February 28, 2014

In This Issue

WHITE HOUSE: OBAMA PROPOSES CLIMATE FUND AMONG ACTIONS TO ADDRESS DROUGHT

On Feb. 14, President Obama spoke in Fresno, CA regarding his plans to assist California amid its drought crisis. The president took the opportunity to relate climate change to the incident and discuss his latest proposal to address the issue.

“Scientists will debate whether a particular storm or drought reflects patterns of climate change,” said President Obama. “But one thing that is undeniable is that changing temperatures influence drought in at least three ways:  Number one, more rain falls in extreme downpours — so more water is lost to runoff than captured for use.  Number two, more precipitation in the mountains falls as rain rather than snow — so rivers run dry earlier in the year.  Number three, soil and reservoirs lose more water to evaporation year-round. What does all this mean?  Unless and until we do more to combat carbon pollution that causes climate change, this trend is going to get worse.”

The president’s upcoming budget will include a $1 billion climate resiliency fund for technology “to help communities prepare for a changing climate, set up incentives to build smarter, more resilient infrastructure,” said President Obama. The resilience fund would need to be approved by Congress to take effect.

The president announced immediate steps his administration is taking to address the drought. “First, we’re accelerating $100 million of funds from the farm bill that I signed last week to help ranchers,” said President Obama. “For example, if their fields have dried up, this is going to help them feed their livestock.”

The Obama administration has also dedicated $15 million, made available through USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, to hard-hit communities in California and other states coping with extreme drought. The president has also directed federal facilities in California to “take immediate steps” to conserve water. The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) has made $60 million available through The Emergency Food Assistance Program to food banks in the State of California to help families that may be economically impacted by the drought. 

The US Drought monitor reported this week that nearly three-quarters of the state of California was experiencing either extreme or exceptional drought, the latter being the worst condition. The percentage of the state under exceptional drought increased from 14.6 last week to 26.2 percent this week.

Additional information on the Obama administration’s drought response plan is available here.

SUPREME COURT: JUSTICES WEIGH EPA GREENHOUSE GAS REGULATORY POWER

This week, the US Supreme Court considered a case that may determine the scope of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulatory power over greenhouse gas emissions.

In Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, a coalition of state attorneys general and industry groups challenge EPA’s permitting process for industry “stationary sources,” including coal-fired power plants, chemical facilities and oil refineries. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is allowed to review permits to determine if necessary technologies that would help limit pollution are being used in the construction and powering of plants. Justices will determine if EPA’s existing authority includes setting permit requirements for stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases. 

In effect, a ruling in favor of industry will be narrow in scope in that it will not adversely curb EPA’s overall efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The ruling could, however, cause EPA to alter how it issues certain construction and operating permits for polluters as well as reexamine its regulatory proposals for facilities that emit greenhouse gases. Politically, it would also reinforce the sentiments of industry advocates in Congress who assert that the Obama administration’s EPA is overreaching in its efforts to address climate change.

The last major case dealing with greenhouse gas emissions, Massachusetts v. EPA (2007), dealt with motor vehicles. In that case, the court affirmed that such emissions could be regulated by EPA under the Clean Air Act.

Based on where the justices have seemed to position themselves ideologically during oral arguments, the decision is expected to be ruled by a 5-4 vote with Justice Kennedy potentially being the deciding vote.

Details of the case and a transcript of the oral argument are available at SCOTUS blog.

SENATE: SUBCOMMITTEE CONSIDERS ECONOMIC EFFECTS OF EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS

On Feb. 25, the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Oversight held a hearing entitled “Natural Resource Adaptation: Protecting Ecosystems and Economies.” The hearing was called by Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

In his opening testimony, Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren asserted that there were 11 weather events in 2012 that cost the US over $1 billion. Holdren noted that the cost of Hurricane Sandy was $65 billion and damages from drought totaled $30 billion in 2012.

“Scientifically, one cannot say that any single episode of extreme weather―no storm, no flood, no drought―was caused by climate change; but the global climate has been so extensively impacted by the human-caused buildup of greenhouse gases that many such events are being influenced by climate change,” said Holdren.

Republicans on the subcommittee took the opportunity to question agency officials on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulatory efforts to address climate change and promote clean energy sources, and how these efforts might impact wildlife. Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA) inquired whether clean energy sources that take up more land have more of an impact on endangered species. Subcommittee Chairman Whitehouse noted that FWS data suggests that wind power has a minimal impact on wildlife in comparison to buildings, pesticides, feral cats, habitat loss and hunting. 

