June 27, 2014

In This Issue

SENATE: FORMER GOP EPA ADMINISTRATORS DEFEND REGULATORY EFFORTS TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE

Four former US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrators who served under Republican presidents testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in support of the Obama administration’s proposed standards for greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions from existing fossil-fueled power plants.

The former EPA administrators served under Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. In their testimony, the administrators reiterated the scientific consensus that human activity is contributing to global warming and affirmed the EPA’s authority to regulate GHG emissions as provided under the Clean Air Act. They also called on Congress to join President Obama and demonstrate global leadership to address the causes of climate change.

“We like to speak of American exceptionalism,” stated William Ruckelshaus, the first and fifth EPA Administrator (1970–1973, 1983–1985). “If we want to be truly exceptional then we should begin the difficult task of leading the world away from the unacceptable effects of our increasing appetites for fossil fuels before it is too late.”

“I must begin by expressing my frustration that the discussion about whether the Environmental Protection Agency has the legal authority to regulate carbon emissions is still taking place in some quarters,” stated former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman (2001–2003). “The issue has been settled. EPA does have the authority. The law says so, and the [US] Supreme Court has said so twice. The matter should be put to rest.” Noting that humans are contributing to climate change, Whitman further added that “when one is contributing to a problem, one has an obligation to be part of the solution that problem. That is what EPA is trying to do.”

“As scientists have confirmed, there have been many such episodes in the past due to natural causes—changes in solar output, shifts in the earth’s orbit, meteor impacts, volcanic eruptions, and the like,” stated former EPA Administrator William Riley [1989–1992]. “But you would have to reject the greenhouse effect outright to conclude that human activities pumping millions of tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year are having little or no impact on the earth’s climate. That is simply not a tenable position. For me, the real question is about the future well-being of our communities, our settlements, our economy—in short, how hospitable this earth remains for future generations and for civilization as we know it.”

“Whether it is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or the latest scientific valuation authorized by Congress—the National Climate Assessment, there is clear evidence regarding climate change and its anthropogenic foundation,” stated former EPA Administrator Lee Thomas (1985–1989).

“We know that carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have increased by 40 percent since pre-industrial times,” Thomas continued. “We know that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are warming the atmosphere, contributing to a more than 1.5 degree [Fahrenheit] rise in global temperatures since 1880. We know global sea level has risen by an average of eight inches since 1870 primarily from thermal expansion caused by warmer oceans and the melting of glaciers and the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets.  We know that ocean acidification is occurring, harming our coral reefs and marine ecosystems. Absorbing about a quarter of our emissions each year, the current rate of acidification is roughly 50 times faster than known historical change.”

Committee Republicans questioned whether EPA was overreaching in its authority to regulate GHG emissions from power plants and expressed concern over the regulation’s possible impact on job creation. They directed their questions mostly to the three witnesses critical of the EPA’s proposed carbon rule: climate skeptic Daniel Botkin, a biology professor with the University of California, Santa Barbara; Louisiana State University banking professor Joseph Mason; and, Alabama State Attorney General Luther Strange.

Under questioning from Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), Riley noted that the Clean Air Act rules enacted in 1990 proceeded a decade of robust gross domestic product growth, countering sentiments that addressing climate change would hurt job creation. Markey further added that as the son of a milkman, he understood how innovations can adversely affect jobs in the short-term. However, he noted how innovations such as the invention of refrigerators revolutionized the way the milk industry operated, arguing that Congress should embrace the potential innovations spurred by efforts limit global-warming gases.

View the full hearing by clicking this link.

SUPREME COURT: PERMIT RULING LEAVES EPA REGULATORY AUTHORITY LARGELY INTACT

This week the US Supreme Court validated the power of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in its ruling in the case of Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA. It was the third time the high court has upheld the use of the Clean Air Act to combat challenges posed by climate change.

In the majority opinion 5-4 decision, Justice Antonin Scalia ruled that emissions of greenhouse gases alone are not enough to trigger EPA enforcement under the program for smaller businesses, but that the “trigger” threshold is intended for major polluters. He said, “It bears mentioning that EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case,” Scalia said in the courtroom. “It sought to regulate sources that it said were responsible for 86 percent of all greenhouse gases emitted from stationary sources. Under our holdings, EPA will be able to regulate sources responsible for 83 percent of those emissions.”

However, in a separate part of the decision, the court ruled 7-2 to require new or rebuilt factories and power plants to use the “best available technology” to limit their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Because these “major polluters” are already required to obtain clean-air permits from the government, Scalia wrote the EPA is justified in adding GHG to the list of restricted pollutants. Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas were the two dissenting justices who felt EPA regulatory authority should be restricted.

Business groups praised the ruling for preventing the agency in overreaching in its regulatory authority under the Clean Air Act while environmental groups largely praised the ruling for leaving the overwhelming majority of its regulatory authority intact. The ruling ultimately has no bearing on the proposed rule the agency unveiled earlier in June that seeks to cut carbon emissions from power plants by as much as 30 percent by 2030, compared with 2005 levels.

The four dissenting justices from the overall 5-4 ruling came from the court’s liberal wing who argued it limits the court’s 2007 ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, which affirmed EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases as an air pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

“The court’s decision to read greenhouse gases out of the Prevention of Significant Deterioration program drains the [Clean Air] Act of its flexibility and chips away at our decision in Massachusetts,” stated Justice Stephen Breyer, author of the dissenting opinion.

In a statement on the ruling, EPA asserted “Today is a good day for all supporters of clean air and public health and those concerned with creating a better environment for future generations.”

The full decision is available by clicking this link.

HOUSE: EPA CARBON RULES TAKE HEAT DURING COMMITTEE HEARING

On June 19th, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power convened for a hearing on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed carbon emission rules for existing power plants, referred to as the “Clean Power Plan” proposal.

Republican committee members expressed concern over the potential detrimental effects the power plant rules would have on the coal industry as well as its effects on utility bills for consumers. Members also expressed skepticism regarding the level of flexibility EPA would grant the states in meeting the power plant requirements.

“In its rollout of this proposal, the EPA has repeatedly emphasized the rule’s ‘flexibility.’ What EPA describes as flexibility is really the agency giving itself arbitrary authority to regulate electricity generation and use as it sees fit,” asserted Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY). “We don’t know for certain what this proposal would require of Kentucky and other states, but we do know that EPA will make the final decisions in approving or denying each states implementation plans.”

Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) sought to draw comparisons between the power plant rule and the Affordable Care Act, asserting “Once again, the preferences of consumers and job-creating businesses are taking a back seat to the dictates of NGOs and federal bureaucrats. And once again, the administration is making promises that costs won’t go up, choices won’t be reduced, rationing won’t be imposed, and jobs won’t be jeopardized.”

Committee Democrats took offense to accusations that the proposed rules would cost jobs. House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) published a minority-committee fact sheet outlining revenues generated by Clean Air Act enforcement efforts. He quoted coal-burning facility senior officials who assert that the president’s Clean Power Plan will have “a relatively minor” to “no immediate impact” on power plants.

“The fossil fuel industry and House Republicans have a credibility problem when it comes to claims about the economic impacts of the Clean Air Act,” stated Ranking Member Waxman. “I have been in Congress for 40 years. And for 40 years, industry has made doomsday claims that clean air regulations would shut down businesses, destroy jobs, drive prices skyward, and cripple economic growth. And they have been wrong every time.”

Representing the Obama administration at the hearing was Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. In her testimony before the committee, McCabe explained how the plan benefits human health and the environment and noted that it was developed through continued engagement with state officials, utility companies and other affected stakeholders.

“Our plan is built on advice and information from states, cities, businesses, utilities, and thousands of people about the actions they are already taking to reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” stated McCabe.

“We know that coal and natural gas play a significant role in a diverse national energy mix,” McCabe continued. “This plan does not change that—it builds on action already underway to modernize aging plants, increase efficiency, and lower pollution, and paves a more certain path for conventional fuels in a clean energy economy.”

View the full hearing this link.

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE ADVANCES ‘SECRET SCIENCE’ BILL

On June 24th the House Science, Space and Technology Committee approved H.R. 4012, the “Secret Science Reform Act,” legislation that intends to increase transparency of scientific processes at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The bill passed the committee by a vote of 17–13 along party lines. Republicans asserted the scientific data used by the EPA to formulate its clean air regulations should be public information. The EPA and committee Democrats argued that the agency is forthcoming in answering requests related to its scientific processes. The private-health data of individuals is used by EPA to determine clean air regulations and is protected from public disclosure to protect their privacy.

“The EPA’s regulatory process is both hidden and flawed.  It hides the data and then handpicks scientists to review it,” asserted Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “The American people foot the bill for the EPA’s billion dollar regulations, and they have the right to see the underlying data. If the EPA has nothing to hide, and if their data really justifies their regulations, why not make the information public?”

“The majority has harassed the EPA for more than two years in an attempt to get access to the raw data used in those studies,” asserted Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX).  “Since those studies involved hundreds-of-thousands of human volunteers who submitted sensitive personal health information to the researchers, the raw data is stringently protected from public disclosure.  The EPA explained this to the Chairman, but he nonetheless issued a subpoena to the EPA Administrator to turn over data that the EPA had no legal right to access and for which there are strict legal prohibitions against public disclosure.”

Committee Republicans contended there are methods available to publicize the data without compromising personal health information. Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamci (D-OR) offered a substitute amendment to the bill requiring EPA to publish agency-funded peer-reviewed articles, but not the underlying raw data. The amendment was voted down by a voice vote.

No date has been set for when the bill will be brought to the House floor.

View the full mark-up of the bill by clicking this link.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: UNEP RELEASES 2013 ANNUAL REPORT

The United Nation’s Environmental Programme (UNEP) published its 2013 annual report, available online in the six official UNEP languages.

The report’s content focuses on international efforts to address various environmental issues including climate change, disasters and conflicts, ecosystem management, environmental governance, hazardous substances and resource efficiency.

The report highlights UNEP’s key achievements over the course of 2013: adoption of the Minamata Convention on Mercury; a global legally binding agreement to reduce mercury emissions; efforts to reduce lead in fuels in paint; and, UNEP’s work to address ozone-depleting substances including hydrochlorofluorocarbons. The opening of a Climate Technology Centre and Network was also mentioned as a milestone of the past year.

To view the full report, click this link.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: USDA, BLM FUND CA, NV SAGE GROUSE CONSERVATION EFFORTS

On June 20th, the Obama administration announced $32 million in funding over the next ten years to protect a subpopulation of sage grouse only found along the state border between California and Southwest Nevada referred to as the “bi-state” or Mono Basin population.

The US Department of Agriculture will provide the majority of the funds with $25.5 million dedicated towards voluntary partnerships with ranchers in both states to conserve sage grouse habitat. The Bureau of Land Management is committing $6.5 million to implement a variety of conservation activities on federal lands.

In October 2013, the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a “threatened” listing for the sage grouse bi-state population under the Endangered Species Act due to threats posed by invasive plant species and wildfires that destroy its sagebrush habitat. However, due to a wide range of public comments on the proposal, FWS subsequently postponed making a final determination until April 2015.

Additional information on efforts to conserve the bi-state population is available following this link.

NSF: NEW ‘TOOLKIT’ SEEKS TO PROMOTE AGENCY’S CONTRIBUTION TO INNOVATION

The National Science Foundation (NSF) released a new communications “toolkit” that includes videos, infographics, fact sheets and other materials detailing how agency-funded research contributes to advancing scientific discovery and innovation in the US.

The animated video in the kit details the agency’s merit review process. Other communication tools include charts that illustrate NSF’s role in fostering careers in science, driving research, innovation and facilitating interdisciplinary collaborations. They also issued new brochures that highlight each of its directorates’ roles in scientific breakthroughs such as self-driving cars, artificial retina, seismic wave modeling and improved GPS technology.

View the toolkit through this link.

CURRENT POLICY

Passed House

Nashua River Wild and Scenic River Study Act – Introduced by Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA), the bill would designate certain segments of the Nashua River in Massachusetts for study as a potential addition to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The bill passed the House June 23rd by voice vote and has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

H.R. 3301, the North American Energy Infrastructure Act – Introduced by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), the bill would eliminate the existing requirement for a presidential permit for a proposed oil or natural gas pipeline project or electric transmission lines that crosses the US border with Mexico or Canada. The bill would require only the cross-border portion of such a project to be subject to review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The bill also exempts any modifications or expansions of existing cross-state pipelines or transmission lines from federal approval of NEPA review requirements. The bill passed the House June 24th by a vote of 238–173. Seventeen Democrats joined all but one Republican in supporting the measure.

H.R. 6, the Domestic Prosperity and Global Freedom Act – Introduced by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), the bill changes the US Department of Energy’s existing approval process for applications to export liquefied natural gas by requiring a final determination on pending applications in 30 days. This deadline would override any mandated NEPA environmental reviews. The bill passed the House June 25th by a vote of 266–150. Forty-six Democrats joined all but two Republicans in supporting the bill.

H.R. 4899, the Lowering Gasoline Prices to Fuel an America That Works Act of 2014 – Introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the comprehensive bill encompasses multiple pieces of legislation that passed the House over the past year to expand oil and gas drilling. The bill’s provisions would expand oil and gas development off the coasts of California, South Carolina and Virginia; expedite action on drilling permits in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska by reducing the consideration period from 90 to 60 days; direct federal managers to make energy and mineral production the primary focus of land management activities; and prohibit the federal government from enforcing hydraulic fracturing regulations on tribal lands without the consent of the tribal government. The bill passed the House June 26 by a vote of 229-185. Ten Democrats joined all but six Republicans in supporting the bill.


Sources: National Science Foundation, United Nations Environmental Programme, US Department of Agriculture, House Space, Science and Technology Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, POLITICO, the Washington Post

June 13, 2014

In This Issue

AIR POLLUTION: EPA RELEASES FIRST EVER CARBON RULES FOR POWER PLANTS

On June 2nd, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its “Clean Power Plan” proposal, the first ever guidelines to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants. They emit 38 percent of carbon emissions in the US, mainly from older, inefficient coal-fired plants with an average age of 42 years. The proposed ruling will also affect natural-gas fired power plants, which emit about half the emissions as coal-fired plants.

The new standards will cut carbon emissions from the utility sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. While there are currently federal limits for arsenic, mercury, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and particle pollution, there are no such limits on carbon emissions.

“As President, and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that’s beyond fixing,” stated President Obama. “The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But a low-carbon, clean energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come. America will build that engine. America will build the future. A future that’s cleaner, more prosperous, and full of good jobs—a future where we can look our kids in the eye and tell them we did our part to leave them a safer, more stable world.”

Each state will draft its own plan to meet carbon reduction targets due to the EPA in June 2016. Some options states may choose are demand-side energy efficiency, renewable energy standards or goals, and plant retrofits from coal to natural gas.

The Clean Power Plan would assign states both “interim” and “final” targets for greenhouse gas reductions, based in part on what the states have already achieved and agency estimates on their overall greenhouse gas reduction capability. The interim reduction target goal date is 2020 while the final target must be met by 2030.

The agency highlighted the health benefits of the proposed rule, asserting that it will prevent as many as 6,600 premature deaths and up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children. These benefits are reinforced in the White House report “Health Impacts of Climate Change on Americans” that links the increase in air pollution brought on by warmer temperatures and more frequent wildfires with increased respiratory illnesses and heat-related deaths. EPA estimates the health benefits and savings from the rule would total $7.3 billion and $8.8 billion annually.

The House has already passed legislation that would prohibit EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. However, this legislation is stalled in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

“The president’s proposal is a win-win-win for the American people, as it will protect our health, saving thousands of lives, create thousands of jobs, and America will finally lead on a path to averting the most calamitous impacts of climate change — such as sea level rise, dangerous heat waves, and economic disruption,” stated Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in a press statement. “The president’s proposal is respectful of the states’ roles and allows major flexibility, while ensuring that big polluters reduce their dangerous contributions to climate change.”

“The president’s plan forces costly and unnecessary regulations on hardworking American families,” asserted House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “The Clean Air Act was never intended to regulate carbon.  The EPA’s plan is ‘all pain, no gain.’  It will close power plants and drive up electricity prices. These regulations will mean more jobs lost to places like China and India.”

“In addition to the health risks, severe weather trends associated with climate change threaten the economic vitality of communities across the country,” asserted Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “By fostering clean energy innovation and modernizing the power sector, the United States will lead the world in tackling this global challenge. I am pleased that the proposed rule allows for state input and flexibility in developing regional approaches to achieving the goals of the rule.”

