ESA Policy News: September 27

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

APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS DEBATES SHORTTERM SPENDING MEASURE

This month, the House and Senate wrestled over a measure to temporarily fund the federal government beyond the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, 2013.

The CR does not address authorization provisions of the farm bill that also expires on Oct. 1. The most significant portions of the farm bill, however, do not expire until Jan. 1, 2014. The CR also does not address the debt ceiling, which Congress must vote to raise before Oct. 17 to extend its borrowing authority and prevent default, according to the latest estimations from the Dept. of Treasury.

This week, the Senate debated H.J.Res. 59, a bill to fund the government through Dec. 15, 2013. The bill would also restrict funding for implementation of the Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148).  The House-passed bill sets an overall spending cap of $986.3 billion for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, which begins Oct. 1. The number is slightly below the $988 billion FY 2013 enacted spending cap.

Senate Democrats coalesced around a substitute amendment to the bill proposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) with input from Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). The amendment would remove language to defund the Affordable Care Act, but retain the House-set cap of $986.3 billion for FY 2014. Senate Majority Leader Reid argued that the spending of the stopgap measure is less important than the total amount of spending set for FY 2014, noting those spending levels have been pre-set by the Budget Control Act and sequestration. The bill also differs from the House in that it shortens the deadline to Nov. 15.The deadline is intended to incentivize lawmakers to reach a deficit reduction deal that neutralizes the sequester, allowing appropriators to craft spending bills using the original higher Budget Control Act spending levels for FY 2014.

House Speaker John Boehner has indicated the possibly that the House may try to amend the bill after it passes the Senate, though specifics on how are not yet known. Amending the bill would force the Senate to take up the measure again, increasing the probability that a final bill would not reach the president’s desk before Oct. 1, which would cause the federal government to shut down.

UNITED NATIONS: IPCC INCREASES CERTAINTY OF HUMAN-INDUCED CLIMATE CHANGE

On Sept. 27, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a new report asserting that it is 95 percent certain that human activities influence climate change.

The certainty expressed in the new report is an increase from the 90 percent certainty in the 2007 report and the 50 percent certainty expressed in its first assessment in 1995. The report concludes that it’s “very likely” humans have contributed to warming oceans observed since the 1970s and sea ice loss measured since 1979. It concludes that it is “extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together.”

According to the report, sea levels have risen three milliliters a year since 1993. The IPPC estimates that by the end of the century sea-levels will rise anywhere from 0.26 meters to 0.98 meters, depending on how much carbon dioxide humans emit over that period. The report expresses “high confidence” that sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been comparably larger than the rate of “the past two millennia.” The report also found that concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased to levels “unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.” It states that carbon dioxide concentrations have increased 40 percent since the pre-industrial period.

A draft summary of the report is available here. The full report is available here.

HOUSE: ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS TESTIFY ON CLIMATE ACTION PLAN

On Sept. 18, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power held a hearing on the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan. Key cabinet members Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz testified on the administration’s effort to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) made clear his skepticism of the administration’s plan. “The implementation of the president’s global warming agenda through the EPA has been holding back the economy which continues to struggle,” said Whitfield. “Since 2009, the agency has been busy imposing costly requirements on coal-fired electricity and other fossil fuels while targeting manufacturers with new regulatory burdens, only increasing (sic) to the economic uncertainty.”

Energy Secretary Moniz touted his agency’s role in developing low carbon, renewable energy and clean coal technologies intended to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint. He also touted his work with Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) to invest in energy infrastructure to help increase power distribution resiliency in New Jersey in the face of hurricanes and other extreme weather events. He also touted the potential of US innovations in clean energy to benefit American business competitiveness in the global economy and further renewable energy usage globally.

EPA Administrator McCarthy asserted that the successes of federal environmental initiatives over the past 40 years have proved that “environment protection and economic growth do go hand in hand.” She touted her agency’s work to inform state and tribal communities on the various on climate change and mitigate its impacts. She noted how greenhouse gas standards for automotive vehicles will save an estimated $1.7 trillion dollars for consumers and reduce US dependency on oil.  McCarthy asserted carbon rules for power plants would reflect the public commentary the agency has received over the past year.

View the full hearing here.

EPA: NEW CARBON STANDARDS FOR POWER PLANTS RELEASED

On Sept. 20, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled new carbon standards to cut greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants.

