In This Issue
World leaders reached a consensus on a set of agreements Dec. 11 in Cancun for addressing climate change.
Negotiators representing 193 countries agreed to a package that includes establishing a program to preserve tropical rainforests, sharing low-carbon energy technologies and preparing a $100 billion fund to help the world’s most vulnerable cope with a changing climate. The overriding goal for the United States, according to U.S. envoy Todd Stern, was to ensure that substantive progress was made on the Copenhagen Accord agreement that Obama and leaders of China, India, Brazil and South Africa crafted last year. Under that agreement, major emitting countries pledged to cut carbon and develop a monitoring system to track their efforts.
However, the agreement does not establish a definitive date for negotiators to reach a conclusion on a new climate treaty. Nor does it call for the level of emission cuts scientists say are needed to avert potentially severe global climate change. It also postpones the debate over whether to extend the 1997 Kyoto Protocol until the 2011 meeting in Durban, South Africa. Russia, Canada and Japan insisted throughout the Cancun negotiations that they wouldn’t agree to a new set of commitments under Kyoto until the world’s three biggest polluters, China, India and the United States, accepted a role in the mandatory system too.
For the U.S., the Cancun summit concludes without having any new commitments that could put the Obama administration further under fire from Congressional Republicans. Members of both parties are also cautious about the U.S. making any new financial climate commitments in the face of current deficit woes.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released guidelines Dec. 17 aimed at ensuring government scientists’ work isn’t altered for political purposes. The guidelines, issued eighteen months after the original deadline, mark the first time the federal government has had an explicit government-wide policy of this kind.
The memorandum, issued by OSTP Director John Holdren to the heads of all federal agencies, lays out the minimum standards the White House expects as departments craft their individual scientific integrity rules. In the memo, Holdren states “science, and public trust in science, thrives in an environment that shields scientific data and analyses from inappropriate political influence; political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings.”
Holdren offers guidance for how agencies can make their public communication strategies more open as well as how they can make the selection and recruitment for federal advisory committees more transparent. Specifically, he wants government scientists and engineers to be able to publish work in professional journals and for them to be able to serve in professional societies. The memorandum requires agency leaders to report their progress toward completing those rules within 120 days.
Among the new guidelines is a prohibition against government public affairs officers asking or directing federal scientists to alter scientific findings. The guidelines also require that appointments are made based primarily on the applicants’ “scientific and technological knowledge, credentials, experience and integrity” and that “data and research used to support policy decisions undergo independent peer review by qualified experts.”
The directive reflects the administration’s efforts to distinguish itself from the previous administration, which was frequently accused of censoring federal scientists on climate change and other issues. Within weeks of taking office, Obama ordered his advisers to draw up the guidelines, which were supposed to be finished within months. The administration has consequently come under criticism for the delay.
Various scientific and advocacy organizations have given the memorandum mixed reviews. The Union of Concerned Scientists published a release stating “the directive could help protect government scientists from pressure by special interests, and would ensure that the government can make fully informed decisions about public health and the environment.” Al Teich, director of science and policy programs for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the memorandum.
The advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) described the memo as “vague and contradictory while setting no timetable for implementing the rules.” PEER also criticized the document for failing to specify “whether non-scientist senior managers may alter scientific documents for non-technical reasons.”
Another group, OMB Watch, released a statement calling the memorandum “a step forward,” but noted that it “does not explicitly call for agencies’ reports to OSTP to be made public, nor does it require public involvement in the development of agency scientific integrity policies.”
To read the full memorandum, click here:
In lieu of an omnibus land bill package, which Senate Republicans had vowed to block, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) attempted to use unanimous consent to pass a slew of public lands, waterways and wildlife bills individually in the final legislative days of the 111th Congress.
