June 22, 2012

In This Issue

APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE COMMITTEE MOVES AGRICULTURE, INTERIOR SPENDING BILLS

This month, the House Appropriations Committee has continued work on its Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 spending bills. Most recently, it has released legislation funding environmental and agricultural federal programs. On June 19, the committee approved its Agriculture Appropriations Act for FY 2013. That day, the committee also released its FY 2013 Interior and Environment appropriations bill, which was marked up by subcommittee the following day.

The House appropriations bills must be reconciled with and approved by the Democratic-controlled Senate before being sent to the president to be signed into law. To date, the Obama administration has released statements of administration policy opposing House appropriations bills, citing that they violate funding levels agreed to under the Budget Control Act.

Agriculture

In total, the Agriculture Appropriations Act for FY 2013 includes $19.4 billion in discretionary spending, a $365 million reduction from FY 2012 and $1.7 billion less than Obama’s FY 2013 budget request.

Agricultural research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, would be funded at $2.5 billion, a $35 million reduction from FY 2012. The Natural Resources Conservation Service would receive $812 million, a $16 million decrease from FY 2012. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service would receive $787 million, $33 million below FY 2012. A funding program to help farmers make environmental improvement on their lands was cut by $500 million compared to the current farm bill’s authorized levels.

Interior

The House Interior and Environment Appropriations Act for FY 2013 contains $28 billion in funding, a cut of $1.2 billion below FY 2012 and $1.7 billion below the president’s FY 2013 budget request. The bill funds the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Forest Service and related environmental initiatives.

EPA funding undergoes a particularly high number of cuts in the House bill. The bill funds EPA at $7 billion, a $1.4 billion (17 percent) cut from FY 2012. This brings total funding in the bill below FY 1998 levels. The legislation continues a cap on EPA’s personnel at the lowest number since 1992 and cuts the office of the EPA administrator by over 30 percent. The EPA Congressional Affairs office receives a 50 percent cut.

Overall, the Department of Interior (DOI) would receive $10.3 billion in FY 2013, $57 million less than FY 2012 and $79 million below the president’s budget request. FY 2013 funding numbers for specific departments under DOI include the following:

  • Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – $1 billion, $57 million less than FY 2012.
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – $1.2 billion, $317 million less than FY 2012. The House bill prioritizes invasive species and mitigations of fish hatcheries over unauthorized programs.
  • National Park Service – $2.4 billion, $134 million less than FY 2012.
  • U.S. Geological Survey – $967 million, $101 million less than FY 2012. The House majority contends energy and minerals, mapping and water programs are prioritized over climate change and ecosystem research as well as administrative accounts.
  • Office of Surface Mining – $150 million, level with FY 2012. The bill prohibits funding being used to implement the “stream buffer rule,” which the administration contends is necessary to protect waterways from coal mining.
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs – $2.6 billion, a $37 million increase from FY 2012. This includes funding for federal government contractual obligations to tribes under a recent Supreme Court ruling on tribal self-governance.

Additional agencies and environmental program initiatives of interest include the following:

  • U.S. Forest Service – $4.7 billion for FY 2013, $86 million above FY 2012 and $169 million below the president’s budget request. The bill includes a provision prohibiting the Forest Service or BLM from issuing new closures of public lands to hunting and recreational shooting, except in the case of public safety or extreme weather.
  • Land and Water Conservation Funding – $66 million, an 80 percent cut from FY 2012.
  • Wildfire Fighting and Prevention – $3.2 billion, $6 million above FY 2012.
  • National Ocean Policy – the bill includes a provision prohibiting funding for the Obama administration’s National Ocean Policy.

For additional information on the Agriculture bill, click here:
http://appropriations.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=298229

For additional information on the Interior bill, click here: http://appropriations.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=299989

OSTP: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS WHITE HOUSE PRIORITIES

On June 20, 2012, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee hosted White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren for a hearing entitled “Examining Priorities and Effectiveness of the Nation’s Science Policies.”

During the hearing several Republicans inquired if the U.S. was maintaining investment in certain areas, including space technology and high-energy physics, relative to other countries. Holdren responded that the U.S. remains “on the cutting edge” and “unmatched” leading in these areas, but current budget constraints make maintaining that lead increasingly difficult. Republican committee members criticized the Obama administration’s research investments in a host of areas including research to study hydraulic fracturing, the president’s proposed clean energy standard, green jobs and various Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations.

