July 25, 2007

POLICY-RELATED SESSIONS AT ESA’S ANNUAL MEETING IN SAN JOSE, CA:

If you plan to attend the meeting this year, be sure to check out these sessions and events (list at end of Policy News).

In This Issue

AGRICULTURE: MULTIBILLION DOLLAR FARM BILL ON ITS WAY TO THE HOUSE FLOOR

The House Agriculture Committee voted July 19 to approve a multibillion dollar Farm Bill that would authorize substantial new increases for renewable energy projects on farmland while extending most farm conservation and crop subsidy programs.

The bill would enact upwards of $250 billion in subsidies for conservation, energy, nutrition, and crop subsidy programs over the next five years.

Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) was able to win the backing of his committee and most major farm groups with a package that includes more money for certain crop subsidies, limits for payments to very wealthy farmers, funding for the most popular conservation programs, and billions of dollars in increases for nutrition and energy programs. The bill was a delicate compromise that came as the Committee was squeezed by budget constraints.

The Farm Bill could face a significant challenge from lawmakers who want to see more stringent limits on crop subsidies and greater investment in nutrition and conservation programs. The committee’s bill would block very wealthy landowners from conservation or crop payments, cutting off anyone with an adjusted gross income over $1 million from federal payments, but it would also raise some of the limits on individual programs.

An “en bloc” amendment accepted by the committee provides significant increases for nutrition programs and billions of dollars more for renewable energy programs. Peterson said he has secured offsets for those increases but not for proposed increases to conservation.

The proposal also includes the sole source of new funding for a grasslands protection program, more money for a farm easement program, and funding to revive the Conservation Security Program. Peterson said it is not clear if they will ever see the light of day.

The en-bloc amendment brings with it a nearly six-fold increase for grants and loans that help farmers start energy projects or improve energy efficiency on their farms, a new $1.5 billion bioenergy program and $2 billion in loan guarantees for biorefineries. It also includes Peterson’s biomass energy reserve, a pilot program for cellulosic ethanol.

ARMY CORPS: AGENCY PROPOSES ‘VIRTUAL CENTER’ TO DESIGN RESTORATION PLANS

Lacking the funding to build a physical ecosystem center, the Army Corps of Engineers has proposed a “virtual center” that would assemble environmentalists, scientists, and engineers who would help design environmental restoration plans to accompany civil works projects.

There is currently no budget for the proposed Ecosystem Restoration Center (ERC). The Corps plans to tap experts to work pro-bono until Congress provides funding, officials said July 19 at a meeting of the agency’s environmental advisory board.

Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp said the Corps would begin doing more to anticipate flood risks and other environmental problems, improve its efforts to inform the public of potential dangers and streamline operating procedures at the agency’s 45 districts.

The ERC would be part of that effort. The advisory board said it would function as a training center, a support system for agency’s field offices and a clearing house for scientific ecosystem information.

The chairman of the advisory board, George Crozier, the director of Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab, expressed skepticism about the merits of a virtual operation and urged the agency to focus on getting funding for building a physical center. He also reminded the Corps about the enormity of the center’s task.

“One of my personal concerns is that we are barely good at building habitats,” Crozier said. “To call them ecosystems is a bit presumptuous based on what we know at this point in time.”

Board members also said that the Corps needed to build public support for the effort to get cash from Congress.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: FWS TO RE-EXAMINE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT DECISIONS INFLUENCED BY FORMER OFFICIAL

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) may re-examine the status of animals and plants under the Endangered Species Act that were affected by up to ten decisions by former Interior Department official Julie MacDonald.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a FWS official said that FWS Director H. Dale Hall is reviewing decisions affecting the status of the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, the Southwestern willow flycatcher and other species, and may reverse or modify them.

MacDonald resigned in May as Deputy Assistant Secretary for fish, wildlife and parks after Interior Inspector General Earl Devaney issued a scathing report saying she had violated ethics rules, edited scientific decisions on endangered species issues, and passed internal agency information to outside parties.

Other species potentially affected by MacDonald that could also come up for review include the Hawaiian picture-wing fly, Western white-tailed prairie dog, Southwestern arroyo toad, and Bull trout, said Jan Hasselman, a lawyer for Earthjustice.

“This list is just the tip of the iceberg,” Hasselman said. “This problem runs far deeper than just the species they claim they’ll review.”

NANOTECHNOLOGY: EPA OUTLINES VOLUNTARY APPROACH TO REGULATION

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released two documents the week of July 9 that shed new light on the agency’s approach to regulating nanomaterials under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TCSA).

EPA will continue to determine whether a nanomaterial should be considered a new or existing substance under TSCA on a case-by-case basis, the agency said in a proposed guidance document.

A major factor in such decisions will be the molecular makeup of the nanomaterial, rather than size. A nanomaterial like a carbon nanotube, with a radically different structure than other forms of pure carbon like graphite or diamond, would be more likely to be considered a new material under TSCA than would nanoparticles of pure iron.

At the same time, EPA released a new “concept paper” outlining a new “voluntary stewardship program” under TSCA. The program would collect information from industry on the safe manufacture and use of nanomaterials.

The approach runs counter to that outlined in several analyses by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, a nonpartisan advisory group sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Pew Charitable Trusts, which has argued for nanomaterials to be regulated under “new use” provisions of TSCA.

“With the strategies outlined by EPA and because of the weaknesses in the law, the agency is not even able to identify which substances are nanomaterials, much less determine whether they pose a hazard,” the group said in a statement Friday.

But the EPA plans won praise from the chemicals industry, with the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association calling the proposals “consistent” and “correct.”

EPA will hold a public meeting on the proposals Aug. 2 in Arlington, VA. In the meantime, the agency has opened 60-day comment periods on both the voluntary stewardship program and the guidance document on nanomaterial classification.

POLICY-RELATED SESSIONS AT ESA’S ANNUAL MEETING

SUNDAY, August 5

8 AM – 5 PM, Workshop 7 ($10): Communicating Science to the Public (Pouyat, Lymn), A 4&5 Conv. Ctr.

2:30 – 4:30 PM, PAC Public Outreach Event (Pouyat, Fahey), MLK Library, Rm. 255/257

MONDAY, August 6

1:30 – 5 PM, COS 4: Conservation ecology and ecosystem management: Planning and policy, J4 Conv. Ctr.

TUESDAY, August 7

1:30 – 5 PM, OOS 19: Science policy participants and their perspectives, Ballroom Salon III, San Jose Marriott

8:00 – 10:00 PM, SS24: Journalists are from Venus, scientists are from Mars: Bridging the worlds of science and journalism, Ballroom Salon III, San Jose Marriott

WEDNESDAY, August 8

11:30 AM – 1:15 PM, WK 21: Bridging the worlds of science and journalism: An interactive workshop, Almaden, San Jose Marriott

8:00 – 10:00 PM, SS 27: ESA Southeast Knowledge Partnership Pilot Project, A3&6, Conv. Ctr.

8:00 – 10:00 PM, SS 29: Do scientists sound like a flock of dodos? Science communication without jargon, C3&4, Conv. Ctr.

THURSDAY, August 9

1:30 – 5 PM, SYMP 19: Ecosystem services in decision-making: Stepping into reality, A1&8, Conv. Ctr.

1:30 – 5 PM, OOS 41: Commercial trade of plants and wildlife in a changing world: Research to inform policy, Ballroom Salon IV, San Jose Marriott

FRIDAY, August 10

8:00 – 11:30 AM, COS 158: Restoration and conservation: Planning, policy, and theory, Santa Clara I, San Jose Hilton


Sources: Energy and Environment Daily and Greenwire

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