Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.
CONGRESS: ENVIRONMENTAL RIDERS LOOM FOR MUST-PASS MEASURES
Before the first session of the 112th Congress adjourns at the end of next week (or weekend), it will take up a short, but important list of measures to keep the government funded and extend the existing payroll tax cut. Each of these bills could potentially include environmental policy riders to overturn or scale back Obama administration efforts.
Congressional Republican leaders appear set on taking up a comprehensive measure that ties a year-long extension of President Obama’s payroll tax cut to the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project. Earlier this fall, the Obama administration announced it would postpone review of the pipeline project until after 2012 and the president has personally stated he would veto an effort to politicize the payroll tax extension. However, some Members have voiced concern that the president may end up taking back that statement, particularly as the bill also includes an extension of unemployment insurance. Entitled the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2011, the 396-page measure is sponsored by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI).
Congressional leaders also have to deal with the remaining appropriations measures, which must be acted on by the end of next week to maintain government funding of several agencies. The House Interior Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2012 is a virtual Christmas tree “ornamented” with policy riders to restrict various Department of Interior and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. Provisions incorporated into the House measure include efforts to restrict EPA’s cross-state air pollution rule, curbs on toxic emissions from power plants, industrial boiler regulations, a proposed change in the definition of “navigable waters” under the Clean Water Act, Interior’s withdrawal of acreage surrounding the Grand Canyon from uranium mining and efforts to restrict mountain-top removal mining. Senior Congressional Democrats have already conceded they may need to relent on a few environmental riders in order to pass a bill.
Those concerned about the extension of the Keystone XL pipeline or any of the aforementioned environmental policy riders are encouraged to contact their Members and Senators. For additional information on the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, click here. To contact your Member of Congress, click here. To contact your Senator, click here.
ENDANGERED SPECIES: COMMITTEE EXAMINES LITIGATION, EFFICACY SURROUNDING E.S.A.
On Dec. 6, the House Natural Resources Committee convened for a hearing examining the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act. Committee Republican majority members took the opportunity to call for reform of the legislation.
A constant refrain from the majority was the failure of the law to delist the overwhelming majority of species that have been listed over the Act’s nearly four decade existence. In his opening statement, Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) asserted “of the species listed under the E.S.A. in the past 38 years, only 20 have been declared recovered. That’s a one percent recovery rate. I firmly believe that we can do better.” Chairman Hastings contended that litigation brought on by the Act has had negative economic impacts.
Kieran Suckling, Executive Director for the Center for Biological Diversity sought to address aforementioned concerns about the Act’s effectiveness. Suckling referenced a 2006 report from the Government Accountability Office. “The recovery plans we reviewed indicated that species were not likely to be recovered for up to 50 years. Therefore, simply counting the number of extinct and recovered species periodically or over time, without considering the recovery prospects of listed species, provides limited insight into the overall success of the [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] recovery programs,” the report stated.
FWS Director Dan Ashe sought to put the subject matter of the hearing in perspective. “Let me say with clarity that litigation is not our principle challenge in effectively implementing this important law. In fact, it’s not even close,” he said. “Our principle challenge is the escalating loss and conversion of habitat that’s driven by growing human occupation of the planet. It’s the expansion of exotic species invasions driven by globalizing trade and a paucity of resources to monitor its impact. It’s the warming of the atmosphere and the ocean that is changing the planet’s climate system and driving large scale ecological disruption.” View the full hearing here.
ARMY CORPS: SUBCOMMITTEE REVIEWS MISSOURI RIVER FLOOD MANAGEMENT EFFORTS
On Nov. 30, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing to examine the federal response to the 2011 Missouri River flood. In addition to Army Corps of Engineers and local public works officials, Reps. Tom Latham (R-IA), Rick Berg (R-ND), Steve King (R-IA), Lynn Jenkins (R-KS), Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), Kristi Noem (R-SD), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Lee Terry (R-NE) all testified before the committee.
Most of the members present urged a prompt rewrite of the Army Corps’ river management policies contained in its “Master Manual.” Several lawmakers from the region believe that the Corps should focus its multiple priorities (which include preserving wildlife, restoring habitat , maintaining commercial navigation and sustaining water supply) more centrally on flood control efforts. The Corps contends it is working on changes to the manual.
Brigadier General John McMahon, Commander and Division Engineer of the Army Corps Northwestern Division emphasized that the extent of flooding in the region was unprecedented. “Of critical importance is the understanding that May, June and July were the third, first and fifth highest months of inflow in the 113-year period,” he said. “While there are important repairs that need attention, no major deficiencies have been identified to date that would preclude normal operation of the dams in spring of 2012.”McMahon urged lawmakers to quickly appropriate the funding necessary to complete rebuilding.
Earlier this fall, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) held a Congressional briefing on flood control efforts that emphasized the various cost benefits and ecosystem services provided by floodplains. Click here to view the Congressional hearing or click here for more information on the ESA briefing.
RARE EARTHS: SUBCOMMITTEE EXAMINES MINERAL RESEARCH EFFORTS
On Dec. 7, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened a hearing entitled “Energy Critical Elements: Indentifying Research Needs and Strategic Priorities.”
Among Members and witnesses, there was bipartisan consensus that investment in the procurement of rare earths minerals is in the nation’s interest. Members only differed slightly on the specifics of what approach legislation should take. “In light of higher prices, producers in the U.S. and ally nations have announced plans to develop rare earth reserves around the world and companies such as Toyota and General Electric are pursuing demand reductions through R&D on recycling, substitute materials and increased use efficiencies,” asserted Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD). “While a responsive market will continue to drive toward solutions, there are reasonable and proper steps the federal government can and should pursue in this area.”
Witnesses included Derek Scissors, a research fellow with the Heritage Foundation; Robert Jaffe, a physics professor with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Karl Gschneidner, Senior Materials Scientist with Ames National Laboratory; Luka Erceg, President and CEO of Simbol Materials and David Sandalow, Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Sandalow indicated that DOE would be releasing its updated 2011 Critical Minerals Strategy later this month. View the full hearing here.
GULF COAST: ADMINISTRATION LAUNCHES RESTORATION TASK FORCE
On Dec. 5, the Obama administration announced that it has finalized the strategy for its Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Restoration Task Force.
The task force is made up of representatives from the five Gulf States and 11 federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), White House Council on Environmental Quality, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of the Interior, Department of Justice, Department of Transportation, Office of Management and Budget, Office of Science and Technology Policy and White House Domestic Policy Council.
Among the key goals of the strategy are 1) stopping the loss of critical wetlands, sand barriers and beaches, 2) reducing the flow of excess nutrients into the Gulf and 3) enhancing resiliency among coastal communities. The start of the strategy’s implementation phase includes new initiatives such as allocating $50 million in assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to help agricultural producers in seven Gulf Coast river basins improve water quality, increase water conservation and enhance wildlife habitat. For more information on the task force, click here.
CLEAN WATER: EPA ANNOUNCES $2 MILLION TO REVITALIZE URBAN WATER SYSTEMS
On Dec. 7, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its Urban Waters program would be allocating $2 million in small grants towards an effort to decontaminate the nation’s urban waterways. The goal of the program is fund projects, training and research that will foster restoration of urban waters and improve water quality of the nation’s potable resources for the educational, recreation and local business opportunities in surrounding communities.
EPA’s Urban Waters program supports the goals and principles of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, a partnership of 11 federal agencies working to reconnect urban communities with their waterways.Funding proposals must be received by EPA by January 23, 2012. EPA will hold two web-based seminars on this funding opportunity on December 14, 2011 and January 5, 2012. EPA expects to award the grants in summer 2012.