December 5, 2014

In This Issue

APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE FLOATS FY 2015 SPENDING BILL

This week, House leadership announced its plan to continue spending for most government agencies throughout the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 and avert a government shutdown.

The House’s 2015 omnibus appropriations bill would fund most government agencies through Sept. 30, 2015. The sole exception would be the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which would only be funded through March. The deal has often been nicknamed a “cromnibus” package, given that it’s mostly an omnibus, save for DHS, which is funded at existing levels, much like a continuing resolution.  An omnibus is preferential to a continuing resolution in that it gives appropriators more leeway to direct spending levels at a programmatic level.

GOP lawmakers singled out the DHS because it has jurisdiction over implementation of the president’s controversial immigration executive order to provide a pathway to legal status for an estimated five million undocumented immigrants. The shortened extension would allow next year’s Republican-controlled House and Senate to pass an FY 2015 funding bill with spending constraints on the agency related to the executive order.

Senate Democrat leaders, while indicating their preference for an omnibus that funds all federal agencies, expressed willingness to support the House’s proposal on the condition that it doesn’t include riders unacceptable to their party. Opposition is expected from far-right conservative members who prefer another short-term continuing resolution that would give appropriators in the next Congress influence over current FY 2015 spending. Leading appropriators in both the House and Senate in both parties have indicated they would prefer passage of an omnibus so they can start 2015 with a clean slate.

Thus far, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has stated he will not cater to conservative demands to make major changes to the bill and expects it to pass with bipartisan support. The bill’s legislative language has yet to be released. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has indicated she will wait for the release of the bill text before commenting on whether she will urge her caucus to support the measure. The bill is expected to be introduced on Dec. 8.

 

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE EXAMINES NEON ACCOUNTING

On Dec. 3, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing to review a series of audits of spending by the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON).

National Science Foundation (NSF) Office of the Inspector General and the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) conducted the audits. The first 2011 audit found that the documentation proposing a $433.7 million NEON construction project was inadequate to audit as “none of its proposed cost elements for labor, overhead, equipment, etc., reconcile to its supporting data.” Subsequent audit reports were conducted.

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) acknowledged “in response to these audits, NSF has made a number of adjustments to how the agency evaluates costs of major projects” while maintaining that “$150 million in unsupported and questionable costs in the NEON proposal demonstrates that major problems at NSF continue.”

The findings of the auditors led to the release of a subsequent NSF Inspector General (IG) audit on Nov. 20, 2014 scrutinizing NEON’s accounting system. The auditors found several instances of noncompliance. This was followed by a Nov. 24 IG memo outlining recommendations to improve its management practices.

Democratic committee members noted there was no representative from NSF itself to provide a balanced perspective.  Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said that the fact that the most recent IG findings were released just two weeks ago precluded NSF from being able to prepare testimony for the committee. She added that since DCAA was established to review Department of Defense audits, DCAA lacked staff with the sufficient expertise to appropriately audit NSF grants and cooperative agreements.

An NSF spokesperson has stated that the agency has already addressed some issues raised in the audits and is actively working to resolve others. 

Click here to view the 2011 audit report. Click here to view the 2012 audit report. Click here to view the 2014 audit report.

Click here for additional information on the hearing.

 

NSF: CORDOVA ANNOUNCES REVISED TRANSPARENCY, ACCOUNTABILITY GUIDELINES

At the November National Science Board (NSB) meeting, National Science Foundation (NSF) Director France A. Córdova outlined the agency’s new approaches to enhancing transparency and accountability, including a revision to the agency’s guidelines for program officers and providing regular updates on the agency’s transparency and accountability web page.

The guidelines for program officers in the Proposal and Award Manual now state that a nontechnical project description must explain the project’s significance and importance and “serve as a public justification for NSF funding by articulating how the project serves the national interest, as stated by NSF’s mission: to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; or to secure the national defense.” The titles and abstracts of NSF’s awards are made public on the agency’s website.

Click here for additional information.

 

EPA: AGENCY EASES MEDIA RULES FOR SCIENTISTS

In a memo released last month, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tempered its media policy, stating that its science advisers may speak to the media as long as they clarify they are not representing the views of the committees they sit on or the agency itself.

“Should a [Federal Advisory Committee (FAC)] member receive a press or other inquiry related more generally to their scientific area of expertise or related to their participation in a FAC (other than related to deliberations), they are free to respond to the inquiry in their capacity as a private citizen,” the memo states.

The recent memo comes after a notice released in April stating that scientists serving on Federal Advisory Committees must “refrain from responding in an individual capacity” to media inquiries.”

The notice was criticized in an August letter by seven research and journalistic organizations, which included the American Geophysical Union, the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Society for Conservation Biology, the Society of Environmental Journalists and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Click here to view the full EPA memo. Click here to view the April document. Click here to view the August organizational letter.

INVASIVES: ESA VOICES CONCERN WITH SALAMANDER FUNGAL DISEASE

On Nov. 20, the Ecological Society of America sent a letter to US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe requesting that the agency address the threat posed to salamanders by the fungal disease Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bs).

“Bs, a recently described emerging fungal pathogen of Asian origin, most likely carried via the pet trade, is now killing native salamanders in Holland and Belgium,” the letter notes. “All steps must be taken to keep Bs out of the United States where it does not exist yet. Our native salamanders are known to be vulnerable to decimation by this new disease if it arrives. The US is the global center of salamander diversity. They must be protected for their own sake and because of the significant role they play in the forest ecosystems of our country.”

Click here to view the full letter.

CLIMATE CHANGE: ESA COSPONSORS CONGRESSIONAL BRIEFING ON CLIMATE ENGINEERING

On Dec. 4, the Ecological Society of America helped organize and cosponsor a congressional briefing entitled “Climate Engineering: Future Guiding Principles and Ethics.” The briefing was also sponsored by the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America and the Soil Science Society of America.

The briefing featured former House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon, who held a hearing on climate engineering – also known as geoengineering – in 2010. Featured speakers also included Paul Bertsch, Deputy Director of Australia’s Land and Water Flagship of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Michael MacCracken, Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs with the Climate Institute.

Speakers outlined how the various impacts of global climate change on ecosystems and elaborated on the various options available to mitigate these impacts through climate engineering as well as the challenge of developing a framework of guiding principles and ethics amid current political circumstances.

POLICY ENGAGEMENT: APPLY FOR 2015 ESA GRADUATE STUDENT POLICY AWARD

ESA invites applications for its 2015 Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA). This award, offered annually to up to three winners, provides graduate students hands-on science policy experience in Washington, DC including interacting with congressional decision-makers, federal agency officials, and others engaged in science and public policy. 

ESA covers travel and lodging expenses associated with this event for GSPA recipients. The two-day event will occur in late April.

The application deadline is Wednesday, January 14. For more information, click this link

CURRENT POLICY

Passed House

H.R. 5771, the Tax Increase Prevention Act – Introduced by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), the bill extends a number of tax cuts and credits that expired in 2013 and 2014, including the research development tax credit. The bill extends these measures only through the end of this year to make 2014 tax filling easier. The White House had threatened to veto a more comprehensive long-term bill, arguing it extended breaks for businesses while failing to include certain extensions that affect low-income and middle-class workers. The bill passed the House by a vote of Dec. 3 by a vote of 378-46. The Senate is expected to clear the bill next week.

H.R. 3979, the Carl Levin and Howard P. ‘Buck’McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 – Sponsored by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI), the bill reauthorizes Department of Defense programs through Fiscal Year 2015. The bill also includes a number of public lands bills that have passed the House Natural Resources Committee and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with strong bipartisan support. The bill passed the House Dec. 4 by a vote of 300-119. There were 194 Republican and 106 Democratic votes for the bill, with 32 Republicans and 87 Democrats voting against.

Click here for additional information on the natural resources provisions. 

Passed Senate

1000, the Chesapeake Bay Accountability and Recovery Act – Introduced by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the bill would require the US Office of Management and Budget to prepare a crosscut budget to improve tracking of costs and performance of Chesapeake Bay restoration activities. The bill passed Dec. 2 by unanimous consent. Companion legislation (H.R. 739) has been introduced in the House by Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA).

Cleared for White House

H.R. 5069, the Federal Duck Stamp Act – Introduced by Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), the bill would increase the price of permits to hunt waterfowl from $15 to $25. The price increase is the first since 1991. The increased revenue would be directed toward the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Migratory Bird Conservation Fund. The bill passed the Senate Dec. 2 by unanimous consent after passing the House in November. The president is expected to sign the measure into law.

 


Sources: US Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, National Journal, Roll Call

November 19, 2014

In This Issue

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: US, CHINA REACH AGREEMENT ON CARBON EMISSION REDUCTIONS

On Nov. 12, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced an agreement that aims to set the US and China on a path to dramatically reducing their carbon emissions.

The United States will cut its emissions 26–28 percent below 2005 emission levels by 2025. China agreed to “peak” its emissions by 2030 and will work to meet that goal earlier. China has also set a target to expand use of non-carbon emitting energy sources to 20 percent of its total energy consumption by 2030. The breakthrough is pivotal as China previously resisted calls to cap its emissions.

The Obama administration declared the reduction goals can be met “under existing law,” without approval from Congress. However, Congress could block funding for the effort using the appropriations process. It appears likely that the Republican-controlled Congress will try. This could pose problems for the president’s subsequent pledge of $3 billion (USD) for the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund to address the ramifications of climate change in developing nations.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who is seeking to the chair the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee next year, released a statement referring to the US-China agreement as a “non-binding charade” that exempts China of any real commitments.

“In the president’s climate change deal, the United States will be required to more steeply reduce our carbon emissions while China won’t have to reduce anything,” stated Inhofe. “It’s hollow and not believable for China to claim it will shift 20 percent of its energy to non-fossil fuels by 2030, and a promise to peak its carbon emissions only allows the world’s largest economy to buy time.”

Click here for additional information on the agreement.

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE CHAIR QUESTIONS ‘TRUTHY’ NSF STUDY

On Nov. 10, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) sent a letter to National Science Foundation (NSF) Director France Cordova requesting information on the agency’s decision to fund research into the spread through social media of ideas and memes, including political commentary and campaign messaging.

The study in question, entitled “Truthy,” is a multi-year research project by the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing. The name is derived from the term “truthiness,” coined by political comedian, Stephen Colbert for information that feels like truth. The authors apply the term to social media messages from bots [programs] that seem to come from real people and sponsored messages that seem to come from grassroots movements.

According to the University of Indiana project website, one of the goals of the study is to “develop machine learning and visual analytics tools that could aid people in recognizing misinformation such as harmful rumors, smear campaigns, astroturfing, and other social media abuse.”

Chairman Smith contends that the project singles out conservative messaging tactics and threatens free speech.

“The committee and taxpayers deserve to know how NSF decided to award a large grant for a project that proposed to develop standards for online political speech and to apply those standards through development of a website that targeted conservative political comments,” states the Smith letter.

In its “Frequently Asked Questions” page, the study maintains that “Truthy may happen to track some political memes as they co-occur with keywords related to themes on which we focus. However, we are a non-partisan research group and there is no attempt to represent or support any political views.”

In response to criticism, the project’s authors penned a blog clarifying that “the Truthy project is not designed and has not been used to create a database of political misinformation to be used by the federal government to monitor the activities of those who oppose its policies.”

“The assumption behind the Truthy effort is that an understanding of the spreading patterns may facilitate the identification of abuse, independent from the nature or political color of the communication,” the authors write.

The day Chairman Smith issued the letter; the Association of American Universities (AAU) released a statement on his committee’s continued inquires into NSF grants:

“If the Committee wishes to override the merit review process or if it wants NSF to stop funding research related to certain issues, its members owe it to the American public to say clearly what they are doing: substituting their judgment for the expertise of scientists on the vital question of what research the United States should support. The long history of success at NSF in making US science the best in the world would be undermined by such a change.”

Click here to view the AAU statement. Click here to view Chairman Smith’s letter. Click here to view the author’s response. Click here to link to the ‘Truthy’ study website.

HOUSE: REPUBLICAN CONFERENCE NAMES NEW COMMITTEE CHAIRS

This week, the House Republican Conference announced its committee chairs for the upcoming 114th Congress, which convenes in January 2015. House Democrats have yet to select their top spots for committee ranking members. Also pending are selections for subcommittee chairs.

Below is a list of new and returning chairs for House committees with jurisdiction over legislation that may be of interest to the ecological community:

Returning

House Appropriations Committee: Rep. Hal Rodgers (R-KY)

House Energy and Commerce Committee: Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI)

House Education and Workforce Committee: Rep. John Kline (R-MN)

House, Science, Space and Technology Committee: Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX)

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee: Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA)

New

House Agriculture Committee: Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX)

House Natural Resources Committee: Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT)

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT)

House Ways and Means Committee: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)

APPROPRIATIONS: SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES URGE LAWMAKERS TO BOOST RESEARCH FUNDING

As lawmakers finalize work on an appropriations agreement to potentially fund the government through the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, scientific societies are requesting adequate federal investment in scientific research and innovation.

