ESA Policy News: March 8

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

BUDGET: AGENCIES IMPLEMENT SEQUESTRATION AS POLICYMAKERS WRESTLE WITH DEBT

Congress’ failure to address budget sequestration by coming up with $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction has federal agencies trimming investment priorities and beginning (reportedly in some cases already implementing) employee furloughs as budget sequestration went into effect March 1.

As enacted by the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25) and modified by the American Taxpayer Relief Act (P.L. 112-240), sequestration includes across-the-board cuts of 7.9 percent for defense discretionary spending programs and 5.3 percent to non-defense discretionary spending programs. It is estimated that for the current Fiscal Year of 2013, which began on Oct. 1, the non-defense discretionary cuts will actually total about nine percent while the defense cuts will total about 13 percent for the remainder of the year to compensate for the five months of spending that have already occurred for the current fiscal year.

For federal agencies, the 5.3 percent sequester for non defense amounts to the following monetary decreases: Environmental Protection Agency ($472 million), Department of Energy ($1.9 billion), Department of Interior ($883 million), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ($271 million) and the National Science Foundation ($361 million), according to a report from the White House Office of Management and Budget released March 1. The Interior cuts include the National Park Service ($153 million), the US Fish and Wildlife Service ($127 million), US Geological Survey ($54 million) and the Bureau of Land Management ($75 million). Department of Defense (DoD) research and development programs would decrease by 7.9 percent, roughly $6 billion. (A House-passed continuing resolution to fund the government would cut an additional $2.5 billion to DoD research and development).

In an effort to reduce partisan tensions over the budget, President Obama held several meal discussions with lawmakers this week at the White House. On March 6, the president met with Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte (NH), Richard Burr (NC), Saxby Chambliss (GA), Dan Coats (IN), Tom Coburn (OK), Bob Corker (TN), Lindsey Graham (SC), John Hoeven (ND), Mike Johanns (NE), Ron Johnson (WI), John McCain (AZ) and Pat Toomey (PA). During the meeting, President Obama said that lawmakers must reach agreement on a comprehensive bipartisan debt reduction plan by the end of July, which coincides with when the federal debt ceiling will need to be addressed.

The White House has released a plan for addressing the sequester that would cut defense and non-defense discretionary spending equally by a total of $200 billion below pre-sequestration levels, cut healthcare costs by $600 billion and include $580 billion in revenue, largely through closing tax loopholes that benefit the wealthiest Americans. The White House plan for addressing sequestration is available here.

To view the Ecological Society of America press release on sequestration, click here. The OMB report on sequestration’s impacts is available here.

APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE PASSES SIX MONTH FEDERAL FUNDING EXTENSION BILL

This week, the US House of Representatives passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013, which ends Sept. 30. The bill would prevent a government shutdown by extending federal funding beyond the deadline of the current CR, which ends March 27. The bill (H.R. 933) passed by a vote of 267-151. Fifty-three Democrats joined all but 14 Republicans in supporting the measure.

For DoD, the House bill would shift $10.4 billion to the agency’s operations and maintenance account by cutting $3.6 billion in personnel funds, $2.5 billion in research and development funding and $4.2 billion in equipment procurement. The bill includes a 1.7 percent pay increase for the military, which is exempt from sequestration. For federal government workers, the existing pay-freeze is continued to offset spending increases elsewhere in the bill.

With the exception of the military pay increase, all other funding increases in the bill are allocated within the overall sequestration cuts set by the Budget Control Act. Total post-sequestration funding in the bill amounts to $984 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The bill provides $40 million for the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service to fight wildfires. It also includes a provision to provide additional funding to maintain the launch schedule for new weather satellites, ensuring the continuation of data collection necessary for weather forecasting. In addition, the bill includes $2 billion in additional funding for diplomatic security in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2012 Libya terrorist attack.

The Senate has indicated it will change the bill by adding funding from three other major appropriations bills. As passed by the House, the bill includes compromise language for two FY 2013 appropriations bills: the Department of Defense Appropriations Act and the Military, Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act. The Senate seeks to add FY 2013 funding for the Agriculture, Rural Development and Food and Drug Administration Appropriations Act, the Homeland Security Appropriations Act, and the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. The latter bill provides funding for law enforcement and two key science agencies – the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Incorporating the language of actual bills gives federal agencies greater direction and specificity in how to distribute funding than a simple CR does.

WHITE HOUSE: OBAMA ANNOUNCES NOMINATIONS FOR EPA, DOE

This week, President Obama announced his picks to head two key agencies. Gina McCarthy has been nominated to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Ernest Moniz to head the Department of Energy (DOE).

A native of Boston, McCarthy has been assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation since 2009. Her tenure at EPA has included the promotion of regulations to improve air quality and reduce toxic mercury pollution from power plant facilities.  Prior to her tenure at EPA, McCarthy was commissioner for the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection from 2004-2009. Her state level experience includes time as an environmental regulator in the administration of former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA).

