In This Issue
In the wake of a mid-term election with considerably low voter turnout, President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address focused on issues that energized various Democratic constituencies. Central topics included income and gender inequality, educational opportunity and climate change.
Citing the Oct. 2014 Department of Defense report concluding climate change poses an immediate national security risk, the president stated “no challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.”
The president directly responded to the “I’m not a scientist” refrain used by climate skeptics, saying “Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what, I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and at NOAA, and at our major universities. And the best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we don’t act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration and conflict and hunger around the globe.”
The president also minimized the importance of the Keystone XL pipeline when he asked lawmakers to pass a new surface transportation and infrastructure reauthorization bill.
“Twenty-first century businesses need 21st century infrastructure — modern ports, and stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest Internet,” said the president. “Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this. So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline. Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come.”
President Obama asked Congress to close tax loopholes and use the added revenue to help families pay for college as well as investing in infrastructure and research. The president also mentioned his plan to expand access to community college and called on Congress to pass legislation to reduce student debt.
“Tennessee, a state with Republican leadership, and Chicago, a city with Democratic leadership, are showing that free community college is possible. I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today,” said President Obama. “And I want to work with this Congress to make sure those already burdened with student loans can reduce their monthly payments, so that student debt doesn’t derail anyone’s dreams.”
The president closed his speech in a reconciliatory tone, calling for bipartisanship and “a better politics” where Democrats and Republicans “appeal to each other’s basic decency” without abandoning their principles, urging them to seek common ground on the proposals in his address.
“If you share the broad vision I outlined tonight, I ask you to join me in the work at hand,” said the president. “If you disagree with parts of it, I hope you’ll at least work with me where you do agree. And I commit to every Republican here tonight that I will not only seek out your ideas, I will seek to work with you to make this country stronger.”
On Jan. 27, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a business meeting to adopt its rules and oversight plan for the 114th Congress. The normally routine meeting became contentious as members adopted new rules that minority members cited as unprecedented.
At issue were rules that allowed the chairman to issue unilateral subpoenas and shorten the notice time required before committee votes. Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) stated the rule changes were necessary because the Obama administration has been slow to respond to information requests.
Reciting several historical events where the committee exercised its investigative authority—including the deadly Apollo 1 fire that killed three astronauts, the Space Shuttle Challenger and Columbia disasters— Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) noted the chairmen at the time did not take action that suppressed the rights of members of either party who did not agree with him.
The rules were approved along partisan lines. Click here to view the full hearing.
As the Senate debated a bill to expedite approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, Democratic lawmakers sought votes to put their Republican colleagues on record regarding climate science.
Senators adopted an amendment by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) by a vote of 98–1 that climate change is real and not a hoax. The lone Senator who voted against the amendment was Roger Wicker (R-MS).
However, a second amendment by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), affirming “human activity significantly contributes to climate change” fell short of the 60 votes it needed to win approval. The amendment failed largely along party lines by a vote of 50–49.
Fifteen Republicans voted for a similar amendment that omitted the word “significantly” offered by Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) affirming that humans contribute to climate change.” Joining the five Republicans who supported the Schatz amendment were Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dean Heller (R-NV), John McCain (R-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Rand Paul (R-KY), Rob Portman (R-OH), Mike Rounds (R-SD) Pat Toomey (R-PA). The amendment failed, supported by 59 Senators.
All Democrats and Independents supported the Hoeven amendment. Sen. Rounds was notably the only Republican first elected to the Senate in the 2014 midterms to support the Hoeven amendment.
On Jan. 25, the Department of Interior announced a plan to protect 12.28 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas development.
The administration would designate the selected area as “wilderness,” the highest level of protection available to federal lands. Only seven million acres of the refuge enjoy the wilderness designation. A permanent designation must be approved by Congress as a future administration could unilaterally rescind the administration’s action in the interim.
The expanded area would also encompass 1.5 million acres of the refuge’s oil-rich fragile coastal plain, spurring the ire of businesses and Republican lawmakers.
“What’s coming is a stunning attack on our sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy that allows us, our children and our grandchildren to thrive,” Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said in a committee press statement. “I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska.”
Murkowski chairs both the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Department of Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. She oversees both authorization and appropriations legislation related to the Department of Interior.
Click here to view the full announcement.
A new report from the United States Geological Survey found geologic and man-made contaminants that pose a threat to human health in one out of every five drinking water wells in the US.
The study states that most were from geologic sources, including arsenic, manganese, radon, and uranium. Nitrate was the only man-made pollutant found at levels that pose a human-health risk in more than one percent of wells.
The study noted that water irrigation activities can release natural and man-made contaminants into drinking water sources. Besides affecting private untreated drinking wells, groundwater contaminants can also affect streams and lakes, coastal waters and the aquatic ecosystems they encompass.
The report included samples from 6,600 drinking wells taken between 1991 and 2010.
Click here to view the report: http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1360/
On Jan. 27, The US Forest Service released the final policy rule for managing snowmobile and other “over-snow” vehicle use on national forests and grasslands as directed by a 2013 court order. Forty percent of national forests post rules for snowmobile use at heavily used areas, such as in ski areas. This new rule requires all national forest and grassland Forest Service managers to work with local communities to identify roads and trails for snowmobile use while also protecting water, soil and wildlife.
Click here for additional information.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced a draft five-year plan for addressing climate change.
The draft strategy is part of NMFS’s “proactive approach to collect and provide information on changing climate and ocean conditions to resource managers and affected sectors.” The strategy seeks to address challenges that include rising sea levels, ocean warming and acidification. Key objectives of the strategy include building and maintaining the necessary “science infrastructure” to fulfill agency mandates amid changing climate conditions and identifying and tracking marine ecosystem changes.
Public comments on the strategy are due Mar. 31, 2015. Click here for additional information.
FEDERAL REGISTER PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITIES
Environmental Protection Agency
Notice: Public comment period closes Mar. 30, 2015
EPA invites public nominations of scientific experts to be considered for appointment to its Science Advisory Board Agricultural Science Committee.
Fish and Wildlife Service
Notice: Public comment period closes Feb. 26, 2015
Revised comprehensive conservation plan (plan/CCP) and final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Fish and Wildlife Service
Proposed rule: Public comment period closes Feb. 26, 2015
Critical habitat designation for Consolea corallicola (Florida semaphore cactus) and Harrisia aboriginum (aboriginal prickly-apple).
Sources: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Interior, US Forest Service, US Geological Survey, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, the White House, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill