October 11, 2013

In this Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debt ceiling proposals emerge

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

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

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

Hope for furloughed workers

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

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

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

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

GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN: FURLOUGHS PUT RESEARCH, CONSERVATION EFFORTS ON HOLD

 

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

BLM/BSEE

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

DOE

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

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

EPA

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

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

FWS

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

NASA

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

NOAA

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

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

NPS

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

NSF

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

USDA

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

USGS

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

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

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

AGRICULTURE: CONSERVATION GROUPS PRESS LAWMAKERS FOR FARM BILL ACTION

 

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

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

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

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

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

The Ducks Unlimited organizational letter is available here:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

CLIMATE CHANGE: LA TIMES REFUSES TO PRINT LETTERS FROM SKEPTICS

 

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

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

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

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

View the full climate change editorial here:

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

The original piece is available here:

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

 


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

September 27, 2013

In this Issue

APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS DEBATES SHORTTERM SPENDING MEASURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A draft summary of the report is available here:

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

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

HOUSE: ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS TESTIFY ON CLIMATE ACTION PLAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

EPA: NEW CARBON STANDARDS FOR POWER PLANTS RELEASED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADVOCACY: BUSH INTERIOR OFFICIAL TAKES POLICY REINS AT NATURE CONSERVANCY

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLIMATE: BOXER LAUDS BUSH CENTER WITH ENVIRONMENTAL AWARD

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

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

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

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

SCIENCE: GOLDEN GOOSE AWARDS SPOTLIGHT UNCONVENTIONAL DISCOVERIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

WILDLIFE: ESA SIGNS LETTER OF SUPPORT FOR CONSERVATION PROGRAMS

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

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

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

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

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

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

Approved by House Committee

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

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

Passed House

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

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

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

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

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

Introduced in Senate

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

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

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


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

 

September 13, 2013

In this Issue

BUDGET: CONGRESS EXPECTED TO PUNT PRIORITY FUNDING ISSUES

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCIENCE: CONSERVATIVES PULL BIPARTISAN LAUREATES BILL

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

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

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

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

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

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

AGRICULTURE: ECOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA URGES ACTION ON CONSERVATION PROGRAMS

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To contact your US Senator, click here:

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

NOAA: REPORT FINDS HUMAN ACTIVITY INFLUENCED 2012 EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS

 

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

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

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

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

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

EPA: 2013 ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE GRANT RECIPIENTS ANNOUNCED

 

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

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

Eligible organizations include the following:

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

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

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

Additional information on the program is available here:

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

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: FWS ANNOUNCES EXTENSION FOR WOLF DELISTING

 

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

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

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

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

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

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: FEDERAL PROTECTIONS PROPOSED FOR WHITE RHINO

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

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

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

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

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

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

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House 

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

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

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

Passed House

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

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

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

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

Considered by Senate Committee

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

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

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

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

Considered on Senate floor

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

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

 


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

August 23, 2013

In this Issue

BUDGET: CONGRESS ADJOURNS AMID IMMINENT SPENDING DEADLINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EPA: OVERSIGHT SUBCOMMITTEE REVIEWS BRISTOL BAY WATERSHED ASSESSMENT

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View the full hearing, here.

ENERGY: CONGRESSIONAL TASK FORCE RELEASES CLIMATE CHANGE ACTION STRATEGY

 

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

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

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

View the full report here.

INTERIOR: SCIENTISTS WHO CRITICIZED WOLF DELISTING REMOVED FROM PEER REVIEW

 

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

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

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

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

View the May 21 scientists’ letter here.

HUD: CLIMATE CHANGE SHOULD BE PART OF SANDY REBUILDING EFFORTS

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

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

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

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

Click here to view the full report.

FOREST SERVICE: WILDLAND FIRES LEAD AGENCY SPENDING SHORTFALLS

 

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

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

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

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

INVASIVE SPECIES: WHITE HOUSE ANNOUNCES ASIAN CARP CONTROL STRATEGY

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

Updates specified in the 2013 framework include the following:

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

A summary of the framework is available here.

Read the full framework here.

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: EXTENSION FOR COMMENTS ON INVASIVE SPECIES PROPOSAL

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

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

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

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

For additional background, click here.

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: USGS PLANS CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION DATABASE

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

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

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


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

 

July 26, 2013

In this Issue

APPROPRIATIONS: ENVIRONMENTAL AGENCIES SLASHED, FIRE PREVENTION GETS BOOST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For additional information on the bill, click here.

EPA: MCCARTHY CONFIRMED AS NEW ADMINISTRATOR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View Administrator McCarthy’s statement here.

View President Clinton’s remarks here.

SENATE: COMMITTEE RE-ENGAGES IN CLIMATE SCIENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View the full hearing, here

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS EPA HYDRAULIC FRACTURING STUDY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View the full hearing here.

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

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

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

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

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

View the letter to GAO here

The Yale study is available here

GREAT LAKES: SENATORS PRESS OBAMA FOR CLIMATE ACTION

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

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

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

The full letter is available here:

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

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

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

Considered by House Committee/Subcommittee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Approved by House Committee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A full listing of measures approved is available here.

Passed House

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

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

Introduced in the Senate

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

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

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

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


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

July 12, 2013

In this Issue

APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE CJS BILL CUTS SCIENCE INVESTMENT

 

On July 9, the House Appropriations Committee released its Commerce, Justice and Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, which includes funding for the Department of Justice, Department of Commerce and several key science agencies for the coming fiscal year.

In total, the CJS bill includes $47.4 billion for FY 2014, $2.8 billion below the FY 2013 enacted level and $350 million below FY 2013 when accounting for implementation of sequestration. House Republicans have been drafting legislation under the assumption that sequestration will continue through Fiscal Year 2014. Coupled with the fact that they are simultaneously seeking to boost Department of Defense spending, non-defense discretionary spending programs are set to undergo even further spending declines if their bills are enacted.

For the first time in years, the National Science Foundation (NSF) would see a significant reduction in funding under the bill compare to the enacted level in the previous fiscal year. NSF would receive $7 billion in FY 2014, $259 million below the enacted level in 2013 pre-sequestration and $631 million below the president’s budget request.  Other key science agencies under the jurisdiction of the bill include:

• National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $4.9 billion, $89 million below the FY 2013 enacted level. 

• National Aeronautics and Space Administration: $16.6 billion, $928 million below the FY 2013 enacted level.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cut of $89 million is nine percent below the FY 2013 enacted amount. Funding would be maintained for the agency’s weather and satellite programs. The Joint Polar Satellite System would receive $824 million in FY 2014 and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite program would receive $955 million. Research and fisheries management programs are expected to bear the burden of the cuts.

For additional information on the bill, click here.

DOE: REPORT LINKS CLIMATE CHANGE TO ENERGY SECTOR RISKS

On July 11, the US Department of Energy released a report entitled US Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather.” The report comes on the heels of President Obama’s climate speech last month and highlights detrimental effects climate change is having on US energy production.

Among its findings, the report notes coastal energy infrastructure is particularly susceptible to violent storms and sea level rise and that drought could negatively affect hydraulic fracturing efforts. The report cites that heat waves have led to shutdowns of coal-fired and nuclear power plants. The report also points to threats to oil and gas production in the Arctic from infrastructure damage from thawing permafrost. It also notes that violent storms in recent years have on several occasions led to massive power losses across several states.

Among suggested methods of adapting to climate change, the report calls for “the deployment of energy technologies that are more climate-resilient, assessment of vulnerabilities in the energy sector, adaptation planning efforts, and policies that can facilitate these efforts.” The report proposes development of water-efficient technologies for oil and gas production, and increased data collection on the costs and benefits of climate adaption, including preventing infrastructure loss and economic loss due to energy production disruptions. View the full report here.

USDA: FEDERAL PARTNERSHIP ANNOUNCED TO PRESERVE LAND ON MILITARY GROUNDS

On July 10, the US Department of Agriculture, the Department of Defense and the Department of Interior announced a plan to help farmers and ranchers conserve sensitive land around military installations.

The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership seeks to address agricultural development that is encroaching on military installations with the intended goals of preserving both military training missions and protecting wildlife habitat. Federal agencies intend to invest $12.6 million towards restoration and protection of over 2,600 acres of prairie habitat.

The partnership will begin in the South Puget Sound region of Washington state. Additional sites will be reviewed as the program moves forward. For additional information, click here.

INVASIVE SPECIES: EPA APPROVES USE OF ARUNDO DONAX IN BIOFUEL USE

On June 28, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a final rule certifying that two invasive grasses, Arundo donax and napier grass, qualify as a cellulosic renewable fuel and consequently, can be used in biofuel production under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program.

The final rule completes analysis of the plants’  potential contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as mandated under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-140). According to EPA, the level of GHG generated through cultivation of the plants are 60 percent less than the level from gasoline and diesel.  Biofuels producers have praised Arundo donax plant due to its drought-resistance and ability to grow in poor soil. However, these qualities have also made it a formidable invasive plant.

Over the past year, the Ecological Society of America joined with a number of other organizations, including the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), the Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in several meetings and written correspondence to federal regulatory officials requesting that EPA not move forward with the rulemaking approving the use of the invasive feedstocks. The final rule has been revised to require risk-management plans for producers, but these safeguards contain oversight loopholes that could fail to prevent an invasion.

In an Oct. 2012 letter to the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the environmental and scientific societies noted that Arundo donax has been listed as a noxious weed in several states in the western US and has been described as either an invasive or serious risk species in New Mexico, South Carolina and Alabama. The letter notes that eradication costs in California range from $5,000-$25,000 per acre.

