ESA Policy News: January 27

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


For his third formal State of the Union address, President Obama outlined a set of proposals and initiatives for the 112th Congress to act upon in its final year. These included energy investment ideas and  increased funding for research and infrastructure.

Many of these ideas came wrapped in the shroud of a populist tone, a style of messaging the president is expected to repeat as he seeks a second-term this year. “We’ve subsidized oil companies for a century. That’s long enough. It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that rarely has been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that never has been more promising.  Pass clean energy tax credits.  Create these jobs.”

The president also sought to strike a consensus tone by avoiding touching extensively on controversial issues and focusing on areas where there has been demonstrated bipartisan consensus, like clean energy. “We can also spur energy innovation with new incentives.  The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change.  But there’s no reason why Congress shouldn’t at least set a clean energy standard that creates a market for innovation,” said Obama.

The president’s call for increased investment in infrastructure, is also an issue that has won bipartisan approval in past years.  “During the Great Depression, America built the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge.  After World War II, we connected our states with a system of highways.  Democratic and Republican administrations invested in great projects that benefited everybody, from the workers who built them to the businesses that still use them today,” said President Obama. “Take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home.”



On Jan. 18, President Obama announced that he was rejecting approval of a permit to construct and operate the Keystone XL pipeline, which would extend from Canada’s oil sands to refineries in Texas.

The decision was the result of a provision included in the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-78), which mandated that the administration come to a decision on the Keystone pipeline within 60 days of the legislation being signed into law. The administration contends that the deadline, inserted by congressional Republicans, would not allow enough time to carry out the proper environmental assessments needed to make an informed decision on whether or not to approve the permit.

After the administration announced its decision, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) sent a letter of thanks to President Obama for postponing a final decision on the Keystone pipeline until the environmental review process is completed. The ESA letter to President Obama can be viewed here.


On January 13, the White House announced a plan to reorganize and consolidate a number of key federal agencies, largely focusing on commerce and trade. The reorganization would also move the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from the Department of Commerce to the Department of Interior. NOAA’s portfolio includes fisheries research and management, jurisdiction over protected marine animals, and ocean and atmospheric research and monitoring.

Moving NOAA from Commerce to Interior would be complex. On the one hand, NOAA was technically established via Executive Order in 1970, not through enacted legislation, so the administration could, in theory, unilaterally change its organization. On the other hand, for practical purposes, Congress would still need to amend a series of laws, including the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act that currently grants authority over fisheries, endangered species and coral reefs under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Commerce.   Ergo, any unilateral move by the president to move NOAA over to Interior without appropriate complementary action from Congress would leave the agency with its hands tied.

While previous administrations have considered moving NOAA to Interior, the idea has been met with some resistance from both ocean advocates and internally from NOAA officials. Both parties have been concerned that NOAA might lose its existing autonomy under the Department of Commerce and could become buried under the Department of Interior’s jurisdiction, which  already constitutes multiple bureaus. Read the president’s full announcement here.



On Jan. 17, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a rule that would ban the importation and interstate transportation of four nonnative constrictor snakes, including the Burmese Python. The ban is intended to restrict spread of the snakes, which have heavily impacted portions of the Florida Everglades.

The final rule lists the Burmese python, the yellow anaconda and the northern and southern African pythons as injurious wildlife under the Lacey Act, the law that prohibits illegal trade of wildlife. The U.S. Geological Survey had previously determined the four species as having a high risk of establishing populations and spreading to other locations across the U.S. The ban will become official 60 days after its Jan. 23 publication in the Federal Register.

According to FWS, individuals who own the listed snakes will be allowed to keep them, if permitted under state law. However, snake owners of the listed species will be prohibited from transporting or selling them across state lines.

To see the Federal Register notice, click here. Additional information on FWS efforts to contain the snakes can be found here.


On Jan. 24, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight convened for a hearing examining recent reports from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Department of Energy (DOE) Inspector General (IG) on whether Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) projects could better be handled by the private sector.

While GAO concluded that DOE could do more to determine the extent of private sector delegation of projects, it found that most government ARPA-E projects could not be completed solely with private sector funding. In addition to the GAO and IG reports, the committee also examined a Republican committee staff response to the GAO report .

In his written testimony, DOE IG Gregory H. Friedman stated that “our review revealed that ARPA-E generally had effective systems in place to make research awards and to deploy Recovery Act resources. Of particular note, we found that ARPA-E, despite being a relatively new program, had developed and implemented research proposal selection criteria designed to make certain that awards were consistent with its mission objectives.”

To view the GAO report, click here. To view the IG report, click here. To view the Republican committee staff report, click here. For additional information on ARPA-E, click here.



On Jan. 19, the Department of Interior announced the release of a first draft of its National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaption Strategy, which intends to help decision makers and resource managers reduce the impact of climate change on ecosystems and wildlife.

In 2009, Congress included provisions in the Department of Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (P.L. 111-88) that called upon the Council on Environmental Quality and the Department of Interior to develop a national climate adaption strategy to improve the resilience of natural ecosystems. More than 100 diverse researchers and managers from across the country participated in the drafting of the national strategy. The deadline for public comments is March 5, 2012. Comments can be submitted online.

Written comments may be sent to Office of the Science Advisor, Attn: National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive Suite 222, Arlington, VA 22203.

Additional information on the climate change strategy can be found here.



Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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