Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.
AIR POLLUTION: OBAMA ADMINISTRATION POSTPONES OZONE STANDARDS
On Sept. 2, the White House requested the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) postpone plans to strengthen the George W. Bush administration’s 2008 ozone standard.
In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator Cass Sunstein cites a need to “minimize regulatory costs and burdens” during an “economically challenging time.” Sunstein references Executive Order 13563, which states that the administration’s regulatory policy “must promote predictability and reduce uncertainty.” The letter notes that the Clean Air Act sets a five year cycle to review national ambient air quality standards, effectively allowing EPA to hold off on revisiting the standards until 2013.
The EPA in January 2010 had proposed to set the national health-based standard for ozone between 60 and 70 parts per billion (ppb) when averaged over an eight-hour period. The Bush administration had tightened the ozone limits from 84 ppb to 75 ppb in 2008, despite scientific advisers’ recommendations to issue a standard between 60 and 70 ppb.
The move earned President Obama rare praise from Republican leaders in Congress. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) released a statement that referred to the ozone standard as “the most expensive environmental regulation ever imposed” and described the president’s move as “a step in the right direction.”
EPA Administrator Jackson released a statement affirming that the standard would be revisited at some point and cited the Obama administration’s efforts to address air pollution “as some of the most important standards and safeguards for clean air in U.S. history,” citing reductions in sulfur and nitrogen dioxide, mercury pollutions from power plants and carbon pollution standards for cars and trucks.
To view the White House letter, see:
To review Executive Order 13563, see:
To view the EPA statement, see:
APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE COMMITTEE APPROVES FY 2012 SPENDING BILLS
During the week of Sept. 7, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its energy and water development and agricultural appropriations bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. The bills must be voted on by the full Senate and agreed to by the House before they can be signed by the president.
Energy and Water
The FY 2012 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act includes $31.625 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Energy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and water programs within the Department of Interior, $57 million below the FY 2011 level, but still $1 billion more than the House-bill (H.R. 2354), passed in July. It’s also $4.9 billion less than the president’s FY 2012 budget request.
Several DOE programs would receive increased or level funding, compared to FY 2011. Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) would receive $250 million, $70 million more than FY 2011. The Office of Science would receive $4.843 billion, level with FY 2011. Defense Environmental Cleanup would receive $5.002 billion, $11 million above FY 2011.
The FY 2012 Agriculture, Rural Development and FDA Appropriations Act includes $19.78 billion in total spending, $138 less than FY 2011 and nearly 2.7 billion more than the House bill. The bill cuts several conservation and research programs within the Department of Agriculture.
The bill provides $800 million for Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology programs, $28 million below FY 2011 and $261 million above the House bill. The bill also provides $6 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund, $3.35 billion above FY 2011. The money is intended to address federally declared disasters in 47 states for calendar year 2011, which include the Mississippi river flooding, the southern tornados and initial funds for Hurricane Irene.
For a summary of the Senate Energy and Water bill, see:
For a summary of the Senate Agriculture bill, see:
For a summary of the Homeland Security bill, see:
NSF: ENDOCRINOLOGIST NAMED DIRECTOR OF BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES DIRECTORATE
On Aug. 30, National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Subra Suresh announced the selection of John Wingfield to head its Directorate for Biological Sciences.
The Directorate for Biological Sciences provides support for research to advance understanding the underlying principles and mechanisms governing life. Five office areas make up the directorate: Biological Infrastructure, Environmental Biology, Emerging Frontiers, Integrative Organismal Systems and Molecular and Cellular Biosciences.
Wingfield, an environmental endocrinologist, joined NSF as division director of Integrative Organismal Systems in September 2010 from the University of California, Davis. He received his Ph.D. in Zoology and Comparative Endocrinology from University College of North Wales, U.K. in 1973. He takes over the position held by Joann Roskoski, who has served as acting assistant director for biological sciences since October 2009.
GAO: BUDGET CONSTRAINTS WILL HINDER EPA HAZARDS CLEAN-UP GOALS
The non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report stating that, because of current budget constraints, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is unlikely to meet its 2020 goals for the clean-up of some of the nation’s most hazardous waste sites.