“Assuming that best management practices will prevent the escape of highly invasive weeds grown on a large scale is naïve, risky, and dangerous,” asserted NWF legislative representative for agricultural policy Aviva Glaser in a press statement. “We’ve seen time and time again with invasive species that good intentions can result in expensive unintended consequences.”

View the Environmental Protection Agency rule here. View the National Wildlife Federation release here. View the Oct. 2012 arundo donax letter here.

FOREST SERVICE: MINING PROPOSAL OVERLAPS PROPOSED JAGUAR HABITAT

The US Forest Service (FS) is set to approve a controversial mining project roughly 30 miles south of Tuscon, Arizona near the Santa Rita Mountains.

A Draft Environmental Impact Statement released July 1 indicates that the agency concludes that Augusta Resource Corporation’s proposed Rosemont Copper Mine will not jeopardize the 10 federally listed threatened or endangered species that inhabit the region. The draft statement does acknowledge, however, that mining activities would damage or alter historic areas, including traditional cultural properties, sacred sites, traditional use areas, archaeological sites, historical structures, districts, and landscapes,” and includes environmental mitigation activities to minimize detrimental impacts on air quality, water resources, habitats and cultural sites in the region.

Nonetheless, national and local conservation groups have been in strong opposition to the mine’s construction since it was first proposed. Among their concerns is the threat the mine poses to the chances of jaguars establishing in southern Arizona. Chief opponents of the copper mine include the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Tucson-based non-profit group, Save the Scenic Santa Ritas. Regional US Environmental Protection Agency officials have also expressed concerns about the mining’s impact on area waters under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is proposing a separate critical habitat designation for the jaguar. Areas proposed include the Santa Rita Mountains where the mining is to take place. Hence, final approval of the FWS proposal would stand to rule out the FS proposal since the habitat in the area would become federally protected from human harm or alteration, according to CBD. Comments on the FWS proposal are due August, 9.

More than two-thirds of copper mined in the US comes from Arizona. Federal, state and local agency officials have 30 days from the draft statement’s release to provide comments before a final decision can be issued by FS.

For additional information on the FS proposal for the Rosemont Copper Mine, click here. For information on the FWS critical habitat designation, including the public comment opportunity, click here. The CBD press release on the proposed critical habitat designation is available here:

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: EXTENSION ANNOUNCED FOR PRARIE CHICKEN LISTING

On July 9, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced a six month extension on whether to provide federal protections for the lesser prairie chicken.

FWS has proposed a “threatened” listing for the species due to habitat loss and fragmentation, primarily from agricultural and energy development among other human-induced threats. The agency seeks specific scientific information including “historical and current status and distribution of the lesser prairie-chicken, its biology and ecology, specific threats (or lack thereof) and regulations that may be addressing those threats and ongoing conservation measures for the species and its habitat.”

Written comments must be received by close of business on August 8, 2013. A final determination is expected by FWS no later than March 30, 2014. For additional information, click here.

CURRENT POLICY

Approved by House Committee/Subcommittee

On July 9, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Environment approved the following bill:

H.R. 2413, the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act – Introduced by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), the bill seeks to prioritize weather forecasting and tornado warning data within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), largely at the expense of climate research under the Office of Atmospheric Research.

On July 10, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power approved the following bills:

H.R. 83, to require the Secretary of the Interior to assemble a team of technical, policy, and financial experts to address the energy needs of the insular areas of the United States – Introduced by Rep. Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands), the bill would require the Secretary of the Interior to create a plan that would reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels and develop renewable energy resources in US territories. The bill was approved by voice vote.

H.R. 1583, the Energy Consumers Relief Act – Introduced by Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), the bill would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to submit any energy-related regulatory proposal with an estimated cost of more than $1 billion to the Department of Energy (DOE) for approval. If the Secretary of Energy determines that the rule would cause an adverse impact to the economy, EPA would not be allowed to advance the regulation. The bill was approved by a vote of 17-10. Democrats opposed the bill contending that it seeks information on the costs of the rules without regard to the rules’ potential benefits. They also generally disapproved giving DOE unilateral “veto-power” over EPA regulations.

H.R. 1900, the Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act – Introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), the bill would expedite the review process for gas pipeline review permits with modified deadlines for when agencies can approve applications. Committee Democrats contended the bill stifled the environmental review process for applications. The bill was approved by a 17-9 vote.

Passed House

H.R. 2609, the Energy and Water Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year 2014 – Introduced by House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), the bill funds projects primarily under the jurisdiction of the Department of Energy and the US Army Corps of Engineers.  It includes $30.4 billion for FY 2014, $2.9 billion below the level enacted in Fiscal Year 2013 before sequestration. The bill contains significant cuts to renewable energy and science research accounts. The bill passed the House July 10 by a vote of 227-198.

The White House issued a statement of administration policy declaring the president would veto the bill. View the statement of administration policy here.

For additional information on the House Energy and Water bill, see the June 28 edition of ESA Policy News.

H.R. 2642, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act – Introduced by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), the bill is almost identical to the farm bill considered by the House several weeks ago (H.R. 1947).  The major difference is that the House-passed bill does not include funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides food stamps. Consequently, the bill also differs from H.R. 1947 in that it is not supported by House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Colin Peterson (D-MN), leading to no Democratic support this time around. The bill passed the House July 11 by a slim margin of 216-208. Twelve Republicans joined all Democrats in opposing the bill.

Both House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders have signaled a willingness to go to conference to negotiate a final bill, but a path forward toward compromise remains unclear due the chasm of differences between the House-passed farm bill and the farm bill (S. 954) that passed the Senate in June with a bipartisan 66-27 vote.

Introduced in Senate

S. 1254, the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2013 – Introduced June 27 by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the bill would authorize $20 million for research into toxic algal blooms within US freshwater and coastal areas. The legislation has 10 original cosponsors including Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Mark Begich (D-AK), John Rockefeller (D-WV), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Agnus King (I-ME), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). The bill has been referred to the Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee.


 Sources AAAS, Center for Biological Diversity, ClimateWire, Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Appropriations Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, National Wildlife Federation, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House

June 28, 2013

In this Issue

CLIMATE CHANGE: OBAMA OUTLINES PLAN TO REGULATE GREENHOUSE GASES

On June 25, President Obama announced his plan to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The plan seeks to implement federal action on addressing climate change in lieu of  Congress that has not passed comprehensive legislation  to reduce carbon emissions throughout the president’s first-term.

“Today, about 40 percent of America’s carbon pollution comes from our power plants.  But here’s the thing:  Right now, there are no federal limits to the amount of carbon pollution that those plants can pump into our air,” said President Obama. “We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air or our water, but power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free.  That’s not right, that’s not safe, and it needs to stop.”

The president asserted that rising sea-levels over the past century have contributed to more damaging hurricanes and that temperature changes have caused more severe droughts and increased the duration and reach of wildfires.

Implemented largely through the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Agriculture and Interior, the plan would set carbon limits on coal-fired industrial plants and invest in renewable energy usage on public lands. To brace for the continued impacts of climate change, the plan utilizes strategies developed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to help communities guard against flooding and extreme weather events. It also intends to apply scientific knowledge to help farmers, ranchers and landowners manage droughts and wildfires and improve forest restoration efforts. Recognizing that mitigating climate change is a global effort, the White House plan also increases federal government involvement in international efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and sets guidelines for how foreign assistance is spent.

President Obama also mentioned the Keystone pipeline in his speech. Environmental groups have ardently urged him to reject approval of the pipeline, in part by stating it would have negative consequences related to climate change. While the president did not state what his administration will ultimately decide, he stated “the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.” The draft environmental impact statement released in March claimed the pipeline would have a negligible impact on the environment as long as certain regulatory safeguards are appropriately implemented.

The president also sought to reaffirm the consensus among scientists on humanity’s contribution to climate change. “The overwhelming judgment of science — of chemistry and physics and millions of measurements — has put all that to rest,” he said.  “Ninety-seven percent of scientists, including, by the way, some who originally disputed the data, have now put that to rest.  They’ve acknowledged the planet is warming and human activity is contributing to it.”  

He also took time to rebuke climate change skeptics. “Nobody has a monopoly on what is a very hard problem, but I don’t have much patience for anyone who denies that this challenge is real,” said President Obama. “We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society,” he continued to applause.  “Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm.  And ultimately, we will be judged as a people, and as a society, and as a country on where we go from here.”

Reaction among leaders on Capitol Hill was typically partisan with Democrats praising the environmental and health benefits of the president’s plan and Republicans describing  it as a threat to job creation and energy development. “I am disappointed the president has once again signaled his intent to move forward with new rules that will make energy more expensive for hardworking American families,” stated House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “The president plans to use executive orders to bypass Congress and create more red tape that will increase the price of electricity and gasoline. And the president’s plan will have little or no impact on climate change.” House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) hailed the proposal, asserting that the “directives outlined by the president finally put the United States in a position to lead the globe on the critical issue of climate change.”

Given that Republicans control only the US House of Representatives, Congress’s ability to block the administration’s regulatory efforts will not be insurmountable, but it will be limited. Industry groups can be expected to challenge some of the proposed regulations through the judicial system. The US Supreme Court is already slated to take up a review of EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which seeks to regulate air pollution that crosses state lines.

For additional information on the plan, click here:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/share/climate-action-plan

To read President Obama’s full remarks, click here:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/06/25/remarks-president-climate-change

APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE, SENATE COMMITTEES PASS ENERGY AND WATER SPENDING BILLS

This month, the House and Senate appropriations committees move forward on legislation to fund federal energy and water development programs for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. Such programs are implemented largely through the Department of Energy (DOE) and US Army Corps of Engineers.

