ESA Policy News: October 7

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


On Oct. 5, President Obama signed the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-36), which provides federal funding for the new fiscal year (FY) 2012 through Nov. 18. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 79-12 and the House by a vote of 352-66.

The agreement came in part when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced late last month that it would not need additional funds for the remainder of FY 2011, which ended Sept. 30. Consequently, the compromise legislation provided $2.6 billion to FEMA for disaster relief spending with no offsets. The funding would address the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, flooding and other natural disasters that occurred during calendar year 2011. The agreement also eliminated the $1.5 billion offset cut to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) advanced vehicle loan program.

The bill provides additional time for Congress to continue work on its 12 individual FY 2012 appropriations bills.  To date, the House has passed six individual bills and the Senate has passed one. Neither of the bills has been agreed upon by both bodies, which must reconcile and pass the bills  before they can be sent to the president.


On Oct. 4, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened for a hearing entitled “Quality Science for Quality Air.” The hearing sought to examine the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) process for setting standards under the Clean Air Act.

In his opening statement, Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) asserted “it is important to note at the outset that overall air quality in the United States is excellent. He contended that “EPA seems to rely on making statistical hay out of minor associations between pollutants and premature mortality.”

Committee Democrats defended EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act, citing enforcement of such regulations as the reason why air quality has improved over the past few decades.  “Stricter pollutions limits force us to push the envelope of scientific innovation and create new technologies.  And, as it has been proven many times over, improved worker productivity, increased agricultural yield, reduction in mortality and illness, and other economic and public health benefits far outweigh the costs of compliance,” said Energy and Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Brad Miller (D-NC).

View the hearing here.


On Oct. 4, the Senate Environment and Public Works Water and Wildlife Subcommittee held a hearing entitled “Nutrient Pollution: An Overview of Nutrient Reduction Approaches.”

“Dead zones with little or no oxygen caused by nutrient pollution are threatening America’s waters and lakes, as well as the jobs and regional economies nationwide that depend on these great water bodies,” said Water and Wildlife Subcommittee Chairman Ben Cardin (D-MD) in a press statement. “Despite the protections of the Clean Water Act, the problem nationwide continues to grow.”

Full Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) acknowledged that excess nutrients can be “problematic,” but voiced opposition to “a one size fits all policy on nutrient pollution.” Inhofe maintained that “nutrients are different from other water pollutants because they are not intrinsically toxic.”

Nancy K. Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator for Water at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) testified that “states have identified more than 15,000 waters nationwide that have been degraded by excess levels of nutrients to the point that they do not meet state water quality standards.” Stoner’s testimony listed various problems with potable resources across multiple states that affect everything from drinking water to recreation and fishing.

View the hearing here.


The House Natural Resources Committee met Oct. 4 for an oversight hearing on the Obama administration’s National Ocean Plan. The plan was first initiated via Executive Order by the president in July 2010.

Committee Republicans have been critical of the plan, charging that the administration is overreaching in its implementation of the policy. “With the stroke of a pen, President Obama created a new, huge top-down bureaucracy that could over-ride states and local authorities and change the way activities on the oceans, coasts and far inland will be managed,” said Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) in his opening statement.

“Opposing ocean planning is like opposing air traffic control. You can do it but it will cause a mess or lead to dire consequences,” said Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-MA). “It is time for our nation to have an ocean plan. The United States and territories have exclusive economic jurisdiction over approximately 4.5 million square miles of ocean.  These areas are a vital part of the U.S. economy, supporting tens of millions of jobs and contributing trillions of dollars annually to our national economy,” he continued.

Click here for more information on the hearing or view background information on the White House’s National Ocean Policy.


On Oct. 4, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee heard from four members of Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) Subcommittee on Natural Gas on the findings of a recent report on natural gas development.

The subcommittee, led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor John Deutch, issued a report in August that affirmed a number of the environmental and health concerns that have been raised by environmental groups, industry critics and neighbors of drilling operations. The report panel also found that regulators lack “effective control” over the drilling process and said the industry should heed concerns about drilling methods such as hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking.”

Overall, the panelists praised state regulators for their efforts to monitor the shale gas drilling industry while simultaneously not advocating specifically for federal or state regulation of shale drilling. One of the board members, Daniel Yergin, Chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates recommended that the federal government “provide federal R&D support on developing the technologies that address the environmental issues and promote continuous improvement and best practices.”

The group is planning to expand on its recommendations and conclusions in a more detailed report due out in about six weeks. View the hearing here or view the SEAB report.


On Oct. 6, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee released a report that promotes the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) role in fostering economic growth and protecting public health.

The report highlights the many benefits of clean air and water regulations as well as investments in cleaner vehicles while discrediting claims that EPA regulations hinder economic growth. It cites a 2011 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report that referenced recent electric utilities’ claims against EPA’s clean air rules. CRS found that industry’s claims “tend to exaggerate the regulatory burden” of EPA’s rules and “treats as imminent the promulgation of rules that may not be so.”

View the full report here.


The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (commonly known as the “super committee”) has begun hearings focused on its mandated task to reduce the federal deficit by at least $1.5 trillion over the next ten years.

The committee has installed its own contact link to allow citizens across the country to send comments on what can be done to address the nation’s debt. This is an opportunity to inform the committee of the connection between investment in science and innovation and economic growth. Personal stories of how investment in scientific research benefits local communities can be especially helpful.

The joint committee was established under the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25). Updates on the committee’s activities can be viewed by visiting its main website.


Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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