January 22, 2009

In This Issue

ACTION ALERT: OPPORTUNITY TO WEIGH IN ON SCIENCE FUNDING PROPOSED IN ECONOMIC STIMULUS PACKAGE

This week, House appropriators marked up the proposed $825 billion economic stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009. Now is a critical juncture for individual scientists to contact their congressional representative and Senators and express their views on the funding proposed for science in the economic stimulus bill. It is significant that science figures so prominently in the proposed bill and Members of Congress need to know that the scientific community is aware and appreciative of their efforts.

As proposed, the bill would provide billions of dollars for science, including $3 billion to the National Science Foundation (NSF). The proposed funding for NSF would expand opportunities in fundamental science and engineering to meet environmental challenges and to improve global competitiveness as well as to build major research facilities and improve instruction in science, math, and engineering. The bill also proposes $600 million—primarily for climate research—for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, $600 million for satellites and sensors for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, $200 million to repair and modernize the U.S. Geological Survey, $550 million to the U.S. Forest Service for restoration efforts on non-federal forest ecosystems, to conduct urban tree inventories, and respond to insect and disease threats. The bill also proposes $79 billion for state fiscal relief to prevent cutbacks in key services including local school districts, and public colleges and universities.

For more details on the stimulus bill, please refer to the article below.

The bill is slated for a vote by the full House next week. The Senate has not yet taken up the bill and will likely propose different figures, in some cases possibly lower than those proposed by the House. House Speaker Pelosi has been key in advancing the science portions of this bill and many professional organizations including the Ecological Society of America will be sending letters of thanks.

To identify your congressional representative and send them an email, type in your 9 –digit zip code on this link of the House website: https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml or contact ESA’s Public Affairs Office for assistance by emailing Nadine Lymn (Nadine@esa.org).

ECONOMY: STIMULUS PACKAGE TO FEATURE GREEN INVESTMENTS, INCLUDE SIGNIFICANT SCIENCE FUNDING

House-side markups are currently underway for the much-discussed economic stimulus package. The package, which is to focus heavily on renewable energy and infrastructure development, would also include funding for scientific research. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has on numerous occasioned underscored her belief that scientific research and innovation are integral to America’s success, stating recently that, “It’s about science, science, science and science, innovation as we rebuild America, create jobs, invest in our people and turn this economy around.”

On January 15th, House Democratic leaders provided a first look at the specific provisions to be funded by the $825 billion economic stimulus bill. The bill, crafted largely by the Appropriations and Ways & Means committees, would provide $550 billion in direct investments and $275 billion in tax breaks.

The leaders, who set a deadline of February 13th for the passage of the legislation, acknowledged that it would lead to large budget deficits in future years, but reiterated its importance in providing jobs for millions of Americans and preventing the economic crisis from becoming more severe. Although Senate Democrats have not yet released their own version of the bill, they have been working alongside House leadership during the drafting process—the two chambers intend to move similar packages to minimize the length of conference negotiations.

Many had speculated on the place scientific research would have in the package. It now appears that more than $10 billion will go towards groups including the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Geological Survey. Still, much of this funding will be dedicated to facilities and instrumentation (maintaining, repairing, acquiring or adapting new research equipment) rather than basic research. Investment in instrumentation represents one of the most economically viable ways to include science in the spending bill—it is a low-risk way to support research and, much like infrastructure development, it has the ability to put Americans to work. In some cases, such as that of NOAA, spending on instrumentation will be directed specifically towards developing sensing equipment necessary for tracking and modeling climate change.

Basic research and science education are not absent from the spending bill, however, and in fact are funded through several different avenues, most notably:

  • National Science Foundation: Of NSF’s $3 billion in funding, $2 billion will go towards expanding employment opportunities in fundamental science and engineering in order to meet environmental challenges and improve global economic competitiveness. $100 million will go towards improving science, math, and engineering education.
  • NASA: $400 million of NASA’s $600 million allotment will be used to put more scientists to work doing climate change research. This will include Earth science research recommended by the National Academies, as well as the construction of satellite sensors to measure solar radiation critical to climate change research, and a thermal infrared sensor necessary for water management, particularly in the western states.
  • The exact size of individual energy tax credits remains to be seen, but the document released by the House Ways and Means Committee indicates that House Democrats intend to fund several energy tax breaks (i.e. a long-term extension of the renewable energy production tax credit, incentives for energy efficiency and conservation, renewable energy development, and smart energy conservation), which could lead to tremendous investment in alternative energy development.

The direct spending portion of the package will direct $54 billion towards the development of alternative energy technologies and an updated electric grid, with the goal of doubling renewable energy production.