EPA is accepting comment on the proposal and will hold four public hearings on the proposed Clean Power Plan during the week of July 28th in the following cities: Denver, Atlanta, Washington, DC and Pittsburgh. Based on this input, EPA will finalize standards next June.

For more information on the rule, click here. Information on how to comment on the proposed plan is available on the EPA website.

To view the “Health Impacts of Climate Change on Americans” report, click this link.

REGULATION: NPS SEEKS COMMENTS FOR APPROPRIATE USE FOR SNOW-OVER VEHICLES

Today, the US Forest Service announced it will publish a Federal Register Notice next week seeking public comment on a proposal that would help standardize where and when over-snow vehicles, such as snowmobiles, are used on national forests and grasslands.

Motor vehicle use on national forests and grasslands is governed by the Travel Management Rule which provides for a system of roads, trails and areas that are designated for motor vehicles. Over-snow vehicles—vehicles designed for use over snow and that run on a track and/or a ski or skis—are currently treated differently from other motor vehicles by giving forest and grassland supervisors the discretion to develop a similar system for over-snow vehicles. In 2013, a federal court ruled that this violates Executive Order 11644, “Use of off-road vehicles on public lands.” The court ordered that the Forest Service must regulate over-snow use, but does have the discretion to determine where and when over-snow vehicle use can occur on agency lands.

In accordance with the court’s ruling, the Federal Register notice proposes amending the existing Travel Management Rule to establish consistent guidance for how forests and grasslands decide the appropriate use for over-snow vehicles. Over-snow vehicles are used for recreational purposes as well as work tasks that include gathering firewood or subsistence hunting.

The Federal Register Notice for the proposal is scheduled to be published Wednesday, June 18, 2014.  The public will have 45 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register to comment on the proposed revisions. The Forest Service intends to publish the final rule change by September 9, 2014.

For more information click this link.

APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE COMMITTEE APPROVES NSF, NOAA FUNDING BILL

On June 5th the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2015. The bill includes funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The bill passed committee under a recorded 30-0 vote.

For NSF, the bill includes $7.255 billion, less than the $7.4 billion in the House version and level with the president’s FY 2015 budget request. Conversely, NOAA would see its budget increase by $105 million to $5.4 billion in FY 2015. The House bill included $5.3 billion for the agency, level with FY 2014. The bill funds NASA at $17.9 billion, a $254 million increase over FY 2014.

Similar to the House CJS bill, the Senate bill approves the full president budget request NOAA’s two satellite programs. The bill also provides $1.1 billion for the National Weather Service, in line with the level of funding included in the House bill. NOAA would receive $160 million for climate research in the Senate bill, a nearly $3.6 million increase over FY 2014. The House bill would cut NOAA climate research by $37.5 million.

For additional information on the bill, click here.

APPROPRIATIONS: ENERGY AND WATER FUNDING BILL CLEARS HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE

On June 10th, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water passed its spending bill for the upcoming Fiscal Year (FY) 2015.

The bill includes $34 billion in funding for the US Department of Energy (DOE), the US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Department of Interior’s (DOI) major water office, the Bureau of Reclamation. This amount is $50 million less than the FY 2014 enacted level.

Several partisan legislative proposals within the bill are expected to spur contention between the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate during final bill negotiations this fall. The bill prohibits funding for implementation of the administration’s proposal to clarify water boundaries under federal regulatory jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. The bill also includes language prohibiting the administration from permanently removing the Yucca mountain site in Nevada as an option for storing nuclear waste.

The bill funds DOE energy programs at $10.3 billion, a $133 million increase over FY 2014. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy budget is slated at $1.8 billion in FY 2015, a reduction of $123 million over FY 2014. The Office of Fossil Energy would receive $593 million in FY 2015, a $31 million increase over FY 2014. The bill provides $5.1 billion for DOE scientific research, level with FY 2014.

The US Army Corps of Engineers would receive $5.5 billion in FY 2015 under the bill, a $25 million increase over FY 2014 and $959.5 million above the president’s FY 2015 budget request. The funding is geared primarily towards water infrastructure projects nationwide, including bridges, locks, dams, levees and related environmental restoration projects.

For the DOI Bureau of Reclamation, the bill allocates $1 billion, $100.7 million below FY 2014 and $29 million below the president’s FY 2015 request for the agency to help manage, develop, and protect the water resources of western states.

Additional information on the bill is available through this link. 

SENATE: SUBCOMMITTEE REVIEWS CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS ON FARMING, HUNTING

HOUSE: ENERGY RESEARCH BILL MARKUP HALTED OVER PARTISAN PROCEDURAL MOTION

The House, Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy convened to markup the “Department of Energy Research and Development Act of 2014,” when committee Democrats procedurally stalled approval of the legislation by requiring the committee clerk to read the entire 102-page draft bill aloud. Rather than sit for hours while the clerk read the bill, Subcommittee Chairwoman Cynthia Lummis (R–WY) shutdown the committee meeting and the bill will go to the full committee without a debate or hearings. The entire subcommittee meeting took less than thirty minutes.

The terrain of Department of Energy (DOE) authorizing bills is changing. Previously, the now-expired America COMPETES Act authorized several federal science agencies including DOE and the National Science Foundation. This year, the Republican majority decided to draft two individual authorizing bills—one for DOE and another bill, FIRST (Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology) authorizing NSF and the other research agencies. Like the America COMPETES Act, these both are “authorizing” bills that set policy and suggest spending levels, but do not appropriate actual funding.

Democrats argued that the funding levels authorized in the draft bill for DOE are lower than DOE funding levels specified in the House FY 2015 Energy and Water Appropriations bill. They also expressed concern with the authorizing bill that includes a $100 million cut to the Office of Science Biological and Environmental Research program as well as cuts to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-energy program.

The Republican subcommittee majority released the bill late Friday afternoon, June 6th, which committee Democrats asserted was an inadequate timeframe for the minority to review the bill prior to the markup on Wednesday, June 11th.

“We are here to consider a bill that was not shared with Democratic members of the Subcommittee until late last Friday, and that proposes to reauthorize all Department of Energy research and development programs,” state Energy Subcommittee Ranking Member Eric Swalwell (D-CA). “That means we’re being asked to make tough decisions about how to allocate billions of taxpayers’ dollars after having less than three business days to consider the bill’s provisions, let alone talk with constituents and stakeholders.”

Republicans argued that, as a general rule, subcommittee consideration of any given bill is a courtesy to its Members and not a prerequisite of the legislative process.

“It’s disappointing that rather than work with us to address their concerns, Committee Democrats instead used procedural tactics to obstruct today’s subcommittee markup,” said Energy Subcommittee Chairwoman Cynthia Lummis (R-WY). “Democrats blocked draft legislation that focuses R&D funding within the Department of Energy to drive innovation, economic growth and job creation.”

Both sides sought to spin blame for the stalled markup in their respective subsequent press releases. The Republican subcommittee press release was titled “Democrats Obstruct Subcommittee Consideration of Energy R&D Bill” while the counterpart Democrat subcommittee press release was titled “Republicans Shut Down Their Own Markup.”

View the markup by clicking this link.

On June 3rd, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Subcommittee on Green Jobs and the Economy held a hearing entitled “Farming, Fishing, Forestry and Hunting in an Era of Changing Climate.”

Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Merkley (D-OR) noted the various impacts of climate change in Oregon. He noted that warmer winters are allowing bark beetle populations to thrive longer leading to tree die-off, which leaves the region vulnerable to larger and more intense wildfires. “For a state like Oregon, where so much of our rural economy depends on a vibrant forest sector, this trend is very troubling,” stated Merkley.

Merkley additionally observed that warmer-shorter winters are decreasing snow pack that reduce crops’ water supply from snowmelt resulting in severe drought. Additionally, less snowmelt is adversely affecting the fishing industry catch rate due to dry streams with warmer water.

Committee Republicans criticized the Obama administration’s new climate regulations for power plants. “As we discuss the impact of climate on farming, fishing, forestry and hunting, we must not neglect the effects that draconian climate regulations would have on these industries,” stated Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-MS). Wicker stated the power plant rule will have little effect on the climate while leading to higher utility bills for the industries.

Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) testified “I am a third generation farmer. I farm in North-central Montana. I have seen the impacts of climate change first-hand,” Tester added. As an example, his farm crops have “been hailed out” four times in the last 35 years at irregular times of the year. He also added that a reservoir on his family farm constructed in the late 1940s dried-up for the first time between 1999–2001. The farm crops are also being impacted by increased drought and a proliferation of sawflies that harm wheat attributed to warmer, drier weather conditions. He also complimented the administration on its “state-based solution” to implement the proposed  power plant rule to reduce carbon emissions. “I think refusing to act to protect clean air [and] clean water is not a viable option,” stated Tester.

US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe pointed out that climate change will erode habitat for fish, waterfowl and big game species and decrease their abundance and distribution, which will consequently limit hunting-and-fishing related opportunities that contribute billions of dollars to regional economies nationwide.

Ranking Member Wicker asked whether Director Ashe agreed with scientific data showing that states’ temperatures have flat-lined in the last 15 years. Ashe asserted that that long-term trends have indicated that overall global temperatures have risen over the last 15 years. He added that the National Climate Assessment data, which reflects “the large consensus body of science” affirms temperature rise happening.

View the full hearing by clicking here.

CURRENT POLICY

Passed House Committee

On June 10th, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the following bill:

H.R. 4795, the Promoting New Manufacturing Act – Introduced by Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA), the bill would expedite air quality permitting for new manufacturing facilities. The bill requires the US Environmental Protection Agency to provide guidance on permitting when it issues new air pollution standards and to provide Congress with annual updates on its progress in expediting air quality permitting. The bill passed committee by a vote of 30–19.

Passed House

H.R. 4412, the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) Authorization Act – Introduced by Steven Palazzo (R-MS), the bill authorizes one year of funding for NASA programs. The bill passed the House June 9th by a vote of 401–2 and has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

S. 1254, the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2013 - Introduced by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), the bill reauthorizes the Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB) and Hypoxia Research and Control Act.The bill maintains and enhances an interagency program led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which will be responsible for promoting a national strategy to help communities understand, predict, control and mitigate freshwater and marine HAB and hypoxia events; enhancing, coordinating, and assessing the activities of existing HABs and hypoxia programs; providing for development of a comprehensive research plan and action strategy, including a regional approach to understanding and responding to HAB events; and requiring an assessment and plan for Great Lakes HABs and hypoxia.The bill passed the House June 9th by voice vote after passing the Senate in February.

Introduced in Senate

S. 2414, the Coal Country Protection Act – Introduced June 3rd by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the bill would prohibit the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions from new or existing power plants. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

S. 2457, the Highway Runoff Management Act – Introduced June 10th by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), the bill requires states to establish highway stormwater management programs. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

S. 2470, the New Mexico Drought Relief Act of 2014 – Introduced June 12th by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), the bill would help New Mexico communities improve water-use efficiency and better address water scarcity. The bill also directs the National Academy of Sciences to study potential changes to reservoir management along the Rio Grande river system of New Mexico. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.


Sources: US Environmental Protection Agency, US National Park Service, House Appropriations Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Senate Appropriations Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, POLITICO

May 30, 2014

In This Issue

NSF: REAUTHORIZATION BILL SPURS CONTENTION DURING COMMITTEE MARKUP

On May 22nd, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee began a mark-up of H.R. 4186, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act of 2014 reauthorizing funding for programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology.. After postponing completion of the committee mark-up for a week in order to secure votes among the majority Republican Party committee members, the committee approved the bill by a party-line vote on the evening of May 28th.

Several provisions that would alter the existing merit review process, establish new guidelines intended to minimize falsification of research results and specify funding allocations for each of NSF’s individual directorates have drawn criticism from the scientific community.

The Ecological Society of America joined the American Institute of Biological Sciences and other biological entities in sending a letter to the committee expressing concern with the misconduct language within the FIRST Act. The letter noted, “The Inspector General for NSF already has the authority to investigate accusations of scientific misconduct.”

Committee Republicans argued that the provisions are necessary to ensure scientific integrity and minimize spending on research projects that could be perceived as frivolous.

The FIRST Act would authorizes a 1.5 percent increase for NSF for FY 2015, lower than the amount included in the House Commerce Justice and Science Appropriations bill, but $24 million higher than the president’s FY 2015 budget request for the agency. The bill is part of a larger legislative package of bills that would reauthorize science programs under the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science (COMPETES) Act of 2007.

“American researchers are already falling behind in critical areas,” stated Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “Today the fastest supercomputer in the world is located in China. And we risk losing our lead in other areas such as nanotechnology, the health sciences, aerospace, and lasers. To remain globally competitive, we must ensure that our priorities are funded and that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. The FIRST Act keeps America first in areas of science and research that are crucial to economic growth.”

Democrats offered over 20 amendments that sought to increase funding in the bill and eliminate provisions that altered the current merit review process, but the amendments were voted down. They countered that the controversial provisions are unnecessary, given NSF’s reputation globally as the gold standard in its merit review processes. In her opening statement, Democratic Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) contrasted the FIRST Act with the initial America COMPETES Act, which passed the Democratic House and Senate in 2007 with large bipartisan majorities and signed into law by Republican President George W. Bush.

“Where the COMPETES Act was clearly focused on spurring innovation, the FIRST Act seems preoccupied with questioning the motives of America’s premiere science agency and the integrity of the scientists it funds,” stated Ranking Member Johnson. Where the Competes Act focused on broadly lifting America’s commitment to the sciences, the FIRST Act instead seeks to pit different scientific disciplines against one another. Where the COMPETES Act sought to provide a clear vision and stability to our science agencies, the FIRST Act instead provides them with a year’s worth of authorization at levels below those provided by our own Appropriations Committee.”

The Senate has not yet introduced an America COMPETES reauthorization bill. Given that such a bill would need significant bipartisan support, it is highly unlikely that the FIRST Act in its present form would move through the Senate before the current Congress adjourns at the end of the year.

An additional $552 million in funding for NSF was included in the president’s separate Opportunity Growth and Security Initiative, which, if enacted by Congress, would be offset by revenue increases by closing tax loopholes. The added funding for NSF in the Opportunity Growth and Security Initiative is unlikely to move this Congress due to the lack of a bipartisan consensus on tax legislation that would generate net revenue increases.

This week, the committee also passed a much less contentious bill, S. 1254, the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2013. It is similar to legislation that passed the House in 2010, but failed to gain traction in the Senate. This bill would authorize federal agency efforts to address harmful algae blooms. The S. 1254 bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent in February of this year. The bill now has to be voted on in the House before being signed by the president.

View the committee mark-up by following this link. View the scientific societies letter by following this link.

AGRICULTURE: HOUSE, SENATE COMMITTEES REPORT FY 2015 SPENDING BILLS

Over the past two weeks, the House and Senate Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittees reported out their spending bills for FY 2015.

The House bill would fund federal agriculture programs at $20.9 billion in discretionary spending for FY 2015—comparable to FY 2014. The Senate bill would fund these programs at $20.575 billion, $325 million less than the House bill. Included are summaries of funding for specific US Department of Agriculture entities of interest to the ecological community:

Agricultural Research Service

House: $1.12 billion, a $2.2 million decrease over FY 2014.

Senate: $1.14 billion, a $17.2 million increase over FY 2014.

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

House: $867.5 million, a $45.78 million increase over FY 2014.

Senate: $872.4 million, a $50.69 million increase over FY 2014.

National Institute of Food and Agriculture

House: $774.5 million, a $1.9 million increase over FY 2014.

Senate: $787.5 million, a $15 million increase over FY 2014.

Natural Resources Conservation Service

House: $843 million, a $30.1 million increase over FY 2014.

Senate: $849.3 million, a $36.4 million increase over FY 2014.

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE MEMBERS QUESTION CONSENSUS BEHIND IPCC FINDINGS

On May 30th, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing examining the recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) report that concluded that failure to take action now on climate change will have disastrous long-term consequences for all life on this planet, including humanity.

Committee Republicans were skeptical of the report as were the majority of the witnesses invited, which included economist professor Richard Tol, University of Sussex; Daniel Botkin, Professor Emeritus with the University of California-Santa Barbara’s Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology; and Roger Pielke Sr., Senior Research Scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at Colorado State University. The sole witness defending the findings of IPPC was Michael Oppenheimer, Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs at Princeton University.

“Both the IPCC and the White House’s documents [the National Climate Assessment] appear to be designed to spread fear and alarm and provide cover for previously determined government policies,” asserted Chairman Lamar Smith. “The reports give the Obama administration an excuse to control more of the lives of the American people.”

