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   

January 31, 2014

In this Issue

STATE OF THE UNION: OBAMA HAILS 2014 AS ‘YEAR OF ACTION’

 

After a year of very few real legislative achievements in Congress outside of averting a politically self-inflicted federal government shutdown, President Obama cautioned that continued gridlock and inaction from the legislative branch during the second session of the current 113th Congress will spur unilateral action from the executive branch.

President Obama praised Congress for coming together on a budget that offers some relief for sequestration, and urged the body to move forward on administration proposals that create jobs and advance opportunity for Americans.

“Some [of my proposals] require Congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you.  But America does not stand still – and neither will I.  So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do,” said President Obama.

The president’s call to get the economy moving included a request for Congress to increase funding for scientific research.

“We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow,” said Obama.  “This is an edge America cannot surrender.  Federally-funded research helped lead to the ideas and inventions behind Google and smart phones.  That’s why Congress should undo the damage done by last year’s cuts to basic research so we can unleash the next great American discovery – whether it’s vaccines that stay ahead of drug-resistant bacteria, or paper-thin material that’s stronger than steel.”

President Obama also called on Congress to create jobs by passing several still pending infrastructure initiatives, such as new reauthorizations for a transportation bill and the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).

“We’ll need Congress to protect more than three million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer. But I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible,” said the president. The existing surface transportation reauthorization (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act) expires at the end of September. Both the House and Senate have passed a new WRDA bill and senior committee leaders have begun negotiating a final conference report for the measure.

The president touted the United States’ energy successes such as higher fuel efficiency standards for cars and investments in solar. While noting that these efforts have led to a “cleaner, safer planet” he maintained that more needs to be done to tackle the issue of climate change.

“Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth,” said President Obama.  “But we have to act with more urgency – because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods.  That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities, and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.”

President Obama also took the opportunity to address climate change skeptics. 

“Climate change is a fact,” said the president.  “And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.” His comments on climate got rousing applause from Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

The full address is available for listening and reading here.

AGRICULTURE: FARM BILL CONFERENCE REPORT INCLUDES WINS FOR CONSERVATION

On Jan. 27, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) unveiled the final conference report for a new farm bill reauthorization.

H.R. 2642, the Agricultural Act of 2014, renews federal agricultural programs through the end of Fiscal Year 2018 while implementing a number of consolidations and spending reductions to federal agriculture programs. The bill passed the House by a vote of 251-166 with 63 Republicans and 103 Democrats opposing. Opposition came from Democrats concerned with the food stamp cuts and Republicans who felt the cuts in the bill didn’t go far enough.

Similar to both the House and Senate farm bills, the bill consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13, largely by incorporating smaller programs into larger ones. A provision from the Senate bill, requiring farmers and ranchers to abide by basic conservation measures in exchange for federal subsidies for crop insurance on highly erodible land and wetlands, was included in the conference report as was a sod saver provision, which preserves native prairie through various subsidy reduction measures intended to discourage farmers from agricultural production on native grasslands. Similar to the Senate legislation, the bill also includes mandatory funding ($881 million) for renewable energy programs.

The bill includes new requirements for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board to examine farm policy regulations and increase public transparency. However, the requirements are considerably less restrictive than the “Sound Science Act” language in the House bill, which would have prevented federal agencies from issuing new regulations until a somewhat vague and lofty set of requirements were met in an attempt to ensure such regulatory efforts are science-based. Advocacy organizations and some congressional Democrats had complained that the provision’s language requiring federal agencies to favor data that is “experimental, empirical, quantifiable, and reproducible,” would exclude certain theoretical or statistical research.

The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (food stamps) is cut by $8 billion, a significant compromise given the $40 billion amount originally proposed by House Republicans, though roughly double what the Senate originally requested. Collectively, the bill includes $956 billion for food stamps, agricultural subsidies and various conservation programs. The reforms in the bill are projected to save $23 billion over the next 10 years.

The Ecological Society of America had joined several environmental organizations last fall in urging support for the farm bill’s conservation provisions. To view the 2013 farm bill conservation programs letter, click here. Additional information on the 2014 farm bill reauthorization is available here.

HOUSE: CLIMATE CHANGE ADVOCATE WAXMAN ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT

Congress will lose one of its most vocal proponents of legislative action to address climate change when House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) retires at the end of this year.

On Jan. 30, Rep. Waxman announced that the 113th Congress would be his last, ending a congressional career spanning 40 years. Waxman was the primary sponsor of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, comprehensive climate change legislation, which sought to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The bill passed the House in President Obama’s first year in office, but failed to gain traction in the Senate. Despite this legislative setback, Waxman remained a vocal proponent of the administration’s Environmental Protection Agency initiatives that sought to address climate change.

Waxman, along with Reps. Bobby Rush (D-IL), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ed Markey (D-MA) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), co-chair the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, founded in Jan. 2013. The task force seeks to raise public awareness of climate change and develop policy proposals to address the issue. The group has held hearings, issued written correspondence to federal agency officials as well as offered praise towards agency efforts that seek to reduce manmade greenhouse gas emissions.

Waxman has been a longtime leader on environmental issues in Congress. Prior to the Nov. 1994 midterms, which allowed Republicans to take control of the House, Waxman served as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health and the Environment.

Waxman is the latest in a host of senior House lawmakers to announce their retirements in recent weeks, including House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Jim Moran (D-VA), House Education and Workforce Committee Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA) and House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA). He served as Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee for two years prior to the Nov. 2010 Republican takeover of the House. 

A full listing of Members of Congress departing at the end of this Congress is available here.

INTERIOR: HOUSE DEMOCRATS URGE JEWELL TO PROTECT FEDERAL LANDS

On Jan. 24, House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) spearheaded a letter to Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell requesting that the president use his executive authority under the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments as a way to bypass Congress in ensuring the protection of federal lands.

“In today’s deeply partisan environment, it’s becoming nearly impossible for Congress to make critical conservation decisions,” the letter states. “The 112th Congress was the first Congress in 40 years that failed to permanently protect any of America’s treasured landscapes. The current Congress is on a path to repeat that abysmal record. There are 37 land designation bills sitting before Congress that have broad public support.”

The letter cautions that the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation has already held a hearing on legislation to restrict the president’s Antiquities Act authority to designate national monuments and cites the importance of protecting natural resources in historic sites to local communities and economic growth. “At National Parks alone, visitors spend more than $35 million per day,” the letter notes.

View the full letter, here.

WATER: CALIFORNIA STRUGGLES WITH RAMIFICATIONS OF RECORD DROUGHT

California state government officials are currently reviewing techniques to expand the state’s water supply and reduce water usage amid a record breaking drought.

The state has endured record low levels of precipitation throughout 2013 and into the opening weeks of 2014. This week, the US Drought Monitor recorded that 98 percent of the state was experiencing abnormally dry conditions. On Jan. 29, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced that it was closing the Carmel, Big Sur, Pajaro, and San Lorenzo rivers  to recreational fishermen to help maintain area fish populations. The closures would not apply to commercial fishermen.

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared an official drought emergency on Jan. 17, making his state eligible for federal government emergency funding assistance. Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) had issued a letter to President Obama requesting federal assistance to deal with the drought just prior to the governor’s declaration. The president subsequently informed Gov. Brown that it is coordinating a response through its National Drought Resilience Partnership (NDRP) with involvement from the US Department of Agriculture, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal agencies.

The water crisis has reignited a partisan debate about a San Joaquin River restoration program. On Jan. 29, Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) was joined by 14 California Republican House Members in introducing H.R. 3964, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act. The legislation would improve water delivery to Central Valley California communities by ending the San Joaquin River restoration program. The bill is strongly opposed by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Diane Feinstein (D-CA). Sen. Feinstein in a press statement asserted “The bill undermines state law related to Bay Delta restoration and endangered species. It overrides the court-approved San Joaquin River Settlement Agreement, which all parties involved still agree with. And it ends any possibility of a balanced solution to restore the Bay Delta.”

This week, the state of California also released its California Water Action plan, which includes goals to cut individual water usage, expand water storage capacity as well as improve groundwater management and flood protection. The state has already enacted a Water Protection Act, which mandates a 20 percent reduction in urban per-capita water use by the end of 2020.

View the California water action plan here. Information on the NRDP is available here. The Sen. Feinstein response to H.R. 3964 is available here.

FWS: PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY EXTENDED FOR PRARIE CHICKEN

On Jan. 29, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that it is reopening the public comment opportunity period for a proposed rule that would allow harm to the chickens if they were considered incidental in implementing a conservation plan in the states that constitute the animals’ native habitat: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

The harm exemption rule would only apply to the animal if it receives a “threatened” listing under the Endangered Species Act. FWS is expected to reach a decision by March 31. FWS is accepting comments both on the proposed harm exemption as well as the proposal to list the prairie chicken as a threatened species.

Information sought by FWS includes the historical and current distribution of the lesser prairie chicken, its biology and ecology, the occurrence of natural or manmade threats or information confirming lack thereof, what areas would be considered appropriate habitat for the species, and how the harm exemptions in the proposed rule would impact the species.

The new deadline to submit comments is Feb. 12, 2014. Information on the proposed rule and how to submit comments is available here.

Additional background on the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-Wide Conservation Plan is available here.

