January 31, 2014

In this Issue

STATE OF THE UNION: OBAMA HAILS 2014 AS ‘YEAR OF ACTION’

 

After a year of very few real legislative achievements in Congress outside of averting a politically self-inflicted federal government shutdown, President Obama cautioned that continued gridlock and inaction from the legislative branch during the second session of the current 113th Congress will spur unilateral action from the executive branch.

President Obama praised Congress for coming together on a budget that offers some relief for sequestration, and urged the body to move forward on administration proposals that create jobs and advance opportunity for Americans.

“Some [of my proposals] require Congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you.  But America does not stand still – and neither will I.  So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do,” said President Obama.

The president’s call to get the economy moving included a request for Congress to increase funding for scientific research.

“We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow,” said Obama.  “This is an edge America cannot surrender.  Federally-funded research helped lead to the ideas and inventions behind Google and smart phones.  That’s why Congress should undo the damage done by last year’s cuts to basic research so we can unleash the next great American discovery – whether it’s vaccines that stay ahead of drug-resistant bacteria, or paper-thin material that’s stronger than steel.”

President Obama also called on Congress to create jobs by passing several still pending infrastructure initiatives, such as new reauthorizations for a transportation bill and the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).

“We’ll need Congress to protect more than three million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer. But I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible,” said the president. The existing surface transportation reauthorization (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act) expires at the end of September. Both the House and Senate have passed a new WRDA bill and senior committee leaders have begun negotiating a final conference report for the measure.

The president touted the United States’ energy successes such as higher fuel efficiency standards for cars and investments in solar. While noting that these efforts have led to a “cleaner, safer planet” he maintained that more needs to be done to tackle the issue of climate change.

“Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth,” said President Obama.  “But we have to act with more urgency – because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods.  That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities, and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.”

President Obama also took the opportunity to address climate change skeptics. 

“Climate change is a fact,” said the president.  “And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.” His comments on climate got rousing applause from Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

The full address is available for listening and reading here.

AGRICULTURE: FARM BILL CONFERENCE REPORT INCLUDES WINS FOR CONSERVATION

On Jan. 27, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) unveiled the final conference report for a new farm bill reauthorization.

H.R. 2642, the Agricultural Act of 2014, renews federal agricultural programs through the end of Fiscal Year 2018 while implementing a number of consolidations and spending reductions to federal agriculture programs. The bill passed the House by a vote of 251-166 with 63 Republicans and 103 Democrats opposing. Opposition came from Democrats concerned with the food stamp cuts and Republicans who felt the cuts in the bill didn’t go far enough.

Similar to both the House and Senate farm bills, the bill consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13, largely by incorporating smaller programs into larger ones. A provision from the Senate bill, requiring farmers and ranchers to abide by basic conservation measures in exchange for federal subsidies for crop insurance on highly erodible land and wetlands, was included in the conference report as was a sod saver provision, which preserves native prairie through various subsidy reduction measures intended to discourage farmers from agricultural production on native grasslands. Similar to the Senate legislation, the bill also includes mandatory funding ($881 million) for renewable energy programs.

The bill includes new requirements for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board to examine farm policy regulations and increase public transparency. However, the requirements are considerably less restrictive than the “Sound Science Act” language in the House bill, which would have prevented federal agencies from issuing new regulations until a somewhat vague and lofty set of requirements were met in an attempt to ensure such regulatory efforts are science-based. Advocacy organizations and some congressional Democrats had complained that the provision’s language requiring federal agencies to favor data that is “experimental, empirical, quantifiable, and reproducible,” would exclude certain theoretical or statistical research.

The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (food stamps) is cut by $8 billion, a significant compromise given the $40 billion amount originally proposed by House Republicans, though roughly double what the Senate originally requested. Collectively, the bill includes $956 billion for food stamps, agricultural subsidies and various conservation programs. The reforms in the bill are projected to save $23 billion over the next 10 years.

The Ecological Society of America had joined several environmental organizations last fall in urging support for the farm bill’s conservation provisions. To view the 2013 farm bill conservation programs letter, click here. Additional information on the 2014 farm bill reauthorization is available here.

HOUSE: CLIMATE CHANGE ADVOCATE WAXMAN ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT

Congress will lose one of its most vocal proponents of legislative action to address climate change when House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) retires at the end of this year.

On Jan. 30, Rep. Waxman announced that the 113th Congress would be his last, ending a congressional career spanning 40 years. Waxman was the primary sponsor of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, comprehensive climate change legislation, which sought to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The bill passed the House in President Obama’s first year in office, but failed to gain traction in the Senate. Despite this legislative setback, Waxman remained a vocal proponent of the administration’s Environmental Protection Agency initiatives that sought to address climate change.

Waxman, along with Reps. Bobby Rush (D-IL), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ed Markey (D-MA) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), co-chair the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, founded in Jan. 2013. The task force seeks to raise public awareness of climate change and develop policy proposals to address the issue. The group has held hearings, issued written correspondence to federal agency officials as well as offered praise towards agency efforts that seek to reduce manmade greenhouse gas emissions.

