Policy News: April 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 COMPROMISE FY2011 FUNDING MEASURE After months of short-term continuing resolutions and a near government shutdown, a deal was reached to fund the federal government for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2011. On April 15, the president signed (P.L. 112-10), which funds the government for the remainder of the fiscal year, ending Sept. 30, 2011. The bill passed the House by a large bipartisan majority of 260-167 with the support of 81 Democrats (59 Republicans opposed the measure). The bill also cleared the Senate overwhelmingly by a vote of 81-19. The deal was struck and finalized moments before the most recent continuing resolution was set to expire the evening of Friday, April 8. In the waning minutes of that Friday evening, the House and Senate passed an additional one-week continuing resolution (CR) that included full funding for the Department of Defense. The move served to keep the government funded for an additional week to allow appropriations committee staff to draft the more complex long-term spending measure enacted April 15. In total, the bill sets final 2011 spending levels at $1.049 trillion. This is a $78.5 billion decrease from Obama’s 2011 budget request and a $39.9 billion decrease from the $1.089 trillion 2010 spending bills, as enacted. Republicans had sought a $61 billion cut in spending, but negotiations with the Senate and White House scaled those demands back. While the Senate and White House were successful in rescinding some of the massive cuts and riders proposed in the House-passed bill, the final agreement still included numerous significant cuts to science and environmental agencies. The funding decreases include $12 billion in cuts through three stopgap continuing resolutions and $28 billion in new cuts. NOAA weather satellites axed The long-term CR includes $382 million for NOAA new climate and weather satellites under the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), roughly over a third of the president’s budget request for FY2011. Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, who has jurisdiction over NOAA, asserts that nearly $1 billion is needed this year to prevent data gaps that could make it harder to predict the weather. NOAA Secretary Jane Lubchenco has said that for every dollar not spent on JPSS this year, the agency would have to spend three to five dollars down the road because of canceled contracts and other problems. The program is already suffering because no increase was given to it in the stopgap funding measures that have kept the federal government operating since October. Obama ‘czars’ House...

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Pondering America’s energy future

I went to a New Republic briefing this morning on the future of U.S. energy policy.  What stood out most were the rather impassioned remarks from Senator Kerry (D-MA), who is not generally known for displaying much emotion.  He opened his comments by describing America’s “ostrich-like” approach to energy: “I’ve had it up to here,” he said, motioning to just below his chin.  Every prediction made years ago about this issue is coming true but even faster, said Kerry.  We’ve been receiving countless “postcards from the edge,” he said; warnings and evidence that we are bringing about undesirable changes with our energy demands: pine beetle outbreaks no longer held in check by cold temperatures, lobsters and other marine life threatened by ocean acidification, record breaking heat waves and hurricanes.  And in response to all these warnings, asked Kerry, what have we done?  The answer: “Business as usual.” And while Kerry allowed himself a few partisan digs—for example, we have a growing “flat Earth caucus”—he did quickly move on to more pragmatic arguments that echoed those made by others, such as former Republican California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. That is, we should use common sense to move forward on cleaner energy sources because doing so will be good for our health, jobs and the economy, and national security.  Declaring that “we’re our own worst enemy,” Kerry said that he believes “America’s greatness, America’s capacity to lead, is really on the line.” He pointed to the global competition in clean energy, noting that, according to a recent Pew study, China holds first place, leading the way in solar panel and wind turbine production.  Solar panel technology was invented in the U.S. decades ago by Bell Labs, yet China now exports this technology around the globe, selling it also to the U.S.  Germany has recently jumped to second place, bumping the U.S. to third.  While Germany is a far smaller country than the U.S., it has doubled its investment in cle an energy to $42.1 billion, while the U.S. invests $34 billion. Earlier in the briefing, several other speakers offered their views on America’s energy future.  Jacques Besnainou, Chief Executive Officer with the nuclear power services provider AREVA Inc. argued that the U.S. must come to grips with its aging nuclear fleet, the “oldest in the world.”  Doing nothing is not an option, said Besnainou; if no action is taken, these plants will have to be retired in ten years.  Yet another panelist, Christopher Guith, Vice President for Policy at the Institute for 21st Century Energy, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, argued that because natural gas is currently very cheap, the option...