Subsequent witnesses highlighted the impact extreme weather has had on wildlife areas. Doug Houghton, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association noted that Hurricane Sandy caused $64 million in damage to 35 wildlife refuges on the East Coast of the United States. Houhgton stated that for every dollar Congress provides to the Refuge System, $4.87 on average is returned to the local communities.

The hearing was the first attended by new committee member Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) who filled a vacant seat on the committee left by former Sen. Max Baucus, recently appointed by President Obama to serve as the US Ambassador to China. Sen. Markey took the opportunity to express his support for climate change resilient infrastructure as well as investment in solar and other clean energy initiatives.

Markey is also a member of Sen. Whitehouse’s Senate Climate Action Task Force, a group of 18 Senators working on initiatives to address climate change. The task force was formed by Whitehouse in Jan. 2014.

View the full hearing here.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: EFFORTS TO CURB WILDLIFE TRAFFICKING GARNER BIPARTISAN SUPPORT

On Weds. Feb. 26, the House Foreign Affairs Committee convened for a hearing entitled “International Wildlife Trafficking Threats to Conservation and National Security.” The hearing garnered bipartisan concern among lawmakers on the need to protect endangered species from poaching and smuggling.

“Future generations will judge our response to this crisis. If we want a world still blessed with these magnificent species, we need creative and aggressive action, working with source, transit,      and market countries to confront this challenge,” stated Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) in his opening remarks.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) emphasized the importance of this issue to national security, stating that terrorists are using wildlife trafficking to fund their activities.

House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations Ranking Member Karen Bass (D-CA) noted “international wildlife trafficking is not only a security and conservation issue, but it also undermines the stability and development of many African nations. Throughout the continent, recent spikes in poaching [have] caused instability by providing funds for illicit activities, spreading violence and hurting the nation’s ability to develop indigenousness and local sources of revenue through wildlife tourism.”

Witnesses included US State Department Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Assistant Secretary Kerri-Ann Jones, US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, US Department of Justice Environmental and Natural Resources Division Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert Dreher. The three cited the administration’s “National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking,” announced earlier this month.

Advances in weaponry and technology have increased poaching capability. Witnesses expressed a desire for more funding and enforcement mechanisms to penalize wildlife traffickers.

“Strong enforcement in the United States is not enough however. As the national strategy recognizes, wildlife trafficking is a global problem that requires a global solution,” noted Dreher. “For that reason, the Department of Justice has for many years worked closely with other federal agencies to help foreign governments build their capacity to develop and enforce their own wildlife trafficking laws.” Chairman Royce expressed receptiveness to working with the administration on legislation to advance these efforts.

For additional information on the Obama administration’s wildlife trafficking strategy, click here. To view the full hearing, click here.

 

HOUSE: SENIOR LAWMAKERS DINGELL, HOLT LATEST TO JOIN 2014 RETIREMENT WAVE

Over these past several weeks, two longtime advocates for federal investment in science and environmental protection announced their retirement.

On Feb. 24, Rep. John Dingell, who holds the record for longest serving Member of Congress, announced he would not be pursuing a record 30th term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Dingell was first elected in a 1955 special election to serve out the remainder of his father’s term, John Dingell Sr. (D-MI).

As a long-term environmental advocate and member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Dingell had a hand in helping pass a number of landmark bills including the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Wilderness Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Dingell chaired the Energy and Commerce Committee through the most of recent decades in which Democrats controlled the House, ousted shortly after the Nov. 2008 election by Rep. Henry Waxman, also retiring this year.

On Feb. 18, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), announced that he would not be pursuing a ninth term in Congress. Rep. Holt, a Ph.D. physicist, has been a strong advocate for science. He currently serves as co-chair of the Congressional Research and Development Caucus along with Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), also retiring this year. He also co-chairs the Historic Preservation Caucus, the Biomedical Research Caucus and serves as Vice Chair of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition. He was a reliable attendee at most congressional functions related to science, including the Coalition for National Science Funding Exhibition, which the Ecological Society of America has often participated in.

Rep. Holt served as Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. During his time on the committee, he was active in investing offshore energy development and hydraulic fracturing issues seeking ensure impacts on ecosystems and wildlife are taken into account in the promulgation of such initiatives.