The House and Senate bills differ by $4 billion in their funding amounts, potentially setting up new conflicts during the conference process this fall and potentially, leading to a continuing resolution or a government shutdown if no agreement is reached between the House and Senate on overall discretionary spending levels for FY 2014. The House bill accounts for continued implementation of sequestration through FY 2014 while the Senate bill does not. House appropriators also are seeking to boost defense spending in FY 2014 and plan to adhere to the overall sequestration levels by cutting overall non-defense discretionary spending even further.

The $30.4 billion House energy and water bill slashes funding for a number of renewable energy and research programs at DOE. Funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would be cut by 40 percent compared to existing sequester level funding. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy would be cut by 80 percent below the sequestered funding. The DOE Office of Science would be funded at $4.7 billion, slightly above the sequester, yet 5.7 percent lower than pre-sequester FY 2012. It was approved by the House Appropriations Committee June 26 along party lines by a vote of 28-21.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) asserts the cuts are necessary to maintain national security and economic investments, including funding the Army Corps. Under the House bill, the Army Corps of Engineers would receive $4.9 billion in FY 2014, two percent below the pre-sequester enacted level for FY 2013. House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey called for an additional $2.6 billion in funding for the Army Corps., citing the agency’s $60 billion backlog in authorization projects. The measure also includes a provision blocking funding for any effort to clarify Clean Water Act jurisdiction over regulating wetlands.

The Senate Energy and Water appropriations bill was approved June 27, by a bipartisan vote of 24-6. Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member  Richard Shelby (R-AL) opposed the bill, concurring with the view of House Republicans that it should be funded in accordance with existing sequester levels. Energy and Water Subcommittee Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN), along with Sens. Thad Cochran (R-MS),  Susan Collins (R-ME), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jon Hoeven (R-ND), Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) joined committee Democrats in supporting the bill.

In contrast to the House measure, the Senate bill includes a $300 million boost over pre-sequester FY 2013 spending levels for the Army Corps, $287 million above pre-sequester FY 2013 spending levels for the DOE Office of Science, a $114 million increase for ARPA-E and a $470 million increase for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. Senate Democratic leaders are seeking to enact overall appropriations that adhere to the pre-sequester Budget Control Act levels. They insist the sequester should be addressed, not through appropriations, but in a separate long-term deficit reduction agreement.

Before the conference process between the two chambers begins, each body must pass its bill individually. The steep cuts in the House bill will make it unlikely it will get much support from House Democrats, meaning Republican leadership will likely have to rely on the votes of their own conference in order to get it passed. The partisan gridlock increases the likelihood that continuing resolutions will be necessary to fund the government when FY 2013 ends on Sept. 30.

For additional information on the Senate Energy and Water bill, click here:

http://www.appropriations.senate.gov/news.cfm?method=news.view&id=ba47a4ea-f6df-4341-9716-89343ce3e8c6

For additional information on the House Energy and Water bill, click here:

http://appropriations.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=340615

SUPREME COURT: PROPERTY OWNERS CAN BE COMPENSATIONED FOR PERMIT DENIALS

In a 5-4 ruling, the US Supreme Court this week ruled that governments can owe compensation to property owners who are denied land development permits. The court affirmed that a Florida resident who sought building permits to develop his land could pursue a property rights claim against the St. Johns River Water Management District. The water management district had refused to approve his project unless he made certain concessions, including spending money to improve public lands elsewhere.

Coy Kootnz Sr. had sought to develop 3.7 acres of land that the water management district classified as a habitat protection zone. State regulators requested that he reduce the size of the development area to a single acre and that he hire contractors to make improvements to other district-owned wetlands. Kootnz did not comply with these requests and his permit was consequently denied. 

The opinion, written by Associate Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas, serves to place greater restrictions on what standards government regulators place on permit applications. In its opinion, the court cited Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, and Dolan v. City of Tigard, which held that a government may not condition a land-use permit on an owner to give up the use of their property unless a “nexus” and rough proportionality” is present between the demand and the effect of the proposed land use.

The Supreme Court opinion reverses the opinion of the Florida Supreme Court, which held that the Nollan-Dolan standard applies to the approval, not the denial, of a permit and that the standard does not apply to a demand for the payment of money, in contrast to a specific burden on property interest. Traditionally, the standard has applied in instances where an approved permit includes a condition that the property owner relinquishes some property. Alito argued that the standard should apply even in instances of a denied permit because landowners are particularly vulnerable to coercion in the land permit process.

The dissenting opinion was penned by Associate Justice Elena Kagan, who agreed with the Florida Supreme Court’s opinion that the Nollan-Dolan standard does not apply to a monetary requirement. Kagen asserted that the majority “threatens to subject a vast array of land-use regulations, applied daily in states and localities throughout the country, to heightened constitutional scrutiny.” Her opinion was joined by the liberal wing of associate justices: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

The full opinion is available here:

http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/11-1447_6j37.pdf 

WHITE HOUSE: STRATEGIC PLAN UNVEILED FOR STEM EDUCATION

On May 31, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released its five year strategic plan for further investment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education. The plan outlines a series of priorities to help federal agencies expand STEM Education in the United States.

Overall, the plan seeks to improve STEM participation in the United States both across all educational levels and in the workforce. In line with the proposal outlined in the president’s FY 2014 budget, the plan also seeks to consolidate all STEM programs under the Department of Education (K-12), the National Science Foundation (undergraduate and post graduate), and the Smithsonian Institution (informal education). The plan’s recommendations include:

  • Improve STEM instruction among the existing STEM Education teacher workforce.
  • Increase youth and public engagement in STEM Education.
  • Enhance the STEM experience among undergraduate students.
  • Better serve women, minority groups and the economically disadvantaged who are historically underrepresented in STEM-related fields.
  • Increase STEM participation in the US workforce by providing graduate-trained STEM professionals with basic and applied research expertise.

The strategy was developed by the Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education (CoSTEM), which was authorized under the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-358). Under the law, the strategic plan is to be updated every five years.

View the strategic plan here:

www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/stem_stratplan_2013.pdf

Additional information on CoSTEM is available here:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/nstc/committees/costem

PRESIDENT’S BUDGET: AAAS ANNUAL BUDGET REPORT INCLUDES AIBS, ESA ANALYSIS OF IMPACTS OF PROPOSAL ON BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has released its annual Research &Development report summarizing the president’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget request and its impact on funding for science research.  The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is a long-time contributor to the annual budget analysis.

The report focuses on a number of federal agencies and programs of importance to the scientific community. ESA’s contribution, in collaboration with the American Institute on Biological Sciences, highlights federal programs of importance to the biological and ecological science community, including initiatives at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Departments of Agriculture and Energy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation and the United States Geological Survey.

To view the biological and ecological sciences chapter, click here:

http://www.aaas.org/spp/rd/rdreport2014/14pch17.pdf

To view other individual agencies or sections of the report, click here:

http://www.aaas.org/spp/rd/rdreport2014/

CURRENT POLICY

Approved by House Committee    

On June 19, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the following bills:

H.R. 2218, the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), the bill would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating coal combustion waste as a hazardous substance. The bill was approved by a vote of 31-16.

H.R. 2226, the Federal and State Partnership for Environmental Protection Act – Introduced by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH), the bill would require EPA to consult with states on removal or remediation actions, as well as offer credit to states when the cost of cleanup is shared for in-kind contributions.

H.R. 2279, the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act – Introduced by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), the bill would strike a deadline from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERLCA) pertaining to financial assurance requirements from the owners of a hazardous facility, based on injury risk. The bill was approved 25-18.

H.R. 2318, the Federal Facility Accountability Act – Introduced by Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH) the bill would require that federal entities comply with state and local laws while conducting a CERCLA cleanup and would allow EPA to review any actions taken by a delegate in a CERCLA cleanup. The bill was approved by a vote of 26 to 18.

Failed House

H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act – Introduced by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Colin Peterson (D-MN), the comprehensive $940 billion farm bill would reauthorize agricultural programs though Fiscal Year 2018. Overall the bill cuts $40 billion over the next decade, largely from mandatory and nutritional programs, which led to opposition from a majority of House Democrats. These cuts also include $6.9 billion from conservation programs. The bill also consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13.

The bill failed to pass the House June 20, by a vote of 195-234 with 62 Republicans opposing the bill and 171 supporting it. Among Democrats, 172 opposed the bill and 24 supported it. Any Democratic support that Republican leadership had depended on to clear the bill was scratched by Republican amendments that placed a number of added requirements on food stamp recipients. Republicans also blamed conservative advocacy groups like Heritage Foundation and Club for Growth for chipping away at Republican support for the bill. Conservatives argued that the bill didn’t cut food stamp programs enough.

Passed House

H.R. 1613, the Outer Continental Shelf Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreements Authorization Act – Introduced by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), the bill would implement the US-Mexico Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreement, a bipartisan February 2012 agreement that created a framework for US offshore drilling companies and Mexico’s Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, to jointly develop oil in the Gulf of Mexico, outside both countries’ economic zone waters. The bill also includes a waiver to a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) provision of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (P.L. 111-203) requiring energy companies to report mineral payments to foreign governments. The inclusion of the Dodd-Frank disclosure waiver led to strong opposition from a majority of House Democrats as well as a veto threat from the Obama administration. The bill passed June 27 by a vote of 256-171. Twenty-eight Democrats joined a majority of Republicans in supporting the bill. Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) was the only Republican to vote against it.

