Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Piper Corp. Read the full Policy News here.
SENATE CLIMATE DEBATE: CLIMATE SIDELINED AS DEMOCRATIC LEADERS PUSH IMMIGRATION
With Washington gearing up to take on immigration reform, prospects for a climate and energy bill this year are increasingly bleak. Democratic leaders maintain that they’ll get to both issues this year, but other lawmakers and observers are largely skeptical.
The unexpected turn to immigration has severely disrupted the partnership between the Senate climate bill’s authors, Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Graham has suspended his efforts on the bill, accusing Democrats of using immigration as a political ploy—particularly Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), whose ability to win over his substantial Latino constituency could make or break his uphill reelection campaign. Graham, whose bipartisan efforts have been harshly criticized by conservative politicians and voters in his home state, has made it clear that he is unwilling to put himself on the line while others resort to what he considers election year politics. The trio had originally planned to unveil their bill on April 26—Kerry now plans to move forward with the release early next week.
OIL LEAK: POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE GULF DISASTER
As the nation scrambles to address the Gulf of Mexico oil leak, it remains to be seen if and how it will shift the course of energy development and, in turn, climate change.
The rift in the Democratic Caucus has become more distinct, with critics of offshore drilling seeing the disaster as justification for adamant opposition. In reference to the Senate energy and climate package, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) said that any legislation with offshore drilling language would be “dead on arrival” and threatened to filibuster—as he did once before—if necessary. Other opponents such as Senators Jay Rockefeller (WV) and Frank Lautenberg (NJ) have allowed slightly more leeway.
Pro-drilling Democrats, meanwhile, have toned down their approach, though few have changed their stance. Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) cautioned against removing drilling language from the bill without first determining if technological improvements could rule out a repeat of the disaster down the road.
Lawmakers are also trying to gauge how the disaster will impact the climate bill’s chances of success overall. Proponents hope to find a silver lining—just as the 1969 Cuyahoga River fires prompted the Clean Water Act and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, they say the recent disaster could serve as a wake-up call on the dangers of fossil fuels. Further, the public’s negative response to the leak will make it harder for senators who favor drilling to use it as grounds for voting against a climate bill.
SCIENCE FUNDING: HOUSE SCIENCE COMMITTEE APPROVES COMPETES REAUTHORIZATION
On April 28, the House Science and Technology Committee voted 29-8 in favor of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act (HR 5116). The $84 billion research and education bill includes substantial funding boosts for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, and the National Institutes for Standards and Technology over the next five years, keeping them on track to double their budgets from 2007 appropriated levels.
The bill could still see changes based on amendments from Representatives Rohrabacher and Paul Broun (R-GA), which would prohibit COMPETES funding from going towards lobbying efforts or to those who have infringed on intellectual property rights. The two lawmakers withdrew their amendments, agreeing instead to work with committee leadership to produce language that would be broadly acceptable.
COASTAL WILDLIFE: BIPARTISAN SUPPORT FOR YET-UNVEILED BILL TO INSTITUTIONALIZE CONSERVATION PROGRAM
Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) is drafting legislation to codify the Interior Department’s Coastal Program, which sends federal experts to work with state agencies and local volunteers on a variety of coastal wildlife conservation activities, including habitat protection, invasive species removal, and wetland restoration. Originally focused on the Chesapeake Bay, the program has expanded over the last 30-some years to include 23 coastal areas, but Congress has yet to specifically authorize funding for it. Codification, though not required, is a way of setting agency priorities, formalizing congressional intent, and making programs more permanent.
INVASIVE SPECIES: SUPREME COURT HALTS GREAT LAKE STATE EFFORTS TO STOP SPREAD OF ASIAN CARP
On April 26, the Supreme Court rejected a request from the state of Michigan to reopen a 1922 lawsuit over the management of Chicago-area waterways. The lawsuit, originally filed during the construction of waterways connecting the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River Basin, is particularly relevant now, as Michigan and other neighboring states attempt to protect their fisheries from invasive species such as Asian carp.
Claiming that Illinois has not done enough to prevent the species from spreading, Michigan—along with Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario—asked the Court to close Chicago-area waterways, possibly permanently, to prevent the invasives from establishing populations in the Great Lakes. Illinois argued that such actions would unfairly burden its shipping and boating industries. The Supreme Court not only rejected the states’ request, but also barred them from pursuing the matter with a new high-court lawsuit.
NEON: NATIONAL SCIENCE BOARD CLEARS NEON FOR CONSTRUCTION
The planning process for the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) is now drawing to a close, and construction on the first sites could begin as soon as spring 2011. The National Science Foundation Director is now authorized to make an award of as much as $433.7 million over the next five years for observatory construction.
Construction funds for the 106 sites will still depend on congressional appropriations and compliance with the Endangered Species Act and National Historic Preservation Act. For information on the President’s 2011 budget request for NEON, see the February 12, 2010 edition of the ESA Policy News.
OPPORTUNITY FOR INPUT: EPA INVITES COMMENTS ON OCEAN ACIDIFICATION IN THE CLEAN WATER ACT
The Clean Water Act defines impaired waters as ones too polluted or degraded to meet water quality standards set by the sub-national governments under whose jurisdiction they fall. Section 303(d) of the Act requires these governments to develop lists of impaired waters, the pollutant(s) causing impairment, and the total maximum daily loads of these pollutants. The deadline to comment is May 21, 2010. To comment, visit www.regulations.gov.
ESA AND ESA STUDENT SECTION WORK TO IDENTIFY DATASETS USEFUL TO GULF COAST MONITORING
The Ecological Society of America and its Student Section are organizing an effort to identify datasets to assist monitoring in areas impacted by the oil leak. Researchers with datasets that could be used to evaluate the Gulf of Mexico ecosystems before the leak (e.g. transects, surveys, etc.) are being asked to submit information about the datasets (data description, area covered, time frame covered, and contact information) to ESAStudentSection@gmail.com. ESA Student Section Officers have offered to collate all the information so that ESA can provide summaries about available datasets to researchers based in the Gulf to help them establish monitoring sites.