 

KEYSTONE PIPELINE: INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT CLEARS STATE DEPT OF CONFLICT OF INTEREST

A recent report from the US State Department’s independent Office of Inspector General (OIG) concluded that the agency fully adhered to its conflict of interest standards in choosing a contractor to develop the finalized environmental review of Keystone XL pipeline.  

“Based on the information provided and interviews conducted, OIG found that the process the Department used to select [Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM)] to help prepare the Keystone XL SEIS substantially followed its prescribed guidance and at times was more rigorous than that guidance,” the report concluded. “The Department’s published guidance provides a general outline for the contractor selection process, and Department personnel managing the process drew on their previous experience to implement the process.”

The OIG did find that the State Department process could improve its public discloser and include more documentation to minimize potential misperceptions.

“The Department’s partial disclosure apparently created misperceptions that ERM had not provided all required information to the Department and that ERM and the Department were attempting to conceal conflicts of interest,” the report stated. “Those misperceptions might have been avoided had the Department explained its partial disclosure as part of a more comprehensive approach to disclosing information regarding its conflict of interest review.”

While pipeline proponents used the opportunity to once again call on the president to approve the pipeline, environmental advocates and some congressional Democrats asserted that the inspector general report was too narrow in scope, criticizing the State Department’s overall process as flawed. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) has sent a letter requesting the Government Accountability Office to review the State Department’s contractor selection process. In December last year, Rep. Grijalva spearheaded a letter to President Obama signed by 24 House Democrats that expressed conflict of interest concerns with the State Department’s environmental review.

The inspector general report is available here. The Rep. Grijalva letter is available here.

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: NMFS TO WEIGH PROTECTIONS FOR MARINE MAMMALS

On Feb. 21, the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced it was considering federal protected status for several dolphin and porpoise species in the New Zealand region.

NMFS is considering threatened or endangered listings under the Endangered Species Act for the Hector’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori), the harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), the eastern Taiwan Strait subpopulation of the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis), and the Fiordland subpopulation of the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus).

Public comments must be submitted by April 22, 2014. For additional information, click here.

CURRENT POLICY

Passed House

H.R. 2804, the All Economic Regulations Are Transparent Act – Introduced by Rep. George Holding (R-NC), the bill would require the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs to publicly post information on a rule from a federal agency for six months before it could be allowed to go into effect.

The comprehensive bill also incorporates provisions from several other regulatory bills introduced by House Republicans that would add several dozen procedural requirements to rulemaking processes and require new analyses of a federal agency rule’s indirect economic impact on small businesses and other affected entities. The bill passed the House Feb. 27 by a vote of 236-179 with 10 Democrats joining all Republicans in supporting the measure.

The Democratic-controlled Senate is not expected to act on the bill, which the Obama administration opposes. View the White House statement of administration policy on H.R. 2804 here.

Considered by Senate Committee/Subcommittee

On Feb. 27, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power held a hearing on several water bills:

S. 1419, the Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Act of 2013 – Introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the bill would reauthorize the Department of Energy’s research and development programs related to marine hydrokinetic power through Fiscal Year 2017.

S. 1771, the Crooked River Collaborative Water Security Act of 2013 – Introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the bill would modify the boundary of the Crooked River in Oregon and set requirements for applications for hydropower development at the state’s Bowman Dam.

S. 1800, the Bureau of Reclamation Transparency Act – Introduced by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the bill would require the Bureau of Reclamation to publicly report on its repair needs every other year.

S. 1946, to amend the Reclamation Safety of Dams Act of 1978 to modify the authorization of appropriations – Introduced by Sen. Wyden, the bill would remove spending caps for construction projects that improve the safety of Bureau of Reclamation dams. 

S. 1965, to amend the East Bench Irrigation District Water Contract Extension Act to permit the Secretary of the Interior to extend the contract for certain water services – Introduced by former Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), the bill would permit the secretary of the Interior to extend the East Bench Irrigation Contract contract for certain water services.

S. 2010, the Bureau of Reclamation Conduit Hydropower Development Equity and Jobs Act – Introduced by Sen. John Barasso (R-WY) the bill would ease the process of lease issuance of power privileges for nonfederal hydropower developers to build projects on eleven Bureau of Reclamation managed areas. Companion legislation (H.R. 1963) has been introduced by Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT).

S. 2019, the SECURE Water Amendments Act of 2014 – Introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), the bill would raise the authorization limit for the WaterSMART program. The bill would also make activities related to drought planning and response eligible for its grants and authorize the US Geological Survey to make grants to state water agencies to develop data on water availability and use. The provisions of the bill will collectively help develop a uniform national assessment of water availability and use.

