ESA Policy News: April 20

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: CJS BILLS SUPPORT SCIENCE, SENATE TRANSFERS SATELLITES TO NASA The week of April 16, both the House and Senate Commerce Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittees approved their respective funding bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. In total, the House CJS appropriations bill would provide $51.1 billion to all agencies under its jurisdiction, a reduction of $1.6 billion below FY 2012 and $731 below the president’s request. The Senate bill would fund all agencies under its jurisdiction at $51.862 billion, a $1 billion reduction from FY 2012.  While the House bill’s funding levels are overall less than the Senate, both chambers supported increases in key science agencies in comparison to the current fiscal year. The Senate CJS bill would also move funding for weather satellite procurement from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). There has been bipartisan, bicameral criticism directed at NOAA’s costly satellites. According to Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), the move would save $117 million in FY 2013 and reduce duplicative federal activities. Enclosed are funding levels for key science bureaus outlined within the House and Senate bills: The National Science Foundation House: $7.333 billion, an increase of $299 over FY 2012. Senate: $7.273 billion, an increase of $240 million over FY 2012. NASA House: $17.6 billion, $226 million below FY 2012 Senate: $19.4 billion, an increase of $1.6 billion over FY 2012. (*The increase is due to the bill’s provision transferring weather satellite procurement from NOAA to NASA. Absent these funds, the bill would mean a $41.5 million cut for NASA. NOAA House: $5 billion, $68 million above FY 2012 Senate: $3.4 billion, $1.47 billion below FY 2012 For additional information on the Senate CJS bill, click here. For additional information on the House CJS bill, click here.  APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE RELEASES FY 2013 ENERGY AND WATER BILL On April 17, the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee released its funding bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. The bill, which funds federal programs for the Department of Energy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and water programs within the Department of Interior, would be funded at $32.1 billion, $965 million less than the president’s request, yet a slight increase from FY 2012. Department of Energy (DOE) – DOE would receive $26.3 billion, $365 million less than FY 2012. DOE environmental management activities would be funded at $5.5 billion, $166 million below FY 2012. The bill increases funding for nuclear security by $300 million from FY 2012 and would direct funding...

Read More

ESA Policy News: March 23

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. HOUSE: FY 2013 BUDGET PROPOSAL CUTS INNOVATION, FEDERAL WORKFORCE On March 20, House Republicans unveiled their proposed budget resolution for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. Sponsored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), the budget bill sets an overall discretionary spending limit of $1.028 trillion in FY 2013, $19 billion below the spending caps established in the Budget Control Act. Among its provisions, the House budget resolution includes significant cuts to Department of Energy programs while expanding oil and gas drilling. It also supports the sale of 3.3 million acres of federal lands identified in a 1997 Department of Interior report that were deemed suitable for sale or exchange to benefit the Everglades restoration effort in Florida. The White House released a statement asserting that the Ryan plan would cut clean energy programs by 19 percent and slash $100 billion from science, space and technology programs over the next decade. The budget also proposes to cut the federal government workforce by 10 percent, providing $368 billion in savings. Under the proposal, federal employee retirement contributions would also rise from 0.8 percent to 6.3 percent. The bill would also extend the current federal pay freeze to 2015. View the full FY 2013 House budget proposal here. The White House response to the House budget proposal can be viewed here. SENATE: COMMITTEE REVIEWS EPA MERCURY STANDARDS FOR POWER PLANTS On March 20, the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety met for a hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s new mercury rules for power plants. EPA finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), the first national standards to protect American families from power plant emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollution like arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium, and cyanide on Dec. 16, 2011. “I believe it’s possible to have a clean environment and a strong economy. I think it’s a false choice to say that we have to have one or the other; we can have both. That is especially true for cleaning up our air pollution,” declared Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) in his opening statement. “In fact, as the EPA has implemented the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, our nation’s air has gotten cleaner, while electricity rates have stayed constant and our economy has grown by 60 percent. For every dollar we spend cleaning the air, we’ve seen $30 returned in reduced health care costs, better workplace productivity, and lives saved.” Subcommittee Ranking Member James...

