more political brinksmanship that unfairly picks winners and losers. President Obama and Congressional Democrats have called for Speaker Boehner to hold an up or down vote on the Senate-passed CR, challenging Speaker Boehner’s claim that there are not enough votes to pass the bill. Several professional media outlets report that there are a minimum of 20-28 pragmatic Republicans who would consider voting for a clean CR bill. On Oct. 5, House Democratic leaders sent a letter to Speaker Boehner signed by 195 voting Democrats, expressing their support for the Senate bill.

While this math would indicate there may be enough votes among House Democrats and pragmatic Republicans to pass a clean CR bill at any moment, politics has prevented the House from moving forward on such a measure. Most if not all of the aforementioned several dozen Republicans are unwilling to undermine or usurp Speaker Boehner by siding with Democrats in various procedural maneuvers to bring the bill for an immediate vote. Hence, they will likely only support a clean CR if Speaker Boehner chooses to bring up such a bill.

For his part, Speaker Boehner has already antagonized much of the conservative base by allowing House votes on several bills earlier this year, including the American Taxpayer Relief Act, the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization and emergency spending for Hurricane Sandy relief, to pass under the weight of House Democrats joined by a minority of centrist Republicans.  Consequently, there is a sentiment that consecutive votes to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling that pass the House with opposition from a majority of House Republicans would put Boehner’s control of the speakership in jeopardy.

This week, President Obama offered to negotiate with House Speaker Boehner in exchange for voting on the Senate CR to temporarily reopen the government while a deal is worked out. Boehner thus far has dismissed this approach as “unconditional surrender” on the part of Congressional Republicans. Speaker Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), and House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) also met this week in the speaker’s office to discuss the shutdown standoff, but no headway seemed to have been made from the meeting. A subsequent meeting occurred Oct. 10 between the White House and eighteen House Republicans, comprising mostly of House leadership (including Speaker Boehner) and key committee chairs.

Debt ceiling proposals emerge

Amid the chaos over the federal government shutdown, federal policymakers also wrestled with how to raise the national debt ceiling. The US Treasury predicts the US will hit the limit around Oct. 17. As of Oct. 10, House Republican leadership seemed to be coalescing around a six-week plan to provide a clean increase in the debt-ceiling free of political riders to allow additional time to negotiate a spending deal. President Obama and Senate Democrats are open to the idea of temporarily raising the debt ceiling, but have stated that do not intend to negotiate on a budget deal until after the government reopens.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will attempt to vote on a clean increase in the debt ceiling through 2014. However, Senate Republicans plan to block the measure, asserting that Democrats are trying to skirt the issue during the 2014 election cycle. The defeat increases the likelihood that a deal on the debt will either be short-term or include spending cuts as an alternative plan would consequently lack sufficient votes to pass either chamber. The president has asserted that while they are supportive of a short-term debt ceiling increase, they will not agree to any deal on the long-term budget itself until the government reopens.

Senate Republicans are developing their own comprehensive plan to raise the debt ceiling for a few months and end the government shutdown with a year-long continuing resolution. In contrast to their House counterparts, a consensus is developing among Senate Republicans that a deal to prevent default on the debt should also reopen the government. The plan, floated by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), would also  repeal the healthcare law’s medical-device tax and language to require income verification of people who apply for healthcare subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. Senate Republicans were set to meet at the White House the morning of Fri., Oct. 11.

Hope for furloughed workers

There does seem to be bipartisan agreement on aid to furloughed federal employees. The House passed a bill on Oct. 5 to approve back pay to compensate furloughed workers. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has not indicated when the Senate will take up the bill for federal workers, though the White House has endorsed the measure. House Republican leadership has already used the bill to their political advantage, calling for the Senate to also support piecemeal bills that provide relief for veterans and sick individuals. The White House released a statement declaring it will veto the individual piecemeal spending bills.

“Instead of opening up a few government functions, the House of Representatives should re-open all of the government. The harmful impacts of a shutdown extend across government, affecting services that are critical to small businesses, women, children, seniors, and others across the nation,” the White House statement reads. “The Senate acted in a responsible manner on a short-term funding measure to maintain Government functions and avoid a damaging Government shutdown. The House of Representatives should allow a straight up or down vote on the Senate-passed H.J. Res. 59.”

A message from the president to all federal workers is available here:

http://www.interior.gov/news/doinews/upload/Message-from-the-President-to-U-S-Government-Employees.pdf

GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN: FURLOUGHS PUT RESEARCH, CONSERVATION EFFORTS ON HOLD

 

Federally-funded scientific research plows ahead – for the moment. However, if you’re applying for a new grant or renewal of an existing one, your application may be in limbo for the foreseeable future. Federal scientific research at the majority of existing agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been halted. In general, regulatory and permitting at activities at federal agencies have been postponed until the shutdown ends. Enclosed are impacts of the shutdown on several federal agencies of importance to the ecological community.

BLM/BSEE

The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) will retain 340 of its workers the agency has designated as “essential” to oversee drilling operations and inspection activities. Drilling permits will also continue to be processed at BSEE. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will also continue its drilling monitoring activities related to safety and property protection. Its permit processing staff has been furloughed. In total, BLM has furloughed 10,200 or its 10,800 workers. Of DOI’s 58,785 workforce, 81 percent would be furloughed.

DOE

The Department of Energy’s research programs remain largely operational as much of its funding is appropriated on a multi-year basis, temporarily shielding much of its staff from furloughs. However, its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program will not function as it runs on an annual budget. Eventually, 69 percent of DOE employees will have to be furloughed under an extended shutdown scenario. Those who remain will be workers in charge of monitoring nuclear materials and energy power grids.

While existing federally-funded projects can move forward, a government shutdown that lasts not days, but weeks, can serve to waste countless numbers of dollars in projects that go uncompleted. Many scientific experiments require monitoring and measurements that must be documented over an extended time period. If funding runs out on such experiences, the researchers likely will have to restart the experiment from the beginning again.  

EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exempted an estimated 1,069 of its 16,205 employees from furlough to enforce activities “”where a failure to maintain operations would pose an imminent threat to human life,” according to the agency’s shutdown memorandum. According to EPA, 505 hazardous waste sites in 47 states will still see delays in cleanup activities because of the shutdown. The agency contingency plans also include having staff ready to support emergency response efforts related to an environmental disaster such as an oil spill. EPA will also continue to operate its 39 laboratories across the nation to protect research equipment and tested organisms.

Just 182 out of the 804 staffers in EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance are exempt from the shutdown. This means the agency, tasked with performing an average of 200,000 facility inspections and evaluations per year, will be short-staffed in carrying out its duties.  Typical office activities such as coordinating response to an environmental disaster, policing illegal disposal of hazardous waste or toxic disposal of harmful materials into potable water resources will be more difficult to enforce.

FWS

The US Fish and Wildlife Service will close its wildlife refuges off to the public and will not review plant and animal species considered for federal protection. Ecological research sites on federal lands and wildlife refuges are now closed to researchers. Consultations and reviews related to enforcement of the Lacey Act and the National Environmental Policy Act will also be postponed. Wildlife facilities will have at least one person on staff to care for animals. As law enforcement staff are considered “essential employees,” enforcement of existing Endangered Species Act protections will continue, but reviews of petitions for listing of new candidate species have been postponed indefinitely.

NASA

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration will shutdown the majority of its operations. A skeleton crew will remain in place to aid NASA astronauts currently aboard the international space station.

NOAA

Nearly half of NOAA’s workforce will stay on the job during the shutdown. The agency continues programs directly related to weather monitoring with 5,368 of its 12,001 employees remaining to carry out such activities.  Nearly 4,000 of these employees works at the National Weather Service. Climate monitoring activities will continue within the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research for continuity purposes, but most all other areas of NOAA research carried out by federal scientists will be momentarily discontinued.

In general, office with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the National Ocean Service that enforce endangered species laws and preserve natural resources will continue to be staffed. However, NMFS has suspended its Dynamic Management Area program which protects endangered right whales from deadly ship strikes. Live mammal strandings will no longer be guaranteed an immediate federal response as reviews will occur to determine if public health and animal welfare warrants the expense of government resources.

NPS

All national parks and visitor centers have closed. Guest staying on national park campgrounds were notified they had 48 hours to vacate. The National Park Service (NPS) will continue to provide law enforcement and emergency assistance personnel that handle such activities as border protection and firefighting. All education programs, including school visits were cancelled. Scientists conducting research on national parks are prohibited from accessing said areas. The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR) estimates that as of Oct. 11, a total of $750 million in visitor spending has been lost since the shutdown began.

NSF

The websites research.gov, grants.gov and Fastlane will be closed, hence no NSF funding applications will be processed or monitored. Those who have already been funded will not be able to receive additional funding that has not already been allocated. NSF will also be unable to process no-cost extensions for existing grant awardees. All review panels scheduled during the shutdown will be canceled. Younger researchers, mainly graduate students who are often dependent on one grant source, are likely to disproportionately feel the burden of the funding shortfalls. NSF’s US Antarctic Program began putting research stations, ships and other assets on “caretaker status” this week. Researchers have been sent home and it looks like this field season will be cancelled.

USDA

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website has been totally disabled due to the shutdown with no information displayed or method to navigate the site. Food inspection will continue, albeit with fewer workers. Stations operated by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service will be closed. The Natural Resources Conservation Service will continue only operations that are essential for the protection of life and property. The US Forest has closed campgrounds and halted logging on national forest lands. The Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service will continue operation of its program related to border protection, quarantine and any other programs deemed to protect public health and property. Complaint investigations related to potential Animal Welfare Act violations, however, will be discontinued. 

USGS

USGS continues its programs related to flood forecasting, volcanic activity, earthquake hazard and other responses to environmental and man-made biological disasters. Landsat 7 and 8 operations would also continue as would detection of zoonotic threats in wildlife. General scientific data collection on natural resources will cease, however, as will public dissemination of water quality data. Ecosystem health and restoration efforts will be discontinued.

It should be noted that productivity for even essential government operations may still be hindered by the overall agency shortages. Long-term, the increasing lack of certainty of federal funding for investment in scientific research may encourage individuals to pursue science careers overseas or dissuade people from pursuing careers in science altogether.

A full list of agency contingency plans is available here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/contingency-plans

AGRICULTURE: CONSERVATION GROUPS PRESS LAWMAKERS FOR FARM BILL ACTION

 

On Oct. 7, a group of conservation organizations sent a letter to the president and House leadership requesting enactment of a five-year farm bill reauthorization. The most recent extension of the farm bill expired Sept. 30.

The organizations spearheading the letter are Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. While crop subsidies and food stamps programs are not immediately affected by the expiration, key conservation programs within the bill to help farmers conserve wildlife habitat, including Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program and Grasslands Reserve Program, will no longer be available.

“Outdoor recreation, including hunting and bird watching, contributes $646 billion to the U.S. economy each year. The industry also creates 6.1 million American jobs – more than the oil and gas, finance or real estate sectors,” the letter notes. “Conservation measures in the Senate farm bill, like re-coupling conservation compliance to crop insurance and a national Sodsaver program, are critical to ensuring this positive economic impact continues.” 

With both the House and Senate having passed legislation to reauthorize the major parts of the farm bill, the two bodies are now able to appoint conferees to negotiate a conference report that would pass Congress and be signed by the president. The Senate has appointed  Democratic and Republican conferees while the House has not yet appointed its conferees. Unfortunately, it appears unlikely either body will move forward in the near future as matters related to the government shutdown and legislation to raise the debt ceiling have taken precedent.

The Ecological Society of America recently issued an action alert encouraging its members to voice their support for key farm bill conservation programs. For additional information, see the Sept. 13 edition of ESA Policy News: http://www.esa.org/esa/?p=9327

The Ducks Unlimited organizational letter is available here:

http://www.ducks.org/farm-bill/bird-conservation-organizations-send-letter-to-lawmakers-asking-for-fiveyear-farm-bill

EPA: INSPECTOR GENERAL FINDS NO EVIDENCE OF RULEBREAKING IN EMAIL SCANDAL

 

On Sept. 30, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) independent Office of the Inspector General (IG) released a report in response to a congressional inquiry The report found “no evidence that the EPA used, promoted or encouraged the use of private ‘non-governmental’ email accounts to circumvent records management responsibilities or reprimanded, counseled or took administrative actions against personnel for using private email or alias accounts for conducting official government business.”

The report was conducted in response to an inquiry from senior Republican members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. The Republicans were concerned over former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s use of a separate email address under the name “Richard Windsor” to conduct official government business. They contended that the use of such emails skirts Freedom of Information Act requirements and procedures that ensure tracking and storage of official correspondence.

The IG report concludes that the use of a separate email account has been commonplace among EPA officials in the past to manage high volumes of email and the practice is not limited to senior officials, noting “it is not practical to completely eliminate the use of private email accounts.” The report did, however, outline of series of recommendations to improve employee training of record management practices and establish a consistent system for creating records for the secondary emails. The IG notes that EPA has “either completed recommended actions or plans to take corrective actions to address our findings.”

House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) released a statement responding to the report. “The IG’s report found that the EPA has significant work to do if it wants to ensure transparency and regain the public’s trust,” said Smith. “I agree with these findings and hope that senior EPA officials take them to heart.”

