ESA action alert on Farm Bill;
FWS extends comment period on wolf delisting;
Science Laureates bill torpedoed;
EPA announces environmental justice grants;
NOAA says human activity influenced 2013 extreme weather events.
Jill Baron takes up the chair of ESA’s governing board, which lays out the vision for overall goals and objectives for the Society.
Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: ENVIRONMENTAL AGENCIES SLASHED, FIRE PREVENTION GETS BOOST Congress has adjourned for the August district work period leaving a full plate of must-dos when members return after Labor Day. Many items on their list will need to be addressed before the end of September. The largest item will be the completion of the appropriations cycle. While it is typical for many (if not most) appropriations bills not to have been sent to the president’s desk at this stage, the current party divide between the House and the Senate had added an extra layer of contention to the appropriations cycle in recent years. The Democratic-controlled Senate must reach a consensus with the Republican-controlled House on spending levels for 12 appropriations spending bills in order to prevent a partial or full shutdown of the government on Sept. 30, when Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 ends. The partisan tension is heightened by the continued budget sequestration, given that Republicans in the House are drafting their non-defense discretionary spending assuming the sequestration continues through FY 2014 while Senate Democrats are drafting their bills in line with the much higher spending caps originally mandated in the Budget Control Act in 2011. Nonetheless, unless the House and Senate can either come up with a deficit reduction alternative to the existing sequester or vote to nullify it altogether, sequestration by law will continue to be implemented through FY 2014 and beyond. Congress must also reach a consensus on reauthorization of the farm bill, which also runs out on Sept. 30. Both the House and Senate have passed farm bills, but the legislation differs substantially both in funding and scope. The Senate bill, which passed by a bipartisan vote of 66-27, also includes a requirement that farmers meet certain conservation requirements in order to receive federal subsidies for crop insurance. The House farm bill, which passed by a narrow vote of 216-208 with no Democratic support, does not include the conservation provisions and lacks a food stamp extension as House Republicans were not able to reach a consensus on food stamp funding prior to the August recess. It also differs from the Senate in that it includes provisions that waive regulatory rules related to pesticide control and environmental reviews of forestry projects. Another major issue Congress will have to tackle around the same time is the national debt ceiling, which is projected to be reached around the start of the new fiscal year. Members of Congress have so far been unsuccessful in reaching an agreement on a deficit...
The 98th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America commemorated this year’s 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act with an Ignite session that brought together a diverse group of panelists to give an overview of the landmark law, its accomplishments and insights into various methods to improve species recovery. Daniel Evans, an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow with the USDA Forest Service, took the lead in organizing The Endangered Species Act turns 40: Lessons learned for conservation of threatened and endangered species in the United States. Evans outlined the four main causes of species’ decline: habitat destruction/degradation, introduction of exotic/invasive species, pollution and overexploitation. He explained that the Endangered Species Act has stymied a great deal of exploitation, which was the single biggest driver of species decline during the 18th and 19th centuries. However, he noted that the three other causes remain with habitat destruction and degradation being the biggest driver of extinction. Camille Parmesan, with the University of Texas, proposed coping with habitat fragmentation by transplanting certain endangered and threatened species to less imperiled areas.. As an example, she referenced her research on how climate change has altered the geographical range of Edith’s checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha). Sylvia Fallon, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) land and wildlife program, gave an overview of contemporary legislative attempts at the federal level to alter enforcement of the law. She noted that while the majority of unprecedented efforts to legislatively delist species have come from Republican leaders in Congress, Senate Democrats pushed legislative language co-authored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) to remove federal protections for gay wolves in Montana and Idaho. The incentive for pushing this measure was to give Senator Tester a legislative victory he could promote at home in hopes of bolstering his 2012 re-election efforts, which were ultimately successful. Fallon noted that while prior attempts to weaken the scope of the law from Members such as former Congressman Richard Pombo (R-CA) failed, current budget constraints are likely to motivate Members of Congress to continue to pursue legislative efforts to alter federal protections for endangered species in the name of deficit reduction. The current political climate and pressure from Congress may also motivate the administration to delay decisions on listing certain species, said Fallon. Mark Schwartz, of the University of California-Davis, suggested that, given current funding constraints, we need to generate alternative methods to sustain imperiled species. Schwartz also cited various factors which result in uneven funding for animal and plant species. Among them: congressional priorities, agency decisions and the general popularity of furry and “cute” species over scaly or otherwise less appealing...
Amid all the partisan turmoil in Congress, it seems Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate have actually reached a consensus on one issue – that the administration’s proposal to consolidate Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education programs needs to go back to the drawing board. The proposal, first introduced in the president’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget request, would reduce programs across all federal agencies from 226 to 112 and house them under the National Science Foundation (NSF) (undergraduate and graduate), the Department of Education (K-12) and the Smithsonian Institution (informal education programs). Agencies that have traditionally sponsored STEM programs and fellowships such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration would see their initiatives consolidated under the aforementioned agencies. Key leaders in both the House and Senate concur that the administration has not sufficiently clarified its rationale for eliminating certain programs nor has it sufficiently collaborated or sought input from the science and education communities. This sentiment was most recently expressed by the Senate Commerce Justice and Science Subcommittee in its report that accompanied the subcommittee’s Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations bill: “While the Committee maintains its support of greater efficiencies and consolidation – as evident by adopting some of the STEM consolidation recommendations made by the administration’s budget request – the Committee has concerns that the proposal as a whole has not been thoroughly vetted with the education community or congressional authorizing committees, and lacks thorough guidance and input from Federal agencies affected by this proposal, from both those that stand to lose education and outreach programs and from those that stand to gain them.” The report notes that the administration’s STEM strategic plan was released in May, a month after the budget request and that the reorganization proposal, as laid out in the budget request, does not fully clarify how it will meet the goals mandated by the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-358). Consequently, the committee report language effectively defers implementation of the consolidation proposal “until such time that OSTP, in working with these and other Federal science agencies, finalizes the STEM program assessments as required by America COMPETES.” The House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee report also disparages the Administration’s proposal: “The ideas presented in the budget request lack any substantive implementation plan and have little support within the STEM education community. In addition, the request conflicts with several findings and activities of the National Science and Technology Council Committee on STEM Education, most notably on the question of whether agency mission-specific fellowship and scholarship programs are a viable target...