July 10, 2011

In This Issue

APPROPRIATIONS: SUBCOMMITTEES APPROVE SCIENCE, ENVIRONMENTAL SPENDING BILLS

The week of July 6, two House appropriations subcommittees that fund federal agencies with jurisdiction over ecological issues released and marked-up their draft funding bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012.

The House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill includes a total of $50.2 billion in funding, a reduction of $3.1 billion below FY 2011 spending levels. The House Interior and Environment Appropriations bill includes a total of $27.5 billion in spending, a reduction of $2.1 billion below FY2011 spending levels.

FY2012 CJS Bill Highlights:

National Science Foundation (NSF) – The bill funds NSF at $6.9 billion, level with FY2011 and $907 million below the president’s request for FY2012.

White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) – The bill funds OSTP at $3 million, less than half of the $6.6 million it received in FY2011 and $3.65 million below the president’s request.

Department of Commerce – The bill contains $7.1 billion for the Commerce Department, $464 million (six percent) below last year’s level and $1.7 billion (19 percent) below the president’s request. This includes funding for the following agencies:

  • Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) – $2.7 billion, the full requested level for PTO by the president and an increase of $588 million (28 percent) above FY2011.
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) NIST is funded at $701 million, $49 million below FY2011 and $300 million below the president’s request.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) The legislation contains $4.5 billion for NOAA, $103 million below FY2011 and $1 billion below the president’s request. Within this total, National Weather Service operations and systems are fully funded at the requested level and an increase of $430 million is included for the Joint Polar Satellite System weather satellite program to ensure the continuation of important weather data collection.

FY2012 Interior Bill Highlights:

Department of the Interior (DOI) - DOI is funded at $9.9 billion, $720 million or seven percent below FY2011 and $1.2 billion below the President’s request.

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) The bill includes $1.1 billion for the USGS, a $30 million cut below last year’s level. The majority of the reductions are in climate change and satellite imaging programs, while energy and minerals, natural hazards, and water programs are prioritized. The bill also does not provide funding for the administration’s proposal to transfer the “LandSat” satellite imaging program from NASA to the USGS.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – The bill includes $1 billion for BLM – a decrease of $63 million below last year’s level and a decrease of $60 million below the budget request. This does not include a proposal by the President to increase oil and gas fees by $38 million.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) – The FWS is funded at $1.2 billion in the bill, a cut of $315 million (21 percent) below last year’s level.

National Park Service (NPS) NPS is funded at $2.5 billion, $129 million below FY2011.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) The bill contains $154 million for BOEMRE, which is $72 million below FY2011.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) –  EPA is funded at $7.1 billion, $1.5 billion (18 percent)  below FY2011 and $1.8 billion (20 percent) below the president’s request. The bill also cuts a number of EPA programs and initiatives, including:

  • $967 million cut in the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. These funds received $6 billion in the “stimulus” legislation, and this cut brings these accounts to the fiscal year 2008 level
  • $102 million cut in grants for state implementation of environmental programs
  • $46 million cut in requested funding to regulate greenhouse gases
  • $422 million cut in EPA operations/administration
  • $76 million cut in EPA regulatory programs
  • $49 million cut in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
  • $4 million cut in the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Initiative
  • $8 million cut in the Puget Sound Restoration Initiative

U.S. Forest Service The bill includes $4.5 billion for the Forest Service, $164 million below FY2011 and $412 million below the president’s request.

Other Provisions – Several additional measures contained in the Interior bill include:

  • A provision clarifying current permitting activities for the Outer Continental Shelf, and setting parameters for EPA approval of exploration permits.
  • A provision prohibiting the Office of Surface Mining from moving forward with proposed updates to the “stream buffer rule.”
  • A provision instituting a one-year prohibition on the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources.
  • A provision prohibiting the EPA from changing the definition of “navigable waterways” under the Clean Water Act.
  • A provision providing exemptions from greenhouse gas reporting for certain agricultural activities.
  • A provision prohibiting funds for defining coal ash as hazardous waste.
  • A provision prohibiting funds for the EPA from expanding storm water discharge requirements.

For the subcommittee draft text of the FY2012 CJS Approps. bill, see: http://appropriations.house.gov/UploadedFiles/CJSFY12_SUBC_xml.pdf

For a summary table comparing of the FY2012 CJS Approps. bill with last year’s level and the president’s request, see: http://appropriations.house.gov/UploadedFiles/FY_2012_CJS_Summary_Table.pdf

For the subcommittee draft text of the FY2012 Interior Approps. bill, see: http://appropriations.house.gov/UploadedFiles/INTERIOR-FY2012_-_Working_v20_xml.pdf

For a table comparing the FY2012 Interior Approps. bill with last year’s levels and the president’s request, see: http://appropriations.house.gov/UploadedFiles/7.6.11_FY_12_Interior_Summary_Table.pdf

APPROPRIATIONS: ESA JOINS SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES IN SUPPORT OF NSF FUNDING

The Ecological Society of America has joined a number of scientific societies in sending a letter to senior House appropriations committee members in support of the National Science Foundation.