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

Introduced Jan. 29 by Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), the bill would improve water delivery to Central Valley California communities through ending the San Joaquin River restoration program. The bill has 14 original cosponsors (all California Republicans) and has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

Approved by House Committee/Subcommittee

On Jan. 27, the Energy and Commerce Committee approved the following bills:

H.R. 2126, the Better Buildings Act – Introduced by Reps. David McKinley (R-WV) and Peter Welch (D-VT), the bill would establish a set of energy efficiency practices for landlords and tenants in commercial buildings. It would award a “Tenant Star” certification for buildings that meet these standards. The bill was approved by voice vote. Companion legislation (S. 1191) has been introduced by Sens. Michael Bennett (D-CO) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH).

H.R. 3826, the Electricity Security of Affordability Act – the bill would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing regulations related to greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, essentially preventing the Obama administration from implementing a central component of its Climate Action Plan. The bill was approved by a vote of 29-19, largely along party lines. Democratic Reps. Jim Matheson (UT) and John Barrow (GA) joined all Republicans in supporting the measure.  Companion legislation (S. 1905) has been introduced by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and John Hoeven (R-ND).

On Jan. 28, the Natural Resources Committee approved the following bills. These bills were approved by voice vote or unanimous consent unless otherwise specified.

H.R. 163, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act - Introduced by Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI), the bill would designate 32,000 acres as federally protected wilderness at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan. Companion legislation (S. 23) has been introduced by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI).

H.R. 433, the Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), the bill would designate the Pine Forest Range Wilderness in Humboldt County, NV as federally protected land.

H.R. 2095, the Land Disposal Transparency and Efficiency Act – Introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), the bill would prohibit the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from acquiring additional land until it lists its land areas available for disposal in an online database. BLM opposed the bill, citing the language prohibiting it from acquiring land while expressing support for the public database provisions. The bill passed by a partisan vote of 24-17.

H.R. 2259, the North Fork Watershed Protection Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT), the bill would restrict mineral development in Montana’s North Fork Flathead watershed.

H.R. 2657, the Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the bill would require the Interior Department to sell for disposal 3.3 million acres of lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming identified in a 1997 Clinton administration report. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has opposed the bill, asserting that the information from the 1997 report is outdated and incomplete. BLM also noted that costly environmental reviews would need to be initiated before a parcel of land could be sold and asserted that the bill would be unlikely to generate significant revenues. The bill passed by a partisan vote of 23-19.

 

H.R. 3492, the River Paddling Protection Act – Introduced by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), the bill would prohibit the Department of Interior from banning “hand-propelled vessels” on streams and rivers in Yellowstone National Park and on lakes and rivers in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

Introduced in the Senate

S. 1961, the Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act – Introduced Jan. 27 by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Joe Rockefeller (D-WV), the bill would set new standards for above ground chemical storage facilities.

S. 1966, the National Forest Jobs and Management Act – Introduced Jan. 28 by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the bill would increase the capacity to harvest timber in national forests by outlining new forest management goals and placing additional limitations on National Environmental Policy Act reviews. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

S. 1973, the America INNOVATES Act – Introduced Jan. 29 by Sens. Chris Coons (D-CT) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), the bill would modernize and reform the nation’s national lab system. Specifically, it would direct the Department of Energy to implement best practices for national labs and increase flexibility to support applied research and development activities conducted by universities and nonprofits.


 Sources:  American Association for the Advancement of Science, California Resources Agency, ClimateWire, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Natural Resources Committee, Roll Call, POLITICO, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House  

 

January 17, 2014

In this Issue

APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS PASSES FY 2014 SPENDING BILL

 

This week, Congress passed a $1.012 trillion omnibus spending measure to fund the government for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2014, which ends Sept. 30. Overall, the bill alleviates the effects of sequestration for some federal programs while placing limits on certain regulatory efforts through federal riders.

The bill uses the spending levels set by the Murray-Ryan bipartisan budget agreement as a framework, which helped foster bipartisan support for the omnibus measure. The bill was crafted under the bicameral leadership of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY).  The bill passed the House by a vote of 359-67 and subsequently passed the Senate by a vote of 72-26. The president has indicated he will sign the measure.

Several legislative riders were included in the bill to gain Republican support. Among these is a provision effectively prohibiting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and US Army Corps of Engineers from working on a new rule implementing new permit requirements for the waste materials that mining companies can dump into streams. The omnibus bill also extends a ban implemented in FY 2012, prohibiting the US Department of Energy (DOE) from funding efforts to implement its light bulb efficiency standards that would phase out incandescent bulbs. The bill also continues funding to maintain Yucca Mountain as a potential site for nuclear waste disposal. Otherwise, the bill largely skirts legislative riders that would hinder implementation of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan.

Wildfire programs within the Department of Interior and US Forest Service would receive $3.9 billion, roughly level with the pre-sequester FY 2013 enacted level. Roughly $600 million of this amount will be used to address wildfire cost overruns that occurred during FY 2013. The funding does not prevent the US Forest Service from having to borrow from other accounts if FY 2014 turns out to be an above-average year for wildfires. While Congress has traditionally allocated emergency funding in some manner, the temporary need to shift funds between FS accounts shortchanges investment in environmental restoration programs that reduce fire risk long-term.

Implementation of sequestration led to significant drops in funding for most federal agencies in the final seven months of FY 2013 (a 5.3 percent cut to non-defense discretionary programs and a 7.9 percent cut to defense discretionary programs). Enclosed are FY 2014 funding levels for key federal agencies that focus on science and the environment relative to FY 2012 enacted levels:

  • Agricultural Research Service: $1.122 billion, a $27 million increase.
  • Animal Plant Health Inspection Service: $821.7 million, a $5.2 million increase.
  • Army Corp of Engineers: $5.467 billion, a $465 million increase.
  • Bureau of Land Management: $1.1 billion (level).
  • DOE Office of Science: $5.071 billion, a $136 million increase.
  • EPA: $8.2 billion, a $200 million decrease.
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration: $17.65 billion, a $150 million decrease.
  • National Institute of Food and Agriculture: 
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $5.315 billion, a $409 million increase.
  • National Science Foundation: $7.172 billion, a $67 million increase.
  • National Park Service: $2.5 billion, a $100 billion decrease.
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service: $813 million, a $31 million decrease.
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.4 billion, a $100 million decrease.
  • US Forest Service: $5.5 billion, a $900 million increase.
  • US Geological Survey: $1.032 billion, a $36 million decrease.

Of chief concern to publishers is Section 527 of the bill, which includes a provision requiring federal agencies under the jurisdiction of the Labor, Health, Human Services and Education (Labor HHS)  Act with research budgets of $100 million or more to develop a public access policy for federally-funded published peer-reviewed research. The language calls for agencies to provide “free online public access to such final peer-reviewed manuscripts or published versions not later than 12 months after the official date of publication.” Agencies under the jurisdiction of the mandate would include the Department of Labor, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, and related health and education agencies such as the National Institutes of Health. The National Science Foundation (NSF) is not included in the Labor HHS Act language as the agency falls under the separate jurisdiction of the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill, which encompasses a different section of the omnibus.

A detailed summary of the omnibus bill can be found clicking the follow links:

Senate summary

http://www.appropriations.senate.gov/news.cfm?method=news.view&id=5aa8e660-f52e-4074-945f-9618eb963ae9

House summary

http://appropriations.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=366721

TOXIC SUBSTANCES: WEST VIRGINIA SPILL SPARKS CHEMICAL SAFETY POLICIES REVIEW

Members of Congress are beginning to review different policy responses in the wake of the recent chemical spill that left roughly 300,000 West Virginia residents without water for several days.

On Jan. 9, as much as 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (also known as crude MCHM) spilled into the Elk River due to leaks from a Freedom Industries facility storage tank. Lawmakers are currently reviewing various changes to the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. Among them is Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) who is readying a bill that would require above ground storage tanks located near a waterway to be subject to more stringent regulations, akin to existing requirements for below ground storage tanks.

West Virginia’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) issued an advisory warning pregnant women to drink bottled water until there is no longer detectable levels of MCHM in the state’s tap water. This notice came after federal officials had confirmed that MCHM levels had dropped below one part per million (ppm), which is deemed safe for consumption. The notice prompted Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Sen. Manchin to send a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which prompted the state DHHS action. Policymakers, with the backing of health groups and scientists, are now questioning whether there is enough research available to accurately confirm that the on ppm level for MCHM should be considered safe.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has stated she intends to hold hearings on the spill. The Water and Wildlife Subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), will hold a hearing focused specifically on the water issues surrounding the spill and the full committee will hold a separate hearing focused on general chemical safety.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman and Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NY) have also issued a letter to Environment and Economy Subcommittee Chairman Shimkus to hold a hearing on the issue. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV) has indicated his committee may hold a field hearing in Charleston, WV in February.

To view the House Democrats’ letter, click here:

http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Shimkus-West-Virginia-Chemical-Spill-2014-1-13.pdf

To view the West Virginia notice, click here:

http://www.wvdhhr.org/Advisory1152014.pdf

View the Capito-Manchin letter here:

http://capito.house.gov/uploads/cdcletter.pdf

WHITE HOUSE: OSTP DIRECTOR HOLDREN EXPLAINS ‘POLAR VORTEXT’ VIA YOUTUBE

In a brief two-minute YouTube video on Jan 8, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren sought to refute claims that the recent extreme cold front that hit much of North America, commonly known as the “polar vortex,” challenges the existence of global climate change.

