ESA Policy News: November 30

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


As the fiscal cliff negotiations continue, leaders in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democratic-controlled Senate have sketched out their broad goals.

Included in the “fiscal cliff” are a series of automatic discretionary spending cuts (budget sequestration) and the expiration of a multitude of tax cuts and unemployment benefit extensions. The discretionary spending cuts include significant spending reductions to science agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United States Geological Survey.

On the Republican side, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have declared that Republicans are open to revenue increases, yet are unwilling to raise specific income rates. Republicans have called on Senate Democrats and the White House to outline what specific discretionary spending cuts and entitlement reforms they would embrace.Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, have called on Republicans to outline specific revenue increases and changes to the tax code. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has stated that simply closing loopholes will not generate the necessary revenue.

On Nov. 29, the White House offered an initial plan that would raise $1.6 trillion in revenue and $400 billion in spending cuts. The first $960 billion in revenue would come from allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for the highest income earners. Another $600 billion in revenue would come from changes to the tax code. The proposal, put forward by Treasury Secretary Geithner, would also grant the president more latitude to raise the debt ceiling with a required two thirds vote from Congress to prevent it. As part of the plan, the White House also is requesting $50 billion in new stimulus spending and a $30 billion extension of unemployment benefits. The $400 billion in savings comes from changes to healthcare and entitlement programs. The plan also calls for extending the payroll tax cut or providing a similar tax cut targeted towards working families. The Administration’s proposed revenue increases alone are a non-starter for Congressional Republicans (and some Democrats) with both Speaker Boehner and Senate Minority Leader McConnell soundly rejecting the proposal.

A number of organizations who benefit from non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending have come together to form “NDD United,” a broad effort to inform policymakers on the multifaceted detrimental impacts NDD cuts would have on communities nationwide. The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is among the scientific societies that participate in these efforts. ESA has joined in NDD United activities and recently spearheaded a letter to lawmakers highlighting the impact non-defense discretionary spending cuts would have on investments in science and conservation efforts. To view the ESA letter, click here.


House Republican leadership has announced its committee chairs for the 113th Congress for 20 of its 21 committees.

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will be chaired by Lamar Smith (R-TX). While Smith has supported climate skeptics having an increased role in climate change discussions, he is viewed as the least hostile towards climate science among the three who sought the slot.  These included Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI). Current chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) is term-limited under Republican rules that allow for only six years of service in a chairman or ranking member position. Like Chairman Hall, Smith intends to make the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and space exploration a priority. He also supports Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education investment as essential in remaining competitive in the modern global economy.

The House Transportation Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over the Water Resources Development Act, the Army Corps of Engineers and Clean Water Act legislation, will be chaired by Bill Shuster (R-PA). The House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over Environmental Protection Agency laws, will continue to be chaired by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI). The House Appropriations Committee will continue to be chaired by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY). Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) is also returning to chair the House Natural Resources Committee, which has oversight over various US Department of Interior laws and initiatives.


Sens. John Hoeven (R-ND) and Max Baucus (D-MT) spearheaded a letter on Nov. 16 requesting a meeting with President Obama on moving forward with the Keystone XL pipeline proposal.

“With the elections of 2012 behind us, we write to remind you of the continuing importance of the Keystone XL Pipeline. We want to work together to keep creating jobs, and Keystone XL is one vital piece of the puzzle,” the letter states. “We would like to meet with you in the near future to discuss this important project.” Asserting that the pipeline will create thousands of jobs, the signers maintain that existing portions of the pipeline have been built with “sound environmental stewardship and the best modern technology.”

Environmental groups have opposed the pipeline out of concern for greenhouse gas emissions, forest damage and the potential oil spills along the pipeline’s path. The administration had postponed a decision until early 2013, citing that it required the additional time to review alternative route proposals from TransCanada. To view the full letter, click here.


On Nov. 20, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released its annual Candidate Notice of Review, an update on the current status of plants and animals considered candidates for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Three species have been removed from candidate status, two have been added and nine have garnered a change in priority since the last review was conducted in Oct. 2011. The two new candidate species are the Peñasco least chipmunk of New Mexico and the Cumberland arrow darter, a freshwater perch-like fish in Kentucky and Tennessee. The three species removed include the elongate mud meadow springsnail of Nevada, the Christ’s paintbrush flower of Idaho and the bog asphodel lily in New Jersey. Priority status was raised for five species, the Sonoran desert tortoise, Black Warrior waterdog salamander, Nevares Spring naucorid bug, Goose Creek Milkvetch plant, and whorled sunflower. Priority status was lowered for the Sonoyta mud turtle, Page springsnail, Stephan’s riffle beetle, and Siskiyou mariposa lily.

According to FWS, 192 species are currently recognized as candidates for protection under the Act, the lowest in over twelve years. Though candidate species do not garner full federal protection, the FWS does take action to conserve them. The complete notice and list of proposed and candidate species appears in the Federal Register and can be found here.


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is considering whether to remove a small population of orcas/killer whales in Puget Sound, WA from protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Upon reviewing a petition filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service concurred that new information warrants a review of the orcas’ protected status in the region. Officially known as Southern Resident killer whales, the area’s population of 86 killer whales was first listed as endangered in 2005. The Southern Resident killer whales spend time in Puget Sound and nearby waters, leaving for the open ocean in the winter.

The opportunity for scientific comment extends through Jan. 28, 2013. For additional information, including the comment link, click here.


The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is considering listing the African lion (Panthera leo leo) as a protected species under the Endangered Species Act.

In March 2011, FWS received a petition from animal welfare groups, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, Born Free Foundation/Born Free USA, Defenders of Wildlife and Fund for Animals, requesting the African lion be added as a federally protected species. Species may be considered for protection under the ESA regardless of whether they are native to the United States.

Comments must be received by January 28, 2013. Written comments and information concerning this finding can be submitted by one of the following methods:

  • Electronic mail: Federal eRulemaking Portal: Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. [FWS-R9-ES-2012-0025]
  • Regular mail: Public Comments Processing, Attn: [FWS-R9-ES-2012-0025]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.


On Nov. 14, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced $5.3 million in research fellowships to 126 students pursuing degrees in environmental studies, including 39 Greater Research Opportunities (GRO) fellows and 87 Science to Achieve Results (STAR) fellows.

According to EPA, the awards encourage undergraduate and graduate students to pursue careers as environmental specialists and further their education into master’s and doctoral degrees. The fellowships seek to encourage leadership in areas including environmental research, restoration, pollution prevention and sustainability.

Applications for the fiscal year 2013 GRO program are due Dec. 5, 2012 while the STAR fellowship deadline was Nov. 27, 2012. For additional information on the GRO program and STAR fellowships, click here.


ESA invites applications for its 2013 Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA).  This award, offered annually to up to three winners, provides graduate students hands-on science policy experience in Washington, DC including interacting with congressional decision-makers, federal agency officials, and others engaged in science and public policy.

ESA covers travel and lodging expenses associated with this event for GSPA recipients. The two-day event will occur between mid-March and early April, contingent on the yet-to-be-determined 2013 congressional schedule.  Application deadline is January 7, 2013. For more information, click here.


Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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