Waxman has been a longtime leader on environmental issues in Congress. Prior to the Nov. 1994 midterms, which allowed Republicans to take control of the House, Waxman served as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health and the Environment.

Waxman is the latest in a host of senior House lawmakers to announce their retirements in recent weeks, including House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Jim Moran (D-VA), House Education and Workforce Committee Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA) and House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA). He served as Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee for two years prior to the Nov. 2010 Republican takeover of the House. 

A full listing of Members of Congress departing at the end of this Congress is available here.

INTERIOR: HOUSE DEMOCRATS URGE JEWELL TO PROTECT FEDERAL LANDS

On Jan. 24, House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) spearheaded a letter to Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell requesting that the president use his executive authority under the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments as a way to bypass Congress in ensuring the protection of federal lands.

“In today’s deeply partisan environment, it’s becoming nearly impossible for Congress to make critical conservation decisions,” the letter states. “The 112th Congress was the first Congress in 40 years that failed to permanently protect any of America’s treasured landscapes. The current Congress is on a path to repeat that abysmal record. There are 37 land designation bills sitting before Congress that have broad public support.”

The letter cautions that the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation has already held a hearing on legislation to restrict the president’s Antiquities Act authority to designate national monuments and cites the importance of protecting natural resources in historic sites to local communities and economic growth. “At National Parks alone, visitors spend more than $35 million per day,” the letter notes.

View the full letter, here.

WATER: CALIFORNIA STRUGGLES WITH RAMIFICATIONS OF RECORD DROUGHT

California state government officials are currently reviewing techniques to expand the state’s water supply and reduce water usage amid a record breaking drought.

The state has endured record low levels of precipitation throughout 2013 and into the opening weeks of 2014. This week, the US Drought Monitor recorded that 98 percent of the state was experiencing abnormally dry conditions. On Jan. 29, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced that it was closing the Carmel, Big Sur, Pajaro, and San Lorenzo rivers  to recreational fishermen to help maintain area fish populations. The closures would not apply to commercial fishermen.

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared an official drought emergency on Jan. 17, making his state eligible for federal government emergency funding assistance. Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) had issued a letter to President Obama requesting federal assistance to deal with the drought just prior to the governor’s declaration. The president subsequently informed Gov. Brown that it is coordinating a response through its National Drought Resilience Partnership (NDRP) with involvement from the US Department of Agriculture, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal agencies.

The water crisis has reignited a partisan debate about a San Joaquin River restoration program. On Jan. 29, Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) was joined by 14 California Republican House Members in introducing H.R. 3964, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act. The legislation would improve water delivery to Central Valley California communities by ending the San Joaquin River restoration program. The bill is strongly opposed by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Diane Feinstein (D-CA). Sen. Feinstein in a press statement asserted “The bill undermines state law related to Bay Delta restoration and endangered species. It overrides the court-approved San Joaquin River Settlement Agreement, which all parties involved still agree with. And it ends any possibility of a balanced solution to restore the Bay Delta.”

This week, the state of California also released its California Water Action plan, which includes goals to cut individual water usage, expand water storage capacity as well as improve groundwater management and flood protection. The state has already enacted a Water Protection Act, which mandates a 20 percent reduction in urban per-capita water use by the end of 2020.

View the California water action plan here. Information on the NRDP is available here. The Sen. Feinstein response to H.R. 3964 is available here.

FWS: PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY EXTENDED FOR PRARIE CHICKEN

On Jan. 29, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that it is reopening the public comment opportunity period for a proposed rule that would allow harm to the chickens if they were considered incidental in implementing a conservation plan in the states that constitute the animals’ native habitat: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

The harm exemption rule would only apply to the animal if it receives a “threatened” listing under the Endangered Species Act. FWS is expected to reach a decision by March 31. FWS is accepting comments both on the proposed harm exemption as well as the proposal to list the prairie chicken as a threatened species.

Information sought by FWS includes the historical and current distribution of the lesser prairie chicken, its biology and ecology, the occurrence of natural or manmade threats or information confirming lack thereof, what areas would be considered appropriate habitat for the species, and how the harm exemptions in the proposed rule would impact the species.

The new deadline to submit comments is Feb. 12, 2014. Information on the proposed rule and how to submit comments is available here.

Additional background on the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-Wide Conservation Plan is available here.

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

Introduced Jan. 29 by Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), the bill would improve water delivery to Central Valley California communities through ending the San Joaquin River restoration program. The bill has 14 original cosponsors (all California Republicans) and has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

Approved by House Committee/Subcommittee

On Jan. 27, the Energy and Commerce Committee approved the following bills:

H.R. 2126, the Better Buildings Act – Introduced by Reps. David McKinley (R-WV) and Peter Welch (D-VT), the bill would establish a set of energy efficiency practices for landlords and tenants in commercial buildings. It would award a “Tenant Star” certification for buildings that meet these standards. The bill was approved by voice vote. Companion legislation (S. 1191) has been introduced by Sens. Michael Bennett (D-CO) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH).

