ESA Policy News: September 13

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

BUDGET: CONGRESS EXPECTED TO PUNT PRIORITY FUNDING ISSUES

Congress returned this week with votes planned on legislation to authorize military force against Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons as well as a bill to a continuing resolution (CR) to temporarily fund the government while Congress negotiates an agreement on government program spending levels for Fiscal Year 2014, which begins October 1. While diplomatic breakthroughs abroad postponed the Syria vote, partisan breakdowns and internal strife among the Republican conference has put the CR in jeopardy.

This week, the House introduced a CR to provide government funding through Dec. 15, 2013. With an overall spending level of $988 billion, the funding level in the initial proposal was slightly less than the current post-sequester spending levels, costing it the support of the House Democratic caucus. However, the bill also ultimately lacked the support of a majority of the Republican conference as many GOP members stated they were unlikely to support a CR that does not fully defund the Affordable Care Act  (P.L. 111-148), also known as “Obamacare.”

In attempt to appease tea party Republicans, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) sought to also hold a vote on a concurrent resolution to force the Senate to vote to defund the Affordable Care Act in FY 2014. Conservative advocacy groups complained that this effort does not go far enough in that the Senate could easily block the concurrent resolution while allowing the CR to pass. These organizations, which include Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, lambasted the Affordable Care Act defunding resolution as a political gimmick. House Republican leaders originally planned to vote on the legislation this week, but are now postponing a vote until next week in an effort to negotiate an agreement that can win a majority in the House. Leader Cantor also announced the House may cancel its scheduled district work period for the week of Sept. 23 if a deal on the CR is not reached in the near future.

SCIENCE: CONSERVATIVES PULL BIPARTISAN LAUREATES BILL

At the beginning of the week, the House was set to vote on H.R. 1891, the Science Laureates of the United States Act of 2013, until conservative groups got wind of the measure.

The bill would allow the president to appoint a Science Laureate of the United States. Modeled after the Library of Congress’s Poet Laureate, the appointed individual with nationally renowned science expertise would travel the country to inspire young people to pursue careers in science. The bipartisan lead House sponsors of the bill include Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), who issued an enthusiastic press statement May 9 on the science committee’s website when the bill was first introduced:

“Scientific discovery fuels the innovation that keeps our economy strong. I am happy to be an original cosponsor of bipartisan legislation that for the first time creates a national spokesman for science,” read Chairman Smith’s statement. “An effective Science Laureate will not only be an accomplished scientist, but a role model who inspires students to pursue advanced degrees in science, math and engineering.  To remain the world leader in a high-tech global marketplace, we must continue to inspire the innovators of tomorrow,” he continued.

The bill was scheduled to be considered Sept. 10 under suspension of the rules, a legislative maneuver typically used for bipartisan legislation that limits debate and amendments, allowing for swift passage. Upon learning that the bill was up this week, right-wing groups such as the American Conservative Union viewed the bill through a political lens. The organizations feared President Obama would appoint a scientist who would push a “liberal” climate change agenda, despite the fact that the bill as written is not exclusively meant to highlight a climate scientist and was pushed by the non-partisan National Academy of Sciences.

AGRICULTURE: ECOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA URGES ACTION ON CONSERVATION PROGRAMS

Last week, the Ecological Society of America issued an action alert encouraging its members to contact their representatives to support several key conservation programs as a new farm bill is negotiated.

The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-234) expired in 2012. Congress and the White House enacted a temporary extension of most farm bill programs, which expires Sept. 30, 2013. The extension did not include conservation programs. While the Senate has passed legislation to reauthorize a number of critical environmental programs, the House-passed alternative either severely curtails or zeroes out funding for these programs.

ESA’s action alert to members highlighted critical conservation provisions included in the Senate bill, including:

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Reserve Program. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program gives financial assistance to farmers who implement conservation practices that preserve natural resources and ecosystems and save energy. The Conservation Reserve Program is a rental-payment program that provides farmers with incentives to remove environmentally-sensitive land from agricultural production to preserve water, soil quality and wildlife habitat.

The Senate bill’s conservation compliance provisions. Unlike the House bill, the Senate bill includes a provision requiring that farmers comply with basic conservation requirements in order to receive federal subsidies for crop insurance.

The Senate bill’s bipartisan sodsaver provision. The sodsaver provision was originally added at the committee level as an amendment by Sens. John Thune (R-SD), Mike Johanns (R-NE) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). The provision preserves native prairie through various subsidy reduction measures intended to discourage farmers from agricultural production on native grasslands.

