Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Piper Corp. Read the full Policy News here.
SENATE CLIMATE DEBATE: UNCERTAINTY REMAINS HIGH AS KERRY, LIEBERMAN, AND GRAHAM PREPARE TO RELEASE CLIMATE BILL
Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) are set to unveil their much-anticipated climate and energy bill on Monday, April 23. The trio will not formally introduce it, since doing so would trigger the committee process. Instead, they plan to hand it directly to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who will oversee its progress closely, first calling on all Senate committees with jurisdiction to submit their changes over the next few weeks.
The bill is the product of months of negotiations and includes a notable amount of committee input already—according to Lieberman, the draft will reference all of the energy bill passed by the Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee last summer (S 1462) and draw from in-depth conversations with Finance Committee staff. Still, several lawmakers are worried that the committee process—critical, they say, to arriving at a bipartisan consensus—could be circumvented entirely. For more information on S 1462, see the June 19 edition of the ESA Policy News.
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION: HOUSE SCIENCE SUBCOMMITTEE APPROVES $48B NSF R&D BILL
On April 14, the House Science Committee held the second of three subcommittee markups on the reauthorization of the 2007 America COMPETES Act.
The Research and Science Education Subcommittee approved by voice vote a bill that would authorize $47.5 billion for research and development programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF) over the next five years. Of the agency’s research budget, at least 5 percent would go toward high-risk, high-reward basic research proposals.
ARCTIC NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE: FWS TO UPDATE ANWR MANAGEMENT PLANS; ALASKAN SENATORS VOW TO BLOCK ADDITIONAL WILDERNESS DESIGNATIONS
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)—home to one of North America’s largest caribou herds as well as what could be, by US Geological Survey estimates, as much as 10.3 billion barrels of oil and substantial natural gas deposits—is again the source of debate, after the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced plans to revise its management plans. Alaska Senators Mark Begich (D) and Lisa Murkowski (R) fear that the new plans will hinder their efforts to open the area for drilling and have therefore vowed to block the agency from moving forward.
ANWR drilling is already prohibited under the 1980 Alaskan National Interest Lands Conservation Act, with the exception of projects authorized by Congress. Begich and Murkowski introduced a bill last year (S 503) to open up more than a million acres of the refuge for energy development, an effort that would be halted were Congress to designate the site a wilderness area. Though federal agencies cannot make such designations themselves, they can spur congressional action with recommendations. The new management plan could include such recommendations, and FWS has said that all areas in the refuge would be “open for discussion.”
WIND ENERGY: INTERIOR RECEIVES NEW GUIDELINES TO MINIMIZE IMPACT OF WIND FARMS ON WILDLIFE
On April 13, the Wind Turbine Guidelines Federal Advisory Committee finalized its recommendations for minimizing the impact of land-based wind farms on wildlife and habitat. The committee, established in 2007, is comprised of a range of experts and stakeholders, including representatives from government, wildlife conservation groups, and wind industry interests.
PUBLIC LANDS: OBAMA ANNOUNCES PLAN TO DEVELOP FEDERAL LAND CONSERVATION STRATEGY
On April 16, President Obama signed a presidential memorandum to launch the “America’s Great Outdoors” initiative: an interagency effort that will use existing and nonfederal resources—rather than additional funding—to develop a federal conservation strategy for protecting outdoor spaces.
According to Obama, private land trusts have already conserved 10 million acres through voluntary efforts; the Agriculture Department has preserved an additional 33 million. Conservation groups praised the initiative, though some have called on the Administration to support its goals with additional federal funding.
CLEAN WATER ACT: ‘NAVIGABLE WATERS’ BACK UNDER CONSIDERATION IN THE HOUSE
On April 21, Representative James Oberstar (D-MN) introduced a bill to extend Clean Water Act protections to all of the nation’s fresh waters by effectively reversing two Supreme Court decisions—Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. United States Army Corps of Engineers (2001) and Rapanos v. United States (2006)—that limited the law’s scope to “navigable” waters.
Although Oberstar’s bill is the fifth attempt at restoring the original language in the Clean Water Act, increased stakeholder involvement and unprecedented progress in the Senate have given supporters new cause for optimism. Last year marked the first time a companion bill made it through committee (albeit with strong GOP opposition), when the Senate and Environmental Public Works Committee voted 12-7 in favor of S 787. Farm and industry groups have been outspoken critics of such efforts, arguing that they will impose unreasonably strict and economically burdensome regulations on bodies of water “as insignificant as puddles.”
