November 30, 2012

In this Issue

BUDGET: FISCAL CLIFF TALKS CONTINUE, NO SOLUTION IN SIGHT

As the fiscal cliff negotiations continue, leaders in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democratic-controlled Senate have sketched out their broad goals, yet neither side has put forward a specific plan.

Included in the “fiscal cliff” are a series of automatic discretionary spending cuts (budget sequestration) and the expiration of a multitude of tax cuts and unemployment benefit extensions. The discretionary spending cuts include significant spending reductions to science agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United States Geological Survey. The negotiations between policymakers seeking to avert the cliff have become a proverbial chess game between the two parties where each side sketches out their general position and waits to see who blinks first. What remains unclear is which of the publicized political demands from each side amount to political positioning or concrete unwavering positions.

On the Republican side, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have declared that Republicans are open to revenue increases, yet are unwilling to raise specific income rates. At the same time, several notable Republicans, including Sens. Lindsey Graham (SC), Saxby Chambliss (GA) and Rep. Peter King (NY) have made public statements either outright supporting some form of revenue increases or renouncing anti-tax increase pledges. Comments from Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), suggesting that Republicans should go ahead and vote to extend middle-class tax cuts before debating the tax cuts for the wealthy have prompted Speaker Boehner to urge his conference to remain unified in keeping income tax rates frozen for all Americans. Republicans have called on Senate Democrats and the White House to outline what specific discretionary spending cuts and entitlement reforms they would embrace. Speaker Boehner has also declared that cuts to the Affordable Care Act need to be part of any deficit reduction effort.

Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, have called on Republicans to outline specific revenue increases and changes to the tax code. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has stated that simply closing loopholes will not generate the necessary revenue. The president has all but drawn a line in the sand that a deal must include tax increases for the wealthiest earners. Although he has stated that must include everyone making above $250,000 during the 2012 presidential campaign, he has been less firm on a specific income level in the days after the election. Senate Democratic leaders claim that any deal must not include cuts to entitlements and should also raise the debt ceiling, which the federal government is expected to reach early next year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has indicated he would accept Medicare cuts that did not affect beneficiaries. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) contends that Medicare and Medicaid reforms should be part of a long-term deficit reduction effort, but not part of a short-term deal to avert the fiscal cliff.

On Nov. 29, the White House offered an initial plan that would raise $1.6 trillion in revenue and $400 billion in spending cuts. The first $960 billion in revenue would come from allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for the highest income earners. Another $600 billion in revenue would come from changes to the tax code. The proposal, put forward by Treasury Secretary Geithner, would also grant the president more latitude to raise the debt ceiling with a required two thirds vote from Congress to prevent it. As part of the plan, the White House also is requesting $50 billion in new stimulus spending and a $30 billion extension of unemployment benefits. The $400 billion in savings comes from changes to healthcare and entitlement programs. The plan also calls for extending the payroll tax cut or providing a similar tax cut targeted towards working families. The Administration’s proposed revenue increases alone are a non-starter for Congressional Republicans (and some Democrats) with both Speaker Boehner and Senate Minority Leader McConnell soundly rejecting the proposal.

Congress last averted a budget sequestration by enacting the Budget Enforcement Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-508). As in the 1990 deal forged between President George H.W. Bush and the Democratic Congress, there will likely be dissenters who seek to obstruct acts of pragmatism. The Budget Enforcement Act established the PAY-AS-YOU-GO rule that required spending increases to be offset by spending reductions or revenue increases. It also included a number of tax increases and limits on itemized deductions that drew the ire of a number of conservatives led by then-House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-GA). Ultimately, only 10 House Republicans, including former Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), joined 217 House Democrats in supporting that deal while 163 Republicans and 40 Democrats opposed it. This time around, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), who is potentially eyeing a presidential run in 2016, could be among those leading an effort to spoil a potential deal. The 1990 agreement passed the Senate on a significantly less partisan vote of 54-45. Both Reid and McConnell were serving then with Reid supporting the deal and McConnell opposing it.