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is among 133 research, education, business and health organizations that signed a letter address to all Members of Congress urging passage of a FY 2015 omnibus appropriations bill that increases spending for federal agencies and programs that advance scientific research and higher education. The letter discourages lawmakers from enacting another continuing resolution (CR) that would flat-fund federal agencies at existing spending levels and calls for a commitment that helps close our nation’s “innovation deficit.”

“The fact that other nations are building up their research and innovation capabilities is not a bad thing. The world benefits from stronger research and education in other countries as well as our own,” states the letter. “What should concern us is that those other nations are doing this while the United States is essentially standing still. This poses a serious challenge to our position as the world’s innovation leader, and the economic and national security benefits that flow from it.”

ESA also joined the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) in signing a letter to appropriators supporting $7.4 billion for the National Science Foundation in FY 2015, which was the dollar amount included in the House bill. This would be a three percent increase over FY 2015.

The Senate’s FY 2015 funding bill included $7.255 billion for NSF, a 1.2 percent increase over FY 2014. This amount, while equal to the president’s FY 2015 budget request, is an uncharacteristically low increase for the agency and barely keeps pace with inflation.

“To close the innovation deficit and maintain our position of leadership, we must continue to make strong and sustainable investments in our research enterprise,” the CNSF letter states. “We can start by passing an FY2015 Omnibus Appropriations bill which provides increased funding for NSF.”

Agreement on a final appropriations bill is expected in December, though the administration’s plan to take action on immigration reform in the near future could complicate matters. The existing CR currently funding the government expires Dec. 11.

Click here to view the innovation deficit letter. Click here to view the CNSF letter.

SENATE: RESEARCH COMMUNITY REQUESTS SPENDING BILL FREE OF CLIMATE ‘RIDERS’

On Nov. 10, the Ecological Society of America joined 19 other scientific research organizations and institutions in sending a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) requesting that they pass a final Fiscal Year 2015 omnibus appropriations bill that supports funding for climate research and is free of any legislatively mandated constraints on such research.

Several appropriations bills taken up by the House included “climate research riders,” legislative language in either the base bill or added through the amendment process that would cut or prohibit funding for programs that advance scientific understanding of issues related to global climate change. Among them are severe cuts to the Department of Energy’s Biological and Ecological Research program and prohibitions on spending to implement the US Global Change Research Program or the fifth assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“No matter where in the nation we live or what we do for a living, as a nation we all benefit from climate research,” the letter notes. “Farmers and business owners depend on climate science to make decisions on matters of profit and loss, including what to make, grow and sell, how to manage supply chains, and other resource allocation decisions. State leaders and managers depend on the best available climate science for energy infrastructure planning, transportation infrastructure and maintenance planning, and water resources management.”

Click here to view the full letter.

FWS: GUNNISON SAGE GROUSE GARNERS ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT PROTECTIONS

On Nov. 12, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced it will list the Gunnison sage grouse (Centrocercus minimus) as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

According to FWS, there are only about 4,700 Gunnison sage grouse left, occupying only seven to 12 percent of the species’ historical range in Colorado and Utah. Concurrent with the publication of the final rule, FWS is designating 1.4 million acres in Colorado and southeastern Utah as critical habitat for the species. The listing was first proposed by the service in Jan. 2013, citing habitat loss and fragmentation caused by human development. The decision has no direct bearing on FWS’s still pending decision to list the related greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) as endangered under the ESA, which the agency is evaluating independently.

“While many people hoped that the extraordinary conservation efforts by our partners in Colorado and Utah would resolve all the threats faced by the Gunnison sage-grouse, the best available science indicates that the species still requires the Act’s protection,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe in a press statement.

Many agricultural landowners will not be affected by the bird’s new status. Those who have committed to Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances will be in full compliance with the ESA. Participating landowners took steps to improve sage grouse habitat and survival by, for example, removing invasive cheatgrass and putting ramps into stock tanks to help trapped birds escape drowning. Participants in the US Department of Agriculture’s Sage Grouse Initiative, Working Lands for Wildlife and Conservation Reserve Program will also be in compliance.

Nonetheless, the decision has ignited a political fervor between the administration, environmentalists and Colorado and Utah policymakers in both major political parties. Senators and Members of Congress representing the affected areas claim the listing threatens to undermine the conservation work done at the state and local government level to preserve the species.

“States, local governments, and public land users are working collaboratively to restore the Gunnison sage grouse populations and progress continues to be made,” stated Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT). “Restoration of the species is not something that can fully be measured overnight and it’s premature to supersede state and local actions with an ESA listing.

Congressman Bishop was recently elected by the Republican conference to chair the House Natural Resources Committee next year. The committee has primary jurisdiction over legislation that would reauthorize and reform the Endangered Species Act.

In contrast, environmental groups argue the threatened listing did not go far enough. WildEarth Guardians and several other environmental organizations plan to file suit against FWS in favor of a full “endangered” listing for the species, arguing the birds are at imminent risk of extinction and warrant full protection. The Nov. 12 deadline for FWS to make a decision was mandated by a settlement agreement from a WildEarth Guardians lawsuit over a backlog of species listing decisions.

Click here for additional information.

CURRENT POLICY

Passed House

H.R. 5266, to reauthorize the National Estuary Programs – Introduced by Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), the bill would reauthorize the National Estuary Program through Fiscal Year 2018 to address issues that include seagrass habitat loss, harmful algae blooms, unusual marine mammal mortalities, invasive species and flooding. The bill passed the House Nov. 12 by voice vote.

H.R. 5682, to approve the Keystone pipeline – Introduced by Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), the bill would authorize TransCanada to construct the Keystone XL pipeline across the US-Canada border. The bill passed the House Nov. 14 by a vote of 252-161 with 31 Democrats joining Republicans in supporting the bill.

The Senate began debating the bill this week, it failed to garner the 60 votes necessary to advance in the Senate by a vote of 59-41. While President Obama has criticized efforts to move legislation to fast-track approval of the Keystone pipeline, the White House did not issue a formal veto threat of the bill.

H.R. 1422, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act – Introduced by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), the bills adds new peer-review requirements to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB). It requires SAB to select members that represent a “balanced” view of scientific issues, opening the board up to the prospect of perspectives far outside scientific consensus as well as beliefs not based in science. The bill also requires the advisory board to make publicly available all scientific information used in determining its advisories to EPA.

The bill passed the US House of Representatives on Nov. 18 by a vote of 229-191 with four Democrats joining all but one Republican, Rep. Chris Gibson (NY), in support of the bill. It is not expected to be considered in the Senate before Congress adjourns for the year.

In a Statement of Administration Policy, the White House recommended vetoing the bill, stating it would “negatively affect the appointment of experts and would weaken the scientific independence and integrity of the SAB.

Click here to view the administration’s full statement.

H.R. 4012, the Secret Science Reform Act – Introduced by Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ), the bill would prohibit EPA from finalizing regulations based on science that is not “transparent or reproducible.”

In a Statement of Administration Policy, the White House recommended vetoing the bill, stating “some scientifically-important data is not made broadly available in order to protect the privacy of test subjects or confidential business information, and H.R. 4012 could prevent EPA from taking actions based on protected data.” This bill passed Nov. 19 by a vote of 237-190 with eight Democrats joining all but one Republican (Rep. Chris Gibson (NY)) in support of the measure. It is not expected to be considered in the Senate before Congress adjourns for the year.

Click here to view the administration’s full statement.


Sources: Department of Interior, US Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, the Washington Post

November 5, 2014

In This Issue

SENATE: ELECTIONS, RETIREMENTS SHAKE UP KEY SCIENCE, ENVIRONMENTAL COMMITTEES

On Nov. 4, Republicans decisively gained control of the US Senate for the first time in eight years. The party managed to hold onto all their incumbents while picking up seats in Arkansas (Tom Cotton), Colorado (Cory Gardner), Iowa (Joni Ernst), North Carolina (Thom Tillis), Montana (Steven Daines), West Virginia (Shelley Moore Capito) and South Dakota (Michael Rounds).

Among races too close to call, Republican candidate Dan Sullivan is leading Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in Alaska, while current Democratic Sen. Mark Warner holds a very small edge over Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia. As anticipated, Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu was forced into a run-off in her race against Republican Bill Cassidy when neither candidate obtained a majority of the vote according to state rules. Senate Republicans could hold between 53–55 Senate seats next Congress after the dust finally settles at the conclusion of the Dec. 6 Louisiana run-off.

For the 113th current congress, the Democratic Party holds the chair position on committees. This will change in January when the Republican Party holds the Senate majority in the 114th congress beginning in January. Committee chairs are elected by their party, but, in practice, seniority is rarely bypassed. The current committee chair (majority party) and ranking member (minority party) roles for committees and subcommittees usually exchange roles when there is a new majority party. While a Senator is allowed to serve as chair or ranking member on more than one subcommittee, they generally only serve as chair or ranking member on one full committee. The 2014 election results, as well as retirements, will mean new leadership for a handful of Senate committees with jurisdiction over issues that affect the ecological community.

Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) is the Ranking Member and is in line to become chair under a Republican-controlled Senate. Current Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is expected to serve as the ranking member.

Appropriations

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the senior Republican is expected to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee in the Republican Senate majority. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) would continue as Ranking Member under the new leadership. Mikulski and Shelby also hold the top spots for their parties on the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, which has funding jurisdiction over the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Commerce, Science and Transportation

Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is retiring at the close of the current 113th Congress. Ranking Member John Thune (R-SD) is expected to chair the committee next year. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Cantwell are the next most senior Democrats that could serve as ranking member in January. Sen. Boxer would need to cede her top spot position on the Environment and Public Works Committee and is not expected to do so.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is the ranking member of the Science and Space Subcommittee and may take control of the subcommittee in the Republican Senate. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) currently chairs the subcommittee and could serve as ranking member.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is the senior Republican on the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee. Sen. Begich, who is currently trailing in his reelection race, would serve as the subcommittee ranking member. Sens. Nelson, Cantwell and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) are the next most senior Democrats who might serve as ranking member in the new Senate if Begich loses.

The next Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chair will have to decide on how to move forward with legislation to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act, which outlines funding priorities for NSF and other federal agency science programs and initiatives.

Environment and Public Works

The current senior Ranking Member on the Environment and Public Works Committee is David Vitter (R-LA), but Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), a former chair, is expected to pursue the chair for the 114th Congress. Sen. Inhofe is a vocal skeptic of climate science. The Senate committee has primary jurisdiction over US Environmental Protection Agency rules that would seek to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Sen. Boxer is expected to continue as ranking member.

Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) is the subcommittee ranking member of the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee, who could serve as chair next year. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) is the current chair who could serve as ranking member. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over legislation related to the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and National Wildlife Refugees.

Energy and Natural Resources

Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is expected to lead the committee in a Republican Senate. Current Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Mary Landrieu is set to enter a run-off with David Cassidy. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Al Franken (D-MN) are in line to succeed Landrieu as ranking member if she loses her race in the Dec. 6 run-off election. Wyden, Cantwell, and Stabenow currently are positioned to hold ranking member slots on other committees they would have to give up to take this committee’s ranking member slot.

Current Natural Parks Subcommittee Chairman Mark Udall (D-CO) lost his seat to Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO). Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are next in line to succeed Udall as the subcommittee ranking member. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) is the current subcommittee ranking member that could lead the committee in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

Health Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) will retire at the close of the 113th Congress. Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is expected to lead the committee in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The future chair will decide the role of STEM education programs in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act when it is considered for reauthorization.

HOUSE: ELECTIONS, KEY LEADERSHIP CHANGE COULD AFFECT FY 2015 SPENDING

As expected, the US House of Representatives added to its Republican majority in the wake of the 2014 midterm elections. The overall ideological make-up of the chamber is not expected to change significantly in the 114th Congress. However, the Republican Senate takeover may impact the Fiscal Year 2015 appropriations bills.

When the 113th Congress returns on Nov. 12 for its lame-duck session, it has just under a month to take up either a short-term or long-term Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund government programs for the remainder of FY 2015. Congress passed a short-term CR in September to fund federal agencies through Dec. 11. Fiscal Year 2015 began Oct. 1, 2014 and will end Sept. 30, 2015.

There will also be a change in the House Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee chair that sets funding levels for the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  Current Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) is retiring at the end of 2014. He has been a steadfast proponent of increased funding for science agencies.

If Congress fails to reach a spending deal for the remainder of FY 2015 before his retirement, it will fall to Wolf’s successor to negotiate investments in science for the remainder of FY 2015. Reps. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and John Culberson (R-TX) are viewed as potential candidates to succeed Wolf as the CJS Appropriations Subcommittee chair next year.

FY 2015 funding for agencies that fall under the CJS subcommittee is expected to be included in either a comprehensive omnibus legislation that  funds most or all government agencies— or a “minibus” that could include a few of the less contentious appropriations bills, such as those that fund Veterans’ Affairs and Department of Agriculture programs.

