February 14, 2014

In this Issue

DEBT CEILING: CONGRESS PASSES BILL EXTENDING DEBT LIMIT TO 2015

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View the full report here.

KEYSTONE PIPELINE: ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW REIGNITES PIPELINE DEBATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NATURAL RESOURCES: COMMITTEE REVIEWS FISHERIES MANAGEMENT LEGISLATION

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

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

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

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

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

View the full hearing here.

FWS: REPORT CONCLUDES WOLF DELISTING FAILED TO ADEQUATELY UTILIZE SCIENCE

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

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

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

View the full report here.

Information on how to comment is available here.

FWS: ADMINISTRATION TO BAN COMMERCIAL TRADE OF ELEPHANT IVORY

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

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

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

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

CURRENT POLICY

Considered by House Committee

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

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

Passed House

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Comments are closed.