Director Holdren clarifies that no single weather event can prove or disprove climate change while noting that the US can expect to experience an increasing frequency of extreme weather conditions as climate change increases. “A growing body of evidence suggests that the kind of extreme cold being experienced by much of the United States as we speak is a pattern that we can expect to see with increasing frequency as global warming continues,” states Holdren. 

Holdren explains that the rapid warming of the arctic is decreasing the temperature difference between the far northern regions and mid-latitude regions. As a consequence of this decreasing temperature difference between the two regions, the polar vortex weakens allowing cold air to be released from the arctic towards the mid-latitude regions while allowing warmer air to reach further north.

Watch the full video here:

www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/video/2014/01/08/polar-vortex-explained-2-minutes 

USGS: KIMBALL NOMINATED AS NEW DIRECTOR

On Jan. 9, President Obama nominated Acting-Director Suzette Kimball to lead the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

Kimball has served at USGS since 1998. Prior to her appointment as acting-director upon the departure of Marcia McNutt, she served as deputy director from 2010-2013. She served as associate director for geology from 2008-2010 and director of the eastern region from 2004-2008. She had previously served as acting director of USGS between Jan. 2009 and Nov. 2009.

The USGS director serves as the US Department of Interior secretary’s chief science advisor. The agency’s mission includes providing scientific input in response to natural disasters as well as in federal management of energy, water, biological and mineral resources.

Prior to joining USGS, Kimball spent much of the 1990s working at the National Park Service (NPS) as the southeast associate regional director and regional chief scientist. Before joining NPS she worked at the US Army Corps and Engineers and in research at the University of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Sciences.

Kimball earned her doctorate in environmental sciences with a specialty in coastal processes from the University of Virginia. She has authored over 75 technical publications covering issues that include coastal zone management and policy and natural resource exploitation.

GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS: ESA WEIGHS IN ON FEDERAL EMPLOYEE CONFERENCE ATTENDANCE

In advance of a Jan. 14 Senate hearing on the issue of conference and travel spending in the federal government, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) joined a number of scientific societies in sending letters to Capitol Hill highlighting the importance of federal employee participation in science conferences.

Referencing ESA’s annual meeting, the letter notes how scientific conferences provide for the open exchange of information that advances scientific innovation and fosters professional development for participants from a variety of backgrounds. “The exchange of information at such conferences between federal employees, industry representatives, students, teachers and practitioners serves as a vital conduit in conveying science from a multitude of disciplines,” the letter notes. “The loss of one of these critical perspectives creates a knowledge gap that hinders the capability of all the others to apply their research effectively.”

The sentiments of the ESA letter were echoed by Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) during the hearing. “When properly planned and managed, conferences serve a legitimate and oftentimes necessary purpose of fostering collaboration and partnerships between government employees, state regulators, academia and industry,” said Chairman Carper. “And while it is important that agencies make efforts to eliminate any wasteful spending on conferences and travel, we must be careful that we don’t unduly restrict the ability of our agencies to interact with outside groups.” 

View the full committee hearing here:

http://www.hsgac.senate.gov/hearings/examining-conference-and-travel-spending-across-the-federal-government

View the ESA letter here:

http://www.esa.org/esa/?post_type=document&p=10454

EPA: ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION GRANT APPLICATIONS ACCEPTED

The US Environmental Protection Agency is accepting applicants for environmental education projects under its environment education grant program.

The grant program seeks to engage communities through educational projects that improve public health through environmental stewardship. EPA will award between 22-32 grants through its 10 regional offices. The each grant will be roughly $75,000-$200,000 with the overall program totaling $2.77 million. 

Organizations eligible to apply include local education agencies, colleges or universities, state education or environmental agencies, tribal education agencies, 501(C)(3) nonprofit organizations, and noncommercial educational broadcasting entities working in education. Applications are due Feb. 4, 2014.

For additional information, click here:

http://www2.epa.gov/education/environmental-education-ee-grants

POLICY ENGAGEMENT: ESA ANNOUNCES 2014 GSPA RECIPIENTS

The Ecological Society of America has selected the 2014 recipients of its annual Graduate Student Policy Award: 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). The five students will travel to Washington, DC to participate in policy training sessions as well as meetings with decision-makers on Capitol Hill in April. 

Complementing her research into atmospheric nitrogen deposition, Anderson is working in a National Science Foundation-Interdisciplinary Graduate Education and Research Traineeship focused on training scientists in policy. Bingham’s geospatial data work with the National Park Service over the past decade has included service as a resource advisor during the BP gulf oil spill. After spending years in DC immersed in policy engagement, Childress decided to pursue an Ecology Ph.D, furthering her understanding of climate change mitigation.  Marsden was inspired to apply her research on aquatic vegetation populations towards policy after stints at the US Fish and Wildlife Service Patuxent Research Refuge and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Varner’s biological research has included research into the impacts of Hantavirus on rodent populations in Utah as well the effects of human disturbance.

The two-day event is sponsored by the Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition, co-chaired by ESA.

FWS: WILDLIFE REFUGES TO OFFER FEE FREE DAYS IN 2014

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that its national wildlife refuges will offer free admission days in 2014 on the following days: 

  • January 20: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • February 15-17: Presidents’ Day weekend
  • September 27: National Public Lands Day
  • October 12: The first day of National Wildlife Refuge Week
  • November 11: Veterans Day

There are 562 national wildlife refuges in the United States, 460 of which are open to the public and 35 offer a $3-$5 entrance fee. According to FWS, the refuges are visited by over 45 million people annually, generate $2.4 billion into the national economy and support over 35,000 jobs.

Additional information about National Wildlife Refuges, including refuges by location, can be found here: http://www.fws.gov/refuges/index.html

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 3862, the Clean Water Affordability Act – Introduced by Reps. Bob Latta (R-OH) and Tim Walz (D-MN), the bill would broaden how the US Environmental Protection Agency calculates what a community can spend on its water infrastructure to improve water quality. The legislation seeks to make EPA-mandated water infrastructure upgrades more affordable for low-income communities. The bill has been referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Approved by Committee/Subcommittee

H.R. 3826, the Electricity Security and Affordability Act – Introduced by House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY), the bill would prevent implementation of a rule requiring new coal-fired power plants to use carbon capture and storage technology. The subcommittee approved the bill by a vote of 18-11.

Passed House

H.R. 724, to amend the Clean Air Act to remove the requirement for dealer certification of new light-duty motor vehicles – Introduced by Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH), the bill eliminates the federal certification requirement for auto dealers to verify that new vehicles have emission systems in compliance with the Clean Air Act. The bill passed the House Jan. 8 by a vote of 405-0.

Introduced in the Senate

S. 1929, to require the Secretary of the Interior to transfer to the State of Alaska certain land for the purpose of building a road between the community of King Cove and the all-weather airport in Cold Bay, Alaska – Introduced by Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK), the bill would approve construction of a one-lane gravel road through Alaskan wilderness for the purposes of easing access of King Cove residents to an airport more suited to coping with inclement weather.  Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has rejected the proposal, asserting that it would jeopardize wildlife habitat in the region. 


 Sources:  American Association for the Advancement of Science, ClimateWire, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Appropriations Committee, POLITICO, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House

 

December 20, 2013

In this Issue

BUDGET: CONGRESS APPROVES BILL ON SPENDING LEVELS FOR FY 2014, 2015

 

In its last major legislative achievement before the holiday recess, Congress passed a bipartisan budget bill (H.J.Res. 59) that sets overall federal spending levels for Fiscal Year 2014 and 2015. The deal passed the House by a vote of 332-94 and the Senate 64-36. President Obama will sign the measure.

The deal allows for $1.012 trillion in federal spending for FY 2014 and $1.013 trillion for FY 2013. The bill partially relieves sequestration for defense and non-defense discretionary spending programs through fee increases and increased pension contributions for federal workers as well as extending existing mandatory spending cuts through FY 2023.

The agreement meets about half way between the House Republican proposed budget of $967 billion and the Senate proposed budget of $1.058 trillion. Total deficit reduction in the bill amounts to $85 billion, providing a $45 billion increase in federal spending FY 2014 and $20 billion in FY 2015, equally divided between defense and non-defense discretionary programs.

The budget does not allocate funding for specific government agencies and programs, which will be tackled through the appropriations process when lawmakers return in January. The existing continuing resolution to fund the government runs through Jan. 15, 2014. The agreement also does not address the debt ceiling which will need to be raised again in February. The Senate reconvenes Jan. 6 and the House returns Jan. 7 of next year.

Addition information on the agreement is available here.

HOUSE: KEY REPUBLICAN ADVOCATE FOR SCIENCE TO RETIRE IN 2014

On Dec. 17, the House Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) and Related Agencies Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) announced he will retire from Congress at the end of his 17th term.

The northern Virginia location of his district led Wolf to be a champion of federal workers, often breaking with his party on matters related to federal worker pay. Most recently, he penned a letter to House and Senate Budget Committee leaders urging them to stop proposing budget cuts that disproportionately impact federal workers. “I cannot, in good conscience, support a budget agreement that asks the federal workforce to once again disproportionately feel the brunt of Washington’s failure to share the pain,” wrote Wolf in a Dec. 3 letter. Rep. Wolf ultimately voted for the budget deal on Dec. 12 when it was considered on the House floor.