A key topic of debate during the hearing was whether there was a “97 percent” consensus among the scientific community that humans are contributing significantly to climate change. Tol, himself once a member of the panel, asserted that the panel leadership has an “alarmist bias” that gives preference to like-minded authors. Under questioning from committee Democrats, Tol did concede he had previously written that “It is well-known that most papers and most authors in the climate literature support the hypothesis of anthropogenic climate change. It does not matter whether the exact number is 90 percent or 99.9 percent.”

In his written testimony, Oppenheimer noted “several studies have compared projections of IPCC reports to actual outcomes, providing a basis to assess bias. Overall, if there is a significant bias, it reflects the professional caution of scientists.  In this regard, it is important to note that assessments by the US National Academy of Sciences, the other major national academies around the world, the major scientific professional societies relevant to climate change, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, have arrived at judgments largely similar to IPCC’s.” Oppenheimer did contend that the IPCC improving its transparency could help reinforce its credibility.

This sentiment was reiterated by Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “Mr. Chairman, we have a responsibility to listen to the facts and act to protect the American people from the growing risks of a changing climate,” she said. “The IPCC makes clear to anyone who will listen that the science is well established and well accepted by the vast majority of climate scientists. We cannot continue to turn a deaf ear to the pleas from our constituents to start working towards solutions.”

For additional information and to view the hearing, click this link.

APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE PASSES BILL FUNDING NSF, NOAA

This week, the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 4660, the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, which begins October 1, 2014 and ends September 30, 2015. The bill passed with a large bipartisan vote of 321–87. Only 70 Democrats and 17 Republicans opposed the bill.

The bill funds the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $7.4 billion, a 3.3 percent increase over FY 2014 and 2.1 percent above the president’s FY 2015 budget request for the agency. The increase is attributable to House CJS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA), a longtime ally of NSF, who is also retiring at the end of the calendar year.

The bill also includes funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at $5.3 billion, virtually equal to the FY 2014 enacted level. Within NOAA, the House bill cut climate research by $37.5 million, a 24 percent cut from the $156.5 million FY 2014 enacted level.

The House also adopted an amendment from Scott Perry (R-PA) that prohibits any funding in the bill from being directed towards the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or the National Climate Assessment. Additional amendments adopted included one from Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), which cut funding from NSF’s Social, Behavioral and Economic Directorate by $15 million. Another amendment from Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) prohibits funding in the bill to implement the Obama administration’s National Ocean Policy.

This week, the Ecological Society of America issued an action alert urging members to support the NSF funding and restore the climate research cuts. While an effort to restore funding for climate research via an amendment from Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) failed, it is anticipated that the cuts may be restored when the bill is in conference negotiations with the Senate this fall. The fate of the other amendments adopted will also be determined at that time.

In its Statement of Administration Policy, the White House did not issue a formal veto threat of the bill. With regard to NSF, the administration stated that it “appreciates the [House Appropriations] Committee’s support for NSF.”

The statement did express concern with reductions to NOAA’s fisheries management and  coastal restoration programs included in the bill and the cut to NOAA’s climate research program, noting that “NOAA’s climate research will help the nation better understand, monitor, and prepare for the impacts of climate change.”

View the full statement here.

View the ESA action alert here.

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: NSF RELEASES DRAFT PROPOSAL GUIDELINES DOCUMENT

The Federal Register published a National Science Foundation (NSF) public comment request on proposed changes to its “Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG).” The draft NSF PAPPG  is now available for review and consideration on the NSF website.

The PAPPG is composed of documents relating to the NSF’s proposal and award process. The purpose of the revision is to clarify and improve the general functionality of this process. For the reader’s ease in its review, the proposed changes are highlighted in the lengthy document.

Written comments should be received by July 8, 2014 to be assured of consideration.

To view the document, click this link:

http://www.nsf.gov/bfa/dias/policy/papp/papp15_1/fedregdraft/nsf15_1draft.pdf

To view the Federal Register notice with comment instruction, click this link:

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2014-05-09/pdf/2014-10685.pdf

For additional background information, click this link:

http://www.nsf.gov/bfa/dias/policy/

USDA: NEW PROGRAM ANNOUNCED FOR WATER CONSERVATION PARTNERSHIPS

On May 27, the US Department of Agriculture announced a new $1.2 billion five-year program aimed at promoting public-private partnerships for soil and water conservation projects.

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), authorized under the recent Agricultural Act of 2014, will consolidate the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative and the Great Lakes Basin Program for Soil Erosion into a single program.

The RCPP will competitively award funds to conservation projects designed by local partners specifically for their region. Eligible partners include private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, local and tribal governments and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials to their proposed initiatives. With participating partners investing along with the Department, USDA’s $1.2 billion in funding over the life of the five-year program can leverage an additional $1.2 billion from partners for a total of $2.4 billion for conservation. There is $400 million in USDA funding is available in the first year. Through RCPP, partners propose conservation projects to improve soil health, water quality and water use efficiency, wildlife habitat, and other related natural resources on private lands.

“This is an entirely new approach to conservation,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We’re giving private companies, local communities, and other non-government partners a way to invest in what are essentially clean water start-up operations. By establishing new public-private partnerships, we can have an impact that’s well beyond what the Federal government could accomplish on its own. These efforts keep our land resilient and water clean, and promote tremendous economic growth in agriculture, construction, tourism and outdoor recreation, and other industries.”

The agency is now accepting proposals for the program, due July 14, 2014. For additional information, click this link.

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 1416, the Sage Grouse Protection Conservation Act – Introduced May 22 by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), the bill would prevent the federal government from listing the sage grouse as an endangered species and instead encourage the Departments of Interior and Agriculture to work with states on conservation initiatives. Companion legislation (S. 2394) has been introduced by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY).

Approved by Committee

H.R. 4472, the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act – Introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill would reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the major law governing fisheries management through the end of fiscal 2018.

Committee Democrats were concerned over provisions of the bill that seek to provide increased flexibility for fish stock rebuilding at the cost of avoiding certain National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act requirements. The bill passed by the House Natural Resources Committee by a largely party-line vote of 24–17.

Passed House

H.R. 4435, the Howard P. “Buck” McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 –The bill provides $600 billion in authorization funding for Department of Defense (DOD) programs. It passed with an amendment from Rep. David McKinley (D-WV) that would prohibit funds in the bill from being used for climate change studies, including the National Climate Assessment and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The amendment was adopted by a vote of 231–192.

The White House has issued a veto threat against the legislation due to conflicts in program funding priorities. The House bill must be reconciled with the Senate Defense authorization bill before it can be sent to the president. The Senate has not yet scheduled when their bill will reach the Senate floor for a vote.

Cleared for White House

H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Development Act of 2013 – The $8.2 billion legislation reauthorizes 34 Army Corps of Engineers water-related projects, including addressing infrastructure, flood protection and environmental restoration needs. It also includes various reforms to the Army Corps. The legislation constitutes the finalized conference report negotiated by House and Senate leaders. The conference report bill passed the Senate on May 22 by a vote of 91–7 after passing the House May 20 by a vote of 412–4. The president is expected to sign the measure.


Sources: National Science Foundation, US Department of Agriculture, House Appropriations Committee, House Space, Science and Technology Committee, Senate Appropriations Committee, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill

May 16, 2014

In This Issue

WHITE HOUSE: ASSESSMENT OUTLINES NATIONWIDE IMPACTS OF HUMAN-INDUCED CLIMATE CHANGE

On May 6th, the US Global Change Research Program released the National Climate Assessment that summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future.

A team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced the report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.

The NCA report concludes that the effects of human-induced climate change, once thought to be a distant problem, are happening now and causing significant ecosystem changes with numerous consequences for the natural world and human society. Precipitation patterns are changing, sea level is rising, the oceans are becoming more acidic, and the frequency and intensity of some weather events are increasing.

It explains that the burning of coal, oil, and gas, and clearing of forests have increased the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by more than 40 percent since the Industrial Revolution. The buildup of heat-trapping gases (also known as “greenhouse gases”) has caused most of the Earth’s warming over the past century.

The report also states the amount of future climate change will largely be determined by choices society makes about emissions. Lower emissions of heat-trapping gases mean less future warming and less severe impacts. Emissions can be reduced through improved energy efficiency and switching to low-carbon or non-carbon energy sources.

The NCA report findings are segmented into eight geographical regions across the US and includes analyses of impacts on seven factors—human health, water, energy, transportation, agriculture, forests, and ecosystems. Excerpts of the NCA report by region are highlighted in the following paragraphs.

The Northeast is projected to experience heat waves, heavy downpours, and sea level rise that will pose growing challenges to many aspects of daily life for the sixty-four million who live in the region.

The report finds that the Southeast and Caribbean region are exceptionally vulnerable to sea level rise, extreme heat events, hurricanes, and decreased water availability. The region is home to more than 80 million people and some of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas, three of which are along the coast and vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surge.

The Midwestern region is expected to suffer heavier rains and extreme weather events. Greater crop yields are also expected due to increased carbon dioxide levels and longer growing seasons. In the long term, the combined stresses associated with climate change are expected to decrease agricultural productivity.

In the Great Plains region, rising temperatures are leading to increased demand for water and energy. In parts of the region, the report projects this will constrain development, stress natural resources, and increase competition for water. New agricultural practices will be needed to cope with changing conditions.

The NCA finds that in the Southwest region increased heat, drought, and insect outbreaks, all linked to climate change, have increased wildfires. Declining water supplies, reduced agricultural yields, health impacts in cities due to heat, and flooding and erosion in coastal areas are additional concerns. The Southwest, which includes California, will also undergo severe drought complemented with ocean acidification.

“As an ecologist, you can’t escape the effects of climate change on natural resources. We’re observing climate impacts in nearly all natural and managed ecosystems,” said Ecological Society of America President Jill Baron in an ESA press release. “In order to protect biodiversity and the natural resources that we rely on, we need to be developing policy now. The National Climate Assessment provides guidelines for how to respond and adapt.” Baron was also a contributor to the NCA.

The US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) was established by Presidential Initiative in 1989 and mandated by Congress in the Global Change Research Act (GCRA) of 1990 to “assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.” The law requires USGCRP to report to Congress every four years on the effects of climate change. The first assessment was finalized and published until 2000. Lack of adherence to this mandate on the part of the Bush administration delayed the second assessment’s completion until 2009.

Reaction on Capitol Hill was typically partisan. An array of press statements from Republicans and Democratic leaders on related committees highlights how far Congress has to go in reaching any consensus on legislation to address climate change.

“The new National Climate Assessment report confirms with the greatest level of detail yet that climate change in the United States is all around us and we are already feeling the impacts,” stated Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA). “We must act in a comprehensive way to reduce carbon pollution for the sake of public health, our nation’s economy, and the well-being of future generations.”

“The administration’s Climate Assessment suffers from problems similar to those in reports put forward by the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]; while intended to be a scientific document, it’s more of a political one used to justify more government overreach,” asserted EPW Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA).” Definitive policy decisions and regional planning based on far too many uncertainties could hurt our nation’s economic viability and competitiveness.”

“This is a political document intended to frighten Americans into believing that any abnormal weather we experience is the direct result of human CO2 emissions,” asserted House Science, Space and Technology (SST) Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “In reality, there is little science to support any connection between climate change and more frequent or extreme storms.  It’s disappointing that the Obama administration feels compelled to stretch the truth in order to drum up support for more costly and unnecessary regulations and subsidies.”

“The scientific debate over climate change is over and the impacts are growing more evident in the lives of every American,” stated SST Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “As a Texan, I have seen the impacts myself with severe drought and record temperatures.  These conditions impact our agriculture economy, human health, water supplies, and the livelihoods of many citizens.  In addition, these changing conditions are destroying ecosystems both on land and in the ocean.”

“The challenge before us today is to take the overwhelming evidence of climate change and come together to find solutions that will save lives, protect property, and preserve our environment for generations to come,” stated SST Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR). “This report makes clear that the consequences are real and we are facing them now.”

View the National Climate Assessment by clicking this link. A White House Fact sheet on climate change by region is available by clicking this link.

View the full ESA press release by clicking this link.

WATER: HOUSE, SENATE REACH AGREEMENT ON ARMY CORPS REAUTHORIZATION BILL

This week, House and Senate leaders who sit on committees with jurisdiction over water infrastructure announced an agreement on a conference report for the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA).

The $8.2 billion legislation reauthorizes 34 Army Corps of Engineers projects related to flooding, environmental restoration, dams, levees, bridges and other water-related infrastructure and includes various reforms to the Army Corps.

The key negotiators of the finalized bill were Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), EPW Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA), House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and T&I Committee Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV).

“In my home State of California, Sacramento faces some of the nation’s most severe flood risks,” stated Chairwoman Boxer. “I am so pleased that this bipartisan legislation includes critical flood control that protects lives and property in California. It also includes important reforms to strengthen our ports, including in Los Angeles and Long Beach, and restores critical ecosystems, such as the Salton Sea. I look forward to moving this critical legislation to the President’s desk to be signed into law as soon as possible.”

Prior to the conference, the House had approved its bill (H.R. 3080) in October 2013 by a vote of 417-3. The Senate approved its WRRDA bill (S. 601) in May 2013 by a vote of 83-14. If signed by the president, the finalized conference bill will likely constitute one of the last major comprehensive pieces of legislation enacted before the Nov. 2014 mid-term elections.

As an authorization measure, WRRDA sets maximum spending levels for Army Corps projects authorized under the Act. Specific funding for Army Corps projects is distributed annually through the Energy and Water Appropriations Act.

 

A full summary of the conference report is available by following this link:

http://www.eenews.net/assets/2014/05/15/document_pm_01.pdf

SENATE: ENERGY BILL FAILS, STALLING CONSIDERIATION OF KEYSTONE LEGISLATION

Passage of comprehensive energy efficiency legislation for the current 113th Congress was scuttled this week as Senate Republicans blocked a vote to end debate on the bill. The move also nullified a deal Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had made with Republicans to allow a vote on legislation to expedite approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) felt that the deal shortchanged Republicans by preventing them from considering amendments to the energy bill.

The vote was 55–36. Sixty votes were needed to overcome the minority party filibuster. The nine Senators who missed the vote were Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mark Begich (D-AK), John Boozman (R-AR), Bob Corker (R-TN), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Dean Heller (R-NV), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and David Vitter (R-LA). Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who cosponsored the bill, along with Sens. Kelly Ayote (R-NH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) were the only Republicans to vote with the majority of Senate Democrats to end debate on the measure.

Supporters of the pipeline contended that a vote on a bill to unilaterally approve the pipeline would not have garnered the 60 votes necessary to pass legislation in the Senate.  Keystone pipeline advocates in Congress are brainstorming how to attach such legislation to a must-pass bill that President Obama would have to sign. House Republicans have attached amendments approving the pipeline to appropriations bills and other legislation in the past, but such legislation has largely failed to clear the Senate.

DROUGHT: INTERIOR ANNOUNCES CALIFORNIA FUNDING FROM WATERSMART PROGRAM

On May 15th, US Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell announced $20 million in funding for nine Bureau of Reclamation water projects in California intended to provide drought relief.

The funding is provided through DOI’s Water Sustain and Manage America’s Resources for Tomorrow (SMART) program, which works to improve water conservation efforts. California Project funding includes an extension of water recycling service in the city of Corona, construction of a wastewater treatment facility in Yucca Valley, and construction and development of three supply wells and two primary raw water transmission lines to produce groundwater that would replace water that would have been imported from the Colorado River or Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta region.

For additional information, click this link.

DROUGHT: BUREAU OF RECLAMATION MAKES HISTORIC CALIFORNIA WATER RELEASE

For the first time since 1939, water began to flow this week from the Friant Dam near Fresno into the San Joaquin River to help California farmers as they face low water levels in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The Bureau of Reclamation released the water to fulfill water contracts made in 1939 when the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority agreed to take its water from the Delta rather than the San Joaquin River, unless the Delta could not meet needs.

The Exchange Contractors hold senior water rights and provide irrigation water to about 240,000 acres of farmland. They will receive 529,000 acre-feet of their normal 840,000 acre-feet supply. Certain wildlife refuges will also see their supplies increased from 108,000 acre-feet to 170,000 acre-feet. The allotment of irrigation water to many Central Valley farmers who are not considered senior rights holders is expected to remain at zero for the rest of the year, officials said.

The US Drought Monitor reports that conditions in the San Joaquin Valley have intensified from “severe” drought in May 2013 to “exceptional” drought in May 2014. “Exceptional” is the worst of the five stages of the US Drought Monitor Classification.

