ESA Policy News July 25: Senators review EPA power plant rules, rural CA receives drought relief, ESA to aid Interior science group

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


A recent Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee hearing offered US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy her first opportunity to testify before Capitol Hill legislators on her agency’s Clean Power Plan. The proposed rule in the EPA plan falls under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and seeks to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels.

“The President’s plan is a win-win for the American people, because by addressing climate change through carbon pollution reduction, we can cut many types of air pollutants that also threaten human health,” stated EPW Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA). “Climate change and rising temperatures will lead to increased ground level ozone and smog which could worsen respiratory illnesses like asthma, increased air pollutants from wildfires, and more heat-related and flood-related deaths.”

While Chairwoman Boxer other committee Democrats were supportive of the rule, committee Republicans put Administrator McCarthy on the defensive, questioning EPA’s authority to implement the carbon rules as well as the level of consensus behind the science that prompted them. Some, such as Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MI), denied that global temperatures have been on the rise in recent decades.

In her testimony, McCarthy emphasized that individual states will have flexibility in designing their own compliance strategy for adhering to the carbon-reduction rules. She also noted the many economic benefits of implementing the Clean Power Plan.

View the full hearing here.


On July 16th, Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Oversight Subcommittee Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced legislation that would prohibit the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from implementing regulations based on science that is not reproducible.

S. 2613, the Secret Science Reform Act, would effectively restrict the quality and quantity of research data that the agency can utilize to inform its regulatory efforts. EPA states that much of the data (including public health records) is confidential. The bill’s seven original cosponsors include Republicans Mike Crapo (ID), Mike Enzi (WY), Deb Fischer (NE), James Inhofe (OK), James Risch (ID) and David Vitter (LA). Senate Democrats, like their House counterparts, are largely opposed to the measure.

The Ecological Society of America recently joined a number of scientific organizations in cosigning a letter outlining a number of unintended negative consequences implementation of the legislation would have on scientific research at the EPA. The organizational letter will be sent to House leadership and the Senate EPW Committee next week.


The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced $9.7 million in funding to help rural areas of California impacted by drought. The funding will go to 73,000 residents in 11 California counties stricken with severe drought.

The funding is made possible through the UDSA’s Emergency Community Water Assistance Grant program. The program helps rural communities that have experienced a significant decline in water quality or quantity due to an emergency.

A report from the University of California-Davis (UC-Davis) Center for Watershed science states that the drought will cost the state of California $2.2 billion this calendar year and that the probability of drought in 2015 is above 50 percent.

For a full list of drought funding recipients, click here. The UC-Davis report is available here.


On July 23rd, US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the creation of a new Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research to “leverage public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to boosting America’s agricultural economy.”

Authorized by the Agricultural Act of  2014 (P.L. 113-79), the foundation will operate as a non-profit corporation seeking private donations to fund research activities that promote plant and animal health, food safety, renewable energy and natural resources, among other issues.

A 15-member board of directors representing various fields of expertise in agriculture will lead the foundation. The board of directors includes a large number of Ph.D. researchers. Congress mandated the board’s separate five ex-officio members choose the initial board of directors, which includes seven members from a candidate list provided by industry and eight members from a list provided by the National Academy of Sciences.

A full listing of the board of directors is available here.


The US Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Region 1, representing the upper Northwest United States, announced a phase out of the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on national wildlife refuge system lands.

The phase out is based on the agency’s determination that there is a growing body of scientific evidence to suggest that these pesticides are contributing to the decline of pollinator populations, including honeybees. State and territories under the jurisdiction of Region 1 include Washington state, Oregon, Idaho, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. Region 1 plans to fully phase out the use of the pesticide by 2016.

According to FWS, the decision was an internal management decision not directly linked to the White House’s June memorandum urging federal agencies to invest in research that reduces the decline in honeybees and other pollinators.

Many agricultural and environmental organizations have published studies highlighting the negative impact neonicotinoids have on various pollinator species. The June 2013 edition of the Ecological Society of America’s Frontiers in Ecology and Environment mentioned neonicotinoids as being among anthropogenic pressures that contribute to population declines of crop and wild plant pollinators.

View the full FWS memorandum by clicking here. Additional information on the White House memorandum is available by clicking here. The Frontiers article is available here.


According to a new study by NASA and University of California, Irvine, scientists found that more than 75 percent of the water loss in the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin since late 2004 came from underground resources.

The Colorado River is the only major river in the southwestern United States. Its basin supplies water to about 40 million people in seven states—California, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming — and to people and farms in part of Mexico.

This study is the first to quantify the amount that groundwater contributes to the water needs of western states. The research team used data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission to track changes in the mass of the Colorado River Basin, which are related to changes in water amount on and below the surface.

View the full NASA press release by clicking here.


The Ecological Society of America (ESA) has offered its assistance as a resource to the US Department of Interior’s (DOI) Strategic Sciences Group (SSG). Established in 2012 within the Office of the Secretary by Secretarial Order 3318, the SSG provides the Department with a standing capacity to rapidly assemble teams of scientists to construct interdisciplinary scenarios of environmental crises affecting DOI resources.

If deployed, the SSG aims to bring response teams within 36 hours of deployment to the environmental crisis site. Through the development and application of science-based scenarios, the SSG can assist in strategic response, mid-term recovery, and long-term restoration. In addition, the SSG can provide valuable advisory tools to decision makers as they manage crises at the field, regional, and national levels. As part of the nonbinding, voluntary agreement, ESA will recommend its members with a specific subject-matter expertise for deployment teams if requested.

For additional information on the SSG, click here.


The Ecological Society of America joined seven organizational members of the National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species in a letter to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, requesting that it issue a final regulation listing for five invasive constrictor snake species.

“It has been more than five years since the agency started considering the listing of these five snakes and the necessity for the rule has not diminished,” the letter states. “As these species present imminent threats to wildlife and human safety, we urge the administration to take action and immediately list the reticulated python, the DeSchauensee’s anaconda, the green anaconda, the Beni anaconda and the boa constrictor as injurious under the Lacey Act.”

Currently, there are only four invasive constrictor species listed as injurious under the Lacey Act:  Burmese pythons, yellow anacondas, and northern and southern African pythons.

View the full letter by clicking here.


Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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