Wolf has also been an advocate for federal investment in science – specifically the National Science Foundation (NSF), in part out of concern for the US’s leadership in scientific discovery and innovation falling behind other countries such as China. During Chairman Wolf’s tenure, NSF has often been spared the sharp cuts several other federal agencies have endured in recent years. 

While Wolf has generally been re-elected by comfortable margins, his swing congressional district is expected to be pursued by both major political parties. Republican Mitt Romney won the district by a narrow 50 percent over President Obama’s 49 percent in the 2012 presidential election.

To view the Wolf letter, click here

CLIMATE: SUBCOMMITTEE EXAMINES LINK BETWEEN EXTREME WEATHER, WARMING

On Dec. 11, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Environment held a hearing entitled “A Factual Look at the Relationship Between Climate and Weather.” Republican lawmakers held the hearing in an effort to refute the notion of a link between climate change and extreme weather events.

“Administration officials and the national media regularly use the impacts from hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, and floods to justify the need for costly climate change regulations,” asserted Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) in his opening statement. “Instead of trying to scare the American people and promote a political agenda, the administration should try to protect the lives and property of our nation’s residents from extreme weather by better weather forecasting,” Smith continued. “Politicians and others should rely on good science, not science fiction, when they discuss extreme weather.” Smith also stated that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that while some parts of the US are experiencing more drought, the reverse is occurring in other areas of the country.

Environment Subcommittee Chairwoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) countered, however, that looking broadly long-term, the IPCC and other scientific organizations agree that the world will be warmer, leading to more drought in some areas and an increase in the frequency in tropical storms in other areas. “The oceans will be warmer and that may well produce stronger or more frequent tropical storms,” stated Bonamici. “To focus only on the question of whether there will be more extreme events misses the point that by the end of this century much of the world as we know it, in our districts and states, will be considerably altered by the weather effects of climate change.”

Panelists included researchers favored by climate skeptic lawmakers who have repeatedly been called upon by Republicans to testify on climate change such as John Christy, Professor and State Climatologist, University of Alabama in Huntsville. Christy asserted that extreme weather events, while unusual are not without precedent, citing extreme droughts which occurred during the medieval period. Also testifying was Roger Pielke Jr. Professor and Director, Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Colorado. Peilke, while acknowledging man’s influence on climate change, asserted that a link between climate change and extreme weather events has not been firmly established.

The lone witness testifying on behalf of the Democrat minority members was David Titley, Director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Pennsylvania State University. Titley reinforced Bonamici’s statement that increasing ocean warming can lead to more frequent and more intense storms. “We have had for the last 36 years above normal temperatures, that is away from the center, and they are getting further and further away,” stated Titley.  “A record like that is equivalent to flipping a coin and getting ‘heads’ 36 consecutive times. The chances of that happening with an un-weighted coin: 1 in 68 billion. Put another way, you are almost 400 times more likely to win the Powerball jackpot than you are to see this temperature record if the climate was not changing.”

View the full hearing here.

EPA: LAWMAKERS REQUEST CLARIFICATION OF CLEAN WATER ACT JURISDICTION

 

On Dec. 16, 89 House Democrats sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy requesting her agency expedite issuance of a rule clarifying federal jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act (CWA).

In the past decade, two Supreme Court decisions created uncertainty over the precise jurisdiction the federal government had over the nation’s waterways. Collectively, the decisions in Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. US Army Corps of Engineers and Rapanos v. the United States called into question whether wetlands and isolated intrastate waters can be included in the CWA’s definition of “navigable waters” under federal regulatory jurisdiction. The lawmakers request EPA issue a rule that clarifies federal jurisdiction over all US waterways under CWA.

“As members of the United States House of Representatives, we urge you to swiftly propose a rule to restore protections to all of our nation’s waterways,” the letter states.  “For the sake of our communities and the prospects of having waterways clean enough to swim in, fish from, and drink from, we must have a rule that protects all waters of the United States under the Clean Water Act, and we need your leadership to make that vision a reality.”

The letter asserts that the lawmakers who passed the bill used the broader definition of “navigable waters” in defining federal jurisdiction over water quality protection. It also references a recent scientific report that affirms a chemical and biological link between streams and certain wetlands and larger bodies of water such as downstream rivers. Environmental advocates hope this link will help reinforce a broader interpretation of CWA jurisdiction by EPA.

To view the House Democrats letter, click here. To view the EPA science report, click here.

INTERIOR: CLIMATE CHANGE RESEARCH FUNDING AWARDED

 

On Dec. 18, the US Department of Interior announced its eight regional climate science centers are awarding $7 million to universities and other stakeholders for research into methods to help communities adapt to the various impacts of climate change. The initiative is part of President Obama’s climate action plan.

The eight climate science centers are coordinated through the National Climate Change and Wildlife Center at the United States Geological Survey headquarters. The centers will work with state governments, Indian tribes, universities and other partners to determine where research is needed.

The full list of awarded projects is available here.

FUNDING OPPORTUNITY: EPA SEEKS INPUT ON MANUFACTURED CHEMICALS

 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a funding opportunity to advance scientific understanding of the ecological impacts associated with the use of manufactured chemicals.

As part of its Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, EPA is seeking applications to better understand the impacts manufactured chemicals have on ecosystems. This research would include study of ecological resilience and adverse impacts on biological organisms and populations, including humans. The research will be used to inform risk management practices that minimize unintended ecological consequences of chemical use.

The solicitation closing date is noon, March 4, 2014. For additional information on the initiative and how to apply, click here.


 Sources: ClimateWire, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Roll Call, the Washington Post

December 9, 2013

In this Issue

WHITE HOUSE: ENVIRONMENTAL COUNCIL CHAIR TO STEP DOWN

 

On Dec. 3, White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chairwoman Nancy Sutley announced she will resign from her post in February. Sutley has held the position since Jan. 22, 2009, when the Senate confirmed her by unanimous consent. 

As CEQ chair, Sutley played a pivotal role in advancing the administration’s Climate Action Plan and National Ocean Policy. Sutley was one of the last environmental advisers remaining from President Obama’s first term. The top spots at the Departments of Energy, Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency have all garnered new faces this year.

Prior to joining CEQ, she served as deputy mayor for energy and environment in Los Angeles. She was an energy adviser to former California Gov. Gray Davis and served as deputy secretary for policy and intergovernmental relations at the California EPA from 1999-2003. During the Clinton administration, she served as senior policy advisor to the EPA regional administrator in San Francisco. Sutley grew up in Queens, NY and is an alumna of Harvard and Cornell Universities.

CEQ serves as the focal White House office for coordinating environmental initiatives among federal agencies and other White House offices. CEQ was first established by Congress under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. A successor for Sutley has not been named.

BUDGET: ORGANIZATIONS CALL FOR AN END TO SEQUESTER CUTS

On Dec. 4, the Ecological Society of America joined several hundred national organizations from health, education, environmental, research and other communities in sending a letter to Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to forgo continued cuts to discretionary spending programs.

The 470 signature letter, timed to coincide with the budget conference talks this month, urges lawmakers to replace the sequester cuts with a bipartisan balanced approach to deficit reduction that relieves non-defense discretionary spending (NDD) programs. “Despite the vast array of important services provided through NDD programs—from education and job training, to housing and science, to National Parks and veterans services, to public health, safety and security—these programs have been cut dramatically and disproportionately in recent years as lawmakers work to reduce the deficit, even though experts agree these programs don’t contribute to our nation’s mid- and longer-term debt problem,” the letter notes.

The letter also references the recent Faces of Austerity report from NDD United, which spearheaded the letter. The comprehensive report spotlights the impact discretionary spending cuts implemented through the 2013 sequestration have had on education, scientific discovery, infrastructure investment and natural resource conservation, among other areas.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) are currently negotiating a budget deal expected to lift some NDD spending cuts as well as give agencies increased flexibility in implementing the cuts. The lawmakers have until Dec. 13 to reach a deal on the budget for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2014 as part of the agreement that ended the October government shutdown.  The House plans to adjourn for the year Dec. 13 while the Senate is plans to adjourn at the end of the following week.

View the Faces of Austerity report here.

View the NDD programs letter here.

APPROPRIATIONS: THREE NEW REPUBLICANS JOIN SPENDING COMMITTEE

 

Reps. Mark Amodei (R-NV), Martha Roby (R-AL) and Chris Stewart (R-UT) were approved by the House Steering Committee this past week to fill Republican vacancies on the House Appropriations Committee that were opened by several retirements and one death.

The subcommittee memberships have yet to be named, though there are vacancies on the Commerce Justice and Science (CJS) Subcommittee, the Energy and Water Subcommittee, and the Defense Subcommittee, among others. The CJS Subcommittee has jurisdiction over funding for the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The vacancies had opened due to the resignations of Reps. Rodney Alexander (R-LA) and Jo Bonner (R-AL) and the death of Rep. Bill Young (R-FL). The vacancies also prompted the move of Rep. Mike Simpson to chair the Energy and Water Subcommittee and Rep. Ken Calvert to chair the Interior and Environment Subcommittee, previously chaired by Simpson. Rep. Young had chaired the Defense Subcommittee that former Energy and Water Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) now heads.

The appropriations committee ascensions open up spots on the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Science, Space and Technology Committees, which the members had previously served on. Stewart was previously chairman of the Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on the Environment. Amodei had served on the Agriculture Committee while Roby was a member of the Natural Resources Committee.

