ESA Policy News: June 4

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Piper Corp. Read the full Policy News here.

SENATE CLIMATE DEBATE: CRITICAL WEEKS AHEAD—OBAMA PREPARES TO PUSH FOR CLIMATE BILL AS REID MULLS FLOOR DEBATE

Once Congress returns from Memorial Day recess next week, the Senate will tackle a number of climate-related issues, making clearer the prospects of a climate and energy bill this session.  Several key events are on the calendar:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) plans to discuss climate legislation with contributing committee leaders next week and with all 59 Senate Democrats the following week. 

On June 9, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will deliver the results from its economic analysis of the Kerry-Lieberman climate proposal, the American Power Act.

On June 10, the Senate will vote on a resolution from Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to strip EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gasses under the Clean Air Act.  The resolution would need 51 votes to pass—currently, it has 41 cosponsors, including three Democrats.  For more information, see the January 22 edition of the ESA Policy News at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2010/01222010.php

GULF OIL DISASTER UPDATE

In an effort to retake ownership for the ongoing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama Administration has halted new offshore drilling, cancelling a proposed lease sale off the coast of Virginia and suspending two upcoming exploration projects off the coast of Alaska, as well as 33 deepwater drilling operations in the Gulf.  The administration had just announced the Virginia and Alaska expansions in March. 

After the Gulf leak began, Obama placed a moratorium on deepwater drilling until 2011—he now plans to extend the moratorium until the independent commission created to investigate the disaster and recommend improvements can complete its work. 

Previously, administration officials had stood by BP estimates, saying it was more important to stop the leak than to measure it.  But US Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt recently discredited BP’s assertion that the equivalent of 5,000 barrels (roughly 210,000 gallons of oil) were leaking into the Gulf each day.  McNutt said recent studies put the figure somewhere between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels per day (one USGS measurement method returned an estimate of 25,000 barrels per day), making the Deepwater Horizon disaster the worst of its kind in US history.

The hurricane factor: The full impact of the leak will remain unknown for some time and could be complicated further by what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts will be an “active to extremely active” hurricane season, which is expected to include between three and seven major hurricanes—those with winds above 110 mph.  An average hurricane season includes two such storms.  This year’s record warm sea surface temperatures and a weakening El Niño (stronger wind shear can break up storms) give scientists reason to believe that the trend of high storm activity will continue to worsen. 

For previous information on the Gulf disaster, see the May 21 edition of the ESA Policy News at http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2010/05212010.php

OIL DISPERSANTS: SCIENTISTS QUESTION WHETHER DISPERSANTS DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD; EPA RESTRICTS APPLICATION, BOOSTS TESTING

In an effort to mitigate environmental damages from the ongoing oil leak, BP has applied close to a million gallons of dispersants—chemicals that break up large masses of oil before they reach coastal areas and wetlands—both via deep-sea injection and surface spraying. 

But the long-term impact of the chemicals, particularly when applied at what could be a world-record scale, has resulted in opposition from many scientists and environmentalists.  Of particular concern are the oil’s aromatic hydrocarbons, which can be consumed by fish once they are broken up by dispersants.  Studies indicate that these hydrocarbons harm marine organism reproductive systems and disrupt larvae development, leading to worries that dispersants could be exacerbating rather than ameliorating negative impacts on marine food webs and ecosystems. 

OCEAN ACIDIFICATION: HOUSE DEMS CALL ON EPA TO COORDINATE NATIONAL EFFORTS TO ADDRESS ACIDIFICATION UNDER CLEAN WATER ACT

Representatives Lois Capps (D-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), and Jay Inslee (D-WA) are leading a 44-member group of House Democrats in urging the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take a leadership role in addressing ocean acidification under the Clean Water Act (CWA).  .

Scientists estimate that the acidity of ocean water has increased by 30 percent since widespread fossil fuel use began.  A number of studies have indicated that rising acidity is already having significant impacts on marine life, particularly on animals with calcium carbonate shells, like shellfish and coral. 

CURRENT POLICY

JUST INTRODUCED

Offshore fish farms: A recent bill from Senator David Vitter (R-LA) would place a 3.5-year federal moratorium on offshore aquaculture, calling on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to first research and report on the environmental and economic impacts of offshore fish farms.  Currently, US aquaculture takes place primarily in freshwater and near-shore facilities—open-ocean aquaculture is a relatively new approach in which massive cages are used to farm saltwater species.  Some of these facilities are being commercially operated off the coasts of Hawaii and Puerto Rico, but a federal permitting system would be necessary for the industry to take off. 

UNDER SUBCOMMITTEE REVIEW

DOD Natural Resources (HR 5284): Legislation from Del. Madeline Bordallo (D-Guam) would require National Guard installations to develop comprehensive plans for coordinating and carrying out wildlife and natural resources conservation efforts.  The 1960 Sikes Act already requires such plans for lands controlled by the Department of Defense (DOD); National Guard facilities are typically on state-owned land.  Like the Sikes Act, HR 5284 would make it possible for land management plans approved by federal biologists to stand in for critical habitat designations.

Author: Piper Corp

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