December 16, 2005

In This Issue

FISHERIES BILL MOVES FORWARD IN SENATE

The Senate Commerce Committee approved a bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the country’s most significant fisheries law.

The panel voted unanimously for the measure sponsored by Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK), an author of the original 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which expired in 1999. The legislation has formed the basis of U.S. fishery management in waters between three and 200 miles offshore, an area known as the Exclusive Economic Zone.

The reauthorization bill, S. 2012, expands the 1976 Act’s emphasis on conservation and scientific assessments.

“The major provisions of this bill, the idea that science plays a lead role [in fisheries management], is something we’ve been pushing for a long time,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), a cosponsor of the bill.

Stevens’ measure gives fishing council scientific advisory panels an elevated role and sets up a system for councils to assess “limited access privilege” programs, which set catch percentages for fishing vessels. The measure avoids language for ecosystems-based management recommended by the U.S. Ocean Commission.

The Senate push to finish the bill could be stymied by competing efforts on the House side. House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA) is set to introduce his own version of the bill, while Fisheries Subcommittee Chairman Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) confirmed that he still plans to draft his own proposal to revamp the Act.

SENATORS INTRODUCE ENDANGERED SPECIES INCENTIVES BILL

Looking ahead to reforming the Endangered Species Act next year, two senators yesterday introduced legislation that would give landowners tax breaks as incentives for helping to recover endangered and threatened species.

The long-awaited bill from Sens. Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) also includes “conservation banking,” a market-based initiative that would allow landowners to benefit from the sale of conservation credits. Lincoln and Crapo said the voluntary efforts in S. 2110, “The Collaboration for Recovery of the Endangered Species Act,” will be more effective than current law.

Critics said the legislation would provide tax breaks to developers, remove habitat protections for species and reduce the scientific threshold for plans to assist species recovery. The bill would also remove mandatory timelines to list species or designate critical habitat by giving the Interior Secretary the ability to postpone listings.

Bob Perciasepe of the National Audubon Society said Congress should fund current ESA programs rather than pay off landowners or developers. “In my experience, the biggest failure with the Endangered Species Act has been the lack of funding provided by Congress to actually implement it properly,” he said.

Senate Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water Subcommittee Chairman Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) has also pledged to introduce ESA legislation, but is seeking input from a stakeholder summit in Keystone, CO, in an effort to reach consensus on critical habitat issues.

ANWR LANGUAGE ATTACHED TO DEFENSE APPROPRIATIONS BILL

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) secured an agreement with House and Senate Defense Appropriations subcommittee leaders to attach language authorizing Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) oil drilling to the Fiscal Year 2006 defense spending bill.

Senate leaders who had included ANWR in their budget reconciliation bill are looking elsewhere because a spending cut package with ANWR would face major problems in the House. House leaders were forced to remove ANWR from their budget reconciliation package last month after enough Republican moderates balked at the measure to endanger passage of the spending cuts.

Democrats called it a giveaway to the energy industry that does not belong in a military funding bill, and hinted at a possible filibuster.

APPEALS PANEL CRITICIZES EVOLUTION RULING

Months after schools in a suburban Atlanta, GA county were forced to peel off textbook stickers that called evolution a theory, not fact, a federal appeals court heard arguments over whether the disclaimers were unconstitutional.

The disclaimers were placed in the books in 2002 by school officials in Cobb County, a suburb of about 650,000 people. The stickers were printed after more than 2,000 parents protested that science texts presented evolution as a fact, with no mention of other theories.

In January 2005, a federal judge ordered Cobb County school officials to remove the stickers immediately, saying they were an endorsement of religion. The ruling was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

During the arguments, Judge Ed Carnes of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said that the lower court judge had misstated facts in his ruling, overstating the influence religious protests had on the school board’s actions. He also said the words on the sticker are “technically accurate,” and that the Cobb County school board was justified in singling out the theory of evolution for comment.