Read More

Solutions for a nitrogen-soaked world

Overabundance of an essential nutrient is not always a good thing. – by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer. A tractor spreads manure. Excess fertilizer seeping out of fields has a host of consequences for ecological systems and human health. Credit, flickr user eutrophication&hypoxia, 2010.   NITROGEN is both an essential nutrient and a pollutant, a byproduct of fossil fuel combustion and a fertilizer that feeds billions, a benefit and a hazard, depending on form, location, and quantity. Agriculture, industry and transportation have spread nitrogen liberally around the planet, say scientists in the latest edition of ESA’s Issues in Ecology series, with complex and interrelated consequences for ecological communities and our dependence upon the resources they provide, as well as for human health. Nitrogen is a basic component of life’s most famous molecules: proteins, RNA and DNA. Though nitrogen fills 78.1 percent of the air we breathe, energy is required to convert (or ‘’fix”) it into biologically accessible forms, a process that some species of bacteria can accomplish, but other organisms cannot. Consumers like humans, cows, birds and mosquitoes get nitrogen by eating other live things. For plants, lack of nitrogen in their immediate environment can be a serious limitation. In many ecosystems, the limit of available nitrogen is the limit of growth. We have removed that limit for our food crops by supplying them with fertilizer in the form of manure, nitrogen-“fixing” bacteria symbiotic with legumes like soybeans, and synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. Pulling from a broad pool of expertise in air quality, agronomy, ecology, epidemiology and groundwater geochemistry, the sixteen authors track nitrogen through its different chemical forms and biological incarnations as it progresses across economic, environmental and regulatory bounds. They argue for a systematic, rather than piecemeal, approach to managing the resource and its consequences. “We’re really trying to identify solutions,” said lead author Eric Davidson, a soil ecologist and executive director of the Woods Hole Research Center. “This is a paper about how much we <em>do</em> know, not about what we don’t know. We know about nitrogen cycles, and sources, and we know problems can be addressed in economically viable ways.” In the mid-twentieth century, widespread adoption of the Haber-Bosch industrial process for “fixing” nitrogen from the air using fossil fuels (natural gas, usually) changed agriculture in the US, and there is no going back. There are seven billion people on Earth. Without synthetic nitrogen, author Jim Galloway, a biogeochemist at the University of Virginia, estimates we could feed about four billion. “There are a variety of impacts due to the human use of nitrogen. The biggest is a positive one, in that it allows us to...

Read More

ESA Policy News: January 13

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. INTERIOR: GRAND CANYON HARDROCK MINING PROHIBITION ENACTED On Jan. 9, the Department of Interior (DOI) announced its decision to ban new hardrock mining claims on more than one million acres around Grand Canyon National Park for the next 20 years. The order was signed by Sec. of Interior Ken Salazar. The withdrawn area includes 355,874 acres of U.S. Forest Service land on the Kaibab National Forest; 626,678 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands; and 23,993 acres of split estate – where surface lands are held by other owners while subsurface minerals are owned by the federal government. The affected lands, all in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon or Grand Canyon National Park, are located in Mohave and Coconino Counties of Northern Arizona. The process for approving withdrawal involved an extensive public comment period in which a wide array of stakeholders, including the Ecological Society of America, participated. To view the ESA letter, click here. For more information on the Interior’s withdrawal, click here. INTERIOR: NEW ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTERS SCIENCE PANEL CREATED On Jan. 6, the Department of Interior (DOI) announced the creation of the Strategic Sciences Group, a team intended to improve federal responsiveness to environmental disasters. The creation of the group is authorized under a recent order signed by DOI Secretary Ken Salazar. Interior officials contend the need to improve communication and coordination between federal scientists representing DOI, the United States Geological Survey and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, among others, led to the creation of the new group. The Strategic Sciences Group will be co-led by Gary Machlis, Science Adviser for the National Park Service Director and David Applegate, United States Geological Survey Associate Director for Natural Hazards. The group was given three months to establish an operational plan describing its organization and high-priority crisis scenarios. Rhea Suh, Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget, is in charge of implementing the order. More information on the DOI order can be found here. PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: WHITE HOUSE RELEASES DRAFT OCEAN PLAN On Jan. 12, the White House National Ocean Council released a draft of its National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan. The plan outlines a series of actions the federal government will take to improve environmental stewardship of the nation’s oceans, Great Lakes and coastal areas. The report instructs federal agencies to post all non-confidential data on ocean research to a new centralized ocean data website over the next three years. It also directs the federal government to streamline ocean and coastal permitting processes and call...

