In This Issue
The Nobel Prize-winning United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released two new reports in late March and early April that reaffirm climate change is currently affecting natural ecosystems and human well-being around the world.
The March 31 report from “Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” stated that we are experiencing the consequences of climate change across all sectors: agriculture, human health, ocean and land ecosystems, and water supplies. The working group found that governments’ measures to combat climate change are not keeping pace with the consequences of climate change. At an IPCC meeting in Yokohama, Japan, 100 governments unanimously approved the report.
“Read this report and you can’t deny the reality: Unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy,” asserted Secretary of State John Kerry in a press statement. “Denial of the science is malpractice.” Secretary Kerry referenced “the security risks of water scarcity and flooding; widespread land and marine species extinction; and devastated crop yields in some of the poorest nations on earth” in rationalizing the Obama administration’s commitment towards implementation of its Climate Action Plan.
On Capitol Hill, the report generally earned praise among Democratic leaders on key committees, who embraced the science as a call for urgent action. Meanwhile, their Republican counterparts did not issue a formal statement on the report. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (CA) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (CA), senior Democrats on the committees with primary jurisdiction over the US Environmental Protection Agency, each posted press statements praising the report on their respective committees’ websites. House, Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson did not release a committee press statement directly commenting on the report, but it was referenced in a climate change panel discussion the Congresswoman was holding in Dallas, TX the day the report was released.
“The latest IPCC report adds a tremendous sense of urgency for Congress to wake up and do everything in its power to reduce dangerous carbon pollution,” stated Chairwoman Boxer. “In California, we can just look out the window to see climate change’s impacts—from the driest year on record in 2013 to the increased frequency and intensity of wildfires. This new IPCC report identifies the serious threats to human health, vital infrastructure, and the world’s economy that will multiply as temperatures warm. It confirms that we must cut carbon pollution now to avoid lasting changes to our planet.
In Berlin, Germany on April 13 a subsequent IPCC report from “Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change” warned greenhouse gas emissions that push warming above two degrees Celsius will lead to dangerous and costly climate change events. The report stated that worldwide emissions must decline between 40-70 percent below 2010 by the middle of the century to avoid such consequences. The report called for cutting green-house gas emissions from energy production, transportation, infrastructure and business to meet this goal.
“The IPCC’s new report highlights in stark reality the magnitude and urgency of the climate challenge,” asserted White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren, referencing the Working Group III report. “It shows, even more compellingly than previous studies, that the longer society waits to implement strong measures to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, the more costly and difficult it will become to limit climate change to less than catastrophic levels.
The Working Group III report was the final contribution to the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC, titled “Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change.” The Working Group I report, released in Sept. 2013, outlined the physical science basis of climate change. The larger Fifth Assessment Report will be completed by a synthesis report on track to be finalized in October.
On April 10, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee convened for a hearing reviewing the US Department of Energy’s scientific and technology priorities as outlined in the president’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015.
Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) took issue with DOE’s investments in renewable energy in comparison to its fossil fuel investments. DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) funding would increase by 21.9 percent in the president’s FY 2015 budget. Meanwhile, the Fossil Energy Research and Development account would decrease by 15.4 percent with the brunt of those cuts coming from coal-related activities.
“The administration should not pick winners and give subsidies to favored companies that promote uncompetitive technologies,” said Chairman Smith. “Instead, we should focus our resources on research and development that will produce technologies that will enable alternative energy sources to become economically competitive without the need for subsidies. Basic energy research is the stepping stone to our continued success.”
Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Ernest Moniz countered that the investment numbers for EERE constitute three separate energy priorities ($521 million for renewable energy, $705 million for sustainable transportation and $858 million for energy efficiency). Secretary Moniz asserted that the proposed EERE funding levels are comparable to the $475 million proposed for fossil energy and $863 for nuclear energy. Together, these funding levels in the president’s budget will constitute an all-of-the-above energy approach. Moniz subsequently noted that DOE made the initial investments in the research that fostered hydraulic fracturing.
Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), noted the importance of fossil fuels, but is also supportive of federal funding for alternative energy sources. “I continue to strongly support research to make today’s technologies safer, cleaner, and more efficient, but we also have to find the greatest value for our investment of taxpayer dollars,” said Ranking Member Johnson. “Today it is the emerging energy technology sectors that can most benefit from government support. That is where the priorities set by the Fiscal Year 2015 budget request come into play.”
View the full committee hearing here.
On April 9, a bipartisan group of 51 senators issued a letter to the Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee expressing support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and the Forest Legacy program.
Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Richard Burr (R-NC) and Susan Collins (R-ME) spearheaded the letter. The senators asserted that these programs support and protect wildlife habitats and provide the public with hunting and fishing recreational opportunities while also promoting job creation .The letter asserted that the programs also save taxpayer dollars through protecting land that provides valuable water resources, guards against incompatible development and reduces fire risk while contributing to state, local and private conservation investments.
“The entire suite of LWCF programs protect natural resource lands, outdoor recreation opportunities and working forests at the local, state and federal levels, ensuring that critical wildlife habitat, hunting and fishing access, state and local parks, Civil War battlefields, productive forests and other important lands are protected for current and future generations,” the senators stated in the letter. “We ask that you include a strong investment in LWCF and Forest Legacy that will support public land conservation and ensure access to the outdoors for all Americans.”
LWCF allows revenues generated from offshore oil and gas drilling fees to be diverted towards funding federal land acquisition, land and water recreation, endangered species conservation, and grants to states. Yet, since the law’s establishment in 1965, Congress has redirected $18 billion of LWCF revenue, resulting in a backlog in conservation initiatives. The president’s budget proposes full funding for LCWF. The program is currently funded at $300 million. Additional information on the program is available here.
On April 15, 26 members of the House and Senate from Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington sent a letter to President Obama expressing support for the 1964 Columbia River Treaty.
The Columbia River Treaty aids in the coordination of hydropower development and flood control between the United States and Canada along the Columbia River basin. Beginning this year, either side can seek to terminate the treaty with 10 years notice. The US State Department is expected to start negotiations with the Canadian government on potential updates to the treaty as early as September of this year.
“The Columbia River provides significant economic and cultural benefits to our region and how it is managed through the Treaty will have major impacts into the future,” noted the bipartisan group of lawmakers. “Therefore, it is important that you remain in regular and close communication with the Pacific Northwest Congressional Delegation during the Interagency Policy Committee process and keep us apprised of potential negotiations with Canada.”
The letter was spearheaded by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) and House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR). To view the full letter, click here: http://naturalresources.house.gov/uploadedfiles/4_15_14_columbia_river_treaty.pdf
On April 9, the US Department of Interior and the US Department of Agriculture jointly released a new holistic vision for wildfire management “To safely and effectively extinguish fire when needed; use fire where allowable; manage our natural resources; and as a nation, live with fire.”
The strategy seeks to restore and maintain landscapes by using tactics such as prescribed burns to increase forest resiliency. The strategy also seeks to build “fire-adapted communities” by reducing the amount of surrounding flammable materials such as fuel and vegetation that could cause or exacerbate a wildfire. Additionally, the strategy strives to highlight programs and activities that would prevent fire ignitions directly caused by humans. Effective and efficient response to wildfires is the last prong in the strategy.
A comprehensive strategy to address wildfires was first mandated in the Federal Land Assistance, Management, and Enhancement (FLAME) Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-88).
View the full strategy here.
On April 17, President Obama announced that he was dedicating $15 million towards a new program that would help state and local governments invest in solar energy infrastructure.
The $15 million will be implemented through the administration’s new Solar Market Pathways program. It will fund the development of initiatives to help communities across the US expand installation of solar panels. The program will also provide technical assistance and cost reductions for solar installations in federally-assisted housing.