S. 2034, the Reclamation Title Transfer Act of 2014 – Introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), the bill would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to establish a program to facilitate the transfer to non-federal ownership of certain Bureau of Reclamation projects or facilities.

Passed Senate

H.R. 2431, the National Integrated Drought Information System Reauthorization Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), the bill would authorize $13.5 billion for the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) through 2018. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent on Feb. 25. It had passed the House earlier this month by a vote of 365-21. The president is expected to sign the bill into law.


Sources: ClimateWire, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee, the Hill, House Foreign Affairs Committee, the National Journal, National Wildlife Refuge Association, POLITICO, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US News and World Report, the Washington Post, the White House  

Applications Scientist at LI-COR

Applications Scientist

Overview
1) Provide specialized technical support to researchers and scientists, especially for photosynthesis products, including plant gas exchange and leaf chlorophyll fluorescence, as well as canopy architecture, leaf area, and light measurement. 2) Provide scientific leadership in understanding and developing new products and product applications, 3) Present results to the scientific community in professional talks, workshops, and published manuscripts, 4) Write technical application notes and provide training to LI-COR customers and employees, 5) Actively participate in the technical sales process.

Professional Qualifications
Education
Ph.D. or equivalent experience in ecophysiology, environmental physics, plant physiology, agronomy or related field. Preferred experience in mathematical modeling or analysis of biological or environmental problems, turbulent fluxes, hydrologic systems, light propagation in canopies, or related processes.
Language
Ideal candidate will be fluent in Mandarin.
Experience
•Understanding and practical experience in ecophysiology, environmental physics, plant physiology, agronomy or related field.
•Familiarity with the techniques, instrumentation, and laboratory procedures fundamental to plant physiology, environmental physics, agronomy or related field.
•Understanding of mathematical and physical principles as they relate to instrumentation and biological or environmental issues.
•Demonstrated record of independent creative activity and expertise relating to plant physiology or environmental instrumentation.
•Experience in working with, teaching, or mentoring colleagues, students and/or customers.
•Demonstrated record of writing published scientific papers and/or posters or proven history of writing technical or marketing documents describing creative scientific activity of LI-COR products or applications.
•Ability to mentor others or lead teams to accomplish technical goals.
General
•Possess mature scientific judgment.
•Sustained record demonstrating initiative and motivation.
•Demonstrated creativity in generating and testing new products, applications or scientific ideas.
•Experience in mentoring individuals, team participation, facilitating small group activities, group teaching, seminar presentations or customer communication.
•Demonstrated excellent oral and written communication skills.
•Demonstrated ability to write scientific and technical documents.
•Demonstrated dependability, team player, positive attitude, and good attendance.
•Demonstrated high ethics, integrity, honesty and patience.

Position Responsibilities
Specific
Customer support
•Provide expert and sophisticated technical support to solve problems that require a high level of experience and understanding.
•Lead LI-COR in-house training courses for customers and distributors. Help organize and participate in offsite customer training and support.
Product development
•Recognize key scientific problems that must be addressed to develop and test new products, applications and protocols.
•Aid in the design and execution of experiments that address these problems.
•Lead and serve on new product development teams.
•Lead the testing and validation of new instrumentation. Conduct field experiments as needed.
•Participate in scientific meetings, travel to customer sites and read the scientific literature to understand customer requirements for instruments and their applications.
•Coordinate the logistics of Beta test sites and manage prototype and demo inventory.
Technical Sales and Marketing
•Develop and give technical presentations for customers, workshops and seminars.
•Participate in exhibitions (U.S. and International). Assist in on-site demonstrations.
•Take incoming sales calls/correspondence from customers and provide the necessary information and follow-up.
•Participate in developing and reviewing technical and promotional literature.
Scientific communication
•Write and review technical presentations and manuscripts for scientific meetings and journals.
•Write and review LI-COR technical documents such as manuals, application notes and protocols.
•Give oral technical presentations within LI-COR, to customer groups, and at major scientific meetings.
General
•Read journal articles, newsletters, product literature and other sources that present new protocols, ideas, and technologies in order to effectively implement strategies in the lab that require state-of-the-art science and technology.
•Moderate overnight and some international travel is required.
•Medium Work- Exerting 20-50 pounds of occasionally, and/or 10-25 pounds of force frequently, and/or greater than negligible up to 10 pounds of force constantly to move objects.
•Other job related duties as assigned.

