March 16, 2007

In This Issue

CLIMATE: POLAR BEAR LISTING WOULD NOT SIGNAL NEED FOR CARBON CAPS

The Interior Department does not plan to address carbon emissions or other issues of global climate change, even if the Department moves to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act ( ESA ), department officials said March 5.

The Bush administration has proposed a “threatened” status for the bear because its ice habitat could vanish within half a century. But Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) officials said at a public hearing that the law allows them little room to address the broader problems behind the receding ice. FWS may not even propose identifying critical habitat for the bear, officials said.

ENERGY POLICY: SENATE BLOC PITCHES ALTERNATIVE CAFE PLAN ON EVE OF HEARING

On March 5, a bipartisan group of senators introduced yet another corporate average fuel economy ( CAFE ) plan in an attempt to find middle ground between the Bush administration’s proposal and those sought by other lawmakers. The “Fuel Economy Reform Act”, which the senators first floated during the 109th Congress, would both establish a mandatory annual CAFE increase of 4 percent and modify the program in ways sought by the White House and some automakers. The proposal also gives the federal government the ability to back away from the mandated increase in a particular year if one of several criteria are met: if it can be demonstrated that the mandate is “technologically unachievable, cannot maintain overall fleet safety or is not cost-effective” when compared to economic and political benefits of reduced gasoline use.

CLIMATE: AFTER HEATED DEBATE, RULES PANEL VOTES TO CREATE PELOSI'S SELECT COMMITTEE

The House Rules Committee voted March 7 to create the 15-member Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming proposed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The panel is authorized to “report to the House from time to time the results of its investigations and studies, together with such detailed findings and recommendations as it may deem advisable.” All reports must be submitted to the House by Oct. 31, 2008 , and the panel expires on Dec. 31, 2008 .

FISHERIES: BUSH ADMIN REVAMPS AQUACULTURE BILL , ADDS ENVIRONMENTAL SAFEGUARDS

The Bush administration has added environmental requirements to its proposal to create permitting for aquaculture in the deep ocean in a bid to quell criticism the plan faced last year. The new provisions address fish farming’s potential effects on wild fish and attempt to guard against escapes of farmed fish, diseases, and water pollution.

The bill would allow permit holders to sink fish cages in federal waters between 3 miles and 200 miles offshore. There are currently four small U.S. offshore fish farms — all in state waters. The bill still leaves specifics to regulators but mandates the Commerce Department create regulations, a step up from the previous bill, under which regulations were optional.

Companies seeking permits would have to go through the National Environmental Policy Act process and consider the “potential environmental, social, economic and cultural effects” of the cages, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says.

CLIMATE: LEAD PLAYERS IN CENSORSHIP CLAIMS TO APPEAR IN HOUSE HEARING

Ex-White House staffer Philip Cooney and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) climatologist James Hansen will discuss alleged Bush administration interference in climate research at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on March 19. The hearing comes after committee leaders resolved a long dispute with the administration over the lawmakers’ requests for documents they say show Cooney and his former colleagues at the White House Council on Environmental Quality edited scientific reports on global warming to emphasize uncertainty.

The resulting controversy sparked reports of scientific suppression at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies. It also led to the firing of former NASA political appointee George Deutsch, the News Office aide who issued the gag order against Hansen.

HOUSE APPROVES WHISTLEBLOWER BILL

The House approved a bill the week of March 12 that would for the first time extend whistleblower protections to government scientists.

The bill addresses “any action that compromises the validity or accuracy” of federally funded research and the “dissemination of false or misleading” scientific, medical and technical information.

The provision also covers any attempt to restrict federally funded researchers from publishing in peer-reviewed journals or making oral presentations at professional society meetings.

The White House this week said it opposed the bill, based largely on the fact that it would extend whistleblower protection to employees at national security agencies.

AGRICULTURE: ALTERNATIVE FARM BILL APPROACH HEAVY ON CONSERVATION, ENERGY

Conservation and energy programs would fare well under farm bill legislation drafted by a group of legislators from outside the Agriculture committees.

The “Healthy Farms Food and Fuels Act of 2007″ would favor conservation programs, renewable energy and specialty crops over some of the traditional price supports for commodities, according to hill aides.

Environmentalists said the bill would “dramatically increase” support for conservation programs. The bill also includes a climate change program with incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, the proposal is unlikely to see any play in committee, since the leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture panels will take up their own farm bill rewrites. But it could set the stage for the sort of debate and amendments the farm bill can expect to see on the House and Senate floor.

In anticipation of the reauthorization of the Farm Bill, ESA is co-sponsoring Congressional briefings for both the House and Senate on March 20 that will highlight the role of ecosystem services in agriculture and rural areas. Also sponsoring the event with ESA are the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America, the Soil Science Society of America (ASA/CSSA/SSSA) and the Council on Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics (C-FARE).

Steven Kraft, an agricultural economist and Co-Director of Environmental Resources and Policy at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, will provide examples of various economic goods provided through ecosystem services derived from working agricultural landscapes and rural America . Kraft’s talk will also focus on the lack of formal markets in ecosystem services which frequently leads to resource degradation and other problems.

Katherine Gross, a plant ecologist and Director of Michigan State University’s Kellogg Biological Station, will discuss how managing agricultural systems for environmental benefits does not necessarily translate into lower crop yields. For example, she will explain how insect diversity can help control alien pests such as the new soybean aphid now invading the U.S. Midwest.

John Havlin , a soil scientist with North Carolina State University will address the future demands on agro-ecosystem services. He notes that global food aid is projected to double in the next 25 years with the U.S. fulfilling the bulk of the demand. This challenge will need to be met while the U.S. is losing its agricultural land to urbanization.


Sources: Energy and Environment Daily; Energy and Environment News PM ; Greenwire

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