Here’s a look at the current distribution of funds:

 

    • $11 billion to modernize the electric grid—this sum includes funding for research and development, as well as for the construction of new power lines for renewable energy transmission.

 

    • $8 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy production and transmission projects.

 

    • $6.9 billion in block grants to state and local governments, who are then to invest in energy efficiency and carbon reduction projects.

 

    • $6.7 billion to improve the energy efficiency of federal buildings.

 

    • $2.4 billion for carbon capture and sequestration technology demonstration projects.

 

    • $2 billion for renewable energy and energy efficiency research projects, which will be awarded to universities, companies, and national laboratories.

 

    • $2 billion for the development of advanced vehicle battery systems.

 

    • $1.5 billion in grants to help school districts, universities, utilities and local governments become more energy efficient.

 

Roughly $90 billion of the stimulus bill will go towards infrastructure projects, $40 billion of which will be invested in the construction or enhancement of highways, bridges, and other transportation systems. This figure falls below the funding requirements identified by the committee and pushed for by some local governments, but remains too high for many environmental groups, who argue that building additional roads will increase greenhouse gas emissions. The remaining $50 billion will go towards the modernization of federal and public infrastructure (e.g. improvements to airports and border security at ports)—an initiative that lawmakers say will result in long-term energy savings—and to “green” infrastructure projects like environmental restoration and the improvement of drinking water systems.

Total funding for green infrastructure projects is currently set at approximately $19 billion, and includes:

  • $9.5 billion in loans and grants to help communities improve their drinking water and wastewater treatment systems. Of this, $1.5 billion will be specifically directed toward rural communities.
  • $4.5 billion of Army Corps of Engineers investments in environmental restoration, flood protection, navigation infrastructure, and hydropower projects.
  • $1.3 billion for nuclear and Superfund hazardous waste cleanup.

ENERGY: WAXMAN, HOUSE ENERGY AND COMMERCE COMMITTEE TO HAVE CLIMATE LEGISLATION READY BY MEMORIAL DAY

In an effort to ensure a major environmental achievement during President Obama’s first term, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman set a Memorial Day deadline for moving comprehensive climate and energy legislation through his committee.

Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), chairman of the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee, will play a lead role in writing the climate legislation. Although the specifics of the bill have not yet been revealed, Markey said he would build off a cap-and-trade bill he authored last spring, as well as a draft measure released last fall by John Dingell (D-MI) and Rick Boucher (D-VA). Both Markey and Waxman have indicated that the bill could also draw from the proposal recently released by the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (U.S. CAP), a prominent coalition of companies and environmental groups. U.S. CAP’s “Blueprint for Legislative Action,” provides a detailed set of recommendations aimed at achieving an 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050, the emissions goal supported by Obama. These recommendations include:

  • Setting a 2030 target to curb emissions 58 percent below 2005 levels.
  • Constructing new coal plants with carbon capture and sequestration abilities.
  • Creating a national greenhouse gas registry with a single price for trading carbon.
  • Maintaining a “reserve of credits” from offset projects such as forest conservation and renewable energy development.
  • Setting an initial limit on the amount of offsets companies can use to achieve compliance, and instituting a congressionally created Carbon Market Board to revise offset credits and limits going forward.

The suggested legislation has already been received with some resistance by committee Republicans, who are either skeptical of climate change science or concerned with the economic implications of the bill. U.S. CAP, however, has argued that it would cost more to combat the effects of climate change in the future than it would to institute cap-and-trade legislation now. In a recent press conference, Jeff Immelt, CEO of U.S. CAP member General Electric, also suggested the legislation would spur economic growth by establishing the U.S. as a leader in clean technologies.

To move the legislation forward, Waxman and Markey will also need to convince dozens of House Democrats representing districts with heavy industrial bases. Many of these representatives plan to be active participants in drafting the bill.

“I want to be able to support a bill,” said Indiana Representative Baron Hill, “but if coal is not addressed, then I cannot support a bill. It’s just as plain and simple as that.”

Meanwhile, both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Environmental and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) have issued statements expressing their support of Waxman’s plans. Boxer, who pushed a cap-and-trade bill through her committee in December 2007, noted that the House had been silent on climate change legislation for the past two years, and promised to release “a set of principles for my new legislation in the coming weeks.”

Both chambers will be consulting closely with the Obama administration on its preferences for climate change policy. The new administration will likely release a series of legislative principles rather than a detailed bill.

OMNIBUS: SENATE PASSES LONG-DEBATED PACKAGE, PUBLIC LANDS AND NATURAL RESOURCES STAND TO BENEFIT

On January 15, following a months-long battle between Democratic leaders and Republican Senator Tom Coburn (OK), the Senate passed S. 22, an omnibus package including more than 160 water, resources, and public lands bills. Coburn blocked the legislation in the previous Congress, arguing against the expansion of national parks, which he said the Department of the Interior would not be able to adequately maintain in light of its existing $9 billion maintenance backlog for public lands. He also cited several provisions, such as the allocation of $3.5 million to commemorate the 450th anniversary of St. Augustine, Florida, as examples of wasteful government spending.

