ESA Policy News March 17: US, Canada announce climate pledge, IPBES seeks experts, Obama court pick supports EPA authority

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. 

WHITE HOUSE: US, CANADA ANNOUNCE CLIMATE CHANGE PLEDGE

On March 10, the President Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced their two countries have agreed to a series of efforts to cut methane emissions in the oil and gas sector to mitigate the impacts of global climate change. They also reinforced their commitment to joining and implementing the Paris climate change agreement.

Both nations plan to reduce methane emissions 40-45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025 and will work to reduce their hydrofluorocarbon emissions. The statement called for increasing renewable energy investments and “conserving Arctic biodiversity through science-based decision making.” The two nations also called for all oil and gas development in the Arctic to align with science-based standards.

Click here to view the full statement.

NSF: BATTELLE CHOSEN TO MANAGE NEON

NSF selected Battelle to complete the construction, commissioning and initial operations for the $432 million project National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) project. Battelle is a nonprofit organization with the mission of translating scientific discovery and technology advances into societal benefits. They currently manage seven national laboratories and have a long history of managing large and complex technical projects.

For the next 90 days, Battelle will be in a transition period to develop an organizational/management structure to prepare for the next steps to complete construction of the network in 20 ecologically distinct zones across the United States, from Alaska to Puerto Rico.

IPBES: NOMINATIONS SOUGHT FOR GLOBAL BIODIVERSITY, ECOSYSTEMS ASSESSMENT

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is seeking nominations of experts and fellows for its global assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Nominated experts should “have expertise in one or more disciplines within natural science, social science or humanities, represent or have expertise in indigenous and local knowledge systems, or be policy experts and practitioners.” Nominations are due May 5, 2016.

IPBES began a three-year study into humanity’s impact on ecosystems and biodiversity on March 1, 2016. The study, due in 2019, will examine a wide array of lifeforms, habitats, and measure progress towards meeting commitments under the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity of the United Nation’s Convention on Biological Diversity. It released its first summary on pollinators in late February 2016.

Click here for additional details on how to submit a nomination.

Click here to read the unedited advanced summary for policymakers for the pollinator report.

SUPREME COURT: OBAMA NOMINEE SUPPORTIVE OF EPA RULES

On March 16, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, Chief Justice of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

A Chicago native, Garland began his tenure as Chief Justice in 2013. He was first nominated to serve on the court by President Clinton in late 1995, but consideration of his nomination was postponed by the Republican-controlled Congress until after the 1996 presidential election. President Clinton renominated him in Jan. 1997, and he was confirmed by a bipartisan vote of 76-23. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) were among the 23 Republicans who voted against his appointment in 1997 to the US Court of Appeals.

His record suggests some level of deference to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulatory authority. Garland was part of a three-judge panel that upheld US EPA’s mercury standards for power plants in 2014. In American Corn Growers Association v. EPA (2002), the US Court of Appeals struck down EPA’s national park haze rules. Garland dissented asserting that the agency was entitled to deference in interpreting how pollution sources should be treated. In American Farm Bureau Federation v. EPA (2009), he ruled against the agency, although it was because he determined its particle standards were not strong enough and could put human populations at risk.

HOUSE: GOP UNVEILS FY 2017 BUDGET REQUEST

On March 15, House Republicans unveiled their FY 2017 budget resolution, which would cut the deficit by $7 trillion over the decades.

The non-binding resolution does not need to be signed by the president and does not hold the force of law. It does, however, serve as a reference for appropriators when they craft their spending bills for the coming fiscal year and forecasts what their policy priorities may be. Among its environmental priorities, the budget calls for continued oil and natural gas exploration and endorses hydraulic fracturing.

The budget also criticizes the US Environmental Protection Agency for its “unprecedented activist regulatory policy to the detriment of states, localities, small businesses, and energy consumers.” The budget also “rescinds unobligated balances from stimulus green energy programs, and calls for reforming and streamlining numerous other research & development programs across the Department of Energy.”

The 40-member far-right conservative House Freedom Caucus opposes the Republican budget. Given that the overwhelming majority (if not all) House Democrats are also expected to oppose it, the measure is unlikely to pass the House of Representatives.

Click here to view the full request.

FDA: TRIAL UNDER REVIEW FOR GENETICALLY ENGINEERED MOSQUITO IN FLORIDA

The Zika virus is prompting the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine to consider approving an Investigational New Animal Drug trial from Oxitec, Ltd., regarding the company’s genetically engineered mosquitoes. As part of the review, the FDA has published for public comment a draft environmental assessment submitted by Oxitec, Ltd. that assesses the potential environmental impacts of conducting a field trial in Key Haven, Florida and a preliminary finding of no significant impact.

Oxitec’s patented technique for genetically modifying insects is known as RIDL (Release of Insects carrying a Dominant Lethal genetic system). Oxitec’s male Aedes aegypti OX513A GM mosquitoes are intended to mate with wild females and produce offspring that dies as larvae with the intent of suppressing the mosquito population at the release site.

The FDA is accepting public comments on the draft environmental assessment and the preliminary finding of no significant impact in the Federal Register. Comments must be received by April 13.

Click here for information on how to comment.

INTERIOR: OBAMA ADMINISTRATION RENEGES ON ATLANTIC DRILLING

On March 15, Interior Sec. Sally Jewell and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Director Abigail Ross Hopper announced an updated proposal for the Obama administration’s Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022. The revised proposal removes any lease sales for the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic region.

The administration cited “current market dynamics, strong local opposition and conflicts with competing commercial and military ocean uses” in its decision not to lease in the Atlantic region. The plan does permit consideration of 13 leasing sales, 10 in the Gulf of Mexico and and one sale each in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, and Cook Inlet Program Areas offshore Alaska . The Department of Defense had expressed concern that drilling off the Atlantic might affect military training.

The updated draft plan is open for 90 days of public comment. Click here for additional information as well as directions on how to comment.

FWS: LOUISIANA BLACK BEARS DELISTED FROM ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT

On March 10, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that after 24 years of recovery efforts, it will delist the Louisiana black bear as a protected species under the Endangered Species Act.

According to FWS, the formal delisting followed a comprehensive agency scientific review process as well as the release of a post-delisting monitoring plan. The agency credits curbing the net loss of forested lands in the Lower Mississippi River Alluvial River Valley, public management efforts in national wildlife refuges, wildlife management areas and Army Corps of Engineers lands in helping to protect Louisiana black bear populations.

Click here for additional information on federal Louisiana black bear recovery efforts.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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