For additional information, click this link.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: FWS, NOAA PROPOSE UPDATE OF CRITICAL HABITAT RULES

On May 9th, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in partnership with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), released two proposed rules and one proposed policy that collectively intend to improve the process of designating critical habitat for endangered species.

The first proposed rule would expand the definition of “adverse modification” to better quantify how various federal activities, including mining, drilling and construction effect critical habitat’s ability to meet a listed species recovery needs. The second proposed rule would clarify the procedures and standards used to designate critical habitats. The policy proposal would improve transparency and consistency with how agencies determine exclusions for critical habitat designations.

Critical habitat designations require other federal agencies to consult with federal entities responsible for endangered species protection to ensure any regulatory action or initiative does not negatively affect the designated habitat area. The proposals, if finalized, will be implemented by FWS and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. They will also help clarify how lands designated as critical habitat can be used for other purposes.

Additional information on the proposals is available via the following link.

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 4614, the Park Partner Enhancement Act – Introduced May 8th  by Reps. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), the bill would clarify the ability of the National Park Service (NPS) to work with non-federal entities, such as philanthropic organizations and education institutions, to improve investment of non-federal funds towards facility construction, landscape restoration and other NPS priorities. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

H.R. 4654, the Lower Electric Bill Act of 2014 – Introduced May 9th by Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS), the bill would delay implementation of US Environmental Protection Agency Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for five years. The bill also requires EPA to study the economic effects of implementing the standards on local communities. The bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Passed House

H.R. 4438, the American Research and Competitiveness Act of 2014 – Introduced by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the bill would make the research and development tax credit, which expired at the end of calendar year 2013, permanent. A majority of House Democrats opposed the bill, citing a Joint Committee on Taxation estimate that the permanent extension would add $155 billion to the deficit over 10 years and called for offset revenue. The bill passed the House May 9th by a vote of 274-131 with 62 Democrats joining all but one Republican in supporting the bill.

The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy threatening to veto the bill, citing the lack of revenues to offset the cost of the bill. View the statement here.

H.R. 4366, the Strengthening Education through Research Act – Introduced by Rep. Todd Rotika (R-IN), the bill would reauthorize Department of Education bureaus related to science, including the Institute of Education Sciences, the National Center for Education Research, and the National Center for Education Statistics. The bill passed the House May 8th by voice vote and has been referred to the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee.

Introduced in Senate

S. 2306, the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act – Introduced May 8th by Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), the bill would establish a Delaware River Basin Restoration Program within the US Fish and Wildlife Service to coordinate funding for restoration and protection of the Delaware River Basin. Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Robert Casey (D-PA) are also lead cosponsors of the bill.


Sources: Department of Energy, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Natural Resources Committee, House Space, Science and Technology Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the White House

May 2, 2014

In This Issue

APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE CJS BILL INCREASES SCIENCE INVESTMENT

On April 30, the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee released its funding bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015.

In total, the bill includes $51.2 billion in discretionary spending for FY 2015, $398 million less than FY 2014. The bill includes funding for the Department of Justice, Department of Commerce and several key federal science agencies for the coming fiscal year that starts October 1, 2014.

The bill includes $7.4 billion for the National Science Foundation; a $237 million increase over the FY 2014 enacted funding level and $150 million above the president’s request for FY 2015.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would receive $5.3 billion in FY 2015; level with its FY 2014 enacted funding level. The bill also fully funds NOAA’s two satellite programs—the Joint Polar Satellite System and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite.

The National Aeronautic and Space Administration would receive $17.9 billion in FY 2015, a $250 million increase over FY 2014. Science programs at the agency would increase by $42 million.

Additional information on the bill is available by following this link:

http://appropriations.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=377757

SENATE: HEARING EXAMINES IMPORTANCE OF RESEARCH INVESTMENT

 

On April 29, the Senate Appropriations Committee held a hearing entitled, “Driving Innovation through Federal Investments.” The hearing focused on the important role that federal funding plays in supporting scientific research.

“It’s not an understatement to argue that federal investment in research is an investment in America’s future,” stated Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). “This realization has led me, and many of my colleagues, to consider some difficult questions.”

“I agree reducing the budget deficit is important, but are we being so austere that we are limiting our future growth? And as one of the greatest countries in the world, are we so preoccupied with making budget cuts that we’re heading towards an innovation deficit as well?”

Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) noted the important role federal investment in R&D plays in furthering advancements in biomedical research and life-saving military technologies. He also called upon the committee to consider a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found “wasteful spending” in certain defense, healthcare and energy R&D programs.

“In general, I hope this committee will consider the GAO’s input and the work it has done on overlap and duplication in government,” stated Ranking Member Shelby. “Such oversight will ensure that federal research dollars go to the programs that hold the most promise. In addition, I encourage federal agencies to look for ways to promote public-private partnerships, many of which stretch taxpayer dollars further by tapping into the expertise of innovators in the private sector.”

Federal agency witnesses testifying before the committee included Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren. He noted that while the share of funding for US research and development supported by the federal government has dropped from as much as two-thirds in the 1960s to one-third today, the federal government remains “the largest funder of the basic research that produces the seed-corn from which all applied advances in innovation grow.”

Holdren noted that the National Science Foundation (NSF) is currently viewed around the world as “the gold standard” in its peer review grant-making process and argued that the agency’s existing grant-making process be maintained. “To try to fix what is not broken at NSF would risk eroding the cornerstone of American scientific and engineering excellence,” said Holdren who also noted that countries such as China are set to surpass the US in R&D investment if existing trends continue.

Holdren also touted that the administration’s $56 billion Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative contains $5.3 billion for R&D. According to Holdren, investment in research and development would increase by 5.2 percent above the current Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 level, if the initiative were enacted. Holdren emphasized that the initiative would be paid for by spending reforms and closing tax loopholes. Tax reform measures perceived as net revenue increases are unlikely to gain bipartisan traction during the course of this election year. Consequently, it is unlikely major elements of the Opportunity Growth and Security initiative will be approved this Congress.

NSF Director France Córdova highlighted how the internet, magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs), touch screens for iPads, smartphones, advanced weather forecasting, municipal water systems and cybersecurity were all developed in part through NSF fundamental research funding.

“As this committee knows so well, NSF’s research and education investments have been vital to our country’s prosperity and will be even more important to our future,” she said. “They will continue to be a critical factor in maintaining the nations’ technological leadership through the 21st Century and will broadly impact [the] long-term economic health and vitality of our nation and the world.”

Additional witnesses included Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins and the Defense Advanced Research and Projects Agency Director Arati Prabakhar.

View the full hearing by clicking this link:

http://www.appropriations.senate.gov/webcast/driving-innovation-through-federal-investments-note-video-stream-will-not-go-live-until

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS NOAA PRIORITIES

On April 30, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Environment held a hearing examining the proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

While expressing support for the overall NOAA budget request, Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) was critical of the amount of funding dedicated towards climate change research.

“Almost $190 million is requested for climate research, more than twice the amount dedicated to weather research,” stated Chairman Smith. “There are 13 other agencies that are involved in climate change research, and according to the Congressional Research Service, they have spent $77 billion between 2008 and 2013.” Smith was also critical of NOAA’s climate.gov website, which he contended included “non-peer reviewed” information “promoting climate alarmism for children.”

Committee Democrats cited existing ramifications of climate change as evidence of the need for continuing federal investment in NOAA’s climate change research.

“Our coastal communities face pressing challenges presented by rising sea-levels, to say nothing of the enormous threat posed by more severe hurricanes,” stated Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “One of the agencies the American people turn to is NOAA for critical information before, during, and after these severe events. Whether it is providing forecasts and warnings of pending storms, working with state or local decision makers to develop effective response strategies, or conducting research that improves our understanding of severe weather to enhance the resiliency of our communities, it is essential that we maintain our commitment to the science done at NOAA.”

Testifying, NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, clarified the importance of climate research by noting that while weather services help us predict events and trends over a two week period, climate research helps us understand atmospheric changes over longer time scales. As an example, she stated that climate research will provide important information about the future drought outlook for water managers and ranchers.

“The range of information needs that American citizens and businesses have is across a huge range of time scales,” stated Sullivan. “And if we aspire, as NOAA is chartered to do, to respond to those demands, to those really urgent needs across that whole range of scales, we have to be able to investigate and study and understand the many different timescales that are natural to this planet,” she continued. “To use a metaphor, we have to be able to play the whole keyboard if we’re going to play the symphony that our communities are really asking us to play.”

During the hearing, committee members also reviewed the status of weather forecasting and response data, NOAA’s satellite programs and long-term staffing needs for the agency. To view the full hearing, click on the link: http://science.house.gov/hearing/environment-subcommittee-hearing-overview-national-oceanic-and-atmospheric-administration

EPA: SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS CROSS-STATE AIR POLLUTION RULE

On April 29, the US Supreme Court upheld a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that allows the agency to regulate air pollution that drifts across state lines.

“EPA’s cost-effective allocation of emission reductions among upwind States, we hold, is a permissible, workable, and equitable interpretation of the Good Neighbor provision,” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the 6-2 ruling decision. Ginsburg referenced an earlier Supreme Court case, Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, which held that if a statute’s language is ambiguous, courts must defer to an agency’s interpretation. A federal appellate court had previously held that the EPA’s authority superseded the state’s by implementing federal plans for cutting air pollution before states were allowed to draft their own.

The Obama administration praised the ruling, asserting that the EPA rule will “prevent up to 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks, 19,000 cases of acute bronchitis, 400,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and 1.8 million sick days a year—achieving up to $280 billion in annual health benefits.”

Ginsburg was joined in her opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Anthony Kennedy and Sonia Sotomayor. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas filed a dissenting opinionwhile Justice Samuel Alito recused himself.

For additional information on the ruling, clicking this link:

http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-1182_bqm1.pdf

Additional information on the EPA rule can be found by clicking this link:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/04/29/supreme-court-ruling-air-pollution-big-win-public-health

NSF: NATIONAL SCIENCE BOARD REBUFFS FIRST ACT

On April 24, the National Science Board (NSB), the Governing Board for the National Science Foundation, released a statement criticizing legislation that would reauthorize funding for the National Science Foundation, the Frontiers in Innovation Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act.

The NSB rarely releases public statements on legislation. At the same time, it is highly unusual  and unprecedented for Congress to write legislation, as it does in the FIRST ACT, stipulating how NSF would conduct its grant-making process.

A major contention NSB cited in its statement is language in the bill that would allow Congress to authorize funding levels for individual NSF Directorates, much the way they do for NIH. This however, limits the agency’s discretion in allocating funding for specific NIH priorities. NSF officials fear the legislation would ultimately lead to the same constraints.

“Some elements of the bill would also impose significant new burdens on scientists that would not be offset by gains to the nation,” the NSB press statement notes. “Our greatest concern is that the bill’s specification of budget allocations to each NSF Directorate would significantly impede NSF’s flexibility to deploy its funds to support the best ideas in fulfillment of its mission.”

While NSF has traditionally garnered strong bipartisan support, in recent years, the Republican majority in the US House of Representatives has been increasingly critical of social science investment and certain grants whose titles, on first glance, could be interpreted by laymen as wasteful research projects. Some policymakers argue that existing fiscal constraints on the overall federal budget necessitate these extreme measures to prevent funding “frivolous” research projects.

The FIRST Act includes provisions requiring NSF to specify how individual projects serve in the economic and defense interests of the United States. NSB contends such legislative requirements would be inflexible and assert that the agency is currently implementing processes that promote transparency and accountability within its grant-making system.

The NSB statement also referenced the need for the US to maintain its global competitiveness. “We are concerned that the proposed new legislative requirements might discourage visionary proposals or transformative science at a time when advancing the decades-long U.S. leadership in science and technology is a top priority.” A recent NSB report noted that the US is at imminent risk of falling behind countries such as China with regard to our nation’s contribution of R&D investment.

View the full NSB press release by clicking this link:

http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=131218&org=NSB&from=news

SENATE: KEYSTONE DELAY PROMPTS AMENDMENT TO ENERGY EFFICIENCY BILL

The Obama administration’s recent move to postpone its decision on whether it will approve the Keystone XL pipeline has political implications for a bipartisan energy bill moving through the Senate.

On April 18, the US State Department announced that it would delay reaching a decision on the pipeline until after a court challenge to its proposed route through Nebraska is resolved. Prior to the announcement, there was an expectation that the administration could reach a decision as early as this month, when the public comment period ended. It is now expected that a final decision may not be reached until the end of the year.

A court ruling that invalidates the route as planned could necessitate the need for an alternative route. Therefore, a decision by the administration to approve the pipeline could be subject to further litigation. When viewed through a political lens, this also benefits the Obama administration by punting a contentious decision until after the 2014 mid-term elections. Consequently, pipeline proponents have begun to refocus on legislative efforts to expedite its approval.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) plans to take up a bipartisan energy efficiency bill sponsored by Senators Jeanne Sheehan (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) beginning May 5th. Currently, Republican leaders in the Congress and the Senate who support the pipeline have indicated they may propose an amendment to the energy bill to help fast-track its approval.

“The Keystone Pipeline is clearly in our national interest and vital to position North America as an energy powerhouse. I will press hard for a vote in the coming weeks to build this pipeline,” said Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (D-LA) in an April 28th press statement. “Significant investments in our energy infrastructure that connects producers, refiners and consumers creates thousands of high-paying jobs, pushes our economy forward and signals to the world that America intends to step up to the competition and become an energy superpower.”

Landrieu, up for re-election, will likely face political pressure to take action that supports expedited approval of the pipeline. Several other Senate Democrats in tight re-election races this year, including Mark Pryor (AR), Mark Begich (AK) and Kay Hagan (NC), are expected to aid in legislative efforts to approve the pipeline.

While a Keystone amendment to the Sheehan-Portman energy efficiency bill would likely garner bipartisan support, it is unclear whether it could secure the 60 votes necessary to move the legislation forward in the Senate.

USDA: FARM BILL AUTHORIZES NEW CONSERVATION INITIATIVES

On May 1, the US Department of Agriculture announced it was accepting applications for two new conservation programs authorized by the Agricultural Act of 2014, which reauthorizes farm bill programs.

The Agricultural Conservation Easements Program (ACEP) and the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) will provide up to $386 million for outdoor recreational activities, wetland restoration and protection assistance for agricultural lands.

ACEP consolidates three former easement programs—the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program, the Grassland Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program—into a single program to strengthen land and water conservation efforts. VPA-HIP is a competitive grant program that enables state and Tribal governments to increase opportunities for owners and managers of private lands who want to make their land available for public recreation.

Applications for ACEP funding are due June 6, 2014. Additional information can be found through this link: www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted

Applications for the VPA-HIP are due June 16, 2014. Addition information can be found through this link: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/programs/farmbill/?cid=stelprdb1242739

CURRENT POLICY

Passed House

H.R. 627, the National Park Service 100th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act – Introduced by Rep. Erik Paulsen (D-MN), the bill would direct the Secretary of the Treasury to mint and issue gold, silver, and half-dollar coins in commemoration of the 100th  anniversary of the establishment of the National Park Service. The bill passed the House April 29th by a vote of 403-13 and has been referred to the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

Huna Tlingit Traditional Gull Egg Use Act – The bill would allow the harvest of gull eggs by the Huna Tlingit people of Alaska for the purpose of preserving a cultural tradition. The bill passed the House on April 28th by a voice vote.

H.R. 4032, the North Texas Invasive Species Barrier Act of 2014 – Introduced by Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), the bill would authorize the North Texas Municipal Water District and the Greater Texoma Utility Authority to transfer water out of a Lake Texoma along the Oklahoma-Texas border, even if it contains invasive species.

The Obama administration has expressed concerns that the bill would set a bad precedent, but has not issued an official veto threat. House Democrats shared the administration’s concerns, but ultimately found the legislation permissible in this instance. The Greater Texoma Utility Authority stated it will build a pipeline that would transfer water out of the lake to a treatment facility in order to remove any zebra mussels. The bill passed the House April 28th  by a voice vote and has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Cleared for White House

S. 994, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act – Introduced by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the bill seeks to improve disclosure of federal-agency-spending information by establishing government-wide standards for expenditures related to federal contracts, loans and grants. The bill passed the House April 28th by a voice vote after passing the Senate earlier in that month. President Obama is expected to sign the measure.


Sources: Department of Energy, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Natural Resources Committee, House Space, Science and Technology Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the White House

April 21, 2014

In This Issue

CLIMATE CHANGE: IPCC REAFFIRMS NEED FOR MITIGATION, ADAPTATION MEASURES

The Nobel Prize-winning United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released two new reports in late March and early April that reaffirm climate change is currently affecting natural ecosystems and human well-being around the world.

