In This Issue
On June 24, the White House Office of Management and Budget submitted a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee expressing concern with the Senate Commerce Justice and Science Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. Like official Statements of Administration Policy, the letters outline its position on the bills. Unlike the Statements of Administration Policy, the letters do not specify whether the president would veto the bill.
Areas of concern cited in the letter include significant funding decreases in the FY 2016 budgets for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as compared to the president’s FY 2016 budget request. For NSF, the letter notes that the bill “would lead to about 700 fewer research grants, affecting about 9,100 researchers, technicians, and students.”
The disparities in funding levels exist because Congressional Republicans have sought to adhere to sequestration, the automatic across-the-board cuts to all discretionary spending included in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25), while the administration has not.
The sequestration cuts can be avoided if Congress passes a deficit reduction measure. Alternatively, Congress would have to pass a new law to nullify the automatic spending cuts, unlikely with the House and Senate under Republican control. The president’s FY 2016 budget would offset sequestration by implementing targeted discretionary spending cuts and revenue increases through tax reform.
“We look forward to working with you to address these concerns. More broadly, we look forward to working with the Congress to reverse sequestration for defense and non-defense priorities, and offset the cost with commonsense spending and tax expenditure cuts, as Members of Congress from both parties have urged,” continues the letter.
The White House and Congress will need to settle on discretionary spending levels for federal agencies before Oct. 1, 2015, when the new fiscal year begins. Otherwise, they would have to pass a temporary continuing resolution to keep federal agencies funded and avoid a government shutdown.
Click here to view the White House letter on the Senate FY 2016 CJS bill:
On June 29, the US Supreme Court struck down the Obama administration’s Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS) rule for coal-fired power plants. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should have considered compliance costs before deciding to move forward with the air pollution rule.
The Supreme Court ruling effectively reverses the ruling of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which concluded the EPA rule was within its powers under the Clean Air Act. The DC Circuit Court must now decide whether to instruct EPA to carry out additional analyses or strike down the rule altogether.
Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia stated “EPA must consider cost — including cost of compliance — before deciding whether regulation is appropriate and necessary. It will be up to the Agency to decide (as always, within the limits of reasonable interpretation) how to account for cost.”
EPA maintained that its subsequent regulatory impact analyses should not factor into its initial determination of whether regulating pollutants is appropriate or necessary. The agency argued that the benefits of limiting mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants far outweigh the potential costs. It estimated that while the rule would cost $9.6 billion, it could produce between $37 and $90 billion in environmental and health benefits.
Justice Scalia was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. Justice Elena Kagan authored the dissent, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor. Kagan sided with the lower court, stating that it was enough for EPA to have considered costs at later stages of its rulemaking process.
EPA expressed disappointment in the ruling, but noted its MATS rule was issued in 2012 and since that time, most plants are now approaching compliance. An analysis from SNL Financial last month found that only 22 power plants, representing less than one percent of US power capacity were in noncompliance with the rule.
Nonetheless, the ruling has the potential to set a precedent of compelling federal agencies to be more mindful of taking economic costs into account before issuing regulations to ensure they hold up in court. The ruling also reinforces sentiments embraced largely by conservatives that compliance costs be considered before issuing regulations.
“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is an important step towards reining in the actions of the EPA,” said House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “The EPA consistently ignores the tremendous costs of rules and relies on hidden scientific data to justify its overreaching regulations. Considering the costs of a regulation is simply common sense. I welcome today’s Supreme Court ruling and urge the EPA to more accurately consider the excessive costs that all of its rules will impose on the American people.”
Some supporters of the MATS rule argue that the Supreme Court ruling is narrow in scope and that EPA updating its cost analyses will ultimately strengthen their regulatory efforts.
“The Supreme Court’s decision does not question EPA’s Clean Air Act authority to limit hazardous air pollutants, but instead directs EPA to revise the timing for when costs are considered in the mercury and air toxics rule,” said Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA). “EPA should move quickly to incorporate its cost analysis into the rule, as called for by the Supreme Court, so that this critical public health safeguard, which prevents premature deaths, heart attacks, asthma attacks and emergency room visits, can remain in place to protect the American people.”
On June 23, ESA joined 250 industry, science, and higher education organizations in signing a “Call to Action” urging Congress to enact policies to end sequestration cuts to discretionary spending that hinder research at federal science agencies and make investments that help ensure the United States remains a leader in scientific discovery and innovation.
“As the most dynamic and prosperous nation in the world, the United States has long benefitted from policies and investments that have promoted innovation and in turn driven productivity and economic growth, bolstered American trade, ensured our health and national security, and safeguarded the American dream,” the call notes. “Our leadership is now at risk because of years of under-prioritizing federal scientific research investments and policies that promote innovation.”
The call references the 2014 American Academy of Arts and Sciences report, Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream and calls on Congress to:
- Renew the federal commitment to scientific discovery.
- Make permanent a strengthened federal R&D tax credit.