The full report is available here: http://www.epa.gov/oig/reports/2013/20130926-13-P-0433.pdf

CLIMATE CHANGE: LA TIMES REFUSES TO PRINT LETTERS FROM SKEPTICS

 

In describing an editorial policy related to some letters to the editor on the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), Los Angeles Times letters editor Paul Thornton asserted that his newspaper will not print letters to the editor from individuals who deny the human role in climate change, stating that letters that have an untrue basis do not get printed.

Thornton’s original editorial references letters to the editor that claimed the healthcare law should allow exemptions for citizens in the same fashion it does for the president and Congress. The piece received outrage from the conservative blogosphere. However, the outrage largely did not focus on the LA Times’ explanation for why the president and Congress were not receiving special treatment under the law. Instead, according to Thorton, the brunt of the disdain was directed toward his brief single sentence reference to climate change.

“Before going into some detail about why these letters don’t make it into our pages, I’ll concede that, aside from my easily passing the Advanced Placement biology exam in high school, my science credentials are lacking,” Thornton retorts. “I’m no expert when it comes to our planet’s complex climate processes or any scientific field. Consequently, when deciding which letters should run among hundreds on such weighty matters as climate change, I must rely on the experts — in other words, those scientists with advanced degrees who undertake tedious research and rigorous peer review.”

Thornton goes on to reference the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that concluded with 95 percent certainty that human activity is linked to climate change before concluding that “errors of fact” do not belong on the paper’s letters page. Saying ‘there’s no sign humans have caused climate change’ is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.”

View the full climate change editorial here:

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/opinion-la/la-ol-climate-change-letters-20131008,0,871615.story

The original piece is available here:

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/letters/la-le-1005-shutdown-obamacare-mailbag-20131005,0,3748083.story

 


 Sources: American Association for the Advancement of Science, ClimateWire, Ducks Unlimited, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Humane Society, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, POLITICO, Reuters, Roll Call, US Department of Interior, the Washington Post, the White House

September 27, 2013

In this Issue

APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS DEBATES SHORTTERM SPENDING MEASURE

This month, the House and Senate wrestled over a measure to temporarily fund the federal government beyond the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, 2013.

The CR does not address authorization provisions of the farm bill that also expires on Oct. 1. The most significant portions of the farm bill, however, do not expire until Jan. 1, 2014. The CR also does not address the debt ceiling, which Congress must vote to raise before Oct. 17 to extend its borrowing authority and prevent default, according to the latest estimations from the Dept. of Treasury.

This week, the Senate debated H.J.Res. 59, a bill to fund the government through Dec. 15, 2013. The bill would also restrict funding for implementation of the Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148). The bill passed the House Sept. 20 by a mostly partisan vote of 230-189. House Democrats objected to its Affordable Care Act funding restrictions as well as its funding levels, which continue post-sequestration spending levels. The House-passed bill sets an overall spending cap of $986.3 billion for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, which begins Oct. 1. The number is slightly below the $988 billion FY 2013 enacted spending cap.

 Senate Democrats are expected to coalesce around a substitute amendment to the bill proposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) with input from Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). The amendment would remove language to defund the Affordable Care Act, but retain the House-set cap of $986.3 billion for FY 2014. Senate Majority Leader Reid argued that the spending of the stopgap measure is less important than the total amount of spending set for FY 2014, noting those spending levels have been pre-set by the Budget Control Act and sequestration. The bill also differs from the House in that it shortens the deadline to Nov. 15.The deadline is intended to incentivize lawmakers to reach a deficit reduction deal that neutralizes the sequester, allowing appropriators to craft spending bills using the original higher Budget Control Act spending levels for FY 2014.

The Senate is expected to pass the amended measure by this weekend. The White House had issued a veto threat against the bill as originally passed by the House, but has indicated the president would sign the bill as amended by the Senate. House Speaker John Boehner has indicated the possibly that the House may try to amend the bill after it passes the Senate, though specifics on how are not yet known. Amending the bill would force the Senate to take up the measure again, increasing the probability that a final bill would not reach the president’s desk before Oct. 1, which would cause the federal government to shut down.

A shutdown would halt functions at all federal agencies, including science agencies such as the National Science Foundation, which would temporarily halt review of grant proposals as well as distribution of funds for existing proposals. Additional information on how the last major government shutdown impacted NSF grants is available here:

https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=100886&org=NSF&from=news

UNITED NATIONS: IPCC INCREASES CERTAINTY OF HUMAN-INDUCED CLIMATE CHANGE

On Sept. 27, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a new report asserting that it is 95 percent certain that human activities influence climate change.

The certainty expressed in the new report is an increase from the 90 percent certainty in the 2007 report and the 50 percent certainty expressed in its first assessment in 1995. The report concludes that it’s “very likely” humans have contributed to warming oceans observed since the 1970s and sea ice loss measured since 1979. It concludes that it is “extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together.”

According to the report, sea levels have risen three milliliters a year since 1993. The IPPC estimates that by the end of the century sea-levels will rise anywhere from 0.26 meters to 0.98 meters, depending on how much carbon dioxide humans emit over that period. The report expresses “high confidence” that sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been comparably larger than the rate of “the past two millennia.” The report also found that concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased to levels “unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.” It states that carbon dioxide concentrations have increased 40 percent since the pre-industrial period.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer released the following statement in reaction to the report: “The world’s leading scientists are telling us with 95 percent certainty that climate disruption is real and human activities are the primary cause. We have seen the dangerous impacts of climate change all around us – from record high temperatures in the US, to severe wildfires in California and other western states, to flooding of biblical proportions, to shrinking Arctic sea ice and rising sea levels. This landmark report underscores the importance of the Obama administration’s efforts to curb carbon pollution, and I will do everything in my power to support the administration in their efforts to address the dangerous impacts of climate disruption.”

In a press statement, Secretary of State John Kerry asserted “This isn’t a run of the mill report to be dumped in a filing cabinet. This isn’t a political document produced by politicians. It’s science. It builds on the most authoritative assessments of knowledge on climate change produced by scientists, who by profession are conservative because they must deal in what is observable, provable and reviewable by their peers. If this isn’t an alarm bell, then I don’t know what one is. If ever there were an issue that demanded greater cooperation, partnership, and committed diplomacy, this is it.”

Republicans have sought to emphasize an aspect of a report that notes global temperature increases have slowed over the 15 year period beginning in 1998. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA), Sens. James Inhofe (R-OK), Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and John Barrasso (R-WY) this week sent a letter to the US State Department accusing the Obama administration of attempting to “downplay the importance of the 15-year hiatus in global temperature increases” in the IPCC report. Climate scientists predict that heat no longer present on the surface has not disappeared, but settled in the oceans while noting that 1998 was an unusually warm year with the second strongest El Niño of the 20th century. 

A draft summary of the report is available here:

http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/uploads/WGIAR5-SPM_Approved27Sep2013.pdf

The full report is available here: http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/#.UkWkdtLBOY1

HOUSE: ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS TESTIFY ON CLIMATE ACTION PLAN

On Sept. 18, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power held a hearing on the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan. Key cabinet members Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz testified on the administration’s effort to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) made clear his skepticism of the administration’s plan. “The implementation of the president’s global warming agenda through the EPA has been holding back the economy which continues to struggle,” said Whitfield. “Since 2009, the agency has been busy imposing costly requirements on coal-fired electricity and other fossil fuels while targeting manufacturers with new regulatory burdens, only increasing (sic) to the economic uncertainty.” Chairman Whitfield expressed concern on the plan’s impact on energy prices and unemployment.

In contrast, Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) commended the Climate Action Plan, referring to climate change as “a clear and present danger” to the United States and the rest of the world. Ranking Member Waxman referenced a forum where he heard from US citizens already experiencing effects of climate change. “From California to New York and from Iowa to Texas, we heard stories of wildfires, drought, floods, sea level rise, and record temperatures,” continued Waxman. “Their accounts were moving and powerful. These extreme weather events are happening now, and they are costing lives, destroying livelihoods, eliminating jobs, and creating billion-dollar disaster relief bills.”

Energy Secretary Moniz touted his agency’s role in developing low carbon, renewable energy and clean coal technologies intended to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint. He also touted his work with Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) to invest in energy infrastructure to help increase power distribution resiliency in New Jersey in the face of hurricanes and other extreme weather events. He also touted the potential of US innovations in clean energy to benefit American business competiveness in the global economy and further renewable energy usage globally.

EPA Administrator McCarthy asserted that the successes of federal environmental initiatives over the past 40 years have proved that “environment protection and economic growth do go hand in hand.” She touted her agency’s work to inform state and tribal communities on the various on climate change and mitigate its impacts. She noted how greenhouse gas standards for automotive vehicles will save an estimated $1.7 trillion dollars for consumers and reduce US dependency on oil.  McCarthy asserted carbon rules for power plants would reflect the public commentary the agency has received over the past year. She stated EPA guidelines and regulations issued for power plants will provide guidance to states, which would have the primary role in the development and implementation of emission standards for plants in accordance with regional diversity.

View the full hearing here: http://energycommerce.house.gov/hearing/obama-administrations-climate-change-policies-and-activities

EPA: NEW CARBON STANDARDS FOR POWER PLANTS RELEASED

On Sept. 20, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled new carbon standards to cut greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants.

Under the EPA rules, large natural gas-fired plants would be limited to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour while small natural gas-fired plants and coal plants would be limited to 1,100 pounds per megawatt-hour. To accommodate the standards, new facilities would have to incorporate carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology in their construction.

While EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy states that CCS technology is feasible and currently available, coal industry groups assert the technology is not yet widely available or cost-effective and would in effect ban construction of new coal plants.  Consequently, the rules have garnered the partisan response in Congress from leaders of committees with jurisdiction over EPA that has become typical for many of the agency’s regulatory efforts.

“EPA is doubling down on its economically destructive plan to essentially end the construction of new coal-fired power plants in America,” stated House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI). “The proposed standards would require the use of expensive new technologies that are not commercially viable. We are the Saudi Arabia of coal, but this impractical rule restricts access to one of our most abundant, affordable, and dependable energy sources. The consequences will be more job losses and a weaker economy.”

House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) celebrated the proposal as a “pro-environment and pro-growth” policy.  “It sets achievable standards for new power plants that will spur innovation in clean coal technologies like carbon capture and sequestration,” said Waxman.  “And the proposal will clean up the air and make the US a world leader in advanced pollution-control technology.”

EPA is expected to release more far-reaching rules for existing power plants in June 2014.

Instructions on how to comment on the proposed standards for new plants are available here: http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/how-comment-2013-proposed-carbon-pollution-standard-new-power-plants

For more information on the proposed standards for new plants, click here:

http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards

ADVOCACY: BUSH INTERIOR OFFICIAL TAKES POLICY REINS AT NATURE CONSERVANCY

 

On Sept. 15, former Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlet began working for The Nature Conservancy as Managing Director for Public Policy. Scarlet’s service under the Department of Interior spanned most of the George W. Bush presidency.

During the Bush presidency, Scarlet served as Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget (2001-2005) before being promoted to Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer, the position she held until the end of the Bush administration. From April 1-May 26, 2006, she briefly held the position of Acting Secretary of Interior in the brief window period between when former Interior Secretary Gale Norton stepped down and Dirk Kempthorne was appointed as her successor.

Prior to joining Interior, she worked for over 15 years at the Reason Foundation, a right-wing libertarian organization that defines itself as an organization that “advances a free society by developing, applying, and promoting libertarian principles, including individual liberty, free markets, and the rule of law.” After leaving the government in early 2009, Scarlet joined the non-profit Resources for the Future (RFF). At RFF, she served as Co-Director of its Center for Management and Ecological Wealth. RFF supports clean energy initiatives, but has been critical of carbon and energy taxes as well as much of the Obama administration’s attempts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

The Conservancy hopes Scarlet’s experience working to find market-based solutions to environmental problems and incentives for conservation efforts will increase their palpability with a Congress in which Republicans control the US House of Representatives. While the Department of Interior often clashed with environmentalists during her tenure there, Scarlet herself has proven capable of working along bipartisan lines. She worked with the Environmental Defense Fund on several papers, including one promoting ecosystem restoration in cities and rural areas. Earlier this year, she teamed with former Rep. Norman Dicks (D-WA) in authoring an op-ed supporting renewal of a 2006 law that increased tax incentives to conserve land.

During her time with Interior, she also chaired the agency’s climate change task force and acknowledges that climate change is a serious issue. “There is plenty of room for debate along the spectrum of policy about just where the nation ought to land,” she stated in a 2011 interview with the University of Vermont. “But I do think the nation ought to take the problem seriously, including at the federal level — and think about how we can drive those greenhouse emissions down.”

To view the full release from The Nature Conservancy, click here:

http://www.nature.org/newsfeatures/pressreleases/former-deputy-secretary-of-the-interior-lynn-scarlett-to-lead-the-nature-con.xml

Scarlet’s 2011 interview with the University of Vermont on climate policy is available here: http://www.uvm.edu/~uvmpr/?Page=news&storyID=12343

CLIMATE: BOXER LAUDS BUSH CENTER WITH ENVIRONMENTAL AWARD

On Sept. 23, Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) presented the Climate Hero Award to the George W. Bush Presidential Center Library for its achievements in renewable energy and energy conservation.