For more information, see the May 7, 2009 edition of the ESA Policy News.
OFFSHORE ENERGY: PIVOTAL SENATORS IN CLIMATE DEBATE INTRODUCE BILL TO PROMOTE OFFSHORE WIND
A number of coastal senators—including many key swing votes in the upcoming climate debate—recently introduced legislation to promote offshore wind energy development. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), sees offshore wind as a source of manufacturing jobs in his state, which could supply equipment to Great Lakes-based wind projects. Maine Senators Olympia Snowe (R) and Susan Collins (R) are both cosponsors, as are Delaware Senators Tom Carper (D) and Ted Kaufman (D).
Although Brown is not proposing that his bill be integrated into the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham package, his office says it would consider “any moving legislative vehicle.” It may be possible, then, for the bipartisan climate effort to use the legislation as grounds for negotiating the support of Brown and his cosponsors.
PASSED BY THE HOUSE
- Estuary conservation (HR 4715): On April 15, the House voted 278-128 in favor of legislation to reauthorize and broaden the National Estuary Program, after amending the measure to broaden its scope. The program, created in 1987, provides grants to improve the quality of estuaries of national importance. HR 4715 would modernize the program by assessing estuaries at a broader spatial scale; improving public education about estuary ecology and water quality; and considering the impacts of climate change and estuary-based sustainable commerce.
PASSED BY COMMITTEE
- Lake Tahoe (S 2724): On April 21, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee approved a bill to boost funding for Lake Tahoe restoration projects over the next eight years, increasing the total authorization from $300 million over ten years to $415 million over eight years. S 2724 also includes funding for enforcing limits on the nutrients entering the lake each day.
- Migratory birds (HR 2062): EPW also approved a bill to increase penalties for harming protected migratory birds, making the illegal killing of such birds a felony punishable by a fine and up to a year in prison (as many as two years for second-time offenders). The bill was crafted after twelve West Coast pigeon enthusiasts were convicted of killing thousands of federally protected raptors in retaliation for their preying on pigeons—none of the twelve were charged with more than a Class B misdemeanor. The House passed HR 2062 by voice vote in December.
- Salmon stronghold bills (HR 2055 and S 817): Although Pacific salmon conservation bills have won biparitisan support in both chambers and from the Obama Administration, there may not be time to finish work on them before the 111th Congress draws to a close. The programs proposed under the current bills differ from current conservation efforts, in that they call for investment in the healthiest—rather than the most endangered—salmon spawning runs. This “salmon stronghold” approach was well received in an April 15 Senate Commerce Committee hearing, as it was by the House Natural Resources Committee last June, but has not been scheduled for markup by either panel.
CONGRESSIONAL VISITS DAY: SCIENTISTS HIGHLIGHT IMPORTANCE OF BIOLOGICAL AND AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH TO POLICYMAKERS
On April 22, over twenty ecologists, animal scientists, field biologists, agronomists, and resource economists spent the day on Capitol Hill, encouraging strong federal investment in the agricultural and biological sciences. The Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) and the Coalition on Funding Agricultural Research Missions (CoFARM) organize the event each spring, the time of year that Congress turns its attention to appropriations.
The BESC-CoFARM event focuses on two agencies that competitively fund research in the biological and agricultural sciences: the National Science Foundation (NSF) and USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). The event also includes briefings by representatives from NSF, USDA, and congressional staff.
This year, over a third of the participants were graduate students, including three sponsored by the Ecological Society of America through its Graduate Student Policy Award. Participants met with over 50 congressional offices, highlighting the research made possible by NSF and USDA AFRI, as well as the important role the agencies play in meeting national challenges ranging from energy and food security to conservation and human health.
Scientists noted that the budgets of both NSF’s biology directorate (BIO) and USDA’s AFRI have been essentially flat over the last 10 years, when adjusted for inflation (excluding boosts from the 2009 economic stimulus package). NSF BIO provides 68 percent of federal grant support for fundamental biological research at US universities and nonprofit research centers, while AFRI’s extramural grants fund research in plant health, food safety, renewable energy, and agriculture economics. BESC-CoFARM participants requested that Congress fund NSF at its request of $7.4 billion and AFRI at its request of $429 million for fiscal year 2011.