Any deal will likely come down to two key players: President Obama and Speaker Boehner. Minority Leader Pelosi’s and Majority Leader Reid’s roles will be to sell whatever final deal emerges to the House and Senate Democratic caucuses. Senate Minority Leader McConnell, who is up for re-election in 2014, may actually end up bucking the final deal, leaving the key to Senate passage in the hands of a few pragmatic moderate Senators.

A number of organizations who benefit from non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending have come together to form “NDD United,” a broad effort to inform policymakers on the multifaceted detrimental impacts NDD cuts would have on communities nationwide. The organizations have called upon lawmakers to endorse a balanced approach to deficit reduction along the lines of what has been proposed by the National Commission of Fiscal Responsibility, commonly known as “Simpson-Bowles.” The Simpson-Bowles plan outlined a series of discretionary spending cuts, reductions of tax loopholes (referred to in the report as “tax earmarks”), reductions in mandatory spending programs and outlined various health care cost savings.

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is among the scientific societies that participate in these efforts. ESA has joined in NDD United activities and recently spearheaded a letter to lawmakers highlighting the impact non-defense discretionary spending cuts would have on investments in science and conservation efforts. To view the ESA letter, click here: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyStatements/Letters/Budget_Sequestration_Letter_11.27.12.pdf

HOUSE: GOP NAMES COMMITTEE CHAIRS

House Republican leadership has announced its committee chairs for the 113th Congress for 20 of its 21 committees.

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will be chaired by Lamar Smith (R-TX). While Smith has supported climate skeptics having an increased role in climate change discussions, he is viewed as the least hostile towards climate science among the three who sought the slot. These included Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI). Current chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) is term-limited under Republican rules that allow for only six years of service in a chairman or ranking member position. Like Chairman Hall, Smith intends to make the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and space exploration a priority. He also supports Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education investment as essential in remaining competitive in the modern global economy.

The House Transportation Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over the Water Resources Development Act, the Army Corps of Engineers and Clean Water Act legislation, will be chaired by Bill Shuster (R-PA). Current Chairman John Mica (R-FL) had sought a waiver, but was refused. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over Environmental Protection Agency laws, will continue to be chaired by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI). The House Appropriations Committee will continue to be chaired by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY). Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) is also returning to chair the House Natural Resources Committee, which has oversight over various US Department of Interior laws and initiatives.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) has been granted a waiver to continue on beyond his six year term limit, likely attributable to his rising status as a party leader, having been on the GOP’s vice presidential ticket during the 2012 presidential election. It is expected that Ryan will eventually move on to chair the exclusive Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax laws, Medicare and Social Security reform. Along with the Appropriations and Energy and Commerce committees, Ways and Means is viewed as one of the most powerful and sought after committees in the House.

The roster of House committee chairmen thus far includes no women or racial minorities. If the next chair of the Committee on House Administration is male (a likelihood given that all current GOP members are males), this will mark the first time there have been no female House committee chairs since the 109th Congress adjourned in 2006. Before that, the last female chairwoman was Nancy Johnson, who chaired the House Standards of Official Conduct (Ethics) Committee during the 104th Congress (1995-1996). Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the current chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, is term-limited. Ros-Lehtinen is the most senior Republican woman in the House. She is also the first Cuban American and first Hispanic female elected to Congress, serving since 1989.

ENERGY DEVELOPMENT: SENATORS ADVOCATE APPROVAL FOR KEYSTONE PIPELINE

Sens. John Hoeven (R-ND) and Max Baucus (D-MT) spearheaded a letter on Nov. 16 requesting a meeting with President Obama on moving forward with the Keystone XL pipeline proposal.

“With the elections of 2012 behind us, we write to remind you of the continuing importance of the Keystone XL Pipeline. We want to work together to keep creating jobs, and Keystone XL is one vital piece of the puzzle,” the letter states. “We would like to meet with you in the near future to discuss this important project.” Asserting that the pipeline will create thousands of jobs, the signers maintain that existing portions of the pipeline have been built with “sound environmental stewardship and the best modern technology.”