The single vacancy on the House Agriculture Committee and one of the two vacancies on the Natural Resources Committee will be filled by recently elected member Vance McAllister (R-LA), who succeeds Alexander.

INTERIOR: RULE PERMITS EAGLE DEATHS FOR WIND FARM PROJECTS

 

On Dec. 6, the US Department of Interior (DOI) announced a new rule that would allow renewable energy projects such as wind farms to obtain permits to disturb, injure or kill bald and golden eagles for up to 30 years.

The permits are contingent on applicants adhering to adaptive management measures to limit detrimental impacts on the eagles. According to DOI, “permits will be closely monitored to ensure that allowable take numbers are not exceeded and that conservation measures are in place and effective over the life of the permit.” The US Fish and Wildlife Service would review the permits and eagle conservation measures every five years.

The rule drew strange bedfellows of criticism from not only environmental groups, but Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA). “Permits to kill eagles just seems unpatriotic, and 30 years is a long time for some of these projects to accrue a high death rate,” said Ranking Member Vitter. “The administration has repeatedly prosecuted oil, gas, and other businesses for taking birds, but looks the other way when wind farms or other renewable energy companies do the exact same thing.”  The Natural Resources Defense Council asserted that Interior rejected recommendations that would have allowed the wind projects to move forward while increasing safety for the eagles.

For additional information on the rule, click here

AGRICULTURE: ESA SENDS LETTER ON USDA DRAFT RESEARCH ACTION PLAN

 

On Dec. 2, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) issued a letter to Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics and Chief Scientist Catherine Woteki on the US Department of Agriculture’s draft Research, Education, and Economics (REE) Mission Area Action Plan.

ESA sought to enhance the focus of ecology in the USDA research and education action plan. “Most fundamentally, agroecology works from the acknowledgment that agricultural systems are inescapably ecological and social systems, and thus must be analyzed from these contexts,” the letter states. “Agroecologists study agriculture’s effects on natural resources, the socioeconomic viability and effects of different farming systems and practices, disease ecology and prevention in crops and livestock, forestry, conservation biology, biotechnology and crop genetics, biodiversity, pest control, soil science, and agriculture’s responses to and effects on climate change, among other areas. In other words, its areas of focus precisely align with USDA REE objectives.”

In addition to bolstering ecology’s presence in the plan, the letter calls for USDA REE to have a dedicated budget for agroecology research. It also calls for a USDA agroecology conference to foster collaboration among the agency, the agroecological research community, farmers, ranchers and other stakeholders.

View the full letter here.

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: FWS CONSIDERS PROTECTIONS FOR TARANTULAS

 

On Dec. 3, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced it was considering federal protection under the Endangered Species Act for 11 foreign tarantula species.

The species include six native to India (Poecilotheria formosa, P. hanumavilasumica, P. metallica, P. miranda, P. rufilata, and P. striata) and five species native to Sri Lanka (P. fasciata, P. ornata, P. pederseni, P. subfusca and P. smithi). The original petition for the listing came in Oct. 2010 from WildEarth Guardians. The petition cites destruction of forest habitat, collection for the pet trade, international killing and inadequate regulatory mechanisms among the reasons for a potential listing for the tarantulas.

Comments must be received by Feb. 3, 2014. For additional information, click here.

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 3640, the Innovation, Research and Manufacturing Act – Introduced Dec. 3 by Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA), the bill would make permanent the research and development tax credit and increase the existing credit by 50 percent. The bill has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Approved by House Committee/Subcommittee

On Dec. 4, the House Natural Resources Committee approved several bills by voice vote, including the following:

H.R. 3286, the Protecting States, Opening National Parks Act – Introduced by Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT), the bill would direct the Secretary of the Treasury to reimburse states that opened national parks during the Oct. 2013 federal government shutdown. The bill has 26 bipartisan cosponsors. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has introduced companion legislation in the Senate (S. 1572) that also has bipartisan support. 

H.R. 1425, the Marine Debris Emergency Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), the bill would amend the Marine Debris Act to encourage the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and state governors to improve response to severe marine debris.

H.R. 1491, The Tsunami Debris Cleanup Reimbursement Act – Introduced by Rep. Bonamici, the bill would provide funding to address the marine debris impacts of the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

On Dec. 5, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee approved the following bipartisan bills by voice vote:

H.R. 2413, the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act – Introduced by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), the bill seeks to reprioritize weather forecasting and tornado warning data within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The bill was amended from a previous version by Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT) and Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) to prioritize weather related activities, including climate and ocean research. A previous version of the bill sought to move funding away from climate research.

H.R. 2431, the National Integrated Drought Information System Reauthorization Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), the bill would reauthorize the National Integrated Drought Information System. The bill was also amended to include research on extreme weather and climate variability.

H.R. 2981, the Technology and Research Accelerating National Security and Future Economic Resiliency (TRANSFER) Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), the bill would  direct each federal agency to establish a small business technology transfer (STTR) program  to help accelerate the commercialization of federally funded research.


 Sources: ClimateWire, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, National Journal, Natural Resources Defense Council, NDD United, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House

November 22, 2013

 

In this Issue

SCIENCE: SUBCOMMITTEE REVIEWS LEGISLATION TO REAUTHORIZE NSF

 

On Nov. 13, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research considered the Frontiers in Innovation Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act, draft legislation to reauthorize programs in the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as well as various Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education programs.

Committee Democrats were concerned about provisions of the bill that would supersede NSF’s existing merit review process. Chief among Democrats’ concerns was Section 104 of the bill, which requires the NSF director to provide a written justification for each grant verifying that it meets certain requirements, including furthering “the national interest,” being “worthy of federal funding,” furthering economic competitiveness and advancing the health and welfare of the general public. The requirements are similar to those laid out in a previous draft bill authored by science committee Republicans, the High Quality Research Act, which was opposed by the scientific community. The Ecological Society of America joined the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) in sending a letter to the science committee expressing concerns with such efforts earlier this year. 

House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-LA) states that the language is necessary to ensure accountability to the American taxpayer over federal funding decisions. “They [government employees] should explain why grants that receive taxpayer funding are important research that has the potential to benefit the national interest. It’s not the government’s money; it’s the people’s money,” asserted Smith. “Enhanced transparency and accountability isn’t a burden; it will ultimately make NSF’s grant award process more effective.”

Research Subcommittee Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) noted the importance of funding for behavior research, which has also been targeted by conservatives. “Social and behavioral sciences have played a critical role in strengthening our response to disasters, improving public health, strengthening our legal system, and optimizing the use of federal resources,” said Lipinski. “I believe any reauthorization of NSF should provide sustainable funding to all scientific disciplines and not impose any unique restrictions or conditions on any specific type of research.”

There was also concern regarding the bill’s lack of provisions to promote women and minority participation in STEM education fields. Alternative legislation sponsored by House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) includes such a provision. Her bill also functions as a comprehensive reauthorization for all federal science agencies in stark contrast to the piecemeal multiple bill approach taken by House Republicans.

The Republican bill also includes a provision to require public posting of the written justification used to award a grant before it is awarded. Testifying witness Vice President for Research at Purdue University Richard Buckius stated this provision would “severely compromise the process and add tremendous administrative burden.”

The draft is the second bill House Republicans have put forward to reauthorize the AMERICA COMPETES Act. Several weeks ago, the committee considered a bill to reauthorize Department of Energy science initiatives. For additional information, see the Nov. 11 edition of ESA Policy News.

To view the CNSF letter to Chairman Smith, click here. For more information on the hearing, click here.

SENATE: COMMITTEE APPROVES SCIENCE AGENCY NOMINEES AHEAD OF RULE CHANGE

On Nov. 12, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved several of President Obama’s choices to lead key positions at the administration’s science agencies.

The committee approved Kathryn Sullivan for the position of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator, Jo Handelsman to be Associate Director for Science for the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and Robert Simon for Associate Director for Environment and Energy for OSTP. Sullivan has previously served as NOAA’s chief scientist and assistant secretary for observation and predictions. If approved by the full Senate, Sullivan would succeed Jane Lubchenco, a former president of the Ecological Society of America.

The upcoming Senate floor confirmation votes for the nominees were made easier this week when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) held a procedural vote to allow most presidential appointments to be approved by a simple majority vote. The rule change effectively denies the Senate minority party the power to filibuster such nominees. The rule change does not apply to legislation or US Supreme Court nominees.

The rule change is often referred to as the “nuclear option” in the media, due to its unprecedented restrictions on the power of the Senate minority party. The move was prompted by Senate Republicans’ recent attempts to hold up three of President Obama’s nominees to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals for partisan purposes. The change comes as Senate Republicans have sought to hold up a historically large number of President Obama’s nominees.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) warned that Reid may regret invoking the option, arguing that it could lead to the eventual elimination of the power of the Senate minority to filibuster. The rule change also sets a new precedent for Senate Republicans to implement similar limits on the minority’s power, should they take the majority in the future.

HOUSE: ENVIRONMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEES SHUFFLE LEADERSHIP

The recent death of House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Chairman Bill Young (R-FL) spurred a slight reorganization of chairmanships at the subcommittee level, including two committees that oversee funding for several key energy and environmental federal agencies.

Former Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) will now chair the Defense Subcommittee in Young’s place. Former Interior and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) will now head the Energy and Water Subcommittee. Congressman Ken Calvert (R-CA) will take Simpson’s former spot as chairman of the Interior and Environment Subcommittee.