Bipartisan and bicameral consensus has been fairly easy to reach on the CJS, Agriculture and Veterans Affairs appropriations committees. Negotiations that fund the bills for Interior and Environmental Protection Agency programs are more difficult due to partisan differences over spending levels and certain Obama administration priorities.

Click here for a full list of results for House and Senate races.

IPCC: NEW REPORT FINDS CLIMATE CHANGE EFFECTS IRREVERSIBLE

A new synthesis report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that, absent a dramatic international effort on the part of nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the earth is on course to undergo “irreversible” detrimental impacts from global climate change. To avoid the worst effects of global warming, the report says, the world must cut emissions by as much as 70 percent by 2050 and stop emitting altogether by the end of the century.

“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts,” the report stated.

The report noted that some consequences of climate change will continue for centuries, even if all fossil fuel emissions stopped immediately. Consequences outlined include food shortages, refugee crises, flooding of major cities and island nations, mass species extinction and summer temperatures too hot for outside work or recreation.

In typical fashion, the report was embraced on Capitol Hill by Democrats while being criticized by Republicans.

“The world’s top scientists are telling Members of Congress and policy makers around the globe that we cannot just try to adapt to climate change,” said Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in a committee statement. “Instead, we must act now to reduce dangerous carbon pollution or it will it lead to irreversible impacts for human health, food and water supplies, and vital infrastructure.”

In a similar statement, House Science, Space and Technology Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) asserted “the U.N. is once more attempting to provide cover for costly new regulations and energy rationing.” He added “America cannot afford to drive its economy over a cliff with the hopes that the rest of the world will make the same mistake.”

Click here to visit the IPCC web portal.

EDUCATION: OSTP REQUESTS INFORMATION ON CLIMATE LITERACY

On Oct. 22, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced a call for educational institutions, non-profit organizations, scientific societies and the business community to submit information on efforts to advance climate education and literacy at K-12 classrooms, colleges, universities, parks and museums nationwide.

Submissions can be directed to ClimateEd@ostp.gov by Nov. 7, 2014.

Click here for additional information.

USDA: MIDWEST FARMERS WILL RECEIVE $4M TO HELP HONEYBEE POPULATIONS

On Oct. 29, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced $4 million in funding for Midwest farmers to improve the health of honeybees that play an important role in crop production. The funding will be primarily used to provide diverse and safe food resources for honeybees. It will be provided by USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

According to USDA, honeybees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops. The Midwest encompasses 65 percent of the commercially managed honeybees in the United States. The funding is directed to Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

The effort is part of the Obama administration’s larger strategy to protect pollinators. Click here to view the full strategy.

USDA: NEW WEBSITE PROVIDES CLIMATE INFORMATION TO AGRICULTURAL COMMUNITY

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched a new “climate hubs” website. The portal provides information and tools for farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to understand and adapt to the effects of a changing climate. Users will find resources related to drought, fire risks, pests and diseases, climate variability, heat stress and links to USDA resources.

Click here for additional information.

USDA: PARTNERSHIP OFFERS FUNDING FOR GULF COAST RESTORATION

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is partnering with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to provide $40 million in total grant funding for ecosystem restoration in the Gulf Coast region.

USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and NFWF will each provide $20 million for projects in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to conserve wetlands and improve farming practices. The NRCS funding comes from existing programs authorized by the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Public Law 113-79), which reauthorizes farm bill programs through 2018.

Click here for more information on the partnership.

To learn more about NRCS Gulf restoration efforts, visit here.

NSF: NEW ONLINE RESOURCE TRACKS STEM EDUCATION, EMPLOYMENT

On Oct. 28, the National Science Board released an interactive Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education online resource website. The portal includes charts and other information related to national trends related to education and employment in STEM fields.

Click here for additional information.

EDUCATION: ESA SENDS LETTER TO TEXAS BOARD REQUESTING TEXBOOKS ACCURATELY REFLECT CLIMATE SCIENCE

On Oct. 28, the Ecological Society of America sent a letter to the Texas State Board of Education requesting that K-12 student textbooks accurately depict current understanding of scientific research related to climate change and its causes.

“Policy implications of climate change are far-reaching and impact both public and private sector decisions related to agriculture, energy, water, forests, human health, transportation and infrastructure,” the letter states. “Misrepresenting the level of scientific consensus stands to diminish our capacity to understand, mitigate and adapt to the real long-term threats to human society posed by these environmental changes.”

Click here to view the full letter.

NSF: ESA COMMENDS RANKING MEMBER JOHNSON FOR SUPPORTING MERIT REVIEW PROCESS

On Oct. 28, the Ecological Society of America sent a letter to House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), expressing appreciation for her continued opposition to Chair Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) continued politicization of the National Science Foundation (NSF) merit review process for research grants.

“While it is typical for elected officials to set priorities for investments in research, there has been a longstanding tradition of bipartisan discretion given to NSF’s nonpartisan merit-review system to prevent the peer-review process from becoming tainted by political motivations,” the letter states. “Compromising the integrity of the existing merit-review system would hinder the ability of scientists to pursue research that benefits our society.”

Click here to view the full letter.

FEDERAL REGISTER PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITIES

The Environmental Protection Agency and the US Army Corps of Engineers
Proposed Rule: Public Comment period closes Nov. 14

A proposed rule defining the scope of waters protected under the Clean Water Act

http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880-0001

National Agricultural Statistics Service, US Department of Agriculture

Notice and Request for Comments closes Dec. 29

Pollinator Surveys: Intent to seek approval to conduct a new information collection for a period of three years on honeybees

http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=NASS_FRDOC_0001-0125

Fish and Wildlife Service

Proposed Rule: Public Comment period closes Dec. 29

Notice of intent to amend CITES Appendix III: International endangered species protections for four turtle species

http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FWS-HQ-ES-2013-0052-0001


Sources:  Federal Register, National Science Foundation, US Department of Agriculture, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, Roll Call, the Washington Post

October 22, 2014

In This Issue

WHITE HOUSE: NEW CLIMATE STRATEGY PROMOTES NATURAL RESOURCE RESILIENCY

The White House released a new resiliency-focused strategy to protect natural resources from threats posed by climate change.

The “Climate and Natural Resources Priority Agenda” focuses on building climate change resilience through various means including enhancing US carbon sinks such as forests, grasslands, wetlands and coastal areas. The administration announced five executive actions and 16 public-private partnerships to complement this agenda. The overall strategy is the latest effort in the administration’s Climate Action Plan.

Click here for additional information.

DEFENSE: PENTAGON REPORT NAMES CLIMATE CHANGE AS A THREAT MULTIPLIER

On Oct. 13, the Department of Defense released a 20-page report outlining the federal agency’s efforts to address climate change. The report specifies how the military will prepare for the consequences of climate change and its impacts on national security.

“Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe, “ the report notes. “In our defense strategy, we refer to climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’ because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today – from infectious disease to terrorism.”

The report outlines potential effects of climate change on military operations, efforts to integrate climate considerations into these operations and collaboration on climate adaptation strategies and research.

Click here to view the full report.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: SENATORS REQUEST WITHDRAWAL OF CRITICAL HABITAT RULES

Four Republican Senators penned a letter to the Obama administration requesting the withdrawal of proposed rules intended to clarify the process of designating critical habitat for endangered and threatened species.

The Senators are concerned that the new proposals will allow federal agencies to designate critical habitat for areas not currently used by endangered species. Proponents for endangered species agree that critical habitat is the key to survival. Critical habitat provides protections for listed species by prohibiting federal agencies from permitting, funding, or carrying out actions that “adversely modify” designated areas without first consulting the federal entity that designates and monitors the habitat.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA) and Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee Ranking Member John Thune (R-SD) spearheaded the letter. Water and Wildlife Subcommittee Ranking Member John Boozman (R-AR) and Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Ranking Member Marco Rubio (R-FL) also signed the letter.

The Senate committees have jurisdiction over the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marines Fisheries Service (NMFS), which both make critical habitat decisions related to enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. The Senators assert the proposed rules would prioritize environmental concerns over the needs of private landowners.

“As Ranking Members of the Senate committees and subcommittees with jurisdiction over the ESA, we are concerned that the proposals provide the FWS and the NMFS with an unprecedented ability to designate vast swaths of land and bodies of water as critical habitat with limited justification and without stakeholder input,” the letter states.

Click here to view the full letter.

FWS: ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS FILE LAWSUIT TO PROTECT WOLVERINE

A coalition of eight environmental groups is suing the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to designate the North American wolverine (Gulo gulo luscus) as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

FWS proposed “listing” the wolverine in Feb. 2013 after federal biologists speculated that the animal’s snowpack habitat used for denning females was suffering from warming temperatures. In August, however, FWS Director Dan Ashe announced that whether climate change was affecting wolverine populations was “ambiguous” and formally withdrew the listing proposal.

Led by Earthjustice, the advocacy organizations contend that FWS did not rely on “the best available science” and did not fully analyze threats to the wolverine throughout a significant portion of its range. The groups contend that the agency is ignoring the findings of its scientists on how climate change has affected the species.

“Biologists estimate that, in total, the lower-48 wolverine population consists of no more than 300 individuals,” states the lawsuit. The best available scientific information shows that the snowy habitat required by wolverines is predicted to shrink dramatically as climate change progresses, with significant detrimental impacts on the wolverine species.”

Additional groups suing include the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Friends of the Clearwater, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Idaho Conservation League, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, and Rocky Mountain Wild.

Click here to view the Earthjustice complaint. Click here to view the Aug. 2014 FWS notice.

EPA: REPORT FINDS CHEMICAL LINKED TO BEE DEATHS DOES NOT BENEFIT SOYBEAN PRODUCTION

A recent report from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded there is little benefit to using neonicotinoid pesticides in soybean production. Scientists have linked the insect pesticide to colony-collapse disorder in honeybees.

“We have made the review of neonicotinoid pesticides a high priority,” Jim Jones, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said in a press statement. “In our analysis of the economic benefits of this use we concluded that, on a national scale, US soybean farmers see little or no benefit from neonicotinoid seed treatments.”

The EPA’s Biological and Economic Analysis Division conducted the peer-reviewed study.

A notice will be published in the Federal Register allowing the public to comment on the analysis.

Click here for additional information and updates.

EPA: NEW REPORT MEASURES CLIMATE INDICATORS

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released the third edition of a report, “Climate Change Indicators in the United States.”

The report pulls together research data measurements of ocean heat, ocean acidity, sea level, length of growing season and other indicators that demonstrate that climate change is already affecting the environment and human society. The report focuses on long-term trends for environmental measurements and was peer-reviewed by independent experts.

Click here for additional information and to download the full report.

UNITED NATIONS: REPORT FINDS OCEAN ACIDIFICATION IMPACTING MARINE ECOSYTEMS

This month, a United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity team of 30 international experts led by UK scientists issued “An Updated Synthesis of the Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Marine Biodiversity.” The report finds that ocean acidification has increased by around 26 per cent since pre-industrial times, and will continue to increase in the next 50 to 100 years, drastically affecting marine organisms and ecosystems as well as the $1 trillion annually in goods and services they provide.

“While $1 trillion may sound like a huge figure, but we need to consider the benefits derived from marine biodiversity to many major industries,” Mr. Arico said in an interview. “Ocean acidification will greatly affect food security in the coming years, as well as tourism and other industries such as the pharmaceutical industry which relies on many marine organisms.”

Click here to access the report.

GAO: REPORT FINDS GOVERNMENT LACKING IN EFFORTS TO ADDRESS OCEAN ACIDIFICATION

A report from the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticizes the federal government for not fully implementing a recent federal law to curb ocean acidification.

“The National Science and Technology Council’s Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology, in the Executive Office of the President, and several federal agencies have taken steps to implement the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act of 2009 (FOARAM) but have yet to complete some of the act’s requirements,” the report found.

The FOARAM law requires an interagency task force to assess the impacts of ocean acidification and identify mitigation and adaptation strategies that federal agencies can implement. The lead agencies comprising the task force are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Findings site a lack of coordination between task force agencies. It also faulted the task force for not laying out a budget estimates for its research and monitoring plan that would help federal agencies and lawmakers understand what specific amount of funding is necessary to address the issue.

The report called upon the White House to be more specific in laying out each agency’s responsibilities. GAO also suggested that establishing an independent ocean acidification program office might improve coordination between agencies. However, the interagency group has not reached a consensus on how to fund such an office.

Click here to view the GAO report.

DISEASE: NSF ACCEPTING RESEARCH PROPOSALS TO ADVANCE UNDERSTANDING OF EBOLA

In light of the Ebola virus’s emergence in the United States, the National Science Foundation is seeking applicants for Rapid Response Research grant proposals to conduct non-medical, non-clinical research that advances understanding of spread of Ebola.

Click here for additional information.

