ESA Policy News: August 23
Aug23

ESA Policy News: August 23

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: ENVIRONMENTAL AGENCIES SLASHED, FIRE PREVENTION GETS BOOST Congress has adjourned for the August district work period leaving a full plate of must-dos when members return after Labor Day. Many items on their list will  need to be addressed before the end of September. The largest item will be the completion of the appropriations cycle. While it is typical for many (if not most) appropriations bills not to have been sent to the president’s desk at this stage, the current party divide between the House and the Senate had added an extra layer of contention to the appropriations cycle in recent years. The Democratic-controlled Senate must reach a consensus with the Republican-controlled House on spending levels for 12 appropriations spending bills in order to prevent a partial or full shutdown of the government on Sept. 30, when Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 ends. The partisan tension is heightened by the continued budget sequestration, given that Republicans in the House are drafting their non-defense discretionary spending assuming the sequestration continues through FY 2014 while Senate Democrats are drafting their bills in line with the much higher spending caps originally mandated in the Budget Control Act in 2011. Nonetheless, unless the House and Senate can either come up with a deficit reduction alternative to the existing sequester or vote to nullify it altogether, sequestration by law will continue to be implemented through FY 2014 and beyond. Congress must also reach a consensus on reauthorization of the farm bill, which also runs out on Sept. 30. Both the House and Senate have passed farm bills, but the legislation differs substantially both in funding and scope. The Senate bill, which passed by a bipartisan vote of 66-27, also includes a requirement that farmers meet certain conservation requirements in order to receive federal subsidies for crop insurance. The House farm bill, which passed by a narrow vote of 216-208 with no Democratic support, does not include the conservation provisions and lacks a food stamp extension as House Republicans were not able to reach a consensus on food stamp funding prior to the August recess. It also differs from the Senate in that it includes provisions that waive regulatory rules related to pesticide control and environmental reviews of forestry projects. Another major issue Congress will have to tackle around the same time is the national debt ceiling, which is projected to be reached around the start of the new fiscal year. Members of Congress have so far been unsuccessful in reaching an agreement on a deficit...

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ESA Policy News: June 28
Jun28

ESA Policy News: June 28

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here.   CLIMATE CHANGE: OBAMA OUTLINES PLAN TO REGULATE GREENHOUSE GASES On June 25, President Obama announced his plan to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The plan seeks to implement federal action on addressing climate change in lieu of  Congress that has not passed comprehensive legislation  to reduce carbon emissions throughout the president’s first-term. “Today, about 40 percent of America’s carbon pollution comes from our power plants.  But here’s the thing:  Right now, there are no federal limits to the amount of carbon pollution that those plants can pump into our air,” said President Obama. “We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air or our water, but power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free.  That’s not right, that’s not safe, and it needs to stop.” The president asserted that rising sea-levels over the past century have contributed to more damaging hurricanes and that temperature changes have caused more severe droughts and increased the duration and reach of wildfires. Implemented largely through the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Agriculture and Interior, the plan would set carbon limits on coal-fired industrial plants and invest in renewable energy usage on public lands. To brace for the continued impacts of climate change, the plan utilizes strategies developed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to help communities guard against flooding and extreme weather events. It also intends to apply scientific knowledge to help farmers, ranchers and landowners manage droughts and wildfires and improve forest restoration efforts. Recognizing that mitigating climate change is a global effort, the White House plan also increases federal government involvement in international efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and sets guidelines for how foreign assistance is spent. For additional information on the plan, click here. To read President Obama’s full remarks, click here. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE, SENATE COMMITTEES PASS ENERGY AND WATER SPENDING BILLS This month, the House and Senate appropriations committees move forward on legislation to fund federal energy and water development programs for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. Such programs are implemented largely through the Department of Energy (DOE) and US Army Corps of Engineers. The $30.4 billion House energy and water bill slashes funding for a number of renewable energy and research programs at DOE. Funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would be cut by 40 percent compared to existing sequester level funding. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy would be cut by 80 percent below the sequestered funding. The...

