Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.
HOUSE: SUBCOMMITTEEE ASSESSES EPA SCIENTIFIC REVIEW PROCESS
On Feb. 3, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened for a hearing entitled “Fostering Quality Science at EPA: Perspectives on Common Sense Reform.” The hearing sought to examine EPA’s scientific processes, as outlined under the Environmental Research, Development, and Demonstration Authorization Act (ERDDA).
Citing the testimony of witnesses from a related hearing last year, Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) stressed that efforts to improve EPA’s research activities should seek “to separate science and policy, to quantify uncertainties, to ensure greater transparency in the data, models, and assumptions used in regulatory decisions, to prioritize environmental problems and solutions, and to stop overly alarmist approaches to benefit-cost analysis.”
Panelists were divided over the quality of EPA’s scientific research. Deborah Swackhamer, Chairwoman of the EPA Science Advisory Board, concurred that EPA could do more to give the public access to the data it relies on in its reports, but she said there are existing controls to prevent conflicts of interest. She noted that peer reviewers must disclose their positions on various issues and their sources of funding before they are assigned to assess a report. View the complete hearing here.
OIL DRILLING: LAWMAKERS URGE INTERIOR TO EXPAND LEASING PLAN
Led by Reps. Bill Flores (R-TX) and Gene Green (D-TX), a group of 182 bipartisan House Members have signed a letter to Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, requesting expanded access to offshore energy production.
The letter urges Interior to offer new and expanded access in its proposed 2012-2017 offshore leasing plan. The new five-year plan, required under federal law, would be the first since presidential and congressional moratoria against drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific were lifted in 2008, according to the letter. According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the five-year plan makes roughly 75 percent of the country’s known oil and gas resources available for development.
While areas of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic are included, the plan omits both the Pacific Coast and Atlantic Coast, noting there are outstanding issues related to locality interest and environmental safety for the two latter regions. The proponents of the letter argue that opening up additional waters to offshore drilling will spur job creation and generate revenue to help foster economic recovery.
OIL DRILLING: GOP MODERATES RISE IN OPPOSITION TO ANWR LEGISLATION
On Feb. 9, six moderate Republicans spearheaded a letter to the House majority leadership expressing their opposition to a provision in the upcoming surface transportation reauthorization bill that would allow oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
H.R. 7, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, includes a provision that seeks to partially offset funding in the bill by opening the refuge for exploration. The six maverick Republicans (Reps. Charles Bass (NH), Dave Reichert (WA), Robert Dold (IL), Mike Fitzpatrick (PA), Nan Hayworth (NY) and Timothy Johnson (IL)) argue the ANWR provision puts the overall legislation in jeopardy, from a political standpoint.
“In writing you today, we do not want to negate the hard work that the members of the respective committees have put into crafting this legislation, and we appreciate that they have considered a wide array of potential funding sources and issues,” the letter states. “However, opening ANWR for exploration and development raises serious questions from both a fiscal and environmental perspective; we believe that this measure can achieve broader support and better force Senate consideration if ANWR were removed.” View the full letter here.
WHITE HOUSE: REPORT SEEKS TO ENHANCE STEM EDUCATION FOR UNDERGRADUATES
On Feb. 7, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released its report entitled “Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.”
The report includes a strategy for improving Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education during the first two years of college. PCAST makes five primary recommendations:
- Catalyze widespread adoption of empirically validated teaching practices.
- Advocate and provide support for replacing standard laboratory courses with discovery-based research courses.
- Launch a national experiment in postsecondary mathematics education to address the math preparation gap.
- Encourage partnerships among stakeholders to diversify pathways to STEM careers.
- Create a Presidential Council on STEM Education with leadership from the academic and business communities to provide strategic leadership for transformative and sustainable change in STEM undergraduate education.
WATER QUALITY: EPA ANNOUNCES GRANTS FOR BEACH CLEAN UP INITIATIVE
On Jan. 31, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will provide $9.8 million for beach clean-up efforts across the nation. The initiative also includes the launch of a new website to improve dissemination of information on beach advisories and closures.
The new website, BEACON, is capable of updating as frequently as every two hours with data from states, tribes and territories, according to EPA. In addition to public notifications of advisories and closures, users will have access to mapped location data for beaches and water monitoring stations, monitoring results for various pollutants will include reports that combine notifications and water quality monitoring data for over 6,000 beaches nationwide.
The grants are intended to help local authorities monitor beach water quality for bacteria and other pollutants as well as notify the public of conditions that may be unsafe for swimming. For additional information on the grants, click here. To view the new BEACON website, click here.
PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: BLM PROPOSES SCALING BACK DEVELOPMENT IN ROCKIES
On Feb. 3, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced the publication of a draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) seeking comments on a proposal that would downsize a Bush administration proposal to develop oil shale on land in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.
Any new land allocation decisions made on the basis of the final PEIS would replace the land allocation decisions made by the Bush administration’s 2008 proposal to make up to two million acres of public lands available for commercial oil shale leasing in the three states and 431,000 acres available for tar sands leasing in Utah. Some western communities argued that the 2008 PEIS and Record of Decision would have prematurely allowed commercial leasing without technologies having been proven viable and without a clear understanding of impacts on scarce western water supplies, according to BLM.
Read the full PEIS draft here. All public comments must be submitted by May 4, 2012. Public comments on the draft PEIS can be submitted through BLM’s preferred method of email through the following link. Public comments can also be addressed to:
Oil Shale and Tar Sands Resources Draft Programmatic EIS
Argonne National Laboratory
9700 South Cass Avenue—EVS/240
Argonne, IL 60439.
PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: NPS ANNOUNCES SCIENTIFIC INTEGRITY ORDER
On Feb. 3, the National Park Service announced it is proposing to adopt a Director’s Order concerning the integrity of the agency’s scientific and scholarly activities.
The Director’s Order is based on the Interior Secretary’s Order No. 3305, Ensuring Scientific Integrity within the Department of the Interior, published Sept. 29, 2010. The Order seeks to clarify scientific and scholarly integrity practices for employees of all bureaus under the Department of Interior. Public comments are being accepted through April 4.
Dr. Gary Machlis
Science Advisor to the Director, 1849 C
Street NW., Washington DC 20240
POLICY ENGAGEMENT: ESA ANNOUNCES 2012 GSPA RECIPIENTS
The Ecological Society of America announced the recipients of the 2012 Graduate Student Policy Award: Sara Kuebbing (University of Tennessee, Knoxville), Adam Rosenblatt (Florida International University) and Matthew Schuler (Washington University in St. Louis).
The three students will travel to Washington, DC to participate in policy training sessions as well as visits with decision-makers on Capitol Hill on March 28 and 29. This year’s recipients come from distinct scientific research backgrounds, yet collectively share a demonstrated hunger for public policy engagement:
Kuebbing’s doctoral research focuses on management of invasive plant species. She serves on the Board of the Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council and worked for the Nature Conservancy in Vermont.
Rosenblatt’s Ph.D. research frequently has him face-to-snout with American alligators. Through his work in the Everglades, he has already advised a policymaker in the Florida state legislature.
Schuler’s scholarly research in species diversity has dovetailed with his work with the Timber Wolf Information Network and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. He’s also spent a decade volunteering for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Sandhill Wildlife Outdoor Education Center.
The two-day event is sponsored by the Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition, co-chaired by ESA. View the full announcement here.