The March 31 report from “Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” stated that we are experiencing the consequences of climate change across all sectors: agriculture, human health, ocean and land ecosystems, and water supplies. The working group found that governments’ measures to combat climate change are not keeping pace with the consequences of climate change. At an IPCC meeting in Yokohama, Japan, 100 governments unanimously approved the report. 

“Read this report and you can’t deny the reality: Unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy,” asserted Secretary of State John Kerry in a press statement. “Denial of the science is malpractice.” Secretary Kerry referenced “the security risks of water scarcity and flooding; widespread land and marine species extinction; and devastated crop yields in some of the poorest nations on earth” in rationalizing the Obama administration’s commitment towards implementation of its Climate Action Plan.

On Capitol Hill, the report generally earned praise among Democratic leaders on key committees, who embraced the science as a call for urgent action. Meanwhile, their Republican counterparts did not issue a formal statement on the report. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (CA) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (CA), senior Democrats on the committees with primary jurisdiction over the US Environmental Protection Agency, each posted press statements praising the report on their respective committees’ websites. House, Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson did not release a committee press statement directly commenting on the report, but it was referenced in a climate change panel discussion the Congresswoman was holding in Dallas, TX the day the report was released. 

“The latest IPCC report adds a tremendous sense of urgency for Congress to wake up and do everything in its power to reduce dangerous carbon pollution,” stated Chairwoman Boxer. “In California, we can just look out the window to see climate change’s impacts—from the driest year on record in 2013 to the increased frequency and intensity of wildfires. This new IPCC report identifies the serious threats to human health, vital infrastructure, and the world’s economy that will multiply as temperatures warm. It confirms that we must cut carbon pollution now to avoid lasting changes to our planet. 

In Berlin, Germany on April 13 a subsequent IPCC report from “Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change” warned greenhouse gas emissions that push warming above two degrees Celsius will lead to dangerous and costly climate change events. The report stated that worldwide emissions must decline between 40-70 percent below 2010 by the middle of the century to avoid such consequences. The report called for cutting green-house gas emissions from energy production, transportation, infrastructure and business to meet this goal.

“The IPCC’s new report highlights in stark reality the magnitude and urgency of the climate challenge,” asserted White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren, referencing the Working Group III report. “It shows, even more compellingly than previous studies, that the longer society waits to implement strong measures to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, the more costly and difficult it will become to limit climate change to less than catastrophic levels. 

The Working Group III report was the final contribution to the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC, titled “Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change.” The Working Group I report, released in Sept. 2013, outlined the physical science basis of climate change. The larger Fifth Assessment Report will be completed by a synthesis report on track to be finalized in October.

For additional information on the Working Group II report, click here. For additional Information on the Working Group III report, click here.

ENERGY: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS FY 2015 DOE INVESTMENT PRIORITIES

On April 10, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee convened for a hearing reviewing the US Department of Energy’s scientific and technology priorities as outlined in the president’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015.

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) took issue with DOE’s investments in renewable energy in comparison to its fossil fuel investments. DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) funding would increase by 21.9 percent in the president’s FY 2015 budget. Meanwhile, the Fossil Energy Research and Development account would decrease by 15.4 percent with the brunt of those cuts coming from coal-related activities. 

“The administration should not pick winners and give subsidies to favored companies that promote uncompetitive technologies,” said Chairman Smith.  “Instead, we should focus our resources on research and development that will produce technologies that will enable alternative energy sources to become economically competitive without the need for subsidies. Basic energy research is the stepping stone to our continued success.”

Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Ernest Moniz countered that the investment numbers for EERE constitute three separate energy priorities ($521 million for renewable energy, $705 million for sustainable transportation and $858 million for energy efficiency). Secretary Moniz asserted that the proposed EERE funding levels are comparable to the $475 million proposed for fossil energy and $863 for nuclear energy. Together, these funding levels in the president’s budget will constitute an all-of-the-above energy approach. Moniz subsequently noted that DOE made the initial investments in the research that fostered hydraulic fracturing.

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), noted the importance of fossil fuels, but is also supportive of federal funding for alternative energy sources. “I continue to strongly support research to make today’s technologies safer, cleaner, and more efficient, but we also have to find the greatest value for our investment of taxpayer dollars,” said Ranking Member Johnson. “Today it is the emerging energy technology sectors that can most benefit from government support. That is where the priorities set by the Fiscal Year 2015 budget request come into play.”

View the full committee hearing here.

CONSERVATION: BIPARTISAN SENATORS REQUEST SUPPORT FOR LCWF, FOREST LEGACY

On April 9, a bipartisan group of 51 senators issued a letter to the Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee expressing support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and the Forest Legacy program.

Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Richard Burr (R-NC) and Susan Collins (R-ME) spearheaded the letter. The senators asserted that these programs support and protect wildlife habitats and provide the public with hunting and fishing recreational opportunities while also promoting job creation .The letter asserted that the programs also save taxpayer dollars through protecting land that provides valuable water resources, guards against incompatible development and reduces fire risk while contributing to state, local and private conservation investments.

“The entire suite of LWCF programs protect natural resource lands, outdoor recreation opportunities and working forests at the local, state and federal levels, ensuring that critical wildlife habitat, hunting and fishing access, state and local parks, Civil War battlefields, productive forests and other important lands are protected for current and future generations,” the senators stated in the letter. “We ask that you include a strong investment in LWCF and Forest Legacy that will support public land conservation and ensure access to the outdoors for all Americans.”

LWCF allows revenues generated from offshore oil and gas drilling fees to be diverted towards funding federal land acquisition, land and water recreation, endangered species conservation, and grants to states. Yet, since the law’s establishment in 1965, Congress has redirected $18 billion of LWCF revenue, resulting in a backlog in conservation initiatives. The president’s budget proposes full funding for LCWF. The program is currently funded at $300 million. Additional information on the program is available here.

The Forest Legacy program seeks to protect environmentally sensitive forest lands. Additional information on the Forest Legacy program is available here. View the full Senate letter here.

WATER: CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION REQUESTS SUPPORT FOR COLUMBIA RIVER TREATY

On April 15, 26 members of the House and Senate from Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington sent a letter to President Obama expressing support for the 1964 Columbia River Treaty.

The Columbia River Treaty aids in the coordination of hydropower development and flood control between the United States and Canada along the Columbia River basin. Beginning this year, either side can seek to terminate the treaty with 10 years notice. The US State Department is expected to start negotiations with the Canadian government on potential updates to the treaty as early as September of this year.

“The Columbia River provides significant economic and cultural benefits to our region and how it is managed through the Treaty will have major impacts into the future,” noted the bipartisan group of lawmakers. “Therefore, it is important that you remain in regular and close communication with the Pacific Northwest Congressional Delegation during the Interagency Policy Committee process and keep us apprised of potential negotiations with Canada.”

The letter was spearheaded by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) and House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR). To view the full letter, click here: http://naturalresources.house.gov/uploadedfiles/4_15_14_columbia_river_treaty.pdf

WILDFIRES: NEW FEDERAL STRATEGY FOCUSES ON PREEMPTION

On April 9, the US Department of Interior and the US Department of Agriculture jointly released a new holistic vision for wildfire management “To safely and effectively extinguish fire when needed; use fire where allowable; manage our natural resources; and as a nation, live with fire.”

The strategy seeks to restore and maintain landscapes by using tactics such as prescribed burns to increase forest resiliency. The strategy also seeks to build “fire-adapted communities” by reducing the amount of surrounding flammable materials such as fuel and vegetation that could cause or exacerbate a wildfire. Additionally, the strategy strives to highlight programs and activities that would prevent fire ignitions directly caused by humans. Effective and efficient response to wildfires is the last prong in the strategy.

A comprehensive strategy to address wildfires was first mandated in the Federal Land Assistance, Management, and Enhancement (FLAME) Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-88).

View the full strategy here.

ENERGY: OBAMA ANNOUNCES NEW FUNDING FOR SOLAR PANELS

On April 17, President Obama announced that he was dedicating $15 million towards a new program that would help state and local governments invest in solar energy infrastructure.

The $15 million will be implemented through the administration’s new Solar Market Pathways program. It will fund the development of initiatives to help communities across the US expand installation of solar panels. The program will also provide technical assistance and cost reductions for solar installations in federally-assisted housing.

The program is a part of the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, which seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity. The White House reports that solar power installation has increased 11 fold since the year before the president took office. Between 2008, it has climbed from 1.2 gigawatts in 2008 to an estimated 13 gigawatts today, enough to power over 2.2 million homes.

For additional information, click here.

POLICY ENGAGEMENT: BIOLOGISTS ADVOCATE FOR SCIENCE RESEARCH ON CAPITOL HILL

On April 10, 2014, biologists from across the US fanned out across Capitol Hill, visiting over 60 congressional offices to talk about how federal investment in science research yields benefits to society. 

Organized each year by the Ecological Society of America (ESA) and the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), the Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition event helps raise awareness among policymakers about how federal research benefits the communities they represent.

This year’s participants included 2014 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award winners, Sarah Anderson (Washington State University), Andrew Bingham (Colorado State University), Amber Childress (Colorado State University), Brittany West Marsden (University of Maryland) and Johanna Varner (University of Utah).

Participants in the BESC Hill visits came prepared with personal stories about how federal funding aids their research, how their work helps them advance their professional development and benefits the respective states where they conduct their research. While firm commitments to support science funding varied from office-to-office, the graduate students and other participants mostly received collegial receptions from Congressional staff and elected officials, using local commonalities to relate with the congressional staff and lawmakers with whom they met.

The visits coincided with bicameral letters from the House and Senate in support of $7.5 billion in funding for the National Science Foundation, which was central to the overall message advocated by the BESC participants. The House letter, circulated by Reps. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and David McKinley (R-WV), garnered 132 signatures. Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) authored a similar letter that secured 20 additional signatories.

The day before the Hill visits, the students met informally with several federal agency scientists who gave their perspective as scientists working in policy. Federal entities represented at the briefing included the United States Geological Survey, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Park Service and the US Forest Service. The participants were also briefed on the federal budget process and protocols regarding meeting with congressional offices on Capitol Hill.

CURRENT POLICY

Considered by House Committee/Subcommittee

On April 3, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs held a hearing on the following bills:

H.R. 69, Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) the bill would authorize new enforcement measures to stop illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

H.R. 2646, the Revitalizing Economy of Fisheries in the (REFI) Pacific Act – Introduced by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), the bill would direct the Secretary  of Commerce to issue a fishing capacity reduction loan to refinance the existing loan funding the Pacific Coast groundfish fishing capacity reduction program.

H.R.___, the Pirate Fishing Elimination Act – the legislation, drafted and yet to be introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), would prevent, deter, and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing through implementation of the Port State Measures Agreement. 

On April 8, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on four bills to amend the Endangered Species Act:

H.R.4315, 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Act – Introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill would require federal agencies to publicly release data used to make decisions to list species for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Current proprietary rights for research currently allow such information to remain private.

H.R. 4316, Endangered Species Recovery Transparency Act – Introduced by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), the bill would require the US Fish and Wildlife Service to report to Congress and make publicly available the total amount of federal expenditures used to respond to Endangered Species Act lawsuits.

H.R. 4317, State, Tribal, and Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act – Introduced by Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), the bill would require the federal government to include data from states and tribes in its consideration of the “best available scientific and commercial data” for Endangered Species Act listings.

H.R. 4318, Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act – Introduced March 27 by Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI), the bill would place a $125 per hour cap on federal agency reimbursement for attorney fees for endangered species litigation.

Passed House

H.R. 2413, the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act – Introduced by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), the bill would redirect National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration resources towards advances in resources that improve forecasting for extreme weather events. The original bill received criticism from committee Democrats for shifting resources from climate research. However, language changes in the bill would grant the agency more flexibility in how it allocates its resources. This helped secure cosponsorship from a number of Democrats, including House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). The bill passed the House by voice vote on April 1 and has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Signed by President

Green Mountain Lookout Heritage Protection Act (P.L. 113-99) – Introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the law designates lands in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie and Wenatchee National Forests in the state of Washington as part of the Glacier Peak Wilderness to help preserve the operation and maintenance of Green Mountain Lookout, a popular recreational and tourism destination. The president signed the measure April 15. 


Sources: Department of Energy, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Natural Resources Committee, House Space, Science and Technology Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the White House

 

March 28, 2014

In This Issue

BUDGET: CJS SUBCOMMITTEE HEARING DRAWS BIPARTISAN SUPPORT FOR NSF RESEARCH


On March 27, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce Justice and Science and Related Agencies (CJS) held a hearing examining the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 budget request. The hearing is among the last duties of Cora Marrett attending in her current capacity as acting director of NSF before she hands the reins over to the new NSF Director France Cordova, confirmed by the Senate on March 12.

“The subcommittee is a big supporter of basic research, both [Ranking Member Chaka Fattah (D-PA)] and myself, which enables innovative discoveries that boost our economy, improve our national security and answer fundamental questions about the world,” said CJS Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA). “As a result, we have worked hard to ensure NSF receives adequate support even in times of fiscal restraint. In fact, with the exception of Fiscal Year 2013, when sequestration unfortunately produced across the board reductions, we have increased NSF’s research budget every year for the past decade.”

Chairman Wolf expressed concern, however, over NSF’s main research account, which would decrease under the president’s budget and for the consequences of such a decrease on areas such as advanced manufacturing cyber-security and cyber-infrastructure. Acting Director Marrett shared Wolf’s concern while noting the current fiscal restraints that the administration is operating under in view of existing overall discretionary spending limits set by the Murray-Ryan budget agreement for FY 2014-2015. Marrett expressed interest in working with Chairman Wolf and Ranking Member Fattah to address any perceived shortcomings in the existing budget request.

The subcommittee hearing included praise of Chairman Wolf from Ranking Member Fattah and Acting NSF Director Marrett for his steadfast support for NSF. Chairman Wolf will retire at the end of 2014.

View the full committee hearing here.

BUDGET: SCIENCE COMMITTEE HEARING PROMPTS DISCUSSION OVER NSF TRANSPARENCY

A March 26 House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on the president’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal included discussion over research grants funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and whether there is presently adequate accountability and transparency at the agency.

House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) questioned Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director John Holdren about NSF grants funding a “climate change musical,” and   studies of fishing practices around Lake Victoria in Africa, the ecological consequences of early human-set fires, and causes of stress in Bolivia, among others.

“All government employees and their agency heads need to remember they are accountable to the American taxpayer who pays their salary and funds their projects,” said Chairman Smith. “It is not the government’s money; it’s the people’s money.” Chairman Smith also criticized the president’s budget for “spending too much money, time and effort on alarmist predictions on climate change.”

The committee recently approved H.R. 4186, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act, which would require NSF to describe why grants they fund are in the national interest. The Ecological Society of America has joined with the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) in expressing concern with these provisions of the FIRST Act as well as its overall authorization funding levels in the bill.

In response to Chairman Smith’s questions on individual NSF grants, OSTP Director Holdren contended that NSF has issued new guidelines to promote transparency and emphasize the relevance of grants funded. Holdren added that justifications for individual grants are currently posted online, though Chairman Smith seemed to believe what is presently online is not satisfactory.

Space Subcommittee Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-MD) said that committee members should look beyond grant titles to get a better sense of their relevancy.

“For example, some members have questioned grants studying stress in Bolivia. Well, if someone looked into the research and not just the title, what they would find is that this study was investigating a relatively isolated group of people who are remarkably resilient,” said Edwards.

“Understanding a group like that and comparing it to the US population, which is less resilient in some cases, could be helpful to understand the link between behavioral and social factors and diseases like cardiovascular disease that we are seeing in the US population,” Edwards continued. “Other grants that have been mentioned are similar and once you look into the research, you actually read, you understand its importance.”

View the full committee hearing here. View the CNSF letter here.

EPA: NEW RULE WOULD CLARIFY FEDERAL JURISDICTION OVER US WATERWAYS

On March 25, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Army Corps of Engineers jointly released a new proposed rule to clarify Clean Water Act (P.L. 92-500) jurisdiction over streams, rivers, tributaries and wetlands.

Federal jurisdiction over management of these waterways in recent years has been somewhat murky following Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006 (Rapanos v. United States), which called into question whether all national waters constituted “navigable waters” under jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. The rule effectively clarifies that nearly all waterways fall under the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction. Geographically isolated wetlands would require a regulator to decide on a case-by-case basis whether the water body significantly affects the surrounding ecosystem.

