ESA Policy News: April 5

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

BUDGET: SEQUESTRATION IMPLEMENTATION HAS AGENCIES PLANNING FURLOUGHS

With policymakers seemingly adapting to the implementation of the sequester budget cuts as a fact of life for the time being, many federal agencies are now faced with furloughs to compensate for the funding cuts they must implement. The cuts remain in effect until such time as Congress comes up with a deal to reach $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next ten years, an unlikelihood in the immediate future at least.

On April 1st, the White House announced that 480 of the 500 Office of Management and Budget (OMB) employees have been notified that they will be furloughed for 10 days for the remainder of the current Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. For each pay period beginning April 21 and through Sept. 7, OMB employees will have to take one unpaid furlough day. In addition, less money is being spent on supply and equipment purchases and many agencies have instituted work-related travel restrictions.

In an effort to minimize staff furloughs, the United States Geological Survey has pulled back on a number of its popular educational initiatives. This summer, it will no longer hire 1800 college students it utilizes to help monitor flood forecasting data and earthquake seismic activity. The agency is also ending its tours for school groups and the two-week science summer camps for children ages 8-12 that it has hosted annually since 1996.

The next opportunity Congress has to reach a deal on the sequester will be when the temporary suspension of the debt ceiling expires. Under current law, the debt ceiling suspension will expire on May 19. However, the US Department of Treasury has indicated that the implementation of extraordinary measures may extend a government default on debt until late July or early August. The White House plans to introduce its budget proposal for FY 2014 on April 10 to nullify sequester cuts. The proposal is expected to include $1.8 trillion in savings through a mix of entitlement reforms and revenue increases.

EPA: OVER HALF US RIVERS, STREAMS IN POOR CONDITION

On March 26, the Environmental Protection Agency released a report that finds that 55 percent of US rivers and streams are in poor condition for aquatic life.

Among its findings:  27 percent of rivers and streams have high levels of nitrogen and 40 percent of these water bodies have high levels of phosphorous. Excessive amounts of these chemicals causes nutrient pollution that increases oxygen-depleting algae that make waterways uninhabitable for aquatic wildlife.

The study also found that high concentrations of mercury and bacteria have adversely affected waterways. Nine percent of rivers and streams had high concentrations of bacteria that deemed them potentially unsafe for swimming and other forms of recreation. Over 13,000 miles of waterways contain fish with mercury levels that may make them unsafe for human consumption, according to the report. For additional information on the report, click here.

FWS: AGENCIES PUBLISH WILDLIFE CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTION STRATEGY

On March 26, key wildlife agencies within the Obama administration announced the publication of a national strategy that seeks to buffer wildlife from impacts of climate change.

The “National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaption Strategy,”   notes the value of plants and wildlife and seeks to provide information about threats and potential courses of action to mitigate those threats. The goals of the strategy include habitat conservation, increasing knowledge of climate impacts on wildlife as well as raising awareness and motivating actions that protect animals and plants. To view the full strategy, click here.

NASA: CLIMATE SCIENTIST HANSEN TO DEPART GOVERNMENT

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) climate scientist James Hansen is retiring from the federal government after 46 years of service to the agency’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS).

Hansen, 72, is the GISS’s longest serving director, having served in the position since 1981. During his tenure, Hansen frequently reported on the threat of climate change. He was among the first scientists to identify the ways in which rising temperatures are affecting the planet and the impacts climate change has on human society. He testified before Congress in 1988 on the threats posed by climate change. His retirement will allow him to further his climate change advocacy without the restrictions placed upon federal government employees.

Hansen has engaged in activism in his off-time frequently over the years, appearing at climate protests and even allowing himself to be arrested or cited on six occasions. Early this year, he was arrested for protesting against the Keystone XL pipeline. He was first arrested in 2009, joining university students in a coal protest. His critics often label him as an “alarmist,” though even allied colleagues state some of his views can lean on the extreme side. He has once asserted that climate change could eventually lead to Earth having an uninhabitable atmosphere similar to Venus.

View the full NASA release here.

PUBLICATIONS: MCNUTT NAMED EDITOR IN CHIEF OF SCIENCE MAGAZINE

On April 2, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) announced that former United States Geological Survey (USGS) Director Marcia McNutt has been named as the next editor in chief of its leading journal Science and its associated publications.

The first woman to head the journal, McNutt is among several scientists who departed their positions as agency heads at the start of the Obama administration’s second term. She served at the helm of the USGS from October 2009 until earlier this year. Prior to working at the agency, she was CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California (1997-2009). McNutt received her Ph.D. in earth sciences from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California.

Founded in 1880 by journalist John Michels and Thomas Edison, Science includes peer reviewed studies and news articles covering topics of importance to the scientific community. For more information, see the AAAS press release.

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: NMFS TO REVIEW SPERM WHALE STATUS

The National Marine Fisheries Service has published a notice requesting input on whether sperm whales inhabiting the Gulf of Mexico warrant a “distinct population segment” listing under the Endangered Species Act.

The notice comes after the environmental group WildEarth Guardians petitioned to recognize the Gulf population of sperm whales (numbering roughly 1300) as a discrete group as the whales spend most of their lives in the area rather the migrating, which is unique among the species. While the general population of sperm whales are already listed as endangered, the Gulf sperm whales face unique threats posed by oil and gas exploration and development and shipping traffic in the region.

Public comments will be accepted through May 28, 2013. For additional information on how to submit comments, click here.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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