The Bush library earned the recognition through its platinum rating for new construction under the US Green building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. LEED platinum certification is awarded for achievement in green building design, construction, maintenance and operation. The library uses locally sourced materials and has used native plants in planting nearly 1,000 trees on-site. The trees are watered with rainwater collected in a 252,000 gallon irrigation cistern.

On hand to receive the award was former First Lady Laura Bush. The William J. Presidential Center in Little Rock, AR. will receive the Climate Hero Award for existing construction at a later date. 

The Climate Hero Award was established by the Sen. Climate Change Clearinghouse, co-chaired by EPW Committee Chairwoman Boxer, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA). According to the EPW Committee, the award honors leadership by “individuals, state and local governments, organizations, and other institutions that make significant strides in energy conservation, use of renewable energy technology, and reductions in carbon pollution.”

SCIENCE: GOLDEN GOOSE AWARDS SPOTLIGHT UNCONVENTIONAL DISCOVERIES

The second annual Golden Goose awards highlighted seemingly odd or frivolous scientific research projects funded by the government that led to applied breakthroughs and discoveries that benefited society.

This year’s six awardees included John Eng, a medical researcher whose study of Gila monster venom led to a drug used to treat diabetics for various health ailments. Indiana University microbiologists Thomas Brock and Husdon Freeze were awarded for their discovery of a heat-resistant microorganism at Yellowstone National Park that aided breakthroughs in the understanding the human genome.

David Gale (posthumous recipient), Lloyd Shapley, and Alvin Roth were awarded for developing an algorithm to help in matching people romantically that has, since its discovery, been applied to various markets, including real estate and public school systems. 

The Golden Goose awards are a collaborative effort spearheaded by a coalition of scientific societies, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association of American Universities. The idea was conceived by Congressman Jim Cooper (D-TN) as a way to inform policymakers and the general public of the importance of continuing to fund basic research.

To view the Golden Goose awards press release, click here:

http://www.goldengooseaward.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Golden-Goose-Awards-Ceremony-Honors-Six-Researchers-9-19-13.pdf

WILDLIFE: ESA SIGNS LETTER OF SUPPORT FOR CONSERVATION PROGRAMS

On Sept. 17, the Ecological Society of America joined with the Teaming With Wildlife Coalition on a letter signed by over 800 national and state conservation organizations to key House and Senate appropriators requesting support for wildlife and habitat conservation grants.

The letter comes in response to the House Appropriations Committee proposal to zero out funding for a number of critical conservation programs in Fiscal Year 2014, including the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Fund and the Forest Legacy Program. The letter notes that fish and wildlife recreational activities have contributed over $150 billion to the US economy in 2011 and highlights the various ecosystem services these programs protect.

The letter also notes that these programs have already been cut by more than 25 percent in recent years. “Continued disproportionate cuts in the current budget under consideration will further rollback conservation work that serves the national interests of fish and wildlife conservation, creation of non-exportable jobs and delivery of essential services such as clean water and air and storm protection to current and future generations,” the letter notes.

To view the full letter, click here: http://www.esa.org/esa/?post_type=document&p=9413

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 3139, to amend the Chesapeake Bay Initiative Act of 1998 to provide for the reauthorization of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network – Introduced Sept. 19 by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), the bill would reauthorize a system that includes 2,000 miles of existing and developing water trails across the District of Columbia and six states in the Chesapeake region.  The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

Approved by House Committee

H.R. 3084, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act – Introduced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), Committee Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV), Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-OH) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Tim Bishop (D-NY), the bill authorizes the US Army Corps of Engineers to carry out various water infrastructure development, flood control and environmental restoration projects.

Conservation groups have raised concern regarding the bill’s environmental streamlining provisions, which expedite the Army Corps. Review process. There has been little motivation by Members, however, to remove the provisions, given that they have support from leaders of both parties, including Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA).  The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unanimously approved the bill Sept. 19.

Passed House

H.R. 761, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), the bill would reform the permitting process for hardrock mines by setting new deadlines for environmental review processes and allowing waivers for National Environmental Policy Act reviews under certain circumstances. The bill achieves its environmental review hurdles largely by broadening the definition of “strategic and critical” minerals to include most types of mineral development on public land and defining mine projects as “infrastructure” projects to reduce permitting time. The bill passed the House Sept. 18 by a vote of 246-178. Fifteen Democrats joined all Republicans in supporting the bill.

The Obama administration issued a veto threat against the bill. View the White House Statement of Administration Policy here:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/legislative/sap/113/saphr761r_20130709.pdf

H.R. 1526, the Restoring Healthy Forests and Healthy Communities Act – Introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill seeks to increase timber harvests and reduce wildfires. Environmental groups and the White House opposed the bill due to its restrictions on federal environmental reviews. In issuing a veto threat against the bill, the White House stated the bill would “significantly harm sound long-term management of these federal lands for continued productivity and economic benefit as well as for the long-term health of the wildlife and ecological values sustained by these holdings.” The bill passed the House Sept. 20 by a vote of 230-189. Seventeen Democrats joined all but one Republican in supporting the bill.

The full White House statement of administration policy on H.R. 1526 is viewable here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/legislative/sap/113/saphr1526r_20130918.pdf

Introduced in Senate

S. 1505, the Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Sport Shooting Protection Act – Introduced Sept. 17 by Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the bill amends the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to exclude bullets and related hunting gear from the law’s definition of a “chemical substance.” The bill would effectively prohibit the US Environmental Protection Agency from regulating bullets and fishing equipment, and charge state fish and game agencies as well as the US Fish and Wildlife Service with such responsibilities. Companion legislation (H.R. 322) has been introduced in the House by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL).

S. 1520, the York River Wild and Scenic River Study Act – Introduced Sept. 19 by Sen. Agnus King (I-ME), the bill would designate segments of the York River in Maine and associated tributaries for study for potential inclusion in the federally protected National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

S. 1550, the Battlefield Excellence through Superior Training (BEST) Practices Act – Introduced Sept. 25 by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the bill would require the Department of Defense to phase out the use of live animals in medical training. The bill has been referred to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House by Reps. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA). 


 Sources American Association for the Advancement of Science, Association of American Universities, ClimateWire, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Nature Conservancy, POLITICO, Roll Call, Senate Environment and Public Works, Committee, Teaming With Wildlife Coalition, US Department of State, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House

 

September 13, 2013

In this Issue

BUDGET: CONGRESS EXPECTED TO PUNT PRIORITY FUNDING ISSUES

Congress returned this week with votes planned on legislation to authorize military force against Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons as well as a bill to a continuing resolution (CR) to temporarily fund the government while Congress negotiates an agreement on government program spending levels for Fiscal Year 2014, which begins October 1. While diplomatic breakthroughs abroad postponed the Syria vote, partisan breakdowns and internal strife among the Republican conference has put the CR in jeopardy.

This week, the House introduced a CR to provide government funding through Dec. 15, 2013. With an overall spending level of $988 billion, the funding level in the initial proposal was slightly less than the current post-sequester spending levels, costing it the support of the House Democratic caucus. However, the bill also ultimately lacked the support of a majority of the Republican conference as many GOP members stated they were unlikely to support a CR that does not fully defund the Affordable Care Act  (P.L. 111-148), also known as “Obamacare.”

In attempt to appease tea party Republicans, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) sought to also hold a vote on a concurrent resolution to force the Senate to vote to defund the Affordable Care Act in FY 2014. Conservative advocacy groups complained that this effort does not go far enough in that the Senate could easily block the concurrent resolution while allowing the CR to pass. These organizations, which include Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, lambasted the Affordable Care Act defunding resolution as a political gimmick. House Republican leaders originally planned to vote on the legislation this week, but are now postponing a vote until next week in an effort to negotiate an agreement that can win a majority in the House. Leader Cantor also announced the House may cancel its scheduled district work period for the week of Sept. 23 if a deal on the CR is not reached in the near future.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has repeatedly warned fellow Republicans that a government shutdown could harm the GOP politically. With a slimmer House majority than Republicans enjoyed during the 112th Congress, Speaker Boehner cannot afford much more than a dozen GOP defections on legislation relying solely on a Republican majority for passage. Given that Speaker Boehner has pledged not to take up bills that are not supported by the majority of his conference, passing the House and reaching agreement with the Democratic-controlled Senate on the CR and all remaining must-pass legislation while adhering to this pledge is a tough (if not impossible) slog. It is doubtful whether a CR or omnibus spending bill can pass the House with Republican support alone without including legislation to defund or repeal President Obama’s healthcare law.

Consequently, if Speaker Boehner cannot muster sufficient GOP support, passage of the CR will ultimately depend on how many Democrats vote in favor of it. Collectively, House Democrats are unlikely to support a funding bill that reduces or continues sequester-level spending for non-defense discretionary spending programs. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) has indicated she would prefer passage of a tempory CR that would allow ample time to negotiate an omnibus spending bill that Congress could pass shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday. 

Speaker Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) all met the morning of Sept. 12 to begin negotiations on a fiscal matters pertaining to FY 2014 spending and the debt ceiling, set to be reached in mid-October. While there was a consensus that the meeting was cordial, Republicans affirmed that there could be no tax hikes in any fiscal deal and asserted that Congress needs to tackle fiscal issues related to the retirement of the baby boom generation (mandatory spending). Democrats in turn iterated that they will not support any bill to defund or repeal the Affordable Care Act while reaffirming the president’s position that he will not negotiate over increasing the debt limit. Speaker Boehner noted during the meeting that most major deficit reduction deals between Congress and the president were reached amid negotiations surrounding the debt limit.

SCIENCE: CONSERVATIVES PULL BIPARTISAN LAUREATES BILL

At the beginning of the week, the House was set to vote on H.R. 1891, the Science Laureates of the United States Act of 2013, until conservative groups got wind of the measure.

The bill would allow the president to appoint a Science Laureate of the United States. Modeled after the Library of Congress’s Poet Laureate, the appointed individual with nationally renowned science expertise would travel the country to inspire young people to pursue careers in science. The bipartisan lead House sponsors of the bill include Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), who issued an enthusiastic press statement May 9 on the science committee’s website when the bill was first introduced:

 “Scientific discovery fuels the innovation that keeps our economy strong. I am happy to be an original cosponsor of bipartisan legislation that for the first time creates a national spokesman for science,” read Chairman Smith’s statement. “An effective Science Laureate will not only be an accomplished scientist, but a role model who inspires students to pursue advanced degrees in science, math and engineering.  To remain the world leader in a high-tech global marketplace, we must continue to inspire the innovators of tomorrow,” he continued.

The bill was scheduled to be considered Sept. 10 under suspension of the rules, a legislative maneuver typically used for bipartisan legislation that limits debate and amendments, allowing for swift passage. Upon learning that the bill was up this week, right-wing groups such as the American Conservative Union viewed the bill through a political lens. The organizations feared President Obama would appoint a scientist who would push a “liberal” climate change agenda, despite the fact that the bill as written is not exclusively meant to highlight a climate scientist and was pushed by the non-partisan National Academy of Sciences.

Nonetheless, fears among conservative advocacy groups that the legislation would allow the president to appoint a polarizing figure such as James Hansen, led to the groups sending last-minute correspondence to Republican offices on Sept. 9, urging that they vote against the bill. Given that House bills considered under suspension of the rules require a two-thirds majority for passage, House Republican leaders elected to pull the bill rather than risk it failing. Chairman Smith has now decided to move forward with a committee mark-up of the legislation in the near future that would allow time for Members of Congress to debate and amend the bill.

That the once-seemingly non-partisan measure is now deemed controversial underscores the changed political climate where elements of the conservative movement are increasingly suspicious of scientific research being tainted with partisan agendas, particularly government-sponsored research. However, it also plays into the sentiment of liberal Democrats that far-right conservatives simply don’t trust or are out of touch with science and scientific processes in general.

AGRICULTURE: ECOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA URGES ACTION ON CONSERVATION PROGRAMS

 

Last week, the Ecological Society of America issued an action alert encouraging its members to contact their representatives to support several key conservation programs as a new farm bill is negotiated.

The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-234) expired in 2012. Congress and the White House enacted a temporary extension of most farm bill programs, which expires Sept. 30, 2013. The extension did not include conservation programs. While the Senate has passed legislation to reauthorize a number of critical environmental programs, the House-passed alternative either severely curtails or zeroes out funding for these programs.

ESA’s action alert to members highlighted critical conservation provisions included in the Senate bill, including:

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Reserve Program. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program gives financial assistance to farmers who implement conservation practices that preserve natural resources and ecosystems and save energy. The Conservation Reserve Program is a rental-payment program that provides farmers with incentives to remove environmentally-sensitive land from agricultural production to preserve water, soil quality and wildlife habitat.

The Senate bill’s conservation compliance provisions. Unlike the House bill, the Senate bill includes a provision requiring that farmers comply with basic conservation requirements in order to receive federal subsidies for crop insurance.