“I remain concerned about a number of this administration’s science and technology policy issues, ranging from an unprecedented emphasis on clean energy at the expense of other priorities to a larger focus on applied research at the expense of basic scientific research to the lack of a clearly defined and compelling long-term mission for human space flight,” stated Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX)

Holdren maintained that overall, the United States is leading the world in science investment, noting that the nation’s combined public and private sector investments in science constitute 30 percent of the world’s investment in research and development. Holdren noted that while China has not yet reached the moon, the U.S. did in 1969. He also noted that while China put its first woman in space only this week, “we did it in 1983.”

However, Holdren also said that “across the board, we cannot afford to be complacent” in order to remain competitive. He cited Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education as a critical area where the U.S. needs to invest more to both foster a competitive workforce and sustain the nation’s presence at the forefront of innovation in the sciences globally. Holdren’s sentiments regarding the need for investment in STEM education garnered vocal bipartisan support from a number of committee members, including Reps. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) and Jerry McNerney (D-CA).

A testy exchange occurred between Holdren and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) over the administration’s science engagement with China. Rep. Rohrabacher inquired if OSTP was following language from a GAO report stating the administration may not use appropriations funding to collaborate with China. Holdren said that the language related to a past fiscal year appropriations bill, clarifying that the most recently enacted language states only that the administration shall not collaborate with China in a way that puts national security at risk or compromises U.S. technology. Rohrabacher then inquired why the administration is  willing to work with countries who commit human rights abuses. Holdren countered that the U.S. takes every opportunity to critique China’s human rights policies when they visit the country.

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) struck a more empathetic tone, noting OSTP’s multifaceted responsibilities. “The truth is that OSTP has been asked to do a lot by both Congress and the President.  In addition to your more visible initiatives, I know that you have to carry out necessary interagency coordination—a job that probably goes underappreciated and undervalued by all of us,” she said. “I think we forget sometimes that your actual authority is limited and that much of what you accomplish you do through leadership, persuasion, and persistence.  You have an important responsibility, and we want you to succeed.”

View the full hearing here:
http://science.house.gov/hearing/full-committee-hearing-examining-priorities-and-effectiveness-nation%E2%80%99s-science-policies

WILDLIFE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS ROLE OF HUNTING IN SPECIES CONSERVATION

On June 19, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held a hearing entitled “The Science of How Hunting Assists Species Conservation and Management.”

While there was consensus among committee members and witnesses that hunters can play a significant role in conservation efforts, opinions differed over whether the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and implementation of the Endangered Species Act has stymied hunters ability to play a greater role in wildlife conservation.

Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun (R-GA) noted that several of the hearing’s witnesses, including FWS Director Dan Ashe, have repeatedly highlighted the positive impacts of hunting. Broun however, expressed concern with how the agency handles permit applications for the importation of legal hunts, citing “paperwork delays.” One witness,  Al Maki, Conservation Committee Chairman at Safari Club International, went as far as stating that the FWS “has drawn an arbitrary line in the sand.” He maintained that the agency has relied on the Endangered Species Act to resolutely refuse to allow US hunters to play a role in species conservation.

FWS Director Ashe countered that the permit application, at six pages long (two pages of which are instructions) is hardly tedious or difficult. Subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NY) defended implementation of the endangered species law, stating “the Endangered Species Act, the Lacey Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty, our system of wildlife refuges and national parks – all of these play an essential role in maintaining that balance.” He went on to say that the law is “an important statutory structure to guide management decisions for those species that are attractive to hunters.”

View the full hearing here:
http://science.house.gov/hearing/subcommittee-investigations-and-oversight-hearing-science-how-hunting-assists-species

HYDRAULIC FRACTURING: NEW STUDY LINKS SEISMIC ACTIVITY TO WASTEWATER INJECTIONS

A recent report from the Natural Research Council concludes that the underground injection of wasterwater produced by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) can cause earthquakes that people can feel. Fracking, the process of extracting natural gas by injecting a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals in short bursts at high pressure into deep underground wells, is a relatively new technology.

The report qualifies that “very few events” of earthquakes have been documented relative to the large number of waste disposal wells and that the actual method of hydraulic fracturing itself “does not pose a high risk for inducing felt seismic events.”  It surveys injection activities related to geothermal energy, conventional oil-and-gas development, shale gas recovery enabled through fracking, and carbon capture and storage. The report was requested by Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and was the subject of a recent Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. 

The study finds that big carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects, which could be a future way to keep greenhouse gas emissions from power plants out of the atmosphere, need more analysis to gauge quake potential as there are no such large scale CCS projects yet in operation. Overall, the report correlates with similar federal agency studies of fracking that conclude additional research is necessary to accurately predict the full magnitude of earthquakes caused by energy development.