“From nonlife to life is the greatest gap in scientific theory,” Carnes said. “There is less evidence supporting it than there is for other theories. It sounds to me like evolution is more vulnerable and deserves more critical thinking [than other subjects]”.

The appellate panel may not release its decision for several weeks. But attorney Michael Manely, who argued against the stickers at trial last year, said the judges’ questions suggested they might seek to overturn the original ruling. Advocates on both sides say the appeals court’s decision will go a long way toward shaping a debate between science and religion that has cropped up in various forms around the country.

REPORT SAYS STATES AIM LOW IN SCIENCE CLASSES

Nearly half the states are doing a poor job of setting high academic standards for science in public schools, according to a new report that examined science in anticipation of 2007, when states will be required to administer tests in the subject under President Bush’s signature education law.

The report, released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, suggests that the focus on reading and math as required subjects for testing under the federal law, No Child Left Behind, has turned attention away from science, contributing to a failure of American children to stay competitive in science with their counterparts abroad.

The report also appears to support concerns raised by a growing number of university officials and corporate executives, who say that the failure to produce students well-prepared in science is undermining the country’s production of scientists and engineers and putting the nation’s economic future in jeopardy.

Dozens of academic, corporate and Congressional leaders emerged from a meeting to warn that the nation needs to expand its talent pool in science to stay ahead of countries like China and India that put vast resources into science education.

The results, a grade ranking for each state and the District of Columbia, serve as a marker for progress as the next phase of the No Child Left Behind law approaches.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, a strong proponent of more testing to measure how effectively schools are teaching, said she was not surprised by the findings. Ms. Spellings said she favors using testing for additional subjects, like science, to assess progress.

The authors of the report analyzed each state and awarded a numerical score that translated to a grade. Only seven states, including New York and California, got an A, with 12 receiving a B, and 8 plus the District of Columbia receiving a C. Seven states got a D, and 15 got an F. Iowa was not included in the report because it does not set standards for any subject.

In a separate assessment of how states are currently teaching evolution, the authors awarded 22 states a D or F, with Kansas winning a special distinction, F minus, for its recent decision to redefine science so that it would not be explicitly limited to natural explanations, and allow for the teaching of alternative theories, an opening to consideration of intelligent design.

The report cited mounting ”religious and political pressures” over the last five years as undermining the teaching of evolution. But Paul R. Gross, its chief author, said in an interview that a willingness by schools in Kansas and elsewhere to consider alternative theories to evolution was only a small part of a ”larger cultural problem.”

Mr. Gross said that more critical has been a retreat from an emphasis on all science instruction, which is leaving students ungrounded in basic subjects like biology, human physiology and the environment.

”In general,” Mr. Gross said, ”science education is not good enough now in the context of what people need to know in a reasonably effective way in our culture.”

U.N. CLIMATE CONFERENCE SETS STAGE FOR GLOBAL DIALOGUE

After two weeks of United Nations (U.N.)-led negotiations in Montreal, Canada, proponents of the Kyoto Protocol said the landmark agreement is alive and well as most nations agreed to set new targets after 2012 and others agreed to start talking about long-term action to curb climate change.

Critics of the protocol say the progress made is a small step in the face of uncertainty over whether nations that ratified the Kyoto pact will meet its first-round requirements.
Specifically, 157 parties to the Kyoto Protocol agreed to 36 decisions that include setting up a working group beginning with meetings in 2006 to flesh out future commitments for developed countries for the period after 2012.

For meeting pre-2012 targets, negotiators delivered compliance procedures to ensure that the parties to the protocol have a clear accountability regime in meeting their emission reductions targets. They also detailed a five-year program to deal with adapting to climate change.

In addition, developed countries agreed to fund the operation of the Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism with over $13 million in 2006-2007. They streamlined the process for approving methodologies under the Clean Development Mechanism as well, to more simply allow the transfer of advanced technology to the developing world.


Sources: AP; Boston Globe; Environment and Energy Daily; Greenwire; L.A. Times; New York Times.

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