ESA Policy News: June 8

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

APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE PASSES ENERGY AND WATER SPENDING BILL

 On June 6, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5325, the Energy and Water Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. The bill funds the Department of Energy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Interior water programs for the fiscal year (FY) 2013. It passed by a vote of 255-165 with 48 Democrats joining all but 29 Republicans in supporting the bill.

In total, the bill funds the aforementioned federal agencies at $32 billion, an overall increase of $87.5 million in spending over the current fiscal year. The Obama administration, however, has pledged to veto the bill as it is part of an overall Republican budget effort to decrease spending by $19 billion for FY 2013. The administration reasons that the increase in this bill as well as a recently approved veterans’ appropriations bill, will lead to funding cuts for other appropriations bills that have not yet been taken up, which include Interior, Commerce Justice and Science, Transportation Housing and Urban Development and Labor Health Human Services and Education.

For information on specific programmatic funding levels in the House and Senate Energy and Water bills, see the May 4 edition of ESA Policy News. For additional details on the House-passed bill, click here. View the Obama administration statement of administration policy on H.R. 5325 here.

AIR POLLUTION: SUBCOMMITTEE EXAMINES EPA’S COST BENEFIT ANALYSIS TECHNIQUES

On June 6, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened for a hearing entitled “EPA’s Impact on Jobs and Energy Affordability: Understanding the Real Costs and Benefits of Environmental Regulations.” The hearing sought to weigh the costs and benefits of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations.

In his opening statement, Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) questioned EPA’s methods. “Our witnesses today will describe a pattern of scientific and economic practices at EPA and OIRA that inflates health-based regulatory benefits, overlooks actual economic, energy affordability, and jobs impacts, and fails to reflect uncertainty in communicating risks.  All too often, major EPA regulations have been underpinned by secret science, hidden data, and black box models,” he stated. “More and more of these regulations are almost exclusively justified on the basis of incidental “co-benefits” from particulate matter reductions, raising the specter of double-counting, and private benefits on the assumption that all regulated entities are acting irrationally and against their economic self-interest and that EPA knows what is best for their bottom line.”

Democrats criticized the format of the hearing, in which no witnesses representing EPA were called to testify. “If the Republicans question the EPA’s methods for assessing impacts of environmental and public health safeguards, then they should have EPA here to testify.  Then we might have left the hearing with a better understanding of this complex issue,” stated Ranking Member Brad Miller (D-NC).

View the full hearing here.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: HASTINGS REQUESTS INFORMATION ON AGENCY LITIGATION COSTS

 On May 31, House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) sent a series of letters to Obama administration officials inquiring how much the federal government spends on Endangered Species Act litigation.

The first of the four letters are addressed to Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe while the other three are directed to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Jane Lubchenco, Assistant Attorney General of the Environment and Natural Resources Division Ignacia Moreno and Steve Wright, Chief Executive of the federal Bonneville Power Administration in Portland, Oregon.

“The goal of the ESA was to preserve, protect and recover key domestic species.  However, today the law is failing to achieve its primary purpose of species recovery and instead has become a tool for litigation that drains resources away from real recovery efforts and blocks job-creating economic activities,” states the letter to Salazar and Ashe. “At the Committee’s February 15, 2012 hearing to consider the Department of the Interior’s (“Department”) FY 2013 budget request, I asked how much the Department spends on litigation and settlements involving the ESA,” the letter continues.  “It is concerning that there was not a readily available answer to this question, and to date, the Department has yet to provide a response.”

To view the Chairman Hasting letters, click here.

FISHERIES: MARKEY OPPOSES WTO RULING AGAINST ‘DOLPHIN-SAFE’ TUNA LABEL

On May 31, House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Edward Markey (D-MA) spearheaded a letter to President Obama urging him to defend a US law to protect dolphins of the Eastern Tropical Pacific in the wake of a recent World Trade Organization (WTO) Court decision. Ranking Member Markey was joined by 42 Democrats.