“We are clarifying protection for the upstream waters that are absolutely vital to downstream communities,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in an agency press release. “Clean water is essential to every single American, from families who rely on safe places to swim and healthy fish to eat, to farmers who need abundant and reliable sources of water to grow their crops, to hunters and fishermen who depend on healthy waters for recreation and their work, and to businesses that need a steady supply of water for operations.”

The reaction to the proposed rule on Capitol Hill, as with most EPA regulations, was decidedly partisan. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) praised the proposed rule.

“I am so pleased that the EPA and Army Corps are taking important steps to provide certainty and clarity to ensure that our wetlands and streams are protected,” said Chairwoman Boxer. “Communities and businesses depend on a safe water supply, and the proposed rule will provide the consistency and predictability that is needed to safeguard the nation’s water resources.”

“The ‘waters of the US’ rule may be one of the most significant private property grabs in US history,” said EPW Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA). “Today’s rule also shows EPA picking and choosing the science they use. Peer review of the agency’s connectivity report is far from complete, and yet they want to take another step toward outright permitting authority over virtually any wet area in the country, while at the same time providing a new tool for environmental groups to sue private property owners.”

The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 90 days from publication in a forthcoming edition of the Federal Register. For additional information, click here.:

CLIMATE CHANGE: WHITE HOUSE LAUNCHES NEW CLIMATE DATA WEBSITE

On March 19, the White House officially launched its new Climate Data Initiative website to help local communities plan for the impacts of climate change.

The website (http://www.data.gov/climate/) allows the public to access National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Aeronautics Space Administration, the US Geological Survey (USGS), the US Department of Defense (DoD), the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other federal agency data collected on climate change projections. The pilot phase will focus on rising sea levels and coastal flooding. Additional climate change related impacts will be added to the website as it is further developed.

The data includes post-Superstorm Sandy maps that outline how the New York and New Jersey area floodplain will change under different scenarios of sea-level rise. USGS, DoD and DHS have worked with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to release publically new maps outlining how climate change could affect existing infrastructure, including bridges, roads, railroad tunnels, canals and river gauges.

The initiative is a component of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan, a larger comprehensive series of executive branch actions to help address climate change. Additional information on the White House Climate Action Plan is available here.

CLIMATE CHANGE: NEW INITIATIVE SEEKS TO ENGAGE BLACK YOUTH

Two members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) have joined in a new effort to get young African-Americans engaged in the issue of climate change.

The CBC Members involved in the effort are Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Andre Carson (D-IN). The goal of the organizers is to help educate African-American youth on how black communities in urban communities are disproportionately exposed to air and water pollution and its health consequences. The organizers also state that these communities are more vulnerable to natural disasters.

The effort constitutes a six-college tour that began on March 27 at Hampton University in Virginia and continues on to Central State University (OH), Wayne State University (MI), Howard University (DC), North Carolina A&T University, and Clark Atlanta University (GA). The tour is spearheaded by the Hip Hop Caucus, a national civil rights organization that seeks to engage young people ages 14-40 on social issues in policy.

The next event will occur April 2 at Central State University. US Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy is scheduled to speak at the Clark Atlanta University event April 24.

For more information, click here.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: LESSER PRARIE CHICKEN GARNERS ‘THREATENED’ LISTING

On March 27, the US Fish and Wildlife Service listed the lesser prairie chicken as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

“The lesser prairie-chicken is in dire straits,” said US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe in a press statement. “Our determination that it warrants listing as a threatened species with a special rule acknowledges the unprecedented partnership efforts and leadership of the five range states for management of the species. Working through the [Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies] range-wide conservation plan, the states remain in the driver’s seat for managing the species – more than has ever been done before – and participating landowners and developers are not impacted with additional regulatory requirements.”

The listing will apply to the states of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, where the species has suffered significant habitat decline. The listing was accompanied by a special FWS rule that will exempt individuals and businesses from limitations on energy development, utility maintenance and other activities that can be affected by a threatened listing.

Additional information on the listing is available here.

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R.4315, 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Act – Introduced March 27 by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill would require federal agencies to publicly release data used to make decisions to list species for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Current proprietary rights for research currently allow such information to remain private. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

H.R. 4316, Endangered Species Recovery Transparency Act – Introduced March 27 by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), the bill would require the US Fish and Wildlife Service to report to Congress and make publicly available the total amount of federal expenditures used to respond to Endangered Species Act lawsuits. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

H.R. 4317, State, Tribal, and Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act – Introduced March 27 by Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), the bill would require the federal government to include data from states and tribes in its consideration of the “best available scientific and commercial data” for Endangered Species Act listings. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

H.R. 4318, Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act – Introduced March 27 by Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI), the bill would place a $125 per hour cap on federal agency reimbursement for attorney fees for endangered species litigation. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. 

Passed House

H.R. 2824, the Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America Act – Introduced by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH), the bill would prevent the Office of Surface Mining from implementing a rule that intends to protect waterways from coal mining. The bill passed the House March 25 by a vote of 229-192 with 10 Democrats joining all but seven Republicans in supporting the measure.

The White House statement of administration policy opposing H.R. 2824 is available here.

H.R. 1459, the Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act – Introduced by House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), the bill would require the White House to conduct a National Environmental Policy Act review for landscapes larger than 5,000 acres before they could be designated a national monument. The bill would limit presidential national monument designations to one per state over the course of one four year term. The bill passed the House March 26 by a vote of 222-201 with three Democrats joining all but 10 Republicans in support of the bill.

Introduced in Senate

S. 2181, the Tsunami Warning and Education Reauthorization Act of 2014 – Introduced March 27 by Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK), the bill would authorize and strengthen the tsunami detection, forecast, warning, research, and mitigation program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The bill has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

S. 2156, the Regulatory Fairness Act – Introduced March 25 by Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the bill would place restrictions on the capability of the US Environmental Protection Agency to unilaterally veto Clean Water Act permits. 


Sources: Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Appropriations Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House

March 14, 2014

In This Issue

BUDGET: SCIENCE INVESTMENT MIXED BAG IN PRESIDENT’S FY 2015 PROPOSAL

On March 4, the president released his annual proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2015. The budget proposal functions as a wish list of what the administration will seek to prioritize in federal policy in the coming year. However, Congress, holding the “power of the purse,” generally has the final say on how these priorities are funded.

Overall, the president’s budget would dedicate $135.4 billion for federal R&D, a 1.2 percent increase over 2014. According to the Office of Science and Technology Policy, this falls short of the 1.7 increase in inflation expected from 2014-2015. The lackluster funding is an attempt by the administration to accommodate the budget caps set forth in the recent budget deal by Senate and House Budget Committee Chairs Patty Murray (D-WA) and Paul Ryan (R-WI).

The multi-agency Global Change Research Program would be funded at $2.501 billion in FY 2015, a 0.5 percent increase from $2.489 billion in FY 2014. Agencies that participate in the program include the National Science Foundation (NSF), the US Department of Energy (DOE), the US Geological Survey (USGS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education federal investments would increase by 3.7 percent, to $2.9 billion, compared to FY 2014. During a budget briefing earlier this month, Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren was asked how the administration’s STEM program consolidation proposal, and how the version in this year’s budget request differed from last year’s. The original proposal, which sought to consolidate STEM programs under the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution, met with bipartisan skepticism among education advocates and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Holdren contended that the FY2015 consolidation proposal is more modest because it no longer transfers funds across agencies and the consolidations occur within federal agencies.

The administration does seek to shore up some of these shortfalls in research investment through additional research funding for federal agencies included in its proposed $56 billion Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative. The fact that the extra $56 billion breaches the $1.014 spending ceiling agreed to in the Murray-Ryan budget deal makes it unlikely to gain traction on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, however, have expressed that they will likely stick to the budget ceilings outlined in the Murray-Ryan budget deal.

The Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative includes $1 billion for a new Climate Resilience Fund, which will focus on helping states and localities with adaptation plans to deal with floods, droughts wildfires and other extreme weather events or natural disasters that could be exacerbated by climate change. Like the funding for the Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative, funding for the Climate Resilience Fund would be dispersed across several agencies that work to address the impacts of climate change.

Research advocates disappointed with the administration’s proposed budget numbers for specific agencies may cite the added research funding for agencies included in the $56 billion initiative as they call for increases above the White House’s numbers.  “I am disappointed to see flat or even decreased funding in a number of key areas of the federal government’s R&D budget,” said House, Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) in a committee press statement, citing the $100 million proposed cut to NASA’s current $17.6 billion FY 2014 budget. 

“To provide for additional investments, the president included a proposal to Congress titled, Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative. I support the goal of increasing our investments in R&D and STEM education and I hope to work with the president and my colleagues to further clean energy technologies and grid modernization, as well as advanced manufacturing initiatives and research on the impacts of climate change,” Johnson continued.

NSF

NSF would receive $7.25 billion, a 1.2 percent increase over FY 2014. NSF research and related activities would be funded at $5.72, a $2 million decrease from FY 2014. The $7.25 billion request number marks the lowest request for NSF in the president’s budget since FY 2010 when the White House requested $7.045 for the agency.

The Directorate of Biological Sciences would receive $708.5 million in FY 2015, a $12.75 million (1.8 percent) cut compared to FY 2014. The Directorate for Social and Behavioral Sciences would receive $272.2 million, a $15.35 million (six percent) increase over FY 2014. The Directorate for Geosciences would receive $1.3 billion, a $1.36 million (0.1 percent) increase over FY 2014.

The Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability program would receive $139 million in FY 2015, a $14.1 percent cut. The National Ecological Observatory Network would receive $96 million, a $2.8 million increase over FY 2014. The US Arctic Research Commission would receive $1.41 million, an $110,000 (eight percent) increase over FY 2014. Research at the Interface of the Biological, Mathematical and Physical Sciences (BioMAPS) would receive $14.31 million, level with FY 2014.

http://www.nsf.gov/about/budget/fy2015/index.jsp

DOE

DOE would receive $27.9 billion in FY 2015, a $2.6 percent increase over FY 2014.

Total DOE funding for FY 2015 would include:

DOE Office of Science: $5.1 billion, a 44.8 (0.9 percent) increase.

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy: $2.3 billion, a $408 million (21.4 percent) increase.

Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy: $325,000, a $45,000 (16 percent) increase.

Biological and Environmental Research: $628 million, an $18.3 million (6 percent) increase.
Weatherization Assistance Program: $227.6 million, a $53.7 (30.9 percent) million increase.

http://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2014/03/f8/15Highlights.pdf

NOAA

NOAA would receive a budget of $5.5 billion in FY 2015, an increase of $174 million over FY 2014.

Total NOAA funding for FY 2015 would include:

National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service: $2.2 billion a $164.8 million increase.

National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS): $ $887.2 million, a $65.7 million decrease due in part to a $75.0 million decrease for one-time fisheries disaster funding.
National Ocean Service (NOS): $496.2 million, a $20.6 million increase.

National Weather Service: $1.06 billion, a $3.9 million decrease. 
The Office of Oceanic & Atmospheric Research (OAR):  $462.2 million, a $35.4 million increase.

http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2014/20140313_budget_statement.html

USDA

USDA would receive $23 billion in discretionary spending for FY 2015, roughly $1 billion below FY 2014. The budget proposes to shift 30 percent of wildfire suppression funding to an off-budget emergency account to prevent the US Forest Service from borrowing funds from other agency accounts to address wildfire outbreaks, which have annually increased in cost over the past decade.

Total USDA funding for FY 2015 would include:

Agricultural Research Service: $1.136 billion, an $18 million decrease.
National Institute of Food and Agriculture: $1.341 billion, a $59 million increase.
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: $837 million, an $8 million decrease.
US Forest Service: $4.771 billion, a $725 million decrease.
Natural Resources Conservation Service: $815 million, a $14 million decrease.

http://www.obpa.usda.gov/budsum/FY15budsum.pdf

USGS

USGS would receive $1.1 billion in FY 2015, a $41.3 million increase over FY 2014.

Total USGS funding for FY 2015 would include:

Ecosystems: $162 million, a $9.2 million increase.

WaterSMART: $14.5 million, a $6.4 million increase.

Climate and Land Use Change: $149 million, a $17.1 million increase.

Core Science Systems: $109.4 million, a $593,000 increase.

Energy, Minerals and Environmental Health: $99 million, a $7.56 million increase.

Natural Hazards: $128.3 million, a $147 decrease.

http://www.doi.gov/budget/appropriations/2015/highlights/upload/BH051.pdf

INTERIOR: FY 2015 BUDGET GIVES CONSERVATION INITIATIVES FUNDING BOOST

The president’s proposed budget would provide the US Department of Interior with $11.9 billion in Fiscal Year 2015, a 2.4 percent increase over enacted FY 2014 funding for the agency. Agency research and development would be funded at $889 billion, a seven percent increase over FY 2014.

The president’s budget would annually fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million beginning in FY 2015. Interior youth programs directed towards employment and volunteerism would receive $50.6 million in FY 2015, a 37 percent increase over FY 2014. The budget includes $66.5 million for WaterSMART programs, an almost 17 percent increase to fund agency water conservation initiatives.

Additional funding for bureaus and programs under Interior’s jurisdiction include:

America’s Great Outdoors: $5.1 billion, a $127.1 million increase.

Bureau of Indian Affairs: $2.6 billion, a $33.6 million increase.

Bureau of Land Management: $1.1 billion, a $5 million decrease.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management:  $169.8 million, a $2.9 million increase.

Bureau of Reclamation: $1.1 billion, a $116.8 million decrease.

Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement: $204.6 million, a $2 million increase.

US Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.5 billion, a $48.8 million increase.

US Geological Survey: $1.1 billion, a $41.3 million increase.

National Park Service: $2.6 billion, a $55.1 million increase.

Additional details on the Dept. of Interior FY 2015 budget proposal are available here:

EPA: AGENCY FALLS VICTIM TO MORE CUTS IN FY 2015 BUDGET

Across the board, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would see a number of environmental restoration efforts cut in the president’s budget. The president’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 budget proposal would provide EPA with $7.89 billion, a decrease of $309.9 million (or a 3.7 percent cut) from FY 2014. This marks the fifth straight year the administration has proposed funding cuts for the agency.

EPA’s Clean Air and Global Change program would receive $260 million for federal efforts to enforce greenhouse gas and other air quality regulations, down from $272 million in FY 2014. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative would receive $275 million, a $25 million cut from FY 2014. The Gulf of Mexico program would receive $3.8 million, a 15 percent cut.

The budget would fund the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund at a combined total of $1.775 billion, a $581 million cut from FY 2014. The remaining funding would target wastewater and drinking water investment towards small or underserved communities. Brownfields projects would receive $85 million in FY 2015, a $5 million cut from FY 2014.

The budget does include a few bright spots. Science and technology programs at EPA would be funded at $763.8 million, a $4.6 million increase over FY 2014. Climate and air quality programs at the agency would receive $474, a $19 million increase. In the wake of the recent spill in West Virginia, the Chemical Safety Board would receive $12 million in FY 2015, a $1 million increase. The Chesapeake Bay program would increase by $3 million to $73 million in the FY 2015 budget proposal.

Additional information on the FY 2015 EPA budget is available here.

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS EPA CARBON CAPTURE PROPOSAL

 

On March 12, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittees on Energy and Environment convened for a hearing on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed carbon capture and storage (CCS) systems. The hearing reignited the partisan divide over the agency’s authority to enforce regulations to reduce carbon emissions.

“My colleagues and I received testimony from a variety of professionals in the energy field  on the EPA’s [New Source Performance Standards] proposal, which revealed an immature mandate request for utility companies, based on flimsy scientific data, and oversight without legitimate, existing infrastructure for our energy production,” asserted Environment Subcommittee Chairman David Schweikert (R-AZ).  “Until these technologies are proven to be commercially available for our utilities companies without risks of harm to the storage location of carbon dioxide, our cities’ power suppliers will be left with very little options for compliance and freedom to grow their businesses.”

Subcommittee Democrats asserted that the rules, which only apply to new power plants, will help counter the effects of climate change and that the regulations will help promote technological development in the private sector and protect public health. “The proposed EPA rule will create a market incentive for the continued development and promotion of carbon capture and storage, or CCS, technologies,” asserted Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR). “The advancement of CCS technologies is essential if new coal power plants are to operate in the low carbon future we must achieve.”