The Senate bill’s bipartisan sodsaver provision. The sodsaver provision was originally added at the committee level as an amendment by Sens. John Thune (R-SD), Mike Johanns (R-NE) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). The provision preserves native prairie through various subsidy reduction measures intended to discourage farmers from agricultural production on native grasslands.

According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the reforms in the Senate farm bill cut $12.9 billion in spending over the next 10 years. The above measures help farmers, sustain valuable agricultural production, create wildlife habitat and improve the water quality in our rural communities and beyond.

To contact your US representative, click here: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ 

To contact your US Senator, click here:

http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/general/one_item_and_teasers/contacting.htm

NOAA: REPORT FINDS HUMAN ACTIVITY INFLUENCED 2012 EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS

 

A report released from the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society has found a link between human-caused climate change and half of the twelve extreme weather events that occurred in calendar year 2012. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists took the lead in editing the report.

The peer-reviewed report, written by 78 scientists from 11 countries around the world, found human influences on heat waves and storm surges that increased the probability of extreme weather events such as Hurricane Sandy. The report also found evidence linking human-influenced climate change to reduced arctic sea ice and increases in extreme rainfall in different parts of the globe. The report likened human-induced climate change and its capability to increase extreme weather events to a driver’s speeding increasing his or her likelihood of having an accident.

The report concludes that communities need to better understand how and to what degree science can be used to attribute extreme events to human activity in order to properly implement climate adaption activities.  “To return to the opening analogy, this means answering the question of how the change in the driver’s speed was responsible for changing the odds of colliding with a texting driver on a wet road, which would be the extreme event we are trying to attribute.”

The report was edited by Thomas Peterson, principal scientist at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC); Martin Hoerling, NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory; Stephanie C. Herring, NCDC; and Peter Stott, UK Met Office Hadley Centre. For additional information on the report, click here:

http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2013/20130905-extremeweatherandclimateevents.html

EPA: 2013 ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE GRANT RECIPIENTS ANNOUNCED

 

On Sept. 11, the Environmental Protection Agency announced its 2013 awardees for its Environmental Justice Small Grants program. The $1.1 million in grant funding will go to 39 non-profit and tribal organizations to help address health and environmental issues in low-income, minority and tribal communities.

Since 1994, the Environmental Justice Small Grants program has awarded over $24 million to over 1400 community-based organizations to address a wide range of environmental health concerns such as air and water pollution, pesticide use and brownfield-related contamination. EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice works with local recipients to build self-sustaining community partnerships that address issues related to public health and the environment. 

Eligible organizations include the following:

  • Incorporated, non-profit, community-based organizations, including environmental justice networks, faith based organizations and those affiliated with religious institutions.
  • Federally recognized tribal governments.
  • Tribal organizations.

A full list of 2013 Environmental Justice Small Grant recipients is available here:

 http://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/resources/publications/grants/ej-smgrants-recipients-2013.pdf

Additional information on the program is available here:

http://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/grants/ej-smgrants.html

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: FWS ANNOUNCES EXTENSION FOR WOLF DELISTING

 

On Sept. 4, the US Fish and Wildlife Service extended the comment period for its proposal to remove the gray wolf (Canis lupus) from protection under the Endangered Species Act. The new deadline is October 28, 2013.

Some environmental groups have argued that the proposed delisting is premature. The contention is that there are numerous areas of the United States historically populated by wolves and still suitable for them that have yet to  see a return of wolves. “The federal government is essentially turning its back on Americans who want to see thriving wolf populations restored to their states,” asserted Defenders of Wildlife President Jamie Rappaport Clark. “There is still much work to be done to ensure that wolves are able to return to western Colorado, northern California and Washington’s Olympic peninsula – places that have excellent habitat but no wolves.”

FWS argues that returning the gray wolf to all of its prior historical range is not necessary to ensure sustained recovery of the species. The agency is planning several hearings on the delisting in coming weeks in Albuquerque, NM, Sacramento, CA and Washington, DC.

The public comment period also allows for consideration of a proposal to expand protections for the Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) in the US Southwest. The proposal would expand the recovery area for the wolves and allow their release into New Mexico.

For additional information, click here: http://www.fws.gov/graywolfrecovery062013.html

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: FEDERAL PROTECTIONS PROPOSED FOR WHITE RHINO

On Sept. 10, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced it has proposed listing the southern white rhinoceros as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act.

The white rhinoceros is the fifth and final species of rhino to garner full federal protection under the law. The black, Sumatran, Indian and Javan rhinos are already listed as “endangered” under the Act. A subspecies of white rhino, the northern white rhino had garnered an endangered listing, but is now believed to be extinct in the wild.

Rhino hunting reached unprecedented levels in 2012 with 668 rhinos poached that year and 446 rhinos killed in the first six months of 2013, according to FWS. The animals are sought  for their horns, which some local cultures believe are capable of curing diseases.

Comments on the draft rule can be made the following ways:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal:  http://www.regulations.gov. Follow instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. FWS–HQ–ES–2013–0055.
  • US mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: [FWS–HQ–ES–2013–0055]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; US Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.

Comments must be received by October 11, 2013. For additional information on the proposed listing, click here: http://www.fws.gov/rhino-conservation-2013.html

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House 

H.R. 3064, the Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2013 – Introduced by House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), the bill would establish scientific standards and protocols across forensic disciplines for the purpose of deterring wrongful convictions.

H.R. 3084, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act – Introduced Sept. 11 by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), Committee Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV), Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-OH) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Tim Bishop (D-NY), the bipartisan bill authorizes the US Army Corps of Engineers to carry out various water infrastructure development, flood control and environmental restoration projects. The Senate passed its own bipartisan bill on May 15. If enacted, the legislation would be the first Water Resources Development Act signed into law since 2007.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) praised the House for acting and urged the body to move swiftly in passing its bill so that a conference report can be agreed upon and sent to the president.

Passed House

S. 130, the Powell Shooting Range Land Conveyance Act – Introduced by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), the bill conveys about 322 acres of federal lands to the Powell Recreation District in Wyoming for a shooting range. The bill passed the House by a vote of 408-1 on Sept. 10 after passing the Senate in June and has been sent to the White House. The sole member to oppose the bill was Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC).

S. 157, the Denali National Park Improvement Act – Introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the bill would facilitate a small hydroelectric project in Denali National Park to supplant use of diesel fuel and allow a natural gas pipeline along an existing utility corridor. The bill passed the House Sept. 10 by voice vote after passing the Senate by unanimous consent in June and has been sent to the White House.

S. 304, the Natchez Trace Parkway Land Conveyance Act of 2013 – Introduced by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), the bill would convey two parcels of parklands totaling 67 acres to the state of Mississippi for public recreational purposes. The bill passed the House on Sept. 10 by a vote of 419-1 after passing the Senate by unanimous consent in June and has been sent to the White House. The sole member to oppose the bill was Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI).

S. 459, the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Boundary Modification Act – Introduced by Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD), the bill would transfer roughly 28.65 acres of Forest Service land to the National Park Service to construct a visitor facility and provide parking at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota. The bill passed the House by a vote of 414-5 Sept. 10 after passing the Senate by unanimous consent in June and has been sent to the White House.

Considered by Senate Committee

On Sept. 10, the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing on several water rights bills:

S. 1219, the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians Water Rights Settlement Act – Introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the bill would settle water rights claims for the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians of the Santa Margarita Valley.

S. 1447, to make technical corrections to certain Native American water rights settlements in the State of New Mexico – Introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), the bill would clarify various water rights settlements for the Taos Pueblo, Navajo and other tribes.

S. 1448, the Spokane Tribe of Indians of the Spokane Reservation Equitable Compensation Act – Introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the bill would establish a fund to compensate the Spokane Tribe of Indians for hydropower generated from the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state.

Considered on Senate floor

S. 1392, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act – Introduced by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH), the comprehensive renewable energy bill includes provisions to strengthen building codes to make homes and commercial buildings more energy efficient and directs the Department of Energy to work with the private sector to invest in energy-efficiency research and technology. The bill has backing from environmentalists as well as the business community, but is opposed by the Heritage Foundation, which objects to the federal mandates and incentives in the bill in favor of a “free market” approach. The Senate began consideration of the measure on Sept. 11. Senate Republicans have slowed the bill’s progress by introducing a wide array of amendments, ranging from attempts to prevent the Obama administration from instituting carbon limits for power plants to an amendment that would delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148).

The White House released a statement endorsing the bill: “This bipartisan legislation would codify and enhance existing Federal programs, further supporting successful efforts to reduce energy waste through building energy codes and industrial energy efficiency programs and by identifying efficiency opportunities in federal buildings. S. 1392 complements key energy efficiency dimensions of the president’s Climate Action Plan that will work to cut carbon pollution and begin to slow the effects of climate change, so that we can leave a cleaner and more stable environment for future generations.”

 


 Sources ClimateWire, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Roll Call, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House 

USGS scientist named Ecological Society of America president

For immediate release:  Monday, 9 September 2013                        

Contact: Terence Houston (202) 833-8773 x 224; terence@esa.org

ESA president Jill Baron. Credit: ESA file photo.

ESA president Jill Baron. Credit: ESA file photo.

Jill Baron, an ecosystem ecologist with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and a senior research ecologist with Colorado State University’s Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, has been named President of the Ecological Society of America (ESA), the world’s largest organization of professional ecologists. As president, Baron now chairs ESA’s governing board, which lays out the vision for overall goals and objectives for the Society. 

“Ecologists explore the organisms and processes that make up the living world, but we also evaluate the environmental and societal consequences of human activities,” said Baron.  “For many of us, this knowledge drives us to seek solutions and promote better stewardship of our natural resources. As well we should: the funding that supports our work comes with the expectation that we will give back to the public that subsidizes us; this is something I, as a civil servant, am keenly aware of. The Ecological Society of America is a tremendously effective vehicle for discharging our responsibility to society.  ESA’s rich portfolio of activities, from its influential journals, public affairs and communication activities, education, science office, and vibrant meetings, reflect how the Society both promotes the science and its application.  It is an honor and a privilege for me to help lead these tasks.”  

Baron is co-Director of the John Wesley Powell Center for Earth System Science Analysis and Syntheisis, a center founded to promote the emergence of new knowledge through interdisciplinary collaboration.  Baron’s own research has helped inform policy related to air-quality issues in the state of Colorado. For over three decades, she has researched the effects of atmospheric deposition and climate change on Rocky mountain lakes, forests, and soils.    Her work has garnered recognition from a swath of federal agencies. Most recently, she was recognized with two National Park Service awards: the 2012 Intermountain Region Regional Director’s Natural Resource Award and the 2011 Rocky Mountain National Park Stewardship Award. She was also honored with Department of Interior Meritorious Service Award in 2002.

Baron was editor of ESA’s Issues in Ecology for several years and previously served as Member at Large on ESA’s governing board. Baron was lead author of the US Climate Change Science Program report on Climate Change Adaption Options for National Parks, and a contributor to the National Climate Assessment.  She has served on the Department of Interior’s Climate Change Task Force and was part of the Science Strategy Team that structured the scientific direction of the USGS. She has authored over 140 publications and edited two books, including Rocky Mountain Futures, an ecological perspective that addresses past, present, and future human-environment interactions.

 

The Ecological Society of America is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and the trusted source of ecological knowledge.  ESA is committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth.  The 10,000 member Society publishes five journals, convenes an annual scientific conference, and broadly shares ecological information through policy and media outreach and education initiatives. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org or find experts in ecological science at http://www.esa.org/pao/rrt/.

Scientists, practitioners, religious communities urge collaborative action to save our planet

For immediate release:  Tuesday, 3 September 2013                           

Contact: Nadine Lymn (202) 833-8773 x 205; nadine@esa.org

Big global questions face us, among them: How will we feed a growing global population without ruining the soil and polluting freshwater?  Or meet our burgeoning energy demands while curbing the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel rising sea levels, flooding, drought, disease and wildfire? And what can we do to stem the extinction of thousands of other species that share the planet with us?

These daunting “environmental” problems are not only in the domain of ecologists and environmental scientists. Other natural scientists, social, behavioral and economic researchers, urban designers and planners, and religious groups are also grappling with ways to turn around our sobering collective trajectory. And, in what marks a significant shift, ecologists are recognizing that generating and distributing scientific data is not enough. They see the need to embrace the social and ethical dimensions of scientific practice and to join with a wide variety of allies to solve these real-world problems.

September’s Special Issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment brings together the perspectives of anthropologists, architects, city planners, ecologists, engineers, ranchers, members of religious communities and others on ways to foster Earth Stewardship—defined here as taking action to sustain life in a rapidly changing world. 

 Anthropologist Laura Ogden and colleagues highlight socio-ecological drivers of global change that create patterns of environmental injustice and economic inequalities. 

 Architect Frederick Steiner and colleagues address the need to make urban areas more resilient to natural disasters and they highlight the potential of “green” infrastructure. Alex Felson et al. offer four practical examples that emphasize interactions between urban designers and ecologists. 

Specially marked bins invite anglers to dispose of used fishing lines. Credit: Susan Clayton.

Specially marked bins invite anglers to dispose of used fishing lines. Credit: Susan Clayton.

