In This Issue
ESA scientists from West Virginia and Pennsylvania met with the congressional offices of their Senators and Representatives to emphasize the importance of funding basic research across scientific disciplines. The meetings formed part of Congressional Visits Day, a two-day annual event that brings scientists, engineers, researchers, educators, and technology executives to Washington to raise visibility and support for science, engineering, and technology. ESA helped to sponsor and organize the event.
In addition to meeting with members of Congress, participants themselves were briefed on federal science budgets by key policy makers from a range of institutions, including the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, House Science Committee, Smithsonian, and AAAS. ESA also organized an additional session focusing on ecological and agricultural sciences.
Scientists’ perspectives on federal funding of science come at a crucial period in the year, as congressional committees are crafting multiple appropriations bills for fiscal year (FY) 2006 and attempting to reconcile them with the President’s budget request for federal agencies.
The Bush administration repealed the Clinton-era Roadless Area Conservation Rule, replacing it with a program allowing governors 18 months to petition the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to protect inventoried roadless areas on national forests in their states.
As Democratic lawmakers pledged to fight the repeal, many western governors and industry groups celebrated the release of a new Bush Administration rule that they say would lead to a more balanced use of national forests with expanded community and state involvement.
Under the final rule, officially the “State Petitioning Rule”, the advisory committee — a 12-member panel of representatives from “diverse national organizations interested in the conservation and management of National Forest System inventoried roadless areas” — will have 90 days to review each petition submitted by the states. The Agriculture secretary would then have 6 months to accept or decline the petition. If a petition is accepted, USDA and the state would cooperate in a state-specific rulemaking that would be subject to public review and National Environmental Policy Act analysis. As with the proposed rule from last summer, the Agriculture secretary would have the final say.
If a state fails to petition USDA or if an application is rejected, roadless areas would be subject to the management plans of each forest. Some of those plans allow for long-range development of logging, mining and other commercial activities, but agency officials have noted the majority of roadless areas would be protected under current plans.
Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA), Ranking Member of the House Forests Subcommittee, said he would reintroduce legislation this year that would codify the Clinton roadless rule. Although the roadless rule is an administrative rulemaking, congressional Democrats have attempted in previous years to make it permanent.
“A salient underlying assumption here the White House made is that the national forests belong only to the people who live within those states,” Inslee said. “You and I own those national forests in Alaska just as much as Don Young does,” he added, referring to the Alaska Republican Congressman.
But such an effort likely has little chance in the House, where western GOP lawmakers have lamented restrictions on industry activities in national forests.
Defense Department (DOD) efforts to win flexibility and exemptions under several environmental laws are reaching a key stage this week as the House and Senate Armed Services Committees move ahead with defense authorizing bills. As in past years, military officials are seeking language easing application of several statutes to firing ranges and other training activities, claiming the provisions are needed to help ensure readiness.
Environmental groups and other opponents are ramping up pressure to stymie the Pentagon in efforts to win relief from the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and Superfund.
The military has won new flexibility and relief under the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in recent years, but has not made headway with the air, waste and Superfund laws.
A suite of environmental groups, local and state government officials, water utility associations and several other opponents are opposing the exemptions. Groups are in particular pressing Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, to claim jurisdiction over the environmental statutes and keep the issue in his committee instead of the Armed Services Committee.
“If he [Barton] fails to assert jurisdiction over DOD’s proposals, then it sails,” said Grant Cope of the Sierra Club. An Energy and Commerce Committee aide said that no decision had yet been made.
Pressure is gathering on lawmakers. On May 9, for instance, state and local air quality regulators in a letter to the chair and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee urged them to block the effort.
“The CAA exemptions DOD is seeking are unwarranted and would impede local, state and federal efforts to attain and maintain health-based National Ambient Air Quality Standards and deliver healthful air to the citizens of our nation. Such exemptions would also interfere with efforts to protect air quality in national parks and other important ecosystems,” said the letter from the State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators and Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officials.
Opponents are also reiterating claims that existing environmental laws do not impede military training and readiness.
ESA has issued comments in the past on proposed environmental exemptions for the Defense Department:
Facing stringent salmon restrictions in the western U.S. due to record low runs, members from Oregon’s and California’s Democratic Congressional delegation asked federal officials for disaster relief for fishers and others in the industry.
“This will result in catastrophic economic losses for fishing families and for fishing dependent communities,” wrote 37 House Democrats in a letter to Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. “The estimated loss to the West Coast commercial fishing fleet could, by conservative estimates, be tens of millions of dollars.”
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries is looking into whether losses suffered by the salmon industry qualify for a disaster declaration. Such a move would qualify fishers and others for long-term, low-interest loans and other assistance.
A wide range of international requirements on labeling and traceability of genetically modified (GM) crops has made compliance by the U.S. food industry complicated and costly, says a newly released report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The report, which was issued by an USDA advisory committee, said clarifying some requirements and putting some testing mechanisms in place could help the U.S. food sector meet the challenges of new international regulations on products of biotechnology.
Meanwhile, some in the U.S. food industry struggle to comply with the new European Union rules on labeling and traceability of biotech foods. Under the rules, all food containing more than 0.9 percent of GM material would have to carry a label indicating the presence of the technology. U.S. officials have blasted the requirements as a trade barrier.
The requirements have been further complicated in recent months by the discovery of an unapproved genetically modified strain of corn that recently contaminated U.S. stocks. In April, the E.U. last month issued a list of 26 biotech products that are approved for use in its member states and voted to block imports of U.S. maize animal feed and grains unless accompanied by analytical reports that guarantee them to be free of the strain.
The United States is looking to join an international treaty calling for the phase-out of a dozen of the world’s most hazardous pesticides and chemicals, a U.S. official said as delegates from 130 nations met for high-level talks in Uruguay.
The United States and Russia are the biggest industrialized countries that have yet to ratify the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants– a U.N.-sponsored treaty seeking to restrict 12 chemicals commonly known as the “dirty dozen.”
“Our hope is that next year we will be a party to the treaty,” said Claudia McMurray, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Environment.
Some 98 countries have ratified the convention that calls on countries to stop production, sale, and use of the substances, many of them found in poisons used to fend off or kill mosquitoes, termites and other insects found on crops or in homes.
Among them are Polychlorinated Biphenyls, or PCBs, dioxins, and DDT. Others include furans and the pesticides aldrin, hexachlorobenzene, chlordane, mirex, toxaphene, dieldrin, endrin and heptachlor.
While having widespread support among U.S. lawmakers, the treaty remains stuck before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is waiting for other Senate and House committees to draft legislation that would bring U.S. law into alignment with other signatories over the methods by which toxic chemicals would be added to the restricted or banned list in the future.
Sources: Environment & Energy Daily; Greenwire; Washington Post