December 19, 2008

In This Issue

TRANSITION: OBAMA FINALIZES ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT TEAM

With his selection of Colorado Senator Ken Salazar (D) as Secretary of the Interior, President-elect Barack Obama has now named all his top energy and environmental advisors. His team, which will be tasked with carrying out an aggressive agenda on climate change, deploying low-carbon energy technologies, and reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, includes:

Interior Secretary: Ken Salazar

Senator Salazar is regarded as a more moderate pick than some of the others under consideration for the position; he has won the support of many conservation groups for his championing of national parks and his strong opposition to hasty Western oil shale development, but his nomination has been met with hesitation by others, who have expressed concern over his more middle-of-the-road stances, such as his support of the “Gang of 10,” a bipartisan group attempting to resolve last Congress’s energy debate by allowing for some additional offshore drilling. 

Salazar previously headed Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources and served as state attorney general before his election to the Senate in 2004. He currently serves on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and has been involved with land-use and energy development issues since he took office.

Energy Secretary: Steven Chu 

Chu was a co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics. He now heads the Lawrence Berkeley lab and has been an outspoken proponent of greenhouse gas control, warning of transboundary conflicts over resources and advocating a price tag on carbon emissions. He has done a great deal of research in renewable technologies and energy efficiency, including efforts such as the Helios project, which aims to use solar energy to produce transportation fuels.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator: Lisa Jackson

Jackson, who worked for 16 years for the US EPA before moving to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), most recently served as NJDEP commissioner. She has named climate change as a top priority, a stance that may have made her a front-runner for the post, but also laid out a broader agenda including “air pollution, toxic chemicals and children’s health issues, redevelopment and waste site cleanup issues, and justice for communities who bear disproportionate risk and have much to gain from [Obama’s] green-collar agenda.”

Jackson will be tasked with restoring the image of EPA, which has been accused of becoming too closely aligned with industry, and also, possibly, with preparing the agency to regulate and enforce the most sweeping environmental regulatory change in decades: cap-and-trade climate legislation.

Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality: Nancy Sutley

Sutley, a senior policy advisor and special assistant in the Clinton EPA, most recently served as the Los Angeles deputy mayor for energy and environment, and has held a number of positions within California environmental agencies during the Bush administration.

The team will also include the new position of “energy czar,” or, more formally, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change. Appointed to the position is Clinton EPA Administrator Carol Browner, who has played an important role in guiding Obama’s transition team on energy and environmental policy. She has expressed support for EPA’s authority to use the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

The role of the energy czar has not been fully fleshed out, but will entail coordinating between agencies to achieve energy objectives, objectives that include creating jobs, improving energy security, and combating climate change. Some have compared the new position to that of the national security advisor—an official who is not part of a federal department but serves as advisor to the President rather than as an interagency coordinator—while others have suggested a function more similar to that of drug czar, who is responsible for coordinating across state agencies, while heading his or her own agency.

The specifics of Sutley’s role also remain vague—traditionally the White House Council on Environmental Quality has coordinated environmental policies between the White House and federal agencies, but with the creation of Browner’s post some of these responsibilities are likely to shift.

TRANSITION: OBAMA TO APPOINT ESA PAST-PRESIDENT JANE LUBCHENCO AND AAAS PAST-PRESIDENT JOHN HOLDREN TO TOP SCIENCE POSITIONS

President-elect Barack Obama will announce tomorrow his selections for White House science advisor and head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): Harvard University Physicist John Holdren and Oregon State University Marine Biologist Jane Lubchenco. Like physicist Steven Chu, who is to be Obama’s Energy Secretary, Holdren and Lubchenco prominent voices on climate change—both have also frequently encouraged scientists to become more actively involved in public policy discussions.