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Baltimore’s Watershed 263 experiment in socioecology
Jan16

Baltimore’s Watershed 263 experiment in socioecology

Ecological restoration makes city dwellers happier and healthier. by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer IN the first summer after my move from the cool green climes of western Washington State to Washington, DC, I gained a primal, physical understanding the urban heat island effect. Summer in the District of Columbia is a hot, humid shock for a native northwesterner, and last summer was record-breaking hot. Cycling away on humid summer evenings from the baking concrete and asphalt canyons of downtown, the steady progression into increasingly leafy residential neighborhoods felt like an essential reward, without which the long, sweaty uphill climb would not be psychologically tenable. A patch of woods, one of the many remnant forts of mostly forgotten historical significance dotting our nation’s capital, seemed to breathe blessed, refrigerated air over me as I turned the corner on the last leg of my journey. Thank you, elder generations, for this gift of evapotranspiration! That patch of woods is, of course, contributing more than a cool breeze to passing commuters. It is an ecological refuge, an absorbent surface during intense thunderstorms of the midatlantic summer, and a sponge for nitrogen and phosphorus washing off city streets and lawns. It’s an all-season draw for joggers, dog-walkers, and folks out for an evening stroll.  Parks, playgrounds and tree-lined streets make this working class (though, like much of Washington, rapidly gentrifying) neighborhood a pleasant place to live. And having a pleasant place to live is not trivial, nor is it just a marker of safety and economic privilege. It confers better health and well-being. “We had this hypothesis that there is a link between the social revitalization and ecological revitalization of urban neighborhoods,” said Peter Groffman, a microbial ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. Organizations like the USDA Forest Service and Baltimore’s Parks & People Foundation had observed the connection for many years, he said. The people on the ground say that projects that improve water quality by planting vacant lots, parking strips, and other urban spaces with trees and community gardens also bring people out of doors and teach local kids about their environment – and do so at lower cost than traditional engineering solutions to sewage management and stormwater runoff. When you bring neighbors outdoors to work on a shared community problem, the project brings people together. It creates, as the sociologists like to say, “social cohesion.” People see that they have power over their environment – that, as a group, they have access to power and city services. They start to demand access to other services that residents of wealthier parts of the city...

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ESA Policy News: November 9

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. 2012 ELECTION: RESULTS PRODUCE SAME PLAYERS, ADDED POLARIZATION The 2012 elections resulted in the continuation of a divided government with both parties more or less playing with the same hand they held before the election. President Obama remains in the White House, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) retains control of the Senate (albeit with a slightly more cushioned majority) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) retains control of the House with a substantial majority of over 230 Republican members. White House The re-election of President Obama generally means no significant policy changes for federal agencies. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) continues its National Oceans Policy, the Department of Interior’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative remains intact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will continue its regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions and its current Clean Water Act and mountain-top removal mining policies will be sustained.  The Department of State will continue its review of the Keystone XL pipeline with its early 2013 date on whether it will approved. The great unknown is who among the federal agency heads will be staying on to implement these policies. House US House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is expected to retain his role as is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). Congress’s first order of business, upon returning for its lame-duck session next week will be to address the fiscal cliff, a combination of automatic spending cuts enacted under the Budget Control Act and a series of expiring tax cuts enacted under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama. Speaker Boehner has declared that House Republicans are prepared to embrace a deficit reduction deal that includes revenue increases so long as those increases are coupled with further non-defense discretionary spending cuts and mandatory spending reductions. The Speaker has forewarned, however, that any revenue increases should be made through reforms to the tax code that closes loopholes, not through tax increases on the wealthiest Americans or small businesses. Republican control of the House means that many of the attempts to legislatively delist species from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, prohibit funding for NOAA’s proposed climate service, roll back Department of Interior and EPA regulations intended to protect the environment and cut or limit discretionary spending on certain science initiatives, will also continue over the next two years. House committee oversight hearings that are highly critical of various administration regulations and initiatives will also continue under the current majority. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) retains control of the Senate, partially due to...

