ESA Policy News: March 22

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

APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS PASSES MEASURE FUNDING GOVERNMENT THROUGH FY 2013

This week, Congress passed H.R. 933, a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government for the remainder of current Fiscal Year (FY) 2013, which ends Sept. 30. The bill in effect prevents a government shutdown when the current CR runs out at the end of the month while giving some federal agencies slightly more latitude in how they allocate funding. The measure does not nullify the sequestration of automatic spending cuts (5.3 percent to non-defense programs, 7.9 percent to defense programs) implemented March 1 under the Budget Control Act. President Obama is expected to sign the measure.

The $984 billion bill is altered from the House version in that it adds funding language for the agriculture, homeland security and commerce justice and science appropriations bills. The House version had only incorporated appropriations bills that fund the Department of Defense and Veteran Affairs agencies. Incorporating the language of actual bills gives federal agencies greater direction and specificity in how to distribute funding than what is provided by a simple CR. While overall funding in the bill was not increased, funding levels for several programs within agencies were reshuffled to sustain critical initiatives.

For the National Science Foundation in FY 2013, the Senate-passed bill includes a $221 million increase over FY 2012 for a total of $7.25 billion. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is funded at $17.5 billion in FY 2013, less than the $17.8 billion it received in FY 2012. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will receive $5 billion for FY 2013, above the $4.9 billion funded in FY 2012. For agriculture research programs, the FY 2013 bill provides $1.074 billion for the Agricultural Research Service (down from $1.09 billion in FY 2012) and $290 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (up from $264 million in FY 2014).

Among the amendments adopted was one from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) to prohibit the National Science Foundation from funding political science research unless such research was certified to promote the national security or economic interests of the United States. The Senate also adopted by unanimous consent an amendment from Sens. James Inhofe (R-OK) and Kay Hagan (D-NC) to shield farmers who store fuel on their property from an Environmental Protection Agency oil spill prevention rule. Another amendment from Coburn to shift funding within the National Parks Service to ensure national parks are open to the public and allow White House tours to resume failed 44-54. An additional Coburn amendment to temporarily freeze the hiring of federal employees was rejected 45-54. The overwhelming majority of opposition to the latter two amendments came from Senate Democrats.

A detailed summary of the bill is available here.

BUDGET: HOUSE, SENATE FY 2014 SPENDING PROPOSALS INTRODUCED

The House and Senate recently unveiled their respective budget proposals for the coming Fiscal Year 2014. While the budget resolutions are non-binding, they are intended to serve as a blueprint for House and Senate appropriators as each body drafts appropriations bills that will allocate specific dollar amounts and priorities to federal agencies for the coming fiscal year 2014, which begins Oct 1, 2013. The two budgets differ substantially with respect to priorities.

House

Introduced March 12 by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), the House proposal (H.Con.Res. 25) seeks to balance the budget over the next ten years through additional discretionary spending cuts as well cuts to healthcare and entitlement programs. The proposal projects a savings of $4.63 trillion over 10 years and a surplus of $7 billion by fiscal 2023. Whereas the Senate budget proposal seeks to raise revenue, the House proposal seeks to cut taxes further, including full repeal of the Alternative Minimum Tax and reducing the corporate tax rate to 25 percent. The budget does include revenue increases through tax reform, but claims to have no overall net increase in revenue.

The budget prioritizes increased oil and gas development and approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. In order to “stop the government from buying unnecessary land,” the resolution calls for the elimination of an existing requirement that proceeds from Department of Interior lands sales be used to purchase other lands and redirects 70 percent of those proceeds to deficit reduction. While the budget calls for funding for energy security and basic research, it “pares back spending in areas of duplication and non-core functions, like applied and commercial research and development projects best left to the private sector.”

The House passed the FY 2014 Ryan budget on March 21 by a vote of 221-207. All Democrats voted against the measure while all but 10 Republicans voted for it. The Ryan budget was subsequently considered in the Senate as an amendment and voted down by a vote of 40-59.

Senate

Introduced March 13 by Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA), the Senate proposal (S.Con.Res. 8) is equally divided between spending cuts ($975 billion) and revenue increases ($975 billion). The spending cuts include $493 billion in “domestic savings,” which include a $275 billion reduction in healthcare costs. The additional $482 billion in cuts include a $240 billion reduction in defense spending and a $242 reduction in interest payments. The spending cuts and revenue increases would replace the decade-long sequester cuts.