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITIES

Establishing transit through walrus protection areas in Alaska (closes Nov. 3)

http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2014-0066-0005

Critical habitat designation for Western population of yellow-billed cuckoo (closes Nov. 14)

http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FWS-R8-ES-2013-0011-0001

National big data research and development initiative; Correction (closes Nov. 14)

http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=NSF_FRDOC_0001-1398

Petition to down list the Arroyo Toad under the Endangered Species Act (closes Nov. 17)

http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FWS-R8-ES-2014-0007-0012

Removal of the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel from Endangered Species Act (closes Nov. 24)

http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FWS-R5-ES-2014-0021-0002


Sources: Department of Interior, US Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, the Washington Post

October 4, 2014

In This Issue

WHITE HOUSE: OBAMA DESIGNATES WORLD’S LARGEST MARINE RESERVE

On Sept. 25, President Obama signed a proclamation designating the largest marine reserve in the world off-limits to commercial resource extraction including fishing.

The proclamation expands the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to an area 490,000 square miles, six times its current size and fully protects its deep coral reefs, seamounts, and marine ecosystems which are vulnerable to climate change impacts. The move is in line with the administration’s broader National Ocean Policy and its Climate Action Plan.

The area was originally designated a monument by President George W. Bush in early 2009 and will continue to be managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Click here for additional information.

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE CONTINUES EFFORTS TO REVIEW NSF GRANTS

House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) continues to single out National Science Foundation (NSF) peer-reviewed research projects viewed as frivolous or wasteful.

Through press releases and direct meetings with NSF officials, the chairman has sought to bring attention to dozens of grants he views as a misuse of taxpayer money. Chairman Smith has also used the legislative process to advance the issue. His bill, H.R. 4186, the Frontiers in Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act, includes language requiring the agency to specify how grants funded by the agency serve national economic and security interests.

The effort has stirred partisan tensions among members of the traditionally bipartisan committee.  On Sept. 30, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), issued a letter outlining the unprecedented nature of Chairman Smith’s efforts. The letter is only the most recent instance of written correspondence between the two senior members of the committee over NSF’s merit review process.

“Of the more than two decades of committee leadership that I have worked with – Chairmen Brown, Walker, Sensenbrenner, Boehlert, Gordon and Hall – I have never seen a chairman decide to go after specific peer-reviewed grants simply because the chairman simply does not believe them to be of high value,” stated the Johnson letter.

To date, the chairman’s legislative efforts to change NSF’s peer-review process have not reached the House floor for a vote, due in part to continued opposition from the research and education communities. It is unknown whether the House has the necessary votes to take up the bill during the lame-duck session when Congress reconvenes Nov. 11.

Though the bill is unlikely to be taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate before the end of the year, its prospects in 2015 will largely depend on the make-up of Congress following the Nov. 2014 midterm elections as well as continued engagement by the scientific community at large.

Click here to read the Ranking Member Johnson letter.

EPA: COMMENT PERIOD EXTENDED FOR CLEAN WATER RULE

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is extending its public comment period until Nov. 14 for its proposed rule clarifying federal jurisdiction of US waterways. This is the second time EPA has extended the rule’s comment period.

Recent US Supreme Court decisions, including Rapanos v. United States, have called into question the term “navigable waterway” as defined under the Clean Water Act. The proposed EPA rule would clarify that narrower water bodies such as streams, wetlands and smaller rivers, are under the law’s jurisdiction.

The comment period extension caters to the request of a number of stakeholders, including industry groups that believe the proposed rule would be expensive and burdensome. Last month, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would prohibit EPA from implementing the rule. The legislation could advance in the Senate next year if Republicans win control of the chamber.

Click this link for additional information on the proposed Clean Water rule.

HOUSE: CAFETERIAS INSTITUTE BAN ON POLYSTYRENE FOOD CONTAINERS

The House cafeteria elected to stop serving food in polystyrene food containers following a letter from House Democrats urging a ban on the containers. The National Research Council affirmed the listing of styrene, the monomer used to create polystyrene packaging, as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

Polystyrene was banned during the four-year period Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) served as Speaker of the House. Its use was reinstituted when republicans gained the House majority after the Nov. 2010-midterm elections.

The Longworth building cafeteria is now using paper packaging and the remaining House cafeterias are expected to follow suit. Earlier this year, the District of Columbia government enacted a law phasing out use of polystyrene products although Congress is not subject to this law.

Click here to view the House Democrats’ letter.

FWS: COMMENT PERIOD OPENS FOR PROPOSED BLACK PINESNAKE, FISHER LISTING

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing listing the black pinesnake (Pituophis melanoleucus lodingi) and the fisher (Pekania pennanti) as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

The black pinesnake found in Mississippi and Alabama suffers from population loss caused by habitat degradation, fire suppression activities, road kills and intentional killing by humans. The West Coast population of the fisher, commonly known as a type of weasel, is threatened from habitat loss, rodent-killing pesticides and wildfires.

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned listing both species.

Comments for the pinesnake listing are due by Dec. 8, 2014. Comments of the fisher listing are due by Jan. 5, 2015.

Click here to view the Federal Register notice for the black pinesnake.

Click here to view the Federal Register notice for the West Coast fisher population.


Sources: Department of Interior, US Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, the Washington Post

 

September 24, 2014

In This Issue

APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS PASSES MEASURE TO FUND GOVERNMENT THROUGH DECEMBER

On Sept. 17, the US House passed H.J.Res. 124, a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the federal government through Dec. 11. In general, the resolution includes an across-the-board cut of 0.0554 percent in order to bring spending within the $1.012 trillion FY 2014 discretionary level agreed to in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (P.L. 113-67). Voting on the CR was delayed a week after the president requested the legislation include assistance to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also referred to as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The resolution includes emergency funding to address Ebola; legislative language to prevent data gaps in weather forecasting from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellites; and extends previously enacted provisions of past appropriations bills such as the language prohibiting funding to phase-out the use of incandescent light bulbs.

The final CR passed the House with a strongly bipartisan vote of 319–108. One-hundred forty-three Democrats joined 176 Republicans in support of the measure. The Senate subsequently passed the measure by a 78–22 vote followed by President Obama signing the measure on Sept. 19.

Both chambers adjourned ahead of schedule after passing the CR in order for Members and Senators to get back on the campaign trail ahead of the Nov. midterm elections. Congress is scheduled to reconvene Nov. 12.

To view the White House Statement of Administration Policy supporting the CR, click this link:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/legislative/sap/113/saphjr124h_20140917.pdf

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: OBAMA CALLS FOR GLOBAL ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE AT U.N. SUMMIT

On Sept. 23, President Obama spoke before the United Nations Climate Summit to an audience of over 120 world leaders. He outlined his administration’s Climate Action Plan and called on “all major economies” around the world to join him in reducing carbon emissions and investing in renewable energy.

“The emerging economies that have experienced some of the most dynamic growth in recent years have also emitted rising levels of carbon pollution,” stated President Obama. “It is those emerging economies that are likely to produce more and more carbon emissions in the years to come.  So nobody can stand on the sidelines on [these] issues.  We have to set aside the old divides.  We have to raise our collective ambition, each of us doing what we can to confront this global challenge.”

The president also signed an executive order that day, directing all federal agencies to factor climate resilience into the design of international development programs and investments.

Click here to listen to the president’s speech.

Click here for the text of the president’s remarks.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: 26 SENATORS EXPRESS SUPPORT FOR CLIMATE MARCH

Senate Climate Action Task Force Co-chairs Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) spearheaded a letter of support to the People’s Climate March participants. Held on Sunday, Sept. 21, the march was an effort to rouse global action on climate change preceding the United Nations Climate Summit in New York this week.

“The call for action from concerned citizens like you is one of the reasons why the Senate Climate Action Task Force was formed,” the letter states. “It’s a way for us to use our bully pulpit to ‘Wake up Congress’ about the serious threat posed by climate change and to push leaders across the globe to do more to address this problem.”

Click here to view the full letter.

SENATE: CHAIRMAN ROCKEFELLER CALLS FOR ACTION ON AMERICA COMPETES

In an op-ed for The Huffington Post, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) outlined seven reasons why Congress should advance the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act. The legislation would authorize stable and sustained increases in federal research and development for the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“Throughout my career in public service — first as president of West Virginia Wesleyan College, then as governor of West Virginia, and now in the US Senate as Chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation — I have supported investments in science and technology, and in educating our young people in these areas,” writes Rockefeller. “There is no better way to maintain our global leadership and economic vitality.”

Rockefeller highlights the role research and development investment plays in improving economic opportunity, job growth and overall quality of life. He also noted the important role of federal research investment to ensure the US remains globally competitive.

The chance of a comprehensive America COMPETES Reauthorization Act reaching the president’s desk before the end of the year is unlikely due to the chasm of policy differences between the leadership of the House and Senate authorizing committees.

Chairman Rockefeller will be retiring from the Senate at the end of this year. Click here to view the full op-ed piece.

EPA: COMMENT PERIOD EXTENDED FOR POWER PLANT RULE

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is extending the public commentary period on the agency’s Clean Power Plant Proposed Rule by an additional 45 days.

The new deadline gives the public until Dec. 1 to comment on the rule and will not delay the June 2015 deadline for finalizing the rule. The rule is part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and would decrease carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent from 2005 levels.

EPA had originally set a 120-day comment period, which is twice the normal time given for federal regulations.  To date 750,000 public comments have been submitted.

Fifty-thee Senators (including 10 Democrats) sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on Sept. 11 requesting a 60-day extension for the public comment. State regulators and industry had also called for an extension of the public comment period.

For additional information on how to comment on the proposal, click this link. View the Senate letter by clicking this link.

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS WHITE HOUSE CLIMATE ACTION PLAN

On Sept. 17, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee convened for a hearing entitled “The Administration’s Climate Plan: Failure by Design.”

Committee Republicans asserted that the administration’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would have considerable economic costs in the form of job loss and increased energy prices. Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) argued that the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Clean Power Plant Proposed Rule to reduce carbon pollution would have minimal impact on climate change.

“Extending well beyond the power plants themselves, this rule will increase the cost of electricity and the cost of doing business. It will make it harder for the American people to make ends meet,” stated Chairman Smith. “In fact, EPA’s own data show us that its power plant regulation would eliminate less than one percent of global carbon emissions.”

“We in Congress have to acknowledge that we are not the experts and that allowing partisan politics to distort the scientific understanding of climate change is cynical and short-sighted,” countered Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) in her opening statement.  “We may not agree on where the uncertainties within climate science lie, but we should all be able to understand that vast and avoidable uncertainties will remain if we stop the progress of climate research.”

White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren and EPA Office of Air and Radiation Acting Administrator Janet McCabe testified on behalf of the Obama administration. In her testimony, McCabe outlined the “unprecedented” level of dialog and input the agency has received from stakeholders, which included “eleven public listening sessions” around the country and “hundreds-of-thousands of comments” through the extended public comment period. McCabe noted the agency is actively reaching out to utilities and state officials for input on the rule.

In response to questions about whether the EPA power plant rule will have a significant impact on global temperatures, Holdren asserted that if the United States does not take action on climate change, it is unlikely that other major emitters such as China, India, Japan, and Russia will do so. He also noted that the effects of climate change will have detrimental economic impacts related to costs associated with increased flooding, droughts, more extreme heat waves, wildfires, pest outbreaks, and pathogen spread. Other impacts affecting multiple sectors of the US economy including energy, forestry, agriculture and fisheries were highlighted. Holdren added that from a global innovation standpoint, the US is better off in leading the development of renewable energy technologies as opposed to allowing other countries concerned with climate change to take the lead.

View the full hearing here.

HOUSE: 59 DEMOCRATS CALL FOR POLYSTYRENE BAN IN HOUSE CAFETERIA

On Sept. 11, House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) were joined by 57 House Democrats in a letter to House Republican leaders requesting a polystyrene foam products ban in the House cafeterias.

The letter references a July 28 National Academy of Sciences report that supported listing of styrene as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

Polystyrene was banned for use in the House cafeterias during the four-year tenure of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). However, Republicans overturned the ban when they gained control of the House in 2011, stating that alternative packaging is costly and resource-intensive to produce. Legislative attempts by House Democrats to prohibit House spending on polystyrene containers have failed largely along partisan lines.

View the full letter.

FOREST SERVICE: COMMENT PERIOD EXTENDED FOR GROUNDWATER DIRECTIVE

The US Forest Service has extended the public comment period an additional 30 days for a proposed directive to codify best management practices for groundwater monitoring and protection of 193 million acres of National Forest System land. The deadline is now Oct. 3.

Environmental groups have praised the Service’s effort to better understand how groundwater impacts ecosystems and its connections to surface water. However, the agriculture industry and western state governors are concerned the federal effort is an unnecessary infringement on the authority of states to manage their water resources.

There is also a degree of bipartisan skepticism towards the effort among Members of Congress with Republicans sharing the sentiments of the agricultural industry and state officials. Democrats are concerned that the Forest Service may not have the resources for the effort, given that it is cash-strapped due to its expenditures to combat wildfires. The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry held a hearing on the proposal Sept. 10.