Read More

ESA Policy News: December 22

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS PASSES BILL FUNDING AGENCIES THROUGH FY 2012 The week of Dec. 16, Congress passed H.R. 2055, an omnibus bill which funds the government through the remainder of the current fiscal year (FY) 2012, which ends Sept. 30, 2012. The bill passed the House by a vote of 262-121 and the Senate by a vote of 67-32. The omnibus bill incorporates the remaining nine appropriations bills that were not included in the “minibus” that passed earlier this year (P.L. 112-55). The new omnibus bill includes funding for the Departments of Interior and Energy as well as the Environmental Protection Agency. Energy and Water Overall, energy and water programs are funded at $32 billion for FY 2012, a $328 million increase over FY 2011. For Department of Energy science programs, the bill includes $4.9 billion, an increase of $46 million from FY 2011. The bill also includes $769 million for nuclear energy research and development, $43 million above FY 2011. For environmental management activities, the bill includes $5.7 billion, a $31 million increase over FY 2011. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is funded at $5 billion, a $145 million increase from FY 2011. The FY 2012 funding level for the Corps is also $429 million above the president’s request, one of the few agencies to enjoy this distinction this year. Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): $8.4 billion for FY 2012, $233 million below FY 2011.The conference agreement cuts $14 million (six percent) in clean air and climate research programs; $12 million (9.5 percent) in EPA’s regulatory development office; and $14 million (five percent) to air regulatory programs. The bill also reduces the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund by $101 million. Bureau of Land Management: $1.1 billion, $5 million below FY 2011. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.5 billion, $28 million below FY 2011. National Park Service: $2.6 billion, $32 million below FY 2011. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement: $60 million (this agency was formalized in FY 2011). Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement: $76 million, including $15 million for oil spill research for this agency, formalized in FY 2011. U.S. Forest Service: $4.6 billion for the Forest Service in FY 2012, $91 million below FY 2011. Department of Defense Research and Development: $72.4 billion, $2.5 billion below FY 2011. Click here for the House summary of the omnibus bill or here for the Senate summary of the omnibus bill. A comprehensive listing of policy riders included in the bill...

Read More

ESA Policy News: November 18

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: CONFERENCE AGREEMENT INCREASES SCIENCE INVESTMENT Congressional leaders recently agreed upon a conference report agreement on a mini-omnibus appropriations measure (“mini-bus”) to for three separate appropriations bills through the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. The bill also contains a continuing resolution (CR) that extends through December 16 to allow Congress additional time to come to an agreement on funding levels for the nine remaining appropriation bills. All together, the mini-bus includes $182 billion in spending for the Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Commerce, Justice as well as the National Science Foundation (NSF). The bill passed the House on Nov. 17 by a vote of 298-121. All but 20 Democrats supported the bill while 101 Republicans voted against it. President Obama is expected to sign the measure. For NSF, the bill provides $7.033 billion, a $173 million increase from what was enacted for FY 2011. NOAA is funded at $4.9 billion for FY 2012, an increase of $306 million over FY 2011. For programs funded under the Department of Agriculture, the Agricultural Research Service is provided with $1.09 billion, down from $1.133 billion in FY 2011. The National Institute of Food and Agricultural receives nearly $705.6 million, an increase from $698.7 million in FY 2011. The bill provides $844 million for Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) programs, a $45 million decrease from FY 2011. A detailed summary of the conference report can be found here. STATE DEPARTMENT: DECISION ON KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE POSTPONED UNTIL 2013 On Nov. 10, the U.S. Department of State announced that it was delaying a decision on the controversial TransCanadian Keystone XL pipeline until the first quarter of 2013, in effect postponing the decision until after the 2012 presidential election. The State Department said it needed to conduct further investigation of the impact of  Keystone XL on the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, a process it said could not be completed until at least the first quarter of 2013. The agency had previously said it expected a decision by the end of the year. If constructed, Keystone XL would run 1,700 miles from Canada to Texas and would convey a type of oil from Alberta, Canada, that is more carbon-intensive to produce than are other forms. Environmentalists are strongly opposed to the pipeline, with some asserting that the administration’s decision would significantly impact their support for Obama in 2012. Opposition to the pipeline also attracted a significant proportion of young voters, a key demographic in the president’s election in 2008. Nebraska politicians had...