Moniz is a nuclear physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he directs the MIT Energy Initiative. During the Clinton administration he served as the Under Secretary of Energy (1997-2001). Prior to that, he served in the administration as Associate Director for Science in the Office of Science and Technology Policy (1995-1997). Moniz headed MIT’s Department of Physics between 1991-1995 before joining the Clinton administration.

The two appointments have been met with praise from conservation groups. Alliance to Save Energy President Kateri Callahan praised Moniz as “a recognized, outspoken and effective energy efficiency advocate during his career in government and academia, which will allow him to thrive in his new DOE role.” Of McCarthy, Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke stated: “She’s a good listener, a straight shooter and someone who has what it takes to build consensus and find solutions. We can count on her to protect our environment and our health. And she can count on our support as she works to get the job done on behalf of Americans everywhere.”

SENATE: INTERIOR PICK GETS MIXED REVIEWS AT CONFIRMATION HEARING

During the March 7, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, relations between committee members and Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell were largely cordial. However, several committee Republicans took the opportunity to relay strong concerns with the nominee and prospective actions of the agency she would head.

For Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Lisa Murkowki (R-AK), a continued sticking point is whether the Department of Interior will allow a land exchange that would establish a road corridor through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Approval of the road would ease accessibility of King Cove residents to an all-weather airport in Cold Bay for weather evacuations. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended rejecting the proposal. Murkowski has asserted that she may hold up Jewell’s nomination if the King Cove issue is not addressed to her satisfaction.

Ranking Member Murkowski said that Interior should recommit itself to economic development through energy development. Jewell responded by elaborating on the economic benefits of land conservation. “Public lands are also huge economic engines. Through energy development, through grazing, logging, tourism and outdoor recreation, our lands and waters power our economy and create jobs. Balance is absolutely critical,” said Jewell. She contended that she embraces the Obama administration’s all of the above approach to energy investment that includes both fossil fuels and renewable energy sources.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) has not yet announced when the committee will vote on Jewell, noting that he would like to allow Senators time to get additional questions answers beforehand. View the full hearing here.

HOUSE: ENVIRONMENT SUBCOMMITEE GETS NEW CHAIRMAN

On March 5, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) announced that freshman Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) will serve as the new chairman of the Environment Subcommittee.

The Energy and Environment Subcommittee was split into two separate committees at the beginning of the 113th Congress. The Energy Subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WI) while the Environment Subcommittee was chaired by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), who chaired the Energy and Environment Subcommittee during the 112th Congress. Rep. Harris was recently appointed to the House Appropriations Committee where he serves on the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Subcommittee. The CJS Subcommittee decides federal funding levels for science agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

Before coming to Congress, Rep. Stewart served as Chief Executive Officer for the Shipley Group, a consulting firm that specializes in environmental issues. The organization provides training to clients on federal environmental regulations, such as the National Environmental Policy Act. Stewart sold the company before being sworn into Congress. He is also a decorated Air Force pilot who set three world speed records during his time in the service.

CLIMATE CHANGE: CONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS BUSINESS STEWARDSHIP EFFORTS

The 2013 Climate Leadership Conference brought a wide array of different interests together in discussion of efforts to save energy and mitigate the impacts of climate change. The Ecological Society of America (ESA) was a supporting partner for the event. Other partnering organizations included the Alliance to Save Energy, the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, the Climate Institute, the Sustainability Consortium, the World Resources Institute, and the World Wildlife Fund Climate Savers.

Speakers at the event included business leaders, military officials and senior representatives of government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which served as the headline sponsor. Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe discussed the agency’s efforts to serve as a resource for businesses through its Center of Corporate Leadership as well as its Energy Star program, which works to save customers money on their utilities. Jonathan Powers of the White House Council on Environmental Quality elaborated on how the administration’s executive order for all federal agencies to work to address climate change has resulted in a number of collaborations between the government and related interests in the private sector.

Additional highlights from the conference can be found in two recent posts to ESA’s blog, EcoTone.

STATE: DRAFT REPORT CITES MINIMAL IMPACT FROM KEYSTONE, FINAL DECISION AWAITS

While a final decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline is still pending, the Department of State issued a draft environmental impact statement report March 1 that concludes the pipeline’s construction would not have a significant impact on development of Canada oil sands. “Approval or denial of the proposed project is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands, or on the amount of heavy crude oil refined in the Gulf Coast area,” states the report.

It finds that the pipeline would have “no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed Project route” as long as safeguards are followed. The report does acknowledge that the project could lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The project also identifies several plant and animal species that could be put at risk from construction of the pipeline, including the greater sage grouse, the whooping crane, the Western Prairie Fringed Orchid and the American Burying Beetle. The report asserts, however, that steps can be taken to minimize impacts on these species.

The draft environmental impact assessment is subject to a 45 day public comment period before the State Department issues a final decision. For additional information on the assessment process as well as information on how to submit comments, click here. To link directly to the draft assessment, click here.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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