H.R. 2231, Offshore Energy and Jobs Act – Introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill would open new areas for offshore drilling. Specifically, the bill directs the Interior Department to develop a new five-year offshore leasing plan that makes available for oil and gas exploration and development at least 50 percent of the unleased coastal areas with the most potential for energy production. The bill passed the House June 28 by a vote of 235-186. All but six Republicans supported the bill while all but 16 Democrats opposed the bill. The Obama administration issued a veto threat against the measure, asserting its provisions include “unworkable deadlines” for appropriate environmental review that is critical for National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and the Clean Water Act compliance. The Democratic-controlled Senate is not expected to take up the bill.

Two amendments that sought to protect wildlife areas from offshore development failed. The Peter DeFazio (D-OR) amendment to protect the Bristol Bay fishery off the coast of Alaska failed 183-235. Three Republicans (Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA), Dave Reichert (WA) and Michele Bachmann (MN)) joined all but 15 Democrats in supporting the amendment. Another amendment from California Democrats Lois Capps, Julia Brownley and Alan Lowenthal to prohibit oil and gas development in the Southern California planning area (which includes Santa Barbara, San Diego and Los Angeles and nine other counties) failed 176-241. Seventeen Democrats joined all Republicans in opposition to the amendment.

Introduced in Senate

S. 1202, Safeguarding America’s Future and the Environment (SAFE)  Act – Introduced June 20 by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Max Baucus (D-MT), the bill would require federal agencies that manage natural resources to adopt climate change adaptation plans that are consistent with the National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy, released this year by the Obama Administration. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

S. 1232, the Great Lakes Ecological and Economic Protection Act – Introduced June 26 by Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) the bill would formally authorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, created by President Obama in 2009 to address aquatic invasive species, toxics and contaminated sediment, nonpoint source pollution and other ecological threats to the Great Lakes. It would also reauthorize the Great Lakes Legacy program, which supports the removal of contaminated sediments, and the Great Lakes National Program Office, which handles Great Lakes matters for the Environmental Protection Agency. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

S. 1240, Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013 – Introduced June 27 by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development Chairwoman Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the bill would set up a new organizational process for identifying new temporary and permanent sites for storing nuclear waste. Among its provisions, the bill would call for the creation of a Nuclear Waste Administration to site temporary and permanent repositories for radioactive waste from U.S. reactors. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Passed Senate

S.352the Devil’s Staircase Wilderness Act of 2013 – Introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the bill designates roughly 30,500 acres of land in the Siuslaw National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management’s Coos District as wilderness and protects about 14 miles of the Wasson and Franklin Creeks. The bill passed the Senate June 19 by unanimous consent and has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.


 Sources AAAS, ClimateWire, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Appropriations Committee, House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, POLITICO, Reuters, Senate Appropriations Committee, Scoutsblog.com, the White House

 

June 14, 2013

In this Issue

EDUCATION: STEM REORGANIZATION EFFORT MEETS BIPARTISAN CRITICISM

On June 4, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee convened for a hearing examining the Obama Administration’s proposed reorganization of Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering (STEM) programs outlined in its proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budget.

Under the plan, 110 of 226 federal agency STEM programs would be eliminated. The plan would house STEM programs primarily under three agencies: the Department of Education (DOE), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Smithsonian Institution (SI). DOE would oversee K-12 programs, NSF would oversee undergraduate and graduate programs while the Smithsonian would be responsible for informal science education. The proposal, an effort on the part of the administration to deal with the reality of current fiscal constraints, was met with inquiries and skepticism from both Republican and Democratic members of Congress.

Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and former chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) were all particularly concerned with the reorganization’s impact on STEM programs within the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The reorganization would cut NASA programs by one-third. NASA’s STEM programs would lose $50 million under the reorganization effort.  There were also bipartisan concerns that the reorganization does not include enough focus on vocational training programs or programs that seek to increase STEM participation among underrepresented groups, including women and minorities.

The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 required the National Science and Technology Council to establish a Committee on STEM (CoSTEM) to develop a five-year strategic plan to improve coordination of STEM education programs. Chairman Smith expressed concern that the reorganization proposal was released as part of the budget request before the strategic plan was completed. When asked by Chairman Smith whether the budget proposal influenced the CoSTEM strategic plan, NSF Assistant Director Joan Ferrini-Mundy responded that the plan’s development was “an ongoing process” that was being worked on “during the time of the budget and beyond.”

Members of Congress expressed concern that the reorganization effort was decided primarily through the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, with little input from school districts, non-profits, universities or the federal agency program managers responsible for the programs slated for elimination. “In addition to being concerned about the process, I have serious concerns with the budget proposal itself.  To be blunt, it seems to me it was not very well thought out,” stated Ranking Member Johnson. Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren noted that no one wants to see their own programs reduced or eliminated.

Ranking Member Johnson also noted that the SI has no federal research facilities, no external grant making power and lacks the stakeholder networks of other agencies. Holdren asserted that SI is working with CoSTEM on how to best implement the reorganization effort and that CoSTEM will be the focal point for its implementation.

Additionally, there was concern that DOE may not currently have the staff capacity to implement its new responsibilities and the reorganizational effort overall may hamper the administration’s ability to adequately carry out its STEM education initiatives.  Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-MD), who described herself as a “skeptic” of the proposal, had the following words of advice for OSTP Director Holdren and the other witnesses: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix that.”

View the full hearing here:

http://science.house.gov/hearing/full-committee-hearing-stem-education-administration%E2%80%99s-proposed-re-organization

CLIMATE CHANGE: US, CHINA REACH DEAL ON HFC EMISSIONS

On June 8, the White House announced that the United States had reached an agreement with China to reduce the use of use of heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

HFCs are greenhouse gases used in refrigerator and air conditioner appliances. The most common types of HFCs are anywhere from a hundred to a thousand times as potent as carbon dioxide in warming the planet. According to the White House, HFC emissions could grow to nearly 20 percent of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 if left unaddressed. The participating nations would work collectively through the Montreal Protocol, established in 1987 to facilitate a global approach to combat ozone layer depletion.

For the past four years, the North American nations of the United States, Canada, and Mexico have proposed an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase down the production and consumption of HFCs, but China and India had held out due to concern the burden would fall more heavily on developing nations. The new agreement would require developed countries like the United States and those in the European Union to move first to replace harmful HFCs with alternative chemicals, and then would call upon developing countries like China and India to do the same after a negotiated grace period. The developed world would provide financial assistance to the developing world in meeting the agreement. India is expected to formally join the agreement as early as this year.

The four co-chairs of the Congressional Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, which include Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), sent a letter to President Obama earlier this month to urge China’s president to support reduction of HFCs. In a press statement on behalf of the task force, Waxman iterated “The United States and China working together to tackle climate change is a major breakthrough.  A global phase-down of HFCs would eliminate more heat-trapping gases by 2050 than the United States emits in an entire decade.”

For the full announcement, click here:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/06/08/united-states-and-china-agree-work-together-phase-down-hfcs

The Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change letter is available here:

http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Obama-Jinping-Climate-Change-CA-Summit-2013-6-5.pdf

NSF: MEMO OUTLINES RESTRICTIONS ON POLITICAL SCIENCE FUNDING IMPLEMENTATION

On June 7, the National Science Foundation (NSF) published a new guidance memorandum regarding provision of a recently enacted law that restricts political science research funding through its social and behavioral sciences directorate.

“The Political Science Program in the Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) will continue to engage panels to review grant proposals, using the two National Science Board approved merit review criteria (Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts),” states the memorandum. “Panels will also be asked to provide input on whether proposals meet one or both of the additional criteria required for exceptions under P.L. 113-6, i.e., promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States.” The memorandum notes that due to the new law, funding approval for NSF projects related to political science “may be delayed.”

Enacted through the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 (P.L. 113-6) through language sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), existing law requires NSF to now restrict the issuance of political science grants solely to research projects that contribute to economic or national security interests. To view the guidance memo, click here: http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2013/nsf13101/nsf13101.pdf?utm_source=NEWScience+Policy+%3A%3A+Week+in+Review&utm_campaign=65fb8e0d1b-Week+in+Review+Email&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6375e1e0ef-65fb8e0d1b-416493685 

OCEANS: JAMES CAMERON URGES SENATORS TO SUPPORT RESEARCH INITIATIVES

 

On June 11, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard heard from witnesses on the importance of ocean research. The witness list included renowned Oscar-winning film director and environmentalist James Cameron.

After commenting on the length of the line outside the hearing room and praising the star witness, Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee Chairman Mark Begich (D-AK) noted that Cameron is one of only three humans to descend 6.8 miles into the Mariana Trench, the deepest known part of the Earth’s oceans while, in contrast, 500 people have traveled into outer space. He added that only 20-25 percent of the marine life in existence has been identified and 90 percent of the ocean floor remains uncharted. “Whether it’s ocean acidification, sea level rise, warming water temperatures or shifting fish populations, our oceans are changing,” said Begich. “If we are to prepare for these changes, we have to be better and more understanding of the oceans.” Both Chairman Begich and Subcommittee Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-MS) noted the importance of ocean research to their states and emphasized strengthening public-private partnerships in advancing ocean research, particularly in light of current fiscal constraints.

Cameron compared the ocean floor to an unexplored “dark continent,” noting that ocean trenches’ total area is larger than the entire continent of North America. He also noted his dives found new life forms never before recorded by science. He talked about the “Deep Sea Challenger,” a privately constructed submersible, which served as his vehicle of exploration into the ocean depths. His scientific team discovered 68 new species, which were presented at the December 2012 meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Cameron said that additional funding for ocean research is needed to help understand changes associated with global warming. “The ocean is an engine that drives weather, including the higher precipitation and extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy, the severe droughts and so on that are associated with climate change,” said Cameron. “To understand weather and climate, we must understand the ocean. And to do so, we can’t just sense them from satellites. They’re a vast three dimensional volume that is opaque from above. We need instruments and vehicles down there in the water column.” He also called for more investment in Science, Technology and Mathematics Engineering education.