For additional information, including the full report here:
http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=13355

View the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing here: http://www.energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/hearings-and-business-meetings?ID=2c908340-a9bb-40b4-bf7f-8308b272893d

EPA: NEW CLEAN AIR STANDARDS PROPOSED FOR SOOT

In keeping with a court-ordered deadline, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new national air quality standards for harmful fine particle pollution, which includes soot from power plants, boilers and car tailpipes. According to EPA, the microscopic particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and have been linked to many serious health effects, including premature death, heart attacks, strokes, acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma in children.

EPA’s proposal would strengthen the annual health standard for harmful fine particle pollution to a level within a range of 13 micrograms per cubic meter to 12 micrograms per cubic meter. The current annual standard is 15 micrograms per cubic meter. EPA asserts that the proposed changes are consistent with the advice from the agency’s independent science advisors and based on an extensive body of scientific evidence that includes thousands of studies, including large studies that show negative health impacts at lower levels than previously understood.

EPA states that 99 percent of the nation’s counties will meet the new requirement without taking any additional steps by the 2020 deadline, as long as other air pollution rules for power plants, boilers and diesel engines, some of which are being challenged in Congress, are implemented. The agency’s analysis found two areas, southern California’s Riverside and San Bernardino counties, could not meet a 13-microgram standard by 2020, while four others would fail to meet a 12-microgram limit: Santa Cruz County, AZ; Jefferson County, AL; Wayne County, MI; and Lincoln County, MT.

As with many EPA regulations, reaction from Capitol Hill leaders was decidedly partisan. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) praised the rules: “The EPA’s proposed rule on deadly toxic soot is an important step forward in protecting our families and children. Continued exposure to this very dangerous form of air pollution leads to asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, and even premature death. When the rule to reduce soot pollution is finalized, there will be far fewer of these harmful health impacts, and it will have substantial health benefits in California and communities across the nation.”

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY), who had submitted a letter to EPA urging the agency to retain current standards in its proposal, issued the following joint statement: “We are disappointed that EPA did not heed our request to include retention of the current annual standard as an alternative in its proposal. Any change to these regulatory standards could result in significant adverse economic consequences and job losses,” read the statement. “Particulate matter standards should be based on a full scientific and economic review, and proper consideration of reasonable alternatives. Before ramming through new standards that could threaten jobs and our economy, we need to be sure of the science and the costs. Overly strict standards could force local economies into non-attainment, stifle economic growth, and lead to further job losses.”

EPA will accept public comment for 63 days after the proposed standards are published in the Federal Register. The agency will issue the final standards by December 14, 2012.

Click here for more information: http://www.epa.gov/pm/

CANADA: SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES URGE PRESERVATION OF EXPERIMENTAL LAKES AREA

On June 13, the Ecological Society of America joined the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, the International Society of Limnology, the Society of Canadian Limnologists and the Society for Freshwater Sciences in sending a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other government leaders concerning the potential closure of the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) in Kenora, Ontario. The Canadian government maintains that lake manipulative experiments are better carried out by universities and NGOs.

 

Since 1968, ELA experiments have helped to shape both Canadian and international environmental policies.  ELA experiments further understanding of human impacts on lakes and fishes and encourage the development of strategies for promoting the sustainability of natural and commercial freshwaters.  “ELA has been a cornerstone facility for           the study of inland waters,” the letter states. “This unique research facility has been the genesis of several important whole ecosystem experiments that have completely changed the course of research in the discipline of limnology (inland water research). Results from these experiments have been instrumental in establishing public policy, including guidelines to protect freshwaters and reduce air pollution.”

“People rely on freshwater resources and the many services these ecosystems provide. Facilities like ELA are essential to help researchers understand how these systems work and identify the factors that threaten their long-term sustainability,” the letter continues. “Scientific research in the environmental sciences is not an impingement on economic progress but rather is an essential part of it. We must protect the resources humanity relies on, freshwater being among our most basic needs.”         

To view the letter, click here:
http://www.esa.org/pao/policyStatements/Letters/Society_ELA_letter.pdf

To sign an online petition against the closure, click here:
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/355/851/152/save-the-experimental-lakes-area/

SCIENCE: NEON ANNOUNCES GROUNDBREAKING FOR TWO DATA COLLECTION SITES

On June 18, the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) announced that it had broken ground on its first two sites that will serve to collect information on a continental scale on issues such as climate change, land use, invasive species and biodiversity.

The first ground breaking was at Domain 1, Harvard Forest, in Petersham, Massachusetts; and the second at Domain 3, Ordway-Swisher Biological Station in Melrose, Florida. Both sites are now officially under construction.

NEON’s construction funding is provided through the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Major Research Equipment and Facilities (MREFC) budget account. In order for a project to qualify for MREFC funding, NSF requires that it represent an exceptional opportunity that enables research and education and advances scientific understanding.

