Policy News: February 25

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

APPROPRIATIONS: FY 2011 CR PASSES WITH STEEP CUTS TO ENVIRONMENTAL INITIATIVES

On Feb. 19, the House passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) for the seven months remaining of the Fiscal Year 2011 Appropriations. The CR passed during a rare Saturday morning vote at 4:40 a.m. by an overwhelmingly partisan margin of 235-189. Not a single Democrat supported the Republican-led effort, which includes over $100 billion in cuts.

House Republican leadership allotted an “open rule” amendment process under which 583 amendments were submitted by Members. Eventually, under a unanimous consent agreement, the number was reduced and ultimately 162 amendments were considered on the House floor. Sixty-seven amendments were finally adopted, 54 from Republicans and 13 from Democrats. Eighty-six amendments were either rejected or withdrawn.

Not expecting a compromise before the March 4 expiration of the current CR, the Democratic Senate is expected to introduce a 30-day CR measure retaining funding levels at Fiscal Year 2010 levels. House Republican leadership, however, has declared its opposition to  a short-term extension of funding at FY 2010 levels. Republican leaders intend to introduce a two-week CR next week, containing $4 billion in cuts, which Sen. Reid has in turn rejected as too steep.

Environmental Cuts

The base legislation includes a provision by House Appropriations Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) that would remove the grey wolf from protection under the Endangered Species Act and block environmental groups from challenging the species’ delisting in court. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), who also serves on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment, has stated he will seek to include the delisting language in the Senate CR that will be debated the week of March 1.

The Ecological Society of America joined the Society for Conservation Biology and several other societies in a letter directed at Hill leaders that voiced strong concern for the process in which this was handled.  “Rapid adoption of such legislation without full public notice and balanced hearings is particularly dangerous, and that is what is now being advanced in the House consideration of the Continuing Resolution to fund the operations of the government.”  See the complete letter at: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyStatements/Letters/Ltr%20Congressional%20Leaders%20fr%20Scientific%20Societies_H%20R%2012-18.pdf

Climate Change

House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) introduced an amendment to prevent the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from funding its planned “climate service.” The amendment passed by a vote of 233-187. Nine Republicans opposed the amendment while six Democrats supported it.

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) put forward an amendment to bar federal funding from going to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Nine Democrats endorsed the amendment, while three Republicans opposed it. The measure passed by a vote of 244-179.

Environmental Successes

House Natural Resources National Parks, Forest and Public Lands Subcommittee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) introduced an amendment to block funding for the National Landscape Conservation System. The amendment garnered swift opposition from conservationists, including the Conservation Lands Foundation, and Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-NV) who claimed the amendment would cut off funding for popular visitor areas like Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area. Chairman Bishop subsequently withdrew the amendment and pledged to hold hearings on the issue.

An amendment from Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) to cut $35 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund failed on a narrow 213-216 vote as 32 Republicans broke ranks to oppose the amendment, including House Appropriations Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID). Six Democrats supported the amendment.

WHITE HOUSE: FY 2012 BUDGET PROPOSAL COUPLES INVESTMENTS, REDUCTIONS IN SCIENCE AND INNOVATION PROGRAMS

On Feb. 14, President Obama released his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2012, which begins Oct. 1, 2011 and ends Sept. 30, 2012. The budget proposal, in line with the “Win the Future” theme laid out in his State of the Union address, carries key investments in a number of science, energy and infrastructure-related agencies and programs. The budget also purports to reduce funding for every increase, in lieu of the president’s pledge to freeze discretionary spending for five years. The $3.7 trillion budget reduces or eliminates 200 federal programs for a savings of $30 billion.

With reductions in programs among virtually every agency, the budget proposal has garnered critique from across the political spectrum and its future in the divided Congress remains uncertain. The timing of the budget’s release as well as the political climate is particularly unique this year, as Congress and the administration are currently mired in debate on how to fund the government for the remainder of the current Fiscal Year of 2011. The government is currently operating on a Continuing Resolution, which expires March 4, 2011. Since Congress never passed a full FY 2011 budget, the current resolution for FY 2011 largely continues federal funding at FY 2010 levels.