APPLY: https://home.eease.adp.com/recruit2/?id=7514051&t=1

February 14, 2014

In this Issue

DEBT CEILING: CONGRESS PASSES BILL EXTENDING DEBT LIMIT TO 2015

 

This week, the House and Senate passed a bill to extend the debt ceiling through March 2015. The bill was passed shortly after the US Department of Treasury announced it had to resort to extraordinary measures to keep the nation from defaulting on its federal debt.

Passage of the clean debt ceiling occurred after several alternative proposals, including one to add legislation approving the Keystone pipeline, could not garner a majority of the Republican conference. Consequently, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), realized he would have to rely on a proposal that could gain backing of a majority of House Democrats. Congressional Democrats were steadfast in echoing the president’s sentiments that any legislation to increase in the debt ceiling be a clean bill free of extraneous measures.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 55-43 with all Republicans voting no. It passed the House with the support of 28 Republicans and opposition from two Democrats (Reps. Jim Matheson (UT) and John Barrow (GA). The 28 Republicans consisted of House Speaker John Boehner (OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA), Ken Calvert, (CA), Dave Camp (MI), Howard Coble (NC), Chris Collins (NY), Charlie Dent (PA), Mike Fitzpatrick (PA),Michael Grimm (NY), Richard Hanna (NY), Doc Hastings (WA), Darrell Issa (CA), Peter King (NY), Frank LoBiondo (NJ), Kevin McCarthy (CA), Buck McKeon (CA), Pat Meehan (PA), Gary Miller (CA), Devin Nunes (CA), Dave Reichert (WA), Harold Rogers (KY), Peter Roskam (IL),Ed Royce (CA), Jon Runyan (NJ), John Shimkus (IL), Chris Smith (NJ), David Valadao (CA) and Frank Wolf (VA).

Between the Murray-Ryan agreement on the budget in Dec. and this recent debt ceiling legislation, Congress is unlikely to have another major fiscal policy debate until early 2015, after the 2014 congressional midterm elections. The current continuing resolution (CR) of appropriations providing funding for federal government agencies runs out Sept. 30. However, during election years, Congress has traditionally passed a short-term CR allowing them to consider a more comprehensive CR during the lame duck session after the elections.

NSF: US GLOBAL LEAD IN SCIENCE INNOVATION INVESTMENT CONTINUES TO FALL

On Feb. 6, the National Science Foundation’s National Science Board (NSB) released a report, which concludes that a select group of foreign countries, including China and South Korea, are now contributing a greater share of their economies to research and development (R&D) investment than in decades past.

Since 2001, the share of the world’s R&D performed by the United States has decreased from 37 percent to 30 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, Asian countries’ share of global R&D has risen from 25 to 34 percent over the same period. China’s share alone spiked from four percent to 15 percent over that decade.

The Great Recession (2008-2009) caused declines in R&D expenditures, attributable to business R&D, the largest share of US R&D. The NSB report notes that the decrease was partially offset by the scientific research funding included in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (P.L. 111-5). According to the report, the US has rebounded better than other developed countries in overall R&D funding. The report also notes that science and technology degree job holders “weathered” the recession better than other sectors of the US workforce.

In examining the US Science and Engineering (S&E) workforce, the NSB report found that between 1960-2011, the number of workers in S&E occupations grew at an average annual rate of 3.3 percent, larger than the 1.5 percent rate of the total US workforce. The report found that 70 percent of scientists and engineers were employed in the business sector, 19 percent in the education sector and 11 percent in government. The report found that workers in S&E occupations have almost always had lower unemployment than workers in other jobs.

The report found that women compromised a higher proportion of occupations in social sciences (58 percent) and life sciences (48 percent) than in engineering (13 percent) and computer and mathematical sciences (25 percent). It also stated that while Hispanics, blacks and Native Americans make up 26 percent of the US adult population (over 21), they account for 10 percent of workers in S&E occupations. Asians, conversely, occupied 19 percent of US S&E occupations compared to their five percent representation among the US population. 

In 2011, the federal government was the primary financial support source for 19 percent of full-time S&E graduate students. Graduate students in the biological sciences, physical sciences and engineering received relatively more federal support than those in computer, math, health, or social sciences.