Read More

ESA Policy News: November 4

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE PASSES ‘MINI-BUS’ FUNDING NSF, NOAA On Nov. 1, the Senate passed a mini omnibus (“minibus”) measure that incorporated three individual appropriations bills: Commerce Justice and Science, Transportation Housing and Urban Development as well as the Agriculture Rural Development Food and Drug Administration appropriations for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. The minibus bill (H.R. 2112) passed with bipartisan support by a vote of 69-30. Sixteen Republicans joined all Democrats and Independents in supporting the measure. Funding levels are largely unchanged from the measures approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee two months ago. The bill includes $6.7 million for the National Science Foundation, a reduction of $162 million from FY 2011. For the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the bill includes $5 billion, a $434 million increase from FY 2011. The Senate measure increases investment in NOAA research initiatives, including $161.5 million for the agency’s climate service. The House bill prohibits funding for the climate service. For the Agricultural Research Service, the FY 2012 bill provides $1.09 billion, down from $1.133 billion in FY 2011.  The bill provides $709.8 million for research and education activities within the National Institute on Food and Agriculture, up from $698.7 million in FY 2011. The Natural Resources Conservation Service would receive $828 million for FY 2012, down from $871 million in FY 2011. For more information on the science-related components of the appropriations measure, see the Sept. 23 edition of ESA Policy News or see the  Sept. 9 edition of ESA Policy News for more information on the agricultural research components of the measure. OCEANS: ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS DEFEND NATIONAL OCEANS POLICY On Oct. 26, the House Natural Resources Committee convened a hearing on the Obama administration’s National Ocean Policy. While this was the second hearing by the committee to examine the policy, it was the first to feature testimony from key senior officials from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ). House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) said the plan  places restrictions on ocean and coastal inland activities. “I have asked the administration for the specific statutory authority that allows the president, by executive order, to create regional planning bodies and require them to create regional zoning plans. So far, I have been given only a hodge-podge list of all the statutes that apply to ocean and/or coastal activities,” he said. Hastings cited the policy as a “huge new bureaucracy” that could “cost jobs and have devastating long-term economic impacts throughout the country.” Chairman Hastings asserted that...

Read More

New report highlights mercury pollution impacts on ecosystems

Earlier this week, the Ecological Society of America, in partnership with the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI), the Great Lakes Commission and the Northeast-Midwest Institute, cosponsored a Congressional briefing entitled: “Mercury and Air Pollution Impacts on Ecosystems: Policy-Relevant Highlights from New Scientific Studies.” The briefing sought to highlight the findings of a recent report from BRI highlighting mercury pollution in the Great Lakes region. The featured speakers included Charles Driscoll, a National Academy member and professor at Syracuse University and David Evers, Executive Director and Chief Scientist at BRI.  Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) kicked off the briefing with some opening remarks noting the detrimental health effects mercury pollution can have on families in the Great Lakes region. According to the report, emissions of mercury to the air (and subsequent deposition) are now the primary source of mercury pollution to the Great Lakes region. Twenty-six percent of mercury deposition in Canada and the continental United States is from the Great Lakes region, with the highest concentrations in Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin. The presence of methylmercury (inorganic mercury that has been altered by bacteria in the natural environment) affects the entire food-chain of an ecosystem. Plants take up the toxin and are subsequently fed upon by plant-eating insects and fish, which in turn are consumed by insectivores and fish-eating animals, including songbirds, waterfowl and humans. A number of bird species were found to have “high sensitivity” to mercury pollution, including the American Kestrel, the American White Ibis, the Snowy Egret, the Osprey and the Tri-Colored Heron.  The study notes that the U.S.  national bird, the Bald Eagle, is also negatively impacted by mercury, with effects that  include “subclinical neurological damage.” The Bald Eagle was removed from being listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 2007. It was declared a federally endangered species from 1967-1995. The speakers noted that fish polluted with mercury can have detrimental impacts on the local economy and human health. “In recent years, we’ve come to appreciate that pollution from mercury and acid rain affects wildlife health as well as human health,” said Evers. Among 15 fish species in the region consumed by people and wildlife, six species have average mercury concentrations above 0.30 parts per million. The report notes that five states in the region “have issued statewide consumption advisories for mercury in fish from all fresh waters, two have issued statewide advisories for mercury in fish from all lakes, and one has issued advisories for specific water bodies.” According to the BRI study, “sport fishing in the eight Great Lakes states supports more than 190,000 jobs and annually has a total economic impact of more...

Read More