Policy News: June 3

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

COMMERCE: FORMER ENERGY CEO, NRDC COFOUNDER, NOMINATED TO LEAD DEPARTMENT

On May 31, President Obama announced his intention to nominate John Bryson to the post of Secretary of the Department of Commerce. Bryson would bring a lengthy resume working on energy and environmental issues to the department that includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Bryson is one of the co-founders of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the United State’s top environmental groups. His credentials include several years as chairman of the California State Water Resources Control Board in the late 1970s and head of the California Public Utilities Commission.

Bryson would succeed current Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, whom the president has nominated to serve as ambassador to China.  The president’s transition teams had previously interviewed Bryson for the Energy secretary job before it ultimately went to Steven Chu, according to Democratic officials.

Bryson’s nomination requires confirmation by the Senate, where reaction from some Republicans has been highly critical most notably from Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK).

NSF: SEN. COBURN RELEASES REPORT CITING WASTE, MISMANAGEMENT IN SCIENCE AGENCY

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), a known conservative fiscal hawk, released a report May 26 that claims to identify $3 billion in “fraud, waste and abuse” at the National Science Foundation (NSF). In the 73 page report, entitled The National Science Foundation: Under the Microscope, Sen. Coburn, states, “the consensus surrounding the importance of NSF is precisely why it is essential to increase and enhance oversight over agency expenditures.”

In response, a number of scientific organizations, including the Ecological Society of America (ESA), issued “Action Alerts” calling upon Oklahoma constituents to contact Sen. Coburn’s office.

Sen. Coburn also called for the elimination of NSF’s Social, Behavioral and Economics (SBE) division, questioning whether “these social sciences represent obvious national priorities that deserve a cut of the same pie.” He also charged that some of the work in these and other areas is duplicative of other federal agencies.

To view the Coburn report, see:

http://coburn.senate.gov/public//index.cfm?a=Files.Serve&File_id=f6cd2052-b088-44c3-b146-5baa5c01552a

To view the House Research and Education Subcommittee hearing see:

http://science.house.gov/hearing/subcommittee-research-and-science-education-hearing-social-bahavioral-and-economic-science

WATER RESOURCES: SCIENTISTS URGE RESEARCH INVESTMENT INTO TOXIC ALGAL BLOOMS

On June 1, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment considered legislation that would expand research into harmful algal blooms that have had numerous adverse environmental impacts, including creating “dead zones,”  in countless waterways.

The legislation under review is tentatively titled the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 2011. The measure, expected to be introduced in coming weeks by Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD), would reauthorize programs under the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998. The act was last reauthorized in 2004 (P.L. 108-456), passing by unanimous consent in the Senate and by voice vote in the House.

The issue seemed to draw bipartisan support. Much of Subcommittee Chairman Harris’s congressional district borders the Chesapeake Bay. Over the past 10 years, more than 75 percent of the Bay and its tidal rivers have been found to have insufficient levels of dissolved oxygen, leading to a marked decline in seagrass, crab and oyster populations, according to Beth McGee, Senior Water Quality Scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, who testified at the hearing.

McGee testified that her organization’s “overwhelming concern” is that the lawmakers have not proposed that the legislation support the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recently launched effort to address nutrient pollution, which some Republicans and farm-state Democrats have opposed due to concerns from the agriculture industry. Subcommittee Chairman Harris voted to cut off funding for the EPA program earlier this year.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: AGENCIES SEEK TO IMPROVE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE E.S.A.

On May 26, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced that the agency’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service have launched a joint effort to identify and implement administrative changes to the Endangered Species Act (E.S.A.) to accelerate recovery of imperiled species, and better engage the resources and expertise of partners to meet the goals of the Act.

According to Interior, the effort will strive to make administrative and regulatory improvements, while remaining true to the intent of the law. Among its goals, the joint agency effort will seek to revise the process for designating critical habitat as well as improve procedures for the development and approval of conservation agreements with landowners. Currently, private landowners can enter special agreements with the FWS that allow them to continue to use land with imperiled species on it, as long as they provide appropriate habitat. Landowners say the current process is too burdensome and environmental groups agree there is room for improvement, as long as safeguards for species remain.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle seem supportive. House Interior and Environment Appropriations Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) praised the administration’s efforts to streamline procedures. House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, however, said that instead of changing regulations, the administration should work with lawmakers to revamp the Act itself, which has not been reauthorized in more than 20 years.

The E.S.A. currently protects more than 1,300 species in the United States. An additional 249 species have been identified as candidates for protection under the Act.

For more information see: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/improving_ESA/reg_reform.html

ENERGY DEVELOPMENT: BOERME, NOAA TEAM UP TO ENHANCE EFFORT

On May 23, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) agreed to collaborate more closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in overseeing offshore oil and gas development.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the two agencies requires “effective and timely communication of agency priorities and upcoming activities,” including the identification of critical environmental studies and collaboration on scientific, environmental and technical issues. The MOU is based upon recommendations from the administration’s National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

The agencies plan to coordinate on a range of activities, including which areas to include in five-year leasing plans, when and how to permit exploration and production wells, and National Environmental Policy Act compliance for offshore wind farms.

BOEMRE will invite NOAA to participate in any task forces and environmental reviews of offshore renewable energy. The agencies will also meet four times a year to discuss issues related to offshore energy development.

The MOU requires regular meetings between the agencies to explore ways to align regulatory procedures and identify scientific data needed to inform both policy and regulatory decisions. The agreement also increases collaboration on oil spill response issues and includes an annual evaluation of work to support the president’s National Ocean Policy.

To view the MOU, see:

http://www.boemre.gov/ooc/pdfs/MOU_BOEMRE_NOAA_May2011.pdf

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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