ESA Policy News: October 20

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

APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE RELEASES INTERIOR SPENDING BILL

On Oct. 14, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies released is funding bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. In total, the bill provides $29.3 billion for programs funded by the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other environmental agencies, slightly less than the $29.5 billion approved for FY 2011. The House bill includes $27.5 billion in funding for FY 2012.

The bill includes $10.27 billion for the Interior Department in FY 2012, down from the $10.56 billion enacted in FY 2011. EPA would receive $8.62 billion, down from the $8.68 billion enacted in FY 2011. The House bill includes $9.9 billion for Interior and $7.1 billion for EPA.

For the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) the bill provides $1.08 billion in funding for FY 2012, less than the $1.11 billion provided in FY 2011. The House bill provides approximately $919.22 million for BLM.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) would receive $1.47 billion for FY 2012, less than the $1.5 billion allocated in FY 2011. The House bill provides $1.1 billion for FWS.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) would be funded at $1.06 billion for FY 2012, less than the $1.08 billion in funding it received in FY 2011. The House bill includes $1.05 billion for USGS.

For the U.S. Forest Service, the bill includes $4.56 billion for FY 2012, less than the $4.69 billion allocated in FY 2012. The House bill provides $4.5 billion for the Forest Service.

Click here for additional information on the Senate Interior bill or view the House Interior bill here.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: JUDGE THROWS OUT INTERIOR RULE LIMITING POLAR BEAR PROTECTIONS

On Oct. 17, a federal judge struck down a George W. Bush administration rule that barred the use of the Endangered Species Act to regulate greenhouse gasses.

The ruling concerned a rule issued by the U.S. Department of Interior in 2008 that said the polar bear’s designation as threatened in 2008 could not be used as a backdoor way to control greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. The rule was subsequently upheld by the Obama administration.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan of the District of Columbia ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to carry out an environmental review to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). But, importantly, he upheld FWS’s decision that the Endangered Species Act was not the appropriate vehicle to regulate greenhouse gases.

The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that filed a lawsuit over the 2008 rule, said the decision puts the fate of the polar bear back in the hands of the Obama administration and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Sullivan’s decision directs the Interior Department to respond by Nov. 17 with a timetable for when it will complete the required environmental review.

HOUSE: COMMITTEE REVIEWS STEM EDUCATION REPORT

On Oct. 12, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education convened to review a recent report from the National Academies entitled Successful K-12 STEM Education:  Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.”

The report was requested in 2009 by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), the current Chairman of the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee who also spoke at the hearing. Wolf sought to highlight the importance of science education in further overall American competitiveness, asking, “will the 21st century be the American century or will the 21st century be the Chinese century?”

Suzanne Wilson, Chair of the Department of Teacher Education in STEM fields at Michigan State University noted the lack of a coordinated effort to prepare and train teachers.  “There are 1,500 school districts in the U.S. and each has an entirely independent portfolio of professional training for its teachers,” she said. “Despite the investment of these material and human resources, teachers seldom receive coordinated guidance about what they should study or have opportunity to select professional development that builds on their previous experiences. This is irresponsible. It has adverse effects for our young people and on our Nation’s position in a rapidly changing world and global economy.”

Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) touted his bill, H.R. 2547, the No Child Left Inside Act of 2011, noting that it encourages students to partake in innovative science education activities, such as going outdoors on field trips to explore science in their communities. Adam Gamoran, Director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin, told Rep. Sarbanes that the NAS report “would add fuel to your fire.” Gamoran maintained that the approach of Sarbanes’s bill was consistent with report’s recommendations to further research experiences that go beyond textbooks to actual physical engagement activities.

View the full hearing here. Click here to the full National Academies report.

HOUSE: COMMITTEE REVIEWS ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT IMPLEMENTATION

On Oct. 13, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations convened for a hearing entitled “The Endangered Species Act: Reviewing the Nexus Between Science and Policy.”

In his opening statement, Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun (R-GA) sought to use the proportionally low number of species that have been delisted from the Endangered Species Act as evidence of the law’s failure. “Of the roughly 2,000 species listed as endangered or threatened, only about one percent have actually recovered.   As a tool for advancing other special interest policy goals, it has certainly been very influential, but I’m not sure that was the Act’s original intent,” he said.

The majority of witnesses called to testify were critical of the Act. Many asserted that states were appropriately suited to manage the protection of endangered species. “If recovery goals were optionally deferred to the states, I’m sure that in many instances we would find state-level recovery plans that would be scientifically reliable, science-based and actually deliver greater performance on the act at a lesser cost than the way recovery plans are administered at present,” said Neal Wilkins, Director, Institute of Renewable Natural Resources, Texas A&M University.