Portions of the bill also raised concern among environmental groups, most notably the proposed construction of a road through Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in exchange for additional wilderness for the refuge. Local officials say the road would create an important transportation route for currently isolated communities, but environmentalists argue that it would damage the refuge and interfere with migration patterns.

As a whole, however, the package was considered largely uncontroversial. Highlights include:

  • Expansion of public lands
    • Designates more than 2 million acres of wilderness in nine states in the largest expansion of the Wilderness Preservation System since 1994.
    • Establishes three new national park units, three new national conservation areas, and 1,000-plus miles of national wild and scenic rivers.
  • Improvement of wildfire management
    • Includes plans to reduce wildfire management expenses by prioritizing and funding collaborative ecological restoration projects offering the greatest protection against wildfires.
  • Development of climate change and water shortage adaption programs
    • Funds the creation of a program to address potential water shortages, conflicts, and other effects of climate change. The program would be established by the Bureau of Reclamation, which would collaborate with the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and state water agencies.
    • Calls for the assembly of a panel of federal agency and department members who would create hydrologic models to help federal, state, and local water managers develop long-term water management and flood-hazard mitigation plans.
    • Funds a cooperative watershed management program to help diverse stakeholders form or join watershed groups, conduct water availability and quality research, and/or develop projects aimed at improving water conservation, water quality, or ecological resiliency, or at reducing the potential for water conflicts.
  • Improvement of collaboration in ocean and coastal monitoring
    • Calls for collaboration among federal agencies in developing a program to research and monitor the effects of ocean acidification on the marine environment.
    • Funds a program through NOAA to improve the science behind the management and conservation of oceanic, marine, and coastal areas, as well as the Great Lakes. The new program would establish a federal ocean and coastal mapping plan to enhance ecosystem awareness in the management of marine resources and habitats, and to advance ocean and coastal science.
    • Includes a new coastal and estuarine land conservation program, which, under the administration of NOAA’s Ocean and Coastal Resource Management Office, would protect areas with significant ecological, historical, recreational, or aesthetic values.
    • Calls for a national network of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes observation systems. This network, coordinated by the National Ocean Research Leadership Council, would support national defense, marine commerce and navigation safety, and weather forecasting.

MIDNIGHT REGULATIONS: NEW ADMINISTRATION AND CONGRESS CONSIDERING OPTIONS FOR OVERTURNING LAST-MINUTE ENVIRONMENTAL POLICIES FROM THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION

Hours after President Obama was sworn in on January 20, his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, ordered a freeze on all pending federal regulations. This move, common during changes in administration, will allow the new White House team to review—and reverse if necessary—many of the Bush administration’s last minute rule changes. These so-called “midnight regulations” include a number of energy and environmental measures, such as the revisions of the Endangered Species Act, the removal of the gray wolf from the endangered species list in several states, the leasing of 2 million acres of western lands for oil shale research and development, and the modification of air pollution permits and mountaintop mining standards (the new regulation would allow mining companies to dispose of waste in rivers).

Emanuel’s memo, which calls for the withdrawal of all unpublished regulations, also requests a 60-day review period and a 30-day public comment period for published regulations that have not yet gone into effect.

In Congress, several Democratic leaders have vowed to take action against many of the changes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have said they will consider using the Congressional Review Act to overturn some of the regulations if necessary. The Congressional Review Act, which has only been used once since its inception during the Clinton administration, would allow Congress to vote down recently passed regulations with a simple majority and Presidential approval. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has also said she would consider using the law to block the proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act, changes that have already prompted lawsuits from the state of California and several prominent environmental groups.

The Obama administration will also likely attempt to tackle regulations it objects to, although the new president could face substantial legal and political challenges if he tries undo policies entangled in court fights.

Two prominent policies, the denial of California’s request to regulate greenhouse gases from new automobiles and the Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR) regulating power plants, are currently pending in federal courts. Although Obama and his team have indicated plans to grant the California waiver, observers say Obama’s intervention, although called for by many of his supporters, might be viewed as White House interference in major science policy. This is of particular concern following widespread criticism over the Bush administration’s alleged interference with Environmental Protection Agency decisions.

For additional information about midnight regulations, please refer to the December 19th edition of the Policy News Update at:

www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2008/12192008.php


Sources: Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, Science, U.S. Geological Society Coalition, the Coalition for National Science Funding, New West, Politico, The Washington Post

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