ESA Policy News: July 27

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

SENATE: COMMITTEE REVIEWS CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS ON NATIVE AMERICANS

On July 19, the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs held an oversight hearing on the impact climate change is having on Native Americans and tribal lands as well as what resources are available to adapt to changes in the environment.

Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-HI) spoke of the importance of “Malama Aina,” which is Hawaiian for “caring for the land.” Chairman Akaka said that Native Americans hold the oldest record for being environmental stewards of the nation as it has been a foundation of their culture and world view “over thousands of years” and “hundreds of generations.”In his opening statement, he noted that “while environmental changes are widespread, studies indicate that native communities are disproportionately impacted because they depend on nature for traditional foods, sacred sites and to practice ceremonies that pass on cultural values to future generations.”

Most of the witness testimony focused on the impacts climate change is having on their specific communities. Chief Mike Williams of the Yupiit Nation noted that 86 percent of indigenous Alaskan villages are threatened by flooding and erosion due to warming temperatures. Malia Akutagawa, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Hawaii – Manoa said that climate change has reduced the number of good fishing days for Native Hawaiians, led to a 15 percent decline in rainfall, drying of forests, crop loss, beach erosion from sea level rise, increased destruction from wildfires, and increased surface air temperature. She also noted that climate change has affected plant flowering and animal migration cycles. Akutagawa called for federal assistance for increasing Hawaiian food security, family farms and coastal zone management programs.

There was a general consensus from the witnesses representing indigenous communities that the federal government needs to increase or improve consultation with tribal leaders. View the full hearing here.

HOUSE: COMMITTEE REVIEWS FEDERAL DROUGHT MONITORING EFFORTS

On July 25, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing to review the status of federal drought forecasting efforts. The hearing comes as the existing authorization for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) is due to expire this year.

In his opening statement, Chairman Hall (R-TX) sought to keep the focus on drought mitigation efforts and steer clear of climate change discussions. “Debating the causes of drought is not in front of us today,” he said. “The real question is:  What can be done to provide better and timelier information to help enable federal, state and local governments, and individual citizens better deal with droughts’ impacts, and how to afford better forecasting and quicker reactions by governmental entities?”

NIDIS was established in 2006 following a Western Governors’ Association report two years earlier that urged for one centralized, comprehensive source of detailed and accurate information. It was established under the National Integrated Drought Information System Act of 2006 (P.L. 109-430), introduced by Chairman Hall.

All the witnesses praised the multiple ongoing efforts of NOAA and expressed appreciation for the NIDIS US Drought Monitor, which maps updated drought conditions and is relied upon by farmers, city planners and the media, among others, as a source of detailed and accurate information. To view the hearing, click here.

BUDGET: ORGANIZATIONS RALLY ON CAPITOL HILL FOR FISCAL COMPROMISE

On July 25, several hundred individuals representing organizations that benefit from federal non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending met for a rally that sought to highlight the importance of NDD funding and call for a balanced approach towards addressing the rising national debt.

The rally was convened by the NDD Summit, which consists of 60 delegates representing a broad swath of federal interests including healthcare, education, science and infrastructure. Organizers sought to promote the importance of NDD spending in lieu of scheduled across-the-board federal spending cuts scheduled to be implemented in January 2013 unless Congress takes action. The cuts were mandated under the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25) and can only be avoided if Congress passes a bill that either outright nullifies the cuts or, in accordance with existing law, passes legislation that will reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion, an amount roughly equal to the indiscriminate cuts to discretionary spending.

According to a recent report by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), not only will implementation of the cuts lead to a loss of over one million jobs over the next two years, but it will not have a substantial long-term impact on the deficit, which is primarily driven by factors other than discretionary spending. “Our unsustainable fiscal situation is driven by health care inflation, the retirement of the baby boomers, and an inefficient tax code that raises too little revenue,” the report notes. “Yet the sequester does nothing to address these problems, instead cutting almost exclusively from defense and non-defense discretionary spending, which are already projected to decline substantially as a percentage of the economy over the coming decade.” 

For additional information on the rally, see the recent post on ESA’s blog. To view the BPC report, click here.

EDUCATION: WHITE HOUSE ANNOUNCES STEM MASTER TEACHER CORPS

On July 17, the Obama administration announced its plan to create a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Master Teacher Corps, which it says will consist of the nation’s top STEM educators.

The White House reports that the STEM Master Teacher Corps will begin with 50 exceptional STEM teachers established in 50 sites and will be expanded over four years to reach 10,000 Master Teachers. The selected teachers will make a multi-year commitment to the Corps and be rewarded with an annual stipend of up to $20,000 added on to their base salary.

The STEM Master Teacher Corps initiative is part of the administration’s effort to advance STEM education to enhance student skills to increase their success in the current job market as well as boost the nation’s overall global standing in innovative competitiveness. View the full announcement here.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: FEDERAL PROTECTIONS ANNOUNCED FOR SOUTH AMERICAN BIRDS

On July 24, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced a final rule providing federal protections for six South American bird species. Under the rule, the ash-breasted tit-tyrant, Junín grebe, Junín rail, Peruvian plantcutter, royal cinclodes, and white-browed tit-spinetail, native to Peru would be listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. The ash-breasted tit-tyrant and the royal cinclodes are also native to Bolivia.

According to FWS, there are currently 600 foreign species listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, compared to 1,390 native to the United States. While FWS has no regulatory jurisdiction in foreign countries, their federal listing places restrictions on the importation of the animal and raises awareness, prompting research and conservation efforts on the species’ behalf. The Act also provides limited financial assistance to develop and manage programs to conserve listed species in foreign countries.

The final rule was published July 24 in the Federal Register and will become effective on August 23. The document is available online here by clicking on the 2012 Final Rules under Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. Information on grant opportunities for critically endangered species can be found on the FWS’s Wildlife without Borders-Critically Endangered Animals Conservation Fund website. For more information on the agency’s efforts to aid foreign endangered species, click here.

SOLAR: AGENCIES FINALIZE PLAN FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY DEVELOPMENT ON PUBLIC LANDS

On July 24, the Department of Interior (DOI) and the Department of Energy finalized a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for solar energy development on public lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

The Solar PEIS will serve as a roadmap for solar energy development by establishing solar energy zones with access to existing or planned transmission, the fewest resource conflicts and incentives for development within those zones. The planning effort sought to identify locations on federal lands that had “excellent solar resources, good energy transmission potential, and relatively low conflict with biological, cultural and historic resources,” DOI reports. It is expected that ultimately, the 17 Solar Energy Zones identified in the PEIS will develop enough energy to power over seven million homes.

To view the final PEIS, click here. For a copy of the executive summary of the PEIS, click here.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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