Other witnesses included Susan Avery, Director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, who urged the Senate to reauthorize the Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System Act of 2009 as well as the America COMPETES Act to further ocean research. Ed Paige, Executive Director of the Alaska Marine Exchange, noted how ocean observation systems provided through public-private partnerships among universities, government agencies and private companies have aided response to extreme weather events and environmental hazards. Jan Newton, Senior Principle Oceanographer with the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington discussed the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems, NANOOS, which is part of the United States Integrated Ocean Observing System Program. Both Newton and Page called for reauthorization of the Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observing System (ICOOS) Act of 2009 to sustain and enhance ocean observation systems.

View the full hearing here:

http://www.commerce.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=Hearings&ContentRecord_id=29496bc2-fdb7-47c7-93ef-0def99cf9d6c&ContentType_id=14f995b9-dfa5-407a-9d35-56cc7152a7ed&Group_id=b06c39af-e033-4cba-9221-de668ca1978a

EPA: SCIENCE COMMITTEE SEEKS CLARITY ON AIR QUALITY RULES

On June 12, House Space, Science and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT) issued a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe requesting the scientific data the agency uses to make determinations on the health benefits of its air quality rules.

The letter criticizes EPA for still not providing the data as well as for not following up on a similar letter sent to Gina McCarthy, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation in March. McCarthy is also President Obama’s nominee to succeed departed EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. “EPA officials should justify their agenda through an open and transparent process that is based on good science, if they can,” states the June letter. “EPA has projected that its upcoming ozone standard will be the most costly environmental regulation in U.S. history.  Working families will bear these costs.  They have a right to know what scientific data supports EPA’s claims.” 

The letter comes on the heels of a House Space, Science and Technology Subcommittee hearing earlier that day on EPA’s plans to review its National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone. The Clean Air Act directs EPA to review its ozone standards every five years. During the last review in 2008, the ozone standard was set at 75 parts per billion (ppb). While EPA has not yet announced a further reduction, Republican committee members are concerned the agency may lower the limit to 70 ppb. They also argued that EPA underestimates the role of background ozone which comes from natural sources such as wildfires or lightening as well as ozone from other countries outside US regulation.

“Failure to acknowledge these uncontrollable concentrations could lead to EPA setting a new ozone standard next year that is at or near background levels, with catastrophic economic impacts for large swaths of the country,” said Environmental Subcommittee Chairman Stewart.

Committee Democrats contended that investment in scientific research at EPA is necessary to implement effective ozone standards that preserve the public health. “I am cognizant of the argument that local conditions in the Intermountain West may require some new forms of flexibility by EPA in enforcing ozone standards, and I encourage EPA to work with the states to develop such flexibility,” said Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR).  “Despite that call for flexibility, the science on ozone and health is sound.  The need for more science on background levels of ozone must not deter or prevent the EPA from setting an ozone standard that is fully protective of human health.”

Bonamici added, “This country has proven time and time again that a cleaner environment improves worker productivity, increases agricultural yield, reduces mortality and illness, and achieves other economic and public health benefits that outweigh the costs of compliance.” 

View the full hearing here:

http://science.house.gov/hearing/subcommittee-environment-background-check-achievability-new-ozone-standards

View the Smith/Stewart letter, here:

http://science.house.gov/sites/republicans.science.house.gov/files/documents/06-12-2013%20Smith%20and%20Stewart%20to%20Perciasepe.pdf

NATURAL DISASTERS: COMMITTEE EXAMINES TORNADO MITIGATION RESEARCH

On June 5, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittees on Research and Technology held a joint subcommittee hearing examining federal research into damage from tornadoes in the United States and legislation to reauthorize the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program, which coordinates windstorm mitigation activities between the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“Every year the federal government funds not only disaster relief but also emergency supplemental appropriations when states are hit particularly hard by unexpected disasters.  I believe that we need to be more responsible about planning how to deal with natural disasters and minimize the need for disaster supplemental funding,” asserted Research Subcommittee Chairman Larry Buschon (R-IN). He called for increased coordination at the federal level that also reduces agency duplication of responsibilities.

Research Subcommittee Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) sought to highlight the important role social science research plays in disaster mitigation. “In order for these efforts to be effective they cannot leave out the most critical component – people.  Understanding how people – such as state and local officials, business owners, and individuals – make decisions and respond to storm warnings is essential to designing effective strategies to prepare for, respond to and recover from a disaster.”

The hearing also examined H.R. 1786, the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act Reauthorization of 2013, which would reauthorize the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act with $21.4 million a year for the next three years. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), who also sits on the science committee. Committee Democrats asserted that the bill would cut the authorization for the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program (NWIRP) by 14 percent. “We don’t have any reason to believe the agencies need any less money to carry out the responsibilities we assigned them the last time we reauthorized this program,” asserted Technology Subcommittee Ranking Member Frederica Wilson (D-FL). “And when we consider the devastating losses that have plagued the United States recently, this course of action seems irresponsible.” 

Instead they urged support for H.R. 2132, the Natural Hazards Risk Reduction Act of 2013, sponsored by Rep. Wilson. The bill would reauthorize both NWIRP and the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. Their bill authorizes $30 million for windstorm research funding per year. Similar legislation sponsored by former science committee member David Wu (D-OR) passed the House three years ago in the 111th Congress by a wide 335-50 margin, but was not taken up by the Senate.

All witnesses present affirmed that windstorm researchers have been underfunded in recent years. Debra Ballen, Senior Vice President for Public Policy at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, asserted that federal funding for testing how well buildings stand up to wind hazards has been underfunded for decades. Ballen recommended that reauthorization legislation include increases to ensure NWIRP can finish what they start as well as adequately fund new projects that are indentified in the early years of the reauthorization.

David Prevatt, Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering at the University of Florida, contrasted the limited funding for windstorm research to the multiple billions of dollars spent after tornadoes have struck places such as Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Moore, Oklahoma. He stated wind engineers have received less than $1 million a year in federal research funding over the past ten years, contrasting it with $70 million the government has spent on earthquake research since 2002.

He also noted there has been “attrition” in wind engineering and structural engineering faculty who study how to make houses sturdier due to the lack of adequate and sustained funding. This was seconded by Ernst Kiesling, a research faculty member of the National Wind Institute at Texas Tech University, who noted that young wind engineers will be more likely to pursue careers in other fields that have more readily available funding.

View the full hearing here:

http://science.house.gov/hearing/subcommittee-research-and-subcommittee-technology-joint-hearing-federal-efforts-reduce

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: PROTECTIONS TO BE REMOVED FOR GRAY WOLVES

On June 5, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published its plans for removing federal protections for gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act.

The proposal would remove remaining federal protections for grey wolves in the lower 48 states, save for the Mexican wolf subspecies inhabiting parts of New Mexico and Arizona, whose status would be upgraded to “endangered.” A minimum of 75 Mexican wolves have been reported in the region as of 2012. The delisting places monitoring of the wolves primarily in the hands of state wildlife agencies.

Prior to the rule, gray wolf populations in certain parts of the country had already been delisted. In 2002, the Northern Rockies area gray wolves exceeded minimum recovery goals of 300 for a third straight year and were delisted. A year prior, the Great Lakes population of wolves was delisted. FWS estimates that there are at least 6,100 gray wolves in the continental United States, 4,432 in the Western Great Lakes and 1,674 in the Northern Rockies. These populations exceed targets by as much as 300 percent, according to the agency.

Conservation groups have expressed disappointment, stating that the rule does not ensure that wolves fully recover to inhabit their historic range. Defenders of Wildlife released the following press statement by their Southwest Program Director Eva Sargent: “With only about 75 wild Mexican gray wolves in the entire world, it’s good to see that protections will continue in the Southwest. However, proposing to prematurely strip federal protection under the Endangered Species Act for gray wolves throughout the rest of the country is bad news for wolves nationwide and could make it unlikely that any wolves will be able to naturally reestablish a presence in the Southern Rockies, a region with excellent suitable habitat where wolves were once found.”

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) released the following statement: “The Service’s decision today to delist gray wolves only makes sense, and is long overdue.  This untangles the ridiculous situation in Washington, Oregon, and Utah, where wolves had been listed one side of a highway, and not on the other.  Private landowners, local governments and states should not be subjected to federal wolf listings when wolf populations are thriving, up as much as 300 percent in some areas, and will be managed much more effectively at the state level.”

A final determination on the proposal is expected for 2014. Public comments on the rule will be received through Sept. 11, 2013. For additional information on how to comment, click here:

http://www.fws.gov/home/feature/2013/pdf/Gray_Wolf_Comment_Period_Bulletin.pdf

For additional information, click here:

http://www.fws.gov/graywolfrecovery062013.html

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: PROTECTIONS PROPOSED FOR CAPTIVE CHIMPANZEES

On June 11, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced it is proposing adding captive chimpanzees for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The rule was prompted in part by a 2010 legal petition from a coalition of conservation associations, including the Jane Goodall Institute, to list both wild and captive chimpanzees as endangered. Currently, while wild chimpanzees are listed as ‘endangered,’ captive ones are listed as ‘threatened.’ The proposed rule finds that threats to wild chimpanzees have substantially increased since they were first listed in 1990. These threats include rising deforestation, poaching, capture for the pet trade and disease outbreaks.