“I am gravely concerned that this directive would create more problems than it proclaims to solve, and will further undermine the ability of the Forest Service to carry out its management responsibilities,” stated Conservation, Energy and Forestry Chairman Glenn Thompson (R-PA).

To comment on the proposed directive, click here.

Click here to view the congressional hearing.

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 5559, the Bridge to a Clean Energy Future Act – Introduced by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Dave Loebsack (D-CA), the bill would extend over a dozen clean energy tax credits related to biodiesel and biofuels, electric vehicles, energy efficient buildings, solar and other alternative energy sources. The bill has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Passed House

H.R. 2, the American Energy Solutions for Lower Costs and More American Jobs Act – Introduced by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE), the comprehensive legislation is an amalgam of 13 bills passed by the US House of Representatives earlier this year. It bypasses existing administration regulations, including National Environmental Policy Act reviews, to boost energy production. The bill passed the House Sept. 18 by a vote of 226–191 with nine Democrats joining all but seven Republicans in supporting the bill.

Among the more contentious provisions, the bill includes language to restrict the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to enforce the Clean Power Plant Proposed Rule to reduce carbon pollution. It would also make a presidential permit unnecessary in approving the Keystone XL pipeline. The bill also prevents EPA from enforcing regulations that cost over $1 billion if the US Department of Energy determines such regulations would have a detrimental effect on the US economy.

The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy declaring that the president would veto the bill.

H.R. 4, the Jobs for America Act – Introduced by Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), the bill streamlines federal regulations specific to land management and natural resources conservation and restricts the issuance of new federal regulations. The legislation includes language requiring Congress to approve any federal regulation that costs over $50 million before implementation. The bill also permanently extends certain tax policies related to small businesses. The bill passed the House Sept. 18 by a vote of 253–163 with 32 Democrats joining all but one Republican in support of the measure.

The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy declaring that the president would veto the bill.

Introduced in Senate

S. 2798, the Great Lakes and Algal Bloom Protection Act – Introduced Sept. 11 by Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), the bill would require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to create a research and information electronic database for Great Lakes algal blooms. The bill has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

S. 2823, the North American Energy Infrastructure Act – Introduced Sept. 16 by Sens. John Hoeven (R-ND), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the bill would set a time limit for the federal consideration of cross-border oil or natural gas pipelines and electrical transmission facilities. The bill sets a 120-day maximum for the US State Department or US Department of Energy to consider cross-border permits after completion of the environmental review. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

a bill to establish the Southern Prairie Potholes National Wildlife Refuge – Introduced Sept. 17 by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), the bill would establish a new national wildlife refuge of up to 23,500 acres in the US within the international Prairie Pothole Region that includes wetlands ranging from north-central Iowa into Minnesota, the Dakotas and Montana. The region extends through Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta Canada. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

S. 2861, to authorize the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), Florida – Introduced Sept. 18 by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the bill would allow the implementation of CEPP immediately after the US Army Corps of Engineers approves the project. CEPP is designed to restore, protect and preserve the water resources of central and southern Florida, including the Everglades. It covers 16 counties over an 18,000-square-mile area. Enactment of the bill would skirt the need for Congress to include the project in a future Water Resources Development Act. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is an original cosponsor of the bill. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL) has introduced companion legislation in the House (H.R. 5631). Murphy’s bill has 10 bipartisan cosponsors and has been referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.


Sources:

Sources: US Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, the White House, House Space, Science and Technology Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, Huffington Post

 

September 10, 2014

In This Issue

APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS WILL TAKE UP RESOLUTION FUNDING GOVERNMENT THROUGH DECEMBER

As Congress reconvened Sept. 8, House and Senate appropriators were pressed for time to craft and approve a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government after Sept. 30, 2014 in order to prevent another federal government shutdown.

The CR being considered this week will fund the government through December 11, 2014. The House is expected to take up the CR on Sept. 11. In stark contrast to last year, there seems to be little appetite professed by House and Senate leaders or influential tea party members to shutdown the government in light of the coming November Congressional midterm elections. While the US House of Representatives is expected to maintain Republican control, the US Senate election results and party control is uncertain. In addition to taking up the CR, each chamber will hold votes on issues that appeal to their respective voter base.

The House plans to take up legislation to permanently ban an internet access tax, energy legislation to support construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and a slate of deregulatory bills targeting federal agencies charged with environmental protection efforts.

Meanwhile, the Senate is considering a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission along with other US Supreme Court campaign finance decisions and may also vote to raise the minimum wage.

The House is scheduled to work for two weeks through Sept. 19 and then will break to observe Rosh Hashanah. They may return for one week Sept. 29 if a CR is not enacted. The Senate is scheduled to work through Sept. 23. After the Nov. 2014 elections, the two chambers will reconvene for a lame duck session.

GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS: ESA REITERATES OPPOSITION TO TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS BILL

The week before Congress returned from the August district work period, the Ecological Society of America sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expressing concern with S. 1347, the Conference Accountability Act. The bill would place additional restrictions on federal employee and contractor travel. Due to a number of factors, it is unlikely that the bill will be considered this year.

View the full letter here.

HOUSE: COMMITTEE REVIEWS PROPOSED PROTECTION FOR NORTHERN LONG-EARED BAT

On Sept. 8, the House Natural Resources Committee convened for a field hearing to consider a proposal to list the northern long-eared bat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the potential impacts the listing would have on the Pennsylvania economy.

The committee members were skeptical on whether the ESA is an appropriate tool for addressing the bat species’ decline. Several members argued that bat conservation efforts should focus on addressing White Nose Syndrome, which is attributed for its decline in recent years.

“The likely primary cause for any documented decline of the bats is not caused by any human-related activity, but rather from a disease transmitted mostly from bats to other bats called ‘White Nose Syndrome.’ It seems to me that efforts should focus on that issue, rather than creating a federal endangered species solution in search of a problem,” said Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA).

“No one can deny the challenge facing the northern long-eared bat due to White Nose Syndrome and there is consensus that we must learn more about the disease and improve partnerships at all levels to slow its spread. However, it is imperative that we get the science right and strategically address the root cause of the apparent population losses, rather than restrict large areas of the economy and activities that have no bearing on slowing or reversing the disease.”

However, Mollie Matteson, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, testified that the species’ decline is attributable to numerous factors, which White Nose Syndrome has only exacerbated.

“Scientists have evidence that the northern long-eared bat was in decline prior to the onset of White Nose Syndrome, possibly due to factors such as habitat destruction and fragmentation, environmental toxins, and climate change,” stated Matteson. “Now, White Nose Syndrome may be interacting with these other dangers to cause a downward spiral that may soon become irreversible.”

In her written testimony, Matteson also highlighted the important economic role bats play in curbing the proliferation of agricultural and forest pest insects, noting they provide “billions of dollars in crop protection services across the United States.”

“The insect-eating northern long-eared bat provides a valuable population check on moths and beetles that may attack timber and crops,” she said. “Without this bat, the challenges farmers and the timber industry face will grow, not lessen.”

For additional information on the hearing, click here.

NOAA: NEW CORALS GARNER ENDANGERED SPECIES PROTECTIONS

On Sept. 3, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) listed twenty additional coral species as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act—fifteen of the newly listed species occur in the Indo-Pacific and five in the Caribbean.

For more information, click here.

EPA: NEW GREAT LAKES INITIATIVE FUNDING DIRECTED TOWARDS ALGAL BLOOMS

On Sept. 3, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) will provide nearly $12 million to federal and state land agencies to address threats to public health and water resources posed by harmful algal blooms (HABs) in western Lake Erie.

The funding will expand water treatment monitoring and forecasting in the region. It will also include incentives for area farmers to reduce their phosphorus runoff and improve measurement of phosphorus loads in Lake Erie tributaries.

The Great Lakes Restoration Task Force, which oversees the GLRI, is chaired by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

For additional information on the GLRI, click here.

FWS: FUNDING OF $35 MILLION FOR STATE ENDANGERED SPECIES CONSERVATION EFFORTS

On Sept. 9, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe announced nearly $35 million in grants to 20 states to enable collaborative efforts to conserve many of America’s imperiled species, ranging from the red cockaded woodpecker in the Southeast to a variety of bat species in the Midwest to a colorful flower in the Rocky Mountains.

“Partnerships are critical to ensuring future generations will be able to see threatened and endangered species in the wild rather than simply in a history book,” Jewell said. “These grants will enable states to work in voluntary partnership with private landowners and a wide variety of other stakeholders to preserve vital habitat and move these species down the road to recovery.”

The competitive grants allow states to work with private landowners, conservation groups and other government agencies to initiate conservation planning efforts and acquire and protect habitat that benefits threatened and endangered fish, wildlife and plants. The grant funding is provided through programs established to help advance creative partnerships for the recovery of imperiled species. This year, the fund will allocate approximately $7.4 million in grants through the Habitat Conservation Planning Assistance Grants Program; nearly $18 million through the Habitat Conservation Plan Land Acquisition Grants Program, and $9.5 million through the Recovery Land Acquisition Grants Program.

For more information, follow this link.

FWS: PARTNERSHIPS TO CONNECT CITY COMMUNITIES TO NATURE

On Aug. 28, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced new Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships that will help six city communities encourage participation in outdoor recreation and conservation efforts.

The six national wildlife refuges participating in the Urban Refuge Partnerships include Hopper Mountain Refuge in Ventura, CA; Bayou Sauvage Refuge in New Orleans, LA; Rocky Mountain Arsenal Refuge in Denver, CO; John Heinz Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphia, PA; Wallkill River Refuge in Sussex, NJ; and Santa Ana Refuge in Alamo, TX.

Funding is provided through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration. Over $1.7 million is expected to be generated towards the effort from collaborations between FWS, local communities, corporations and non-profits.

For additional information on the six individual National Urban Refuge Partnerships, click this link.

FWS: WOLVERINE DOES NOT WARRANT ENDANGERED SPECIES PROTECTION

In August, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced it withdrew its proposal to list the wolverine (Gulo gulo) as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. The Service initially proposed to list the wolverine based on climate change model forecasts showing overall loss of spring snow across the species’ range. However, upon conducting a more thorough review and gathering additional information, the Service found that climate change models are unable to reliably predict snowfall amounts and snow-cover persistence in wolverine denning locations.

“Climate change is a reality, the consequences of which the Service deals with on a daily basis. While impacts to many species are clear and measurable, for others the consequences of a warming planet are less certain. This is particularly true in the Mountain West, where differences in elevation and topography make fine-scale prediction of climate impacts ambiguous,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe in a press statement. “In this case, based on all the information available, we simply do not know enough about the ecology of the wolverine and when or how it will be affected by a changing climate to conclude at this time that it is likely to be in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future.”

Director Ashe stated the decision could be revisited if the agency is presented with new evidence linking climate change to the decline of wolverine populations.

The decision not to list the species has met with critique from environmental organizations who contend the agency is not following the recommendations of a majority of its scientists. FWS scientists had originally proposed listing the species in Feb. 2013.  In July, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) authored a letter expressing concern with the manner in which the agency has weighed scientific evidence in determining whether the wolverine qualifies for endangered species protection.

“The regional director’s decision to overturn a scientifically well-vetted and well-supported listing determination sets a bad precedent by allowing an administrator to overrule the expert judgment of the Service’s scientists as well as independent peer reviewers,” the letter states.

View the CBD letter here. View the full Federal Register notice.

CLIMATE CHANGE: AUDUBON REPORT HIGHLIGHTS BIRD VULNERABILITY

The Audubon Birds and Climate Report is a comprehensive, first-of-its kind study that predicts how climate change could affect the ranges of 588 North American birds. The study models indicate that 314 species will lose more than 50 percent of their current climatic range by 2080.

Audubon scientists used three decades of citizen-scientist observations from the Audubon Christmas Bird Count and the North American Breeding Bird Survey to define the “climatic suitability” for each bird species—the range of temperatures, precipitation, and seasonal changes each species needs to survive.

For more information, follow this link.

NSF: NEW ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES

James L. Olds has been selected by the National Science Foundation(NSF) to serve as the new assistant director for the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) beginning in October 2014.

Olds is a George Mason University professor and director and chief academic unit officer at the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study. He is also the Shelley Krasnow University Professor of Molecular Neuroscience. The international Decade of the Mind project was begun under his leadership at Krasnow, which helped shape President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative.

“Dr. Olds has a strong record of academic leadership with an institution that has grown its global presence during his tenure,” said NSF Director France A. Córdova. “In addition to his leadership, his commitment to interdisciplinary research at Krasnow and his experience with developing scientific policy will be of great benefit to NSF and to the research community we serve.”

For more information click here.

CURRENT POLICY

Considered by House Committee

On Sept. 9, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the following bills:

H.R. 1314, to amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to establish a procedure for approval of certain settlements – Introduced by Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), the bill would require states and counties to approve any Endangered Species Act settlements that affect them.

H.R. 1927, the More Water and Security for Californians Act –Introduced by Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA), the bill would temporarily exempt the Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project from some Endangered Species Act requirements to provide more water to farms.