H.R. 3826, the Electricity Security of Affordability Act – the bill would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing regulations related to greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, essentially preventing the Obama administration from implementing a central component of its Climate Action Plan. The bill was approved by a vote of 29-19, largely along party lines. Democratic Reps. Jim Matheson (UT) and John Barrow (GA) joined all Republicans in supporting the measure.  Companion legislation (S. 1905) has been introduced by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and John Hoeven (R-ND).

On Jan. 28, the Natural Resources Committee approved the following bills. These bills were approved by voice vote or unanimous consent unless otherwise specified.

H.R. 163, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act – Introduced by Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI), the bill would designate 32,000 acres as federally protected wilderness at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan. Companion legislation (S. 23) has been introduced by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI).

H.R. 433, the Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), the bill would designate the Pine Forest Range Wilderness in Humboldt County, NV as federally protected land.

H.R. 2095, the Land Disposal Transparency and Efficiency Act – Introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), the bill would prohibit the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from acquiring additional land until it lists its land areas available for disposal in an online database. BLM opposed the bill, citing the language prohibiting it from acquiring land while expressing support for the public database provisions. The bill passed by a partisan vote of 24-17.

H.R. 2259, the North Fork Watershed Protection Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT), the bill would restrict mineral development in Montana’s North Fork Flathead watershed.

H.R. 2657, the Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the bill would require the Interior Department to sell for disposal 3.3 million acres of lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming identified in a 1997 Clinton administration report. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has opposed the bill, asserting that the information from the 1997 report is outdated and incomplete. BLM also noted that costly environmental reviews would need to be initiated before a parcel of land could be sold and asserted that the bill would be unlikely to generate significant revenues. The bill passed by a partisan vote of 23-19.

 

H.R. 3492, the River Paddling Protection Act – Introduced by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), the bill would prohibit the Department of Interior from banning “hand-propelled vessels” on streams and rivers in Yellowstone National Park and on lakes and rivers in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

Introduced in the Senate

S. 1961, the Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act – Introduced Jan. 27 by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Joe Rockefeller (D-WV), the bill would set new standards for above ground chemical storage facilities.

S. 1966, the National Forest Jobs and Management Act – Introduced Jan. 28 by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the bill would increase the capacity to harvest timber in national forests by outlining new forest management goals and placing additional limitations on National Environmental Policy Act reviews. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

S. 1973, the America INNOVATES Act – Introduced Jan. 29 by Sens. Chris Coons (D-CT) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), the bill would modernize and reform the nation’s national lab system. Specifically, it would direct the Department of Energy to implement best practices for national labs and increase flexibility to support applied research and development activities conducted by universities and nonprofits.


 Sources:  American Association for the Advancement of Science, California Resources Agency, ClimateWire, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Natural Resources Committee, Roll Call, POLITICO, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House  

 

ESA Announces 2014 Graduate Student Policy Award Winners

WASHINGTON, DC – The Ecological Society of America has selected the 2014 recipients of its annual Graduate Student Policy Award: Sarah Anderson (Washington State University), Andrew Bingham (Colorado State University), Amber Childress (Colorado State University), Brittany West Marsden (University of Maryland) and Johanna Varner (University of Utah). The five students will travel to Washington, DC in April to participate in policy training sessions as well as meetings with decision-makers on Capitol Hill.

Anderson

Anderson complements her research into atmospheric nitrogen deposition with participation in a National Science Foundation-Interdisciplinary Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT), focused on training scientists in policy. Through IGERT, she served as a Science Policy Fellow with the US Global Change Research Program. IGERT has offered her the opportunity to collaborate with non-governmental organization scientists, cabinet advisors and policy analysts. She has also attended several workshops on communicating with policymakers and the media.

BinghamBingham, a Geographic Information Specialist with the National Park Service (NPS), has collaborated with scientists and policy experts in using geospatial data to analyze air quality for use in NPS in-house studies, peer-reviewed journals, congressional reports and interagency sharing. Bingham’s geospatial data work with NPS over the past decade has included service as a resource advisor during the BP gulf oil spill. In his master’s work at the University of Colorado he studies biogeochemical cycling and science-policy interactions.

ChildressAfter spending years in DC immersed in policy engagement, Childress decided to pursue an Ecology Ph.D. to further her understanding of climate change mitigation. During her graduate studies, she contributed to the National Climate Assessment through her work with the Great Plains Climate Assessment Technical Report. Childress’s time in Washington, DC included service as a page in the US House of Representatives and an intern for the Speaker of the House. In recent years, she has also served in the H. John Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment.