The letter, spearheaded by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, highlights the importance of using the scientific peer review system as the foundation for awarding research grants based on merit, noting that funding for individual programs should not be threatened by criticism that stems from outside the independent nonpartisan scientific review process. “As you prepare to debate the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012, the undersigned organizations stand in strong opposition to legislative attempts to undermine the peer review process by seeking to defund research grants that have already been awarded after extensive evaluation by independent scientific review panels,”  the letter states.

The letter expresses opposition to eliminating or reducing funding for specific areas of science, noting specific examples on how diverse disciplines of science have worked collectively to make vital contributions to society.

The Commerce Justice and Science Appropriations Act of FY2012 was marked up July 7. The week the letter is intended to be sent before the full committee mark-up of the bill, currently scheduled for July 13. Appropriations committee staff expects the bill to be taken up by the full House by the first week of August, before the month-long recess.

APPROPRIATIONS: WHITE HOUSE OPPOSES GOP ENERGY AND WATER FUNDNG BILL

On July 6, the White House released a statement in opposition to H.R. 2354, the Energy and Water Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2012, which the House began debating this week.

Among its criticism, the Obama administration states that the levels of funding provided for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) research and development programs is insufficient to further scientific research and puts America’s technological competiveness at risk. The bill substantially cuts a number of administration energy priorities, including solar energy, efficient vehicles, weatherization and biomass research and development.

Regarding DOE’s climate research the administration states that “the funding level for the Office of Science’s Biological and Environmental Research program would hamper the administration’s efforts to conduct and support scientific research on the relationship between energy production and the environment. The administration also strongly disagrees with the Committee Report suggestion that climate and atmospheric research are unrelated to DOE’s core basic science mission.”

The administration also criticizes several environmental provisions including Section 109, which would rescind the administration’s attempts to clarify federal jurisdiction over navigable waters. “Section 109 of the bill would stop an important administration effort to provide clarity around which water bodies are covered by the Clean Water Act. The administration’s work in this area will help to protect the public health and economic benefits provided to the American public by clean water, while also bringing greater certainty to business planning and investment and reducing an ongoing loss of wetlands and other sensitive aquatic resources,” the statement reads.

The administration also opposes the shortage of funding distributed to the Army Corps of Engineers Florida Ecosystem Restoration Program as well as language in the legislation that would require the administration to restart the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility in Nevada.

The House began debate on H.R. 2354, Friday, July 8 and is expected to vote on amendments and final passage the following week.

To view the full statement of administration policy, see:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/legislative/sap/112/saphr2354r_20110706.pdf

BATS: SUBCOMMITTEE REVIEWS WHITE NOSE SYNDROME CONTROL EFFORTS

On June 24, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs reviewed the impact White-Nose Syndrome is having on 47 species of bats in North America.

In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman John Fleming (R-LA) noted the importance of the hearing. “Bats consume vast amounts of insects and according to the April edition of Science magazine, their value to U.S. agriculture is between $3.7 to $53 billion each year,” he stated. “As a doctor, I was interested in learning that some 80 different medicines come from plants that need bats to survive.”

Dr. Gabriela Chavarria, Science Adviser to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, noted that the disease, discovered in 2006, is a new species to science and grows on living tissues, unlike most fungi.  Dr. Chavarria noted a number of stakeholders from the state and federal agencies, including FWS, the U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Department of Agriculture and academics have coordinated an effort to “identify the impact of white nose syndrome on bat populations and the ecosystem as a whole” as well as “develop management and containment efforts for federal and state wildlife managers.”

Nina Fascione, Executive Director of Bat Conservation International, based in Austin Texas, noted that researchers are predicting the Northeast regional extinction of the little brown bat, North America’s most common bat species, “in as little as 16 years.” She also noted that the lost of bat species would lead to farmers using more pesticides, which is both an economic burden to them and an environmental hazard. She predicted farmers could see the impacts in as little as four to five years. She also noted the impacts of increased listing of bat species for protection under the Endangered Species Act would have regulatory impacts on “mining, defense, energy, forestry, construction, transportation, tourism and outdoor recreation.”

The fungus, Geomyces destructans, is capable of killing 80 to 100 percent of bats in a given cave. The disease was first found in New York, but has spread to well over a dozen states and four Canadian provinces. Scientists have yet to discover how to treat bats with the disease and are uncertain exactly how it came to the United States. It has not been found to have any physical detrimental impact on humans.

Cave closures were a commonly used option to contain infected bats. However, it is an imperfect solution as bats roost in places other than caves in mines. Peter Youngbaer of the National Speleological Society stated that as the vast majority of caves are privately owned, closing only government caves is “akin to fighting a forest fire by building a control line of only five percent of the fire perimeter.” 

Dr. Justin Boyles of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee advocated for continuing current federal efforts to contain the disease, asserting that the cave closure policies currently implemented at the federal level are “both warranted and prudent,” given the potential impact human-facilitated movement may have on spreading the disease.

The witnesses seemed to agree that federal funding is needed to invest in research to combat the disease. Other witnesses included Jim Peña, Associate Deputy Chief at the U.S. Forest Service; and Dr. Jonathan Gassett, Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

The Obama administration is already considering two of the nine bat species impacted by White-Nose Syndrome for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The FWS said in a Federal Review notice that protections may be warranted for the Eastern small-footed and Northern long-eared bats.

Not all North American bat species have succumbed to the disease. According to Bat Conservation International, the Mexican free-tailed bat, most famously known for inhabiting the Congress Ave. bridge in Austin, TX, is among species where there have not yet been a documented case of infection. However, it is speculated whether they may be carriers.

To view the Federal Review notice on White-Nose Syndrome, see:

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-06-29/pdf/2011-16344.pdf

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS PROPOSED NOAA CLIMATE SERVICE

On June 22, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco testified before the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment on the agency’s proposed climate service.

NOAA first announced the reorganization in Feb. 2010. Dr. Lubchenco described the proposed center as an efficiency improvement and emphasized that it would be budget-neutral and would not detract from NOAA’s other operations. The center would house the agency’s existing climate research, modeling, services and data management activities, including the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research and the National Weather Service.

The move has garnered opposition from Republicans in Congress who believe the reorganization would also refocus the agency’s research into ideologically-driven motives. Chairman Ralph Hall (R-Texas) added language to the most recent Fiscal Year 2011 continuing resolution to prohibit NOAA from using any funds to create the new office at least through September. Dr. Lubchenco stated the role of the center would be to coordinate NOAA’s response to weather trends, not to advocate for policy. “This proposal would strengthen science across the agency, increase organizational effectiveness and create a new line office to allow NOAA to better meet the growing demand for information and services to help Americans plan for drought, prepare for floods and support U.S. national security priorities around the globe,” said Dr. Lubchenco.

“My objection to this proposal has been the concern that the focus to create a climate service will severely harm vital research at NOAA by transferring resources away from fundamental science to mission-oriented research and service-driven products,” said Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX).  Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) stated “On the topic of climate change, there’s already evidence that the climate service could become a source of sensationalistic exaggeration, instead of science.”

Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) asserted that recent extreme weather patterns, including flooding and tornadoes, have underscored the need for the climate service. “From the tornados in the South, drought and fires in the West, and flooding in the Midwest, regardless of their relation to climate change, we have seen in recent months how even isolated instances of these phenomena can devastate economies,” she stated. “That said; why would we not want to give people the tools and information needed to anticipate what is to come?”

The committee also heard testimony from Robert Winokur, Deputy Oceanographer for the U.S. Navy. “Part of the military mission is to anticipate threats and changes to national security.  Climate change, and its interaction with and impacts on demographics, technology, globalization, and resource allocation and management, will be one of the drivers of security in this century,” he said.

While stopping short of the NOAA specific proposal, he voiced support for efforts that consolidate information at NOAA and improve that Navy’s access to climate data. “The Navy believes that an organizational focus for providing reliable and authoritative climate data, information, and related products would be beneficial from the perspective of a climate services user.”

SUPREME COURT: JUSTICES WILL HEAR WETLANDS CASE

The Supreme Court has decided to take up a case challenging  whether people accused by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of violating environmental laws have a right to immediately take their case to a federal judge.

Chantell and Michael Sackett sought to build a house on a half-acre parcel near Priest Lake, Idaho. After they began earth-moving work, the Sacketts were halted by EPA, which said the property fell within the jurisdiction of Section 400 of the Clean Water Act. According to EPA, the landowners were in violation after they placed fill material into wetlands. The order prevented further construction work on the site and required the Sacketts to restore the wetlands.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Sacketts’ due process rights were not violated because those subject to compliance orders have an opportunity to go to court if EPA commences an enforcement action. The Sacketts contend they have a constitutional right to seek judicial review of that order right away.

The Obama administration and EPA urged the Supreme Court not to hear the appeal, arguing that the couple has ample avenues for contesting the order without risking fines, including applying for a permit. The Sacketts counter that a permit application would potentially cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Supreme Court will consider whether the Sacketts’ should be able to contest a compliance order before the enforcement proceedings and, if not, whether that would violate their due process rights. The justices will hear arguments in the Sackett case during the 2011 court term, which begins in October.

