In This Issue
ESA member Jim Collins was tapped to become head of the Biology Directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF). A longtime NSF grantee for his work on morphological variation within species, Collins has more recently begun to explore the fledgling field of ecological ethics. He hopes to expand biology’s interactions with NSF’s seven other directorates and other federal agencies and says he isn’t fazed by the dim prospects for significant budget increases.
The Ecological Society of America joined 30 fellow scientific societies on an August 25 letter to Representative Barton (R-TX), Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The societies express deep concern over the review the committee has undertaken of three scientists’ climate change research results. They strongly urge the committee to make use of institutions such as the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Research Council, which have traditionally served as unbiased arbitrators on complicated scientific issues.
The letter is available at http://www.esa.org/pao/esaPositions/Letters/LetterRepresentativeBarton.php
The letter forms part of the wider scientific community’s response to Rep. Barton’s request in June for raw data, detailed explanations, and financial information from the three scientists who authored a controversial climate study. See ESA Policy News for July 22, 2005: http://www.esa.org/pao/PolicyNewsUpdate/pn2005/07222005.php
California, New Mexico and Oregon sued the Bush Administration Tuesday over the government’s decision to allow road building, logging and other commercial ventures on more than 90,000 square miles of untouched forests.
In the lawsuit, attorneys general for the three states challenged the U.S. Forest Service’s repeal of the Clinton administration’s “roadless rule” that banned development on 58.5 million acres of national forest, mostly in western states.
The administration’s move puts at risk “some of the last, most pristine portions of America’s national forests,” California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said. “Road building simply paves the way for logging, mining and other kinds of resource extraction.”
In January 2001, just eight days before he left office, President Clinton put almost one-third of the nation’s 192 million acres of national forest off-limits to road construction, winning praise from conservation groups and criticism from the timber industry.
But in May, the Bush administration replaced the regulation with a new policy requiring states to work with the Forest Service to decide how to manage individual forests. Governors were given 18 months either to petition the agency to keep their states’ forests protected or to open the undeveloped areas to roads and development.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco, alleges that the Bush administration’s repeal of the roadless rule violated federal law because the government did not conduct a complete analysis of the new regulation’s environmental impact.
Mark Rey, the Agriculture Department’s Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment, called the lawsuit “unfortunate and unnecessary.”
“The quickest way to provide permanent protection is through the development of state-specific rules, not by resuscitating the 2001 rule,” Rey said.
He pointed out that the Clinton-era rule has been struck down in federal court. In 2003, a federal judge in Wyoming ruled that the executive branch had overstepped its authority by effectively creating wilderness areas on U.S. Forest Service land. In July, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed environmentalists’ appeal of that ruling, saying the new Bush rule made the issue moot.
Bush Administration Cabinet members emphasized “cooperative conservation” at the first presidential conference on the environment in forty years. President Bush said he hoped the meeting would boost local involvement nationwide.
Jim Connaughton, Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the Administration wants to dramatically expand the federal programs that allow for local conservation efforts yet also ”reduce some of the expansive machinery of government that can sometimes get in the way.”
“The federal government owns and manages 1 of every 5 acres,” Connaughton said. ”This is about how to work out paths to engage in conservation on the other 4-out-of-5 acres.”
Agencies emphasized opportunities such as Interior Department programs that give direct financial help for conservation by ranchers and other private landowners, Environmental Protection Agency help for commercially redeveloping waste sites, and Agriculture Department backing for preserving farmland.
But critics of Bush’s environmental record caution against relying too much on public- private partnerships. ”I would be skeptical of any contention that ‘cooperative conservation’ is the only tool needed,” said Michael Bean, a senior lawyer for Environmental Defense. ”I think they want to emphasize that and de-emphasize the regulations.”
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warned that procedures designed to protect the environment can sometimes jeopardize U.S. troops and should be balanced against military needs.
“When those concerns are not balanced, the consequence can be unfortunate,” he said at the White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation.
Since 2002, the Pentagon has asked Congress to exempt the military from various environmental laws or grant it delays in meeting regulatory requirements.
Congress has agreed so far to five of the Pentagon’s eight requests, including making changes to the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Lawmakers initially rejected most of the Pentagon’s appeals after Congress’ Government Accountability Office reported in 2002 it had found little to support the Pentagon’s claims that environmental laws are hindering military training.
Rumsfeld said the Defense Department recognizes that some lifesaving military training depends on conserving habitat for wildlife and forestalling encroachment by suburban sprawl. For example, working with conservation groups and other agencies to set aside buffers for wildlife habitat on nearby private lands has allowed the military to conduct exercises without restrictions on noise and use of airspace while simultaneously protecting the habitat, he said.
Military bases in areas once considered remote are now the habitats for a quarter of all 1,268 endangered and threatened species because their grounds are less disturbed, said Assistant Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Alex Beehler.
Nine Northeastern states have tentatively agreed to a plan that would cap power plant emissions at their current levels and reduce them by 10 percent by 2020.
The first such cooperative action of its kind in the United States, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative would set up a market-driven system to control carbon dioxide emissions from more than 600 facilities. The agreement would include Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. In addition, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, the Eastern Canadian Provinces and New Brunswick are observers in the process. California, Washington and Oregon are considering a similar regional agreement.
Once a final deal is reached, the states involved will have to pass new legislation to bring it into force.
Meanwhile, the White House proposed new rules on fuel efficiency for light trucks. Under the new guidelines, all U.S. car manufacturers will have to ensure pick-up trucks, minivans and some sport utility vehicles (SUVs) get more miles to the gallon by 2011.
However, the new rules will not apply to the largest SUVs, leading some analysts to suggest that the rules may encourage automakers — especially U.S. manufacturers who make most of their profit from larger vehicles — to focus more of their resources toward producing large SUVs and scale back production of smaller light trucks.
Sources: AP/Environmental News Service; BBC News; Boston Globe; Greenwire; Science; The New York Times; USA Today.