According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the reforms in the Senate farm bill cut $12.9 billion in spending over the next 10 years. The above measures help farmers, sustain valuable agricultural production, create wildlife habitat and improve the water quality in our rural communities and beyond.

To contact your US representative, click here.

To contact your US Senator, click here.

NOAA: REPORT FINDS HUMAN ACTIVITY INFLUENCED 2012 EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS 

A report released from the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society has found a link between human-caused climate change and half of the twelve extreme weather events that occurred in calendar year 2012. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists took the lead in editing the report.

The peer-reviewed report, written by 78 scientists from 11 countries around the world, found human influences on heat waves and storm surges that increased the probability of extreme weather events such as Hurricane Sandy. The report also found evidence linking human-influenced climate change to reduced arctic sea ice and increases in extreme rainfall in different parts of the globe. The report likened human-induced climate change and its capability to increase extreme weather events to a driver’s speeding increasing his or her likelihood of having an accident.

The report was edited by Thomas Peterson, principal scientist at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC); Martin Hoerling, NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory; Stephanie C. Herring, NCDC; and Peter Stott, UK Met Office Hadley Centre. For additional information on the report, click here.

EPA: 2013 ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE GRANT RECIPIENTS ANNOUNCED

On Sept. 11, the Environmental Protection Agency announced its 2013 awardees for its Environmental Justice Small Grants program. The $1.1 million in grant funding will go to 39 non-profit and tribal organizations to help address health and environmental issues in low-income, minority and tribal communities.

Since 1994, the Environmental Justice Small Grants program has awarded over $24 million to over 1400 community-based organizations to address a wide range of environmental health concerns such as air and water pollution, pesticide use and brownfield-related contamination. EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice works with local recipients to build self-sustaining community partnerships that address issues related to public health and the environment.

Eligible organizations include the following:

  • Incorporated, non-profit, community-based organizations, including environmental justice networks, faith based organizations and those affiliated with religious institutions.
  • Federally recognized tribal governments.
  • Tribal organizations.

A full list of 2013 Environmental Justice Small Grant recipients is available here. Additional information on the program is available here.

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: FWS ANNOUNCES EXTENSION FOR WOLF DELISTING

On Sept. 4, the US Fish and Wildlife Service extended the comment period for its proposal to remove the gray wolf (Canis lupus) from protection under the Endangered Species Act. The new deadline is October 28, 2013.

Some environmental groups have argued that the proposed delisting is premature. The contention is that there are numerous areas of the United States historically populated by wolves and still suitable for them that have yet to  see a return of wolves. “The federal government is essentially turning its back on Americans who want to see thriving wolf populations restored to their states,” asserted Defenders of Wildlife President Jamie Rappaport Clark. “There is still much work to be done to ensure that wolves are able to return to western Colorado, northern California and Washington’s Olympic peninsula – places that have excellent habitat but no wolves.”

FWS argues that returning the gray wolf to all of its prior historical range is not necessary to ensure sustained recovery of the species. The agency is planning several hearings on the delisting in coming weeks in Albuquerque, NM, Sacramento, CA and Washington, DC.

The public comment period also allows for consideration of a proposal to expand protections for the Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) in the US Southwest. The proposal would expand the recovery area for the wolves and allow their release into New Mexico.

For additional information, click here.

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: FEDERAL PROTECTIONS PROPOSED FOR WHITE RHINO

On Sept. 10, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced it has proposed listing the southern white rhinoceros as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act.

The white rhinoceros is the fifth and final species of rhino to garner full federal protection under the law. The black, Sumatran, Indian and Javan rhinos are already listed as “endangered” under the Act. A subspecies of white rhino, the northern white rhino had garnered an endangered listing, but is now believed to be extinct in the wild.

Rhino hunting reached unprecedented levels in 2012 with 668 rhinos poached that year and 446 rhinos killed in the first six months of 2013, according to FWS. The animals are sought  for their horns, which some local cultures believe are capable of curing diseases.

Comments on the draft rule can be made the following ways:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal:  http://www.regulations.gov. Follow instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. FWS–HQ–ES–2013–0055.
  • US mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: [FWS–HQ–ES–2013–0055]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; US Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.

Comments must be received by October 11, 2013. For additional information on the proposed listing, click here.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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