June 24, 2005

In This Issue

SENATE ISSUES NONBINDING CALL FOR EMISSION CURBS

After firmly rejecting an energy bill amendment that would set mandatory caps on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the Senate agreed to a nonbinding resolution urging Congress to enact such market-based limits.

Lawmakers in a 38-60 vote defeated a plan by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) for limiting greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2010. Afterwards, the Senate in a voice vote approved New Mexico Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s “sense of the Senate” resolution that puts the chamber on record for the first time as saying it agrees that greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to global warming.

The resolution urges Congress to “enact a comprehensive and effective national program of mandatory, market-based limits on emissions of greenhouse gases that slow, stop and reverse the growth of such emissions.” It also includes the caveat that the cuts must not significantly harm the U.S. economy while also seeking comparable action by foreign countries that are U.S. trade partners and key sources of greenhouse gases.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici called for a series of July hearings on global warming legislation that would establish mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

U.S. PRESSURE WEAKENS G-8 CLIMATE PLAN

U.S. officials have worked to weaken sections of a proposal for joint action on climate change prepared by the Group of Eight industrialized nations in advance of a July summit in Scotland, according to leaked drafts of the plan. At the request of the United States, negotiators working on the document have deleted mentions of how rising temperatures are affecting the world, targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and tougher environmental standards for World Bank power projects.

One section deleted at the insistence of the United States reads: “Inertia in the climate system means that further warming is inevitable. Unless urgent action is taken, there will be a growing risk of adverse effects on economic development, human health and the natural environment, and of irreversible long-term changes to our climate and oceans.” U.S. negotiators replaced that passage with this sentence: “Climate change is a serious long term challenge that has the potential to affect every part of the globe.”

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose country holds the G8 presidency, has said he intends to make climate change one of two top issues at the talks in July.

BLM STUDY ON GRAZING DENOUNCED

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) altered critical portions of a scientific analysis of the environmental impact of cattle grazing on public lands before announcing that it would relax regulations limiting grazing on those lands, according to scientists involved in the study.

A government biologist and a hydrologist, who both retired recently from the BLM, said their conclusions that the proposed new rules might adversely affect water quality and wildlife, including endangered species, were excised and replaced with language justifying less stringent regulations favored by cattle ranchers.

Eliminated from BLM’s final draft was a conclusion that read: “The Proposed Action will have a slow, long-term adverse impact on wildlife and biological diversity in general.”

The regulations, expected to be published in July, will leave rangeland health standards and guidelines developed by BLM’s Resources Advisory Councils intact. BLM officials said the regulations are meant to give land managers and ranchers more flexibility. The changes, they said, were part of a standard editing and review process.

NMFS RELEASES STOCK-REVIVAL PLAN

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a proposal that rewrites federal guidelines for restoring depleted fisheries. The proposal would overhaul the guidance for the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the landmark law that forms the basis of fisheries management, and replace the existing 10-year standard for rebuilding depleted stocks.

NMFS officials said the plan would speed the recovery of depleted fish stocks, but some independent fisheries experts said the changes would have the opposite effect for many species.

“It will drag out the rebuilding process and lengthen it in all respects,” said Ecological Society of America member Andrew Rosenberg, a former NMFS Deputy Director and a member of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.

The proposal would not change the underlying rules of Magnuson-Stevens but overhaul the guidance for how the nation’s eight regional fishery management councils must meet the overall goals of the law. The guidance gives the councils more specific guidance but greater flexibility to develop their management plans, according to Rebecca Lent, the Service’s Deputy Director.

The rulemaking comes as the Bush Administration, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) and House Fisheries Subcommittee Chairman Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) all prepare to introduce their own versions of a Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization bill.

SCIENTISTS PROTEST NEW FWS GENETIC DATA POLICY

A new Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) policy in the Southwest that limits the use of genetic data in determining if a species should be taken off the Endangered Species List violates the agency’s directive to use the best available science, according to a letter of protest sent by more than 160 scientists.

“This is a pretty powerful weapon to disable protection for endangered species,” said Sally Stefferud, a retired Fish and Wildlife Service biologist and spokeswoman for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “If you accept the premise that all populations of a species are interchangeable, you have much more leeway to let some be wiped out,” she said.

The policy, announced in January, applies only the FWS’s Southwest Region. In essence, the ruling says that the information used to determine whether all distinct lines within species need to be protected is limited to data available when the species was first listed.

Regional Director Dale Hall said opponents have misunderstood the intent and that the rule was made to be consistent with a federal judge’s ruling in an Oregon case regarding protections for salmon.

HATCHERY FISH TO STAY PROTECTED UNDER E.S.A.

More than 130 strains of hatchery salmon will remain protected under the Endangered Species Act (E.S.A.) in the Northwest, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) said. The announcement comes after NMFS promised last year that it would begin to count hatchery-bred fish along with wild-spawning salmon when considering whether to protect the fish.

Both environmentalists and property-rights advocates criticized the new policy, which agency officials said would emphasize protection of wild-spawned salmon. However, in some circumstances hatchery fish could be counted as part of the salmon stock in question.

“We have a very clear decision in 2001 by Judge [Michael] Hogan, who indicated we are required by law to take into account hatchery fish,” said Bob Lohn, Northwest Regional Administrator of the agency. “This rule is our way to say how we take them into account. We think it is consistent with the best science.”

Critics, however, charge that the decision will make it easier for the government to remove runs from protection because counting hatchery fish could exaggerate the health of a particular salmon population.

The Ecological Society of America has issued comments in the past on hatchery-bred salmon: http://esa.org/pao/esaPositions/Letters/Lettersalmon06302004.php

HOUSE SLASHES NOAA’S BUDGET, FLAT FUNDS NSF

The House passed a multiagency spending bill with over half a billion dollars in funding cuts to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) oceans and research programs.

The bill provides $3.43 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, $526 million less than the agency received in Fiscal Year 2005 and $200 million below the Bush administration’s budget request.

The White House Office of Management and Budget had asked the House to restore funding for climate research and key ocean and coastal programs, including a fishery research vessel and protected species programs. But members approved an amendment from Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) that would divert $50 million from NOAA funds to the Justice Department.

The amendment would include cutting $12 million from the National Marine Fisheries Service and $8 million from the National Oceans Service, according to Commerce Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Alan Mollohan (D-WV), who opposed the measure.

The House bill also funds the National Science Foundation at $5.64 billion, an increase of $171 million over last year and $38 million above the budget request. The bill includes $4.38 billion for research, $157 million over last year; and $807 million for education and human resources, $70 million above the request.

The bill is now being considered by the Senate.


Sources: Environment & Energy Daily; Greenwire; The Washington Post

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