July 12, 2013

In this Issue

APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE CJS BILL CUTS SCIENCE INVESTMENT

 

On July 9, the House Appropriations Committee released its Commerce, Justice and Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, which includes funding for the Department of Justice, Department of Commerce and several key science agencies for the coming fiscal year.

In total, the CJS bill includes $47.4 billion for FY 2014, $2.8 billion below the FY 2013 enacted level and $350 million below FY 2013 when accounting for implementation of sequestration. House Republicans have been drafting legislation under the assumption that sequestration will continue through Fiscal Year 2014. Coupled with the fact that they are simultaneously seeking to boost Department of Defense spending, non-defense discretionary spending programs are set to undergo even further spending declines if their bills are enacted.

For the first time in years, the National Science Foundation (NSF) would see a significant reduction in funding under the bill compare to the enacted level in the previous fiscal year. NSF would receive $7 billion in FY 2014, $259 million below the enacted level in 2013 pre-sequestration and $631 million below the president’s budget request.  Other key science agencies under the jurisdiction of the bill include:

• National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $4.9 billion, $89 million below the FY 2013 enacted level. 

• National Aeronautics and Space Administration: $16.6 billion, $928 million below the FY 2013 enacted level.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cut of $89 million is nine percent below the FY 2013 enacted amount. Funding would be maintained for the agency’s weather and satellite programs. The Joint Polar Satellite System would receive $824 million in FY 2014 and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite program would receive $955 million. Research and fisheries management programs are expected to bear the burden of the cuts.

For additional information on the bill, click here.

DOE: REPORT LINKS CLIMATE CHANGE TO ENERGY SECTOR RISKS

On July 11, the US Department of Energy released a report entitled US Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather.” The report comes on the heels of President Obama’s climate speech last month and highlights detrimental effects climate change is having on US energy production.

Among its findings, the report notes coastal energy infrastructure is particularly susceptible to violent storms and sea level rise and that drought could negatively affect hydraulic fracturing efforts. The report cites that heat waves have led to shutdowns of coal-fired and nuclear power plants. The report also points to threats to oil and gas production in the Arctic from infrastructure damage from thawing permafrost. It also notes that violent storms in recent years have on several occasions led to massive power losses across several states.

Among suggested methods of adapting to climate change, the report calls for “the deployment of energy technologies that are more climate-resilient, assessment of vulnerabilities in the energy sector, adaptation planning efforts, and policies that can facilitate these efforts.” The report proposes development of water-efficient technologies for oil and gas production, and increased data collection on the costs and benefits of climate adaption, including preventing infrastructure loss and economic loss due to energy production disruptions. View the full report here.

USDA: FEDERAL PARTNERSHIP ANNOUNCED TO PRESERVE LAND ON MILITARY GROUNDS

On July 10, the US Department of Agriculture, the Department of Defense and the Department of Interior announced a plan to help farmers and ranchers conserve sensitive land around military installations.

The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership seeks to address agricultural development that is encroaching on military installations with the intended goals of preserving both military training missions and protecting wildlife habitat. Federal agencies intend to invest $12.6 million towards restoration and protection of over 2,600 acres of prairie habitat.

The partnership will begin in the South Puget Sound region of Washington state. Additional sites will be reviewed as the program moves forward. For additional information, click here.

INVASIVE SPECIES: EPA APPROVES USE OF ARUNDO DONAX IN BIOFUEL USE

On June 28, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a final rule certifying that two invasive grasses, Arundo donax and napier grass, qualify as a cellulosic renewable fuel and consequently, can be used in biofuel production under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program.

The final rule completes analysis of the plants’  potential contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as mandated under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-140). According to EPA, the level of GHG generated through cultivation of the plants are 60 percent less than the level from gasoline and diesel.  Biofuels producers have praised Arundo donax plant due to its drought-resistance and ability to grow in poor soil. However, these qualities have also made it a formidable invasive plant.

Over the past year, the Ecological Society of America joined with a number of other organizations, including the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), the Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in several meetings and written correspondence to federal regulatory officials requesting that EPA not move forward with the rulemaking approving the use of the invasive feedstocks. The final rule has been revised to require risk-management plans for producers, but these safeguards contain oversight loopholes that could fail to prevent an invasion.

In an Oct. 2012 letter to the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the environmental and scientific societies noted that Arundo donax has been listed as a noxious weed in several states in the western US and has been described as either an invasive or serious risk species in New Mexico, South Carolina and Alabama. The letter notes that eradication costs in California range from $5,000-$25,000 per acre.

“Assuming that best management practices will prevent the escape of highly invasive weeds grown on a large scale is naïve, risky, and dangerous,” asserted NWF legislative representative for agricultural policy Aviva Glaser in a press statement. “We’ve seen time and time again with invasive species that good intentions can result in expensive unintended consequences.”

View the Environmental Protection Agency rule here. View the National Wildlife Federation release here. View the Oct. 2012 arundo donax letter here.

FOREST SERVICE: MINING PROPOSAL OVERLAPS PROPOSED JAGUAR HABITAT

The US Forest Service (FS) is set to approve a controversial mining project roughly 30 miles south of Tuscon, Arizona near the Santa Rita Mountains.

