ESA Policy News: July 26

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

APPROPRIATIONS: ENVIRONMENTAL AGENCIES SLASHED, FIRE PREVENTION GETS BOOST

On July 22, House Republicans released a draft of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. The bill primarily funds environmental agencies such as the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Forest Service.

The Interior and Environment appropriations bill is among the more controversial of the discretionary spending bills as the bill has jurisdiction over the funding of many Obama administration environmental regulatory initiatives that are unpopular with Congressional Republicans. House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Jim Moran (D-VA) briefly appeared at the hearing to give a statement calling the legislation “an embarrassment” and immediately left the hearing in protest. “We are going to continue to see these kinds of dramatic reductions as long as we keep trying to reduce the debt by cutting discretionary spending alone, rather than also tackling mandatory spending, which is the real driver of our debt,” warned Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID).

As with all non-defense discretionary appropriations bills put forward by the House for the coming fiscal year, the bill includes drastic cuts that assume budget sequestration continues through FY 2014. For many agencies, funding is reduced sharply even when accounting for the five percent across-the-board non-defense discretionary spending cuts enforced under sequestration in part because House Republicans are seeking to lessen sequestration’s impact on defense spending. Overall, the bill provides $24.3 billion in funding for FY 2014 for the aforementioned environmental agencies. This is $5.5 billion less than what was enacted in FY 2013 and still amounts to a $4 billion cut when accounting for the FY 2013 sequestration cuts.

The House bill is expected to differ substantially with the Senate, which plans to continue drafting all its spending bills under the assumption that sequester will not continue into Fiscal Year 2014.  However, budget sequestration will only end when and if Congress takes legislative action to change the law that put sequestration into effect.

For additional information on the bill, click here.

EPA: MCCARTHY CONFIRMED AS NEW ADMINISTRATOR

The Senate on July 18, voted 59-40 to confirm Gina McCarthy as administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Republican Senators Lamar Alexander (TN), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Susan Collins (ME), Bob Corker (TN), Jeff Flake (AZ) and John McCain (AZ) voted for her confirmation. Joe Manchin (WV) was the lone Democrat to vote against McCarthy. McCarthy takes the reins from Robert Perciasepe, who has served as acting-administrator since Lisa Jackson stepped down in February.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who leads the key Senate committee with oversight over EPA, praised McCarthy’s extensive and bipartisan record. “With more than three decades of public service experience, Gina has a deep understanding that public health and a growing economy depend on clean air and clean water,” stated Chairwoman Boxer. “Gina McCarthy has worked for five Republican Governors and a Democratic President, and she will lead EPA in a way that protects the health and safety of the American people.”

McCarthy’s confirmation comes shortly after EPA’s Washington, DC headquarters on Pennsylvania Ave. was renamed the William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building on July 17.

View Administrator McCarthy’s statement here. View President Clinton’s remarks here.

SENATE: COMMITTEE RE-ENGAGES IN CLIMATE SCIENCE

On July 18, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee convened for a hearing analyzing the scientific evidence behind climate change. The hearing was entitled “Climate Change: It’s Happening Now.”

“The body of evidence is overwhelming, the world’s leading scientists agree, and predictions of the impact of climate change are coming true before our eyes,” asserted Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA). She then stated that what scientists explained would happen in testimony in past hearings—more frequent heat waves, and more intense tropical storms and hurricanes–are happening.

Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA) succeeded James Inhofe (R-OK) as the top Republican on the committee at the start of the current 113th Congress. He began his opening statement lamenting that there were no administration officials present to defend its climate change strategy. Chairwoman Boxer had previously stressed that this was not intended to be a political (or policy-focused) hearing, but one focused on hearing from experts on climate science. Ranking Member Vitter asserted that “scientific literature” confirms there are many significant influences causing climate change, including “solar activity, solar cycles, ocean currents, cosmic rays and greenhouse gases that occur naturally as well as those emitted from many countries including those who have no plans for regulatory change like China, India and Russia. These are factors impacting our climate over which we have little or no control,” he said.

Witnesses testifying at the hearing’s first panel included Heidi Cullen, Chief Climatologist at Climate Central; Frank Nutter, President of the Reinsurance Association of America; Diana Furchtgott-Roth, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research; Robert Murphy, Senior Economist at the Institute for Energy Research and KC Golden, Policy Director at Climate Solutions.

The second panel included scientists of varied opinions. Witnesses included Jennifer Francis, Research Professor at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University; Scott Doney, Director of the Ocean and Climate Change Institute at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Margaret Leinin, Executive Director at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University; Roger Pielke Jr., Professor at the University of Colorado’s Center for Science and Technology Policy Research and Roy Spencer, Principal Research Scientist with the University of Alabama – Huntsville.