According to GAO, “EPA, states, and facilities have taken a variety of actions to streamline the clean-up process, and the vast majority of high-priority facilities have made considerable progress in meeting EPA’s performance goals to control contamination.” GAO goes on to note that “officials in EPA regions and the states identified fiscal and human resource constraints as the preeminent challenge for achieving the 2020 goals on time” and that the problem in clean-up efforts “will likely worsen if federal, state, or facilities’ fiscal problems deteriorate further.”
GAO recommended that EPA conduct an in-depth review of its ability to meet 2020 cleanup goals as well as the size of practical “corrective action” work on restoring hazardous sites, a suggestion with which EPA concurred, according to GAO.
To read the GAO report, see: http://markey.house.gov/docs/gao_hazardous_waste_report.pdf
GAO: PHARMACEUTICALS PRESENT IN DRINKING WATER
On Sept. 8, the Government Accountability Office (GA) released a report on pharmaceuticals in the nation’s drinking water supply, raising potential concerns for public health.
The study, requested by House Science, Space and Technology Energy and Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Brad Miller (D-NC) and House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-MA), stated that concentrations of any single drug detected were low, typically in parts per trillion. GAO did note, however, that the full extent of contamination remains unknown and recommended that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establish an interagency work group or other mechanism to research the human health effects of the water contamination.
Most pharmaceuticals are not currently regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. In 2009, EPA released a “Contaminant Candidate List” of chemicals for possible regulation that included 12 pharmaceuticals. The GAO report found that for the 12 pharmaceuticals included on the list, the EPA lacks data for the presence of any of these pharmaceuticals in “treated drinking water” supplies and does not have an analytic method suitable for conducting national drinking water studies for seven of them.
The Members who called for the GAO study used its findings to advocate for federal funding for more research. “It is clear that we do not fully understand the health consequences from long-term low-dose exposures to pharmaceutical contaminants in our Nation’s drinking water,” said Rep. Miller. “We need more research, more data and more public awareness of the potential dangers of improper disposal of medicines.”
“It’s often said that what you don’t know won’t hurt you, but when it comes to our drinking water, not knowing may have devastating health consequences,” stated Rep. Markey. “No one should have to worry that the glass of water they drink with their prescription medicine may actually contain unprescribed, illegal or harmful drugs.”
To read the GAO report, see: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11346.pdf.
PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: INTERIOR ANNOUNCES NEW FL WILDLIFE REFUGE
On Sept. 7, the Department of Interior announced the establishment of a new national wildlife refuge and conservation area in the Kissimmee River Valley, south of Orlando, FL. Part of the administration’s “Great Outdoors” initiative, the move would preserve what the agency describes as “one of the last remaining grassland and longleaf pine savanna landscapes in eastern North America.”
According to Interior, the proposed Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area would help protect the headwaters of the Everglades in the Kissimmee River Basin while connecting valuable fish and wildlife habitats. Two-thirds of the area (up to 100,000 acres) would be protected through conservation easements purchased from willing sellers.
Private landowners would retain ownership of their land, as well as the right to work the land to raise cattle or crops. The easements would ensure the land could not be developed. Up to 50,000 additional acres would be purchased outright by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)to establish refuge lands where visitors could hunt, fish, hike and view wildlife.
The proposal was refined based on input drawn from four public meetings earlier this year and more than 38,000 comments. Additional comments will be accepted through Oct. 24, 2011
and may be submitted via mailto the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Proposed Everglades Headwaters NWR and Conservation Area, P.O. Box 2683, Titusville, FL 32781-2683, or email (EvergladesHeadwatersProposal@fws.gov) or fax (321-861-1276).
For additional information, see: http://www.fws.gov/southeast/evergladesheadwaters/
WATER POLLUTION: EPA, NY BAN SEWAGE DISCHARGES IN LONG ISLAND SOUND
On Sept. 6, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and New York State announced a ban on boats discharging wastewater into a 760-square-mile area of Long Island Sound.
Regulators said the ban adds much-needed protection to the New York waters of the Sound, which had become a dumping ground ever since Connecticut banned vessels’ wastewater discharges in its waters.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation proposed the “no discharge zone” in April before taking public comments. EPA approved the ban after determining that there are adequate facilities in the Sound for boats to pump out their sewage, the agency said.
Sewage discharges can contain harmful levels of pathogens and chemicals such as formaldehyde, phenols and chlorine that can damage water quality and put the health of both people and marine life at risk.
For more information, see: