Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.
APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS PASSES BILL FUNDING AGENCIES THROUGH FY 2012
The week of Dec. 16, Congress passed H.R. 2055, an omnibus bill which funds the government through the remainder of the current fiscal year (FY) 2012, which ends Sept. 30, 2012. The bill passed the House by a vote of 262-121 and the Senate by a vote of 67-32. The omnibus bill incorporates the remaining nine appropriations bills that were not included in the “minibus” that passed earlier this year (P.L. 112-55). The new omnibus bill includes funding for the Departments of Interior and Energy as well as the Environmental Protection Agency.
Energy and Water
Overall, energy and water programs are funded at $32 billion for FY 2012, a $328 million increase over FY 2011. For Department of Energy science programs, the bill includes $4.9 billion, an increase of $46 million from FY 2011. The bill also includes $769 million for nuclear energy research and development, $43 million above FY 2011. For environmental management activities, the bill includes $5.7 billion, a $31 million increase over FY 2011. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is funded at $5 billion, a $145 million increase from FY 2011. The FY 2012 funding level for the Corps is also $429 million above the president’s request, one of the few agencies to enjoy this distinction this year.
Interior, Environment and Related Agencies
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): $8.4 billion for FY 2012, $233 million below FY 2011.The conference agreement cuts $14 million (six percent) in clean air and climate research programs; $12 million (9.5 percent) in EPA’s regulatory development office; and $14 million (five percent) to air regulatory programs. The bill also reduces the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund by $101 million.
Bureau of Land Management: $1.1 billion, $5 million below FY 2011.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.5 billion, $28 million below FY 2011.
National Park Service: $2.6 billion, $32 million below FY 2011.
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement: $60 million (this agency was formalized in FY 2011).
Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement: $76 million, including $15 million for oil spill research for this agency, formalized in FY 2011.
U.S. Forest Service: $4.6 billion for the Forest Service in FY 2012, $91 million below FY 2011.
Department of Defense
Research and Development: $72.4 billion, $2.5 billion below FY 2011.
Click here for the House summary of the omnibus bill or here for the Senate summary of the omnibus bill. A comprehensive listing of policy riders included in the bill as well as policy riders in the House bills that were excluded from the final bill can be found here.
HOUSE: FATE OF KEYSTONE OIL PIPELINE LINKED TO PAYROLL TAX LEGISLATION
The legislative fate of a provision intended to fast-track approval of the Keystone XL pipeline remains in limbo between a back in forth between lawmakers over comprehensive legislation to extend a payroll tax cut.
The Keystone XL provision was included at the insistence of Congressional Republicans as a compromise to comprehensive legislation (H.R. 3630) that sought to extend an existing payroll tax cut, unemployment benefits and a provision to prevent a cut in the reimbursement rate for doctors who treat Medicare patients for a year. The Keystone provision would require the U.S. State Department to approve the $7 billion pipeline within two months. If President Obama chose to reject a permit for Keystone XL, bitterly opposed by environmentalists, he would have to submit an official explanation to Congress.
The weekend of December 16, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) worked out an agreement that included the Keystone provision in legislation and extended the payroll tax, unemployment benefits and the Medicare issue for two months, allowing Congress additional time to come to agreement on how to pay for the extensions for a full year. The two-month extension passed the Senate by a supermajority vote of 89-10, a rare show of overwhelming bipartisanship. Instead of allowing House Members to vote on the Senate-amended bill, the House Republican leadership used the procedural motion of voting to go to conference, which politically served to prevent Republican members from having to go on record voting down the continuation of a tax cut. The legislation remains in the conference process until the Senate reconvenes.
While the majority of House Members promptly departed Washington after last votes that day, President Obama and senior House leaders remained in Washington, leaving open a small (if not improbable) possibility of a last-minute deal being workout in the coming days or week.
