ESA Policy News: August 19, 2011

Here are some highlights from the latest Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.


On August 18, the Environmental Protection Agency filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit defending its Dec. 2009 ‘endangerment’ finding that carbon dioxide emissions threaten public health. The finding resulted in the first-ever federal limits on greenhouse gases from large industrial plants.

The brief is being challenged by various conservative states and industry organizations, including the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who contend that EPA’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gases are a burden on the nation’s economy. The Obama administration maintains that it relied on “thorough and peer-reviewed assessments of climate change science” from the U.N.-affiliated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the National Research Council.


On August 15, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced it has removed the Lake Erie water snake from the endangered and threatened species list after a nearly decade long recovery from threats including human killings and habitat loss. The snake, found on offshore islands in western Lake Erie in Ohio and Ontario, is the 23rd species to be delisted due to recovery.

The species was first listed as threatened in 1999. In 2003, FWS finalized a recovery plan that called for protecting the animal’s shoreline habitat and increasing cooperation with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife and other partners.

Recovery criteria include a combined population of at least 5,555 snakes on the U.S. islands, sustained for six years, and protection of key habitat. According to the Department of Interior, through continued habitat protection and public education, the Lake Erie water snake population grew to about 11,980 in 2009, and has exceeded the minimum recovery level since 2002. About 300 acres of inland habitat and 11 miles of shoreline have been protected for the snake since it was listed.

Partners in the efforts to recover the Lake Erie water snake include the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), Northern Illinois University, Lake Erie Islands Chapter of the Black Swamp Conservancy, Western Reserve Land Conservancy, Put-in-Bay Township Park District, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Ohio State University Stone Laboratory.


On August 8, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the first of several awards towards totaling nearly $30 million for Great Lakes Restoration.

The awards are distributed through the administration’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), first proposed by President Obama in Feb. 2009 and funded in Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 at $475 million. EPA distributes the bulk of the initiative’s annual appropriation to other federal agencies, which oversee regional environmental initiatives, including the effort to keep invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, where experts say could destroy a multi-billion dollar fishery.

Funding for the GLRI has suffered greatly under the recent budget battles on the Hill. Congress funded the initiative at $300 million for FY 2011. Most recently, the House approved only $250 in funding for FY 2012. This dollar amount must be negotiated and agreed upon with the Senate and signed by the president, however, before it becomes law.


On August 11, the U.S. Departments of Energy (DOE) and Agriculture (USDA) awarded 10 grants of $12.2 million to spur research into improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of growing biofuel and bioenergy crops.

The investments are part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to develop domestic renewable energy and advanced biofuels to reduce dependence on foreign oil and promote economic growth in the farming industry. The research will be conducted on switchgrass, poplar, Miscanthus and Brachypodium, among other plants. DOE’s Office of Science will provide $10.2 million in funding for eight projects, while USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture will award $2 million to fund two projects. Initial funding will support research projects for up to three years.

Because these crops will be optimized to tolerate conditions such as drought and poor soils, they can be grown on marginal lands unsuitable for food crops, thereby avoiding competition with food production.  Farmers will have the option to grow bioenergy crops in addition to other existing crop choices.


During the 96th Annual Meeting in Austin, TX, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) released its new handbook, “An Ecologist’s Guide to Policy Engagement.”This new ESA publication is intended to outline opportunities and methods for ecological scientists to engage in public policy.

The book gives an overview of how Congress works and key committees with jurisdiction over environmental issues. It also provides an overview of federal agencies that deal in environmental regulation and resource management, including links to local area offices where applicable. The federal agency section also includes an overview of key environmental  laws and the agencies charged with implementing them.

To order a copy of the handbook, either as an e-book or print copy, see:


Author: Nadine Lymn

ESA Director of Public Affairs

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