A Draft Environmental Impact Statement released July 1 indicates that the agency concludes that Augusta Resource Corporation’s proposed Rosemont Copper Mine will not jeopardize the 10 federally listed threatened or endangered species that inhabit the region. The draft statement does acknowledge, however, that mining activities would damage or alter historic areas, including traditional cultural properties, sacred sites, traditional use areas, archaeological sites, historical structures, districts, and landscapes,” and includes environmental mitigation activities to minimize detrimental impacts on air quality, water resources, habitats and cultural sites in the region.

Nonetheless, national and local conservation groups have been in strong opposition to the mine’s construction since it was first proposed. Among their concerns is the threat the mine poses to the chances of jaguars establishing in southern Arizona. Chief opponents of the copper mine include the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Tucson-based non-profit group, Save the Scenic Santa Ritas. Regional US Environmental Protection Agency officials have also expressed concerns about the mining’s impact on area waters under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is proposing a separate critical habitat designation for the jaguar. Areas proposed include the Santa Rita Mountains where the mining is to take place. Hence, final approval of the FWS proposal would stand to rule out the FS proposal since the habitat in the area would become federally protected from human harm or alteration, according to CBD. Comments on the FWS proposal are due August, 9.

More than two-thirds of copper mined in the US comes from Arizona. Federal, state and local agency officials have 30 days from the draft statement’s release to provide comments before a final decision can be issued by FS.

For additional information on the FS proposal for the Rosemont Copper Mine, click here. For information on the FWS critical habitat designation, including the public comment opportunity, click here. The CBD press release on the proposed critical habitat designation is available here:

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: EXTENSION ANNOUNCED FOR PRARIE CHICKEN LISTING

On July 9, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced a six month extension on whether to provide federal protections for the lesser prairie chicken.

FWS has proposed a “threatened” listing for the species due to habitat loss and fragmentation, primarily from agricultural and energy development among other human-induced threats. The agency seeks specific scientific information including “historical and current status and distribution of the lesser prairie-chicken, its biology and ecology, specific threats (or lack thereof) and regulations that may be addressing those threats and ongoing conservation measures for the species and its habitat.”

Written comments must be received by close of business on August 8, 2013. A final determination is expected by FWS no later than March 30, 2014. For additional information, click here.

CURRENT POLICY

Approved by House Committee/Subcommittee

On July 9, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Environment approved the following bill:

H.R. 2413, the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act – Introduced by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), the bill seeks to prioritize weather forecasting and tornado warning data within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), largely at the expense of climate research under the Office of Atmospheric Research.

On July 10, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power approved the following bills:

H.R. 83, to require the Secretary of the Interior to assemble a team of technical, policy, and financial experts to address the energy needs of the insular areas of the United States – Introduced by Rep. Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands), the bill would require the Secretary of the Interior to create a plan that would reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels and develop renewable energy resources in US territories. The bill was approved by voice vote.

H.R. 1583, the Energy Consumers Relief Act – Introduced by Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), the bill would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to submit any energy-related regulatory proposal with an estimated cost of more than $1 billion to the Department of Energy (DOE) for approval. If the Secretary of Energy determines that the rule would cause an adverse impact to the economy, EPA would not be allowed to advance the regulation. The bill was approved by a vote of 17-10. Democrats opposed the bill contending that it seeks information on the costs of the rules without regard to the rules’ potential benefits. They also generally disapproved giving DOE unilateral “veto-power” over EPA regulations.

H.R. 1900, the Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act – Introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), the bill would expedite the review process for gas pipeline review permits with modified deadlines for when agencies can approve applications. Committee Democrats contended the bill stifled the environmental review process for applications. The bill was approved by a 17-9 vote.

Passed House

H.R. 2609, the Energy and Water Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year 2014 – Introduced by House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), the bill funds projects primarily under the jurisdiction of the Department of Energy and the US Army Corps of Engineers.  It includes $30.4 billion for FY 2014, $2.9 billion below the level enacted in Fiscal Year 2013 before sequestration. The bill contains significant cuts to renewable energy and science research accounts. The bill passed the House July 10 by a vote of 227-198.

The White House issued a statement of administration policy declaring the president would veto the bill. View the statement of administration policy here.

For additional information on the House Energy and Water bill, see the June 28 edition of ESA Policy News.

H.R. 2642, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act – Introduced by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), the bill is almost identical to the farm bill considered by the House several weeks ago (H.R. 1947).  The major difference is that the House-passed bill does not include funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides food stamps. Consequently, the bill also differs from H.R. 1947 in that it is not supported by House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Colin Peterson (D-MN), leading to no Democratic support this time around. The bill passed the House July 11 by a slim margin of 216-208. Twelve Republicans joined all Democrats in opposing the bill.

Both House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders have signaled a willingness to go to conference to negotiate a final bill, but a path forward toward compromise remains unclear due the chasm of differences between the House-passed farm bill and the farm bill (S. 954) that passed the Senate in June with a bipartisan 66-27 vote.

Introduced in Senate

S. 1254, the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2013 – Introduced June 27 by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the bill would authorize $20 million for research into toxic algal blooms within US freshwater and coastal areas. The legislation has 10 original cosponsors including Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Mark Begich (D-AK), John Rockefeller (D-WV), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Agnus King (I-ME), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). The bill has been referred to the Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee.


 Sources AAAS, Center for Biological Diversity, ClimateWire, Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Appropriations Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, National Wildlife Federation, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House

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