The program is a part of the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, which seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity. The White House reports that solar power installation has increased 11 fold since the year before the president took office. Between 2008, it has climbed from 1.2 gigawatts in 2008 to an estimated 13 gigawatts today, enough to power over 2.2 million homes.
For additional information, click here.
On April 10, 2014, biologists from across the US fanned out across Capitol Hill, visiting over 60 congressional offices to talk about how federal investment in science research yields benefits to society.
Organized each year by the Ecological Society of America (ESA) and the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), the Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition event helps raise awareness among policymakers about how federal research benefits the communities they represent.
This year’s participants included 2014 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award winners, Sarah Anderson (Washington State University), Andrew Bingham (Colorado State University), Amber Childress (Colorado State University), Brittany West Marsden (University of Maryland) and Johanna Varner (University of Utah).
Participants in the BESC Hill visits came prepared with personal stories about how federal funding aids their research, how their work helps them advance their professional development and benefits the respective states where they conduct their research. While firm commitments to support science funding varied from office-to-office, the graduate students and other participants mostly received collegial receptions from Congressional staff and elected officials, using local commonalities to relate with the congressional staff and lawmakers with whom they met.
The visits coincided with bicameral letters from the House and Senate in support of $7.5 billion in funding for the National Science Foundation, which was central to the overall message advocated by the BESC participants. The House letter, circulated by Reps. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and David McKinley (R-WV), garnered 132 signatures. Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) authored a similar letter that secured 20 additional signatories.
The day before the Hill visits, the students met informally with several federal agency scientists who gave their perspective as scientists working in policy. Federal entities represented at the briefing included the United States Geological Survey, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Park Service and the US Forest Service. The participants were also briefed on the federal budget process and protocols regarding meeting with congressional offices on Capitol Hill.
Considered by House Committee/Subcommittee
On April 3, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs held a hearing on the following bills:
H.R. 69, Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) the bill would authorize new enforcement measures to stop illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
H.R. 2646, the Revitalizing Economy of Fisheries in the (REFI) Pacific Act – Introduced by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), the bill would direct the Secretary of Commerce to issue a fishing capacity reduction loan to refinance the existing loan funding the Pacific Coast groundfish fishing capacity reduction program.
H.R.___, the Pirate Fishing Elimination Act – the legislation, drafted and yet to be introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), would prevent, deter, and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing through implementation of the Port State Measures Agreement.
On April 8, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on four bills to amend the Endangered Species Act:
H.R.4315, 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Act – Introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill would require federal agencies to publicly release data used to make decisions to list species for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Current proprietary rights for research currently allow such information to remain private.
H.R. 4316, Endangered Species Recovery Transparency Act – Introduced by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), the bill would require the US Fish and Wildlife Service to report to Congress and make publicly available the total amount of federal expenditures used to respond to Endangered Species Act lawsuits.
H.R. 4317, State, Tribal, and Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act – Introduced by Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), the bill would require the federal government to include data from states and tribes in its consideration of the “best available scientific and commercial data” for Endangered Species Act listings.
H.R. 4318, Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act – Introduced March 27 by Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI), the bill would place a $125 per hour cap on federal agency reimbursement for attorney fees for endangered species litigation.
H.R. 2413, the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act – Introduced by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), the bill would redirect National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration resources towards advances in resources that improve forecasting for extreme weather events. The original bill received criticism from committee Democrats for shifting resources from climate research. However, language changes in the bill would grant the agency more flexibility in how it allocates its resources. This helped secure cosponsorship from a number of Democrats, including House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). The bill passed the House by voice vote on April 1 and has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
Signed by President
Green Mountain Lookout Heritage Protection Act (P.L. 113-99) – Introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the law designates lands in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie and Wenatchee National Forests in the state of Washington as part of the Glacier Peak Wilderness to help preserve the operation and maintenance of Green Mountain Lookout, a popular recreational and tourism destination. The president signed the measure April 15.
Sources: Department of Energy, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Natural Resources Committee, House Space, Science and Technology Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the White House