View the full hearing, here.

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS EPA HYDRAULIC FRACTURING STUDY

On July 24, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee Subcommittees on Energy and Environment convened for a joint hearing examining the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) scientific processes in examining the potential for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to lead to groundwater contamination.

Republican majority members characterized the study as politically motivated. “Given EPA’s rush to judgment in Wyoming, Texas, and Pennsylvania, we should question whether the agency’s ongoing study is a genuine, fact-finding, scientific exercise, or a witch-hunt to find a pretext to regulate,” stated Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT). “Given this administration’s anti-fossil fuel, pro-environmental alarmism approach to energy, we need to be vigilant in ensuring that the agency does not put the regulatory cart before the scientific horse, threatening tens of thousands of good-paying jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development that have resulted from oil and gas production in recent years.”

Other members asserted that the EPA study should be more focused towards outlining what is more likely or “probable” as opposed to what could potentially happen with regard to the potential for drinking water contamination. “The study design is flawed and indicative of the agency’s characteristic outcome driven approach to hydraulic fracturing, where achieving desired conclusions takes precedent over basing those conclusions on the best available science,” asserted Energy Subcommittee Chairwoman Cynthia Lummis (R-WY). “In that vein, this study, intended to be a seminal and authoritative work on whether or not hydraulic fracturing impacts drinking water, is guided by a search for what is possible, rather than what is likely or probable.”

Full committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) sought to highlight the importance of preserving the nation’s limited water resources. “We need clean water as much as we need affordable energy options,” she said. “Our water resources are already stretched to support our industrial and agricultural sectors, and residential and commercial development. We cannot afford to contaminate the limited drinking water supplies that we have.  It is in the best interest of everyone, especially the fracking industry, to resolve questions surrounding the fracking water cycle and the impact to groundwater and drinking water.”

Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamci (D-OR) asserted that the results could help states and localities that are still developing environmental safety best practices for fracking and also help allay drinking water concerns in local communities. “State and tribal leaders will need the results from the fracking study to formulate stronger policies to protect their water resources and the health of their citizens. And, hopefully, communities will have answers to the questions about drinking water safety that they have long been asking their state and federal leaders.”

Administration officials testifying included Fred Hauchman, Director of the Office of Science Policy within EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He maintained that EPA scientists are incorporating a wide variety of information through consultation from stakeholders, including industry, non-government entities and state and local entities, in their research for the study. He also maintained EPA’s commitment to a “thorough peer review” as well as various opportunities for public commentary.

Also testifying was Brian Rahm with the New York Water Resources Institute at Cornell University. While states should lead in regulating policy, there is the potential for minimum practices or “basic standards” that EPA could regulate nationwide in certain cases, said Rahm. He noted that many states may already meet those standards. “If common risks and cumulative impacts are found, which we are seeing some evidence of, that we really should consider, for example, regional, interstate or federal basic standards,” he said.

View the full hearing here.

HOUSE: MEMBERS CALL FOR GAO STUDY OF GENDER BIAS IN STEM FIELDS

On July 24, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) joined with Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in issuing a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting a study on the government’s capability in addressing gender bias in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

“Given the importance of STEM related jobs, any bias limiting the progress of women in these fields threaten our country’s position as the leader in innovation and technology,” the letter notes. “Research has also shown that girls who grow up in an atmosphere supportive of women in the sciences will often go on to participate and succeed in STEM.”

The letter was spurred in part from a Yale University study that found that female undergraduates are perceived as less qualified for employment in STEM fields than their male counterparts by both male and female science professors in universities across the US. The letter requests that GAO update its last report examining gender participation in the sciences, published in 2004.

View the letter to GAO here. The Yale study is available here.

GREAT LAKES: SENATORS PRESS OBAMA FOR CLIMATE ACTION

On July 23, six Democratic Senators from Great Lakes states cosigned a letter to President Obama requesting prioritization of the Great Lakes region as the administration implements its climate action plan.

“This year, Great Lakes water levels reached historic lows severely hampering commercial shipping, jeopardizing recreational boating and fishing, devastating the tourism industry, threatening electric power generation, compromising water supply infrastructure and exacerbating problems caused by invasive species,” the letter notes. “While we are pleased that your climate action plan would help make communities more resilient to flooding, it is disappointing that low water levels and the Great Lakes were not once mentioned in your plan, nor addressing the impacts they cause to shipping and the economy, water and energy supplies, shoreline integrity and the environment.”

Signers of the letter include Sens. Richard Durbin (D-IL), Carl Levin (D-MI), Al Franken (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Charles Schumer (D-NY). The full letter is available here.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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