To lead NOAA, Obama has selected ESA member Jane Lubchenco. Lubchenco, one of the country’s most renowned marine biologists, served as ESA President from 1992-1993 and has long been involved in climate change and fishery issues. Her appointment represents a significant change for NOAA, which she had previously criticized for its prioritization of commercial fishing interests, calling instead for conservation measures to protect and sustain ocean ecosystems.

According to Andrew Rosenberg, a Clinton-era NOAA official, Obama’s selection of Lubchenco, who is widely respected both for her research and her involvement in public policy, sends a message that “science agencies have a role in policy. They need to be tightly connected, and I believe they will be tightly connected under Jane.”

Obama will also appoint John Holdren as White House science advisor. Holdren, who served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2006, now directs the Woods Role Research Institute in Massachusetts and is Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy at Harvard. He is known internationally for his expertise on energy and climate change, and has written numerous books on the topic, including Ecoscience (1977), Earth and the Human Future (1987), and Ending the Energy Stalemate (2004).

The science advisor is officially Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which manages energy and environmental policy. The role of OSTP will likely undergo some revision, however, in light of Obama’s creation of the energy czar post, which will be filled by former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Carol Browner. According to current White House science advisor Jack Marburger, “OST will have to be redefined in relation to these other centers of formulating policy.”

SCIENCE FUNDING: GREEN JOBS AND INFRASTRUCTURE A MAJOR PART OF EXPECTED STIMULUS PACKAGE

Mitigating the economic crisis will be the first order of business when Congress reconvenes on January 6th, and Democratic leaders plan to have an economic stimulus package ready for President-elect Obama to sign shortly after he takes office.

Obama recently said the stimulus package would include major investments in infrastructure, ranging from road construction to federal building efficiency projects. He has underscored on numerous occasions the importance of green initiatives in the package, a sentiment echoed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in an interview broadcast on December 12. In the interview, she specified that many of the 2.5 million jobs the package aims to create would be “green-collar” jobs, and she named science as central to the country’s short- and long-term economic success, placing particular emphasis on the development of a smart grid for use with alternative energies. She also increased the estimated size of the package to $500-$600 billion, as opposed to the $400-$500 billion range previously discussed by House Democrats.

The package’s focus on infrastructure has shaped the types of funding requests—Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) intends to push for billions of dollars to fund infrastructural needs of various land and water management agencies, needs that include the repair of roads, trails, damns, and buildings. He also argued in a recent hearing for the funding of restoration projects, stating, “National park and forest restoration, water reuse, and abandoned mine land reclamation projects can be at least as good an investment in the context of an economic stimulus strategy as are other public work projects.”

In spite of its heavy emphasis on infrastructure, the stimulus package may, according to Pelosi, include funding for energy-related scientific research. Although Pelosi did not provide additional elaboration, last September’s $61 billion stimulus measure, which passed through the House before coming to a halt in Senate, included $500 million in additional funding for Energy Department research and development programs.

MIDNIGHT REGULATIONS: BUSH ADMINISTRATION RUSHES TO MOVE LAST MINUTE CHANGES TO ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY, WHILE OBAMA AND CONGRESS CONSIDER OPTIONS FOR REVISION, REVERSAL

As President-elect Barack Obama prepares to take office, the Bush administration is rushing to push through a variety of federal rules by December 19th, the 30-day deadline before President Bush leaves office. These “midnight regulations” are common at the end of presidencies but, if controversial, may cost the new administration and Congress a great deal of time to revise or rescind. A number of Bush’s changes deal with environmental policy and have received considerable push-back from the Obama team, the Democratic Congress, and environmental groups.