Testifying on behalf of the administration was Acting Administrator for EPA Office of Air and Radiation Janet McCabe. In her opening statement, she asserted that EPA’s proposed standards are “based on an evaluation of the technology that is available to limit carbon pollution emissions at new power plants” and that “EPA determined that the best system of emission reduction for new coal units is a new efficient unit implementing partial carbon capture and storage.”

View the full hearing here.

HOUSE: SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES OPPOSE RESEARCH REAUTHORIZATION BILL

On Mar. 13, the House, Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology marked-up and approved H.R. 4186, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act. The bill would reauthorizes spending levels and set priorities for the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The FIRST Act is one of several bills that would reauthorize the 2007 AMERICA COMPETES Act, last reauthorized in 2010. Unlike past reauthorizations, the current House bill was drafted predominantly with input from the majority party, raising the partisan ire of Democrats who concurred with many of the concerns expressed by the scientific research community.

Under the bill, NSF funding would increase 1.5 percent between Fiscal Year 2014 and 2015, below the expected 1.7 percent rate of inflation during that period. Committee Democrats have introduced an alternative measure to the FIRST Act (H.R. 4159) that would increase funding for NSF and other federal science entities by five percent.

The FIRST Act has raised concern among the scientific community for the low levels its sets for NSF and other federal science priorities. The week of the mark-up, 75 scientific societies and institutions, including the Ecological Society of America, co-signed a letter drafted through the Coalition for National Science Funding voicing their concern with the measure.

“H.R. 4186 provides low authorization levels for the National Science Foundation, forcing trade-offs that undercut important advances in science, and decimates the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate by authorizing funding at significantly low and unwarranted levels,” notes the letter. “The basic science discoveries in the social and behavioral sciences are critical to addressing national needs and are worthy of tax-payer support.”

Full committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) also expressed concern with the targeted cuts to the social sciences. “This bill would essentially lock the agencies into their current funding levels for an additional year and sets no path for increases in the future as our economy continues to recover,” said Johnson.  “I am also adamantly opposed to the sharp budget cuts for the social sciences and the geosciences.  There is no legitimate scientific reason for these cuts. These are politically motivated cuts to appease a conservative ideology that doesn’t believe in certain kinds of science, and I cannot support them.”

Research and Technology Subcommittee Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) warned of research stagnation. “Given the investments made by other nations, we cannot afford to be satisfied with the level of funding for the sciences in this country,” said Lipinski. “To rest on our laurels or to allow funding levels to stagnate too long will allow other nations to catch and surpass the US as the preeminent nation for scientific research.”

The subcommittee did adopt several amendments from Democrats. An amendment from Ranking Member Lipinski increased social science funding by $50 million and several amendments from Rep. Christian Kilmer (D-WA) to promote participation from women and minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

View the CNSF letter here.

View the full mark-up here.

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 4159, the America COMPETES Reauthorization of 2014 – Introduced by House Science Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), the bill would reauthorize federal scientific research agencies and initiatives first authorized through the America COMPETES Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-69). The original bill, aimed at increasing US federal investment in scientific research and improving the nation’s global competitiveness, was last reauthorized in 2010.

H.R. 4159 authorizes five percent year over year increases in funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The bill also seeks to increase participation among women and minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education and in STEM-related fields of work. The bill would reauthorize these programs through FY 2018.

Additional information on the bill is available here.

Approved by House Committee/Subcommittee

On March 13, the House Agriculture Committee approved the following bill:

H.R. 935, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), the bill would prohibit the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from requiring pesticide users needing a permit under the Clean Water Act to spray pesticides over navigable waters. Pesticide users contend permit requirements are covered through the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. The bill was unanimously approved by voice vote.

On March 13, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology approved the following bill:

H.R. 4186, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act – Introduced by House, Science, Space and Technology Research and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Larry Buschon (R-IN), the bill would reauthorizes spending levels and set priorities for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) through FY 2016. The bill increases NSF funding by 1.5 percent and NIST by one percent.

Several Democratic amendments were adopted, including language to boost funding for social sciences and improve participation in STEM programs among underrepresented groups. The committee approved the bill by voice vote.

Passed House

H.R. 2197, the York River Wild and Scenic River Study Act of 2014 – Introduced by Rep. Chellie Pingree (R-NY), the bill would designate parts of the York River and its tributaries for study to potentially be added to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The bill passed the House March 4 by voice vote.

H.R. 2259, the Northfolk Watershed Protection Act of 2014 – Introduced by Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT), the bill prohibits mining claims and oil and gas development in Montana’s North Fork Watershed. The bill passed the House March 4 by voice vote.

H.R. 2126, the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act – Introduced by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), the bill would establish a voluntary Tenant Star program to encourage energy efficiency in leased buildings. The bill includes provisions and standards to establish various energy efficiency standards for federal and commercial buildings. The bill passed the House March 5 by a vote of 375-36.

H.R. 2641, the Responsibly And Professionally Invigorating Development Act - Introduced by Tom Marino (R-PA), the bill would mandate a four and a half year deadline to complete the National Environmental Policy Act review process, including an 18-month maximum for the environmental assessment and a 36 month maximum for an environmental impact statement. It would also place a 180 day limit on for challenging an agency’s environmental review. The bill passed Mar. 6 by a vote of 229-179 with 12 Democrats joining all Republicans in supporting the measure.

The White House Statement of Administration Policy opposing H.R. 2641 is available here.

H.R. 3826, the Electricity Security and Affordability Act – Introduced by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), the bill would prohibit EPA from implementing greenhouse gas emission standards for new fossil fuel-fired power plants unless separate such emission standards were also established for coal and natural gas plants. It would also prohibit EPA from requiring pollution standards on new coal plants unless such requirements have already been broadly adopted and are being achieved independently by at least six US power plants for 12 continuous months. The bill passed the House March 6 by a vote of 229-183 with 10 Democrats joining all but three Republicans in supporting the measure.

The White House Statement of Administration Policy opposing H.R. 3826 is available here.

H.R. 311, the Farmers Undertake Environmental Land Stewardship Act – Introduced by Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR), the bill would certain exempt farmers from EPA’s Spill, Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Rule requiring farmers to have a spill prevention plan certified by a professional engineer. The bill would allow farmers who store less than 20,000 gallons to self-certify their own spill prevention plans. The bill passed the House March 11 by voice vote.

H.R. 3189, the Water Rights Protection Act – Introduced by Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO), the bill would prohibit the Departments of Agriculture and Interior from conditioning water use in the permitting process for land use permits. The bill passed the House March 13 by a vote of 238-174 with 12 Democrats joining all Republicans in supporting the measure.

The White House Statement of Administration Policy opposing H.R. 3189 is available here.

Signed into law

S. 23, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act – Introduced by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), the law designates about 30,000 acres within Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as federally protected wilderness. The president signed the bill into law March 13.


Sources: American Association for the Advancement of Science, ClimateWire, Department of Agriculture, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Committee, the Hill, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, the White House   

February 28, 2014

In This Issue

WHITE HOUSE: OBAMA PROPOSES CLIMATE FUND AMONG ACTIONS TO ADDRESS DROUGHT

On Feb. 14, President Obama spoke in Fresno, CA regarding his plans to assist California amid its drought crisis. The president took the opportunity to relate climate change to the incident and discuss his latest proposal to address the issue.

“Scientists will debate whether a particular storm or drought reflects patterns of climate change,” said President Obama. “But one thing that is undeniable is that changing temperatures influence drought in at least three ways:  Number one, more rain falls in extreme downpours — so more water is lost to runoff than captured for use.  Number two, more precipitation in the mountains falls as rain rather than snow — so rivers run dry earlier in the year.  Number three, soil and reservoirs lose more water to evaporation year-round. What does all this mean?  Unless and until we do more to combat carbon pollution that causes climate change, this trend is going to get worse.”

The president’s upcoming budget will include a $1 billion climate resiliency fund for technology “to help communities prepare for a changing climate, set up incentives to build smarter, more resilient infrastructure,” said President Obama. The resilience fund would need to be approved by Congress to take effect.

The president announced immediate steps his administration is taking to address the drought. “First, we’re accelerating $100 million of funds from the farm bill that I signed last week to help ranchers,” said President Obama. “For example, if their fields have dried up, this is going to help them feed their livestock.”

The Obama administration has also dedicated $15 million, made available through USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, to hard-hit communities in California and other states coping with extreme drought. The president has also directed federal facilities in California to “take immediate steps” to conserve water. The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) has made $60 million available through The Emergency Food Assistance Program to food banks in the State of California to help families that may be economically impacted by the drought. 

The US Drought monitor reported this week that nearly three-quarters of the state of California was experiencing either extreme or exceptional drought, the latter being the worst condition. The percentage of the state under exceptional drought increased from 14.6 last week to 26.2 percent this week.

Additional information on the Obama administration’s drought response plan is available here.

SUPREME COURT: JUSTICES WEIGH EPA GREENHOUSE GAS REGULATORY POWER

This week, the US Supreme Court considered a case that may determine the scope of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulatory power over greenhouse gas emissions.

In Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, a coalition of state attorneys general and industry groups challenge EPA’s permitting process for industry “stationary sources,” including coal-fired power plants, chemical facilities and oil refineries. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is allowed to review permits to determine if necessary technologies that would help limit pollution are being used in the construction and powering of plants. Justices will determine if EPA’s existing authority includes setting permit requirements for stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases. 

In effect, a ruling in favor of industry will be narrow in scope in that it will not adversely curb EPA’s overall efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The ruling could, however, cause EPA to alter how it issues certain construction and operating permits for polluters as well as reexamine its regulatory proposals for facilities that emit greenhouse gases. Politically, it would also reinforce the sentiments of industry advocates in Congress who assert that the Obama administration’s EPA is overreaching in its efforts to address climate change.

The last major case dealing with greenhouse gas emissions, Massachusetts v. EPA (2007), dealt with motor vehicles. In that case, the court affirmed that such emissions could be regulated by EPA under the Clean Air Act.

Based on where the justices have seemed to position themselves ideologically during oral arguments, the decision is expected to be ruled by a 5-4 vote with Justice Kennedy potentially being the deciding vote.

Details of the case and a transcript of the oral argument are available at SCOTUS blog.

SENATE: SUBCOMMITTEE CONSIDERS ECONOMIC EFFECTS OF EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS

On Feb. 25, the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Oversight held a hearing entitled “Natural Resource Adaptation: Protecting Ecosystems and Economies.” The hearing was called by Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

In his opening testimony, Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren asserted that there were 11 weather events in 2012 that cost the US over $1 billion. Holdren noted that the cost of Hurricane Sandy was $65 billion and damages from drought totaled $30 billion in 2012.

“Scientifically, one cannot say that any single episode of extreme weather―no storm, no flood, no drought―was caused by climate change; but the global climate has been so extensively impacted by the human-caused buildup of greenhouse gases that many such events are being influenced by climate change,” said Holdren.

Republicans on the subcommittee took the opportunity to question agency officials on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulatory efforts to address climate change and promote clean energy sources, and how these efforts might impact wildlife. Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA) inquired whether clean energy sources that take up more land have more of an impact on endangered species. Subcommittee Chairman Whitehouse noted that FWS data suggests that wind power has a minimal impact on wildlife in comparison to buildings, pesticides, feral cats, habitat loss and hunting. 

Subsequent witnesses highlighted the impact extreme weather has had on wildlife areas. Doug Houghton, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association noted that Hurricane Sandy caused $64 million in damage to 35 wildlife refuges on the East Coast of the United States. Houhgton stated that for every dollar Congress provides to the Refuge System, $4.87 on average is returned to the local communities.

The hearing was the first attended by new committee member Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) who filled a vacant seat on the committee left by former Sen. Max Baucus, recently appointed by President Obama to serve as the US Ambassador to China. Sen. Markey took the opportunity to express his support for climate change resilient infrastructure as well as investment in solar and other clean energy initiatives.

Markey is also a member of Sen. Whitehouse’s Senate Climate Action Task Force, a group of 18 Senators working on initiatives to address climate change. The task force was formed by Whitehouse in Jan. 2014.

View the full hearing here.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: EFFORTS TO CURB WILDLIFE TRAFFICKING GARNER BIPARTISAN SUPPORT

On Weds. Feb. 26, the House Foreign Affairs Committee convened for a hearing entitled “International Wildlife Trafficking Threats to Conservation and National Security.” The hearing garnered bipartisan concern among lawmakers on the need to protect endangered species from poaching and smuggling.

“Future generations will judge our response to this crisis. If we want a world still blessed with these magnificent species, we need creative and aggressive action, working with source, transit,      and market countries to confront this challenge,” stated Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) in his opening remarks.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) emphasized the importance of this issue to national security, stating that terrorists are using wildlife trafficking to fund their activities.

House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations Ranking Member Karen Bass (D-CA) noted “international wildlife trafficking is not only a security and conservation issue, but it also undermines the stability and development of many African nations. Throughout the continent, recent spikes in poaching [have] caused instability by providing funds for illicit activities, spreading violence and hurting the nation’s ability to develop indigenousness and local sources of revenue through wildlife tourism.”

Witnesses included US State Department Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Assistant Secretary Kerri-Ann Jones, US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, US Department of Justice Environmental and Natural Resources Division Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert Dreher. The three cited the administration’s “National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking,” announced earlier this month.

Advances in weaponry and technology have increased poaching capability. Witnesses expressed a desire for more funding and enforcement mechanisms to penalize wildlife traffickers.

“Strong enforcement in the United States is not enough however. As the national strategy recognizes, wildlife trafficking is a global problem that requires a global solution,” noted Dreher. “For that reason, the Department of Justice has for many years worked closely with other federal agencies to help foreign governments build their capacity to develop and enforce their own wildlife trafficking laws.” Chairman Royce expressed receptiveness to working with the administration on legislation to advance these efforts.

For additional information on the Obama administration’s wildlife trafficking strategy, click here. To view the full hearing, click here.

 

HOUSE: SENIOR LAWMAKERS DINGELL, HOLT LATEST TO JOIN 2014 RETIREMENT WAVE

Over these past several weeks, two longtime advocates for federal investment in science and environmental protection announced their retirement.

On Feb. 24, Rep. John Dingell, who holds the record for longest serving Member of Congress, announced he would not be pursuing a record 30th term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Dingell was first elected in a 1955 special election to serve out the remainder of his father’s term, John Dingell Sr. (D-MI).

As a long-term environmental advocate and member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Dingell had a hand in helping pass a number of landmark bills including the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Wilderness Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Dingell chaired the Energy and Commerce Committee through the most of recent decades in which Democrats controlled the House, ousted shortly after the Nov. 2008 election by Rep. Henry Waxman, also retiring this year.

On Feb. 18, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), announced that he would not be pursuing a ninth term in Congress. Rep. Holt, a Ph.D. physicist, has been a strong advocate for science. He currently serves as co-chair of the Congressional Research and Development Caucus along with Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), also retiring this year. He also co-chairs the Historic Preservation Caucus, the Biomedical Research Caucus and serves as Vice Chair of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition. He was a reliable attendee at most congressional functions related to science, including the Coalition for National Science Funding Exhibition, which the Ecological Society of America has often participated in.

Rep. Holt served as Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. During his time on the committee, he was active in investing offshore energy development and hydraulic fracturing issues seeking ensure impacts on ecosystems and wildlife are taken into account in the promulgation of such initiatives.

 

KEYSTONE PIPELINE: INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT CLEARS STATE DEPT OF CONFLICT OF INTEREST

A recent report from the US State Department’s independent Office of Inspector General (OIG) concluded that the agency fully adhered to its conflict of interest standards in choosing a contractor to develop the finalized environmental review of Keystone XL pipeline.  

“Based on the information provided and interviews conducted, OIG found that the process the Department used to select [Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM)] to help prepare the Keystone XL SEIS substantially followed its prescribed guidance and at times was more rigorous than that guidance,” the report concluded. “The Department’s published guidance provides a general outline for the contractor selection process, and Department personnel managing the process drew on their previous experience to implement the process.”

The OIG did find that the State Department process could improve its public discloser and include more documentation to minimize potential misperceptions.

“The Department’s partial disclosure apparently created misperceptions that ERM had not provided all required information to the Department and that ERM and the Department were attempting to conceal conflicts of interest,” the report stated. “Those misperceptions might have been avoided had the Department explained its partial disclosure as part of a more comprehensive approach to disclosing information regarding its conflict of interest review.”

While pipeline proponents used the opportunity to once again call on the president to approve the pipeline, environmental advocates and some congressional Democrats asserted that the inspector general report was too narrow in scope, criticizing the State Department’s overall process as flawed. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) has sent a letter requesting the Government Accountability Office to review the State Department’s contractor selection process. In December last year, Rep. Grijalva spearheaded a letter to President Obama signed by 24 House Democrats that expressed conflict of interest concerns with the State Department’s environmental review.

