ESA Policy News: October 18, 2010

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

OFFSHORE DRILLING: WHITE HOUSE LIFTS DEEPWATER BAN

The Obama Administration announced Oct. 12 that it is lifting its moratorium on deepwater oil-and-gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Administration has been under intense pressure from several regional politicians and business leaders to lift the moratorium, who attribute the ban to the temporary loss of 8,000 to 12,000 jobs in the region. While the ban on shallow-water drilling was lifted in May, operations have not yet returned to normal and several regional and federal politicians, from both sides of the aisle, have vehemently opposed the deep-water drilling moratorium. The moratorium was initially supposed to last until late November.

WHITE HOUSE: TASK FORCE RELEASES CLIMATE CHANGE RECOMMENDATIONS

On October 14, 2010, the Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, co-chaired by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), released its interagency report outlining recommendations to President Obama on how federal agencies can better respond to the impacts of climate change.

The White House report notes that “climate change is a global phenomenon that is influenced by and affects people and places throughout the world” and that the federal government “has an important stake in adaptation because climate change directly affects a wide range of federal services, operations, programs, assets (e.g., infrastructure, land) and our national security.”

STATE DEPARTMENT: CLINTON UNDER PRESSURE ON CLIMATE CHANGE

Five Subcommittee Chairmen from the House Foreign Affairs Committee are urging Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to press for an independent “global climate fund” that helps developing countries. The Democrats want Clinton to push for the fund at the United Nations climate summit late this year in Cancun, Mexico.

The letter, penned by Reps. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega (American Samoa), Brad Sherman (CA), Gary Ackerman (NY), Donald Payne (NJ) and Eliot Engel (NY), states the fund must be independent of existing financial institutions. There is fear among some non-governmental groups that a program under the World Bank or other development banks would face undue influence from large corporations and rich nations.

The House Democrats’ letter says that helping to establish the fund will re-assert U.S. credibility on climate change in the absence of a U.S. emissions law. It suggests that several existing funds would provide good models, including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria and the multilateral fund to implement the Montreal Protocol to phase out ozone-depleting substances.

The letter calls a global fund an essential outcome of the UN talks, which are not expected to result in a binding emissions-cutting deal. Last year’s Copenhagen summit yielded a non-binding agreement to provide climate aid to developing nations that reaches $100 billion annually by 2020. – The Hill

CHEASAPEAKE BAY: NY LAWMAKERS REBUKE EPA CLEANUP PLAN

Democratic New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and seven House Members from the state have issued a letter stating that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan disproportionately penalizes their state and should make greater demands of the areas closer to the Bay.

The letter states EPA’s Chesapeake Bay restoration plan, set to take effect at the end of the year, contains “drastic” and “unattainable” pollution-reduction requirements that will “jeopardize the economic well-being of communities within New York’s Bay Watershed and the agricultural industry on which the entire state relies.”  The Members assert that “New York is required to reduce its total phosphorus load by more than 34 percent of EPA’s calculated baseline, while Maryland, a tidal state, is required to reduce its phosphorus load by only 18.89 percent.”

The Bay cleanup has struggled in part because of interstate disputes over responsibility for pollution, habitat damage and how to divide the costs of cleaning up stormwater, sewage and farm and development wastes. EPA’s plan calls for 25 percent reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus, which fuel algae blooms and lead to depletions of dissolved oxygen needed by fish and other marine life. For more information, see the Sept. 30 edition of the ESA Policy News at http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2010/09302010.php

COAL: EPA URGES VETO OF WV MOUNTAINTOP-REMOVAL PERMIT

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 3 Administrator Shawn Garvin has recommended rejecting a water permit for the proposed Spruce No. 1 Mine in West Virginia, stating that it would have an adverse impact on West Virginia streams and the wildlife they support. The 84-page recommendation was submitted last month and made public this past Friday.

EPA found that the project would bury more than seven miles of the Pigeonroost Branch and Oldhouse Branch streams under 110 million cubic yards of rubble—known as spoil, killing everything in them and sending downstream a flood of contaminants, toxic substances and life-choking algae. The project was originally approved by the Bush administration in 2007 and would involve dynamiting the tops off mountains over 2,278 acres to get at the coal beneath while dumping the resulting spoil, into nearby valleys and streams.