The ease and speed with which new regulations can be stopped depends on their status when Obama takes office. Upon inauguration, the new President will be able to immediately freeze any regulations that have not been finalized, allowing time for the review, revision, and/or withdrawal of these rules. Once in effect, however, regulations are much more difficult to retract, although several options are available:

  • Executive action: For Obama to overturn a regulation already in effect, he would need to restart the rule-making process, in essence rescinding the existing regulation by replacing it with another. This could take years and could draw lawsuits from those in favor of the original rule.
  • Public action: Public interest groups could intervene legally, bringing lawsuits against the rule. Many environmental groups are currently considering legal action in response to some of the regulations proposed by the Bush administration.
  • Congressional action: If the rule went into effect within the last 60 legislative days, Congress could attempt to overturn it using the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Since its 1996 passage, however, the CRA has only been used once. The CRA does not guarantee that the rule in consideration will be overturned; rather, it allows Congress to vote down recently passed regulations only after achieving a simple majority and Presidential approval. Still, the new administration and Democratic Congress suggest that these conditions would be easily met for issues with strong political support.

Although Obama and many congressional Democrats have expressed their intent to undo or revise several of the Bush administration’s midnight regulations, the new government will be faced with a number of other pressing issues, which they will likely make top priority. Still, certain proposed changes have received a great deal of attention from the upcoming administration—of these, several have strong ties to ecology:

The Endangered Species Act: “Interagency Cooperation under the Endangered Species Act”

Would allow federal agencies to decide whether protected species could be threatened by agency construction projects, eliminating mandatory scientific review from the project approval process (for more information, see August 1 Policy News www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2008/08182008.php).

In response to this proposed regulation, ESA distributed a press release (www.esa.org/pao/newsroom/pressReleases2008/08262008.php) and submitted a public comment letter (www.esa.org/pao/policyStatements/Letters/EndangeredSpeciesAct_PublicComment2008.php) from President Sunny Power.

Status: On December 11, the Interior Department announced its plans to move forward with the rule, meaning it will likely be finalized before the December 19 deadline. Meanwhile, Obama vowed during his campaign to undo the regulations after taking office, and many environmental groups are considering challenging the proposal in court.

Oil Shale Development: “Oil Shale Leasing and Operations”

Would open two-million acres of public land in Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah for leasing to drill for oil shale, and would set parameters for development. The rule would require environmental impact analyses prior to any drilling but would, according to opponents, lead to a significant amount of air pollution as well as energy and water consumption.

Status: This rule was published in the Federal Register as a final rule on November 18, 2008. Since it is a major rule—one that will cost the economy $100 million or more—it has been submitted to Congress and the Government Accountability office and will go into effect after a 60-day congressional review. Environmental groups have contacted the Obama administration to request a reversal of this rule and are optimistic that the appointment of Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) as Obama’s Secretary of the Interior will help their case. Although Salazar has expressed his support for “responsible” oil sale development that ensures continued community and environmental health, he has been a vocal opponent of current development plans, and previously authored language in a congressional spending bill blocking oil-shale development.

New Source Review (NSR): “Prevention of Significant Deterioration, Nonattainment New Source Review (NSR), and New Source Performance Standards: Emissions Test for Electric Generating Units,” and “Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Prevention of Significant Deterioration and Nonattainment New Source Review: Emission Increases for Electric Generating Units”

Would have revised the NSR permitting program, reducing pressure on power plants to install modern pollution controls. Under the revised rules, federal and state regulators would have evaluated the hourly rates of power plants that underwent physical or operational changes—if they determined the emissions did not increase, the plant would have been exempt from a more restrictive annual emissions test and not required to install updated pollution controls. Power companies said this would have allowed plants to launch important efficiency projects without unnecessary permit requirements. Opponents to the changes, however, argued that the new procedure would have increased air pollution.

Status: Facing pressure from the aforementioned parties, the EPA dropped this rule on December 10, along with another pending rule to change the way in which emissions from power plants near national parks are calculated. Both of these revisions have been in the works for years.

Reversing NSR changes was to be top priority for the new administration. Now that the rule has been dropped, eyes will likely be on the embattled Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), a suite of air pollution regulations designed to force a major reduction in soot and smog-forming pollutants from power plants in 28 eastern states and the District of Columbia. CAIR was the Bush administration’s signature regulation for power plant emissions, and would have over a 15-year period cut sulfur dioxide emissions by more than 70 percent and nitrogen oxide by more than 60 percent. Federal courts threw it out earlier this year, however, prompting a rare display of unity between the Bush administration, environmental groups, and representatives from electric companies, who all asked the court to examine its decision this past September. The Obama administration will now be responsible for reaching a resolution, and will likely favor pollution cuts even steeper than those presently specified by CAIR.

