ESA Policy News: November 9

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


The 2012 elections resulted in the continuation of a divided government with both parties more or less playing with the same hand they held before the election. President Obama remains in the White House, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) retains control of the Senate (albeit with a slightly more cushioned majority) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) retains control of the House with a substantial majority of over 230 Republican members.

White House

The re-election of President Obama generally means no significant policy changes for federal agencies. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) continues its National Oceans Policy, the Department of Interior’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative remains intact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will continue its regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions and its current Clean Water Act and mountain-top removal mining policies will be sustained.  The Department of State will continue its review of the Keystone XL pipeline with its early 2013 date on whether it will approved. The great unknown is who among the federal agency heads will be staying on to implement these policies.


US House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is expected to retain his role as is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). Congress’s first order of business, upon returning for its lame-duck session next week will be to address the fiscal cliff, a combination of automatic spending cuts enacted under the Budget Control Act and a series of expiring tax cuts enacted under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama. Speaker Boehner has declared that House Republicans are prepared to embrace a deficit reduction deal that includes revenue increases so long as those increases are coupled with further non-defense discretionary spending cuts and mandatory spending reductions. The Speaker has forewarned, however, that any revenue increases should be made through reforms to the tax code that closes loopholes, not through tax increases on the wealthiest Americans or small businesses.

Republican control of the House means that many of the attempts to legislatively delist species from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, prohibit funding for NOAA’s proposed climate service, roll back Department of Interior and EPA regulations intended to protect the environment and cut or limit discretionary spending on certain science initiatives, will also continue over the next two years. House committee oversight hearings that are highly critical of various administration regulations and initiatives will also continue under the current majority.


Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) retains control of the Senate, partially due to a weak field of gaffe-prone tea-party driven Senate candidates, who also stifled significant gains for the Senate GOP in 2010. Like the House, the Senate also reaches a diversity milestone with a record 20 women elected to the chamber next year. These include Senators-elect Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), the nation’s first openly gay Senator. Hirono will be the first Asian-American female Senator.

On the one hand, the replacement of pragmatic Republicans like Lugar and Scott Brown (R-MA) with Democrats gives Reid a few more reliable votes on certain party-line issues. However, it also decreases the number of Republican members he can lean on to reach across the aisle and help him deliver the 60-vote threshold necessary to move more contentious bills through the Senate. Reid’s padded majority gains have also led to speculation that the majority leader may seek to limit the ability of the minority to filibuster in the next Congress.

For a full listing of departing House and Senate members in the 112th Congress, click here. For a profile listing of all the newly elected House and Senate members, click here.


The House Science, Space and Technology Committee is expected to have a new chairman the first time it gavels in next year. Nonetheless, the list of top contenders suggest existing Chairman Ralph Hall’s (R-TX) tenure, defined in part by a war with NOAA over its climate service proposal, persistent skepticism on scientific climate change data and increased regulatory oversight, will continue regardless of who secures the chairmanship.

The three main contenders are Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who previously chaired the committee for four years between 1997-2001.  Ralph Hall is forced to step down under the House Republican conference’s six year term limit rules (Hall served as the ranking Republican for four years when Democrats held the majority).

Both Sensenbrenner and Rohrabacher are vocal climate skeptics. Rep. Smith, however, appears to be more moderately conservative on climate science. On his website under the environmental tab is the following sentiment: “Like many Americans, I am concerned about the environment. The Earth has undergone tremendous change in the past and is experiencing similar change now. Climate change has the potential to impact agriculture, ecosystems, sea levels, weather patterns and human health. It is our responsibility to take steps to improve the quality of our land, water and air for ourselves and for future generations. We can do this by developing and expanding clean energy technologies, relying less on foreign oil, and utilizing a common sense approach to conservation.”


Several key environmental committees will see changes, brought on by Republican self-imposed six-year term limits and retirements from both parties.

Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-ID), is expected to be succeeded by David Vitter (R-LA). To the dismay of many concerned about global warming, Inhofe will nonetheless remain a member of the committee. Vitter does not hold Inhofe’s reputation of being a vocal climate skeptic, however, has consistently opposed Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency regulations. Vitter is expected, however, to continue Inhofe’s bipartisan collaboration with Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) on working to reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act.