MarsdenMarsden was inspired to apply her research on aquatic vegetation populations towards policy after stints as an environmental educator at the US Fish and Wildlife Service Patuxent Research Refuge and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. She’s also been a recipient of the Environmental Protection Agency Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Fellowship among other awards. Her close vicinity to the DC region coupled with her frequent usage of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration environmental records in referencing for her research gave Marsden a unique understanding of how ecological research can be hampered by sequestration and federal government shutdowns.

VarnerVarner’s graduate research focuses on the American Pika, which shares the same species order as rabbits and hares. She is currently working with the Oregon Zoo, the US Forest Service, USGS, and US Fish and Wildlife Service to document pika status and distribution. She also studied the impacts of Hantavirus the effects of human disturbance on rodent populations in Utah. . Her fieldwork allotted her the opportunity to discuss the importance of her research with a diverse assortment of local residents and stakeholders.

These students have demonstrated their commitment to engaging in public policy and the ESA Award will allow them to build on their experiences. This April, Anderson, Bingham, Childress, Marsden, and Varner will participate in a congressional visits event in Washington, DC, sponsored by the Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) and co-chaired by ESA. The two-day event will focus on the need for sustained federal investment in biological research and education for key science agencies like the National Science Foundation. Joined by other scientists from across the nation, the students will also be briefed by policy leaders on current issues, including fiscal policy debates and the future of federal investment in science.

The ESA Graduate Student Policy Award is one of several ways the Society works to offer its graduate student members opportunities to gain public policy experience. The Society also provides policy training during its annual meeting and by request throughout the year. ESA graduate student members serve on several ESA standing committees, including the Public Affairs Committee, which works closely with ESA’s Washington, DC-based Public Affairs Office and focuses on activities to engage ecological scientists with policymakers and the media. Students may run for committee positions through ESA’s Student Section.

January 17, 2014

In this Issue

APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS PASSES FY 2014 SPENDING BILL

 

This week, Congress passed a $1.012 trillion omnibus spending measure to fund the government for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2014, which ends Sept. 30. Overall, the bill alleviates the effects of sequestration for some federal programs while placing limits on certain regulatory efforts through federal riders.

The bill uses the spending levels set by the Murray-Ryan bipartisan budget agreement as a framework, which helped foster bipartisan support for the omnibus measure. The bill was crafted under the bicameral leadership of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY).  The bill passed the House by a vote of 359-67 and subsequently passed the Senate by a vote of 72-26. The president has indicated he will sign the measure.

Several legislative riders were included in the bill to gain Republican support. Among these is a provision effectively prohibiting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and US Army Corps of Engineers from working on a new rule implementing new permit requirements for the waste materials that mining companies can dump into streams. The omnibus bill also extends a ban implemented in FY 2012, prohibiting the US Department of Energy (DOE) from funding efforts to implement its light bulb efficiency standards that would phase out incandescent bulbs. The bill also continues funding to maintain Yucca Mountain as a potential site for nuclear waste disposal. Otherwise, the bill largely skirts legislative riders that would hinder implementation of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan.

Wildfire programs within the Department of Interior and US Forest Service would receive $3.9 billion, roughly level with the pre-sequester FY 2013 enacted level. Roughly $600 million of this amount will be used to address wildfire cost overruns that occurred during FY 2013. The funding does not prevent the US Forest Service from having to borrow from other accounts if FY 2014 turns out to be an above-average year for wildfires. While Congress has traditionally allocated emergency funding in some manner, the temporary need to shift funds between FS accounts shortchanges investment in environmental restoration programs that reduce fire risk long-term.

Implementation of sequestration led to significant drops in funding for most federal agencies in the final seven months of FY 2013 (a 5.3 percent cut to non-defense discretionary programs and a 7.9 percent cut to defense discretionary programs). Enclosed are FY 2014 funding levels for key federal agencies that focus on science and the environment relative to FY 2012 enacted levels:

  • Agricultural Research Service: $1.122 billion, a $27 million increase.
  • Animal Plant Health Inspection Service: $821.7 million, a $5.2 million increase.
  • Army Corp of Engineers: $5.467 billion, a $465 million increase.
  • Bureau of Land Management: $1.1 billion (level).
  • DOE Office of Science: $5.071 billion, a $136 million increase.
  • EPA: $8.2 billion, a $200 million decrease.
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration: $17.65 billion, a $150 million decrease.
  • National Institute of Food and Agriculture: 
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $5.315 billion, a $409 million increase.
  • National Science Foundation: $7.172 billion, a $67 million increase.
  • National Park Service: $2.5 billion, a $100 billion decrease.
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service: $813 million, a $31 million decrease.
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.4 billion, a $100 million decrease.
  • US Forest Service: $5.5 billion, a $900 million increase.
  • US Geological Survey: $1.032 billion, a $36 million decrease.