H.R. 4256, the Endangered Species Improvement Act of 2014 – Introduced by Chris Stewart (R-UT), the bill would require the federal government to count animals on private and tribal lands, in addition to federal, when determining whether a species warrants federal protection.

H.R. 4284, the ESA Improvement Act of 2014 – Introduced by Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), the bill would prohibit the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) from listing a species for federal protection before coordinating a State Protective Action plan for states affected by the listing.

H.R. 4319, the Common Sense In Species Protection Act – Introduced by Rick Crawford (R-AR), the bill would require FWS to publish and make available for public comment a more comprehensive economic analysis when determining critical habitat.

H.R. 4866, the Lesser Prairie Chicken Voluntary Recovery Act – Introduced by Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), the bill would reverse the threatened listing for the lesser prairie chicken and put a five year moratorium on any future listing of the species.

Passed House

H.R. 2495, the American Super Computing Leadership Act of 2014 – Introduced by Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL), the bill would direct the Secretary of Energy to develop a plan to advance exascale high-performance computing technology in the US. The bill passed the House Sept. 8 by voice vote.

H.R. 5309, the Tsunami Warning, Education and Research Act – Introduced by Rep. Susan Bonamici (D-OR), the bill would reauthorize and strengthen tsunami detection, forecasting, warning and research programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The bill passed the House Sept. 8 by voice vote.

H.R. 5078, the Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act of 2014 – Introduced by Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL), the bill would prevent the US Environmental Protection Agency from implementing a proposed rule to clarify its jurisdiction over navigable waterways of the United States. The bill passed Sept. 9 by a vote of 262-152 with 35 Democrats joining all but one Republican (Rep. Chris Smith (NJ)) in supporting the bill.

The White House released a Statement of Administration policy declaring the president would veto the bill. View the statement by clicking here.


Sources: Audubon Society, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, US Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, the Washington Post

 

August 7, 2014

In This Issue

GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS: SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES OPPOSE TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS BILL

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is among 70 research organizations that signed a letter expressing concern with legislation moving in the Senate that would impose restrictions on the ability of government scientists and engineers to participate in scientific conferences.

On July 30th, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee approved S. 1347, the Conference Accountability Act, introduced by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). The approved legislation includes language proposed by the bill’s sponsor that would add additional limits to existing travel policy regulations imposed on government employees in the wake of the General Services Administration scandal. It passed the committee by voice vote.

The bill includes language prohibiting a federal agency from expending funds on “not more than one conference that is sponsored or organized by a particular organization during any fiscal year, unless the agency is the primary sponsor and organizer of the conference.” The bill also places a 50 person limit on the number of individuals per agency who can attend conferences outside the US.

“Scientific and technical conferences help maintain a ‘talented and interconnected workforce’ — one of the three critical pillars of a vibrant, economically productive scientific enterprise identified in the National Research Council’s Furthering America’s Research Enterprise report,” the letter notes. “These conferences promote collaborations between federal scientists and those in private industry and academia, provide for rapid dissemination of federally funded research results, and provide high-quality professional development for the next generation of scientists and engineers.”

The Conference Accountability Act could be voted on by the full Senate as early as September, following the month-long August district-work period that began at the end of last week.

In addition to this letter, ESA also submitted a letter on the importance of scientific conferences to the committee earlier this year.

Read the scientific societies letter by clicking this link. View the January ESA letter by clicking this link.

APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE RELEASES INTERIOR, EPA FUNDING BILL

On August 1st, the Senate Appropriations Committee unveiled its Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. The bill provides $30.7 billion for the US Department of Interior, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Forest Service, slightly higher than the $30.2 billion provided in the House version of the bill.

Funding levels are as follows for selected agencies:

  • EPA: $8.2 billion, an $18 million decrease below FY 2014. The Senate bill would increase funding for climate-related activities by $9.8 million over FY 2014. This amount includes $8.8 million to implement the president’s Climate Action Plan. Science and technology programs at EPA would receive $752.88 million, a $6.3 million decrease.
  •  Office of Surface Mining: $144.8 million; a $5 million decrease below FY 2014.
  • Bureau of Land Management: $1.113 billion; a $6 million increase above FY 2014.
  • Bureau of Ocean Energy Management: $72.4 million, a $3.4 million increase above FY 2014.
  • National Park Service: $2.632 billion; a $71 million increase above FY 2014.
  • US Forest Service: $4.626 billion; an $853.5 million decrease below FY 2014. The bill designates $2.171 billion to be shared by the US Forest Service and the Department of Interior for wildland fire suppression activities.
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.451 billion; a $23 million increase over FY 2014.
  • US Geological Survey: $1.046 billion; a $14 million increase above FY 2014.
  • Smithsonian Institution: $825.4 million; a $20.4 million increase above FY 2014.

The Senate bill will be reconciled with its House version that was reported out of committee, but has yet to be voted by the full US House of Representatives.

Since 1994, Congress has not completed work on all of its appropriations bills before the conclusion of the fiscal year. The current fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, 2014. Consequently, it is anticipated that House and Senate appropriators will likely wait until after the November mid-term elections to negotiate a final bill. In recent years, appropriation bills have been rolled into either large omnibus bill or smaller “mini-omnibuses,” made up of three or four funding bills.

In order to prevent a government shutdown, Congress needs to send the president a continuing resolution to fund the government after Sept. 30. Congressional capacity to prevent a government shutdown by passing an appropriations bill is contingent on whether Members on either side of the aisle are willing to engage in a partisan public discourse  weeks before the Nov. midterm elections (the House is not scheduled to be in session throughout most of October).

For additional information on the Senate FY 2015 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations bill, click this link.

For information on the House FY 2015 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations bill, see the July 11, 2014 edition of ESA Policy News by clicking this link.

RESEARCH: SENATE INTRODUCES AMERICA COMPETES REAUTHORIZATION

On July 31st, Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced a draft bill to reauthorize the original America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science (COMPETES) Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-69).

Entitled the “America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2014,” the bill authorizes funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science. As an authorization measure, the bill does not provide actual funding, which is allocated through the appropriations process. As an authorization, the bill sets maximum spending levels for the agencies for coming fiscal years. These spending ceilings serve as a guide for appropriators when crafting their annual spending bills.

The Senate comprehensive multiyear funding reauthorization bill is markedly different than the approach the US House of Representatives has taken to reauthorizing America COMPETES. The House has taken a multi-bill approach, which includes H.R. 4869, the Energy Research and Development Act, which reauthorizes the DOE Office of Science, and the H.R. 4186, the FIRST Act, which reauthorizes NSF and NIST.

Uniquely, the Senate bill would reauthorize annual budget increases for NSF at about 6.7 percent. This increase is significantly higher than the one percent budget increase authorized under the FIRST Act. It is also greater than the 4.9 percent budget increase for NSF authorized under the America COMPETES reauthorization bill introduced by House Democrats. Annual increases for NSF have average 2.2 percent over the past five years, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The original America COMPETES authorized doubling the budgets for NSF, NIST and DOE science by FY 2013, a goal hindered by a congressional focus on restraining overall discretionary spending in light of the burgeoning national debt.

Unlike the House FIRST Act, the Senate bill does not include changes to the NSF peer review process or science funding budget cuts for the behavioral sciences. Nor does the Senate bill authorize cuts to DOE climate change research, included in the House Energy Research and Development Act. The House bills also differ in that they authorize funding only through FY 2015. The Senate bill takes a long-term outlook in line with the preceding bills. It authorizes funding through FY 2019. The 2010 America COMPETES bill reauthorized funding through FY 2013.

Due to the few remaining weeks of the legislative schedule for the current 113th Congress, a final America COMPETES bill will most likely not be enacted before the end of the calendar year, given the wide chasm of policy differences between the Senate and House bills.

The first America COMPETES Act passed with strong bipartisan support and was signed by President George W. Bush. The America COMPETES Act Reauthorization of 2010 was among the last bills signed by President Obama that passed Congress when Democrats controlled both the House and Senate.

For additional information on the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2014, click this link.

WHITE HOUSE: NEW REPORT OUTLINES COSTS OF DELAYING ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE

A new White House report entitled “The Cost of Delaying Action to Stem Climate Change” found that the economic costs associated with delaying action to address climate change will exponentially increase over time.

Delay in action will cost the US 40 percent more for each future decade the US fails to take action to mitigate climate change. According to the findings, the United States faces yearly economic losses of $150 billion if the world fails to decrease its use of fossil fuels, which are the primary cause of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Confronting the possibility of climate catastrophes means taking prudent steps now to reduce the future chances of the most severe consequences of climate change,” states the report. “The longer that action is postponed, the greater will be the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and the greater is the risk. Just as businesses and individuals guard against severe financial risks by purchasing various forms of insurance, policymakers can take actions now that reduce the chances of triggering the most severe climate events.”

The report was conducted by the White House Council of Economic Advisers. View the full report by clicking this link.

WHITE HOUSE: HOLDREN VIDEO OUTLINES CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACT ON WILDFIRES

On August 5th, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren appeared in a video discussing the links between climate change and increasingly long and intense wildfire seasons in the western United States.

“The influence of climate change on the wildfire regime comes not just from the higher summer temperatures and reduced summer soil moisture that go with global warming,” stated Holdren. “Climate change is also bringing us more dead trees—kindling in effect—killed by a combination of heat stress, water stress and attacks by pests and pathogens that multiply faster in a warmer world.”

In the three-minute White House video, he noted the eight worst years on record in the United States in terms of total acreage burned have all occurred since the year 2000. Holdren also outlined the various detrimental effects of wildfires. These include costly property damage, loss of wildlife and soil erosion that puts communities at increased risk of flooding and landslides.

View the full video by clicking this link.

USDA: NEW REPORT HELPS AGRICULTURAL SECTOR REDUCE GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a new report that for the first time provides uniform scientific methods for cataloging efforts by the farmers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their operations.

The report provides guidance in quantifying greenhouse gas emissions from activities related to animal production crop production, grazing and land management. The report is a tool for the agency to use in evaluating its existing greenhouse gas reduction programs and support the development of new methods to reduce carbon emissions.

The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-234) included language directing USDA to develop technical guidelines for science-based methods that “measure the environmental services benefits from conservation and land management activities in order to facilitate the participation of farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners in emerging environmental service markets.” The language called for the USDA Secretary to prioritize guidelines related to participation in “carbon markets.”

For additional information on the USDA report, click this link.

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 5309, the Tsunami Warning, Education, and Research Act – Introduced July 31st by House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Environment Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), the bill would authorize and strengthen the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s tsunami detection, forecast, warning, research, and mitigation program. The bill has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. It has five bipartisan cosponsors, including Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX).

Passed by House

H.R. 935, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act – Introduced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-OH), the bill would prohibit the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from requiring a Clean Water Act permit for spraying pesticides over water.

The legislation would reverse a 2009 federal appeals court ruling that found EPA’s current pesticide regulations did not sufficiently protect the nation’s waterways. Critics of the ruling state that the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) sufficiently protects water from pesticides and the new requirements, which went into effect in 2011, are unnecessary.  The bill passed the House July 31st by a vote of 267-161. Thirty-seven Democrats voted with all Republicans in supporting the bill.

The bill had to be taken up by the House twice after failing to secure the two-thirds vote necessary to advance under a suspension of the rules vote on July 28th.  House leadership decides to take a bill up under suspension of the rules if it is estimated the legislation will attract significant bipartisan support. The bill is not expected to move in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

H.R. 4315, the 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency and Reasonableness Act – Introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the comprehensive bill incorporates several previously introduced measures to reform the Endangered Species Act.

The bill includes provisions that would 1) require the Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce to make publicly available online scientific and commercial data related to the listing of a species as endangered or threatened 2) direct the Secretary of the Interior to make publicly available an annual report detailing federal expenditures for lawsuits against federal agencies brought under the Endangered Species Act 3) provide to affected states all data used as the basis for the determination to list a species as endangered or threatened, regardless of its accuracy and 4) modify the existing standard for awarding court costs, including limiting attorney fees, in citizen suits to a prevailing party in endangered species act lawsuits.

The bill passed the House July 29th by a vote of 233-190 with Democrats joining all but eight Republicans in supporting the bill. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, but it is unlikely to gain traction in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy opposing the bill. Read the full statement by clicking this link.

Introduced in Senate

S. 2771, the Water in the 21st Century Act – Introduced July 31st by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the bill would expand rebates and grants for water recycling, authorize funding support for regional water recycling and ground management projects, and invest in research into water conservation technologies. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Companion legislation (H.R. 5363) has been introduced in the House by Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA).

Considered by Senate

S. 2648, the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act – Introduced by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), the comprehensive bill included supplemental funding to federal agencies charged with addressing the flood of unaccompanied children across  the US border and support for Israel’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile defense system. The bill also included $600 billion for wildfire suppression efforts.

The bill was debated in the Senate, but failed to garner the 60 procedural votes necessary to advance the bill in the Senate, largely along partisan lines. The vote, taken July 31st, failed 50-44. The White House released a Statement of Administration Policy supporting the bill. View the full statement by clicking this link.