The listing for captive chimps could have repercussions for animal research. An institution seeking to perform surgery or draw blood from the animals would first require a permit from the FWS. According to the agency, roughly half of the 2,000 chimps in the US are used for medical research purposes. The permit would require that researchers demonstrate that their work will benefit the overall conservation of wild chimpanzees. The change is listing would also have consequences for their use in the pet trade and the entertainment industry.

Comments on the proposal must be received by August 12, 2013. Additional information on the rule is available here:

http://www.fws.gov/home/newsroom/chimpanzeerecovery0610013.html

CURRENT POLICY

Considered by House Committee

On June 13, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the following bills:

H.R. 553, to designate the exclusive economic zone of the United States as the “Ronald Wilson Reagan Exclusive Economic Zone of the United States” – Introduced by Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), the bill would rename the exclusive economic zone, which includes certain coastal waters extending three to 200 miles offshore, after former President Ronald Reagan. 

H.R. 1308, the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act – Introduced by Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill would allow the Commerce secretary to issue one-year permits to kill sea lions, which prey on salmon along a portion of the Columbia River. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) contends there is no scientific evidence that sea lions are putting the salmon at a survival risk and that the legislation would relax certain Marine Mammal Protection Act requirements.

H.R. 1399, the Hydrographic Services Improvement Amendments Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the bill would reauthorize the Hydrographic Services Improvement Act to authorize the acquisition of hydrographic data, provide hydrographic services and improve mitigation of coastal change in the Arctic.

H.R. 1425, the Marine Debris Emergency Act – Introduced by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), the bill would accelerate the 11-month review process used to give local communities federal funding for debris removal. The bill would require NOAA to approve or deny a grant application within 60 days of receiving it. NOAA contends that the 60-day timeline would hinder the environmental compliance reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act that are necessary for successful grant proposals. The bill’s 22 bipartisan cosponsors include several members from West Coast states, including Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Don Young (R-AK), and David Reichert (R-WA).

H.R. 1491, the Tsunami Debris Cleanup Reimbursement Act – Introduced by Rep. Bonamici, the bill would authorize NOAA to use $5 million donated by the Japanese government for tsunami debris cleanup. 

H.R. 2219, to reauthorize the Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System Act of 2009 – Introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the bill would reauthorize the National Integrated Ocean Observing System.

Passed House

H.R. 126, the Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act – Introduced by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), the bill directs the Secretary of the Interior to enter into an agreement with the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, Currituck County, and the state of North Carolina to add wild horses to the list of species managed at the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge. The bill passed June 3 by voice vote.

H.R. 885, the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park Boundary Expansion Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), the bill would expand the boundary of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park to include 137 acres of additional land. The bill passed June 3 by voice vote.

H.R. 1206, the Permanent Electronic Duck Stamp Act – Introduced by Rep. Robert Wittman (R-VA) – the bill grants the Secretary of Interior permanent authority to issue electronic duck stamps, which are required to hunt waterfowl. The bill passed June 3 by a vote of 401-0.

H.R. 251, the South Utah Valley Electric Conveyance Act – Introduced by Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the bill would transfer certain electrical distribution duties from the Department of Interior to a local utility. The bill passed June 11 by a vote of 404-0.

H.R. 723, the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Protection Act – Introduced by Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), the bill would designate a study to include specified segments of the Beaver, Chipuxet, Queen, Wood, and Pawcatuck Rivers in Rhode Island and Connecticut into the federally protected national wild and scenic rivers system. The bill passed June 11 by voice vote.

H.R. 993, the Fruit Heights Land Conveyance Act – Introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), the bill would transfer 100 acres of forest land from the Department of Agriculture to the city of Fruit Heights, UT. The bill passed June 11 by voice vote.

H.R. 1157, the Rattlesnake Mountain Public Access Act – Introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill would allow public access to Rattlesnake Mountain in the state of Washington. The bill passed June 11 by a vote of 409-0.

H.R. 1158, the North Cascades National Park Service Complex Fish Stocking Act – Introduced by Chairman Hastings, the bill would authorize the stocking of fish in lakes in the North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area in the state of Washington. The bill passed June 11 by voice vote.

Passed Senate

S. 954, the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 – Introduced by Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the $950 billion farm bill would reauthorize agricultural programs through Fiscal Year 2018. Overall, the bill includes $23 billion in spending cuts, achieved through eliminating excess subsidies, reducing programs perceived as duplicative and consolidating other programs. Like the House version, the bill consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13. Unlike the House version, the Senate bill would require conservation compliance in order to receive crop insurance subsidies for highly erodible land and wetlands.

The Senate passed the bill June 10, by a vote of 66-27, which included the support of Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS) and 17 additional Republicans. In a sign of progress compared to last Congress, the House plans to take up its version of the farm bill to the floor for a vote before the end of June. House majority leadership is aiming to have a conference report with the Senate finalized before the month-long August recess. 

 


 SourcesAAAS, ClimateWire, Defenders of Wildlife, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, the National Science Foundation, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, US Fish and Wildlife Service

May 31, 2013

In this Issue

BUDGET SEQUESTRATION: COMMITTEE REPORT HIGHLIGHTS IMPACTS ON NATIONAL PARKS

House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Edward Markey (D-MA) recently released a report further detailing sequestration’s impacts on national parks. Noting that visitors to national parks spent about $30 billion in 2011, the report highlights several impacts it says are unavoidable. The report was released May 24, to coincide with Memorial Day weekend and the beginning of summer park visitation season.

Under budget sequestration, non-defense discretionary spending for all federal agencies is cut across all programs by five percent, leading to staff furloughs, hiring freezes as well as service cutbacks. The report details cutbacks at 23 of the 400 US parks. Several, such as Grand Canyon National Park and Glacier National Park will see reduced hours for their visitor centers. Reduced visitor hours at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia will reportedly deny access to 20,000 park visitors.

The report also concludes that most parks will offer fewer educational opportunities and other special programs to visitors. In addition, parks will have less capacity to handle emergencies, such as coping with extreme weather events,   or law-enforcement situations, such as poaching and other crimes. Park repairs, maintenance of park facilities (including rest rooms) will also be scaled back due to sequestration, the report finds.

Congress and the White House have not indicated any willingness to address budget sequestration for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013, which ends Sept. 30. It is speculated that lawmakers may wait until then to tackle the issue of comprehensive deficit reduction, which may coincide with the time when Congress will also need to raise the debt ceiling.

The temporary suspension of the debt ceiling enacted earlier this year by Congress expired on May 19. The Department of Treasury is once again enacting “extraordinary measures” and  Treasury Secretary Jack Lew asserts that the government will be able to continue borrowing at least until after Labor Day. Increased revenue intakes this calendar year, generated in part from enactment of the American Taxpayer Relief Act (P.L. 112-240), slightly extended the time frame that the US will verge on defaulting on its debt.

View the full report here:

http://democrats.naturalresources.house.gov/sites/democrats.naturalresources.house.gov/files/documents/2013-05-23_NatlParkSequesterCuts_.pdf

NOAA: SCIENCE COMMITTEE EXAMINES AGENCY WEATHER FORECASTING RESEARCH

On May 23, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on the Environment held a hearing entitled “Restoring US Leadership in Weather Forecasting.” The hearing examined legislation that intends to reprioritize research initiatives at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

A sentiment among congressional Republicans on the subcommittee is that NOAA invests too much on climate research compared to weather research. “In 2012, NOAA barely spent one-third of the resources on weather research as it did on climate research,” asserted Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT) in his opening statement. In referencing disasters such as Hurricane Sandy and the tornado that hit Oklahoma, he stated “We have seen the devastating effects that severe weather can have on this country, and this bill would establish a priority mission for all of NOAA to improve forecasts and warnings to protect lives and property.”

Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Susan Bonamici (D-OR) expressed concern that the legislation might hamper investment in NOAA’s other priorities. She pointed out that NOAA’s broad mission includes collecting weather data as well as research to help understand and anticipate ecosystem changes that may impact coastal communities. “NOAA has a sweeping mission to predict the weather, to insure healthy oceans and fisheries, to address climate mitigation and adaptation and to enhance the resilience of our coastal communities and economies,” stated Bonamici.  “To carry out all these missions requires that NOAA manage a very broad set of scientific challenges and look for ways to bring the insights of research into the daily lives of all our citizens.” 

The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act would mandate that funding at NOAA to increase investment in weather forecasting technology and weather-related activities. The bill would also call for cost-benefit analyses of various data sources, including government satellites, and seek to assess opportunities to increase access to weather data from commercial providers.

Witnesses testifying during the hearing included Barry Myers, Chief Executive Officer at Accuweather, Inc. and Jon Kirchner, President of GeoOptics, Inc. The two witnesses said that the US needs to improve its weather forecasting abilities and emphasized improving collaborations with the private sector something the proposed bill would seek to do. At Ranking Member Bonamici’s behest, she and Chairman Stewart agreed that the issue warrants a second hearing that would include representation from NOAA.

View the full hearing here:

http://science.house.gov/hearing/subcommittee-environment-hearing-restoring-us-leadership-weather-forecasting

INTERIOR: NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE LEADERS REQUEST MORE TIME TO COMMENT ON HYDRAULIC FRACTURING RULE

In a rare bipartisan effort, the top Republican and Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee issued a joint letter to the Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell requesting additional time to comment on the agency’s new draft hydraulic fracturing rule.

Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) and Ranking Member Edward Markey (D-MA) each have concerns with the rule, albeit from different ideological perspectives. Chairman Hastings views the rule as unnecessary added regulation that will have detrimental economic impacts. Ranking Member Markey criticized the rule for not going far enough in implementing environmental safeguards.