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Addressing climate change may foster economic recovery

Several Congressional hearings have been held this year on climate science and potential policy actions such as  federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. There are those in Congress who argue that regardless of whether or not they are convinced that human activity is leading to changes in the atmosphere, the United States  cannot afford to address it amidst a soaring budget deficit and high unemployment. Given these economic concerns, numerous scientists have recently pointed out that addressing climate change and working to create jobs and fuel the economy are not mutually exclusive. One of those scientists is Dr. Knute Nadelhoffer, Director of the University of Michigan Biological Station in Pellston, MI in the center of the Great Lakes Basin. In the latest edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, Dr. Nadelhoffer discusses his experience testifying before a congressional committee. During the podcast, he also notes how previous attempts to address environmental challenges  led to new  jobs. “The Clean Air Act created jobs. It created technologies,” he said. “It developed entrenprenuer enterprises that led to new products and improved our effeciencies, so I think the precedent is that we will create jobs” through the implementation of greenhouse gas regulations. In his testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Energy and Power Subcommittee, Dr. Nadelhoffer outlined a series of economic impacts of climate change in the Great Lakes region, which are happening now. He stated that: “The economy of the eight states and Canadian provinces that surround the Great Lakes are the third or fourth largest in the world and in our region, we interact intimately with our natural resources to sustain our economy and our culture, so we pay close attention to what happens around us.” Dr. Nadelhoffer went on to testify that the temperature of Lake Superior, the deepest and largest lake in the western hemisphere and second largest in the world, has risen by 4.5 degrees Farenheit in the past 30 years. He stated that increased flooding associated with climatic changes leads to increased amounts of sediment and fertilizers entering waterways, which are associated with toxic algae blooms that consume oxygen, kill fish, create aquatic dead zones and increase costs of water treatments. He also noted the significant infrastructure cost borne by storm systems that were built 50 years ago in cities bordering the Great Lakes such as South Haven, Michigan and Milwaukee, Wisconsin that are no longer able to cope with this increased flooding. Dr. Nadelhoffer had been called to testify partly because of a letter to Michigan’s congressional delegation he helped spearhead.  In total, the letter had 178 signatures from scientists in prominent universities across the state,...

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Policy News: March 25

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. NUCLEAR CRISIS: LAWMAKERS URGE NRC TO RAMP UP, REVIEW PLANT SAFETY STANDARDS The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee convened March 16 for a briefing on the nuclear plant crisis in Japan and its implications for the United States. Congressional Democrats have expressed concerns about the safety of the nation’s nuclear power plants, especially reactors that lie on fault lines and are calling for new reviews.  Lawmakers with nuclear power plants in their states raised concerns that NRC has not yet taken proactive measures to ensure the safety of the U.S. plants that use similar technology as the Fukushima plant. Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) cited examples in Switzerland and Germany where older nuclear plants have temporarily been shut down in the wake of the Japanese disaster to ensure their safety. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko told lawmakers that 23 of the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors use the same General Electric Mark I boiling water containment design as those at the Japanese plant. They stressed that precautions have been taken at each plant to avoid disasters such as the one brought about in Japan from the recent earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Jaczko maintained that NRC plans to conduct a “systematic and methodical review” of the Japanese situation and would apply that to its review of the safety of U.S. reactors. Chairwoman Boxer and Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) issued a letter March 17 to Chairman Jaczko seeking a comprehensive investigation of the NRC’s preparedness for natural disasters. This was coupled with a separate letter from Chairwoman Boxer and Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Diane Feinstein (D-CA) requesting that the NRC conduct a thorough inspection of the San Onfore and Diablo Canyon nuclear plants in California. In the House of Representatives, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) declared his intention to hold a series of hearings on the nuclear disaster in coming weeks. He also reaffirmed his support for legislative efforts aimed at speeding up the federal approval process for building new nuclear reactors. House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Edward Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) sent a letter to the NRC requesting more information on the seismic safety features that are included in nuclear reactors currently in operation in the United States. The letter states “there are eight nuclear reactors located near the New Madrid fault line in the Midwest. There are additionally thirty-one nuclear reactors in the United States that are of the...