CONGRESS: WAXMAN TO LEAD HOUSE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND COMMERCE

In a 137-122 caucus vote, Representative Henry Waxman’s (D-CA) won control of the Energy and Commerce Committee, ousting current Chairman Emeritus John Dingell (D-MI). Waxman plans to move an aggressive agenda on energy policy and climate change, and health care.

Among his most noteworthy challenges will be bringing a broad range of Democratic lawmakers into the fold, particularly those representing areas with heavy industry. Some Republicans and moderate Democrats, such as Gene Taylor (MI), have expressed concern that Waxman will steer the committee too far to the left, taking a financial toll on industry in the process.

This is a reversal of the challenges that faced Dingell, whose allegiance with the auto industry made him popular among the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats but drew skepticism from environmentalists and lawmakers who favored tighter regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. Although Dingell’s industry ties did not likely cost him his chairmanship, he lost some favor among fellow Democrats last year when party leadership had to work around him to move fuel economy standards for automobiles.

Waxman’s ability to connect with conservatives and moderates will be put to the test early on, assuming the House’s first wave of energy issues are overseen by his committee. His task will be all the more challenging without two key Republican supporters of cap-and-trade legislation, Wayne Gilchrest (MD) and Christopher Shays (CT), both of whom lost their bids for reelection this November. Still, Waxman’s career has included many environmental measures that earned broad Democratic and bipartisan support, including amendments to the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

OCEANS: MAJOR TURNOVER AMONG PREVIOUS OCEAN LEGISLATION LEADERS IN BOTH HOUSE AND SENATE

The 111th Congress will see major turnover in posts overseeing oceans policy and funding, as well as the departure of many champions of marine conservation, including House Oceans Caucus co-chairmen Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) and Jim Saxton (R-NJ), both of whom worked to advance a number of bipartisan ocean and fishery conservation bills. Filling their seats will be Representative-elects Frank Kratovil (D-MD), a supporter of Chesapeake Bay restoration, and John Adler (D-NJ), an opponent of offshore oil drilling.

Meanwhile in the Senate Commerce Committee, Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) will give up his role to lead the Appropriations Committee, while ranking member Ted Stevens (R-AK), a longtime leader on oceans and fisheries issues, failed to win reelection following his conviction on corruption charges.

As the longest-serving Republican Senator, Stevens had a considerable amount of influence over oceans and fisheries issues and was the longtime Washington go-to for marine conservation advocates. Stevens is credited for much of the increased funding for NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service, as well as the passage of his namesake Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which now oversees U.S. fisheries management.

Inouye and Stevens’ posts will be filled by Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX). Neither of these senators has expressed much interest in marine conservation issues, but the oceans subcommittee is expected to retain Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Olympia Snowe (R-MA) as leaders, both of whom have good working relationships with oceans groups.

Ocean conservation advocates will look to other prominent lawmakers like Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) for continued legislative support, and hope to rely on Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jack Reed (D-RI), who have both expressed their interest in oceans, as well as Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), whose state houses the NOAA headquarters. Conservationists are also hopeful that other marine-inclined lawmakers will move into leadership roles. In the November elections, advocacy group Oceans Champions endorsed 34 congressional candidates on the basis of legislative history and interviews—of these designated “ocean champions,” 4 won in the Senate and 22 won in the House, generating hope for strong leadership in ocean conservation.