INTERIOR: SENATE CONFIRMS NEW FWS DIRECTOR

On June 30, the U.S. Senate confirmed Daniel M. Ashe as the 16th Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

During his tenure with FWS, Ashe helped craft the strategy to help the agency deal with effects of climate change. Ashe has led in the development of the agency’s Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, which are intended to leverage resources and strategically target science to inform conservation decisions and actions.

President Obama awarded Ashe a Presidential Rank Distinguished Service Award in recognition of his outstanding service. He was first nominated by President Obama to lead the Service in Dec. 2010.

Ashe is also a career employee of the Service. For additional information on Ashe, see the Dec. 10 addition of ESA policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2010/12102010.php

AIR POLLUTION: CALIFORNIA DELAYS CAP AND TRADE PROGRAM

In the wake of increased litigation, California state regulators announced June 29 that they would give industry an additional year to comply with a new state program that provides financial incentives to emit fewer greenhouse gases.

In testimony before a state senate committee, California Air Resources Board (ARB) Chairwoman Mary Nichols announced the extended the deadline to comply from 2012 to 2013.  Nichols said the state would still initiate the regulatory framework for cap and trade in 2012, pending the outcome of an appeal of a lawsuit challenging the program. Nichols said the state would still initiate the regulatory framework for cap and trade in 2012, pending the outcome of an appeal of a lawsuit challenging the program.

The program is a key statute of state’s first-in-the-nation effort to cut planet-warming gases to 1990 levels by 2020 through a cap-and-trade program. Under the program, 600 industrial facilities, including cement manufacturers, electrical plants and oil refineries, would cap their emissions in 2012, with that limit gradually decreasing over eight years.

However, since enactment, the program has faced litigation. A San Francisco judge ruled in March that the air board had not sufficiently analyzed alternatives to the trading program, as required under California’s Environmental Quality Act. The agency appealed the decision, and an appeals court subsequently ruled that officials could continue working on the regulation pending the court decision. The board is drafting an analysis of alternatives, which is to be considered for adoption Aug. 24, according to Nichols.

California State Senator Fran Pavley (D) called the hearing to explore the implications of the lawsuit, brought on by environmental justice advocates against the state’s favoring of cap and trade over other policies to reduce emissions. ARB is redoing its analysis of alternatives to cap and trade in the wake of San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith’s decision last month that the original analysis was slacking.

Nichols said yesterday the lawsuit was not a deciding factor in her decision to delay trading, which she said came after she conferred with the state attorney general’s office as well as experts on the state’s ill-fated foray into deregulated electricity sales, which culminated in widespread fraud and rolling blackouts in 2000-01. She said California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) also did not impose any instructions.

California’s cap-and-trade program works by requiring companies that produce pollution, such as a utility or a refinery, to buy permits from the state that allow it to send a specified amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air each year. Those permits could then be bought and sold by the polluters in a marketplace.

MINING: INTERIOR ANNOUNCES ONE MILLION ACRE WITHDRAWAL NEAR GRAND CANYON

On June 20, Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar announced plans to withdraw one million acres near the Grand Canyon from new uranium mining claims for a period of 20 years.  The lands are located within portions of the Grand Canyon watershed, including the Colorado River and its tributaries that flow into Grand Canyon National Park. 

Conservationists assert the ban protects natural resources, human health, wildlife as well as tourism activity in the region. Industry groups, meanwhile, are critical of the move. The National Mining Association released a statement, claiming that “DOI has made an arbitrary decision that has consequences for nearly 300,000 people in Arizona still looking for work, the nation’s dependency on foreign sources of energy and the scientific integrity of the regulatory process.”

In Congress, there is already movement to overturn the administration’s decision. The Fiscal Year 2012 House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, marked up June 7, included a provision to overturn the administration’s mining withdrawal. Meanwhile, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) has introduced H.R. 855, the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act of 2011. The bill would make the 20 year mining withdrawal permanent, although it stands little chance of gaining traction in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

While the final Environmental Impact Statement is not scheduled to be released until the fall, the administration has chosen the 20-year, million-acre option as its preferred alternative. Dept. of Interior is reviewing about 300,000 public comments on several alternatives for a mining moratorium outlined in a draft environmental impact statement.

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) was among a number of science organizations who submitted comments. For additional information, see the May 6 edition of ESA Policy News at:
http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2011/05062011.php

To view a fact sheet on the withdraw see: http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/upload/06-20-11_Grand_Canyon_fact_sheet_correct.pdf


Sources: AP, Bloomberg, Climatewire, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Appropriations Committee, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, LA Times, New York Times

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