ESA Policy News: August 17

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


On July 31, congressional leaders announced an agreement on federal appropriations funding that would avoid a government shutdown when current funding runs out at the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 on Sept. 30. The deal has the benefit of punting a contentious debate over federal spending levels for FY 2013 until after the November elections.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that Congress would take up a continuing resolution in September, reportedly free of riders, to fund the government through the end of March. Overall, the agreement would fund the government at $1.047 trillion for the six months beginning after Sept. 30. Politically, the move would give whichever party is in control of Congress and the White House next year the ability to set funding levels for the remainder of FY 2013. Given the closeness of the presidential election, both parties feel this works in their favor.

The deal also takes an issue off the table for what could be a potentially busy and contentious lame duck session. In addition to needing to address a swath of tax cuts set to expire at year’s end, Congress has still not yet reached agreement on how to handle across-the-board sequestration cuts instituted under the Budget Control Act. If Congress does not act before January, discretionary spending programs will receive an eight percent cut in funding totaling $109 billion.


On August 1, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee convened for a hearing on climate change science. The hearing marked the first time the committee had dedicated a hearing specifically focused on the issue since 2009.

In her opening statement, Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) referenced the National Academy of Sciences as well as reports from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautic Space Administration that state that humans are impacting climate change and that these changes are already having detrimental impacts on the environment including extreme weather conditions, droughts and melting glaciers. In her statement, Chairwoman Boxer also referenced a New York Times article by former climate-skeptic Professor Richard Muller who stated: “Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.” In the article’s opening sentence, Muller proclaims “Call me a converted skeptic.”

In contrast, Ranking Member James Inhofe’s (R-OK) opening statement highlighted Congress’ failure to enact cap-and-trade legislation as a sign that “the global warming movement” has lost its popularity. His statement outlined a series of quotes from prominent newspapers, ranging from the New York Times to the Washington Post that suggest the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was flawed. During the hearing, Inhofe also referred to a statement by Roger Pielke Sr. discrediting Muller as “an attention getter.”

The hearing’s second panel included Margo Thorning, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist for the American Council for Capital Formation, who asserted that businesses are taking a “no regrets” approach, preemptively preparing for the possible effects of climate change the way they would for any eventuality. While declining to comment on climate science, she cited several examples of what businesses are doing to cope with environmental changes, including the development of drought-resistant seeds that could be used if droughts become more prevalent as well as hardening their infrastructure to cope with extreme weather events. Chairwoman Boxer responded that Congress should join businesses in adopting a “no regrets” strategy on climate change.

Read Chairwoman Boxer’s full opening statement here. Read Ranking Member Inhofe’s full opening statement here. View the full hearing here. Richard Muller’s New York Times op-ed is available here.


This week, Governor Jerry Brown (D-CA) launched a new website entitled “climate change: just the facts.”  The new site provides a clearinghouse of scientific data targeted towards informing visitors on the issue of climate change.

“The fact is that on the key issues, the science is clear: climate change is real and happening now; human-made greenhouse gas emissions are affecting our planet; and we need to take action,” the site’s main page states. “Just as we reached a point where we stopped debating whether cigarette smoke causes cancer, we need to end the climate change debate and focus on how to solve the problem.”

The website includes a list of 198 national and international scientific organizations, including the Ecological Society of America (ESA), that assert climate change is caused by human activities. In addition to the list, the website’s “scientific consensus” page includes links to climate change reports from the International Panel on Climate Change, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

View the full page here. A link to ESA’s position statement on climate change is available here.


On July 30, the Obama administration announced two new efforts that seek to strengthen the role of science in management decisions related to energy development in Alaska.

Through the administration’s Interagency Working Group on Coordination of Domestic Energy Development and Permitting in Alaska (commonly known as the Alaska Interagency Working Group), will work towards to create a centralized hub on scientific information to inform policymakers and the general public. The working group will also work on a framework for evaluating potential infrastructure development in the Alaskan Arctic. According to the Department of Interior, the working group will outline its efforts in a report to the president by December 31, 2012. For additional information on the initiative, click here.

Northwest Reserve Management Plan Outlined

Interior has subsequently announced a management plan for the 22.5-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve in northwest Alaska (NPR-A).According to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the plan would provide special management protections to 13 million acres while allowing access to the “vast majority” of oil and gas reserves and allowing consideration of a future construction of a pipeline to transport crude to market. The proposal has been praised by environmentalists who assert that the plan identifies most critical wildlife habitat in five recognized special areas while allowing oil and gas leasing on 11 million acres of the reserve. A finalized management plan is set to be published in Nov. 2012. More information on the NPR-A plan can be found here.


A study published in Science magazine this week reinforces the important role of citizen involvement in buttressing US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) work to identify species eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Authored by academic researchers Berry Brosi and Eric Bibler, the study found citizens’ ability to petition to list species for federal protection substantially aids the work of FWS, which is limited by budget and staff size. It found that citizen-initiated protected species actually face higher levels of biological threats, are more likely to be in conflict with development and include a greater portion of subspecies than those proposed by FWS.

For more information on the study, click here. The complete study is available here.


Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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