“The ESA works. Less than one percent of listing species have gone extinct since 1973 while ten percent of candidate species still waiting to be listed are gone,” contended Francesca Grifo, Senior Scientist and Director, Scientific Integrity Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. She cautioned that “science cannot be a mask behind which decision-makers can do anything that special-interests or ideology might dictate. The rightful place for science is as the basis of broad participatory and transparent conversations about how to solve the challenges we face. It is not okay to say the science made me do it while changing the science to justify policy decisions.”

View the full hearing here:

SENATE: COMMITTEE EXAMINES ARMY CORPS FLOOD-CONTROL EFFORTS

On Oct. 19, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee convened for a hearing entitled “A Review of the 2011 Floods and the Condition of the Nation’s Flood Control Systems.” The hearing examined the federal response to the various floods of 2011, focusing primarily on the areas surrounding the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

Both Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) expressed support for working on a new Water Resources Development Act while simultaneously voicing disappointment with the burden the current earmark ban places on lawmakers. “When you don’t do earmarks or don’t do your appropriations, your authorizations as article 1 section 9 of the Constitution tells us to do, then automatically the president does that and the president doesn’t know what our needs our in Oklahoma,” said Ranking Member Inhofe.  “I’ll let that one go,” Chairwoman Boxer joked in response.

Eight Senators and one Congressman from states along the rivers testified, a number Senate Chairwoman Boxer described as “unprecedented” referring to the hearing as a “bipartisan moment” for the committee. The lawmakers who testified called for the Army Corps to rewrite its “Master Manual,” which was last updated in 2004 after a 14-year, $33 million public process. The manual specifically dictates how the system, including water levels in six flood-control reservoirs, should be operated to balance the needs for flood control, commercial navigation, the environment and recreation.

Members from flooded states testifying included Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Ben Nelson (D-NE), John Thune (R-SD), Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO). The lawmakers demanded that flood control be given greater priority.

View the full hearing here.

OSTP: REPUBLICAN LAWMAKERS ISSUE LETTER CRITICIZING SCIENTIFIC INTEGRITY METHODS

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Science and Space Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA), Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) sent a letter to White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren criticizing the administration’s use of science in its decision-making.

“We write to ask your assistance in helping us better understand the apparent collapse in the quality of scientific work being conducted at our federal agencies. Specifically, we are concerned with data quality, integrity of methodologies and collection of information, agencies misrepresenting publicly the weight of scientific ‘facts,’ indefensible representations of scientific conclusions before our federal court system, and our fundamental notions of ‘sound’ science,” the letter states.

The letter cites a National Research Council review of the quality of work that was done by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Integrated Risk Information System chemical assessment program in April 2011. The letter also references a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued in May 2011 criticizing the process that the Department of Energy (DOE) used to shut down a program for turning Yucca Mountain, NV into a long-term storage site for U.S. nuclear waste.

The lawmakers ask for a response by Nov. 2. To read the full Vitter-Inhofe-Issa letter, click here. To see the full OSTP guidelines, read the Dec. 22 edition of ESA Policy News here.

AIR POLLUTION: EPA AWARDS UNIVERISITIES FUNDING FOR BLACK CARBON RESEARCH

On Oct. 18, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it had awarded over $6.6 million in grants to eight universities to support black carbon research.  EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program awarded the grants to support research to study the role and impacts of black carbon, which is emitted from a wide variety of sources that burn fossil fuel or biomass.

Unlike greenhouse gases, which remain in the atmosphere for decades or centuries, black carbon particles only stay in the atmosphere for days or weeks. Consequently, reducing black carbon emissions could have a more immediate effect on the climate than greenhouse gases.

Award recipients include the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Carnegie Mellon University; the University of California, Irvine; the University of California, Riverside; the University of Iowa; the University of Washington; the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Rutgers University.

View the full EPA press release here. Additional information on the black carbon research projects can be found here.

EPA: ORGANIZATIONS AWARDED GRANT FUNDING FOR ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION

On Oct. 18, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced $219,000 in grants to organizations across four states that support environmental education initiatives.

The recent recipients are among the more than 40 organizations across the nation who have received awards by EPA in 2011.  These grants are awarded to local and non-profit organizations, government agencies as well as schools and universities who work to advance environmental education. The recipients include Nuskagak-Mulchatna Wood-Tikchik Land Trust in Alaska; the University of Idaho; Long Tom Watershed Council in Oregon; and the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

View the full EPA press release here or learn more about the 2012 grant program.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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