Sources: National Aeronautics Space Administration, US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Interior, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House, House Space, Science and Technology Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill

July 25, 2014

In This Issue

EPA: MCCARTHY TESTIFIES BEFORE SENATE COMMITTEE ON CLEAN POWER PLAN

A recent Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee hearing offered US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy her first opportunity to testify before Capitol Hill legislators on her agency’s Clean Power Plan. The proposed rule in the EPA plan falls under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and seeks to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels.

“The President’s plan is a win-win for the American people, because by addressing climate change through carbon pollution reduction, we can cut many types of air pollutants that also threaten human health,” stated EPW Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA). “Climate change and rising temperatures will lead to increased ground level ozone and smog which could worsen respiratory illnesses like asthma, increased air pollutants from wildfires, and more heat-related and flood-related deaths.”

While Chairwoman Boxer other committee Democrats were supportive of the rule, committee Republicans put Administrator McCarthy on the defensive, questioning EPA’s authority to implement the carbon rules as well as the level of consensus behind the science that prompted them. Some, such as Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MI), denied that global temperatures have been on the rise in recent decades.

“The consequences of the administration’s proposed rule would be disastrous for our economy and again would have [a] miniscule impact on the environment,” said Wicker. “It is a job-killer. It is based on questionable science. It is of dubious legality under the Clean Air Act. It amounts to an end run against Congress. It is inflexible. It would have no effect on the climate and is, therefore, pointless, and it is punitive.”

In her testimony, McCarthy emphasized that individual states will have flexibility in designing their own compliance strategy for adhering to the carbon-reduction rules. She also noted the many economic benefits of implementing the Clean Power Plan.

“In 2030, the Clean Power Plan will deliver climate and health benefits of up to $90 billion dollars,” stated McCarthy. “And for soot and smog reductions alone, that means for every dollar we invest in the plan, families will see $7 in health benefits. And because energy efficiency is such a smart, cost-effective strategy—we predict that, in 2030, average electricity bills for American families will be eight percent cheaper.”

At various points in the hearing, Chairwoman Boxer and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) noted that it was only a month ago that four former EPA administrators under Republican presidents testified before the committee, supporting EPA’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Chairwoman Boxer added “I don’t know why we have to fight about things that have been settled three times by the Supreme Court,” referencing the high court’s repeated rulings affirming EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

View the full hearing here.

EPA: SENATE REPUBLICANS INTRODUCE ‘SECRET SCIENCE’ BILL

On July 16th, Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Oversight Subcommittee Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced legislation that would prohibit the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from implementing regulations based on science that is not reproducible.

S. 2613, the Secret Science Reform Act, would effectively restrict the quality and quantity of research data that the agency can utilize to inform its regulatory efforts. EPA states that much of the data (including public health records) is confidential. The bill’s seven original cosponsors include Republicans Mike Crapo (ID), Mike Enzi (WY), Deb Fischer (NE), James Inhofe (OK), James Risch (ID) and David Vitter (LA). Senate Democrats, like their House counterparts, are largely opposed to the measure.

The Secret Science Reform Act is the Senate companion bill to legislation of the same name that is already moving through the US House of Representatives (H.R. 4012). The Science, Space and Technology Committee approved the House version of the bill on June 24th. House leadership has not yet indicated when the bill will be voted on by the full House. The Senate bill has been referred to the EPW Committee, but it is unlikely to move through the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The Ecological Society of America recently joined a number of scientific organizations in cosigning a letter outlining a number of unintended negative consequences implementation of the legislation would have on scientific research at the EPA. The organizational letter will be sent to House leadership and the Senate EPW Committee next week.

USDA: RURAL CALIFORNIA COMMUNITIES RECEIVE DROUGHT ASSISTANCE

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced $9.7 million in funding to help rural areas of California impacted by drought. The funding will go to 73,000 residents in 11 California counties stricken with severe drought.

The funding is made possible through the UDSA’s Emergency Community Water Assistance Grant program. The program helps rural communities that have experienced a significant decline in water quality or quantity due to an emergency.

A report from the University of California-Davis (UC-Davis) Center for Watershed science states that the drought will cost the state of California $2.2 billion this calendar year and that the probability of drought in 2015 is above 50 percent.

For a full list of drought funding recipients, click here. The UC-Davis report is available here.

USDA: VILSACK ANNOUNCES NEW ‘FOUNDATION FOR FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH’

On July 23rd, US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the creation of a new Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research to “leverage public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to boosting America’s agricultural economy.”

Authorized by the Agricultural Act of  2014 (P.L. 113-79), the foundation will operate as a non-profit corporation seeking private donations to fund research activities that promote plant and animal health, food safety, renewable energy and natural resources, among other issues.

A 15-member board of directors representing various fields of expertise in agriculture will lead the foundation. The board of directors includes a large number of Ph.D. researchers. Congress mandated the board’s separate five ex-officio members choose the initial board of directors, which includes seven members from a candidate list provided by industry and eight members from a list provided by the National Academy of Sciences.

The five ex-officio board members designated by Congress are Secretary Vilsack; National Science Foundation Director France Córdova; USDA Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics Chief Scientist Catherine Woteki; Agricultural Research Service Administrator Chavonda Jacobs-Young; and National Institute of Food and Agriculture Director Sonny Ramaswamy.

A full listing of the board of directors is available here.

FWS: NORTHWEST REGION TO PHASE OUT CHEMICAL LINKED TO BEE DEATHS

The US Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Region 1, representing the upper Northwest United States, announced a phase out of the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on national wildlife refuge system lands.

The phase out is based on the agency’s determination that there is a growing body of scientific evidence to suggest that these pesticides are contributing to the decline of pollinator populations, including honeybees. State and territories under the jurisdiction of Region 1 include Washington state, Oregon, Idaho, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. Region 1 plans to fully phase out the use of the pesticide by 2016.

“The prophylactic use of neonicotinoids and the potential broad-spectrum adverse effects to non-target species do not meet the intent of [Integrated Pest Management] principles or the Service’s Biological Integrity, Diversity, and Environmental Health (BIDEH) policy,” states the memorandum, released earlier this month.

According to FWS, the decision was an internal management decision not directly linked to the White House’s June memorandum urging federal agencies to invest in research that reduces the decline in honeybees and other pollinators.

Many agricultural and environmental organizations have published studies highlighting the negative impact neonicotinoids have on various pollinator species. The June 2013 edition of the Ecological Society of America’s Frontiers in Ecology and Environment mentioned neonicotinoids as being among anthropogenic pressures that contribute to population declines of crop and wild plant pollinators.

View the full FWS memorandum by clicking here. Additional information on the White House memorandum is available by clicking here. The Frontiers article is available here.

NASA SATELLITES REVEAL ALARMING GROUNDWATER LOSS IN COLORADO RIVER BASIN

According to a new study by NASA and University of California, Irvine, scientists found that more than 75 percent of the water loss in the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin since late 2004 came from underground resources.

The Colorado River is the only major river in the southwestern United States. Its basin supplies water to about 40 million people in seven states—California, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming — and to people and farms in part of Mexico.

This study is the first to quantify the amount that groundwater contributes to the water needs of western states. The research team used data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission to track changes in the mass of the Colorado River Basin, which are related to changes in water amount on and below the surface. Monthly measurements of the change in water mass from December 2004 to November 2013 revealed the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater, almost double the volume of the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead. More than three-quarters of the total — about 41 million acre feet (50 cubic kilometers) — was from groundwater.

View the full NASA press release by clicking here.

INTERIOR: ESA COOPERATES WITH THE STRATEGIC SCIENCES GROUP

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) has offered its assistance as a resource to the US Department of Interior’s (DOI) Strategic Sciences Group (SSG). Established in 2012 within the Office of the Secretary by Secretarial Order 3318, the SSG provides the Department with a standing capacity to rapidly assemble teams of scientists to construct interdisciplinary scenarios of environmental crises affecting DOI resources.

If deployed, the SSG aims to bring response teams within 36 hours of deployment to the environmental crisis site. Through the development and application of science-based scenarios, the SSG can assist in strategic response, mid-term recovery, and long-term restoration. In addition, the SSG can provide valuable advisory tools to decision makers as they manage crises at the field, regional, and national levels. As part of the nonbinding, voluntary agreement, ESA will recommend its members with a specific subject-matter expertise for deployment teams if requested.

For additional information on the SSG, click here.

INVASIVES: ESA JOINS LETTER REQUESTING FINAL RULE ON INJURIOUS CONSTRICTOR SNAKES

The Ecological Society of America joined seven organizational members of the National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species in a letter to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, requesting that it issue a final regulation listing for five invasive constrictor snake species.

“It has been more than five years since the agency started considering the listing of these five snakes and the necessity for the rule has not diminished,” the letter states. “As these species present imminent threats to wildlife and human safety, we urge the administration to take action and immediately list the reticulated python, the DeSchauensee’s anaconda, the green anaconda, the Beni anaconda and the boa constrictor as injurious under the Lacey Act.”

Currently, there are only four invasive constrictor species listed as injurious under the Lacey Act:  Burmese pythons, yellow anacondas, and northern and southern African pythons.

View the full letter by clicking here.

CURRENT POLICY

Passed the House

H.R. 1786, the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act Reauthorization of 2014 – Introduced by Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), the bill reauthorizes the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program, implemented by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The program carries out research to help mitigate damage from windstorms such as hurricanes and tornadoes. The bill passed the House July 14th by voice vote and has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

H.R. 5029, the International Science and Technology Cooperation Act – Introduced by Rep. Daniel Lipinski (R-IL), the bill would instruct the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to coordinate federal-interagency efforts that strengthen international science and technology cooperation. The bill passed the House July 14th by a vote of 346–41 and has been referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

H.R. 5031, the STEM Education Act – Introduced by House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), the bill authorizes the National Science Foundation to continue awarding grants for research that advances Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education and ensures computer science is included in these efforts. The bill passed the House July 14th by voice vote and has been referred to the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee.

H.R. 5056, the Research and Development Efficiency Act – Introduced by Rep. Larry Buschon (R-IN), the bill would establish a working group to streamline and eliminate duplicative regulations and reporting requirements for federal research-grant approval processes. The bill passed the House July 14th by voice vote and has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

H.R. 5035, the NIST Reauthorization Act – Introduced by Rep. Buschon, the bill would reauthorize the National Institutes of Standards and Technology. The bill passed the House July 22nd by voice vote and has been referred to the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

H.R. 5120, the Department of Energy Laboratory Modernization and Technology Transfer Act – Introduced by Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL), the bill would provide Department of Energy laboratories with greater flexibility to enter into public-private partnerships. The bill passed the House July 22nd by voice vote and has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Considered by Senate Committee

On July 16th, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing, which included consideration of the following bills:

S. 571, the Great Lakes Water Protection Act – Introduced by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), the bill would set a 2033 deadline for ending sewage dumping in the Great Lakes.

S. 1202, the Safeguarding America’s Future and Environment (SAFE) Act – Introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), the bill would establish an interagency Natural Resources Climate Change Adaptation Panel to adopt climate change adaptation plans.

S. 1232, the Great Lakes Ecological and Economic Protection Act – Introduced by Sen. Carl Levin, the measure would authorize $475 million to codify the Obama administration’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

S. 1153, the Invasive Fish and Wildlife Prevention Act – Introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), the bill would reform US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) regulatory procedures to help expedite the determination of invasive species as “injurious.”

S. 2530, the Protecting Lakes Against Quaggas (PLAQ) Act – Introduced by Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), the bill would immediately add the quagga mussel to the federal invasive species list.

A full listing of bills considered during the hearing is available by clicking here.

Approved by Senate Committee

On July 23rd, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a mark-up session and approved the following bills:

S. 2030, the National Sea Grant College Program Amendments Act of 2014 – Introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), the bill reauthorizes the National Sea Grant College Program through Fiscal Year 2020. The National Sea Grant College Program promotes research, education, training and advisory activities that increase understanding the nation’s oceans, coastal and Great Lakes resources.

S. 2094, the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act – Introduced by Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK), the bill would streamline regulations on wastewater discharges from ships. Environmental groups are concerned that the bill would preempt state efforts to control invasive species that spread when ships discharge ballast water. The bill has 30 bipartisan cosponsors, including Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).


Sources: National Aeronautics Space Administration, US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Interior, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House, House Space, Science and Technology Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill

July 11, 2014

In This Issue

DEFENSE: GAO REPORT CONCLUDES MILITARY NEEDS TO IMPROVE CLIMATE PLANNING

On June 30th, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report finding the Department of Defense (DOD) can improve infrastructure planning and processes for climate change impacts. DOD manages a global real-estate portfolio that includes over 555,000 facilities and 28 million acres of land with a replacement value of close to $850 billion. Within the US, the department’s extensive infrastructure of bases and training ranges, which is critical to maintaining military readiness, extends across all regions, as well as Alaska and Hawaii.  The GAO noted that the government currently lacks a shared understanding of strategic priorities and adequate interagency coordination to adapt to a changing climate. The report found that while many military planners are noting the impacts of climate change on their installations, they are not always certain about how to proceed with adaption efforts.  “For example, according to DOD officials, the combination of thawing permafrost, decreasing sea ice, and rising sea levels on the Alaskan coast has increased coastal erosion at several Air Force radar early warning and communication installations. Impacts on DOD’s infrastructure from this erosion have included damaged roads, seawalls, and runways. In addition, officials on a Navy installation told GAO that sea level rise and resulting storm surge are the two largest threats to their waterfront infrastructure.”