The Interior and Environment Subcommittee has primary jurisdiction over funding the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Council on Environmental Quality and the US Forest Service. The Energy and Water Subcommittee funds the Department of Energy, the Bureau of Reclamation, the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

One of the first major tasks for the new subcommittee chairmen will potentially be to outline spending levels of the agencies under their jurisdiction for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, which began Oct. 1. The existing continuing resolution runs out Jan. 15, 2014. The spending levels set in a new appropriations bill will in part depend on the details of a budget agreement between House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) and to what degree such an agreement nullifies the existing sequestration cuts, which have carried over from FY 2013. The two chairs have until Dec. 13 to produce a budget deal.

FWS: NEW REPORT DOCUMENTS CONTINUED COASTAL WETLAND LOSS

On Nov. 21, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report concluding the United States is now losing over 80,000 acres of coastal wetlands per year, up from 60,000 in a prior study.

Coastal areas around the Gulf of Mexico accounted for 71 percent of the wetland loss. The study attributed wetland loss predominantly to losses of saltwater wetlands in the Gulf due to coastal storms in combination with freshwater forested wetland loss due to urban renewal development. The report concludes that rising ocean levels are also affecting coastal wetland loss.

According to the report, coastal wetlands provide a home to 75 percent of the nation’s waterfowl and other migratory birds. Also, over half of all fish caught for commercial and recreational purposes depend on coastal wetlands at some point in their lives.

The data used in this report will be used in the development of policies and initiatives to promote environmental stewardship of coastal resources such as the National Ocean Policy. View the full report here.

POLICY ENGAGEMENT: APPLY FOR 2014 ESA GRADUATE STUDENT POLICY AWARD

ESA invites applications for its 2014 Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA). This award, offered annually to up to three winners, provides graduate students hands-on science policy experience in Washington, DC including interacting with congressional decision-makers, federal agency officials, and others engaged in science and public policy. 

ESA covers travel and lodging expenses associated with this event for GSPA recipients. The two-day event will occur April 9 and 10, 2014. The application deadline is Monday, January 6. For more information, click here.

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 3533, the Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act - Introduced Nov. 19 by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), the bill would allow states to opt-out of regulation under the Endangered Species Act. The bill also requires approval of a congressional joint resolution for the addition of new federally protected species. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

Considered by House Committee

On Nov. 21, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation held a hearing on several bills related to the federal government shutdown, including the following:

H.R. 3286, the Protecting States, Opening National Parks Act – Introduced by Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT), the bill would direct the Secretary of the Treasury to reimburse states that opened national parks during the Oct. 2014 federal government shutdown. The bill has 26 bipartisan cosponsors. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has introduced companion legislation in the Senate (S. 1572) that also has bipartisan support. 

H.R. 3311, the Providing Access and Retain Continuity Act – Introduced by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), the bill would automatically reimburse states if they operate parks during a shutdown. The bill would also call on the Secretary of Interior to preemptively work with states to ensure they can ably take over park operations in the event of a federal government shutdown. The bill’s 17 cosponsors are all Republicans.

H.R. 3294, the State-Run Federal Lands Act – Introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the bill would authorize a state to petition the federal government to enter in agreement to allow state control of federal lands managed by the National Park Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Forest Service.

Approved by House Committee

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 US Department of Interior’s (DOI) Office of Surface Mining from implementing a stream protection rule intended to protect water and wildlife from detrimental effects of mountaintop removal mining projects in the Appalachian region. The House Natural Resources Committee approved the bill Nov. 14 by vote of 24-14.

Passed House

H.R. 1965, the Federal Jobs and Land Security Act – Introduced by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), the bill would set deadlines for the Bureau of Land Management to make leasing and permitting decisions for oil and gas development on federal lands. The bill sets a 60 day limit for review of such permits. The bill passed the House Nov. 20 by a vote of 228-192.

The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy (veto threat) against the bill. Among its concerns, the administration noted the bill would “direct that federal lands be managed for the primary purpose of energy development rather than for thoughtfully balanced multiple uses.” View the full statement here.

H.R. 2728, the Protecting States’ Rights to Promote Energy Security Act – Introduced by Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), the bill would prohibit DOI from enforcing federal hydraulic fracturing standards if states currently have their own guidance governing the practice. The bill passed Nov. 20 by a vote for 235-187 with 12 Democrats joining all but two Republicans in voting yes.

The White House issued a veto threat against the bill, asserting the president would veto the measure, noting the bill would “require [the Bureau of Land Management] to defer to existing state regulations on hydraulic fracturing on Federal lands, regardless of the quality or comprehensiveness of the State regulations – thereby preventing consistent environmental protections.” View the full White House statement here.

H.R. 1900, the Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act – Introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), the bill would expedite approval of natural gas permits through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The legislation sets a deadline of one year for FERC to reach a decision on whether to approve new gas pipeline applications. Failure of the agency to meet the review deadlines outlined in the bill will result in a permit being automatically deemed approved. The House passed the bill Nov. 21 by a vote of 252-165 with 26 Democrats joining Republicans in support of the bill.

The White House issued a veto threat against the bill, asserting “the bill’s requirements could force agencies to make decisions based on incomplete information or information that may not be available within the stringent deadlines.” View the full statement here.


 Sources: American Association for the Advancement of Science, ClimateWire, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House

November 11, 2013

In this Issue

WHITE HOUSE: NEW EXECUTIVE ORDER BUILDS ON CLIMATE ACTION PLAN

On Nov. 1, President Obama issued a new broad Executive Order, instructing federal agencies to help states strengthen their ability to cope with increasingly intense storms, severe droughts, wildfires and other various effects of climate change.

The Executive Order establishes a Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience to advise the administration on how the federal government can respond to state and local concerns across the country on how to increase climate change preparedness. The task force will be comprised of governors, mayors, tribal leaders and other officials from across the country. The Executive Order instructs federal agencies to improve dissemination of tools to address climate change and help local communities to construct natural disaster-resilient infrastructure and natural resource and ecosystem resiliency.

The order also establishes a Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, involving 20 federal offices that will be charged with implementing the Executive Order. The council will be co-chaired by the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.

View the full Executive Order here.

A special issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment assesses the impacts of climate change on people and ecosystems this November, and includes an article on preparing for future environmental flux. To view the special issue, click here.

SCIENCE: LAWMAKERS REVIEW LEGISLATION TO REAUTHORIZE AMERICA COMPETES ACT

On Oct. 30, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee convened a hearing to consider a draft bill to partially reauthorize the America COMPETES Act, legislation to increase US federal investment in scientific research and innovation. However, there was debate among committee members over whether funding authorized in the bill was sufficient.

The Enabling Innovation for Science, Technology, and Energy in America (EINSTEIN) Act, the draft bill under consideration, would set science priorities for the Department of Energy (DOE). “The discussion draft requires the Department of Energy to coordinate with other federal agencies to streamline workplace regulations. This reduces burdensome red tape and provides the National Labs flexibility to more effectively and efficiently execute the Department’s mission,” stated House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX).

Committee Democrats, however, expressed concerns with how the bill funds the DOE Office of Science.  “At first glance, one might think that the Majority’s bill actually increases funding for the Office, but a closer look reveals that they are actually cutting funding – the rate of inflation for research is about three percent, but the bill only provides year-to-year increases of one to 1.7 percent, in effect cutting the Office’s budget,” asserted Energy Subcommittee Ranking Member Eric Swalwell (D-CA). Democrats also criticized the bill for prioritizing biological systems and genomics sciences research over climate science and environmental research.

The original America COMPETES Act was last reauthorized in 2010. That reauthorization expired Sept. 30. In addition to DOE’s Office of Science, the original bill contained authorizations for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology and DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. Republicans are expected to introduce legislation to reauthorize NSF and other aspects of the original bill in separate legislation, which falls in line with the piecemeal approach House Republicans have taken in tackling other issues such as education and immigration.

House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) has put forward alternative draft legislation that would fully reauthorize all the science agencies under the original America COMPETES Act. Entitled, the America Competes Reauthorization Act of 2013, the bill includes provisions to reauthorize the Research Innovation Program and provide grants and other methods to boost participation in Science Technology Mathematics and Engineering participation among women and minorities.

While the Senate has yet to introduce its version of the America COMPETES Act reauthorization, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held its first hearing on the measure this week. Senate Democrats are expected to take a comprehensive approach to reauthorizing the measure in line with their House counterparts.

The Senate legislation stands a good chance of garnering bipartisan support. Testifying at the hearing, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who worked on the 2007 bill, called for doubling authorization funding over the original bill. Sen. Alexander asserted that if the US’s investment in scientific research as a percentage of Growth Domestic Product was on par with China, US investment in scientific research would be “four times” what it is now. Sen. Alexander called on lawmakers to tackle the reauthorization with the bipartisan enthusiasm that moved the original America COMPETES, which passed the Senate by unanimous consent and the House by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 367-57.  

View the full House America COMPETES hearing here.

View the Senate America COMPETES hearing here.

WILDFIRES: SUBCOMMITTEE REVIEWS FOREST SERVICE FUNDING SHORTFALLS

On Nov. 5, the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry and Natural Resources held a hearing examining how existing federal funding constraints can increase the risk of wildfires.

In his opening statement, Conservation, Forestry and Natural Resources Subcommittee Chairman Michael Bennet (D-CO) noted that expenses for wildfire fighting have “quadrupled” in recent years at the expense of other US Forest Service (USFS) programs such as trail maintenance and timber contracting. The now routine borrowing from other accounts has happened “for the seventh time over the last twelve years,” according to Chairman Bennett.  He also discussed the various negative effects of wildfires including damage to land and water infrastructure, soil erosion, mudslides and flash floods with many of these effects occurring residually a year after the original wildfire. Chairman Bennett emphasized the importance of preemptive mitigation of wildfires, asserting that a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that for every dollar the federal government invested in wildfire mitigation and prevention saves over five dollars in future costs of suppressing wildfire outbreaks.

Ranking Member John Boozman (R-AR) noted that Congress’ tendency to implement repeated short-term continuing resolutions (CR) as well as omnibus spending measures as opposed to stand alone long-term bills has made it difficult to plan comprehensive long-term strategies for managing wildfires. He also called on measuring the effectiveness of USFS programs in light of the current fiscal constraints. (In contrast to stand-alone appropriations, omnibus spending measures and CRs tend not to provide the degree of specific direction that stand alone bills do).  

USFS Deputy Chief Jim Hubbard noted the impact of climate change on the intensity of wildfires as well as the length of wildfire season. In response to concerns from Ranking Member Boozman on the time spent on National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) compliance, Hubbard stated that the litigation caused by court challenges to NEPA are greater than any problems in implementing the law. Hubbard asserted that USFS is working to address concerns with NEPA before the litigation process starts in an effort to reduce this burden.

The hearing’s panelists included Chris Topik with The Nature Conservancy who touted his organization’s work on controlled burns and seconded Chairman Bennett’s earlier remarks regarding the need to increase funding for hazardous fuel reduction programs and the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program. Topik also called for the establishment of a separate “wildland fire suppression disaster prevention fund.” He also touted the importance of nonfederal partnerships to collaborate in fire suppression efforts.    

For more information on the hearing, click here.

AGRICULTURE: CONFEREES NEGOTIATE FARM BILL COMPROMISE

This week, House and Senate conferees resumed negotiations for a finalized farm bill reauthorization. According to lead negotiators, a finalized conference report is expected by Thanksgiving of this year.

The conference committee consists of 41 Republican and Democrat members, most of whom currently serve on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees. The negotiations are led by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS) and House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN).

How the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) is funded is expected to be highly contentious due to the extreme chasm that separates the House and Senate farm bills on the issue. The Senate bill cuts food stamps by $4 billion while that House bill would cut food stamps by $39 billion. The House bill also places work requirements on food stamp recipients that the Senate bill does not.

A provision in the Senate bill that would require farmers to meet conservation requirements in order to qualify for federal subsidies for crop insurance is also among the issues of contention. While Chairwoman Stabenow strongly supports the language, Chairman Lucas views it as an unnecessary regulatory burden for farmers. A large number of conservation groups have been pushing conferees to retain the conservation provisions. Environmental groups argue that the conservation requirements are particularly important to include as both the House and Senate bills eliminate the farm bill’s direct payment program, which had conservation requirements.

The Ecological Society of America recently joined over 275 organizations in sending a letter to farm bill conferees requesting support for the conservation compliance provisions as well as the sodsaver provision, which limits crop insurance, disaster payments and other federal benefits for newly broken land. In touting the sodsaver provision’s importance in preserving native grasslands, the letter states that “Most of the land that is being converted from native ecosystems to cropland is marginal, highly erodible, or prone to flooding. Bringing this marginally productive land into crop production provides little benefit to taxpayers, increases long-term costs due to erosion and nutrient loss, and ultimately leads to reduced water quality, less capacity to reduce flooding and the loss of valuable wildlife habitat.”

A finalized conference report would need to pass the Republican-controlled House, the Democratic-controlled Senate and be signed by the president. In the event the president vetoes the measure, two-thirds of the House and Senate would be needed to override the veto. While leaders are not anticipating reaching an agreement that the president would oppose, the last farm bill reauthorization from 2008 was enacted through Congress overriding a presidential veto.

To view the farm bill organizational letter, click here.

FORESTS: ESA SENDS LETTER TO CONGRESS ON EFFORTS TO LIMIT ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW

On October 29, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) penned a letter to the House Natural Resources Committee in response to an increasing number of legislative proposals that would limit National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews.

The letter outlines the important role NEPA plays in ensuring federal environmental policy decisions are informed by public input, including commentary from the scientific community. “Since its enactment in 1970, NEPA the law has played a critical role in providing an important channel of communication for the general public to inform federal agency decision-making,” the letter notes. “Through NEPA, public knowledge of environmental risks are improved as are federal agencies’ ability to make policy decisions informed by the local communities who would be most affected by a suggested proposal.”

The letter comes as the Natural Resources Committee has been moving on legislation that would ease forest harvesting capability at the expense of the NEPA review process. In September, the House passed H.R. 1526, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, which would exempt certain logging projects from review under NEPA as well as the Endangered Species Act. H.R. 3188, the Yosemite Rim Fire Emergency Salvage Act, would exempt timber harvests after forest fires from environmental review requirements in the aforementioned laws. The House Natural Resources Committee has held hearings on the latter bill.

Both bills are unlikely gain traction in the Democratic-controlled Senate. ESA’s letter cites a guidance memorandum released by the Council on Environmental Quality as a partial starting point for policymakers to improve implementation of NEPA. “Instead of pushing legislation to curtail NEPA, we request that Members of Congress work in a bipartisan manner to improve the law’s functionality,” asserts the letter.

View the letter here.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: SOCIETIES URGE PRESERVATION OF US BIOSPHERE RESERVES

In a joint letter to federal biosphere reserve administrators on October 29, the Ecological Society of America, the George Wright Society, and Organization of Biological Field Stations requested that administrators complete the paperwork required to allow the United States to continue its participation in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

The United States, which has the world’s largest number of biosphere reserves, has been tardy in carrying out its periodic review requirements and delivering them to the US State Department. Biosphere reserves that fail to submit these review requirements before the end of calendar year 2013 will be delisted by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, which oversees the program. The joint letter emphasizes the biosphere reserves’ importance in fostering collaborations across various sector of the general public in the advancement of ecological research.

“Biosphere reserves provide a cooperative framework for facilitating and sustaining a multitude of activities in ecological research, conservation, and education that, when integrated, further our understanding of natural reserves and the landscapes containing them while maintaining vital ecosystem services for economic and recreational use by human communities,” states the letter. “Such services benefit federal, state and local natural resource educators and managers, private landowners, and the scientific community.”

View the full letter here.

FWS: NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGES GENERATE BILLIONS IN REVENUE

On Nov 5, the US Fish and Wildlife Service released a report documenting the economic contribution of national wildlife refuges.

The report concludes that in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011, the nation’s 561 wildlife refuges contributed $2.4 billion to the economy and supported over 35,000 jobs. According to the report, 75 percent of this money comes from “non-consumptive” recreational activities such as picnicking, hiking and photography. The remaining economic activity is generated through “consumptive uses” such as hunting, trapping and fishing.

The report, entitled Banking on Nature, finds that these refuges generated an average of $4.87 in economic output for every $1 appropriated in FY 2011. It also notes that spending by wildlife refuge visitors generates $343 million in federal, state, county and local tax revenue. 

Encompassing over 150 million acres of land, the National Wildlife Refuge System is the nation’s largest network of lands dedicated to wildlife preservation. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who touted the report during a visit to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, hopes the report will encourage lawmakers to invest in federal conservation initiatives. 

View the full report here.

CURRENT POLICY

Approved by House Committee

H.R. 3316, the Grant Reform and New Transparency (GRANT) Act – Introduced by Rep. James Lankford (R-OK), the bill would require posting of grant applications and peer reviewers on a public website. The bill, introduced during the previous Congress, has received concern from the scientific research community. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved the bill Oct. 29 by a vote of 19-15.

The GRANT Act, which was also introduced in the previous Congress, has been opposed by scientific societies. To view the Coalition for National Science Funding organizational letter on the GRANT Act, click here.

Passed House

H.R. 2640, the Central Oregon Jobs and Water Security Act – Introduced by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), the bill would allow new hydropower development in Prinevielle, Oregon. The bill passed the House Oct. 29 by a voice vote and has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Introduced in Senate

S. 1650, to exempt certain Alaska Native articles from prohibitions against sale of items containing non-edible migratory bird parts – Introduced Nov. 5 by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the bill would exempt the prohibition of sale of migratory bird parts that are used in some traditional and customary handicrafts made by Alaska Natives. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Companion legislation (H.R. 3109) has been introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK).

S. 1641, the West Virginia National Heritage Area Act of 2013 – Introduced Nov. 4 by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) the bill would fund National Park Service assistance for the Wheeling National Heritage Area and the National Coal Heritage Area. It would also designate the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area in West Virginia and part of Maryland as a National Heritage Area. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.


 Sources: American Association for the Advancement of Science, ClimateWire, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, the National Wildlife Federation, POLITICO, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Washington Post, the White House

October 24, 2013

In this Issue

BUDGET: GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN ENDS, DEAL PUNTS FISCAL BATTLES UNTIL EARLY 2014

In the closing hours of Oct. 16, Congress passed a deal to reopen the federal government through Jan. 15 and allow the president to temporarily suspend the debt ceiling until Feb. 7. Under the agreement, which was signed by the president, Congress can only reject the president’s temporary ability to suspend the debt ceiling with a two-thirds disapproval vote.