Psychologist Susan Clayton and co-authors review ways to encourage people to change a behavior that causes unintended damage. For example, old fishing lines that wash into the sea can entangle marine mammals, often leading to severe injury or death. A successful initiative invites anglers to dispose of their unwanted fishing tackle in specially marked bins placed in popular fishing areas. “The relative ease of performing this behavior as well as the large potential audience for the intervention makes it worth targeting,” say the authors.

Gregory Hitzhusen and Mary Tucker explore the potential of religion to advance Earth Stewardship.  “Religions play a central role in formulating worldviews that orient humans to the natural world and in articulating ethics that guide human behavior,” say the authors. 

Often overlooked and undervalued, rangelands are subject to degradation, conversion to other land uses and fragmentation worldwide. Noting that rangelands support the livelihoods of some 1 billion people and provide the animal protein, water and other resources to twice as many, Nathan Sayre and co-authors argue that rangelands are in dire need of Earth Stewardship.

The next generation of scientists, Ricardo Colon-Rivera and colleagues, bring attention to the desire of an increasing number of graduate students in science fields to integrate civic concerns with their research.

This Frontiers Special Issue and the workshop on the ecological dimensions of Earth Stewardship were generously funded by the National Science Foundation. The September issue is open access, as are all Frontiers Special Issues and may be accessed at: http://www.esajournals.org/toc/fron/11/7

 Review article titles in the ES Special Issue below:

 Global assemblages, resilience, and Earth Stewardship in the Anthropocene

 Earth Stewardship of rangelands: coping with ecological, economic, and political marginality

 The ecological imperative for environmental design and planning

 Promoting Earth Stewardship through urban design experiments

 The potential of religion for Earth Stewardship

  Psychological science, conservation, and environmental sustainability

 Moving forward: fostering the next generation of Earth stewards in STEM disciplines

The Ecological Society of America is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and the trusted source of ecological knowledge.  ESA is committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth.  The 10,000 member Society publishes five journals, convenes an annual scientific conference, and broadly shares ecological information through policy and media outreach and education initiatives. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org or find experts in ecological science at http://www.esa.org/pao/rrt/.

 To subscribe to ESA press releases, contact Liza Lester at llester@esa.org.

August 23, 2013

In this Issue

BUDGET: CONGRESS ADJOURNS AMID IMMINENT SPENDING DEADLINES

Congress has adjourned for the August district work period leaving a full plate of must-dos when members return after Labor Day. Many items on their list will  need to be addressed before the end of September.

The largest item will be the completion of the appropriations cycle. While it is typical for many (if not most) appropriations bills not to have been sent to the president’s desk at this stage, the current party divide between the House and the Senate had added an extra layer of contention to the appropriations cycle in recent years. The Democratic-controlled Senate must reach a consensus with the Republican-controlled House on spending levels for 12 appropriations spending bills in order to prevent a partial or full shutdown of the government on Sept. 30, when Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 ends.

The partisan tension is heightened by the continued budget sequestration, given that Republicans in the House are drafting their non-defense discretionary spending assuming the sequestration continues through FY 2014 while Senate Democrats are drafting their bills in line with the much higher spending caps originally mandated in the Budget Control Act in 2011. Nonetheless, unless the House and Senate can either come up with a deficit reduction alternative to the existing sequester or vote to nullify it altogether, sequestration by law will continue to be implemented through FY 2014 and beyond.

Congress must also reach a consensus on reauthorization of the farm bill, which also runs out on Sept. 30. Both the House and Senate have passed farm bills, but the legislation differs substantially both in funding and scope. The Senate bill, which passed by a bipartisan vote of 66-27, also includes a requirement that farmers meet certain conservation requirements in order to receive federal subsidies for crop insurance. The House farm bill, which passed by a narrow vote of 216-208 with no Democratic support, does not include the conservation provisions and lacks a food stamp extension as House Republicans were not able to reach a consensus on food stamp funding prior to the August recess. It also differs from the Senate in that it includes provisions that waive regulatory rules related to pesticide control and environmental reviews of forestry projects.

Over the course of the August district work period, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) announced a proposal to cut food stamps by as much as $40 billion over the next decade.  Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) indicated that the number is a non-starter. The Senate bill only cuts food stamp funding by $4 billion. House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN), who supported the original House bill that included a $20.5 billion cut to food stamps, indicated that the larger number dooms chances of reaching a bicameral consensus on a farm bill this year.

On August 1, House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry Ranking Member Tim Walz (D-MN) sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) requesting that he appoint conferees to move the farm bill to a conference committee before the Senate adjourns to give members time during the August recess to formally work out an agreement. The letter was cosigned by 49 House Democrats. Speaker Boehner, however, did not appoint conferees, leaving members only a few weeks to work out a compromise when they return.

Another major issue Congress will have to tackle around the same time is the national debt ceiling, which is projected to be reached around the start of the new fiscal year. Members of Congress have so far been unsuccessful in reaching an agreement on a deficit reduction alternative to the existing sequester. Bipartisan groups such as the Bipartisan Policy Center have said that both mandatory/entitlement spending cuts and  revenue increases need to be on the table. House Republicans have indicated they may seek mandatory spending cut concessions from the administration as an alternative to continuing the sequester.

President Obama has called for an increased debt limit not tied to  spending cuts, although Speaker Boehner has indicated there are not the votes in the House to pass such a bill. House leadership is deliberating whether to hold a vote on a “clean” increase as a negotiation tactic for deficit reduction legislation. House Republican leadership used the tactic before in 2011 with success as the failed vote led to the legislation that became the Budget Control Act, the law that included provisions that set “trigger” for the sequestration cuts to  discretionary spending that went into effect March 1, 2013.

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE LEADERS SPAR OVER EPA’S SCIENCE TRANSPARENCY

In the wake of the recent strong disagreement over legislation to curtail the National Science Foundation’s merit review process, another “war of words” has broken out between the chairman and ranking member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee – this time in regard to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) scientific processes for issuing regulations.

On Aug. 1, the House Science Space and Technology Committee voted 20-18 along partisan lines in support of a resolution to subpoena EPA for the “secret science” it uses in the issuance of its regulations. In a press statement, Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) contended “This subpoena could have been avoided. Unfortunately, we’ve been put in this position by an agency that willfully disregards congressional requests and makes its rules using undisclosed data. After two years of failing to respond, it’s clear that the EPA is not going to give the American people what they deserve—the truth about regulations.” EPA contends that it has already provided all the data it has to the committee. The resolution set a deadline of Aug. 19 to provide the data. Subsequently, EPA and the science committee confirmed documents did change hands on the 19th, but the content of the documents and whether they will satisfy the science committee’s demands is not yet known.

The resolution came after a July 22 ultimatum letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy stating that EPA must provide “all original data and analysis” on its science methods in issuing regulations by July 31 or the science committee would be forced to take action. According to Chairman Smith, Republicans have, since 2011, repeatedly requested documents from then-EPA Assistant Administrator for Clean Air and Radiation McCarthy to provide the committee details on the data used to form its Clean Air Act regulations, but have yet to receive a response, even with McCarthy now heading the agency. “The EPA’s lack of cooperation contributes to the suspicion that the datasets do not support the agency’s actions,” said Smith.

The resolution sparked a testy exchange between Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) who accused Smith of requesting the data in order to pass it along to “industry hacks.” Smith countered, saying that in all his years on the committee that he has never attacked anyone personally and requested that Johnson refrain from questioning his motives. After a 10 minute recess to review the transcript of their exchange, the committee reconvened and Johnson withdrew her “industry hacks” statements while maintaining her assertion that the resolution disregards the scientific process and compromises the privacy of individual health records obtained through studies on how pollution affects human health. Republicans countered that they would remove any information that identifies individuals before making the information public.

 “There are so many problems with both this resolution and with the process you have used to get here, that it is difficult to know where to start,” asserted Ranking Member Johnson. Referencing Chairman Smith’s correspondence to EPA, she asserted “it is insinuated that both the Harvard Six Cities Study and the American Cancer Society Study [which EPA cites as the scientific basis for its clean air rules] are bad science or ‘secret science.’  However, you provide no evidence to support your claims…Of course, neither of those claims is true.  In fact, these studies are seminal works which are widely respected in the scientific community.  Moreover, there has been extensive peer review, re-analysis, and validation work on these studies.  And these facts should come as no shock to you, as the EPA has pointed this out repeatedly.” Many of Johnson’s refrains were stated in a July 30 letter she had penned to Smith in response to his July 22 letter.

The week following the hearing, Ranking Member Johnson sent another letter to Chairman Smith further questioning his motivation for the subpoena. In the letter, she noted that of the two researchers he cited as being denied access to the data, one, Jim Emstrom, was a paid consultant on behalf of the tobacco industry and was terminated by the University of California, Los Angeles in 2012. The other researcher Smith cited, Stanley Young, was not requesting the information on behalf of his organization, the National Institute of Statistical Sciences. NISS’s director responded that his entity does not have the resources to adequately undertake an analysis of EPA’s data. Johnson added “I would note that when the Health Effects Institute conducted a thorough re-analysis of the Harvard Six Cities Study and the American Cancer Society related study, it took a team of 30 researchers three years to complete their work.  It certainly seems unlikely that one statistical researcher, acting on his own, could replicate this task in a useful timeframe.”

Ranking Member Johnson’s letter was countered with a response letter from Chairman Smith: “I have made clear that any personal health information that may be in the subpoenaed data will be protected and removed before the data are made public. However, I have also made clear that the American taxpayers have a right to see this de-identified information and determine whether the EPA is basing its regulations on sound science,” maintained Chairman Smith. “Further, if this information cannot be made public in a manner sufficient for validation and re-analysis while protecting confidential information, EPA should not be using it to justify major regulations,” he continued.

The Aug. 1 mark-up also included a vote on a bill to modify an EPA study on hydraulic fracturing, currently underway. H.R. 2850, the “EPA Hydraulic Fracturing Study Improvement Act of 2013 would call on EPA, in addition to outlining the potential for the hydraulic fracturing to cause water pollution, to also specify the probability of such pollution actually occurring. Rep. Suzanne Bonamci (D-OR) cautioned that there has been no hearing on the legislation and thatthe committee is not aware of what the additional requirement will have on EPA’s resources, noting that the current House appropriations bill for the agency would cut the agency’s budget by 34 percent if enacted.

To view the committee mark-up meeting, click here.

To view Chairman Smith’s initial July 24 letter to EPA, click here.

To view Ranking Member Johnson’s July 30 response letter to Chairman Smith, click here.

To view Ranking Member Johnson’s Aug. 6 letter to Chairman Smith, click here.

To view Chairman Smith’s Aug. 8 response letter to Ranking Member Johnson, click here.

EPA: OVERSIGHT SUBCOMMITTEE REVIEWS BRISTOL BAY WATERSHED ASSESSMENT

 

On August 1, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Oversight convened for a hearing examining the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulatory assessment of a plan to operate mining in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed.

Committee Republicans contend that EPA may have overstepped in assessing Pebble LP’s plan to allow gold and copper mining near Bristol Bay, an area which is also home to more than half of the world’s sockeye salmon. The Nushagak and Kvichak rivers flow into Bristol Bay watershed and provide for the harvest of an estimated 30 million salmon each year from the region.  Concerned members claim that EPA should have followed National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) protocols before carrying out its watershed assessment. NEPA requires federal agencies to detail a proposed project’s environmental impact. Opponents of the mine contend that waiting for the full NEPA process to be implemented would provide more uncertainty for all parties involved. Supporters of the mine assert that EPA’s watershed assessment could lead to a preemptive veto.

“I have serious questions about how a mine can coexist with the fish in Bristol Bay,” said Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun (R-GA).  “But I have reservations about EPA’s actions in regard to a potential Pebble mine.  I cannot support actions by a federal agency that disregards laws that already exist that provide a level playing field for both industry and environmentalists alike. We must allow due process under the law to find the facts.  Law and facts should drive the decision.” 

“EPA’s Bristol Bay study both is more general and more limited than an EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] would be,” said Lowell Rothshild, Senior Council with Bracewell & Guiliani LLp. “It covers far fewer subjects than would be analyzed in an EIS and lacks the detail needed to fully understand the impacts of an eventual project, even for the resource impacts it does exempt.  As a result, EPA’s assessment is not an adequate substitute for an EIS and even for the resources it does analyze its impact assessment is less informed and is therefore less useful than the analysis which would occur under a project specific EIS.” Rothschild contended that while the EPA assessment focuses on wildlife, an EIS would analyze multiple natural resources impacts (air, noise, groundwater, wildlife) and human resources impacts (economic, socioeconomic and environmental justice impacts).

EPA contends it has authority to conduct the assessment under the Clean Water Act. “EPA, in its role as a risk manager along with its responsibilities under the Clean Water Act, now has the information and duty to fulfill the Congressional mandate to protect our nation’s waters,” asserted Wayne Nastri, a former EPA regional administrator (2001-2009) invited to testify at the hearing. Nastri said that EPA needs to finalize the assessment “as soon as possible.” He noted that the draft assessment has received 841,411 comments and asserted that “more than 94 percent of those commenting from the Bristol Bay region supported EPA’s watershed assessment.”