Environmental groups have opposed the pipeline out of concern for greenhouse gas emissions, forest damage and the potential oil spills along the pipeline’s path. The administration had postponed a decision until early 2013, citing that it required the additional time to review alternative route proposals from TransCanada.

In total the bipartisan letter carries 18 signatories, including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sens. Richard Lugar (R-IN), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mark Pryor (D-AR), David Vitter (R-LA), Jim Webb (D-VA), Jon Tester (D-MT), John Barrasso (R-WY), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mark Begich (D-AK), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Rob Portman (R-OH).

To view the full letter, click here: http://www.hoeven.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/news-releases?ID=a9a3bd9e-68b4-4dd5-ad08-fbc91d2f5656

ENDANGERED SPECIES: FWS REPORT OUTLINES CANDIDATES FOR FEDERAL PROTECTION

On Nov. 20, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released its annual Candidate Notice of Review, an update on the current status of plants and animals considered candidates for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Three species have been removed from candidate status, two have been added and nine have garnered a change in priority since the last review was conducted in Oct. 2011. The two new candidate species are the PeƱasco least chipmunk of New Mexico and the Cumberland arrow darter, a freshwater perch-like fish in Kentucky and Tennessee. The three species removed include the elongate mud meadow springsnail of Nevada, the Christ’s paintbrush flower of Idaho and the bog asphodel lily in New Jersey. Priority status was raised for five species, the Sonoran desert tortoise, Black Warrior waterdog salamander, Nevares Spring naucorid bug, Goose Creek Milkvetch plant, and whorled sunflower. Priority status was lowered for the Sonoyta mud turtle, Page springsnail, Stephan’s riffle beetle, and Siskiyou mariposa lily.

According to FWS, 192 species are currently recognized as candidates for protection under the Act, the lowest in over twelve years. Though candidate species do not garner full federal protection, the FWS does take action to conserve them.

The complete notice and list of proposed and candidate species appears in the Federal Register and can be found here: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/what-we-do/cnor.html.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: NOAA RECONSIDERS PROTECTION FOR PUGET SOUND ORCAS

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is considering whether to remove a small population of orcas/killer whales in Puget Sound, WA from protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Upon reviewing a petition filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service concurred that new information warrants a review of the orcas’ protected status in the region. Officially known as Southern Resident killer whales, the area’s population of 86 killer whales was first listed as endangered in 2005. The Southern Resident killer whales spend time in Puget Sound and nearby waters, leaving for the open ocean in the winter.

PLF argues that the population is not distinct from larger populations of killer whales in the Pacific Ocean. The Center for Biological Diversity, which has sought to retain the populations’ federally protected status, counters that scientific literature highlights differences between this group of killer whales and others.

The opportunity for scientific comment extends through Jan. 28, 2013. For additional information, including the regulations.gov comment link, click here: http://www.nwr.noaa.gov/Marine-Mammals/Whales-Dolphins-Porpoise/Killer-Whales/ESA-Status/delist.cfm

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: FWS PROPOSES FEDERAL PROTECTION FOR AFRICAN LION

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is considering listing the African lion (Panthera leo leo) as a protected species under the Endangered Species Act.

In March 2011, FWS received a petition from animal welfare groups, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, Born Free Foundation/Born Free USA, Defenders of Wildlife and Fund for Animals, requesting the African lion be added as a federally protected species. Species may be considered for protection under the ESA regardless of whether they are native to the United States.

According to IFAW, African lions have disappeared from “over 80 percent of their historic range, and their population declined by nearly 50 percent from just 1980 to 2002.” The groups contend that the lions are increasingly threatened by habitat destruction and fragmentation, disease, loss of traditional prey species as well as trophy hunting and commercial trade. The African lion is the only big cat not listed under the Act. Its close relative, the Asiatic lion was first listed in 1970.

