ESA Policy News: October 12

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


 On Oct. 3, House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL) sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting a review of regulatory actions that may hinder research at the nation’s universities.

The letter comes following  a recent report from the National Research Council of the National Academies entitled Research Universities and the Future of America: Ten Breakthrough Actions Vital to our Nation’s Prosperity and Security. Among its recommendations was a call to “reduce or eliminate regulations that increase administrative costs, impede research productivity, and deflect creative energy without substantially improving the research environment.”

The National Academies report also recommends raising government, industry and philanthropy support for Research and Development (R&D) to three percent of Growth Domestic Product, fully funding the America COMPETES Act and “doubling the level of basic research conducted by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.”

To view Rep. Brooks’ letter, click here. The full National Academies report and a PDF summary is available here.


On Oct. 1, the United States Supreme Court stated it would not review a Clinton administration roadless rule that protects 45 million acres of national forest from road construction and logging. The decision ends a decade of legal challenges that began when the rule was first finalized in January 2001.

Petitioners had asked the Supreme Court to overturn a decision last year by the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the Clinton rule and reversed a US district judge’s determination that the rule had created de facto wilderness and violated the National Environmental Policy Act. Petitioners included the state of Wyoming, the Colorado Mining Association and the American Petroleum Institute. After the ruling, Gov. Matt Mead stated that while he had concerns about what the decision would mean for economic opportunity in his state, he intends to work collaboratively with the US Forest Service to address these issues.


The US Department of Interior (DOI) is seeking nominations for a new panel to be composed of outside scientific experts to help inform the agency’s work on the impacts of climate change on natural resources.

Those nominated would serve on DOI’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science. The committee will advise the US Geological Survey’s National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center (NCCWSC) and the Interior’s network of regional Climate Science Centers. The group’s mission is to provide input on the “contents of a national strategy identifying key science priorities to advance management of natural resources in the face of climate change.” The group will also be charged with advancing scientific integrity and evaluate the performance of individual Climate Science Centers before re-establishing expiring agreements.

Written nominations must be received by November 19, 2012. For additional information, click here.


Two new studies from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) highlight the challenges faced in properly monitoring energy development through hydraulic fracturing and the potential risks to the environment and public health.

The study entitled “Information on Shale Resources, Development, and Environmental and Public Health Risks,” concluded that “oil and gas development, whether conventional or shale oil and gas, pose inherent environmental and public health risks, but the extent of these risks associated with shale oil and gas development is unknown, in part, because the studies GAO reviewed do not generally take into account the potential long-term, cumulative effects.”

The second report highlighted statutes that limit EPA’s regulatory authority over shale development. In one example, GAO cites that while the Clean Water Act generally regulates stormwater discharges by requiring industrial and construction facilities to obtain permits, oil and gas well sites are generally exempt from this requirement. It also noted that oil and gas exploration and production wastes are exempt from Resource Conservation and Recovery Act hazardous waste requirements due to an EPA regulatory determination issued in 1988.

The GAO report was requested by House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA), House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-MA), E&C Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-CO) and four Senators.

To view the environmental and public health risks report, click here. To view the regulatory challenges report, click here. To view the Ranking Member Waxman statement on the reports, click here. 


A recently publicized report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) contends that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could do more to strengthen its process for reviewing effluent guidelines for reducing water pollution from industrial facilities. The report was requested by House Transportation and Infrastructure Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Rob Bishop (D-NY).

The GAO study found that “limitations in EPA’s screening phase may have led it to overlook some industrial categories that warrant further review for new or revised effluent guidelines.”  The study concluded that while EPA has made “great strides” in reducing the pollutants in wastewater discharged from industrial facilities and other point sources since enactment of the Clean Water Act, numerous effluent guidelines for industrial polluters have not been revised in decades and could benefit from improved data collection and the agency’s reliance on incomplete hazard data during the screening phase has limited its ability to comprehensively regulate industrial discharge pollution.

View the full report here.


On Oct. 9, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Centers for Coastal Science (NCCOS) released new guidelines to help coastal managers control the spread of invasive lionfish.

Entitled “Invasive Lionfish: A Guide to Control and Management,” the manual purports to use the latest in science and management practices to mitigate invasive lionfish in conservation areas. According to NOAA, NCCOS scientists collaborated with a wide variety of partners, including the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute, Reef Environmental Education Foundation, the International Coral Reef Initiative, the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, Simon Fraser University of Vancouver, the United Nations Caribbean Environmental Program, and Mexico’s Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas, to develop the publication.

View the full manual here.


On Oct. 4, the Environmental Protection Agency announced e-NEPA, a new online system that allows federal agencies to submit environmental impact statements (EISs) electronically. The new method reduces paper waste and eliminates the traditional need to mail in or hand deliver hard copies of EISs.

EISs were originally mandated under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to ensure federal agencies take environmental considerations into account when implementing a new federal policy. EPA reviews, provides comments, and maintains a national filing system for EISs.

All agencies are required to use e-NEPA as of the first of the month and EPA no longer accepts paper copies or compact disks of EISs. For additional information on e-NEPA, click here.


ESA President Scott Collins signed a letter to the White House Office of Management (OMB) that requested that OMB not approve an Environmental Protection Agency rule which would allow Arundo donax, an invasive species, to qualify as an “advanced biofuel feedstock” under the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Noting the non-native plant’s propensity to invade, the organizations argued that the plant should not be included as one for which the EPA provides production incentives.  According to a recent assessment by the US Department of Agriculture, Arundo can alter the hydrology, nutrient cycling, and fire regimes in areas where it becomes established and can also displace native plants and negatively impact rare animals.

The letter stated that: “Given the high risk of invasion, providing incentives under the Renewable Fuel Standard for the cultivation of Arundo donax has the potential for serious unintended ecological and economic impacts. Under Executive Order 13112, EPA should not provide production incentives for high risk feedstocks such as Arundo donax without determining that the benefits “clearly outweigh” the costs. Given the difficulty of eradicating Arundo donax and the extent of potential environmental damages, it is highly unlikely that the benefits would clearly outweigh the costs.”

To read the full letter, click here.


On Oct. 1, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put forward a plan to address contaminated river sediment at the Grasse River Superfund site in Messena, NY.

For decades, the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa, Inc.) West facility in Massena, NY released cancer-causing chemicals and other hazardous wastes from its aluminum production and fabrication activities into  the Grasse River. These chemicals, primarily polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), accumulated in the fatty tissue of fish and mammals. Under the new proposed plan, approximately, 109,000 cubic yards of PCBS-contaminated sediment would be dredged from near-shore areas of the river and replaced with clean material.

The Superfund program operates on the principle that polluters should pay for cleanups, rather than passing the cost to taxpayers. The EPA searches for parties responsible for the contamination and holds them accountable for the costs of investigations and cleanups. The investigation and cleanup of the Grasse River Superfund site is being conducted and paid for by Alcoa, Inc. with oversight by the EPA. The estimated cost of the proposed cleanup is $243 million.

Written comments on EPA’s proposed plan may be mailed or emailed by Nov. 15. Additional information on the effort can be found here.



Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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