To view the official NEON press release, click here:
http://www.neoninc.org/news/neonbreaksground

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 5959, the Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Act – Introduced June 19 by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), the bill would place a moratorium on permitting for mountaintop removal coal mining until health studies are conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services. The bill has 13 original cosponsors, all Democrats.

Considered by House Committee

On June 19, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs held a hearing on the following fishing bills:

H.R. 2706, the Billfish Conservation Act of 2011 – Introduced by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), the bill would prohibit the sale of billfish, which includes marlins, spearfish and other prized game fish. The bill has 24 bipartisan cosponsors. Companion legislation (S. 1451) has been introduced by Sen. David Vitter (R-LA).

H.R. 3472, the Pirate Fishing Vessel Disposal Act of 2011 – Introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AL), the bill would allow the Coast Guard to use abandoned vessels, which can include illegal fishing boats, in sinking exercises. These boats could also be sold to a developing nation, donated to a nonprofit or government agency for education or research. Companion legislation (S. 1890) has been introduced by Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK).

H.R. 4100, the Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2011 – Introduced by Rep. Madeline Bordallo (D-Guam), the bill would strengthen the government’s authority to deter illegal fishing. Companion legislation (S. 52) has been introduced by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI).

Approved by House Committee/Subcommittee

On June 20, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved several bipartisan bills intended to foster domestic energy development and job creation, including the following:

H.R. 4273, the Resolving Environmental and Grid Reliability Conflicts Act – Introduced by Reps. Pete Olson (R-TX) and Mike Doyle (D-PA), the bill would protect power companies from penalties for complying with Department of Energy emergency orders that may conflict with environmental laws. The bill passed by voice vote.

H.R. 5892, the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act – Introduced by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Diana DeGette (D-CO), the bill would direct the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to study the feasibility of a streamlined two-year permitting process for pumped storage projects and nonpowered dams and allow the commission to extend the life span of preliminary permits for developers to investigate sites for new hydropower projects.

Passed House

H.R. 2578, the Conservation and Economic Growth Act – Introduced by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), the comprehensive bill includes 14 bills reported by the Natural Resources Committee. Among its provisions, the bill waives numerous environmental and public lands laws in an effort to improve Department of Homeland Security operations within 100 miles of the Canadian and Mexican borders and on tribal lands. The bill authorizes the hunting of sea lions in the Pacific Northwest and doubles the duration of grazing permits on federal lands. It also allows the use of off-road vehicles in the Cape Hatteras Seashore Recreation Areas along the North Carolina coast and provides for the expansion of hydropower projects and for the conveyance of federal lands to local authorities for the purpose of economic development. The bill also includes legislation that would allow a native Alaskan corporation to acquire prime timberlands in the Tongass National Forest outside of the lands it was entitled to select under a 41-year-old settlement. The bill passed June 19, by a vote of 232-188 with 16 Democrats joining all but 19 Republicans in supporting the bill.

H.R. 4480, the Strategic Energy Production Act of 2012 – Introduced by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), the comprehensive bill is made up of the text of seven bills, two reported from the Energy and Commerce Committee and five reported from the Natural Resources Committee. The legislation aims to increase domestic energy production as well as reduce regulations for industry with the greater intent to spur economic growth and lower energy prices. Among its provisions, the bill delays Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air quality and fuels regulations and creates an interagency committee to review the impact EPA regulations have on energy prices and the economy. The bill requires the Department of Interior to develop a strategic plan for the nation’s energy needs over 30 years, increases the amount of federal land available for energy production and streamlines the process for approving drilling permits. The bill passed June 21 by a vote of 248-163 with 19 Democrats joining all but 5 Republicans in supporting the bill.

Passed Senate

S. 3240, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act – the $969 billion bill reauthorizes farm programs for the next 10 years. It passed the Senate June 21 by a vote of 64-35. Votes in favor of the bill included 46 Democrats, 16 Republicans and both Independents, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Joe Lieberman (I-VT). The bill cuts funding for agricultural programs by $23 billion by restructuring commodity programs, capping most commodity payments at $50,000, consolidating 23 conservation programs into 13 and eliminating nearly 100 program authorizations. Most of the bill’s savings are achieved through changes to crop assistance programs that have been in place in some form since the Great Depression. The bill had bipartisan support from Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-KS). It is unknown whether the US House of Representatives will take up the bill due to opposition from conservative Republican members. Additional information on the measure can be found here:
http://www.ag.senate.gov/issues/farm-bill


Sources: CNN, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Appropriations Committee, House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, National Research Council, National Ecological Observatory Network, Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

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