The move came days after Reid introduced the America’s Great Outdoors Act, which acted as an amendment in the nature of a substitute to S. 303. The modified bill included several dozen bills to designate new wilderness, establish new national parks and monuments and protect critical watersheds, forests and endangered species. Republican leaders successfully urged defeat of the omnibus bill the weekend following its introduction.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) had criticized one omnibus measure that intended to strengthen Environmental Protection Agency efforts to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay. He said that legislation could serve as a model for water pollution regulation that would hurt the agriculture industry. Incoming House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) criticized the broader omnibus, saying wilderness measures would lock up public land from motorized access and energy production and could complicate the U.S. Border Patrol’s ability to prevent illegal immigration and smuggling.
Monday Dec. 20, Sen. Reid subsequently “hot-lined” one large block of separate lands and natural resources bills that have passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this Congress, including some more controversial measures that seemed unlikely to wind up in an omnibus. The hot-line maneuver is typically used to fast-track noncontroversial legislation through the Senate.
Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, stated he was pushing for passage of eight natural resource bills including several that were part of the omnibus measure. They include measures to promote year-round recreation at ski resorts, protect forests from a severe bark beetle infestation, clarify which federal agency is responsible for cleanup of the Leadville mine in Colorado, expand wilderness in the San Juan mountains, create a new national monument at Chimney Rock and reauthorize annual funding for the recovery of four federally protected fish in the Upper Colorado River Basin. A spokesman for Sen. Inhofe indicated that he may support the consideration of individual measures on their own.
Senate passage of the bills seemed unlikely, however, as opposing Senators used floor maneuvers to place holds on the individual hot-lined bills. Were any of the bills to make it through the Senate, they would still need to have been passed by House before reaching the president’s desk. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) recently indicated that he does not intend for the House to reconvene after Christmas. Any legislation that does not pass before the 111th Congress adjourns will have to be reintroduced in the 112th Congress, which convenes January 5, 2011.
Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV) has ended his push for legislation to temporarily block the Obama administration’s climate regulations, at least until after the New Year.
S. 3072, the Stationary Source Regulations Delay Act, would have delayed for two years Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources like power plants and manufacturing facilities. Sen. Rockefeller stated that GOP senators who had backed his bill have reneged in order to get a better deal when they hold more seats on Capitol Hill next year. A separate effort to curb EPA climate rules (S.J.Res. 26) was spearheaded by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The measure, considered this past June, failed on a 47-53 vote.
Most recently, Rockefeller attempted to include his legislation in the Senate FY2011 omnibus appropriations bill, which ultimately failed to garner the 60 cloture votes needed for consideration on Thursday, Dec. 16.
The new EPA rules are scheduled to go into effect Jan. 2, 2011. For background on the Senate initiatives to delay the EPA rules, see the “Endangerment Finding” article in the August 10 edition of ESA Policy News at http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2010/08102010.php
As we look to the New Year, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) invites applications for its 2011 Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA). Applications are due Thursday, January 20, 2011.
This award gives graduate students hands-on science policy experience including interacting with congressional decision-makers, federal agency officials, and others engaged in science and public policy.
GSPA winners participate in the annual Congressional Visits Day, a two-day event that will be held March 30 and 31, 2011. ESA covers travel and lodging expenses associated with this event for all GSPA recipients. Awardees also have the opportunity to be interviewed for ESA’s podcast, The Ecologist Goes to Washington and for ESA’s blog, Ecotone.
ESA is co-organizer of Congressional Visits Day, sponsored by the Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition to promote federal investment in the biological sciences, particularly through the National Science Foundation. Participants receive tips on effective communication and information on the federal budget and appropriations process. During the second day of the event, participants meet with congressional decision makers to discuss federal support of research and education in the biological sciences.
For application details please visit: http://www.esa.org/member_services/fundingGrants.php
Cleared for the White House
H.R. 81, the Shark Conservation Act – introduced by House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife Chairwoman Madeleine Bordallo, the bill would close loopholes that had allowed the lucrative shark fin trade to continue operations off the West Coast. The bill passed the Senate Dec. 20 by unanimous consent with an amendment.
Specifically, the measure would require all vessels to land sharks with fins attached and would prevent non-fishing vessels from transporting fins without their carcasses. Cutting off a shark’s fins and then dumping its body overboard, which is now banned off the Atlantic Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico but not in the Pacific, has expanded worldwide because of a rising demand for shark’s fin soup in Asia.
The Senate-passed legislation included a provision from Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) that seeks to enhance management of New England’s ground fish industry. The language seeks to clarify a law that has allowed Canada to negotiate for catch limits in the region that often far exceed those in the United States.
The House subsequently passed the bill by voice vote, sending the measure to the White House where the president is expected to sign it into law.
H.R. 5116, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act – the bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent Dec. 17 with compromise language, advanced by Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), that would authorize $918 million for the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) through FY 2013. The bill that was initially passed by the House, introduced by Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon, would have provided a five-year $3.15 billion reauthorization for that agency, which invests in high-risk, high-reward energy technology research.
The Senate-modified version of the America COMPETES Act includes provisions that seek to:
Increase Science and Research Investments
- Authorizes funding increases for the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science for FY 2011 – 2013.
Strengthen Educational Opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics
- Coordinates STEM education across the federal government with the goal of reinforcing programs that demonstrate effectiveness.
- Supports research and internship opportunities for high school and undergraduate students, and increase graduate fellowships supported by NSF and DOE.
- Encourages students studying in STEM areas to pursue teaching credentials, increasing the pool of qualified teachers for the next generation of young innovators.
Develop an Innovation Infrastructure
- Creates an Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship to foster innovation and the commercialization of new technologies, products, processes, and services.
- Requires the development of a national innovation and competitiveness strategy for strengthening the innovative and competitive capacity of all levels of government, institutions of higher education and the private sector.
- Supports the development of regional innovation strategies, including regional innovation clusters and research parks.
The final bill passed the House Dec. 21 by a vote of 228-130 with 16 Republicans voting with all Democrats in favor of the bill. The measure is expected to be signed by the president.
H.R. 5809, the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act – the bill would allow U.S. EPA to spend $500 million through fiscal 2016 on grants and projects to replace older trucks or retrofit them with new pollution controls. The program, which was first put in place as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, is aimed at particulate matter, or soot, which is linked to asthma and heart attacks.
The original legislation was introduced under S. 3972, sponsored by Sens. George Voinovich (R-OH) and Tom Carper, Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety. In a procedural maneuver to expedite the bill’s enactment, the Senate approved the measure last week by incorporating the text of the legislation into an unrelated prescription drug bill (H.R. 5809) that had already cleared the House. The modified bill subsequently passed the House by voice vote and is expected to be signed by the president.
Signed into law
H.R. 3082, the Continuing Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2011 – the bill would temporarily allow continued government operations through March, 4 2011.
Under the continuing resolution (CR), funding will continue at FY 2010 enacted levels for most programs. In total, the CR will provide funding at a rate approximately $1.16 billion over the FY 2010 level. It also includes the two-year freeze on federal civilian worker pay proposed this month by President Obama, but it does not include new funds for the implementation of the healthcare and Wall Street reform bills. The Senate amended the House bill and passed the measure Dec. 21 by a vote 79-16.
The bill was a compromise measure after the Senate omnibus appropriations measure failed. The previous Senate package had incorporated all 12 appropriations bills into a 1,924-page measure and would have provided $19 billion in additional government funding compared to 2010 spending levels. It had also included $8 billion in House and Senate-requested earmarks. The previous earmark-free House-passed appropriations bill sought to fund the government through the end of Fiscal Year 2011.
The final bill passed the House by a vote of 193-165 (with 75 Members not voting, likely attributable to holiday travel). In order to keep the government running, the president signed the measure into law the evening of Dec. 21, before the current continuing resolution expired.
Sources: ClimateWire, Environment and Energy Daily , E&E News PM, Greenwire, The Hill, The New York Times, POLITICO, OMB Watch, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Senate Appropriations Committee, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Union of Concerned Scientists, The Washington Post, The White House