The report also found that tuition and fees for colleges and universities have grown sharply faster than median household income. Between 1987 and 2010 tuition and fees grew by 143 percent in the most research-intensive public universities while household incomes remain relatively stagnant during the same period. This rise coincided with a sharp 28 percent drop in state and local appropriations, which is a significant source of institution revenue.

View the full report here.

KEYSTONE PIPELINE: ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW REIGNITES PIPELINE DEBATE

The US State Department released its final environmental impact statement over the Keystone pipeline, concluding that it is unlikely to lead to a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The decision brings the debate over whether to approve back to the forefront during an election year where both sides are weighing the political ramifications of policy decisions.

Advocates of the pipeline have used the findings to argue that the Obama administration should hastily approve the Keystone pipeline and can be expected to raise the issue repeatedly as the 2014 congressional midterms get underway. It can be expected that key Republicans in Congress will seek to legislatively mandate approval of the pipeline. Past efforts seeking to expedite approval have largely in blocked by the Democratic-controlled Senate. House Republican leaders had wrestled over whether to include legislating mandating approval of the pipeline in a vote to raise the national debt limit.

The Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-78) included a provision requiring the administration to issue a decision within 60 days of the law being signed. The administration complied, rejecting the proposal citing the imposed time constraints and allowed TransCanada to reapply. “This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people,” asserted President Obama in a White House press statement.  “I’m disappointed that Republicans in Congress forced this decision, but it does not change my Administration’s commitment to American-made energy that creates jobs and reduces our dependence on oil.”

Response from Democrats in Congress has been mixed. “I will not be satisfied with any analysis that does not accurately document what is really happening on the ground when it comes to the extraction, transport, refining, and waste disposal of dirty, filthy tar sands oil,” stated Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA). “My biggest concerns continue to be the serious health impacts on communities, and the dangerous carbon pollution that comes from tar sands oil.”

“While still flawed, this environmental review recognizes that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline could have a significant effect on carbon pollution, depending on variables such as oil prices and transportation costs,” stated House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA), who also co-chairs the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change.  “Keystone XL is the oil industry’s number one priority because it is critical to their plans to triple production of tar sands, the most carbon-polluting oil on the planet.  Approving the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would be a huge step in the wrong direction on climate change – a step America, and the world, can’t afford to take.” 

Sens. Mark Begich (D-AK), Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Mary Landreiu (D-LA) have joined Republicans in calling for the administration to approve the pipeline. The three Senators in highly contested reelection campaigns in states that generally swing Republican. “Last week’s environmental impact statement is further proof that we must move ahead with the Keystone XL Pipeline and that is why I have been urging President Obama to approve it now,” said Sen. Begich in a press statement. “Alaskans understand the common sense benefits: a secure source of oil from a trusted ally and neighbor and more American jobs. After five years of carefully studying this project, it’s time to build this pipeline and move toward a more secure energy future for our country.”

“This project enjoys widespread support from Republicans and Democrats as well as job creators and American workers, and will bring thousands of jobs and greater energy security to America without jeopardizing safety or the environment,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) in a press statement. “To kick off his ‘year of action,’ President Obama should use his pen and approve the permit without any further delay. After enduring over five years of review, there is absolutely no reason to keep the American people waiting another day.”

The next step after the completion is a 90 day review period to allow other federal agencies to review the report as well as allow for public comment. Beyond that, there is not a mandate for a specific date for when the administration must issue a final decision.

Click here for additional background on the final EIS as well as directions on how to comment on the environmental impact statement: http://www.keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/

NATURAL RESOURCES: COMMITTEE REVIEWS FISHERIES MANAGEMENT LEGISLATION

On Feb. 4, the House Natural Resources Committee met to consider Chairman Doc Hasting’s (R-WA) draft legislation to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the primary fisheries management law, which expired at the end of 2013.

The bill would reauthorize fisheries management programs through FY 2018. The bill includes provisions to remove certain National Environmental Policy Act requirements and requires some fishery management councils to win the approval of permit holders before they can implement management plans. Committee Democrats expressed concern that Republicans did not work with them in a bipartisan manner as in past efforts to reauthorize the bill, first enacted in 1976.

Ranking Member Peter DeFazio’s (D-OR) concerns with the bill included lack of provisions to ensure cooperative research and management as well as provisions to deter pirate fishing and conflicts with ocean energy development. He also expressed concern that the legislation does not properly manage genetically modified salmon in a manner to allow sufficient recovery of native salmon.