Retiring Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Ranking Member Hutchinson will be succeeded by Jim DeMint (R-SC), an ardent tea party supporter. The committee has oversight over National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration issues. It is not yet known which Republican will succeed Olympia Snowe (R-ME) as ranking member of the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard subcommittee. Immediately next in line are Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Johnny Isakson (R-OK).

Retiring Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) is expected to be succeeded by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who currently serves as chairman of the Public Lands and Forests Subcommittee.


The issue of climate change, mentioned in none of the three presidential debates this election season, was brought to the forefront when Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast.

The hurricane caused an estimated $30-$50 billion in damages to the East Coast. Repairing New York City’s infrastructure, predominantly its subway tunnels, electricity grid and communications network is going to make up a significant chunk of the cost. But flooded, burned-down and wind-torn residences along the Northeast Coast will make up the majority of insured losses. While the Federal Emergency Management Agency has $7.8 billion in reserve funds to help address the storm, some lawmakers representing affected areas in New York and New Jersey contend that additional emergency spending may be necessary.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Energy and Power Subcommittee Ranking Member Bobby Rush (D-IL) issued a letter to committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) requesting a lame-duck session hearing on links between Hurricane Sandy and climate change. The letter is among a series penned by Waxman urging for hearings on climate science, yet Upton has, thus far, not responded.

New York farmers impacted

Road closures and power outages from the storm temporarily hindered agricultural commerce in the state of New York. The strife to consumers in urban regions dealing with the impacts of the hurricane has meant that growers are experiencing a drop in customers. According to Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, damage to actual crops was minimal due to the fact that the harvest period had passed for most crops. However, had the storm occurred just a few weeks earlier, the damage could have been significant.

National Park Service employees dispatched

The National Park Service (NPS) had over 200 federal employees from across the nation on the ground in New York and New Jersey to assist in recovery efforts in the wake of hurricane Sandy.  NPS teams were also sent to assess damage to the Statue of Liberty National Monument.

USGS Scientists collect geographic data

United States Geological Survey scientists have been deployed across Sandy-impacted areas to evaluate various ecological implications of the hurricane. The data collected will be used in part to forecast the broad changes a storm has on natural land and waterways surrounding communities and assess the effectiveness of cleanup efforts. This monitoring will include sampling water quality and tracking nutrient continent in run-off.

NFWF launches ecological impacts fund

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) launched the Hurricane Sandy Wildlife Response fund with $250,000 to research the storm’s ecological implications for wildlife. The organization is also concerned about potential impacts of raw sewage, sediment and pollution seeping into waterways. For additional information on the program, click here.


New reports outline potential options to postpone or cope with the pending fiscal cliff, a combination of automatic discretionary spending cuts and tax increases, set to go into effect in January.

A report from OMB Watch suggests that the federal agencies may be able to buy Members of Congress a few weeks to come up with a deal in January that averts the discretionary spending cuts, commonly referred to as budget sequestration. According to the report the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has apportionment authority that could enable it to accelerate spending for programs over a brief period in 2013, which would temporarily offset sequestration’s impacts. Accelerating funding could also temporarily prevent furloughs and layoffs of federal workers for the first few weeks of the year.

Overall, the effectiveness of these efforts would still all be contingent on Congress coming to an agreement within the first few weeks of the new year that nullifies sequestration for the remainder of the year. According to a report released Nov. 8 from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), it would be better for the country for Congress to address the overall fiscal cliff sooner rather than later.

According to CBO, allowing the scheduled tax increases and spending cuts to go into effect would cause the economy to shrink by 0.5 percent in 2013. The unemployment rate would rise again to 9.1 percent, up from the current 7.9 percent. The report concludes that If Congress blocked the spending cuts and extended all of the expiring tax cuts, excluding the payroll tax cut, the economy would grow by 2.25 percent next year. Including the payroll tax cut and an extension of unemployment benefits would push growth closer to three percent.

To read the OMB Watch report, click here. To view the CBO report, click here.


On Nov. 8, the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) trustees announced the release of a draft restoration plan to recover habitat for nesting birds and sea turtles that were impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The plan includes two proposed projects totaling $9 million. The first project intends to protect nesting habitat for beach-nesting birds from disturbance caused by oil spill response activities. The project would be conducted on beaches along the Florida panhandle and on the  Alabama and Mississippi coasts. The second project proposes to reduce artificial lighting impacts on nesting habitat for loggerhead turtles, also affected by oil response activities. Comments will be taken through Dec. 10, 2012. For further information or to comment, click here.


Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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