“The draft assessment is solid science that demonstrates hard rock mining cannot coexist side by side with salmon without harm to the salmon, to the fishing and sportsman’s economy, and to the native communities,” said Oversight Subcommittee Ranking Member Dan Maffei (D-NY).  “I think we have to be honest with ourselves about where such projects can work and where they simply do not make sense.”

“As many as 2,000 Oregon jobs are supported by the Bristol Bay salmon fishery,” asserted Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR). “My constituents have made it clear to me that they are concerned about the impact the proposed mine would have on the ecosystem and on their livelihood. It is important that we get the science on this right.”

View the full hearing, here.

ENERGY: CONGRESSIONAL TASK FORCE RELEASES CLIMATE CHANGE ACTION STRATEGY

 

On Aug. 6, the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change released a report recommending 20 steps the Department of Energy (DOE) can use as guidance in the implementation President Obama’s Climate Action plan.

These steps include strengthening energy efficiency standards, accelerating the development of low-carbon energy technologies, analyzing climate change’s impacts on the export of natural gas as well as expanding energy saving measures in federal buildings and other reforms related to utilities and infrastructure. According to the lawmakers, the recommendations come from a wide range of stakeholders, varying from environmental and energy advocacy groups, Fortune 500 companies, experts from academia and former DOE officials.

The taskforce is co-chaired by House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) as well as recent new co-chairs Reps. Bobby Rush (D-IL), Earl Blumenauer and the transition of recently elected Ed Markey (D-MA) as a Senate co-chair.

View the full report here.

INTERIOR: SCIENTISTS WHO CRITICIZED WOLF DELISTING REMOVED FROM PEER REVIEW

 

Three researchers with wolf expertise, who signed a May letter criticizing the Department of Interior’s proposal to remove Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf, have been blocked from participating in an independent peer review panel of the proposal.

Roland Kays of North Carolina State University, John Vucetich of Michigan Technological University and Robert Wayne of the University of California, Los Angeles were among 16 scientists who signed the letter, addressed to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Dan Ashe. “There is a growing body of scientific literature demonstrating that top predators play critical roles in maintaining a diversity of other wildlife species and as such the composition and function of ecosystems,” the authors wrote. “Given the importance of wolves and the fact that they have only just begun to recover in some regions and not at all in others, we hope you will reconsider the Service’s proposal to remove protections across most of the United States.”

The delisting plan itself is the subject of an accelerated peer review conducted by a private consultant firm, AMEC, which had won a contract from FWS to lead the independent peer review. A representative from AMEC informed the three scientists of their removal via email. FWS maintains that the scientists’ letter constitutes a form of advocacy and contend that a letter supporting the removal would have also have raised concern.

The proposal to remove federal protections for gray wolves in the United States was first announced in June. FWS has set a deadline for peer reviews to be completed by Sept. 11, 2013 the same date by which public comments are due. Information on how to comment is available here.

View the May 21 scientists’ letter here.

HUD: CLIMATE CHANGE SHOULD BE PART OF SANDY REBUILDING EFFORTS

A report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force asserts that climate change needs to be taken into consideration when drafting recovery plans for affected regions along the East Coast.

The report specifically references President Obama’s agency-wide Climate Action Plan and emphasizes the importance of protecting communities against future extreme weather events. “While scientific evidence does not yet tell us definitively whether storms like Sandy are growing more common, evidence indicates climate change is already altering environmental conditions in a way that suggests there may be changes in the frequency, intensity, duration, and timing of future extreme meteorological events, which may lead to unprecedented extreme weather events,” the HUD report notes. Citing the high cost of infrastructure losses from natural disaster events, the report concludes that increasing resiliency will save billions in taxpayer dollars.

The report also asserts that “science needs to be an integrated part of post-disaster response and recovery efforts.” The report highlights the pivotal role data obtained from science agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United States Geological Survey played in preparation, response and recovery during Hurricane Sandy. The task force also highlights its coordination with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Department of Interior to formulate science working groups to ensure “the best available science was used to inform its policy recommendations.”

The report emphasizes the importance investing in “green infrastructure” can play in post-hurricane adaptation and restoration efforts. “Communities at increasing risk from coastal storms can use green infrastructure approaches that restore degraded or lost natural systems (e.g., wetlands and sand dune ecosystems) and other shoreline areas to enhance storm protection and reap the many benefits that are provided by these systems. There is also quantitative evidence supporting the importance of protecting intact systems where they exist because these systems may provide some wave attenuation capability, particularly in low-energy storm surges.”

Click here to view the full report.

FOREST SERVICE: WILDLAND FIRES LEAD AGENCY SPENDING SHORTFALLS

 

On Aug. 16, US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell issued a memorandum to employees noting that, because it has run out of congressionally appropriated funds, the agency will halt spending on restoration, employee travel and other administrative costs in order to support agency wildfire mitigation efforts.

The number of wildfires (32,000) and acres burned (over three million) this year is lower than in previous years. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, last year was the second worst fire season on record with 67,000 fires burning 9.3 million acres. However, this year’s fire duration has increased and many fires have been closer to urban areas, increasing the need  to protect surrounding communities.

Borrowing funds from other parts of the agency to pay for firefighting is not new. Over the course of seven years beginning in 2002, the Service has transferred $2.2 billion from other accounts to pay for fire suppression efforts. Congress traditionally has been willing to make up the difference. This is the second straight year the FS has needed to use money from other accounts to pay for fire suppression. Congress sought to address this disruption to other agency functions in 2009 with the establishment of the FLAME fund, but the account has been depleted, according to the Service.

The agency is also stymied by the budget sequester cuts to discretionary spending, which eliminated $115 million from the federal wildland fire program’s budget. According to US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, this resulted in 500 fewer firefighters. The agency has also had to shift money from fire prevention efforts to pay for fire suppression. Among prevention efforts that will lose funding through the shift are the hazardous-fuels-reduction program, whose responsibilities include hiring contractors to remove combustible material that fuel fires.

INVASIVE SPECIES: WHITE HOUSE ANNOUNCES ASIAN CARP CONTROL STRATEGY

This summer, the Obama administration announced a series of measures intended to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp invasion. The 2013 Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework builds upon the administration’s 2010 plan to prevent the fish from establishing themselves in the Great Lakes. 

Updates specified in the 2013 framework include the following:

  • Design and construction of a mobile electric dispersal barrier in the Chicago Area Waterway System for experimental and emergency situations in addition to construction of a permanent barrier.
  • Development and field testing of Asian carp control tools, including water guns, netting and chemical controls.
  • Identifying controls, including hydrologic separation scenarios, to prevent the transfer of invasive species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins.
  • Increasing bi-national collaboration to deter the spread of Asian carp beyond US borders. 

A summary of the framework is available here.

Read the full framework here.

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: EXTENSION FOR COMMENTS ON INVASIVE SPECIES PROPOSAL

On Aug. 16, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced an extended deadline for its proposal to add a categorical exclusion to the existing exclusions concerning invasive and injurious species.

A categorical exclusion is a class of actions under the National Environmental Policy Act that do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment. They also increase efficiency in that they allow federal agencies to expedite the environmental review process for proposals that typically do not require more resource-intensive environmental review.

The proposed categorical exclusion open for public comment relates to adding species to the injurious wildlife list under the Lacey Act. Given that the existing listing process can take several years, refining this process could increase the capability of stopping an invasive species at the border before it becomes irreversibly established.

Comments must be received by October 15, 2013. To view the notice as well as information on how to comment, click here

For additional background, click here.

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: USGS PLANS CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION DATABASE

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has opened a public comment opportunity for a registry of climate change vulnerability. The registry intends to improve nationwide climate change mitigation tactics through the collection and display of information on climate change adaptation projects across the country.

The plan is in accordance with President Obama’s second-term prioritization of implementing climate change mitigation practices across all federal agencies and fostering collaborative efforts with state and local entities nationwide. USGS will make the collected information available on a website in the form of a simple registry-type database. The site will be available for use by the general public, scientists, resource managers and other interested parties.

Comments must be received by Oct. 21, 2013. Additional information is available here:


 Sources AAAS, ClimateWire, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, POLITICO, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Washington Post, the White House

 

Using fire to manage fire-prone regions around the world

Inaugural online-only Special Issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment

 Media Advisory

For immediate release 14 August 2013

Contact: Nadine Lymn, (202) 833-8773, ext. 205; nadine@esa.org

Prescribed burn in Klamath National Forest CA. Credit: E. Knapp

Prescribed burn in Klamath National Forest CA. Credit: E. Knapp

 

The Ecological Society of America’s first online-only Special Issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment showcases prescribed burns around the globe, some of them drawing on historical practices to manage forests and grasslands in fire-prone regions.

The Online Special Issue looks at fire practices in the United States, Australia, southern Europe, South Africa and South America. One review article focuses on the cooperative efforts of US ranchers in the Great Plains using fire to beat back juniper encroachment on native grasslands.  Another features traditional Aboriginal approaches to minimize greenhouse-gas emissions from savanna fires in northern Australia.  In South America, traditional Mayan practices to produce “forest gardens” are applied to create spaces within the forest for different kinds of crops while contributing to soil fertility and sustaining wildlife.  And in southern Europe, a significant challenge is contending with stringent laws that create obstacles for using managed burns to decrease wildfire risk and manage habitats for grazing and wildlife.

The August online-only issue of Frontiers is open access, as are all Frontiers Special Issues. Access Prescribed burning in fire-prone landscapes here or click on the titles below to go directly to an article.

Prescribed burning in southern Europe: developing fire management in a dynamic landscape

Prescribed fire in North American forests and woodlands: history, current practice, and challenges

Prescribed burning in southwestern Australian forests

Fire management in species-rich Cape fynbos shrublands

The Maya milpa: fire and the legacy of living soil

Managing fire regimes in north Australian savannas: applying Aboriginal approaches to contemporary global problems

The rising Great Plains fire campaign: citizens’ response to woody plant encroachment

 

 

 

 

 

Rattlesnakes and ticks, competition and cannibalistic salamanders, and beneficial, predatory, parasitic Fungi

Presentations on species interactions figure large at ESA’s 2013 annual meeting

 

Media Advisory2013 ESA Logo

For immediate release:  Monday, 29 July 2013

Contact: Nadine Lymn (202) 833-8773 x 205; nadine@esa.org

 

Viper tick removal service

Human cases of Lyme disease continue to rise in the United States. The bacterial disease—which, if untreated can cause significant neurological problems—is transmitted to people by black-legged ticks, which pick up the pathogen by feeding on infected animals, primarily small mammals such as mice.

Timber Rattler Kabay

Timber rattlesnake. Credit: Ed Kabay

Previous studies have shown that when fewer predators of small mammals are present, the abundance of ticks goes up, resulting in an increase of Lyme infections in people. Edward Kabay, at East Chapel Hill High School, together with Nicholas Caruso at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and Karen Lips with the University of Maryland, explored how timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) might play a key role in the prevalence of Lyme disease in humans.

They modeled what and how much timber rattlesnakes ate based on published data on snake gut contents for four northeastern localities and determined the number of infected ticks removed from each location. Kabay, Caruso and Lips’ models showed that by eating mammalian prey, the snakes removed some 2,500 – 4,500 ticks from each site annually.  Rattlesnakes eradicated more ticks in areas with greater prey diversity than in habitats with less mammalian diversity. The trio’s research suggests that top predators like the timber rattlesnake play an important role in regulating the incidence of Lyme disease. But decreasing habitat and overharvesting of the snakes is driving their populations down, particularly in northern and upper midwestern areas, where the incidence of Lyme disease is highest. 

The presentation Timber Rattlesnakes may reduce incidence of Lyme disease in the Northeastern United States will take place on Tuesday, August 6, 2013: 4:40 PM in 101 I of the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Presenter contacts:

Edward Kabay, East Chapel Hill High School, ekabay@gmail.com

Nicolas Caruso, University of Alabama, nmcaruso@crimson.ua.edu

Karen Lips, University of Maryland, klips@umd.edu

Unexpected cannibals

Kyle McLean, an Environmental & Conservation Sciences graduate student at North Dakota State University, and his team looked at the two different types of juvenile barred tiger salamanders: the ‘typical’ variety and the rarer, cannibalistic morph.  A morph occurs when the same species exhibits different physical characteristics.  The cannibalistic morph is believed to be a result of plasticity; it’s changed its physical appearance due to environmental pressures.  The typical morph has a smaller head and smaller peg-like teeth compared to the cannibalistic morph’s broader head and sharper recurved teeth, allowing the cannibalistic morph to eat larger prey and, in many cases, other salamanders of the same species.  In water bodies where the morphs occur, they have been observed at less than 30 percent of the local population.  McLean thinks cannibalistic morphs occur at the larval stage when competition for food is highest. 

cannibal morph vomerine teeth by Keith McLean

Cannibal morph vomerine teeth. Credit: Kyle McLean

During the summer of 2012, McLean’s team collected 54 barred tiger salamanders (Ambystoma mavortium diaboli) from a North Dakota lake with a high concentration of fathead minnows that likely compete with larval salamanders for prey. The team measured the salamanders’ body length, skull, and teeth. They concluded that all were cannibalistic. Their snout length was not significantly different from that of typical barred tiger salamanders from a nearby lake, but the cannibalistic morphs had longer and wider skulls and larger, sharp teeth. Typical morphs came from a lake with a low abundance of competitors for food, possibly indicating that the cannibalistic morph occurs where there is a high concentration of predatory competition.

