ESA Policy News: December 22

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


World leaders reached a consensus on a set of agreements Dec. 11 in Cancun for addressing climate change.

Negotiators representing 193 countries agreed to a package that includes establishing a program to preserve tropical rainforests, sharing low-carbon energy technologies and preparing a $100 billion fund to help the world’s most vulnerable cope with a changing climate. The overriding goal for the United States, according to U.S. envoy Todd Stern, was to ensure that substantive progress was made on the Copenhagen Accord agreement that Obama and leaders of China, India, Brazil and South Africa crafted last year. Under that agreement, major emitting countries pledged to cut carbon and develop a monitoring system to track their efforts.

However, the agreement does not establish a definitive date for negotiators to reach a conclusion on a new climate treaty. Nor does it call for the level of emission cuts scientists say are needed to avert potentially severe global climate change. It also postpones the debate over whether to extend the 1997 Kyoto Protocol until the 2011 meeting in Durban, South Africa. Russia, Canada and Japan insisted throughout the Cancun negotiations that they wouldn’t agree to a new set of commitments under Kyoto until the world’s three biggest polluters, China, India and the United States, accepted a role in the mandatory system too.

For the U.S., the Cancun summit concludes without having any new commitments that could put the Obama administration further under fire from Congressional Republicans. Members of both parties are also cautious about the U.S. making any new financial climate commitments in the face of current deficit woes.


The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released guidelines Dec. 17 aimed at ensuring government scientists’ work isn’t altered for political purposes. The guidelines, issued eighteen months after the original deadline, mark the first time the federal government has had an explicit government-wide policy of this kind.

The memorandum, issued by OSTP Director John Holdren to the heads of all federal agencies, lays out the minimum standards the White House expects as departments craft their individual scientific integrity rules. In the memo, Holdren states “science, and public trust in science, thrives in an environment that shields scientific data and analyses from inappropriate political influence; political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings.”

Holdren offers guidance for how agencies can make their public communication strategies more open as well as how they can make the selection and recruitment for federal advisory committees more transparent. Specifically, he wants government scientists and engineers to be able to publish work in professional journals and for them to be able to serve in professional societies. The memorandum requires agency leaders to report their progress toward completing those rules within 120 days.


In lieu of an omnibus land bill package, which Senate Republicans had vowed to block, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) attempted to use unanimous consent to pass a slew of public lands, waterways and wildlife bills individually in the final legislative days of the 111th Congress.

The move came days after Reid introduced the America’s Great Outdoors Act, which acted as an amendment in the nature of a substitute to S. 303. The modified bill included several dozen bills to designate new wilderness, establish new national parks and monuments and protect critical watersheds, forests and endangered species. Republican leaders successfully urged defeat of the omnibus bill the weekend following its introduction.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) had criticized one omnibus measure that intended to strengthen Environmental Protection Agency efforts to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay. He said that legislation could serve as a model for water pollution regulation that would hurt the agriculture industry. Incoming House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) criticized the broader omnibus, saying wilderness measures would lock up public land from motorized access and energy production and could complicate the U.S. Border Patrol’s ability to prevent illegal immigration and smuggling.

Monday Dec. 20, Sen. Reid subsequently “hot-lined” one large block of separate lands and natural resources bills that have passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this Congress, including some more controversial measures that seemed unlikely to wind up in an omnibus. The hot-line maneuver is typically used to fast-track noncontroversial legislation through the Senate.


Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV) has ended his push for legislation to temporarily block the Obama administration’s climate regulations, at least until after the New Year.

S. 3072, the Stationary Source Regulations Delay Act, would have delayed for two years Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources like power plants and manufacturing facilities. Sen. Rockefeller stated that GOP senators who had backed his bill have reneged in order to get a better deal when they hold more seats on Capitol Hill next year. A separate effort to curb EPA climate rules (S.J.Res. 26) was spearheaded by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The measure, considered this past June, failed on a 47-53 vote.

Most recently, Rockefeller attempted to include his legislation in the Senate FY2011 omnibus appropriations bill, which ultimately failed to garner the 60 cloture votes needed for consideration on Thursday, Dec. 16.

The new EPA rules are scheduled to go into effect Jan. 2, 2011. For background on the Senate initiatives to delay the EPA rules, see the “Endangerment Finding” article in the August 10 edition of ESA Policy News at


As we look to the New Year, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) invites applications for its 2011 Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA).   Applications are due Thursday, January 20, 2011.

This award gives graduate students hands-on science policy experience including interacting with congressional decision-makers, federal agency officials, and others engaged in science and public policy.

GSPA winners participate in the annual Congressional Visits Day, a two-day event that will be held March 30 and 31, 2011.  ESA covers travel and lodging expenses associated with this event for all GSPA recipients.  Awardees also have the opportunity to be interviewed for ESA’s podcast, The Ecologist Goes to Washington and for ESA’s blog, Ecotone.

ESA is co-organizer of Congressional Visits Day, sponsored by the Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition to promote federal investment in the biological sciences, particularly through the National Science Foundation.  Participants receive tips on effective communication and information on the federal budget and appropriations process.  During the second day of the event, participants meet with congressional decision makers to discuss federal support of research and education in the biological sciences.

For application details please visit:


Cleared for the White House

H.R. 81, the Shark Conservation Act – introduced by House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife Chairwoman Madeleine  Bordallo, the bill would close loopholes that had allowed the lucrative shark fin trade to continue operations off the West Coast. The bill passed the Senate Dec. 20 by unanimous consent with an amendment.

H.R. 5116, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act – the bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent Dec. 17 with compromise language, advanced by Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), that would authorize $918 million for the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy  (ARPA-E) through FY 2013. The bill that was initially passed by the House, introduced by Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon, would have provided a five-year $3.15 billion reauthorization for that agency, which invests in high-risk, high-reward energy technology research.

H.R. 5809, the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act – the bill would allow U.S. EPA to spend $500 million through fiscal 2016 on grants and projects to replace older trucks or retrofit them with new pollution controls. The program, which was first put in place as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, is aimed at particulate matter, or soot, which is linked to asthma and heart attacks.

Signed into law

H.R. 3082, the Continuing Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2011 – the bill would temporarily allow continued government operations through March, 4 2011.

Under the continuing resolution (CR), funding will continue at FY 2010 enacted levels for most programs. In total, the CR will provide funding at a rate approximately $1.16 billion over the FY 2010 level. It also includes the two-year freeze on federal civilian worker pay proposed this month by President Obama, but it does not include new funds for the implementation of the healthcare and Wall Street reform bills. The Senate amended the House bill and passed the measure Dec. 21 by a vote 79-16.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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