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40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act
Oct18

40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act

by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer “Help!” 1969. Cleveland State University Library Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection. Bill Roberts Editorial Cartoon Collection. Roberts0706. By 1969, there had long been no fish left in the Cuyahoga to plead for help, according to a Time magazine article that ran that August, and commented, memorably,  “Some River! Chocolate-brown, oily, bubbling with subsurface gases, it oozes rather than flows.” ON the afternoon of June 22, 1969, the Cuyahoga River was on fire. It wasn’t the first time; the river had burned in Cleveland on 13 occasions over the previous century. This was just a little flare up, of no particular note, put out in less than half an hour by the local fire department. Nothing like the 1952 blaze that burned through three days, a bridge, and a fleet of fishing vessels, to the tune of $1.5 million. But people did notice. Time magazine noticed, and Washington noticed. Americans, seeing the costs of pollution, were mobilizing for change. The stage was set for the Clean Water Act. Though he supported the Clean Air Act and set up the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, President Nixon vetoed the Clean Water Act when it arrived on his desk two years later, complaining of its bloated $24 billion price tag and retroactive payments to state and local governments for sewer upgrades already completed. The water quality bill he sent to Congress, he wrote, would get the job done in a fiscally responsible manner. “It would have committed $6 billion in Federal funds over a three-year period, enough to continue and accelerate the momentum toward that high standard of cleanliness which all of us want in America’s waters,” he told Congress in his veto statement. “I have nailed my colors to the mast on this issue. The political winds can blow where they may. I am prepared for the possibility that my action on this bill may be overridden.” Congress did overrule him, voting the Clean Water Act into law on October 18, 1972.  But it took the Impoundment Act of 1974 and a Supreme Court ruling to get him to spend all of the money Congress appropriated for the purpose. US rivers do not run thick with oil anymore, thanks to the Clean Water Act, the EPA, and other environmental policies of the 1970s. The Clean Water Act has been very effective at cleaning up point sources of pollution to the “navigable waters” in it’s purview, sources like municipal sewers and stormdrains, stockyards, and refineries (ephemeral water bodies like seasonal rivers, playa lakes, and wetlands disconnected from a “significant nexus” with a navigable waterway are not protected,...

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ESA Policy News: October 12

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here.  EDUCATION: SUBCOMMITTEE CHAIRMAN REQUESTS GAO REVIEW OF REGULATORY IMPEDIMENTS TO UNIVERSITY RESEARCH  On Oct. 3, House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL) sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting a review of regulatory actions that may hinder research at the nation’s universities. The letter comes following  a recent report from the National Research Council of the National Academies entitled Research Universities and the Future of America: Ten Breakthrough Actions Vital to our Nation’s Prosperity and Security. Among its recommendations was a call to “reduce or eliminate regulations that increase administrative costs, impede research productivity, and deflect creative energy without substantially improving the research environment.” The National Academies report also recommends raising government, industry and philanthropy support for Research and Development (R&D) to three percent of Growth Domestic Product, fully funding the America COMPETES Act and “doubling the level of basic research conducted by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.” To view Rep. Brooks’ letter, click here. The full National Academies report and a PDF summary is available here. FORESTS: SUPREME COURT SUSTAINS ROADLESS RULE On Oct. 1, the United States Supreme Court stated it would not review a Clinton administration roadless rule that protects 45 million acres of national forest from road construction and logging. The decision ends a decade of legal challenges that began when the rule was first finalized in January 2001. Petitioners had asked the Supreme Court to overturn a decision last year by the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the Clinton rule and reversed a US district judge’s determination that the rule had created de facto wilderness and violated the National Environmental Policy Act. Petitioners included the state of Wyoming, the Colorado Mining Association and the American Petroleum Institute. After the ruling, Gov. Matt Mead stated that while he had concerns about what the decision would mean for economic opportunity in his state, he intends to work collaboratively with the US Forest Service to address these issues. INTERIOR: NOMINATIONS SOUGHT FOR CLIMATE CHANGE ADVISERS The US Department of Interior (DOI) is seeking nominations for a new panel to be composed of outside scientific experts to help inform the agency’s work on the impacts of climate change on natural resources. Those nominated would serve on DOI’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science. The committee will advise the US Geological Survey’s National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center (NCCWSC)...

