ESA Policy News: June 22

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


 This month, the House Appropriations Committee has continued work on its Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 spending bills. Most recently, it has released legislation funding environmental and agricultural federal programs. On June 19, the committee approved its Agriculture Appropriations Act for FY 2013. That day, the committee also released its FY 2013 Interior and Environment appropriations bill, which was marked up by subcommittee the following day.


In total, the Agriculture Appropriations Act for FY 2013 includes $19.4 billion in discretionary spending, a $365 million reduction from FY 2012 and $1.7 billion less than Obama’s FY 2013 budget request.

Agricultural research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, would be funded at $2.5 billion, a $35 million reduction from FY 2012. The Natural Resources Conservation Service would receive $812 million, a $16 million decrease from FY 2012. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service would receive $787 million, $33 million below FY 2012. A funding program to help farmers make environmental improvement on their lands was cut by $500 million compared to the current farm bill’s authorized levels.


The House Interior and Environment Appropriations Act for FY 2013 contains $28 billion in funding, a cut of $1.2 billion below FY 2012 and $1.7 billion below the president’s FY 2013 budget request. The bill funds the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Forest Service and related environmental initiatives.

EPA funding undergoes a particularly high number of cuts in the House bill. The bill funds EPA at $7 billion, a $1.4 billion (17 percent) cut from FY 2012. This brings total funding in the bill below FY 1998 levels. The legislation continues a cap on EPA’s personnel at the lowest number since 1992 and cuts the office of the EPA administrator by over 30 percent. The EPA Congressional Affairs office receives a 50 percent cut.

For additional information on the Agriculture bill, click here. For additional information on the Interior bill, click here.


On June 20, 2012, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee hosted White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren for a hearing entitled “Examining Priorities and Effectiveness of the Nation’s Science Policies.”

During the hearing several Republicans inquired if the U.S. was maintaining investment in certain areas, including space technology and high-energy physics, relative to other countries. Holdren responded that the U.S. remains “on the cutting edge” and “unmatched” leading in these areas, but current budget constraints make maintaining that lead increasingly difficult. Republican committee members criticized the Obama administration’s research investments in a host of areas including research to study hydraulic fracturing, the president’s proposed clean energy standard, green jobs and various Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations.

However, Holdren also said that “across the board, we cannot afford to be complacent” in order to remain competitive. He cited Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education as a critical area where the U.S. needs to invest more to both foster a competitive workforce and sustain the nation’s presence at the forefront of innovation in the sciences globally. Holdren’s sentiments regarding the need for investment in STEM education garnered vocal bipartisan support from a number of committee members, including Reps. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) and Jerry McNerney (D-CA). View the full hearing here.


On June 19, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held a hearing entitled “The Science of How Hunting Assists Species Conservation and Management.”

While there was consensus among committee members and witnesses that hunters can play a significant role in conservation efforts, opinions differed over whether the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and implementation of the Endangered Species Act has stymied hunters ability to play a greater role in wildlife conservation.

Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun (R-GA) noted that several of the hearing’s witnesses, including FWS Director Dan Ashe, have repeatedly highlighted the positive impacts of hunting. Broun however, expressed concern with how the agency handles permit applications for the importation of legal hunts, citing “paperwork delays.” FWS Director Ashe countered that the permit application, at six pages long (two pages of which are instructions) is hardly tedious or difficult.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NY) defended implementation of the endangered species law, stating “the Endangered Species Act, the Lacey Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty, our system of wildlife refuges and national parks – all of these play an essential role in maintaining that balance.” He went on to say that the law is “an important statutory structure to guide management decisions for those species that are attractive to hunters.” View the full hearing here.


A recent report from the Natural Research Council concludes that the underground injection of wasterwater produced by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) can cause earthquakes that people can feel. Fracking, the process of extracting natural gas by injecting a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals in short bursts at high pressure into deep underground wells, is a relatively new technology.

The report qualifies that “very few events” of earthquakes have been documented relative to the large number of waste disposal wells and that the actual method of hydraulic fracturing itself “does not pose a high risk for inducing felt seismic events.”  It surveys injection activities related to geothermal energy, conventional oil-and-gas development, shale gas recovery enabled through fracking, and carbon capture and storage. The report was requested by Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and was the subject of a recent Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing.

For additional information, including the full report, click here. View the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing here.


In keeping with a court-ordered deadline, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new national air quality standards for harmful fine particle pollution, which includes soot from power plants, boilers and car tailpipes. According to EPA, the microscopic particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and have been linked to many serious health effects, including premature death, heart attacks, strokes, acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma in children.

EPA’s proposal would strengthen the annual health standard for harmful fine particle pollution to a level within a range of 13 micrograms per cubic meter to 12 micrograms per cubic meter. The current annual standard is 15 micrograms per cubic meter. EPA asserts that the proposed changes are consistent with the advice from the agency’s independent science advisors and based on an extensive body of scientific evidence that includes thousands of studies, including large studies that show negative health impacts at lower levels than previously understood.

EPA states that 99 percent of the nation’s counties will meet the new requirement without taking any additional steps by the 2020 deadline, as long as other air pollution rules for power plants, boilers and diesel engines, some of which are being challenged in Congress, are implemented. The agency’s analysis found two areas, southern California’s Riverside and San Bernardino counties, could not meet a 13-microgram standard by 2020, while four others would fail to meet a 12-microgram limit: Santa Cruz County, AZ; Jefferson County, AL; Wayne County, MI; and Lincoln County, MT.

Click here for more information.


On June 13, the Ecological Society of America joined the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, the International Society of Limnology, the Society of Canadian Limnologists and the Society for Freshwater Sciences in sending a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other government leaders concerning the potential closure of the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) in Kenora, Ontario. The Canadian government maintains that lake manipulative experiments are better carried out by universities and NGOs.

Since 1968, ELA experiments have helped to shape both Canadian and international environmental policies.  ELA experiments further understanding of human impacts on lakes and fishes and encourage the development of strategies for promoting the sustainability of natural and commercial freshwaters.  “ELA has been a cornerstone facility for       the study of inland waters,” the letter states. “This unique research facility has been the genesis of several important whole ecosystem experiments that have completely changed the course of research in the discipline of limnology (inland water research). Results from these experiments have been instrumental in establishing public policy, including guidelines to protect freshwaters and reduce air pollution.”

To view the letter, click here. To sign an online petition against the closure, click here.


 On June 18, the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) announced that it had broken ground on its first two sites that will serve to collect information on a continental scale on issues such as climate change, land use, invasive species and biodiversity.

The first ground breaking was at Domain 1, Harvard Forest, in Petersham, Massachusetts; and the second at Domain 3, Ordway-Swisher Biological Station in Melrose, Florida. Both sites are now officially under construction.

NEON’s construction funding is provided through the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Major Research Equipment and Facilities (MREFC) budget account. In order for a project to qualify for MREFC funding, NSF requires that it represent an exceptional opportunity that enables research and education and advances scientific understanding.

To view the official NEON press release, click here.


Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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