ESA Policy News, February 14, 2014: Keystone Pipeline, fisheries reauthorization debate, and FWS criticized in wolf delisting.

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. DEBT CEILING: CONGRESS PASSES BILL EXTENDING DEBT LIMIT TO 2015

This week, the House and Senate passed a bill to extend the debt ceiling through March 2015. The bill was passed shortly after the US Department of Treasury announced it had to resort to extraordinary measures to keep the nation from defaulting on its federal debt. Passage of the clean debt ceiling occurred after several alternative proposals, including one to add legislation approving the Keystone pipeline, could not garner a majority of the Republican conference. Consequently, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), realized he would have to rely on a proposal that could gain backing of a majority of House Democrats. Congressional Democrats were steadfast in echoing the president’s sentiments that any legislation to increase in the debt ceiling be a clean bill free of extraneous measures. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 55-43 with all Republicans voting no. It passed the House with the support of 28 Republicans and opposition from two Democrats (Reps. Jim Matheson (UT) and John Barrow (GA). The 28 Republicans consisted of House Speaker John Boehner (OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA), Ken Calvert, (CA), Dave Camp (MI), Howard Coble (NC), Chris Collins (NY), Charlie Dent (PA), Mike Fitzpatrick (PA),Michael Grimm (NY), Richard Hanna (NY), Doc Hastings (WA), Darrell Issa (CA), Peter King (NY), Frank LoBiondo (NJ), Kevin McCarthy (CA), Buck McKeon (CA), Pat Meehan (PA), Gary Miller (CA), Devin Nunes (CA), Dave Reichert (WA), Harold Rogers (KY), Peter Roskam (IL),Ed Royce (CA), Jon Runyan (NJ), John Shimkus (IL), Chris Smith (NJ), David Valadao (CA) and Frank Wolf (VA).


On Feb. 6, the National Science Foundation’s National Science Board (NSB) released a report, which concludes that a select group of foreign countries, including China and South Korea, are now contributing a greater share of their economies to research and development (R&D) investment than in decades past. Since 2001, the share of the world’s R&D performed by the United States has decreased from 37 percent to 30 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, Asian countries’ share of global R&D has risen from 25 to 34 percent over the same period. China’s share alone spiked from four percent to 15 percent over that decade. The report found that women compromised a higher proportion of occupations in social sciences (58 percent) and life sciences (48 percent) than in engineering (13 percent) and computer and mathematical sciences (25 percent). It also stated that while Hispanics, blacks and Native Americans make up 26 percent of the US adult population (over 21), they account for 10 percent of workers in S&E occupations. Asians, conversely, occupied 19 percent of US S&E occupations compared to their five percent representation among the US population. In 2011, the federal government was the primary financial support source for 19 percent of full-time S&E graduate students. Graduate students in the biological sciences, physical sciences and engineering received relatively more federal support than those in computer, math, health, or social sciences. View the full report here.


The US State Department released its final environmental impact statement over the Keystone pipeline, concluding that it is unlikely to lead to a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The decision brings the debate over whether to approve back to the forefront during an election year where both sides are weighing the political ramifications of policy decisions. Advocates of the pipeline have used the findings to argue that the Obama administration should hastily approve the Keystone pipeline and can be expected to raise the issue repeatedly as the 2014 congressional midterms get underway. It can be expected that key Republicans in Congress will seek to legislatively mandate approval of the pipeline. Past efforts seeking to expedite approval have largely in blocked by the Democratic-controlled Senate. House Republican leaders had wrestled over whether to include legislating mandating approval of the pipeline in a vote to raise the national debt limit. The next step after the completion is a 90 day review period to allow other federal agencies to review the report as well as allow for public comment. Beyond that, there is not a mandate for a specific date for when the administration must issue a final decision. Click here for additional background on the final EIS as well as directions on how to comment on the environmental impact statement:


On Feb. 4, the House Natural Resources Committee met to consider Chairman Doc Hasting’s (R-WA) draft legislation to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the primary fisheries management law, which expired at the end of 2013. The bill would reauthorize fisheries management programs through FY 2018. The bill includes provisions to remove certain National Environmental Policy Act requirements and requires some fishery management councils to win the approval of permit holders before they can implement management plans. Committee Democrats expressed concern that Republicans did not work with them in a bipartisan manner as in past efforts to reauthorize the bill, first enacted in 1976. Ranking Member Peter DeFazio’s (D-OR) concerns with the bill included lack of provisions to ensure cooperative research and management as well as provisions to deter pirate fishing and conflicts with ocean energy development. He also expressed concern that the legislation does not properly manage genetically modified salmon in a manner to allow sufficient recovery of native salmon. Witnesses during the second panel included Ecological Society of America member Ellen Pikitch, Director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at Stony Brook University. In her testimony, Pikitch noted the success of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and its subsequent reauthorizations in preventing overfishing, rebuilding fish populations and its utilization of “science-based catch limits for all federally managed fish.” Pikitch expressed concern that the draft bill would weaken the law’s rebuilding requirements. In her testimony, she asserted “extending overfishing will, at worst, increase the risk of severe collapse for some fish populations, and, at best, greatly delay their recovery – jeopardizing both the resiliency of the fish population and the long-term economic viability of businesses and communities that rely upon them.” View the full hearing here.


An independent peer review report found that the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) “did not use the best available science” in their decision to delist gray wolves from protection from the Endangered Species Act. Commissioned by FWS, the report was led by the University of California-Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. The report concluded that the delisting rule relied heavily on a 2012 FWS study by agency scientists that was “not universally accepted.”  Among its findings, the 2012 study had concluded that wolves in the Great Lakes were a distinct species that didn’t warrant federal protection. Reviewers authoring the report also noted “a lack of appropriate use of the literature on species level taxonomy.” FWS is opening a comment period on the report after which it will make a final determination on the wolf delisting rule, likely towards the end of the year. View the full report here. Information on how to comment is available here.


On Feb. 11, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans to initiate a ban on trade of commercial elephant ivory. The new ban will restrict the import, export, and commercial sale of elephant ivory within the United States. The ban will also prohibit interstate commerce in all ivory with the exception of antiques and items imported for commercial purposes before international commercial trade in these species was prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). FWS will define an “antique” as an item being over 100 years old and meet other Endangered Species Act requirements. The burden will be upon the owner/seller of the item to meet the criteria. The ban is part of the Obama administration’s National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking. For additional information, click here.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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