“The presence of cannibal morphs occurring in the barred tiger salamander was an unexpected discovery, but being that that every individual captured from the lake was a cannibal morph and they appear to not be in competition with each other but thousands of fathead minnows is the intriguing story, said McLean. “With future experimentation and data collection hopefully we will be able to better understand the abnormalities of this unique population.”

McLean’s poster session, Characteristics of cannibalistic morph barred tiger salamanders in a prairie pothole lake will take place on Wednesday, August 7, 20113 in Exhibit Hall B of the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Presenter contact:         

Kyle McLean, North Dakota State University; kyle.mclean@my.ndsu.edu

 Slime, spores…fungi!

Helvella by Roo Vandegrift

Illustration of the slate grey saddle (Helvella lacunosa) by Roo Vandegrift.

As different from plants as plants are from animals, Fungi feature varieties that decompose dead organisms, engage in mutually beneficial relationships with other species, cause disease to plants and animals, and act as predators and parasites.  Mycologists—those who study fungi and their relationships with other organisms—note that only a fraction of Fungal species are known and that modern mycology’s potential applications to engineering and other possible contributions remain largely untapped. 

Part of the organized poster session Current Perspectives on the History of Ecology, Getting freaky with fungi: A historical perspective on the emergence of mycology, will take place on Wednesday, August 7, 2013, from 4:30 – 6:30 PM in Exhibit Hall B of the Minneapolis Convention Center. 

Presenter contacts: 

Sydney Glassman, University of California, Berkeley, sglassman@berkeley.edu

Roo Vandegift, University of Oregon, awv@uoregon.edu

 Media Attendance

The Ecological Society of America’s Annual Meeting, Aug. 4-9, 2013 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is free for reporters with a recognized press card and institutional press officers. Registration is also waived for current members of the National Association of Science Writers, the Canadian Science Writers Association, the International Science Writers Association and the Society of Environmental Journalists. Interested press should contact Liza Lester at llester@esa.org or 202-833-8773 x 211 to register.  In a break from previous policy, meeting presentations are not embargoed.

The Ecological Society of America is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and the trusted source of ecological knowledge.  ESA is committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth.  The 10,000 member Society publishes five journals, convenes an annual scientific conference, and broadly shares ecological information through policy and media outreach and education initiatives. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org or find experts in ecological science at http://www.esa.org/pao/rrt/.

 To subscribe to ESA press releases, contact Liza Lester at llester@esa.org

 

July 26, 2013

In this Issue

APPROPRIATIONS: ENVIRONMENTAL AGENCIES SLASHED, FIRE PREVENTION GETS BOOST

On July 22, House Republicans released a draft of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. The bill primarily funds environmental agencies such as the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Forest Service.

The Interior and Environment appropriations bill is among the more controversial of the discretionary spending bills as the bill has jurisdiction over the funding of many Obama administration environmental regulatory initiatives that are unpopular with Congressional Republicans. House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Jim Moran (D-VA) briefly appeared at the hearing to give a statement calling the legislation “an embarrassment” and immediately left the hearing in protest. “We are going to continue to see these kinds of dramatic reductions as long as we keep trying to reduce the debt by cutting discretionary spending alone, rather than also tackling mandatory spending, which is the real driver of our debt,” warned Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID).

As with all non-defense discretionary appropriations bills put forward by the House for the coming fiscal year, the bill includes drastic cuts that assume budget sequestration continues through FY 2014. For many agencies, funding is reduced sharply even when accounting for the five percent across-the-board non-defense discretionary spending cuts enforced under sequestration in part because House Republicans are seeking to lessen sequestration’s impact on defense spending. Overall, the bill provides $24.3 billion in funding for FY 2014 for the aforementioned environmental agencies. This is $5.5 billion less than what was enacted in FY 2013 and still amounts to a $4 billion cut when accounting for the FY 2013 sequestration cuts.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a perennial target of conservative Republicans, would see its funding cut by 34 percent (a $2.8 billion decrease) compared to the pre-sequestration FY 2013 enacted level.  The bill includes language prohibiting funding for EPA to clarify which national waterways fall under the regulatory jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

The US Fish and Wildlife would also undergo a substantial cut. The agency is funded at $1.06 billion, a $401 million reduction (or 27 percent cut) from the FY 2013 enacted level.

The National Park Service would receive $2.3 billion in FY 2014 under the bill, a nine percent reduction from FY 2013. Nonetheless, the agency’s operating accounts for national parks would receive a $24 million boost compared to the existing FY 2013 post-sequestration level. This increase is intended to prevent national park closures, an aspect of sequestration that resonates with a large sector of the public.

The bill includes $989.3 million for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a $76 million reduction from the FY 2013 enacted level. The bill would also prohibit BLM’s Office of Surface Mining from funding a rule that would protect waterways from coal strip mining.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) would receive $967 million in FY 2014, a $101 million (nine percent) cut from the FY 2013 enacted level. USGS initiatives related to climate change, ecosystems and administrative accounts would be cut while mineral, energy development, water and mapping programs would be emphasized.

One of the very few increases in the bill is geared toward wildland fire initiatives for the US Forest Service. Overall, the bill would provide the agency $5.3 billion in FY 2014, an increase of $149 million over the FY 2013 enacted level. Most of the increase is directed toward wildfire prevention and suppression. In total, the bill includes $1.5 billion in emergency funding for wildfire mitigation efforts. The added funding would be paid for by rescinding unused funding for the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program.

The House bill is expected to differ substantially with the Senate, which plans to continue drafting all its spending bills under the assumption that sequester will not continue into Fiscal Year 2014.  However, budget sequestration will only end when and if Congress takes legislative action to change the law that put sequestration into effect.

For additional information on the bill, click here.

EPA: MCCARTHY CONFIRMED AS NEW ADMINISTRATOR

The Senate on July 18, voted 59-40 to confirm Gina McCarthy as administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Republican Senators Lamar Alexander (TN), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Susan Collins (ME), Bob Corker (TN), Jeff Flake (AZ) and John McCain (AZ) voted for her confirmation. Joe Manchin (WV) was the lone Democrat to vote against McCarthy. McCarthy takes the reins from Robert Perciasepe, who has served as acting-administrator since Lisa Jackson stepped down in February.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who leads the key Senate committee with oversight over EPA, praised McCarthy’s extensive and bipartisan record. “With more than three decades of public service experience, Gina has a deep understanding that public health and a growing economy depend on clean air and clean water,” stated Chairwoman Boxer. “Gina McCarthy has worked for five Republican Governors and a Democratic President, and she will lead EPA in a way that protects the health and safety of the American people.”

From 2009 to the present, McCarthy has served as the administrator of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, which oversees EPA regulatory efforts on issues related to air quality, acid rain, ozone depletion and radiation. Prior to this post, she served as commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (2004-2009). In Massachusetts, she served within the administration of then-Gov. Mitt Romney as the undersecretary for policy within the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (1999-2003). She holds a joint Master of Science in Environmental Health Engineering and Planning and Policy from Tufts University.

Praising Robert Perciasepe and her predecessors, Jackson and Carol Browner, McCarthy outlined her agenda to advance “smart common sense pragmatic solutions” to environmental problems, including climate change, aging water infrastructure and chemical safety. EPA reported that her first day on the job included outreach to both government and non-government officials and entities, including “the League of Conservation Voters, Small Business Majority, Mocha Moms, Momsrising, AFL-CIO, Edison Electric Institute, National Farmers Union, Farm Bureau, Evangelical Environment Network, National Congress of American Indians, the US Conference of Mayors and ECOS, former EPA Administrator Jackson, State Department Secretary John Kerry, Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell and Energy Department Secretary Ernest Moniz.”

McCarthy’s confirmation comes shortly after EPA’s Washington, DC headquarters on Pennsylvania Ave. was renamed the William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building on July 17. The former president, on hand for the event, along with former administrator Browner, sought to highlight similarities between the environmental protection work during his administration and that of the Obama administration. Clinton also asserted that the economic progress achieved over the course of his time in office highlights that the economy can continue to grow amid stricter environmental rules that protect natural resources and the public health.

The public law providing for the name designation (P.L. 112-237) was signed in late Dec. 2012.

View Administrator McCarthy’s statement here.

View President Clinton’s remarks here.

SENATE: COMMITTEE RE-ENGAGES IN CLIMATE SCIENCE

On July 18, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee convened for a hearing analyzing the scientific evidence behind climate change. The hearing was entitled “Climate Change: It’s Happening Now.”

“The body of evidence is overwhelming, the world’s leading scientists agree, and predictions of the impact of climate change are coming true before our eyes,” asserted Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA). She then stated that what scientists explained would happen in testimony in past hearings—more frequent heat waves, and more intense tropical storms and hurricanes–are happening. 

Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA) succeeded James Inhofe (R-OK) as the top Republican on the committee at the start of the current 113th Congress. He began his opening statement lamenting that there were no administration officials present to defend its climate change strategy. Chairwoman Boxer had previously stressed that this was not intended to be a political (or policy-focused) hearing, but one focused on hearing from experts on climate science. Ranking Member Vitter asserted that “scientific literature” confirms there are many significant influences causing climate change, including “solar activity, solar cycles, ocean currents, cosmic rays and greenhouse gases that occur naturally as well as those emitted from many countries including those who have no plans for regulatory change like China, India and Russia. These are factors impacting our climate over which we have little or no control,” he said.

“The most convincing thing about climate science is not how many scientists are part of the consensus, but how many different lines of evidence that consensus is built on,” stated Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who co-chairs the Bicameral Climate Change Task Force with House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA). Sen. Whitehouse asserted that Congress should be working to slow the causes of climate changes and “prepare for the changes we can no longer avoid.”

Witnesses testifying at the hearing’s first panel included Heidi Cullen, Chief Climatologist at Climate Central; Frank Nutter, President of the Reinsurance Association of America; Diana Furchtgott-Roth, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research; Robert Murphy, Senior Economist at the Institute for Energy Research and KC Golden, Policy Director at Climate Solutions.

Cullen asserted that “human-induced climate change” is causing more intense hurricanes as well as sea level rise that overall is putting more communities in harm’s way. She noted increasing heat waves are the number-one weather related killer and make wildfires and droughts more devastating, all with severe economic costs. 

The second panel included scientists of varied opinions. Witnesses included Jennifer Francis, Research Professor at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University; Scott Doney, Director of the Ocean and Climate Change Institute at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Margaret Leinin, Executive Director at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University; Roger Pielke Jr., Professor at the University of Colorado’s Center for Science and Technology Policy Research and Roy Spencer, Principal Research Scientist with the University of Alabama – Huntsville.

Pielke, who acknowledged that human-caused climate change is unequivocal, asserted that while there has been an increase in heat waves and precipitation, there are “not presently” trends in increasing hurricanes, floods and droughts. He asserted that while some areas are experiencing less drought while other areas are getting drier, over 60 years there has overall been “no trend one way or the other” with regard to droughts. He also stated that there has actually been a decrease in hurricanes making landfall over the past century. “The idea that we’re in some sort of enhanced hurricane regime, it sets the stage for setting false expectations.”

Francis responded to Pielke’s comments, arguing that averaging drought trends over the entire area of the United States ignores significant regional differences regarding heat waves, droughts and flood trends. “If you average over the east being wetter and the west being dryer, you get no signal,” she said. She also asserted that, regarding hurricanes, focusing simply on hurricanes making landfall ignores the bigger picture that there have been many more hurricanes developing over the past two summers than in a typical year, yet few of them made landfall. Consequently, she asserted that the “statistics as presented there [by Pielke] present a rather misleading picture.”

View the full hearing, here

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS EPA HYDRAULIC FRACTURING STUDY

On July 24, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee Subcommittees on Energy and Environment convened for a joint hearing examining the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) scientific processes in examining the potential for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to lead to groundwater contamination.

 Republican majority members characterized the study as politically motivated. “Given EPA’s rush to judgment in Wyoming, Texas, and Pennsylvania, we should question whether the agency’s ongoing study is a genuine, fact-finding, scientific exercise, or a witch-hunt to find a pretext to regulate,” stated Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT). “Given this administration’s anti-fossil fuel, pro-environmental alarmism approach to energy, we need to be vigilant in ensuring that the agency does not put the regulatory cart before the scientific horse, threatening tens of thousands of good-paying jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development that have resulted from oil and gas production in recent years.”

Other members asserted that the EPA study should be more focused towards outlining what is more likely or “probable” as opposed to what could potentially happen with regard to the potential for drinking water contamination. “The study design is flawed and indicative of the agency’s characteristic outcome driven approach to hydraulic fracturing, where achieving desired conclusions takes precedent over basing those conclusions on the best available science,” asserted Energy Subcommittee Chairwoman Cynthia Lummis (R-WY). “In that vein, this study, intended to be a seminal and authoritative work on whether or not hydraulic fracturing impacts drinking water, is guided by a search for what is possible, rather than what is likely or probable.”