- Improve student achievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
- Reform US visa policy to retain highly educated international STEM professionals.
- Take steps to streamline costly and inefficient regulations to help unburden researchers.
- Reaffirm merit-based peer review.
- Stimulate further improvements in advanced manufacturing.
Click here to view the full letter:
Ecological Society of America (ESA) President-elect Monica Turner, President David Inouye, and Immediate Past-president Jill Baron commend Pope Francis for his encyclical on the environment.
“The Ecological Society of America commends Pope Francis for his insightful encyclical on the environment,” reads the statement. “Addressed to everyone on this planet, the letter issued on 18 June 2015 is an eloquent plea for responsible Earth stewardship. The pope is clearly informed by the science underpinning today’s environmental challenges. The encyclical deals directly with climate change, its potential effects on humanity and disproportionate consequences for the poor, and the need for intergenerational equity.”
A papal encyclical is one of the highest forms of official papal teaching that influences Catholics worldwide. The global popularity and moral clout of Pope Francis with non-Catholics and Catholics alike has the potential to influence climate change policy.
The pope is visiting the United States in September 2015, where he will speak to both Congress and the United Nations.
Click here to read the full ESA statement.
Click here to read the pope’s encyclical:
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
Proposed Rule: Public comments due August 24, 2015
Petition To Amend the Reporting Requirements for Research Facilities Under the Animal Welfare Act Regulations
US Environmental Protection Agency
Notice: Public comment period ends July 24, 2015
Pesticides; Risk Management Approach To Identifying Options for Protecting the Monarch Butterfly
US Department of Agriculture
Notice: Nominations due August 13, 2015
Request for Nominations to the Agricultural Air Quality Task Force
US Fish and Wildlife Service
Proposed Rule: Public comments due August 31, 2015
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-Day Findings on 31 Petitions (includes determination that gray wolf does not warrant “threatened” declassification throughout the contiguous United States)
Notice: Public comments due Oct. 28, 2015
Notice of Intent To Prepare a Programmatic Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Invasive Rodent and Mongoose Control and Eradication on US Pacific Islands Within the National Wildlife Refuge System and in Native Ecosystems in Hawaii
US Forest Service
Notice: Public comments due August 10, 2015
Boise National Forest and Sawtooth National Forest; Idaho and Utah; Forest-Wide Invasive Plant Treatment Environmental Impact Statement
Introduced in House
H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act – Introduced June 25 by Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) – the bill would seek to provide drought relief to the state of California. It includes provisions to modify the science formulas used to provide federal protection to the state’s endangered smelt and salmon populations and also streamline the review and permitting process for water projects. The bill has 25 original cosponsors, predominantly West Coast Republicans. Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) is the lone Democratic original cosponsor. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Agriculture Committee.
Approved by House Committee
On June 25, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved the following bill:
H.R. 2494, the Global Anti-Poaching Act – Introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), the bill requires the Secretary of State to identify and withhold assistance to countries that participate in wildlife trafficking and provides increased assistance to nations attempting to fight it. The bill puts wildlife trafficking in the same category as weapons trafficking and drug trafficking, making it a liable offense for money laundering and racketeering and requires fines, forfeitures, and restitution received to be transferred to federal conservation and anti-poaching efforts. The bill passed committee by unanimous consent.
H.R. 1637, the Federally Funded Research and Development Sunshine Act – Introduced by John Ratcliffe (R-TX), the bill directs the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to annually submit to specified congressional committees a list of ongoing and completed projects that federally funded research and development centers within DHS have been tasked to complete. The bill passed the House June 23 by voice vote.
H.R. 2042, the Ratepayer Protection Act – Introduced by House Energy and Commerce Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY), the bill would allow states to defer compliance to the Obama administration’s carbon dioxide rule for power plants until any legal challenges are complete and judicial review has concluded. The bill passed the House June 24 by a vote of 247-180.
The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy threatening to veto the bill. Click here to read the full statement:
Introduced in Senate
S. 1691, the National Forest Ecosystem Improvement Act – Introduced June 25 by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the bill would require the Forest Service to perform at least one million acres of logging or vegetation treatments and one million acres of prescribed fires each year. The bill would also shorten National Environmental Policy Act reviews for these activities. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Approved by Senate Committee
On June 25, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved the following bills:
S. 1403, the Florida Fisheries Improvement Act – Introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), the bill outlines priorities to improve fisheries management for the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic regions. Rep. Bill Nelson (D-FL) is a cosponsor of the bill.
S. 1573, the National Weather Service Improvement Act– Introduced by Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD), the bill seeks to modernize the National Weather Service (NWS). The bill originally reinvested funds in six regional forecasting offices that would take over forecasting from the nation’s 122 local forecasting offices. The bill was amended during mark-up and now only requires the placement of a warning coordination meteorologist in each of the 122 weather forecasting offices to ensure regional and local collaboration.
Sources: House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, US Environmental Protection Agency, the White House, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, National Journal, US News and World Report