Major priorities in ocean legislation include:

  • Climate legislation and the restoration of restrictions on offshore drilling.
  • Ocean governance bill: Passage of “OCEANS 21” (H.R 21), a massive bill that would formally authorize the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, coordinate federal and state agencies, offer guidelines for regional coordination and ecosystem planning, and establish a “national oceans advisor” for the president and federal advisory bodies on ocean policy.
  • Ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea: The treaty governs energy exploration on the seafloor, navigation, and environmental issues. Although it was endorsed by both the Bush administration and a majority of senators, a few key lawmakers ultimately blocked its passage.  Vice President-elect Joe Biden was responsible for ushering the treaty through his Foreign Affairs Committee, however, and many advocates hope that his newly gained leverage will allow him to give it the extra push it needs.
  • Fisheries conservation: A working group of Clinton-era agency heads advocate a cap-and-trade system for fishery management plans.
  • Legislation on ocean acidification, marine sanctuaries, and coastal observation. Many of these bills passed through House and Senate committees but stalled on the Senate floor.

ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT: INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT DRAWS ATTENTION TO SCIENTIFIC INTEGRITY

In a report delivered to Congress on December 15, Inspector General Earl Devaney evaluated the political interference of Julie MacDonald, former Interior Department deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks, in endangered species decisions. The report suggests that the interference was more widespread than previously thought, and that MacDonald may have exerted inappropriate influence in at least 13 of the 20 species decisions in question, such as ones pertaining to the spotted owl and to bull trout habitat. Many of these decisions are currently the subject of lawsuits by environmentalists.

The report could reignite the debate over whether Congress and the White House need to take action to guard against such political influence, and it could serve as a roadmap for incoming Obama officials tasked with cleaning up Interior’s processes.

A previous inspector general’s report, which prompted MacDonald’s 2007 resignation, found that she pressured employees to change findings, edited decisions on endangered species issues, and passed internal agency information to outside parties. The new report, however, indicates that MacDonald was not only Interior employee guilty of ethical violations, but was aided by several others, at least one of whom is still employed at the agency.

Devaney says that these infractions “caused the unnecessary expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars to reissue decisions and litigation costs to defend decisions that, in at least two instances, the courts found to be arbitrary and capricious,” and that “an enormous policy void” in the Endangered Species Act allowed MacDonald to exploit the law by giving the Interior secretary discretion in major changes, such as the exclusion of protected habitats, without specifying when those changes should be allowed. The report states that new regulations or agency policy would be necessary to clarify the process, which is now largely driven by lawsuits, and it recommends that Congress be a part of the process to provide oversight and “bolster legitimacy.”

ATTENTION GRADUATE STUDENTS: ESA NOW ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS FOR GRADUATE STUDENT POLICY AWARD

ESA is pleased to invite applications for its 2009 Graduate Student Policy Award. Up to four winners will participate in the annual Congressional Visits Event on April 21 and 22, 2009.  ESA will cover travel and lodging expenses associated with this event. 

Day one includes an afternoon of briefings from key agencies and Congress and an evening reception with other biological scientists, congressional staff, and Members of Congress. Day two features team visits with congressional offices to advocate in support of research and education in the biological sciences.

Tune into ESA’s podcast, An Ecologist Goes to Washington to hear two of last year’s Graduate Student Policy Awardees talk about their experience:  http://www.esa.org/podcast/?p=23

Applicants must be ESA members and United States citizens residing in the country. 

To Apply:

Send to pao@esa.org by close of business, Monday, February 23, 2009:

  • A cover letter outlining your interest in science policy and any relevant experience
  • A one-page statement that reflects your insights and perspective on the importance of federal support of science and ecology in particular.  Extra credit for peppering your essay with examples of ecological success stories (i.e. where investment of federal dollars had a tangible return, particularly for your home state).
  • A short CV with all contact information.

Questions should be directed to Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs at Nadine@esa.org or 202.833.8773, ext. 205.

Winners will be notified by March 2, 2009.


Sources: Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, The American Association for the Advancement of Science, Politico, ProPublica, The Washington Post, The Salt Lake Tribune, ScienceInsider

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