Of chief concern to publishers is Section 527 of the bill, which includes a provision requiring federal agencies under the jurisdiction of the Labor, Health, Human Services and Education (Labor HHS)  Act with research budgets of $100 million or more to develop a public access policy for federally-funded published peer-reviewed research. The language calls for agencies to provide “free online public access to such final peer-reviewed manuscripts or published versions not later than 12 months after the official date of publication.” Agencies under the jurisdiction of the mandate would include the Department of Labor, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, and related health and education agencies such as the National Institutes of Health. The National Science Foundation (NSF) is not included in the Labor HHS Act language as the agency falls under the separate jurisdiction of the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill, which encompasses a different section of the omnibus.

A detailed summary of the omnibus bill can be found clicking the follow links:

Senate summary

http://www.appropriations.senate.gov/news.cfm?method=news.view&id=5aa8e660-f52e-4074-945f-9618eb963ae9

House summary

http://appropriations.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=366721

TOXIC SUBSTANCES: WEST VIRGINIA SPILL SPARKS CHEMICAL SAFETY POLICIES REVIEW

Members of Congress are beginning to review different policy responses in the wake of the recent chemical spill that left roughly 300,000 West Virginia residents without water for several days.

On Jan. 9, as much as 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (also known as crude MCHM) spilled into the Elk River due to leaks from a Freedom Industries facility storage tank. Lawmakers are currently reviewing various changes to the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. Among them is Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) who is readying a bill that would require above ground storage tanks located near a waterway to be subject to more stringent regulations, akin to existing requirements for below ground storage tanks.

West Virginia’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) issued an advisory warning pregnant women to drink bottled water until there is no longer detectable levels of MCHM in the state’s tap water. This notice came after federal officials had confirmed that MCHM levels had dropped below one part per million (ppm), which is deemed safe for consumption. The notice prompted Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Sen. Manchin to send a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which prompted the state DHHS action. Policymakers, with the backing of health groups and scientists, are now questioning whether there is enough research available to accurately confirm that the on ppm level for MCHM should be considered safe.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has stated she intends to hold hearings on the spill. The Water and Wildlife Subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), will hold a hearing focused specifically on the water issues surrounding the spill and the full committee will hold a separate hearing focused on general chemical safety.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman and Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NY) have also issued a letter to Environment and Economy Subcommittee Chairman Shimkus to hold a hearing on the issue. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV) has indicated his committee may hold a field hearing in Charleston, WV in February.

To view the House Democrats’ letter, click here:

http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Shimkus-West-Virginia-Chemical-Spill-2014-1-13.pdf

To view the West Virginia notice, click here:

http://www.wvdhhr.org/Advisory1152014.pdf

View the Capito-Manchin letter here:

http://capito.house.gov/uploads/cdcletter.pdf

WHITE HOUSE: OSTP DIRECTOR HOLDREN EXPLAINS ‘POLAR VORTEXT’ VIA YOUTUBE

In a brief two-minute YouTube video on Jan 8, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren sought to refute claims that the recent extreme cold front that hit much of North America, commonly known as the “polar vortex,” challenges the existence of global climate change.

Director Holdren clarifies that no single weather event can prove or disprove climate change while noting that the US can expect to experience an increasing frequency of extreme weather conditions as climate change increases. “A growing body of evidence suggests that the kind of extreme cold being experienced by much of the United States as we speak is a pattern that we can expect to see with increasing frequency as global warming continues,” states Holdren. 

Holdren explains that the rapid warming of the arctic is decreasing the temperature difference between the far northern regions and mid-latitude regions. As a consequence of this decreasing temperature difference between the two regions, the polar vortex weakens allowing cold air to be released from the arctic towards the mid-latitude regions while allowing warmer air to reach further north.

Watch the full video here:

www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/video/2014/01/08/polar-vortex-explained-2-minutes 

USGS: KIMBALL NOMINATED AS NEW DIRECTOR

On Jan. 9, President Obama nominated Acting-Director Suzette Kimball to lead the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

Kimball has served at USGS since 1998. Prior to her appointment as acting-director upon the departure of Marcia McNutt, she served as deputy director from 2010-2013. She served as associate director for geology from 2008-2010 and director of the eastern region from 2004-2008. She had previously served as acting director of USGS between Jan. 2009 and Nov. 2009.

The USGS director serves as the US Department of Interior secretary’s chief science advisor. The agency’s mission includes providing scientific input in response to natural disasters as well as in federal management of energy, water, biological and mineral resources.

Prior to joining USGS, Kimball spent much of the 1990s working at the National Park Service (NPS) as the southeast associate regional director and regional chief scientist. Before joining NPS she worked at the US Army Corps and Engineers and in research at the University of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Sciences.

Kimball earned her doctorate in environmental sciences with a specialty in coastal processes from the University of Virginia. She has authored over 75 technical publications covering issues that include coastal zone management and policy and natural resource exploitation.

GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS: ESA WEIGHS IN ON FEDERAL EMPLOYEE CONFERENCE ATTENDANCE

In advance of a Jan. 14 Senate hearing on the issue of conference and travel spending in the federal government, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) joined a number of scientific societies in sending letters to Capitol Hill highlighting the importance of federal employee participation in science conferences.

Referencing ESA’s annual meeting, the letter notes how scientific conferences provide for the open exchange of information that advances scientific innovation and fosters professional development for participants from a variety of backgrounds. “The exchange of information at such conferences between federal employees, industry representatives, students, teachers and practitioners serves as a vital conduit in conveying science from a multitude of disciplines,” the letter notes. “The loss of one of these critical perspectives creates a knowledge gap that hinders the capability of all the others to apply their research effectively.”

The sentiments of the ESA letter were echoed by Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) during the hearing. “When properly planned and managed, conferences serve a legitimate and oftentimes necessary purpose of fostering collaboration and partnerships between government employees, state regulators, academia and industry,” said Chairman Carper. “And while it is important that agencies make efforts to eliminate any wasteful spending on conferences and travel, we must be careful that we don’t unduly restrict the ability of our agencies to interact with outside groups.” 

View the full committee hearing here:

http://www.hsgac.senate.gov/hearings/examining-conference-and-travel-spending-across-the-federal-government

View the ESA letter here:

http://www.esa.org/esa/?post_type=document&p=10454

EPA: ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION GRANT APPLICATIONS ACCEPTED

The US Environmental Protection Agency is accepting applicants for environmental education projects under its environment education grant program.

The grant program seeks to engage communities through educational projects that improve public health through environmental stewardship. EPA will award between 22-32 grants through its 10 regional offices. The each grant will be roughly $75,000-$200,000 with the overall program totaling $2.77 million. 

Organizations eligible to apply include local education agencies, colleges or universities, state education or environmental agencies, tribal education agencies, 501(C)(3) nonprofit organizations, and noncommercial educational broadcasting entities working in education. Applications are due Feb. 4, 2014.

For additional information, click here:

http://www2.epa.gov/education/environmental-education-ee-grants

POLICY ENGAGEMENT: ESA ANNOUNCES 2014 GSPA RECIPIENTS

The Ecological Society of America has selected the 2014 recipients of its annual Graduate Student Policy Award: Sarah Anderson (Washington State University), Andrew Bingham (Colorado State University), Amber Childress (Colorado State University), Brittany West Marsden (University of Maryland) and Johanna Varner (University of Utah). The five students will travel to Washington, DC to participate in policy training sessions as well as meetings with decision-makers on Capitol Hill in April. 

Complementing her research into atmospheric nitrogen deposition, Anderson is working in a National Science Foundation-Interdisciplinary Graduate Education and Research Traineeship focused on training scientists in policy. Bingham’s geospatial data work with the National Park Service over the past decade has included service as a resource advisor during the BP gulf oil spill. After spending years in DC immersed in policy engagement, Childress decided to pursue an Ecology Ph.D, furthering her understanding of climate change mitigation.  Marsden was inspired to apply her research on aquatic vegetation populations towards policy after stints at the US Fish and Wildlife Service Patuxent Research Refuge and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Varner’s biological research has included research into the impacts of Hantavirus on rodent populations in Utah as well the effects of human disturbance.

The two-day event is sponsored by the Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition, co-chaired by ESA.

FWS: WILDLIFE REFUGES TO OFFER FEE FREE DAYS IN 2014

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that its national wildlife refuges will offer free admission days in 2014 on the following days: 

  • January 20: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • February 15-17: Presidents’ Day weekend
  • September 27: National Public Lands Day
  • October 12: The first day of National Wildlife Refuge Week
  • November 11: Veterans Day

There are 562 national wildlife refuges in the United States, 460 of which are open to the public and 35 offer a $3-$5 entrance fee. According to FWS, the refuges are visited by over 45 million people annually, generate $2.4 billion into the national economy and support over 35,000 jobs.

Additional information about National Wildlife Refuges, including refuges by location, can be found here: http://www.fws.gov/refuges/index.html

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 3862, the Clean Water Affordability Act – Introduced by Reps. Bob Latta (R-OH) and Tim Walz (D-MN), the bill would broaden how the US Environmental Protection Agency calculates what a community can spend on its water infrastructure to improve water quality. The legislation seeks to make EPA-mandated water infrastructure upgrades more affordable for low-income communities. The bill has been referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Approved by Committee/Subcommittee

H.R. 3826, the Electricity Security and Affordability Act – Introduced by House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY), the bill would prevent implementation of a rule requiring new coal-fired power plants to use carbon capture and storage technology. The subcommittee approved the bill by a vote of 18-11.

Passed House

H.R. 724, to amend the Clean Air Act to remove the requirement for dealer certification of new light-duty motor vehicles – Introduced by Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH), the bill eliminates the federal certification requirement for auto dealers to verify that new vehicles have emission systems in compliance with the Clean Air Act. The bill passed the House Jan. 8 by a vote of 405-0.