The WTO court recently ruled against the use of the voluntary “dolphin-safe” tuna label, claiming that it puts Mexican fisherman at an unfair disadvantage. The labeling standard was created to protect Pacific dolphins threatened by tuna fishing. “The American people deserve to know whether or not the fish they eat was caught by killing Flipper,” said Markey in a related press statement. “Dolphin-safe labeling of canned tuna has been successful in protecting the species and giving consumers informed choices.”

Dolphin and tuna tend to congregate in the Eastern Tropical Pacific region. ‘Fishing on dolphins’ is a technique used by Mexico and several other Central and South American countries by which dolphin schools are chased and encircled with nets in an effort to catch tuna swimming beneath. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the practice has killed an estimated seven million dolphins since the late 1950s. Advocates of the label maintain that it has saved thousands of dolphins since it was enacted by Congress in 1990.

View the Markey letter here.

EPA: SCIENTIST PANEL APPOINTED TO REVIEW BRISTOL BAY WATERSHED ASSESSMENT

An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contractor has selected a dozen scientists with expertise in mining, water and native Alaskan culture to review the agency’s report on the potential impacts of large-scale mining in the southwestern part of Alaska. The mining is sought by the Pebble LP gold and copper project, which has the potential to become one of the world’s largest mines.

The twelve reviewers were selected out of 86 candidates by Contractor Versar Inc. Among the team members is Ecological Society of America  member Roy Stein, who works on fisheries and aquatic biology issues at Ohio State University. The other eleven members include David Atkins, Watershed Environmental LLC, Orcutt, CA; Steve Buckley, WHPacific Inc; Courtney Carothers, University of Alaska, Fairbanks; Dennis Dauble, Washington State University; Gordon Reeves , U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pacific Northwest Research Station; Charles Slaughter, University of Idaho; John Stednick, Colorado State University; William Stubblefield, Oregon State University; Dirk van Zyl, University of British Columbia; Phyllis Weber Scannell Scientific Inc; and Paul Whitney, wildlife ecology and ecotoxicology expert. Click here for more information.

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: FOREST SERVICE UNDERTAKES LAKE TAHOE RESTORATION

 On June 1, the U.S. Forest Service released a draft management plan for the Lake Tahoe ecosystem.

The plan consists of four alternatives that seek to address issues related to watershed health, aquatic ecosystems, forest health, hazardous fuels and terrestrial wildlife habitat, sustainable recreation and access to national forests via facilities, roads and trails. The final plan will guide management of 154,000 acres of National Forest System lands on California and Nevada surrounding the Lake Tahoe Basin for the next fifteen years. The plan was last updated in 1988.

The draft Forest Service plan is intended to help local authorities maintain the natural landscape of an area in light of increased tourism, vacation resorts and recreational activity. The region draws over three million tourists who contribute over $1 billion to the area’s economy. Comments will be taken through August 30, 2012. For additional information on how to comment on the plan, click here.

POLICY ENGAGEMENT: SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES OPPOSE TRAVEL RESTRICTION LEGISLATION

On May 18, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) joined 50 other scientific societies in a letter spear-headed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science regarding  far-reaching legislation to limit federal government employees’ ability to travel and attend conferences. The House bill passed by unanimous consent, while the Senate language, which was incorporated into comprehensive postal legislation, passed by a filibuster proof 62-37 vote with the majority of opposition coming from Senate Republicans.

The legislative proposals cited in the letter (the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act, H.R. 2146) in the House and the 21st Century Postal Service Act (S. 1789) in the Senate) are intended to address the recent General Services Administration (GSA) scandal where the abuse of federal travel dollars had drawn bipartisan ire. The House bill specifically would cut the travel budgets of federal agencies by 20 percent from Fiscal Year 2010 levels, the year in which the GSA scandal occurred. Both bills place severe restrictions on travel and the number of conferences an agency can support.

Other signatories of the letter include American Geophysical Union, American Institute of Biological Sciences, American Mathematical Society, American Society of Agronomy,  and the Geological Society of America. In addition to the scientific societies, groups such as the National League of Cities, National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures also opposed the bill for similar reasons. View the full letter here.

 

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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