ESA Policy News: March 11

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

HOUSE: COMMITTEE MEMBERS, SCIENTISTS DISCUSS CLIMATE CHANGE, EPA REGS

The House Energy and Commerce Energy and Power Subcommittee met Tuesday, March 8, 2011 to examine climate science. The hearing served as a precursor to the mark-up of H.R. 910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act, a bill to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) asserted that the overall issue is not whether or not one considers climate change to be a serious problem, but whether EPA’s regulatory efforts present a wise solution. Whitfield maintained that the Upton bill was not a response to climate science, but a way to eliminate an unsound strategy for curbing greenhouse gas emissions. “One need not be a skeptic of global warming to be a skeptic of EPA’s regulatory agenda,” he said.

Full committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) was quick to note that the hearing focus on climate science was at the insistence of committee Democrats. Waxman asserted the Upton bill would remove the administration’s main tools to address one of the most critical problems facing the world today. “If my doctor told me I had cancer, I wouldn’t scour the country to find someone to tell me that I don’t need to worry about it,” Waxman said.

Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush (D-IL) said that 95 percent of scientists and scientific organizations worldwide have reached a consensus that man-made greenhouse gases are substantially contributing to climate change. Rush highlighted what he viewed as the many benefits of mitigating climate change, including “energy independence, sustainability, cleaner air and water, and a healthier populace.”

While the witnesses included several scientists who supported the consensus view that man-made greenhouse gas emissions are a central driver of the adverse impacts of climate change, two of the witnesses, Dr. John Cristy of the University of Alabama and Dr. Donald Roberts of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, were ardent climate skeptics.

APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE REJECTS PARTISAN LONG-TERM SPENDING PROPOSALS

On March 9, the Senate rejected two continuing resolutions (CRs) to fund the government through Sept. 30, 2011, the end of the current fiscal year.

H.R. 1, the House-passed CR, which would cut $61 billion in funding from FY 2010, failed by a vote of 44-56 with no support from Democrats. Additionally, three members of the Senate Tea Party Caucus voted against the bill: Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT).

Senate Democrats put forward an amendment in the nature of a substitute to H.R. 1, which would have reduced federal spending by only $5 billion. The amendment failed by a vote of 42-58. Eleven Senators who caucus with Democrats voted against the bill including Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Carl Levin (D-MI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mark Udall (D-CO) and Jim Webb (D-VA). Sens. Kohl, Machin, McCaskill, Sanders and Nelson all are up for reelection in 2012.

BUDGET: COMMITTEE HEARINGS PROVIDE FORUMS TO QUESTION PRIORITIES

With the release of the President Obama’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 budget request, a host of House and Senate Congressional committees have convened hearings, inviting top federal agency officials to testify on the administration’s fiscal priorities. Enclosed are a few highlights from recent congressional hearings related to science and environmental agencies.

Bureau of Land Management

The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands met March 8 to review the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) FY 2012 budget request.

BLM Director Bob Abbey defended the agency’s $1.13 billion budget request for FY 2012, a one percent increase over current funding and assured critics that the agency’s “wild lands” order would not be used to restrict acres leased for oil and gas development.

Fish and Wildlife Service

The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs met March 2 to review the Fish and Wildlife Service budget request.

Subcommittee Chairman John Fleming (R-LA) and committee Republicans were critical of the administration’s request for an additional $53.7 million for land acquisition, which Fleming referred to as exploitation of the private sector. FWS Director Rowan Gould contended that adding land to the refuge system is actually a boost for local economies.

National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration

The House Science and Technology Committee met March 10 to review the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration budget request.

Committee Republicans expressed concerns with NOAA’s new climate service. Chairman Hall (R-TX) referred to the effort as “the largest reorganization in the agency’s history.”

National Park Service

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies met March 9 to review the National Park Service (NPS) budget request.

Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) said he found the agency’s requested $234 million increase for land acquisitions over 2010 levels a “puzzling” proposal given that the fiscal 2012 budget request also would cut $77 million in construction funding and allow the continued growth of more than $10 billion in deferred maintenance. As an appropriator, his position could put the future of the NPS plan in jeopardy.

National Science Foundation

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee convened March 11 to review the National Science Foundation FY 2012 budget request.

“I suspect that every one of our districts have benefitted from NSF funding in one form or another,” said Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX). However, he expressed concern over the 13 percent increase for NSF, given the current fiscal climate. Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) emphasized the importance of maintaining NSF programs that focus on Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics programs.