The Senate bill also includes $100 billion in jobs and infrastructure spending, including energy infrastructure and research. The plan also emphasizes the need to address climate change and prioritizes funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies to work to mitigate its impacts. The bill prioritizes scientific research and calls for increased funding for the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. It also calls for sustained investment in Research and Development, Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics education and workforce development “to prevent further loss of the nation’s competitive edge.” The Senate proposal does not balance the budget over the next 10 years.

Senate Democratic leaders intend to hold a final vote on their budget proposal either late Friday, March 22 or on Saturday, March 23. Additional information on the Murray Senate budget proposal is available here. Additional information Ryan House budget proposal is available here.

HOUSE: DEMOCRATS CALL FOR CLIMATE CHANGE HEARING FEATURING SCIENCE EXPERTISE

On March 15, House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush (D-IL) sent a letter to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) requesting a hearing with scientists and other experts on the need to address climate change.

The letter comes in part as a response to a March 5 Energy and Power Subcommittee hearing featuring utility executives on the need for a diverse electricity portfolio. Much of the focus of the testimony from witnesses as well as questions for Members, however, turned to the declining role of coal-fired power plants in providing electricity in light of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposals to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Waxman and Rush contend that discussion of climate change should not be limited to utility experts, whom some members questioned about their views on global warming during the hearing.

View the full letter here.

HOUSE: COMMITTEE EXAMINES EPA SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD

On March 20, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Environment convened for a hearing to review the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) process of reviewing scientific advice. Entitled “Improving EPA’s Scientific Advisory Processes,” the hearing sought to ascertain whether legislative improvements are needed for EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB). The hearing marks the first under the leadership of Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT), who is skeptical of human-caused climate change.

The committee’s majority Republican members charged that the agency’s processes of considering scientific data are biased.  “Whether it is promulgating air quality regulations that could shut down large swaths of the West, undertaking thinly veiled attacks on the safety of hydraulic fracturing, or pursuing job-killing climate regulations that will have no impact on the climate, EPA’s reputation as a lightning rod for controversy is well known here in Washington and throughout the country,” asserted Chairman Stewart.  “Less well known and understood, however, is the underlying regulatory science and scientific advisory mechanisms that the agency uses to justify its aggressive regulatory approach.”

Roger McClellan, an advisor to Toxicology and Human Health Risk Analysis, asserted that deliberations and actions of the committee may be influenced by federal funding its members have received in the past or may receive in the future. McClellan endorsed legislation considered last Congress authored by former Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) that sought to reform the SAB by amending the 1978 Environmental Research, Development and Demonstration Authorization Act. Entitled the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act, the legislation sought to strengthen peer-review requirements in order to eliminate potential conflicts of interest as well as increase public comment opportunities.

Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) criticized the legislation as hampering SAB’s scientific review process. While declaring support for industry participation in the scientific review process, Bonamici contended that the draft legislation proposed by the majority “undermines ethics requirements and other requirements that have governed thousands of advisory boards throughout the executive branch since 1972, with the end result being an over representation of industry voices on Science Advisory Boards.” Bonamici further noted that “scientists already recuse themselves from activities that directly or indirectly relate to funding decisions that affect them” and asserted that “suggesting that American scientists and researchers are adversaries of good science is not good for our country.”

View the full hearing here.

HOUSE: COMMITTEE DISCUSSES IMPORTANCE OF STEM EDUCATION

On March 13, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research held a hearing entitled “STEM Education: Industry and Philanthropic Initiatives.” The hearing sought to examine private sector initiatives to advance Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education.

There was bipartisan consensus among committee leaders that promoting STEM Education is important to economic development in the US. “America lags behind other nations when it comes to STEM education. American students rank 23rd in math and 31st in science.  These are troubling statistics that could spell disaster in the future.  We have to invest in STEM education if we want to remain globally competitive in the 21st Century” asserted Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “A well-educated and trained STEM workforce undergirds our future economic prosperity. But we have to capture and hold the desire of our nation’s youth to study science and engineering so they will want to pursue these careers.”