Nonetheless, the two agree the current 30-day comment period is insufficient to allow comment on the rule they view as problematic. “We jointly believe that this timeframe is unacceptable and not nearly long enough to allow the public to formulate in-depth and constructive comments on this 171 page, complicated rule. Further, the Department previously allowed 120 days for the public to comment on the original draft rule that was proposed last year,” the letter states. Consequently, they call for Interior to allow 120 days for public comment.

To view the Hastings/Markey letter, click here:

http://naturalresources.house.gov/uploadedfiles/05-21-13hastings_markeyltrtosecjewell.pdf

For additional information on the rule, see the May 17 Edition of ESA Policy News, here:

http://www.esa.org/esa/?p=7788

CBO: CARBON TAX WOULD MITIGATE IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report May 22, outlining the economic and environmental impacts of instituting a carbon tax. While CBO acknowledged uncertainties on how such a tax should be implemented, it was clear in concluding that delaying the institution a carbon tax will lead to costly damage that will grow higher with time.

“Regardless of the effect that delaying emission reductions might have on the cost of achieving lower emissions, such delays would increase the expected damage from climate change by increasing the risk of very costly, potentially even catastrophic, outcomes,” the report states. “Given the persistent nature of greenhouse gases and the dynamics of climate change, warming would continue for several decades even if emissions were quickly cut to a small fraction of their current levels. In general, the risk of costly damage is higher as the extent of warming increases and as the pace of warming picks up; thus, failing to limit emissions soon increases that risk.”

The report noted that the institution of a carbon tax would generate increased revenue and improve public health. Regarding negative economic impacts, the report concludes that it would increase the cost of fossil fuels and decrease the purchasing power of lower-income individuals due to increased prices for emission-intensive goods and services. The report maintains that the use of revenues from the tax, through such options as deficit reduction or cutting marginal tax rates, could help mitigate its economic impacts.

Republicans and some Democrats have publically opposed a carbon tax. However, senior Democrats on key House and Senate committees have long endorsed the proposal addressing climate change and protecting public health. However, clear support for such a tax does not exist, even in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Coupled with the fact that the White House has stated it is not pursuing a carbon tax as a component of tax reform or revenue increases, it is unlikely that movement on such a proposal will gain traction in the 113th Congress.

Read the full report here:

http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/44223_Carbon_0.pdf

BLM: WIND PROJECT APPROVAL ALLOWS FOR KILL OF ENDANGERED CONDOR

On May 24, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a record of decision granting final approval of the Alta East Wind Project (AEWP) in eastern Kern County, California. The record of decision includes an authorization allowing the take (injure or kill) of a California condor.

Regarding adherence to the Endangered Species Act, the decision asserts that “because of the comprehensive condor avoidance and minimization plan that the Applicant will implement as part of the AEWP, over the 30 year life of the project, ‘Project activities are reasonably likely to result in the death of no more than one condor as a result of being struck by a turbine blade,’ and therefore the BLM’s issuance of a ROW grant for the AEWP is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the California condor.” In the event a condor is killed, BLM would mandate that the project only be operated at night.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service contends sufficient measures are being taken by Alta Windpower Development, LLC, a subsidiary of Terra Gen Power, LLC to minimize risks to condor recovery efforts. Among these measures, very high-frequency equipment will be installed to alert farm-operators of the presence of condors from as much as 16 miles away. According to BLM, the detection of condors within two miles of the wind turbines would signal operators to reduce speeds to 15 miles per hour. Terra-Gen will also contribute $100,000 a year for the life of the project to the Condor Recovery Program.

For additional information, click here:

http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/ridgecrest/alta_east_wind_project.html

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 2132, the Natural Hazards Reduction Act – Introduced May 23 by House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Technology Ranking Member Frederica Wilson (D-FL), the bill would reauthorize the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program and the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program. The programs collaborate with a number of federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the United States Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to mitigate the impacts of natural disaster events. The bill has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee as well as the Natural Resources, and Transportation and Infrastructure Committees.

H.R. 2023, the Climate Change and Health Protection Act – Introduced May 16 by Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), the bill would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop a strategic plan to assist health professionals in responding to the health effects of climate change. The bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Considered by House Committee

On May 23, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power held a hearing on the following bills:

H.R. 255, the Provo River Title Transfer Act – Introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the bill would clarify language in the Provo River Title Act to enable the transfer of the Provo River Aqueduct from the Bureau of Reclamation to the Provo River Water Users Association. 

H.R. 745, the Reauthorization of the Water Desalination Act of 1996 – Introduced by Water and Power Subcommittee Ranking Member Grace Napolitano (D-CA), the bill would reauthorize through 2018, research into converting seawater to freshwater.

H.R. 1963, the Bureau of Reclamation Conduit Hydropower Development Equity and Jobs Act – Introduced by Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT), the bill would remove federal statutes that prevent irrigation districts and other nonfederal hydropower developers in Montana and other Western states from developing hydropower on 11 Bureau of Reclamation canals, ditches and conduits. 

Passed House

H.R. 3, the Northern Route Approval Act – Introduced by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE), the bill would exempt the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline from all federal permitting requirements, effectively fast-tracking approval of the project. The bill passed the House May 22 by a vote of 241-175 with 19 Democrats voting with Republicans in supporting the bill. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), a tea-party member known for frequently breaking with GOP leadership, was the only Republican not to vote yes. He voted “present” instead. A spokesman confirmed that Rep. Amash supports the pipeline, but opposes the singling out of any one company in federal legislation.

Amendments adopted include one from Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) to require TransCanada to provide an emergency response plan to governors in states the pipeline crosses through in the event of an oil spill. The amendment was adopted by voice vote. All other amendments put forward by Democrats failed. Other proposed amendments included one from Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) to prohibit approval of the pipeline until the president finds that added greenhouse gas emissions produced from the pipeline are fully offset.  Forty-seven Democrats joined all Republicans in opposing the Waxman amendment, which failed 146-269.

Introduced in Senate

S. 1054, the Gold Butte National Conservation Area Act – Introduced May 23 by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), the bill would establish a national conservation area of 350,000 acres at Gold Butte in Nevada, located between the Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument and Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. 

 


 Sources the Bakersfield Californian, Bureau of Land Management, ClimateWire, Congressional Budget Office, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee

May 17, 2013

In this Issue

NSF: FORMER DIRECTORS EXPRESS CONCERN WITH DRAFT PEER REVIEW BILL

On May 8, six former officials who headed the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Science Board during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations sent a letter to the leadership of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee expressing concern with the High Quality Research Act. The draft bill would require the NSF Director to provide Congress with information certifying research projects meet certain national interest requirements before they can be funded, which has been interpreted as negating NSF’s existing scientific peer-review process for funding research.

“We believe that this draft legislation would replace the current merit-based system used to evaluate research and education proposals with a cumbersome and unrealistic certification process that rather than improving the quality of research would do just the opposite,” the letter states. “The history of science and technology has shown that truly basic research often yields breakthroughs – including new technologies, markets and jobs – but that it is impossible to predict which projects (and which fields) will do that.”

The High Quality Research Act, proposed by House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), has yet to be introduced and there is no indication yet whether or when the committee will move on the bill. The draft legislation has already met strong opposition from scientific societies and universities as well as Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) who asserted that the bill would “undermine NSF’s core mission as a basic research agency.”

View the directors’ letter here:
http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/Former%20NSF%20Directors%20Letter.pdf

NOAA: CARBON DIOXIDE LEVELS REACH NEW MILESTONE

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently reported that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have peaked above 400 parts per million (ppm), the first time since measurements began in 1958.

According to NOAA, the global carbon dioxide average was 280 ppm in the 19th century preceding the industrial revolution and has fluctuated between 180-280 ppm over the past 800,000 years. The agency asserts that a concentration this great has not been seen in at least three million years. The news got very little reaction from key leaders on Capitol Hill, on either side of the aisle in both the House and Senate. The exceptions were Democratic leaders on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

“We know that the Earth is warming, sea ice is disappearing, the glaciers are receding, the oceans are acidifying, and sea levels are rising. We know all of this from climate science research and monitoring,” stated House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “And, we now know that we have reached this carbon dioxide milestone of 400 parts per million thanks to a NOAA observatory on top of the volcano Mauna Loa in Hawaii that has been continuously monitoring and collecting data related to atmospheric change since the 1950s. The research being done at NASA, NOAA and other agencies is providing the crucial data that will enable us to assess, adapt to, and move forward on this critical issue. We must continue investing in this work.”

“The United States, as the biggest historical producer and second largest current producer of greenhouse gases, bears a great responsibility to the rest of the world to ensure that we promote policies that will reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we continue to place in the Earth’s atmosphere,” asserted Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR). “As Dr. Pieter Tans of NOAA said of this latest finding, ‘It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem.’ We have to do better than this.”

View the full NOAA release here:
http://researchmatters.noaa.gov/news/Pages/CarbonDioxideatMaunaLoareaches400ppm.aspx

HOUSE: REPUBLICANS FORM ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT WORKING GROUP

On May 9, Republican members of the House Natural Resources Committee announced the formation of a working group to review potential changes to the Endangered Species Act.

Since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives after the 2010 mid-term elections, the House Natural Resources Committee has held numerous hearings that question the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act, raising questions about whether the law is transparent, economically burdensome or overly regulatory as well as whether new species should continue to be listed under its protection.