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) asked the panelists to clarify what impact the 16 percent cuts proposed in H.R. 1, the House-passed continuing resolution would have on NSF. Dr. Ray Bowen, Chairman of the National Science Board, noted the cuts would negatively impact countless universities, prohibiting young people from obtaining grants that can be vital to starting their careers. Dr. Subra Suresh, Director of the National Science Foundation, stated that roughly 5,000 fewer individuals would receive funding under the proposed cuts.

United States Army Corps of Engineers

The House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee convened March 2 to review the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers FY 2012 budget request.

Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) was concerned that environmental programs seemed to be given top priority. Assistant Secretary of Civil Works Jo Ellen Darcy stated that the ecosystem restoration projects represented 18 percent of a budget that seeks to spend $836 million (15 percent) less than in FY 2010.

United States Geological Survey

The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources met March 9 to review the United States Geological Survey (USGS) budget request.

Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-CO) urged Marcia McNutt, director of USGS, to realign the $1.1 billion budget with the agency’s original objectives, saying he was worried USGS had stretched itself thin in trying to expand its mission from geology to other issues such as climate change.

Chairman Lamborn stated that the agency is being swallowed up by a host of new missions and needs to get back to its roots. He commented that, given its current agenda, USGS could be more appropriately named the “Ecosystem Restoration and Climate Monitoring Service.”

BUDGET: JACKSON REPEATEDLY TESTIFIES IN DEFENSE OF EPA REGULATORY EFFORTS

The onset of the budget season has brought Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson to testify in multiple Congressional hearings, outlining and defending the agency’s environmental priorities for Fiscal Year 2012. Jackson repeatedly affirmed her support for the administration’s budget request, which would cut EPA funding by 13 percent, stating the cuts are made in a thoughtful manner that intends to preserve the most essential programs that work toward ensuring clean air and water for American citizens.

During a March 3 convening of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Democrats used the forum to defend EPA’s attempts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions against Republican attempts to legislatively prohibit such efforts. Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) asserted that by disarming EPA’s Clean Air Act restrictions on carbon and other pollutants, the House-passed continuing resolution would raise the incidence of asthma and other illnesses, harming the productivity of the U.S. work force.

DRILLING: DEMOCRATS LAUNCH PUBLIC LANDS ‘FRACKING’ INVESTIGATION

Two top House Democrats launched an investigation Monday into the potential health risks of drilling for natural gas on public lands.

House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Edward Markey (D-MA) and Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Ranking Member Rush Holt (D-NJ) have sent correspondence to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Interior requesting more information about the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” on federal lands.

The New York Times recently reported that chemicals and radioactive materials used during “fracking” pose significant dangers to public health and the environment. During fracking, water, sand and chemicals are injected into the ground to free valuable natural gas deposits. Environmentalists and others have criticized the practice, pointing to the potential for drinking-water contamination and environmental damage.

“As industry expands the use of this technology to tap into more oil and gas reserves, we must ensure that the process of hydraulic fracturing is performed in a safe and environmentally sound manner,” Markey and Holt say in their letter. “Extracting natural gas on public lands should not result in a threat to public health.” Markey asked both Interior and EPA to provide information about fracking on public lands by March 25.

HOUSE: GOP FRESHMEN DEFEND ENVIRONMENTAL RECORDS

On March 1, The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) released a “Special Edition” scorecard which rated how Members of Congress voted on environmental amendments in H.R. 1, the continuing resolution to fund the government through Sept. 30, 2011. The ratings of a number of Republican House freshmen did not match their rhetoric, however, with regard to how important environmental issues are to them.

Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) maintained that while he cares a lot about the environment, the economy is his top concern. Southerland and others pointed to what they describe as the overreach by the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies as the primary incentive behind their votes. Other members defended their environmental records by referencing their work on the local level on environmental issues.

CANADA: GOP SENATORS URGE CLINTON TO APPROVE OIL SANDS PIPELINE

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took questions on the Canadian oil sands pipeline while testifying in back-to-back hearings March 2 before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of State and Foreign Operations and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the State Department’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget request.

Under questioning from Foreign Affairs Subcommittee Ranking Member Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Secretary Clinton declined to take a position on the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline, which remains under review by her team more than two years after its application for a cross-border permit was submitted. Clinton told Graham that while she is supportive of receiving more oil from Canada, she emphasized the importance of the United States doing more in energy efficiency and renewable energy and looking for clean ways to utilize American resources.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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