Research Subcommittee Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) reinforced the important role of federal funding in the US maintaining its status as a leader in scientific advancements. “If the US wants to remain the global leader in innovation and technology, we have to tackle these challenges with an ‘all hands on deck’ approach,” stated Lipinski. “Unfortunately, our federal investments in STEM education…have stagnated and are even being questioned. This is not a good strategy for educating and training our next generation of STEM workers and strengthening American competitiveness.”

Freshman Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) asked witnesses to comment on the value of STEM training for those who pursue careers outside of the science fields, including those who “become Members of Congress.” Ingram responded “fundamentally, science is about figuring out the world all around you and if people don’t have the basic strategies that they need to understand what’s happening in their environments and to make choices for their health and well-being and their environment, we’re not going to have a population that’s advocating for the right things, advocating for the right policies and making the right choices in their lives.”

View the full hearing here.

SUPREME COURT: APPEALS RULING ON LOGGING RUNOFF REVERSED

In a 7-1 ruling, the US Supreme Court on March 20 upheld Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations for stormwater runoff on logging roads in the Pacific Northwest. The ruling legally affirms that logging roads are not industrial point-source pollution that require permits under the Clean Water Act.

The ruling effectively reverses an Appeals Court ruling in the consolidated cases of Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center and Georgia-Pacific West v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center and upholds an EPA rule that formally exempted logging roads from the NPDES program. In 2010, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that two logging roads in Oregon’s Tillamook state forest were point sources of water contamination that was not “natural” and consequently, no longer exempt from Clean Water Act permit requirements. EPA maintains that water from logging roads is categorized as a “nonpoint” pollution source the same as runoff from a farmer’s field and consequently does not qualify as industrial pollution.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who drafted the opinion, maintained that EPA’s reading of its own regulations is entitled to deference from the court in this instance. The lone dissent came from Justice Antonin Scalia, who asserted that the ruling give EPA too much deference in determining the meaning of their rules.

INVASIVE SNAKES: ESA, TNC, NWF, OTHERS URGE FINAL RULE TO LIST CONSTRICTORS UNDER LACEY ACT

The Ecological Society of America joined nine other organizations in a letter to President Obama requesting that the Administration issue a final regulation listing the reticulated python, the DeSchauensee’s anaconda, the green anaconda, the Beni anaconda and the boa constrictor as injurious under the Lacey Act.

The letter noted that “On March 12, 2010, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a proposed rule to list nine large constrictor snakes as injurious under the Lacey Act. Despite the fact that scientists with the USGS concluded that all nine species presented a “high” or “medium” risk of becoming invasive, on January 23, 2012, FWS issued a final rule stating that only four of those nine species would be listed as injurious under the Lacey Act: Burmese pythons, yellow anacondas, and northern and southern African pythons. At that time, FWS stated that the remaining five species of snakes were still being considered for listing. Of the five that were not included in the final rule, three are currently found in the U.S. pet trade — boa constrictors, reticulated pythons, and to a lesser extent, green anacondas.”

View the letter here.

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: NOAA DRAFT REPORT EXAMINES ENERGY DEVELOPMENT ON MARINE LIFE

On March 21, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced it is seeking public comments on a supplemental draft environmental impact statement that includes analysis of how offshore oil and gas development can impact marine mammals and the Native Alaskan communities that depend on the animals as natural resources.

The supplemental draft EIS will help NOAA as it works to minimize disturbance to marine life caused by vessels and oil and gas drilling activities and improve implementation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. The EIS will be used by the agency to assess the number of animals that can be adversely affected by energy development in the region by US citizens while still having negligible impact on the species or reducing their availability to the Native Alaskan communities that depend on them. NOAA aims to issue its final EIS in early 2014.

The public comment period will begin on Friday, March 29, 2013 and extend through Tuesday, May 28, 2013. Public comments can be submitted using the Federal eRulemaking Portal or by visiting the project page on the Office of Protected Resources website. Comments can also be faxed to 301-713-0376, Attn: Candace Nachman.

NOAA’s Fisheries Service will also accept written comments sent to the following address:

Office of Protected Resources

NOAA Fisheries

1315 East West Highway, Rm. 13115

Silver Spring MD 20910

For additional information on the EIS, click here.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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