The new working group is founded by Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA). In addition to Chairman Hastings, group members include Republican Reps. Cynthia Lummis (WY), Mark Amodei (NV), Rob Bishop (UT), Doug Collins (GA), Andy Harris (MD), Bill Huizenga (MI), James Lankford (OK), Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO), Randy Neugebauer (TX), Steve Southerland (FL), Glenn Thompson (PA) and David Valadao (CA).

For additional information click here: http://naturalresources.house.gov/esaworkinggroup/

ENERGY DEVELOPMENT: SCIENCE COMMITTEE MULLS KEYSTONE IMPACTS

On May 7, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittees on Energy and Environment held a joint hearing weighing potential economic and environmental impacts of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Republican majority members emphasized the amount of time the administration has spent studying the proposal and touted its potential for job creation. Ultimately, there are two major concerns in this debate: 1) whether we have the ability to construct and operate the pipeline safely, and 2) whether the pipeline’s construction will contribute significantly to climate change. On both of these questions, extensive analysis undertaken by the State Department has affirmed the safety and environmental soundness of the project,” iterated Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) in his opening statement. “The Keystone Pipeline creates jobs and enhances our energy independence with minimal impact to the environment. This project, which has been thoroughly evaluated, should be approved immediately.”

Energy Subcommittee Chairwoman Cynthia Lumis (R-WY) said: “That the Administration would slow-walk a project that supports fossil fuels is perhaps no surprise to some of us. However, what I cannot understand is how the President can rhetorically claim to be committed to job creation and economic growth, and in practice obstruct a project that would support both,” she said.

“Although it has taken four years to look at this project, it could take only a matter of seconds to cause devastating consequences to our environment, our earth and people around the pipeline,” contended Energy Subcommittee Ranking Member Eric Swalwell (D-CA). “I think it is worth making sure that we get it right.”

A majority of witnesses sought to highlight potential benefits of the pipeline. Lynn Helms, Director of the Department of Mineral Resources for the North Dakota Industrial Commission highlighted the safety benefits for transportation. He testified that the pipelines operation would cut down on accidents and reduce the potential for oil spills from truck transportation. Paul “Chip” Knappenberger, Assistant Director, Center for the Study of Science, Cato Institute argued that the increased carbon omissions do not directly correlate to a measurement of climate change and regardless, the carbon dioxide produced by the pipeline will still not significantly influence climate change.

Committee Democrats contended that the job creation level posed by the Republicans is exaggerated. They argued that the pipeline would only create several thousand temporary jobs and only 35 permanent jobs, based on the findings of the US State Department’s Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. Anthony Swift, testifying on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council, was the lone witness allotted by committee Democrats. He argued that the amount of jobs the pipeline would endanger is not worth the potential number of jobs it would create. “In exchange for 35 permanent jobs, Keystone XL would pose a permanent risk to American communities, sensitive water resources and agricultural industry,” he said.

“Short-term benefits to our economy should not be overlooked, but they should be considered alongside the substantial environmental and safety challenges presented by the pipeline, including the potentially disastrous impact on the local economy if a spill were to occur,” asserted Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR). “That’s why Congress requested that the National Academy of Sciences study this type of oil, and it is my hope that we will soon know more about what differences exist between oil sands and conventional crudes.”

View the full hearing here: http://science.house.gov/hearing/keystone-xl-pipeline-examination-scientific-and-environmental-issues-joint-hearing-energy

SPACE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS EXOPLANETARY RESEARCH

On May 9, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittees on Space and Research convened for a joint hearing to discuss exoplanet research, the continued discovery of earth-like planets.

There was bipartisan support for continued investment in exoplanet research among the committee leadership. “Scientists are discovering new kinds of solar systems in our own galaxy that we never knew existed,” noted Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “In the universe, is there another place like home? Because of NASA’s Kepler mission, we know the likely answer is yes. Imagine how the discovery of life outside our solar system would alter our priorities for space exploration and how we view our place in the universe.”

“Since humanity first began looking to the heavens, we have been fascinated by the possibility that we may not be alone in the universe,” stated Research Subcommittee Chairman Larry Buschon (R-IN). “As the number of confirmed and cataloged heavenly bodies has swelled in the past twenty one years, we have sought to learn more about the conditions on these planets: the temperatures, the atmospheres, their core composition, how they orbit their respective stars, and ultimately, whether any are capable of sustaining life.” In his opening remarks, Buschon highlighted two life science space researchers affiliated with Purdue University in Indiana: France Cordova and Marshall Porterfield.

“The search for habitable planets outside of our own solar system was identified as a scientific priority in the 2010 National Academies Decadal Survey of Astronomy and Astrophysics,” noted Research Subcommittee Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL). “And no wonder. This is exactly the type of scientific pursuit that expands our understanding of the world, or worlds, around us and grips the imagination of scientists and the public at large, even though we have no idea what we will find.”

Exoplanet research is conducted through a collaboration of National Science Foundation ground-based telescopes as well as National Aeronautics and Space Administration telescopes in outer space. Witnesses from both agencies outlined their progress in exoplanet research, which included the recent discovery of three “super-earth” sized planets that appear to have characteristics to support life.

When Space Subcommittee Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-MD) inquired about the impacts of sequestration on exoplanet research in fiscal year 2014, NASA Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld asserted his agency would likely have to turn off operating observatories or cut off funding for new missions and projects. James Ulvestad, Director of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Astronomical Sciences stated that research grants to operate newer more expensive observatories would be at risk and exoplanetary research would be conducted increasingly by international partners as opposed to US researchers, post-docs, and graduate students.

To view the full hearing, click here:
http://science.house.gov/hearing/subcommittee-space-and-subcommittee-research-joint-hearing-exoplanet-discoveries-have-we

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: BLM RELEASES HYDRAULIC FRACTURING RULE

On May 16, the US Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management released a new draft rule for hydraulic fracturing.

BLM maintains that current regulations governing hydraulic fracturing operations on public lands are more than 30 years old and do not adequately address modern fracturing activities. The rule would require disclosure of chemicals injected underground on roughly 700 million acres of federal mineral estate, including about 60 million acres underlying private lands. The rule would allow states to propose their own standards for the controversial oil and gas production technique if they can prove their regulations are as strong as federal rules. The new rule would not require companies to disclose fracking chemicals until after the technique has been performed.

The move generated criticism from Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, which has become typical related to hydraulic fracturing issues. “The Obama administration is once again choosing costly red tape at the expense of American jobs and American energy production,” stated House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA). It is charging forward with new regulations on hydraulic fracturing on federal and tribal lands that are burdensome, restrictive, unnecessary, and directly duplicate what states have been doing efficiently and effectively for over sixty years.”

On the other hand, Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-MA) criticized the rule as “extremely disappointing” for not going far enough in ensuring environmental safety protections. Among his criticisms of the rule, Markey noted the rule’s deference to internet-based disclosure of chemicals through a website not run by the government. He also noted that rule does not mandate closed system containment of wastewater in favor of open pit storage. Conservation groups assert open pit storage increases risks for spills that contaminate soil and surface water.

For additional information on the rule, including how to comment, click here:
http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/interior-releases-updated-draft-rule-for-hydraulic-fracturing-on-public-and-indian-lands-for-public-comment.cfm

GAO: LOCAL GOVERNMENTS NEED HELP COPING WITH CLIMATE CHANGE

A report recently made public from the General Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that “infrastructure such as roads and bridges, wastewater systems, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) centers are vulnerable to changes in the climate” and calls upon the federal government to work with local governments to mitigate the impacts of these changes.

The report notes that the federal government spends billions of dollars annually on infrastructure, which is affected by climate change. The report notes that sea-level rise and increased extreme weather events put this infrastructure at greater risk. It identifies several federal efforts underway to help improve adaptive decision-making at the local level, yet asserts that this effort is presently uncoordinated.

GAO recommends the president designate a federal entity to work with federal agencies to help local decision makers indentify the best available climate information for infrastructure planning.

View the full report, here:
http://gao.gov/products/GAO-13-242

CURRENT POLICY

Approved by House Committee

H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act – Introduced by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Colin Peterson (D-MN), the comprehensive $940 billion farm bill would reauthorize agricultural programs though Fiscal Year 2018. Overall the bill cuts $40 billion over the next decade, largely from mandatory and nutritional programs. These cuts also include $6.9 billion from conservation programs. The bill also consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13. The bill was approved May 15 by a bipartisan vote of 36-10. Additional information on the bill is available here:
http://agriculture.house.gov/sites/republicans.agriculture.house.gov/files/farm%20bill/2013_FARRMSummary.pdf

Approved by Senate Committee

S. 954, the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 – Introduced by Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the $950 billion farm bill would reauthorize agricultural programs through Fiscal Year 2018. Overall, the bill includes $23 billion in spending cuts, achieved through eliminating excess subsidies, reducing programs perceived as duplicative and consolidating other programs. Like the House version, the bill consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13. Unlike the House version, the Senate bill would require conservation compliance in order to receive crop insurance subsidies for highly erodible land and wetlands. The bill was approved May 14 by a bipartisan vote of 15-5, which included the support of Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS). Additional information on the bill is available here: http://www.ag.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/senate-agriculture-committee-approves-farm-bill

Passed by Senate

S. 601, the Water Resources Development Act – Introduced by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA), the comprehensive $12.2 billion bill, reauthorizes funding for Army Corps of Engineers programs related to environmental restoration, flood control, bridges and other water infrastructure. The Senate approved the bill May 15 by a vote of 83-14. Additional information on the bill is available here:
http://www.epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Files.View&FileStore_id=1db8714f-ac01-4253-8c9f-367d09d6f573

 


 Sources ClimateWire, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Government Accountability Office, Greenwire, the Hill, House Agriculture Committee, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Science Magazine