ESA Policy News: May 31

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

BUDGET SEQUESTRATION: COMMITTEE REPORT HIGHLIGHTS IMPACTS ON NATIONAL PARKS

House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Edward Markey (D-MA) recently released a report further detailing sequestration’s impacts on national parks. Noting that visitors to national parks spent about $30 billion in 2011, the report highlights several impacts it says are unavoidable. The report was released May 24, to coincide with Memorial Day weekend and the beginning of summer park visitation season.

Under budget sequestration, non-defense discretionary spending for all federal agencies is cut across all programs by five percent, leading to staff furloughs, hiring freezes as well as service cutbacks. The report details cutbacks at 23 of the 400 US parks. Several, such as Grand Canyon National Park and Glacier National Park will see reduced hours for their visitor centers. Reduced visitor hours at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia will reportedly deny access to 20,000 park visitors.

The report also concludes that most parks will offer fewer educational opportunities and other special programs to visitors. In addition, parks will have less capacity to handle emergencies, such as coping with extreme weather events,   or law-enforcement situations, such as poaching and other crimes. Park repairs, maintenance of park facilities (including rest rooms) will also be scaled back due to sequestration, the report finds.

View the full report here.

NOAA: SCIENCE COMMITTEE EXAMINES AGENCY WEATHER FORECASTING RESEARCH

On May 23, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on the Environment held a hearing entitled “Restoring US Leadership in Weather Forecasting.” The hearing examined legislation that intends to reprioritize research initiatives at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

A sentiment among congressional Republicans on the subcommittee is that NOAA invests too much on climate research compared to weather research. “In 2012, NOAA barely spent one-third of the resources on weather research as it did on climate research,” asserted Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT) in his opening statement. In referencing disasters such as Hurricane Sandy and the tornado that hit Oklahoma, he stated “We have seen the devastating effects that severe weather can have on this country, and this bill would establish a priority mission for all of NOAA to improve forecasts and warnings to protect lives and property.”

Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Susan Bonamici (D-OR) expressed concern that the legislation might hamper investment in NOAA’s other priorities. She pointed out that NOAA’s broad mission includes collecting weather data as well as research to help understand and anticipate ecosystem changes that may impact coastal communities. “NOAA has a sweeping mission to predict the weather, to insure healthy oceans and fisheries, to address climate mitigation and adaptation and to enhance the resilience of our coastal communities and economies,” stated Bonamici.  “To carry out all these missions requires that NOAA manage a very broad set of scientific challenges and look for ways to bring the insights of research into the daily lives of all our citizens.” 

View the full hearing here.

INTERIOR: NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE LEADERS REQUEST MORE TIME TO COMMENT ON HYDRAULIC FRACTURING RULE

In a rare bipartisan effort, the top Republican and Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee issued a joint letter to the Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell requesting additional time to comment on the agency’s new draft hydraulic fracturing rule.

Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) and Ranking Member Edward Markey (D-MA) each have concerns with the rule, albeit from different ideological perspectives. Chairman Hastings views the rule as unnecessary added regulation that will have detrimental economic impacts. Ranking Member Markey criticized the rule for not going far enough in implementing environmental safeguards.

To view the Hastings/Markey letter, click here. For additional information on the rule, see the May 17 Edition of ESA Policy News, here.

CBO: CARBON TAX WOULD MITIGATE IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report May 22, outlining the economic and environmental impacts of instituting a carbon tax. While CBO acknowledged uncertainties on how such a tax should be implemented, it was clear in concluding that delaying the institution a carbon tax will lead to costly damage that will grow higher with time.

“Regardless of the effect that delaying emission reductions might have on the cost of achieving lower emissions, such delays would increase the expected damage from climate change by increasing the risk of very costly, potentially even catastrophic, outcomes,” the report states. “Given the persistent nature of greenhouse gases and the dynamics of climate change, warming would continue for several decades even if emissions were quickly cut to a small fraction of their current levels. In general, the risk of costly damage is higher as the extent of warming increases and as the pace of warming picks up; thus, failing to limit emissions soon increases that risk.”

The report noted that the institution of a carbon tax would generate increased revenue and improve public health. Regarding negative economic impacts, the report concludes that it would increase the cost of fossil fuels and decrease the purchasing power of lower-income individuals due to increased prices for emission-intensive goods and services. The report maintains that the use of revenues from the tax, through such options as deficit reduction or cutting marginal tax rates, could help mitigate its economic impacts.

Read the full report here.

BLM: WIND PROJECT APPROVAL ALLOWS FOR KILL OF ENDANGERED CONDOR

On May 24, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a record of decision granting final approval of the Alta East Wind Project (AEWP) in eastern Kern County, California. The record of decision includes an authorization allowing the take (injure or kill) of a California condor.

Regarding adherence to the Endangered Species Act, the decision asserts that “because of the comprehensive condor avoidance and minimization plan that the Applicant will implement as part of the AEWP, over the 30 year life of the project, ‘Project activities are reasonably likely to result in the death of no more than one condor as a result of being struck by a turbine blade,’ and therefore the BLM’s issuance of a ROW grant for the AEWP is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the California condor.” In the event a condor is killed, BLM would mandate that the project only be operated at night.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service contends sufficient measures are being taken by Alta Windpower Development, LLC, a subsidiary of Terra Gen Power, LLC to minimize risks to condor recovery efforts.  For additional information, click here.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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