Comments must be received by January 28, 2013. Written comments and information concerning this finding can be submitted by one of the following methods:

  • Electronic mail: Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. [FWS-R9-ES-2012-0025]
  • Regular mail: Public Comments Processing, Attn: [FWS-R9-ES-2012-0025]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203

FELLOWSHIP OPPORTUNITY: EPA AWARDS $5.3 MILLION FOR ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES

On Nov. 14, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced $5.3 million in research fellowships to 126 students pursuing degrees in environmental studies, including 39 Greater Research Opportunities (GRO) fellows and 87 Science to Achieve Results (STAR) fellows.

According to EPA, the awards encourage undergraduate and graduate students to pursue careers as environmental specialists and further their education into master’s and doctoral degrees. The fellowships seek to encourage leadership in areas including environmental research, restoration, pollution prevention and sustainability.

EPA’s STAR Graduate Fellowship supports master’s and doctoral candidates in environmental studies. The Greater Research Opportunities Undergraduate Fellowships are geared to support students in their junior and senior year of undergraduate study in environmental fields. GRO students also receive an internship at an EPA facility during the summer between their junior and senior years.

Applications for the fiscal year 2013 GRO program are due Dec. 5, 2012 while the STAR fellowship deadline was Nov. 27, 2012. For additional information on the GRO program and STAR fellowships, click here: http://epa.gov/ncer/fellow/

ESA GRAD STUDENT OPPORTUNITY: APPLY NOW FOR ESA GRAD STUDENT POLICY AWARD

ESA invites applications for its 2013 Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA). This award, offered annually to up to three winners, provides graduate students hands-on science policy experience in Washington, DC including interacting with congressional decision-makers, federal agency officials, and others engaged in science and public policy.

ESA covers travel and lodging expenses associated with this event for GSPA recipients. The two-day event will occur between mid-March and early April, contingent on the yet-to-be-determined 2013 congressional schedule. Application deadline is January 7, 2013. For more information, click here: http://www.esa.org/member_services/fundingGrants.php

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.Res. 815, declaring the Year of the Federal Lab - Introduced Nov. 16 by Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PAJ) and Randy Hultgren (R-IL), the non-binding resolution designates 2013 as the “Year of the Federal Lab,” recognizes the important role federal labs play in maintaining United States innovation and urges the US House of Representative to find ways to increase investment in federally sponsored research.

Considered by House Committee

On Nov. 29, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the following bill:

H.R. 511, to prohibit the importation of various injurious species of constrictor snakes - Introduced by Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL), the bill would ban the importation and interstate transportation of the reticulated python, green anaconda, Beni or Bolivian python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, boa constrictor, the Burmese python, yellow anaconda, northern African python and southern African python under the Lacey Act, formalizing an existing Department of Interior rule for the last four species.

Passed House

H.R. 6429, the STEM Jobs Act – Introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the bill would eliminate a visa program for countries with low rates of emigration to the United States, and hand those visas to foreign students with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Democrats opposed the bill because it eliminates the diversity immigrant program that makes immigrant visas available to certain individuals from countries with low rates of immigration. Proponents for the program contend that it is vital to ensuring a broad array of legal immigrants of all races and ethnicities have access to the United States. The bill passed Nov. 30, by a vote of 245-139 with 27 Democrats joining all but five Republicans in supporting the bill. The White House issued a statement opposing the bill and the Democratic-controlled Senate is not expected to act on it before the 112th Congress adjourns.

Introduced in Senate

S. 3649, Superfund Emergency Response Act of 2012 - Introduced Nov. 29 by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), the bill would allow Congress to provide emergency funding to contain pollution at Superfund sites following a natural disaster. The bill would also require the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a study on the vulnerability of Superfund sites to extreme weather events and develop a plan to better protect these sites from future natural disasters.


Sources: Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, POLITICO, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Washington Post

Comments are closed.