Full committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) sought to highlight the importance of preserving the nation’s limited water resources. “We need clean water as much as we need affordable energy options,” she said. “Our water resources are already stretched to support our industrial and agricultural sectors, and residential and commercial development. We cannot afford to contaminate the limited drinking water supplies that we have.  It is in the best interest of everyone, especially the fracking industry, to resolve questions surrounding the fracking water cycle and the impact to groundwater and drinking water.” 

Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamci (D-OR) asserted that the results could help states and localities that are still developing environmental safety best practices for fracking and also help allay drinking water concerns in local communities. “State and tribal leaders will need the results from the fracking study to formulate stronger policies to protect their water resources and the health of their citizens. And, hopefully, communities will have answers to the questions about drinking water safety that they have long been asking their state and federal leaders.”

Administration officials testifying included Fred Hauchman, Director of the Office of Science Policy within EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He maintained that EPA scientists are incorporating a wide variety of information through consultation from stakeholders, including industry, non-government entities and state and local entities, in their research for the study. He also maintained EPA’s commitment to a “thorough peer review” as well as various opportunities for public commentary.

Also testifying was Brian Rahm with the New York Water Resources Institute at Cornell University. While states should lead in regulating policy, there is the potential for minimum practices or “basic standards” that EPA could regulate nationwide in certain cases, said Rahm. He noted that many states may already meet those standards. “If common risks and cumulative impacts are found, which we are seeing some evidence of, that we really should consider, for example, regional, interstate or federal basic standards,” he said. 

View the full hearing here.

HOUSE: MEMBERS CALL FOR GAO STUDY OF GENDER BIAS IN STEM FIELDS

On July 24, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) joined with Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in issuing a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting a study on the government’s capability in addressing gender bias in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

“Given the importance of STEM related jobs, any bias limiting the progress of women in these fields threaten our country’s position as the leader in innovation and technology,” the letter notes. “Research has also shown that girls who grow up in an atmosphere supportive of women in the sciences will often go on to participate and succeed in STEM.”

The letter was spurred in part from a Yale University study that found that female undergraduates are perceived as less qualified for employment in STEM fields than their male counterparts by both male and female science professors in universities across the US. The letter requests that GAO update its last report examining gender participation in the sciences, published in 2004.

“Given that federal money supports about 60 percent of the research performed at universities, at a cost of $36.6 billion in 2011, in addition to more than $40 billion in intramural research and research at federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs), the government has a clear interest in addressing any bias or discrimination that exists in the agencies supporting the research and the universities and FFRDCs funded by such agencies.”

View the letter to GAO here

The Yale study is available here

GREAT LAKES: SENATORS PRESS OBAMA FOR CLIMATE ACTION

On July 23, six Democratic Senators from Great Lakes states cosigned a letter to President Obama requesting prioritization of the Great Lakes region as the administration implements its climate action plan.

“This year, Great Lakes water levels reached historic lows severely hampering commercial shipping, jeopardizing recreational boating and fishing, devastating the tourism industry, threatening electric power generation, compromising water supply infrastructure and exacerbating problems caused by invasive species,” the letter notes. “While we are pleased that your climate action plan would help make communities more resilient to flooding, it is disappointing that low water levels and the Great Lakes were not once mentioned in your plan, nor addressing the impacts they cause to shipping and the economy, water and energy supplies, shoreline integrity and the environment.”

Signers of the letter include Sens. Richard Durbin (D-IL), Carl Levin (D-MI), Al Franken (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Charles Schumer (D-NY).

The full letter is available here:

http://www.levin.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/senators-call-for-attention-to-climate-changes-effect-on-great-lakes

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 2773, the Great Lakes Ecological and Economic Protection Act – Introduced July 22 by Rep. David Joyce (R-OH), the bill would formally authorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, created by President Obama in 2009 to address aquatic invasive species, toxics and contaminated sediment, nonpoint source pollution and other threats to the Great Lakes. It would also reauthorize the Great Lakes Legacy program, which supports the removal of contaminated sediments, and the Great Lakes National Program Office, which handles Great Lakes matters for the Environmental Protection Agency. The bill has been referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and serves as a House companion bill to S. 1232, which was introduced in the Senate last month by Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL).

Considered by House Committee/Subcommittee

On July 23, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulations considered the following bills:

H.R. 163, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act – Introduced by Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI), the bill would designate over 32,500 acres of wilderness within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan as a component of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

H.R. 361, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act – Introduced by Rep. David Reichert (R-WA), the bill designates 20,000 acres of land in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in the state of Washington as a component of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

H.R. 433, the Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), the bill would designate 26,000 acres of the Pine Forest Range Wilderness in northwest Nevada as a component of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

H.R. 706, the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park Establishment Act – Introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), the bill establishes the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park in Massachusetts and Rhode Island as a unit of the National Park System.

H.R. 908, the Green Mountain Lookout Heritage Protection Act – Introduced by Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA), the bill would allow Green Mountain Lookout, a historic fire tower, to remain in the Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington state in response to a federal district court order for its removal.

H.R. 1025, the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area Act – Introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), the bill would establish the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area within Napa, Lake, Mendocino, Solano, and Yolo Counties in California.

H.R. 1808, the Maine Coastal Islands Wilderness Act of 2013 - Introduced by Rep. Michael Michaud (D-ME), the bill would designate more than 3,000 acres of wilderness on islands off the coast of Maine as components of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

On July 25, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing on the following bill:

H.R. 2728, the Protecting States’ Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act – Introduced by Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), the bill would require the Department of Interior to refer to state regulations concerning all issues related to hydraulic fracturing.

On July 25, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs considered the following bills:

H.R. 2158, the Expedited Departure of Certain Snake Species Act -Introduced by Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs Subcommittee Chairman John Fleming (R-LA), the bill would amend the Lacey Act to bar the importation of the Burmese python, Indian python, Northern African python, Southern African python, and Yellow anaconda.

H.R. 358, the Strategic Response to Asian Carp Invasion Act - Introduced by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) the bill would require the US Fish and Wildlife Service, in coordination with the US Army Corps of Engineers, the National Park Service and the US Geological Survey (USGS), to lead a multi-agency effort to slow the spread of Asian Carp in the Upper Mississippi and Ohio River basins and tributaries.

H.R. 709, the Upper Mississippi Conservation and River Protection (CARP) Act - Introduced by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the bill would grant additional authority to the US Army Corps of Engineers to control the Asian Carp invasion in Minnesota.

H.R. 1818, Polar Bear Conservation and Fairness Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the bill would allow the importation of polar bear hunting trophies as long as the polar bear was legally harvested before Feb. 1997.

H.R. 2463, Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act – Introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), the bill would expand the range of target practice facilities.

Approved by House Committee

On July 24, the House Natural Resources Committee approved a number of bills concerning energy development and limits on public land and wildlife refuge designations, including the following:

H.R. 586, the Denali National Park Improvement Act – Introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the bill authorizes the Secretary of Interior to make certain improvements to Denali National Park in Alaska. The bill was approved by unanimous consent.

H.R. 638, the National Wildlife Refuge Review Act of 2013 - Introduced by Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs Subcommittee Chairman John Fleming (R-LA), the bill prohibits the Secretary of Interior from establishing new national wildlife refuges without first garnering approval from Congress. The bill was approved 22-12.

H.R. 1394, the Planning for American Energy Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO), the bill would require the Interior Department to develop a four-year strategy for the development of onshore energy that includes production targets for hydrocarbons, coal, critical minerals, helium and renewable energy. Opponents of the bill claim it would compromise the Bureau of Land Management’s multi-use mission by prioritizing energy development over other land-use activities, such as recreation. The bill was approved 27-14.

H.R. 1459, the Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act – Introduced by Public Lands and Environmental Regulation Subcommittee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), the bill would require a National Environmental Policy Act review prior to designation of a national monument. The bill was approved 26-14.

H.R. 1965, the Federal Lands Jobs and Energy Security Act – Introduced by Energy and Minerals Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-CO), the bill seeks to expedite drilling projects, declaring a project approved if the Secretary of Interior has not made a decision within 60 days. The bill was approved 27-14.

H.R. 2197, the York River Wild and Scenic River Study Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), the bill would designate segments of the York River for study for potential inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The bill was approved by unanimous consent.

A full listing of measures approved is available here.

Passed House

H.R. 697, the Three Kids Mine Remediation and Reclamation Act – Introduced by Rep. Joseph Heck (R-NV), the bill would approve a land deal between the federal government and the Henderson Redevelopment Agency in Nevada that would involve clean up of the Three Kids Mine in Henderson, Nevada. The bill passed the House July 22 by voice vote.

H.R. 2218, the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), the bill would increase flexibility for states to create their own coal ash disposal programs as long as they follow minimum federal guidelines. Democrats contend the legislation would jeopardize the safe disposal of coal ash. The bill passed the House July 25 by a vote of 265-155 with 39 Democrats joining all but two Republicans in supporting the bill.

Introduced in the Senate

S. 1294, the Tennessee Wilderness Act – Introduced July 15 by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the bill would designate as wilderness, certain public land in the Cherokee National Forest. The bill has been referred to the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee as well as the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

S. 1301, Oregon Eastside Forests Restoration, Old  Growth Protection and Jobs Act of 2013 – Introduced July 16 by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR), the bill would provide for the restoration, protection and management of eastside forests in the state of Oregon. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

S. 1344, the Arctic Research, Monitoring and Observing Act – Introduced July23 by Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK), the bill expands the authority of the Arctic Research Commission to make research grants. The bill has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

S. 1347, to provide transparency, accountability, and limitations of Government sponsored conferences – Introduced July 23 by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), the bill would cap the amount that can be spent at a government conference to $500,000 and establish new travel and attendance limitations for government employees. Among its provisions, the bill limits agency spending  to  one conference each year for each outside group. It also prohibits agencies from paying for travel expenses for more than 50 employees for any conference occurring outside the US. It also The bill has been referred to the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. The bill has four original cosponsors: Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Jeff Chiesa (R-NJ), Michael Enzi (R-WY) and Kelly Ayote (R-NH).


 Sources ClimateWire, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Appropriations Committee, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, POLITICO, the White House

Minnesota Energy & Environment Senior Advisor Ellen Anderson to receive ESA Regional Policy Award

For immediate release: 16 July 20132013 ESA Logo

Media contacts:

ESA: Nadine Lymn (202) 833-8773 x205; nadine@esa.org

MN Dept. of Ag.: Margaret Hart (651) 201-6131; Margaret.hart@state.mn.us

On Sunday, August 4, 2013, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) will present its sixth annual Regional Policy Award to Ellen Anderson, Energy and Environment Senior Advisor to Minnesota’s Governor Dayton, during the Society’s conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The ESA award recognizes an elected or appointed local policymaker who has an outstanding record of informing policy decisions with ecological science.

“Ellen Anderson exemplifies leadership in promoting sustainability” said ESA President Scott Collins.  “As a Minnesota state senator she championed bills to foster renewable energy, clean water and parks and in her current capacity she’s working to advance Minnesota’s environmental quality initiatives. She sets a high standard for policy makers everywhere.”

Ellen Anderson photo

Ellen Anderson

Anderson served in the Minnesota Senate for eighteen years, where she was the chief author of the 25 percent by 2025 legislation, which requires Minnesota energy companies to generate at least 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by the year 2025.  She also co-authored numerous bills related to energy, natural areas, and many other environmental issues. Since February 2012, Anderson has served as senior advisor on energy and environment to Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton.  Anderson works on clean energy, environmental policy issues, and public outreach for numerous state agencies and the Governor.   

“Sustainability is the headliner of our time,” said Anderson.  “I feel incredibly honored to receive this award from the Ecological Society of America whose members have spearheaded and helped shape our thinking about how we manage our ecosystems—from agricultural to urban—to sustain them for future generations.”  

ESA, which holds its Annual Meeting in a different city each year, established its Regional Policy Award in 2008 to recognize an elected or appointed local policymaker who has integrated environmental science into policy initiatives that foster more sustainable communities. Past recipients of the ESA award are Ken Bierly, with the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Karen Hixon, with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, Braddock, Pennsylvania Mayor John Fetterman, Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico and former Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle.

ESA President Collins will present Anderson with the 2013 ESA Regional Policy Award at the start of the Opening Plenary on Sunday, August 4 at 5 PM in the auditorium of the Minneapolis Convention Center. ESA’s conference is expected to draw 3,000 scientists, educators, and policymakers from across the nation and around the world.    

Media Attendance

The Ecological Society of America’s Annual Meeting, Aug. 4 – 9, 2013 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is free for reporters with a recognized press card and institutional press officers. Registration is also waived for current members of the National Association of Science Writers, the Canadian Science Writers Association, the International Science Writers Association and the Society of Environmental Journalists. Interested press should contact Liza Lester at llester@esa.org or 202-833-8773 x211 to register.  In a break from previous policy, meeting presentations are not embargoed.

The Ecological Society of America is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and the trusted source of ecological knowledge.  ESA is committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth.  The 10,000 member Society publishes five journals, convenes an annual scientific conference, and broadly shares ecological information through policy and media outreach and education initiatives. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org or find experts in ecological science at http://www.esa.org/pao/rrt/.