A symposium held during the Ecological Society of America’s 2010 Annual Meeting called attention to the practice of mountaintop removal and pointed out the damage it inflicts on wildlife and people living in these areas.  (See http://www.ecostudies.org/press/documents/2010-08-03_ESA_schedule.pdf)

SCIENCE EDUCATION: INCREASING MINORITY REPRESENTATION KEY TO ADVANCING U.S. COMPETITIVENESS

A new report from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine urges increased minority participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education at all levels and outlines a comprehensive roadmap for increasing involvement of underrepresented minorities in these fields.

Underrepresented minorities — including African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans — comprised just over nine percent of minority college-educated Americans in science and engineering occupations in 2006, the report notes.  This number would need to triple to match the share of minorities in the U.S. population.

Currently, the majority of growth in STEM doctorates is attributable to non-U.S. citizens, particularly those from India and China.  The tendency of many students to want to return to their home countries, coupled with stricter visa requirements make it increasingly unlikely that these students will make a substantial contribution to U.S. science and technological needs, according to the report.

EDUCATION: SUMMIT EXPLORES WAYS TO ADVANCE ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION AND STEWARDSHIP

More than 200 educators, scientists and policy professionals from around the country came together October 14-15 for the Ecology and Education Summit, “Environmental Literacy for a Sustainable World.” Participants from academia, business, the religious community, agriculture, government, the health industry and the media shared ideas for advancing environmental education and stewardship and the event featured keynote addresses from polar explorer Will Steger and urban farmer Will Allen.

Co-sponsored by the Ecological Society of America (ESA) and the National Education Association (NEA), together with many other partners, the two-day conference sought to generate ideas and collaborations for developing a green workforce and society.  For more information see http://www.esa.org/eesummit/ or yesterday’s ESA blog post: http://www.esa.org/esablog/research/moving-forward-on-environmental-literacy/

ETHANOL: EPA GRANTS E15 WAIVER FOR NEWER VEHICLES

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) waived a limitation on selling fuel that is more than 10 percent ethanol for model year 2007 and newer cars and light trucks on Oct. 13. The waiver applies to fuel that contains up to 15 percent ethanol – known as E15 – and only to model year 2007 and newer cars and light trucks.

Environmental groups and the auto industry criticized the decision as “premature” while, ethanol advocates said the approval did not go far enough. Growth Energy had sought approval for 15 percent ethanol, or E15, to be blended with gasoline, up from the current 10 percent cap. EPA only granted a waiver for E15 use in cars and trucks built since 2007.

EPA still plans to issue a separate decision on cars and light-duty trucks from model year 2001 through 2006 next month after it receives more testing results from the Department of Energy (DOE). Since 1979, up to 10 percent ethanol or E10 has been used for all conventional cars and light trucks, and non-road vehicles. Vehicles that have the green light to run on E15 account for about one-third of the nation’s fuel demand, according to EPA.

SOLAR: INTERIOR APPROVES FIRST ENERGY PROJECTS ON PUBLIC LANDS

Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved the first large-scale solar energy plants ever to be built on public lands on Oct 5, 2010. The two projects, located in the California desert, are the first in a series of renewable energy projects on public lands under final review by the agency.

Interior’s approval grants the U.S.-based companies access to almost 6,800 acres of public lands for 30 years to build and operate solar plants that could produce enough energy to power 226,000 – 566,000 typical American homes. The solar-thermal project in Imperial Valley would rank as one of the world’s largest solar projects.

Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, renewable energy developers that have their projects under construction by the end of 2010 or meet one of the program’s safe harbor provisions can qualify for significant funding. The Recovery Act’s payment for specified energy property in lieu of tax credit program makes the companies Tessera Solar and Chevron eligible for approximately $273 million and $31 million, respectively.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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  1. I really appreciate what you write on here. I try and check your blog every day so keep up the good work!

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