Witnesses during the second panel included Ecological Society of America member Ellen Pikitch, Director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at Stony Brook University. In her testimony, Pikitch noted the success of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and its subsequent reauthorizations in preventing overfishing, rebuilding fish populations and its utilization of “science-based catch limits for all federally managed fish.” Pikitch expressed concern that the draft bill would weaken the law’s rebuilding requirements. In her testimony, she asserted “extending overfishing will, at worst, increase the risk of severe collapse for some fish populations, and, at best, greatly delay their recovery – jeopardizing both the resiliency of the fish population and the long-term economic viability of businesses and communities that rely upon them.”

Witnesses during the initial panel included Samuel Rauch, Deputy Assistant Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service and Richard Robins, Chair of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. Both witnesses stressed the importance of maintaining the law’s current discretion for federal managers of fisheries and maintaining annual catch limits. Both emphasized that such management decisions much remain primarily data driven by “the best fishery science—biological, ecological, and socioeconomic,” as stated in Rauch’s testimony.

View the full hearing here.

FWS: REPORT CONCLUDES WOLF DELISTING FAILED TO ADEQUATELY UTILIZE SCIENCE

An independent peer review report found that the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) “did not use the best available science” in their decision to delist gray wolves from protection from the Endangered Species Act.

Commissioned by FWS, the report was led by the University of California-Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. The report concluded that the delisting rule relied heavily on a 2012 FWS study by agency scientists that was “not universally accepted.”  Among its findings, the 2012 study had concluded that wolves in the Great Lakes were a distinct species that didn’t warrant federal protection. Reviewers authoring the report also noted “a lack of appropriate use of the literature on species level taxonomy.”

FWS is opening a comment period on the report after which it will make a final determination on the wolf delisting rule, likely towards the end of the year.

View the full report here.

Information on how to comment is available here.

FWS: ADMINISTRATION TO BAN COMMERCIAL TRADE OF ELEPHANT IVORY

On Feb. 11, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans to initiate a ban on trade of commercial elephant ivory.

The new ban will restrict the import, export, and commercial sale of elephant ivory within the United States. The ban will also prohibit interstate commerce in all ivory with the exception of antiques and items imported for commercial purposes before international commercial trade in these species was prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). FWS will define an “antique” as an item being over 100 years old and meet other Endangered Species Act requirements. The burden will be upon the owner/seller of the item to meet the criteria.

FWS will also revoke a previous special rule that had relaxed endangered species law limitations on African elephant ivory trade. The agency will also limit the number of African elephant sport-hunted trophies that a hunter can import to two per year.

The ban is part of the Obama administration’s National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking. For additional information, click here.

CURRENT POLICY

Considered by House Committee

On Feb. 11, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on the Environment held a hearing on the following bill:

H.R. 4012, the Secret Science Reform Act of 2014 – Introduced by Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ), the bill would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from taking regulatory action based upon scientific information unless the information influencing the rulemaking is specified and made publically available.

Passed House

H.R. 3590, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH), the comprehensive legislation would expand hunting, fishing and shooting on federal lands. The administration and many Congressional Democrats objected to the bill due to its limitations of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review requirements. The bill passed the House Feb. 5 by a vote of 268-154 with 41 Democrats joining all Republicans in supporting the measure.

The White House Statement of Administration Policy on the bill is available here

H.R. 3964, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery ActIntroduced by Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), the bill would improve water delivery to Central Valley California communities by ending the San Joaquin River restoration program. The administration opposed the bill stating that “contrary to current and past federal reclamation law that defers to state water law, the bill would preempt California water law” and “result in the resumption of costly litigation.” It passed the House Feb. 5 by a vote of 229-191 with seven Democrats joining all but two Republicans in supporting the legislation.

The White House Statement of Administration Policy on the bill is available here.

H.R. 2954, the Public Access and Lands Improvement Act – Introduced by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), the comprehensive public lands bill includes provisions to prohibit the Bureau of Land Management from acquiring new land until it creates a public database listing land available for disposal, expedite logging in areas California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains impacted by a recent wildfire, authorize paddling on the streams and rivers of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks within three years and open Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina to vehicular access, overriding various NEPA requirements. The bill passed the House Feb. 6 by a vote of 220-194 with six Democrats joining all but six Republicans in support of the measure.

The White House Statement of Administration Policy on the bill is available here.


 Sources:  ClimateWire, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee, the Hill, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, the National Journal, National Science Foundation, Roll Call, POLITICO, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House