ESA Policy News June 27: GOP Former EPA admins support climate action, new NSF communications ‘toolkit’

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


Four former US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrators who served under Republican presidents testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in support of the Obama administration’s proposed standards for greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions from existing fossil-fueled power plants.

The former EPA administrators served under Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. In their testimony, the administrators reiterated the scientific consensus that human activity is contributing to global warming and affirmed the EPA’s authority to regulate GHG emissions as provided under the Clean Air Act. They also called on Congress to join President Obama and demonstrate global leadership to address the causes of climate change.

“We like to speak of American exceptionalism,” stated William Ruckelshaus, the first and fifth EPA Administrator (1970–1973, 1983–1985). “If we want to be truly exceptional then we should begin the difficult task of leading the world away from the unacceptable effects of our increasing appetites for fossil fuels before it is too late.”

“I must begin by expressing my frustration that the discussion about whether the Environmental Protection Agency has the legal authority to regulate carbon emissions is still taking place in some quarters,” stated former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman (2001–2003). “The issue has been settled. EPA does have the authority. The law says so, and the [US] Supreme Court has said so twice. The matter should be put to rest.” Noting that humans are contributing to climate change, Whitman further added that “when one is contributing to a problem, one has an obligation to be part of the solution that problem. That is what EPA is trying to do.”

View the full hearing by clicking this link.


This week the US Supreme Court validated the power of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in its ruling in the case of Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA. It was the third time the high court has upheld the use of the Clean Air Act to combat challenges posed by climate change.

In the majority opinion 5-4 decision, Justice Antonin Scalia ruled that emissions of greenhouse gases alone are not enough to trigger EPA enforcement under the program for smaller businesses, but that the “trigger” threshold is intended for major polluters. He said, “It bears mentioning that EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case,” Scalia said in the courtroom. “It sought to regulate sources that it said were responsible for 86 percent of all greenhouse gases emitted from stationary sources. Under our holdings, EPA will be able to regulate sources responsible for 83 percent of those emissions.”

However, in a separate part of the decision, the court ruled 7-2 to require new or rebuilt factories and power plants to use the “best available technology” to limit their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Because these “major polluters” are already required to obtain clean-air permits from the government, Scalia wrote the EPA is justified in adding GHG to the list of restricted pollutants. Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas were the two dissenting justices who felt EPA regulatory authority should be restricted.

The full decision is available by clicking this link.


On June 19th, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power convened for a hearing on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed carbon emission rules for existing power plants, referred to as the “Clean Power Plan” proposal.

Republican committee members expressed concern over the potential detrimental effects the power plant rules would have on the coal industry as well as its effects on utility bills for consumers. Members also expressed skepticism regarding the level of flexibility EPA would grant the states in meeting the power plant requirements.

Committee Democrats took offense to accusations that the proposed rules would cost jobs. House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) published a minority-committee fact sheet outlining revenues generated by Clean Air Act enforcement efforts. He quoted coal-burning facility senior officials who assert that the president’s Clean Power Plan will have “a relatively minor” to “no immediate impact” on power plants.

Representing the Obama administration at the hearing was Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. In her testimony before the committee, McCabe explained how the plan benefits human health and the environment and noted that it was developed through continued engagement with state officials, utility companies and other affected stakeholders.

View the full hearing this link.


On June 24th the House Science, Space and Technology Committee approved H.R. 4012, the “Secret Science Reform Act,” legislation that intends to increase transparency of scientific processes at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The bill passed the committee by a vote of 17–13 along party lines. Republicans asserted the scientific data used by the EPA to formulate its clean air regulations should be public information. The EPA and committee Democrats argued that the agency is forthcoming in answering requests related to its scientific processes. The private-health data of individuals is used by EPA to determine clean air regulations and is protected from public disclosure to protect their privacy.

Committee Republicans contended there are methods available to publicize the data without compromising personal health information. Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamci (D-OR) offered a substitute amendment to the bill requiring EPA to publish agency-funded peer-reviewed articles, but not the underlying raw data. The amendment was voted down by a voice vote.

No date has been set for when the bill will be brought to the House floor.

View the full mark-up of the bill by clicking this link.


The United Nation’s Environmental Programme (UNEP) published its 2013 annual report, available online in the six official UNEP languages.

The report’s content focuses on international efforts to address various environmental issues including climate change, disasters and conflicts, ecosystem management, environmental governance, hazardous substances and resource efficiency.

To view the full report, click this link.


On June 20th, the Obama administration announced $32 million in funding over the next ten years to protect a subpopulation of sage grouse only found along the state border between California and Southwest Nevada referred to as the “bi-state” or Mono Basin population.

The US Department of Agriculture will provide the majority of the funds with $25.5 million dedicated towards voluntary partnerships with ranchers in both states to conserve sage grouse habitat. The Bureau of Land Management is committing $6.5 million to implement a variety of conservation activities on federal lands.

Additional information on efforts to conserve the bi-state population is available following this link.


The National Science Foundation (NSF) released a new communications “toolkit” that includes videos, infographics, fact sheets and other materials detailing how agency-funded research contributes to advancing scientific discovery and innovation in the US.

The animated video in the kit details the agency’s merit review process. Other communication tools include charts that illustrate NSF’s role in fostering careers in science, driving research, innovation and facilitating interdisciplinary collaborations. They also issued new brochures that highlight each of its directorates’ roles in scientific breakthroughs such as self-driving cars, artificial retina, seismic wave modeling and improved GPS technology.

View the toolkit through this link.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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