SENATE: COMMITTEE DISCUSSES ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF MODIFIED SALMON
On Dec. 15, the Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard convened for a hearing examining the environmental risks of genetically engineered fish. The hearing comes ahead of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) forthcoming decision next year on whether it will allow genetically engineered salmon to be produced and sold for human consumption.
“If these fish were to get out into the wild, they could wreak untold havoc on our marine and freshwater ecosystems,” said Subcommittee Chairman Mark Begich (D-AK). “I’m not convinced this agency [FDA] has the scientific expertise to adequately assess the environmental aspects.” Sen. Begich has introduced S. 1717, a bill to prohibit genetically modified salmon from being sold in the U.S. until there is ample scientific evidence that they can be produced without risking wild fish populations and aquatic environments.
A majority of the panelists mirrored the sentiments of the subcommittee chairman and ranking member that increased federal oversight and scientific evidence is needed before FDA approves the selling of genetically modified salmon. “While the new animal drug application for genetically engineered salmon includes precautions for physical containment to prevent escape and for reproductive sterility should escape occur, it is critical to consider that no established safeguard has proven foolproof nor eliminates all risk classes simultaneously or completely,” noted John Epifanio, Fish Conservation Geneticist with the Illinois Natural History Survey, University of Illinois.
View the entire hearing here.
INTERIOR: GREAT LAKES WOLVES REMOVED FROM ENDANGERED SPECIES PROTECTION
On Dec. 21, the Department of Interior announced that it was removing Endangered Species Act protections from gray wolves in the Great Lakes states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota.
Collectively, Interior reports there are now over 4,000 grey wolves in the three midwestern states: 2,921 in Minnesota, 782 in Wisconsin and 687 in Michigan, numbers above what scientists contend are sustainable populations. Each state has developed a plan to manage wolves after federal protection is removed. Wolf populations in the states will be monitored for at least five years. The move complements action from the agency in May to remove the gray wolf from protections in three western states.
If the populations appear in jeopardy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can initiate the listing process. For more information on the federal government’s wolf monitoring efforts, click here.
AIR POLLUTION: EPA UNVEILS NEW POWER PLANT RULES FOR TOXINS
On Dec. 21, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released new standards limiting power plant outputs of mercury and other toxic air pollutants. EPA states that they are “the first national standards to protect American families from power plant emissions of mercury and toxic air pollution like arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium, and cyanide.”
The new standards require coal and oilfired power plants to install technology to reduce harmful air pollution. According to EPA, more than half of the country’s existing coal-fired power plants have already installed the necessary technology to meet the new standards. About 40 percent of the country’s coal-fired plants will be required to update their facilities under the rules.
Many industry groups had warned that the rules will force layoffs and hurt power reliability by forcing the closure of a massive number of plants. To address these concerns, EPA is allotting plant operators a fourth year for technology installations in addition to the three standard years to comply with the rules. The agency will also allow additional time on a case-by-case basis if electric reliability issues arise on a local level.
EPA has published a new website that provides additional information about the new standards. Also, the U.S. Geological Survey recently released a study highlighting that mercury deposition is greater near major cities.
POLICY ENGAGEMENT: ESA RESPONDS TO OSTP REVIEW OF SCIENCE PUBLICATION POLICIES
On Dec. 20, ESA sent a letter to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy urging the administration to preserve the publishers’ rights in how they manage their independent peer-reviewed publications.
The letter comes in response to a recent “Request for Information” from OSTP on the issue. The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (111-358) calls upon OSTP to coordinate with agencies to develop policies that assure widespread public access to the results of federally funded unclassified research. ESA’s letter points out the difference between research results and peer-reviewed publications, noting that “it is not appropriate for the federal government to expropriate the additional value publishers add to research results.”
In the House, Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) have introduced a countermeasure, H.R. 3699, which would ensure the continued publication and integrity of peer-reviewed research works by the private sector. Introduced Dec. 16, the bill has been referred to the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on which Issa serves as Chairman.