Under the EPA rules, large natural gas-fired plants would be limited to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour while small natural gas-fired plants and coal plants would be limited to 1,100 pounds per megawatt-hour. To accommodate the standards, new facilities would have to incorporate carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology in their construction.

While EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy states that CCS technology is feasible and currently available, coal industry groups assert the technology is not yet widely available or cost-effective and would in effect ban construction of new coal plants.  Consequently, the rules have garnered the partisan response in Congress from leaders of committees with jurisdiction over EPA that has become typical for many of the agency’s regulatory efforts.

EPA is expected to release more far-reaching rules for existing power plants in June 2014. Instructions on how to comment on the proposed standards for new plants are available here.For more information on the proposed standards for new plants, click here.

ADVOCACY: BUSH INTERIOR OFFICIAL TAKES POLICY REINS AT NATURE CONSERVANCY

On Sept. 15, former Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlet began working for The Nature Conservancy as Managing Director for Public Policy. Scarlet’s service under the Department of Interior spanned most of the George W. Bush presidency.

During the Bush presidency, Scarlet served as Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget (2001-2005) before being promoted to Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer, the position she held until the end of the Bush administration. From April 1-May 26, 2006, she briefly held the position of Acting Secretary of Interior in the brief window period between when former Interior Secretary Gale Norton stepped down and Dirk Kempthorne was appointed as her successor.

Prior to joining Interior, she worked for over 15 years at the Reason Foundation, a right-wing libertarian organization that defines itself as an organization that “advances a free society by developing, applying, and promoting libertarian principles, including individual liberty, free markets, and the rule of law.” After leaving the government in early 2009, Scarlet joined the non-profit Resources for the Future (RFF). At RFF, she served as Co-Director of its Center for Management and Ecological Wealth. RFF supports clean energy initiatives, but has been critical of carbon and energy taxes as well as much of the Obama administration’s attempts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

The Conservancy hopes Scarlet’s experience working to find market-based solutions to environmental problems and incentives for conservation efforts will increase their palpability with a Congress in which Republicans control the US House of Representatives. To view the full release from The Nature Conservancy, click here.Scarlet’s 2011 interview with the University of Vermont on climate policy is available here.

CLIMATE: BOXER LAUDS BUSH CENTER WITH ENVIRONMENTAL AWARD

On Sept. 23, Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) presented the Climate Hero Award to the George W. Bush Presidential Center Library for its achievements in renewable energy and energy conservation.

The Bush library earned the recognition through its platinum rating for new construction under the US Green building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. LEED platinum certification is awarded for achievement in green building design, construction, maintenance and operation. The library uses locally sourced materials and has used native plants in planting nearly 1,000 trees on-site. The trees are watered with rainwater collected in a 252,000 gallon irrigation cistern.

On hand to receive the award was former First Lady Laura Bush. The William J. Presidential Center in Little Rock, AR. will receive the Climate Hero Award for existing construction at a later date.

SCIENCE: GOLDEN GOOSE AWARDS SPOTLIGHT UNCONVENTIONAL DISCOVERIES

The second annual Golden Goose awards highlighted seemingly odd or frivolous scientific research projects funded by the government that led to applied breakthroughs and discoveries that benefited society.

This year’s six awardees included John Eng, a medical researcher whose study of Gila monster venom led to a drug used to treat diabetics for various health ailments. Indiana University microbiologists Thomas Brock and Husdon Freeze were awarded for their discovery of a heat-resistant microorganism at Yellowstone National Park that aided breakthroughs in the understanding the human genome.

David Gale (posthumous recipient), Lloyd Shapley, and Alvin Roth were awarded for developing an algorithm to help in matching people romantically that has, since its discovery, been applied to various markets, including real estate and public school systems.

To view the Golden Goose awards press release, click here.

WILDLIFE: ESA SIGNS LETTER OF SUPPORT FOR CONSERVATION PROGRAMS

On Sept. 17, the Ecological Society of America joined with the Teaming With Wildlife Coalition on a letter signed by over 800 national and state conservation organizations to key House and Senate appropriators requesting support for wildlife and habitat conservation grants.

The letter comes in response to the House Appropriations Committee proposal to zero out funding for a number of critical conservation programs in Fiscal Year 2014, including the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Fund and the Forest Legacy Program. The letter notes that fish and wildlife recreational activities have contributed over $150 billion to the US economy in 2011 and highlights the various ecosystem services these programs protect.

To view the full letter, click here.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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