The inspector general report is available here. The Rep. Grijalva letter is available here.

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: NMFS TO WEIGH PROTECTIONS FOR MARINE MAMMALS

On Feb. 21, the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced it was considering federal protected status for several dolphin and porpoise species in the New Zealand region.

NMFS is considering threatened or endangered listings under the Endangered Species Act for the Hector’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori), the harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), the eastern Taiwan Strait subpopulation of the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis), and the Fiordland subpopulation of the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus).

Public comments must be submitted by April 22, 2014. For additional information, click here.

CURRENT POLICY

Passed House

H.R. 2804, the All Economic Regulations Are Transparent Act – Introduced by Rep. George Holding (R-NC), the bill would require the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs to publicly post information on a rule from a federal agency for six months before it could be allowed to go into effect.

The comprehensive bill also incorporates provisions from several other regulatory bills introduced by House Republicans that would add several dozen procedural requirements to rulemaking processes and require new analyses of a federal agency rule’s indirect economic impact on small businesses and other affected entities. The bill passed the House Feb. 27 by a vote of 236-179 with 10 Democrats joining all Republicans in supporting the measure.

The Democratic-controlled Senate is not expected to act on the bill, which the Obama administration opposes. View the White House statement of administration policy on H.R. 2804 here.

Considered by Senate Committee/Subcommittee

On Feb. 27, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power held a hearing on several water bills:

S. 1419, the Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Act of 2013 – Introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the bill would reauthorize the Department of Energy’s research and development programs related to marine hydrokinetic power through Fiscal Year 2017.

S. 1771, the Crooked River Collaborative Water Security Act of 2013 – Introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the bill would modify the boundary of the Crooked River in Oregon and set requirements for applications for hydropower development at the state’s Bowman Dam.

S. 1800, the Bureau of Reclamation Transparency Act – Introduced by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the bill would require the Bureau of Reclamation to publicly report on its repair needs every other year.

S. 1946, to amend the Reclamation Safety of Dams Act of 1978 to modify the authorization of appropriations – Introduced by Sen. Wyden, the bill would remove spending caps for construction projects that improve the safety of Bureau of Reclamation dams. 

S. 1965, to amend the East Bench Irrigation District Water Contract Extension Act to permit the Secretary of the Interior to extend the contract for certain water services – Introduced by former Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), the bill would permit the secretary of the Interior to extend the East Bench Irrigation Contract contract for certain water services.

S. 2010, the Bureau of Reclamation Conduit Hydropower Development Equity and Jobs Act – Introduced by Sen. John Barasso (R-WY) the bill would ease the process of lease issuance of power privileges for nonfederal hydropower developers to build projects on eleven Bureau of Reclamation managed areas. Companion legislation (H.R. 1963) has been introduced by Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT).

S. 2019, the SECURE Water Amendments Act of 2014 – Introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), the bill would raise the authorization limit for the WaterSMART program. The bill would also make activities related to drought planning and response eligible for its grants and authorize the US Geological Survey to make grants to state water agencies to develop data on water availability and use. The provisions of the bill will collectively help develop a uniform national assessment of water availability and use.

S. 2034, the Reclamation Title Transfer Act of 2014 – Introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), the bill would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to establish a program to facilitate the transfer to non-federal ownership of certain Bureau of Reclamation projects or facilities.

Passed Senate

H.R. 2431, the National Integrated Drought Information System Reauthorization Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), the bill would authorize $13.5 billion for the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) through 2018. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent on Feb. 25. It had passed the House earlier this month by a vote of 365-21. The president is expected to sign the bill into law.


Sources: ClimateWire, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee, the Hill, House Foreign Affairs Committee, the National Journal, National Wildlife Refuge Association, POLITICO, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US News and World Report, the Washington Post, the White House  

February 14, 2014

In this Issue

DEBT CEILING: CONGRESS PASSES BILL EXTENDING DEBT LIMIT TO 2015

 

This week, the House and Senate passed a bill to extend the debt ceiling through March 2015. The bill was passed shortly after the US Department of Treasury announced it had to resort to extraordinary measures to keep the nation from defaulting on its federal debt.

Passage of the clean debt ceiling occurred after several alternative proposals, including one to add legislation approving the Keystone pipeline, could not garner a majority of the Republican conference. Consequently, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), realized he would have to rely on a proposal that could gain backing of a majority of House Democrats. Congressional Democrats were steadfast in echoing the president’s sentiments that any legislation to increase in the debt ceiling be a clean bill free of extraneous measures.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 55-43 with all Republicans voting no. It passed the House with the support of 28 Republicans and opposition from two Democrats (Reps. Jim Matheson (UT) and John Barrow (GA). The 28 Republicans consisted of House Speaker John Boehner (OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA), Ken Calvert, (CA), Dave Camp (MI), Howard Coble (NC), Chris Collins (NY), Charlie Dent (PA), Mike Fitzpatrick (PA),Michael Grimm (NY), Richard Hanna (NY), Doc Hastings (WA), Darrell Issa (CA), Peter King (NY), Frank LoBiondo (NJ), Kevin McCarthy (CA), Buck McKeon (CA), Pat Meehan (PA), Gary Miller (CA), Devin Nunes (CA), Dave Reichert (WA), Harold Rogers (KY), Peter Roskam (IL),Ed Royce (CA), Jon Runyan (NJ), John Shimkus (IL), Chris Smith (NJ), David Valadao (CA) and Frank Wolf (VA).

Between the Murray-Ryan agreement on the budget in Dec. and this recent debt ceiling legislation, Congress is unlikely to have another major fiscal policy debate until early 2015, after the 2014 congressional midterm elections. The current continuing resolution (CR) of appropriations providing funding for federal government agencies runs out Sept. 30. However, during election years, Congress has traditionally passed a short-term CR allowing them to consider a more comprehensive CR during the lame duck session after the elections.

NSF: US GLOBAL LEAD IN SCIENCE INNOVATION INVESTMENT CONTINUES TO FALL

On Feb. 6, the National Science Foundation’s National Science Board (NSB) released a report, which concludes that a select group of foreign countries, including China and South Korea, are now contributing a greater share of their economies to research and development (R&D) investment than in decades past.

Since 2001, the share of the world’s R&D performed by the United States has decreased from 37 percent to 30 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, Asian countries’ share of global R&D has risen from 25 to 34 percent over the same period. China’s share alone spiked from four percent to 15 percent over that decade.

The Great Recession (2008-2009) caused declines in R&D expenditures, attributable to business R&D, the largest share of US R&D. The NSB report notes that the decrease was partially offset by the scientific research funding included in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (P.L. 111-5). According to the report, the US has rebounded better than other developed countries in overall R&D funding. The report also notes that science and technology degree job holders “weathered” the recession better than other sectors of the US workforce.

In examining the US Science and Engineering (S&E) workforce, the NSB report found that between 1960-2011, the number of workers in S&E occupations grew at an average annual rate of 3.3 percent, larger than the 1.5 percent rate of the total US workforce. The report found that 70 percent of scientists and engineers were employed in the business sector, 19 percent in the education sector and 11 percent in government. The report found that workers in S&E occupations have almost always had lower unemployment than workers in other jobs.

The report found that women compromised a higher proportion of occupations in social sciences (58 percent) and life sciences (48 percent) than in engineering (13 percent) and computer and mathematical sciences (25 percent). It also stated that while Hispanics, blacks and Native Americans make up 26 percent of the US adult population (over 21), they account for 10 percent of workers in S&E occupations. Asians, conversely, occupied 19 percent of US S&E occupations compared to their five percent representation among the US population. 

In 2011, the federal government was the primary financial support source for 19 percent of full-time S&E graduate students. Graduate students in the biological sciences, physical sciences and engineering received relatively more federal support than those in computer, math, health, or social sciences.

The report also found that tuition and fees for colleges and universities have grown sharply faster than median household income. Between 1987 and 2010 tuition and fees grew by 143 percent in the most research-intensive public universities while household incomes remain relatively stagnant during the same period. This rise coincided with a sharp 28 percent drop in state and local appropriations, which is a significant source of institution revenue.

View the full report here.

KEYSTONE PIPELINE: ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW REIGNITES PIPELINE DEBATE

The US State Department released its final environmental impact statement over the Keystone pipeline, concluding that it is unlikely to lead to a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The decision brings the debate over whether to approve back to the forefront during an election year where both sides are weighing the political ramifications of policy decisions.

Advocates of the pipeline have used the findings to argue that the Obama administration should hastily approve the Keystone pipeline and can be expected to raise the issue repeatedly as the 2014 congressional midterms get underway. It can be expected that key Republicans in Congress will seek to legislatively mandate approval of the pipeline. Past efforts seeking to expedite approval have largely in blocked by the Democratic-controlled Senate. House Republican leaders had wrestled over whether to include legislating mandating approval of the pipeline in a vote to raise the national debt limit.

The Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-78) included a provision requiring the administration to issue a decision within 60 days of the law being signed. The administration complied, rejecting the proposal citing the imposed time constraints and allowed TransCanada to reapply. “This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people,” asserted President Obama in a White House press statement.  “I’m disappointed that Republicans in Congress forced this decision, but it does not change my Administration’s commitment to American-made energy that creates jobs and reduces our dependence on oil.”

Response from Democrats in Congress has been mixed. “I will not be satisfied with any analysis that does not accurately document what is really happening on the ground when it comes to the extraction, transport, refining, and waste disposal of dirty, filthy tar sands oil,” stated Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA). “My biggest concerns continue to be the serious health impacts on communities, and the dangerous carbon pollution that comes from tar sands oil.”

“While still flawed, this environmental review recognizes that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline could have a significant effect on carbon pollution, depending on variables such as oil prices and transportation costs,” stated House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA), who also co-chairs the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change.  “Keystone XL is the oil industry’s number one priority because it is critical to their plans to triple production of tar sands, the most carbon-polluting oil on the planet.  Approving the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would be a huge step in the wrong direction on climate change – a step America, and the world, can’t afford to take.” 

Sens. Mark Begich (D-AK), Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Mary Landreiu (D-LA) have joined Republicans in calling for the administration to approve the pipeline. The three Senators in highly contested reelection campaigns in states that generally swing Republican. “Last week’s environmental impact statement is further proof that we must move ahead with the Keystone XL Pipeline and that is why I have been urging President Obama to approve it now,” said Sen. Begich in a press statement. “Alaskans understand the common sense benefits: a secure source of oil from a trusted ally and neighbor and more American jobs. After five years of carefully studying this project, it’s time to build this pipeline and move toward a more secure energy future for our country.”

“This project enjoys widespread support from Republicans and Democrats as well as job creators and American workers, and will bring thousands of jobs and greater energy security to America without jeopardizing safety or the environment,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) in a press statement. “To kick off his ‘year of action,’ President Obama should use his pen and approve the permit without any further delay. After enduring over five years of review, there is absolutely no reason to keep the American people waiting another day.”

The next step after the completion is a 90 day review period to allow other federal agencies to review the report as well as allow for public comment. Beyond that, there is not a mandate for a specific date for when the administration must issue a final decision.

Click here for additional background on the final EIS as well as directions on how to comment on the environmental impact statement: http://www.keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/

NATURAL RESOURCES: COMMITTEE REVIEWS FISHERIES MANAGEMENT LEGISLATION

On Feb. 4, the House Natural Resources Committee met to consider Chairman Doc Hasting’s (R-WA) draft legislation to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the primary fisheries management law, which expired at the end of 2013.

The bill would reauthorize fisheries management programs through FY 2018. The bill includes provisions to remove certain National Environmental Policy Act requirements and requires some fishery management councils to win the approval of permit holders before they can implement management plans. Committee Democrats expressed concern that Republicans did not work with them in a bipartisan manner as in past efforts to reauthorize the bill, first enacted in 1976.

Ranking Member Peter DeFazio’s (D-OR) concerns with the bill included lack of provisions to ensure cooperative research and management as well as provisions to deter pirate fishing and conflicts with ocean energy development. He also expressed concern that the legislation does not properly manage genetically modified salmon in a manner to allow sufficient recovery of native salmon.

Witnesses during the second panel included Ecological Society of America member Ellen Pikitch, Director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at Stony Brook University. In her testimony, Pikitch noted the success of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and its subsequent reauthorizations in preventing overfishing, rebuilding fish populations and its utilization of “science-based catch limits for all federally managed fish.” Pikitch expressed concern that the draft bill would weaken the law’s rebuilding requirements. In her testimony, she asserted “extending overfishing will, at worst, increase the risk of severe collapse for some fish populations, and, at best, greatly delay their recovery – jeopardizing both the resiliency of the fish population and the long-term economic viability of businesses and communities that rely upon them.”

Witnesses during the initial panel included Samuel Rauch, Deputy Assistant Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service and Richard Robins, Chair of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. Both witnesses stressed the importance of maintaining the law’s current discretion for federal managers of fisheries and maintaining annual catch limits. Both emphasized that such management decisions much remain primarily data driven by “the best fishery science—biological, ecological, and socioeconomic,” as stated in Rauch’s testimony.

View the full hearing here.

FWS: REPORT CONCLUDES WOLF DELISTING FAILED TO ADEQUATELY UTILIZE SCIENCE

An independent peer review report found that the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) “did not use the best available science” in their decision to delist gray wolves from protection from the Endangered Species Act.

Commissioned by FWS, the report was led by the University of California-Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. The report concluded that the delisting rule relied heavily on a 2012 FWS study by agency scientists that was “not universally accepted.”  Among its findings, the 2012 study had concluded that wolves in the Great Lakes were a distinct species that didn’t warrant federal protection. Reviewers authoring the report also noted “a lack of appropriate use of the literature on species level taxonomy.”

FWS is opening a comment period on the report after which it will make a final determination on the wolf delisting rule, likely towards the end of the year.

View the full report here.

Information on how to comment is available here.

FWS: ADMINISTRATION TO BAN COMMERCIAL TRADE OF ELEPHANT IVORY

On Feb. 11, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans to initiate a ban on trade of commercial elephant ivory.

The new ban will restrict the import, export, and commercial sale of elephant ivory within the United States. The ban will also prohibit interstate commerce in all ivory with the exception of antiques and items imported for commercial purposes before international commercial trade in these species was prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). FWS will define an “antique” as an item being over 100 years old and meet other Endangered Species Act requirements. The burden will be upon the owner/seller of the item to meet the criteria.

FWS will also revoke a previous special rule that had relaxed endangered species law limitations on African elephant ivory trade. The agency will also limit the number of African elephant sport-hunted trophies that a hunter can import to two per year.

The ban is part of the Obama administration’s National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking. For additional information, click here.

CURRENT POLICY

Considered by House Committee

On Feb. 11, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on the Environment held a hearing on the following bill:

H.R. 4012, the Secret Science Reform Act of 2014 - Introduced by Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ), the bill would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from taking regulatory action based upon scientific information unless the information influencing the rulemaking is specified and made publically available.

Passed House

H.R. 3590, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH), the comprehensive legislation would expand hunting, fishing and shooting on federal lands. The administration and many Congressional Democrats objected to the bill due to its limitations of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review requirements. The bill passed the House Feb. 5 by a vote of 268-154 with 41 Democrats joining all Republicans in supporting the measure.

The White House Statement of Administration Policy on the bill is available here

H.R. 3964, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery ActIntroduced by Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), the bill would improve water delivery to Central Valley California communities by ending the San Joaquin River restoration program. The administration opposed the bill stating that “contrary to current and past federal reclamation law that defers to state water law, the bill would preempt California water law” and “result in the resumption of costly litigation.” It passed the House Feb. 5 by a vote of 229-191 with seven Democrats joining all but two Republicans in supporting the legislation.

The White House Statement of Administration Policy on the bill is available here.

H.R. 2954, the Public Access and Lands Improvement Act – Introduced by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), the comprehensive public lands bill includes provisions to prohibit the Bureau of Land Management from acquiring new land until it creates a public database listing land available for disposal, expedite logging in areas California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains impacted by a recent wildfire, authorize paddling on the streams and rivers of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks within three years and open Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina to vehicular access, overriding various NEPA requirements. The bill passed the House Feb. 6 by a vote of 220-194 with six Democrats joining all but six Republicans in support of the measure.

The White House Statement of Administration Policy on the bill is available here.


 Sources:  ClimateWire, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee, the Hill, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, the National Journal, National Science Foundation, Roll Call, POLITICO, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House