The FY 2012 proposal includes $147.9 billion for federal research and development, an increase of $772 million (0.5 percent) over Fiscal Year 2010. Enclosed are summaries highlighting several agencies that deal with issues related to ecology:

The Department of Agriculture (USDA)

The budget request includes $23.9 billion for the USDA for discretionary spending, a $3.2 billion decrease in the enacted level of $27 billion. USDA’s entire budget authority, when mandatory programs are included, would total approximately $145 billion in FY 2012.

The Department of Energy (DOE)

The budget request includes $29.5 billion for the Department of Energy, a 12 percent increase over FY 2010.

The Environmental Protection Agency

The budget proposes $8.973 billion for EPA in FY 2012, representing about a 13 percent decrease from the FY 2010 budget of $10.3 billion.

The Department of Interior

The FY 2012 budget proposal includes $11.2 billion for programs funded by the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill. This is $69.2 million, or less than one percent, above the 2010 enacted level and $87.6 million above the 2011 Continuing Resolution (CR) level.

America’s Great Outdoors (AGO): $5.5 billion, includes $900 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, $375.0 million for Federal land acquisition, $200 million for an expanded LWCF State grants program including competitive grants, and $100 million for Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Grants.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

NOAA would receive a budget of $5.5 billion in FY 2012, an increase of $749.3 million over FY 2010.

The National Science Foundation

The President’s budget request calls for $7.8 billion for the National Science Foundation, a 13 percent increase over FY 2010.

The National Science Foundation

The President’s budget request calls for $7.8 billion for the National Science Foundation, a 13 percent increase over FY 2010.

BUDGET: LAWMAKERS QUESTION HOLDREN ON RESEARCH, CLIMATE SCIENCE

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee convened Feb. 17 for a hearing on the President’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget request, featuring Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren. Members of Congress questioned Holdren on research programs as well as the administration’s view of climate science.

Individual lawmakers pressed Holdren on the need for strong National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) funding, both to maintain a U.S. edge in the field and to inspire the next generation of scientists. Holdren said the administration is strongly committed to NASA and that the president himself is “excited” about human spaceflight but that budget challenges require a strategic funding approach.

WHITE HOUSE: OBAMA UNVEILS GREAT OUTDOORS INITIATIVE

On Feb. 16, President Obama announced his implementation plan for the administration’s “America’s Great Outdoors initiative,” which seeks to coordinate several federal conservation programs to increase interaction between Americans and the natural environment.

The report calls for full funding ($900 million) for the Land and Water Conservation Fund; establishing a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps to engage young Americans in public lands and water restoration.  The report highlights the importance of protecting and creating parks and open spaces close to urban centers and increasing access to rivers. It recommends the creation of an America’s Great Outdoors “Urban Parks and Community Green Spaces Initiative” and urges the extension of a tax deduction for conservation easements beyond its scheduled expiration in 2011. The initiative also recommends establishing an interagency council to improve strategic collaboration among federal agencies engaged in conservation and recreation. The report was drawn from over 50 public listening sessions held across the country since last April that drew more than 10,000 participants and 105,000 comments.

PESTICIDES: SUBCOMMITTEE CHAIRS LOOK TO EASE PERMITTING MANDATE

The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition and Horticulture and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment convened Feb. 16 to review a forthcoming regulation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require certain pesticide users to obtain additional environmental permits.

The Supreme Court, in early 2010, decided not to review an April 2009 appeals court ruling, in the case of National Cotton Council v. EPA, that requires EPA to issue additional permits under the Clean Water Act to as many as 300,000 pesticide sprayers nationwide already regulated under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The additional regulation would apply to users who discharge pesticide-laden runoff into nearby waters. The appeals court ruling requires EPA to release its new permitting program by April 2011.

CLIMATE: COMMERCE IG REFUTES ACCUSATIONS OF FRAUD BY SCIENTISTS

In a report to Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the U.S. Department of Commerce Inspector General (IG) found “no evidence” that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) inappropriately manipulated data, failed to adhere to its peer review procedures or that the agency violated the Information Quality Act.

The IG examined email exchanges between researchers at the Climate Research Unit and many of the world’s leading climate scientists, including employees of NOAA. Out of the 1,073 e-mails from climate scientists that were stolen from the CRU at the University of East Anglia in late 2009, the IG found 10 that warranted further examination.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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