Introduced in the Senate

S. 1929, to require the Secretary of the Interior to transfer to the State of Alaska certain land for the purpose of building a road between the community of King Cove and the all-weather airport in Cold Bay, Alaska – Introduced by Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK), the bill would approve construction of a one-lane gravel road through Alaskan wilderness for the purposes of easing access of King Cove residents to an airport more suited to coping with inclement weather.  Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has rejected the proposal, asserting that it would jeopardize wildlife habitat in the region. 


 Sources:  American Association for the Advancement of Science, ClimateWire, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Appropriations Committee, POLITICO, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House

 

POSTDOCTORAL FELLOWSHIP IN FOREST ECOLOGY

Forest Global Earth Observatory -
The Center for Tropical Forest Science
Smithsonian Institution 

The Smithsonian’s Forest Global Earth Observatory - Center for Tropical Forest Science (ForestGEO-CTFS) is a global network of research plots focused on the dynamics and diversity of forests. Over the past three decades, the ForestGEO-CTFS network, involving hundreds of scientists from dozens of institutions, has established 53 standardized large-scale long-term forest monitoring plots in 23 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. This international collaboration is now monitoring the growth and survival of over 5 million trees in 10,000 species. 

One post-doctoral fellow is sought by ForestGEO-CTFS to conduct analyses of data from the network of large forest plots, focusing on the dynamics of Asian forests. Candidates should have a strong analytical background, an established record of research and scholarly publication in forest science. Research topics may include any related to the dynamics of tropical or temperate forests, emphasizing comparative studies among forests. For more information on ForestGEO-CTFS see http://www.ctfs.si.edu/

Applications should include a brief statement of research interests, a curriculum vitae, and the names of three references. Submit applications by e-mail to: Delaney Rakosnik, ForestGEO-CTFS Program Assistant (RakosnikD@si.edu). The successful applicants will be based at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. 

This announcement will stay open until the positions are filled.

 Questions can be addressed to Stuart Davies, ForestGEO-CTFS Director (daviess@si.edu). 

 The Smithsonian Institution is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.

December 20, 2013

In this Issue

BUDGET: CONGRESS APPROVES BILL ON SPENDING LEVELS FOR FY 2014, 2015

 

In its last major legislative achievement before the holiday recess, Congress passed a bipartisan budget bill (H.J.Res. 59) that sets overall federal spending levels for Fiscal Year 2014 and 2015. The deal passed the House by a vote of 332-94 and the Senate 64-36. President Obama will sign the measure.

The deal allows for $1.012 trillion in federal spending for FY 2014 and $1.013 trillion for FY 2013. The bill partially relieves sequestration for defense and non-defense discretionary spending programs through fee increases and increased pension contributions for federal workers as well as extending existing mandatory spending cuts through FY 2023.

The agreement meets about half way between the House Republican proposed budget of $967 billion and the Senate proposed budget of $1.058 trillion. Total deficit reduction in the bill amounts to $85 billion, providing a $45 billion increase in federal spending FY 2014 and $20 billion in FY 2015, equally divided between defense and non-defense discretionary programs.

The budget does not allocate funding for specific government agencies and programs, which will be tackled through the appropriations process when lawmakers return in January. The existing continuing resolution to fund the government runs through Jan. 15, 2014. The agreement also does not address the debt ceiling which will need to be raised again in February. The Senate reconvenes Jan. 6 and the House returns Jan. 7 of next year.

Addition information on the agreement is available here.

HOUSE: KEY REPUBLICAN ADVOCATE FOR SCIENCE TO RETIRE IN 2014

On Dec. 17, the House Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) and Related Agencies Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) announced he will retire from Congress at the end of his 17th term.

The northern Virginia location of his district led Wolf to be a champion of federal workers, often breaking with his party on matters related to federal worker pay. Most recently, he penned a letter to House and Senate Budget Committee leaders urging them to stop proposing budget cuts that disproportionately impact federal workers. “I cannot, in good conscience, support a budget agreement that asks the federal workforce to once again disproportionately feel the brunt of Washington’s failure to share the pain,” wrote Wolf in a Dec. 3 letter. Rep. Wolf ultimately voted for the budget deal on Dec. 12 when it was considered on the House floor.

Wolf has also been an advocate for federal investment in science – specifically the National Science Foundation (NSF), in part out of concern for the US’s leadership in scientific discovery and innovation falling behind other countries such as China. During Chairman Wolf’s tenure, NSF has often been spared the sharp cuts several other federal agencies have endured in recent years. 

While Wolf has generally been re-elected by comfortable margins, his swing congressional district is expected to be pursued by both major political parties. Republican Mitt Romney won the district by a narrow 50 percent over President Obama’s 49 percent in the 2012 presidential election.