The continuing resolution continues the previously agreed upon Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 sequester spending levels of $986 billion (favored by the House) into the first few months of FY 2014. However, Congressional Republicans backed down on their initial assistance that the bill must include provisions to defund the Affordable Care Act after weeks of dwindling public poll numbers. The bill does include a provision requiring verification of the income claims for people applying for federal health insurance subsidies, though Senate Democratic leaders contend this merely helps enforce existing law.

The bill passed the Senate with a robust 81-18 vote and the House by a vote of 285-144. All opposing votes in both chambers came from Republicans. All major members of the House Republican leadership team, including Speaker John Boehner (OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (CA), voted for the compromise legislation. However, a majority of the Republican conference voted against the bill (144 Republicans opposed it, 87 supported it), meaning Speaker Boehner had to rely on the unified support of Democrats, shored up by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA).

Several committee chairmen, traditionally in lockstep with House leadership, split in their support for the deal. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-CA) and Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) endorsed the deal. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), a potential 2016 presidential contender, opposed the bill. House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) also opposed the deal.

While the deal was largely free of the typical controversial riders that Republicans had clamored for, it does include several added provisions favored by members of both major parties. The deal includes $600 million for the US Forest Service and $36 million for the Department of Interior to shore up funding expended on summer wildfires. The bill also increases spending authority by $1.2 billion for the Olmsted dam project along the Illinois-Kentucky border, a project favored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Federal workers returning to work Oct. 17 after a two week furlough found a pleasant surprise in the contents of the shutdown compromise. Among its provisions, the deal included a one percent pay increase for federal workers, the first increase authorized by Congress since 2010. The deal also guaranteed that all federal employees would be granted back pay compensation for the days they were furloughed.

A key aspect of the deal may help decide how Congress handles funding for the remainder of FY 2014 when it approaches the new January and February deadlines. Part of the deal requires that House and Senate to go to conference on a FY 2014 budget. The conference committee would have to report back an agreement on the budget by Dec. 13. This would provide another opportunity for Congress to strike a “grand bargain” on deficit reduction. Such a deficit reduction agreement would (ideally) fully restore discretionary spending to its pre-sequester levels. The budget conference committee is expected to begin talks Oct. 30.

However, there is no enforcement mechanism to incentivize lawmakers to meet the deadline and the partisan political climate that has kept members from reaching consensus on mandatory spending cuts or tax revenue increases generally remains unchanged. If the budget committee fails to strike an agreement by Dec. 13, it will likely once again fall to House and Senate leaders in conjunction with the president to work out a deficit reduction deal. If this group fails, it will ultimately fall on appropriators to work on a plan to continue funding the government for FY 2014 in line with the post-sequestration spending caps, putting long-term domestic programs, including research and conservation, at further risk for unsustainable spending reductions.

HOUSE: GOP WATER BILL PASSES, GARNERS RARE WHITE HOUSE ENDORSEMENT

 

On Oct. 23, the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act. The bill, sponsored by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-VA), passed by a vote of 417-3.

The $8.2 billion bill reauthorizes funding for Army Corps of Engineers projects related to levees, dams, ecosystem restoration and flood control and other issues related to water resources infrastructure. In an attempt to increase Republican support, the bill includes a bill to deauthorize (cancel) $12 billion among the oldest and most backlogged water resources projects, a provision the White House endorsed in its official Statement of Administration Policy supporting the bill. In the statement, the White House notes the Army Corps currently endures a $60 billion construction backlog in its operation and maintenance infrastructure costs.  

The White House did express concerns with certain provisions of the bill that would streamline environmental reviews, asserting “the bill includes provisions that could constrain science-based decision making, increase litigation risk, and undermine the integrity of several foundational environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.” In its policy statement on the bill, the administration noted its existing work to improve the federal permitting and review process and urged Congress to make use of the existing federal environmental review framework and improve environmental stewardship.

Traditionally, water resources authorization bills draw overwhelming bipartisan support. The 2007 Water Resources Development Act was enacted over a presidential veto with over two-thirds of members in both chambers voting for the measure. The 2013 bill is endorsed by the National Association of Manufacturers and the US Chamber of Commerce. Heritage Action, however, strongly opposed the bill due to its overall spending levels. The House Rules Committee only allowed debate on 24 of the 98 amendments submitted, forgoing debate on contentious amendments, such as one to lift a restriction on carrying firearms at Army Corps.-managed sites.

The House bill is mostly a revised version of the Water Resources Development Act that passed the Senate in May by a vote of 83-14. The Senate bill differs in that it authorizes $12.2 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The Senate bill also grants more authority for approval of water resources projects to the administration while the House bill limits authority to Congress. The House bill also lacks language favored by Louisiana Senators to speed work on the “Morganza to the Gulf” flood protection project in southern Louisiana. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) is also the senior Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over water resources legislation and would likely be on the conference committee that negotiates a final version of the bill.

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: FOREST SERVICE PUBLISHES ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION RULE

 

The US Forest has announced the publication of a final rule improving the agency’s ability to restore lands affected by various forms of man-made infrastructure, including roadways, trails, levees and drainage mechanisms. The rule establishes three new categorical exclusions (CEs) for hydrologic, aquatic and landscape restoration activities.

The Forest Service prepares 2,000-2,500 categorical exclusions and 400 environmental assessments per year. Document preparation for categorical exclusions generally take one-third less time than environmental assessments as these assessments can run hundreds of pages long. The use of categorical exclusions allows FS to reduce the resources spent analyzing proposals that do not have potentially significant environmental impacts and more efficiently refocus resources on proposals that do. The categorical exclusions will be used for activities such as removing, replacing or modifying dikes, drainage tiles, ditches, pipes and other related infrastructure.

Comments on the final rule must be received by Nov. 22, 2013. For additional information on the rule as well as direction on how to comment, click here: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-09-12/pdf/2013-22149.pdf

For additional questions on the rule, click here:

http://www.fs.fed.us/emc/nepa/restorationCE/includes/Restoration_CE_QAs.pdf

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: FEDERAL PROTECTIONS PROPOSED FOR RIVER-DWELLING CUCKOO

 

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has announced that it has proposed listing the Western yellow-billed cuckoo as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

The cuckoo reportedly nests in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. The proposed listing is due to the continued decline of its nesting habitat along rivers and streams from a wide range of factors, including agriculture, overgrazing, urban and transportation infrastructure, and increased incidence of wildfires, according to FWS.

Legal settlements with environmental groups in 2011 prompted the agency to issue a final listing determination by the end of last month.

Public comments are being accepted through Dec. 2, 2013. For additional information on the proposed listing as well as direction on how to comment, click here: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-10-03/pdf/2013-23725.pdf

FWS: CALIFORNIA SEABIRD DOES NOT WARRANT FEDERAL PROTECTION

On Oct. 22, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced it had rejected a petition to list the shy storm petrel as a protected species under the Endangered Species Act. The agency concluded that, while climate change may affect individual birds in certain locations, it is not impacting the species as a whole. The agency also concluded there has not been a change in the birds’ historical range to warrant listing under the Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) first petitioned to list the species for federal protection in 2007. CBD, in response to the ruling, contended that FWS did not take into account documented decreases in populations on Farallon Islands off San Francisco between 1972-1992 as well as a population decline in Northern California documented in a study between 1986-2006. According to CBD, these declines prompted the petrel’s inclusion on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s list of endangered species.

View the full announcement here:

https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/10/22/2013-24170/endangered-and-threatened-wildlife-and-plants-12-month-finding-on-a-petition-to-list-ashy

NSF: NEW TOOLS LAUNCHED TO TRACK STEM EDUCATION, RESEARCH

 

The National Science Foundation has announced two new tools for tracking data and trends in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and research.

The two new tools are based on the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators (SEI) biennial report. The “STEM Education Data and Trends” tool provides STEM Education information in a user-friendly graphical interface. The SEI app for iPad” tool grants mobile access to several SEI related publications and policy reports.

To view the STEM data trends tool, click here: http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/sei/edTool/

To view the SEI app, click here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/science-engineering-indicators/id688898067

ESA recently published an EcoTone blog on STEM education viewable here:

http://www.esa.org/esablog/ecologist-2/ecology-education/how-are-we-doing-in-u-s-stem-education-a-timeline/

 


Sources:  ClimateWire, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, POLITICO, Roll Call, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Washington Post, the White House

October 11, 2013

In this Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debt ceiling proposals emerge

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

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

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

Hope for furloughed workers

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

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

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

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

GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN: FURLOUGHS PUT RESEARCH, CONSERVATION EFFORTS ON HOLD

 

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

BLM/BSEE

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

DOE

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

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

EPA

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

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

FWS

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

NASA

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

NOAA

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

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

NPS

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

NSF

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

USDA

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

USGS

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

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

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

AGRICULTURE: CONSERVATION GROUPS PRESS LAWMAKERS FOR FARM BILL ACTION

 

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

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

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

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

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

The Ducks Unlimited organizational letter is available here:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

CLIMATE CHANGE: LA TIMES REFUSES TO PRINT LETTERS FROM SKEPTICS

 

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

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

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

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

View the full climate change editorial here:

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

The original piece is available here:

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

 


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