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ESA Policy News: September 28

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: NEW REPORT OUTLINES SEQUESTRATION IMPACTS ON SCIENCE On Sept. 27, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) published a report outlining the impacts of budget sequestration on federal science funding. Established under the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25), the budget sequestration, set to go into effect on January 2, 2013, would shave $55 billion in defense spending and $38 billion in non-defense discretionary spending. Within these numbers, Department of Defense Research and Development (R&D) would lose an average of $6.7 billion per year for the next five years. The National Science Foundation would lose $456 million in FY 2013 and a total of $2.1 billion over the next five years. Over the same five-year period, funding for R&D at the Departments of Agriculture (-$875 million), Energy (-$4.585 billion) Interior (-$299 million), the National Aeronautics Space Administration (-$3.527 billion) and the Environmental Protection Agency (-$213 million) would also be drastically reduced. Last month, the Ecological Society of America, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) and the American Mathematical Society crafted an action alert encouraging their members to contact their representatives to let them know the devastating impacts budget sequester would have on research in the communities they represent. To go to the AIBS Legislative Action page where you’ll find more information on the fiscal cliff and budget sequestration as well as a letter to Members of Congress, click here. To view the full AAAS report, click here. AGRICULTURE: HOUSE LEADERSHIP PUNTS FARM BILL TO LAME DUCK SESSION On Sept. 21, the House adjourned for the fall and will not convene again until after the November elections. The month-long October district work period has become typical in modern presidential election years. However, this year differs from four years ago in that Congress has chosen to adjourn without taking up an extension of the farm bill. The most recent reauthorization of the agricultural law, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act (P.L. 110-234), was passed by a Democratic House and Senate and signed by a Republican president in June 2008. Four years later, while Senate leaders passed a bill to reauthorize the nation’s food and agricultural programs, the House has failed to take up such a measure. House Speaker John Boehner cited the splintered factions on the both sides of the aisle as rationale enough to assume the bill cannot obtain the 218 vote threshold necessary to clear the chamber. The Senate bill passed this June with a bipartisan vote of 64-35, including the support of Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry...

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A marketplace for nature’s services

In the Willamette River watershed, an experiment in ecosystem economics is underway. Map of the Willamette River Basin; Temperature Effects of Point Sources, Riparian Shading, and Dam Operations on the Willamette River. Credit, Oregon Water Science Center, USGS. “What we want to do,” said Bobby Cochran, “Is take the money that we’re spending now and redirect it the way nature would spend it.” Cochran is executive director of the non-profit Willamette Partnership, and he was talking about the limited supply of conservation dollars. How does he think nature would spend them? It’s easier to get him to say what nature would want to achieve: improvements that meet the needs of human and wildlife communities, not just the stipulations of regulatory checklists. But ideals can be difficult to accomplish. He thinks market systems can point the way to efficient solutions by giving people a monetary incentive to get creative. “Look at all the money we are investing in the environment – we’re spending a lot of money,” Cochran said. Our traditional mechanism for protecting natural resources is to react to visible problems, big problems, burning river-type problems – problems that can be addressed with the regulation of specific industries, or point sources of pollution. The problem of how to make human development sustainable is diffuse, and complex. It is a Wicked Problem with no easily defined solution. And the public mood is turning against disaster narratives. Cochran doesn’t want the public to think of streams, trees, and fish as obstacles and expenses. They are precious assets. He says framing a natural system as an economic good puts it into a context where decision makers recognize its value. So the Willamette Partnership is embarked on an experiment in harnessing market forces to protect the watersheds of the Willamette River Basin in northeastern Oregon. Cochran’s plan requires the establishment of a market for “ecosystem services,” the benefits that nature provides to people. The idea of trading ecosystem services has surged in popularity since the 2005 United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. It translates the beauty and utility of a wetland into pounds of phosphorus removed from agricultural runoff, Joules of heat pulled out of urban wastewater, and inches of floodwater absorbed upstream of riverside communities. The Willamette Partnership is a coalition of public utilities, academic, agriculturalists, environmental non-profits, and do-gooder for-profits united by an interest in the ecology of the Willamette River Basin in northeastern Oregon. That ecology encompasses the native ecosystems of the coastal Pacific Northwest between the rainshadowed slope of the coastal range and the oceanward slope of the Cascade Mountains, the population of the greater Portland metropolitan area ( and...

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