The report recommends that the military formulate a climate change adaption plan setting firm deadlines to assess which of its military bases across the globe are vulnerable to climate change impacts. DOD has begun to assess installations’ vulnerability to potential climate change impacts and directed its planners to incorporate consideration of climate change into certain installation planning efforts. Additionally, it is a DOD strategic goal to consider sustainability, including climate change adaptation, in its facility investment decisions.

“We are committed to maintaining the resilience of our installations in support of our mission, our warfighters and our communities,” John Conger, acting deputy undersecretary of Defense for Installations and Environment, wrote in a letter, according to US News and World Report. “We will continue to integrate consideration of climate change and associated impacts across the Defense enterprise.”

However, the report also found that military officials are slow to propose climate adaption projects because they believe the projects will not be funded.

“As a result, installation planners may believe that climate change adaptation projects are unlikely to successfully compete with other military construction projects for funding,” the GAO said on the report’s website. “Without clarification of these processes, DOD may face challenges in meeting its strategic goals and the services may miss opportunities to make their facilities more resilient to the potential impacts of climate change.”

This sentiment is reinforced by the fact that the US House of Representatives has adopted language in its DOD authorization bill to prohibit funding for implementing recommendations from climate change reports from the International Panel on Climate Change and the National Climate Assessment. Such language is not anticipated to survive the bill’s conference process with the Senate.

View the full report by clicking this link.

APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE APPROVES FY 2015 ENERGY AND WATER FUNDING BILL

On July 10th, the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 4923, the Energy and Water Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2015. The $34 billion bill includes $10.3 billion funding for the US Department of Energy (DOE) and $5.5 billion US Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation.

The Obama administration threatened to veto the bill over its many provisions to curb the enforcement of environmental regulations. The bill would block funding for enforcement of the Obama administration’s proposed rule to clarify federal jurisdiction in the Clean Water Act.

The House rejected several conservative amendments that sought to sharply reduce funding in the bill. One that was rejected from Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) would have cut all FY 2015 funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. It failed by a vote of 110–310.

An amendment adopted by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) to block funding for DOE climate modeling efforts was added to the bill by a vote of 226–194. Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) introduced an amendment to reaffirm exemptions for certain agricultural activities under the Clean Water Act, which was adopted 239-182.

The final bill will be reconciled with the US Senate Energy and Water appropriations bill for FY 2015, which has not been passed. It is anticipated that the two chambers will not reach an agreement on final funding bills until after the 2014 elections, possibly through an omnibus measure. Given that Fiscal Year 2014 ends Sept. 30th, 2014, Congress will need to pass a continuing resolution in order to avoid a government shutdown.

 

For additional information on specific funding levels in the bill, see the June 13th edition of ESA Policy News by clicking here.

To view the White House Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 4923 click this link.

APPROPRIATIONS: INTERIOR, EPA SPENDING BILL WOULD CURTAIL OBAMA INITIATIVES

On July 8th, the House Appropriations Committee unveiled its Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. The bill, crafted by committee Republicans, includes provisions to prohibit funding from being directed towards a number of Obama administration environmental protection initiatives.

In total, the bill provides $30.2 billion for the Department of Interior, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Forest Service. This is a $162 million increase over total funding provided in the FY 2014 Interior appropriations bill and a reduction of $409 million below the President’s request.

Much of the increase in the overall bill is geared specifically towards wildfire reduction activities. The bill includes $4.1 billion for wildfire fighting and prevention activities for the US Forest Service and the US Department of Interior. This is $149 million above of the FY 2014 enacted level. Funding levels are as follows for selected agencies:

  • Environmental Protection Agency: $7.5 billion; a reduction of $717 million (nine percent) below the FY 2014. The bill also contains language to prohibit funding for the agency’s proposed greenhouse gas rules for existing power plants and its efforts to clarify federal jurisdiction over the implementation of the Clean Water Act. Administrative funding for the agency is cut by $24 million, including a 50 percent reduction to the Office of the Administrator, the Office of Congressional Affairs, and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. In addition, staffing levels at the EPA are held to 15,000, the lowest level since 1989.
  • Office of Surface Mining: $149 million; level with FY 2014. The bill includes a provision to stop changes to the “stream buffer rule,” intended to protect streams from coal mining.
  • Bureau of Land Management: $1.1 billion; a $13 million decrease from FY 2014.
  • National Park Service: $2.6 billion; a $3 million increase over FY 2014.
  • US Forest Service: $5.6 billion; $85.7 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level.
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS): $1.4 billion in the bill; $4 million below FY 2014. The bill includes a one-year delay on any further Endangered Species Act rulemaking for the “greater sage-grouse” and “Gunnison sage-grouse,” and prohibits the FWS from administratively establishing new or expanding existing wildlife refuges.
  • US Geological Survey: $1 billion; a $4 million increase above FY 2014.
  • Smithsonian Institution: $813 million; an $8 million increase above FY 2014.

Traditionally, many of the more contentious provisions intended to block EPA greenhouse gas emissions rules and other agency regulations are dropped in the bicameral conference process where the Senate and House negotiate a final conference report bill. The content of the final conference bill will be determined in part by whether or not it is enacted before the election and the political make-up of the House and the Senate after the 2014 mid-terms. 

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS EPA CLEAN WATER PROPOSED RULE

On July 9th, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee convened for a hearing on the Obama administration’s proposed rule to clarify federal jurisdiction over US waterways. As defined under US law, bodies of water are distinguished according to their use such as for business or transportation. The distinction is particularly important in the case of so-called navigable waters because jurisdiction over navigable waters belongs to the federal government rather than states or municipalities.

US Supreme Court decisions in 2001 (Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC) v. US Army Corps of Engineers) and 2006 (Rapanos v. United States) drew into question the definition of “navigable waters” as defined in the law. Consequently, this could limit the scope of the 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA) to “relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water.” The original conference report for the finalized CWA included language asserting that the bill’s authors “fully intend that the term ‘navigable waters’ be given the broadest possible constitutional interpretation.”

In the years following the court rulings, congressional Democrats have repeatedly introduced legislation to clarify CWA jurisdiction, but the measures failed to gain traction in the House and Senate. On March 25, 2014 US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers jointly proposed a rule that would clarify that streams and wetlands are under the jurisdiction of the CWA.

The Obama administration contends the rule would not add new waters under the law’s protection, but only clarify regulatory authority for waterways that have historically been under the Act’s jurisdiction prior to the court decisions. Republican committee members, however, assert that the proposed rule is part of the EPA’s “regulation rampage.” They assert that the rule is vague and would lead to federal intrusion on private land.

“The EPA’s rule is so vague that it does little more than extend an open invitation to trial lawyers and government drones,” asserted Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “Before the EPA invades the back yards of Americans, they should tell them what they are really doing. When Congress enacted the Clean Water Act, it was about water, not land.  But the EPA’s re-writing of the law is a terrifying expansion of federal control over the lands owned by the American people. The EPA is on a regulation rampage, and this new water rule proves it.”

“For nearly a decade, stakeholders ranging from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials to the Environmental Defense Fund to the American Petroleum Institute have been calling on EPA and the Army Corps to provide clarity about what is and what is not a ‘water of the United States,’” asserted Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) in her opening statement. “And while there may be differences in opinion about the proposed rule, I applaud the agencies for addressing this need and working to provide ‘greater clarity, certainty, and predictability’ to the regulated community and state and local governments that share the task of implementing and enforcing the Clean Water Act.”

“The rule does not apply to lands, whole flood plains, backyards, wet spots, or puddles,” asserted EPA Deputy Administrator Robert Perciasepe, testifying on behalf of the administration. “It will increase transparency, consistency, and predictability in making jurisdictional determinations, and reduce existing costs and confusion and delays.”

View the full committee hearing by clicking here.

WHITE HOUSE: EMERGENCY SPENDING REQUEST INCLUDES WESTERN WILDFIRE ASSISTANCE

On July 8th, the White House issued a formal request to Congress for $4.3 billion in emergency spending. The bulk of the funding, $3.7 billion, will address the border crisis and growing humanitarian problem of child migrants. The remainder, $615 million, is to fight wildfires in the western United States for the current Fiscal Year 2014. Several federal agencies require funding for wildfire prevention and firefighting, and it is costly.

The US Forest Service (FS), an agency within the Department of Agriculture, is tasked with management of 193 million acres of public lands in 43 states and Puerto Rico. Wildfire frequency and intensity in the Western United States has grown over the past decade.

According to the Forest Service, “More than 44 million homes, roughly 32 percent of the homes in our country, are now located in areas prone to wildland fire. Extreme fire behavior has become more common; firefighters are largely limited to protecting certain points around homes and communities, and the cost of fire suppression has soared in the past 20 years. The cost of suppression has grown from 13 percent of the agency’s budget just 10 years ago to over 40 percent in 2014 requiring FS to transfer funds from other programs to cover those costs.”

The President’s $615 million request to fight wildfire includes language to support a discretionary cap adjustment to allow the federal government to respond to severe, complex, and threatening fires or a severe fire season.

“This approach would provide funding certainty in future years for firefighting costs, free up resources to invest in areas that will promote long-term forest health and reduce fire risk, and maintain fiscal responsibility by addressing wildfire disaster needs through agreed-upon funding,” stated the president in a White House letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

Increased federal funding to address wildfires is supported by bipartisan Members of Congress representing regions in the western United Sates. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) indicated he was open to accommodating the request for additional funding for wildfire-related activities.

View the full letter by following this link.

CURRENT POLICY

Considered by House Committee

On July 9th, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation held a hearing on the following bill:

H.R. 3994, the Federal Lands Invasive Species Control, Prevention, and Management Act – Introduced by Reps. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Steven Horsford (D-NV), the bill would direct the Departments of Agriculture and Interior to carry out programs that would reduce invasive species on public lands by five percent annually. The bill includes a provision to exclude National Environmental Policy Act environmental review requirements if the programs affect “prioritized, high risk” areas. The legislation also prohibits federal agencies from spending no more than 15 percent of their budgets dedicated to invasive on public outreach and no more than 10 percent on administrative costs. The Obama administration and invasive species organizations are concerned that the standards outlined in the bill would reduce a federal agency’s flexibility in addressing invasive species.

Introduced in Senate

S. 2543, the Supporting Afterschool STEM Act – Introduced June 26th by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the bill would provide resources to improve afterschool science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs. The bill has been referred to the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee.

S. 2551, the TRANSFER Act – Introduced June 26th  by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Daniel Coats (R-IN), the bill would create a grant funding program within the Small Business Technology Transfer program to expedite the commercialization of federally-funded research. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

Passed Senate

S. 311, Lower Mississippi River Area Study Act – Introduced by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), the bill directs the Department of Interior to complete a study to determine whether an area in Plaquemines Parish, LA should become part of the National Park Service system. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent on July 9th and has been sent to the US House of Representatives.

S. 354, Oregon Caves Revitalization Act of 2013 – Introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the bill would modify the boundary of the Oregon Caves National Monument by adding 4,000 acres of what is currently Forest Service land to the monument. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent on July 9th and has been sent to the US House of Representatives.

S. 363, the Geothermal Production Expansion Act – Introduced by Sen. Wyden, the bill would expand geothermal production on federal land. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent on July 9th and has been sent to the US House of Representatives.

S. 476, to amend the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Development Act to extend to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park Commission – Introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the bill would reauthorize the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park Commission for a 10-year term. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent on July 9th and has been sent to the US House of Representatives.

H.R. 876, the Idaho Wilderness Water Resources Protection Act – Introduced by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), the bill authorizes the continued use of certain water storage, transport and diversion facilities located on federal forest land in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Idaho. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent July 9th after passing the House in June 2013.

H.R. 1158, the North Cascades National Park Service Complex Fish Stocking Act – Introduced by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill directs the Department of Interior to continue stocking fish in certain lakes in the North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent July 9th  after passing the House in June 2013.

H.R. 3110, Huna Tlingit Traditional Gull Egg Use Act – Introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the bill allows the harvest of gull eggs by the Huna Tlingit people within Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park. The bill requires collection schedules and locations to be based on an annual plan prepared by the Department of Interior and the Huna Tlingit people. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent July 9th after passing the House in April 2013.


Sources: American Association for the Advancement of Science, Government Accountability Office, US Environmental Protection Agency, US Forest Service, House Appropriations Committee, House Space, Science and Technology Committee, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, US News and World Report