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ESA Policy News: March 11

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. HOUSE: COMMITTEE MEMBERS, SCIENTISTS DISCUSS CLIMATE CHANGE, EPA REGS The House Energy and Commerce Energy and Power Subcommittee met Tuesday, March 8, 2011 to examine climate science. The hearing served as a precursor to the mark-up of H.R. 910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act, a bill to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) asserted that the overall issue is not whether or not one considers climate change to be a serious problem, but whether EPA’s regulatory efforts present a wise solution. Whitfield maintained that the Upton bill was not a response to climate science, but a way to eliminate an unsound strategy for curbing greenhouse gas emissions. “One need not be a skeptic of global warming to be a skeptic of EPA’s regulatory agenda,” he said. Full committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) was quick to note that the hearing focus on climate science was at the insistence of committee Democrats. Waxman asserted the Upton bill would remove the administration’s main tools to address one of the most critical problems facing the world today. “If my doctor told me I had cancer, I wouldn’t scour the country to find someone to tell me that I don’t need to worry about it,” Waxman said. Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush (D-IL) said that 95 percent of scientists and scientific organizations worldwide have reached a consensus that man-made greenhouse gases are substantially contributing to climate change. Rush highlighted what he viewed as the many benefits of mitigating climate change, including “energy independence, sustainability, cleaner air and water, and a healthier populace.” While the witnesses included several scientists who supported the consensus view that man-made greenhouse gas emissions are a central driver of the adverse impacts of climate change, two of the witnesses, Dr. John Cristy of the University of Alabama and Dr. Donald Roberts of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, were ardent climate skeptics. APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE REJECTS PARTISAN LONG-TERM SPENDING PROPOSALS On March 9, the Senate rejected two continuing resolutions (CRs) to fund the government through Sept. 30, 2011, the end of the current fiscal year. H.R. 1, the House-passed CR, which would cut $61 billion in funding from FY 2010, failed by a vote of 44-56 with no support from Democrats. Additionally, three members of the Senate Tea Party Caucus voted against the bill: Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT). Senate Democrats put forward an amendment in the nature of a substitute...

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ESA Policy News: September 17

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. SENATE: SENIOR DEMS SEEK ACTION ON ENVIRONMENTAL MEASURES While the Senate seems unlikely to approve an energy bill during the few weeks it reconvenes before the November elections, it may consider measures on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency climate rules, power plant pollution curbs and energy tax incentives. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) acknowledged it’s a “cinch” that climate legislation won’t move this year. But he praised negotiations among some senators in recent months on plans to cap carbon from utilities. Amid election-year politics and an already-crowded legislative calendar, consideration may be punted until a lame-duck session. Reid stated that small business legislation will top the chamber’s agenda this month, but recently suggested that a narrow energy bill could see floor action before the election. The energy bill will likely include incentives for natural gas vehicles and the “Home Star” energy efficiency retrofits program, two measures Reid has indicated he supports. The “Home Star” legislation establishes a $6 billion rebate program to encourage immediate investment in energy-efficient appliances, building mechanical systems, insulation and energy-efficiency retrofits for households. Rockefeller challenges climate rules With climate legislation likely off the table, opponents of the Obama administration’s greenhouse gas rules are planning efforts to hinder EPA’s climate regulations, while environmentalists seek to protect the agency’s authority. Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has stated he will seek a vote this year on his bill that would block EPA from regulating stationary sources’ emissions for two years. Rockefeller told reporters in July that Reid promised a vote on the measure before the November election. Rockefeller’s bill has six Democratic co-sponsors, including North Dakota Sens. Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan, Sens. Tim Johnson (SD), Claire McCaskill (MS), Ben Nelson (NE) and Jim Webb (VA). Reid promised the vote in order to siphon Democratic support away from a more sweeping resolution from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), according to a Senate Democratic aide. There was great speculation that Senator Murkowski would have offered the legislation, which sought to altogether block EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, as an amendment during a mark-up of the Fiscal Year 2011 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, which was postponed this week. If Rockefeller’s bill comes up for a vote, several senators may bring up an alternative aimed at draining support from it. White House officials have insisted that Obama would veto the Rockefeller bill if it reached his desk. Many see an appropriations amendment as having a...

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ESA Policy News: August 27

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Terence Houston.

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ESA Policy News: August 10

Here are some highlights from the final ESA Policy News by Piper Corp, ESA’s outgoing Science Policy Analyst. Thanks, Piper, for keeping EcoTone readers informed about policy for the last couple of years and for your many other insightful posts. We will miss you! Read the full Policy News here.

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