ESA Policy News: December 9

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


On Dec. 3, White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chairwoman Nancy Sutley announced she will resign from her post in February. Sutley has held the position since Jan. 22, 2009, when the Senate confirmed her by unanimous consent.

As CEQ chair, Sutley played a pivotal role in advancing the administration’s Climate Action Plan and National Ocean Policy. Sutley was one of the last environmental advisers remaining from President Obama’s first term. The top spots at the Departments of Energy, Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency have all garnered new faces this year.

Prior to joining CEQ, she served as deputy mayor for energy and environment in Los Angeles. She was an energy adviser to former California Gov. Gray Davis and served as deputy secretary for policy and intergovernmental relations at the California EPA from 1999-2003. During the Clinton administration, she served as senior policy advisor to the EPA regional administrator in San Francisco. Sutley grew up in Queens, NY and is an alumna of Harvard and Cornell Universities.


On Dec. 4, the Ecological Society of America joined several hundred national organizations from health, education, environmental, research and other communities in sending a letter to Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to forgo continued cuts to discretionary spending programs.

The 470 signature letter, timed to coincide with the budget conference talks this month, urges lawmakers to replace the sequester cuts with a bipartisan balanced approach to deficit reduction that relieves non-defense discretionary spending (NDD) programs. “Despite the vast array of important services provided through NDD programs—from education and job training, to housing and science, to National Parks and veterans services, to public health, safety and security—these programs have been cut dramatically and disproportionately in recent years as lawmakers work to reduce the deficit, even though experts agree these programs don’t contribute to our nation’s mid- and longer-term debt problem,” the letter notes.

The letter also references the recent Faces of Austerity report from NDD United, which spearheaded the letter. The comprehensive report spotlights the impact discretionary spending cuts implemented through the 2013 sequestration have had on education, scientific discovery, infrastructure investment and natural resource conservation, among other areas.

View the Faces of Austerity report here. View the NDD programs letter here.


Reps. Mark Amodei (R-NV), Martha Roby (R-AL) and Chris Stewart (R-UT) were approved by the House Steering Committee this past week to fill Republican vacancies on the House Appropriations Committee that were opened by several retirements and one death.

The subcommittee memberships have yet to be named, though there are vacancies on the Commerce Justice and Science (CJS) Subcommittee, the Energy and Water Subcommittee, and the Defense Subcommittee, among others. The CJS Subcommittee has jurisdiction over funding for the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The vacancies had opened due to the resignations of Reps. Rodney Alexander (R-LA) and Jo Bonner (R-AL) and the death of Rep. Bill Young (R-FL). The vacancies also prompted the move of Rep. Mike Simpson to chair the Energy and Water Subcommittee and Rep. Ken Calvert to chair the Interior and Environment Subcommittee, previously chaired by Simpson. Rep. Young had chaired the Defense Subcommittee that former Energy and Water Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) now heads.


On Dec. 6, the US Department of Interior (DOI) announced a new rule that would allow renewable energy projects such as wind farms to obtain permits to disturb, injure or kill bald and golden eagles for up to 30 years.

The permits are contingent on applicants adhering to adaptive management measures to limit detrimental impacts on the eagles. According to DOI, “permits will be closely monitored to ensure that allowable take numbers are not exceeded and that conservation measures are in place and effective over the life of the permit.” The US Fish and Wildlife Service would review the permits and eagle conservation measures every five years.

The rule drew strange bedfellows of criticism from not only environmental groups, but Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA). “Permits to kill eagles just seems unpatriotic, and 30 years is a long time for some of these projects to accrue a high death rate,” said Ranking Member Vitter. “The administration has repeatedly prosecuted oil, gas, and other businesses for taking birds, but looks the other way when wind farms or other renewable energy companies do the exact same thing.”  The Natural Resources Defense Council asserted that Interior rejected recommendations that would have allowed the wind projects to move forward while increasing safety for the eagles.

For additional information on the rule, click here.


On Dec. 2, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) issued a letter to Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics and Chief Scientist Catherine Woteki on the US Department of Agriculture’s draft Research, Education, and Economics (REE) Mission Area Action Plan.

ESA sought to enhance the focus of ecology in the USDA research and education action plan. “Most fundamentally, agroecology works from the acknowledgment that agricultural systems are inescapably ecological and social systems, and thus must be analyzed from these contexts,” the letter states. “Agroecologists study agriculture’s effects on natural resources, the socioeconomic viability and effects of different farming systems and practices, disease ecology and prevention in crops and livestock, forestry, conservation biology, biotechnology and crop genetics, biodiversity, pest control, soil science, and agriculture’s responses to and effects on climate change, among other areas. In other words, its areas of focus precisely align with USDA REE objectives.”

View the full letter here.


On Dec. 3, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced it was considering federal protection under the Endangered Species Act for 11 foreign tarantula species.

The species include six native to India (Poecilotheria formosa, P. hanumavilasumica, P. metallica, P. miranda, P. rufilata, and P. striata) and five species native to Sri Lanka (P. fasciata, P. ornata, P. pederseni, P. subfusca and P. smithi). The original petition for the listing came in Oct. 2010 from WildEarth Guardians. The petition cites destruction of forest habitat, collection for the pet trade, international killing and inadequate regulatory mechanisms among the reasons for a potential listing for the tarantulas.

Comments must be received by Feb. 3, 2014. For additional information, click here.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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1 Comment

  1. The letter to USDA is inspiring. Food has been an interesting integrator of people and nature. It seems as though using agricultural systems to talk about the economic consequences of altered ecological processes is better understood by the general public, at least in my experience, than discussing forests or wetlands. It will be a game changer if we can successfully manage our agricultural systems with a stronger ecological bases supported by data. Global food security is about quantity and quality. If we can’t manage our cultivation practices in a sustainable way we will literally eat ourselves out of house and home. Wonderful letter!

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