To view the Wolf letter, click here

CLIMATE: SUBCOMMITTEE EXAMINES LINK BETWEEN EXTREME WEATHER, WARMING

On Dec. 11, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Environment held a hearing entitled “A Factual Look at the Relationship Between Climate and Weather.” Republican lawmakers held the hearing in an effort to refute the notion of a link between climate change and extreme weather events.

“Administration officials and the national media regularly use the impacts from hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, and floods to justify the need for costly climate change regulations,” asserted Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) in his opening statement. “Instead of trying to scare the American people and promote a political agenda, the administration should try to protect the lives and property of our nation’s residents from extreme weather by better weather forecasting,” Smith continued. “Politicians and others should rely on good science, not science fiction, when they discuss extreme weather.” Smith also stated that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that while some parts of the US are experiencing more drought, the reverse is occurring in other areas of the country.

Environment Subcommittee Chairwoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) countered, however, that looking broadly long-term, the IPCC and other scientific organizations agree that the world will be warmer, leading to more drought in some areas and an increase in the frequency in tropical storms in other areas. “The oceans will be warmer and that may well produce stronger or more frequent tropical storms,” stated Bonamici. “To focus only on the question of whether there will be more extreme events misses the point that by the end of this century much of the world as we know it, in our districts and states, will be considerably altered by the weather effects of climate change.”

Panelists included researchers favored by climate skeptic lawmakers who have repeatedly been called upon by Republicans to testify on climate change such as John Christy, Professor and State Climatologist, University of Alabama in Huntsville. Christy asserted that extreme weather events, while unusual are not without precedent, citing extreme droughts which occurred during the medieval period. Also testifying was Roger Pielke Jr. Professor and Director, Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Colorado. Peilke, while acknowledging man’s influence on climate change, asserted that a link between climate change and extreme weather events has not been firmly established.

The lone witness testifying on behalf of the Democrat minority members was David Titley, Director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Pennsylvania State University. Titley reinforced Bonamici’s statement that increasing ocean warming can lead to more frequent and more intense storms. “We have had for the last 36 years above normal temperatures, that is away from the center, and they are getting further and further away,” stated Titley.  “A record like that is equivalent to flipping a coin and getting ‘heads’ 36 consecutive times. The chances of that happening with an un-weighted coin: 1 in 68 billion. Put another way, you are almost 400 times more likely to win the Powerball jackpot than you are to see this temperature record if the climate was not changing.”

View the full hearing here.

EPA: LAWMAKERS REQUEST CLARIFICATION OF CLEAN WATER ACT JURISDICTION

 

On Dec. 16, 89 House Democrats sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy requesting her agency expedite issuance of a rule clarifying federal jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act (CWA).

In the past decade, two Supreme Court decisions created uncertainty over the precise jurisdiction the federal government had over the nation’s waterways. Collectively, the decisions in Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. US Army Corps of Engineers and Rapanos v. the United States called into question whether wetlands and isolated intrastate waters can be included in the CWA’s definition of “navigable waters” under federal regulatory jurisdiction. The lawmakers request EPA issue a rule that clarifies federal jurisdiction over all US waterways under CWA.

“As members of the United States House of Representatives, we urge you to swiftly propose a rule to restore protections to all of our nation’s waterways,” the letter states.  “For the sake of our communities and the prospects of having waterways clean enough to swim in, fish from, and drink from, we must have a rule that protects all waters of the United States under the Clean Water Act, and we need your leadership to make that vision a reality.”

The letter asserts that the lawmakers who passed the bill used the broader definition of “navigable waters” in defining federal jurisdiction over water quality protection. It also references a recent scientific report that affirms a chemical and biological link between streams and certain wetlands and larger bodies of water such as downstream rivers. Environmental advocates hope this link will help reinforce a broader interpretation of CWA jurisdiction by EPA.

To view the House Democrats letter, click here. To view the EPA science report, click here.

INTERIOR: CLIMATE CHANGE RESEARCH FUNDING AWARDED

 

On Dec. 18, the US Department of Interior announced its eight regional climate science centers are awarding $7 million to universities and other stakeholders for research into methods to help communities adapt to the various impacts of climate change. The initiative is part of President Obama’s climate action plan.

The eight climate science centers are coordinated through the National Climate Change and Wildlife Center at the United States Geological Survey headquarters. The centers will work with state governments, Indian tribes, universities and other partners to determine where research is needed.

The full list of awarded projects is available here.

FUNDING OPPORTUNITY: EPA SEEKS INPUT ON MANUFACTURED CHEMICALS

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a funding opportunity to advance scientific understanding of the ecological impacts associated with the use of manufactured chemicals.

As part of its Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, EPA is seeking applications to better understand the impacts manufactured chemicals have on ecosystems. This research would include study of ecological resilience and adverse impacts on biological organisms and populations, including humans. The research will be used to inform risk management practices that minimize unintended ecological consequences of chemical use.

The solicitation closing date is noon, March 4, 2014. For additional information on the initiative and how to apply, click here.


 Sources: ClimateWire, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Roll Call, the Washington Post