ESA Policy News, February 28, 2014: Supreme Court hears EPA challenge, POTUS links CA drought to climate change
Feb28

ESA Policy News, February 28, 2014: Supreme Court hears EPA challenge, POTUS links CA drought to climate change

WHITE HOUSE: OBAMA PROPOSES CLIMATE FUND AMONG ACTIONS TO ADDRESS DROUGHT

On Feb. 14, President Obama spoke in Fresno, CA regarding his plans to assist California amid its drought crisis. The president took the opportunity to relate climate change to the incident and discuss his latest proposal to address the issue.

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Endangered Species Act turns 40
Dec30

Endangered Species Act turns 40

This past week, the Endangered Species Act celebrated its 40th birthday. Throughout 2013, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) commemorated the occasion with special news articles highlighting the major success stories for various plant and animal species protected by the Act. President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law on Dec. 28, 1973. Since its enactment, FWS reports that 99 percent of species under its protection have been saved from extinction. The law currently provides protection for over 1,400 plant and animal species in the US, as well as 600 foreign species. The Act is administered primarily by FWS (terrestrial and freshwater species) as well as the US Department of Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service (marine life). Over the years, the law has garnered its share of criticism from policymakers concerned with the constraints that complying with the law places on hunters and land developers. The US Congress (predominantly the House of Representatives) has held various hearings questioning the law’s effectiveness, including hearings on legislative proposals to modify the law. In recent years, there have also been increasing actions to legislatively delist species, circumventing scientific review processes. In addition to informing the general populace, FWS activities commemorating the law’s anniversary seek to counter such criticism of the law’s success. Many species’ recovery plans span decades from the date on which they were first listed. FWS also created a “tool kit” of resources to help inform the general public about the many species protected under the law. The agency has also created a state map spotlighting wildlife species under protection in the United States and territories. A special ignite session at the Ecological Society of America’s 2013 annual meeting in Minneapolis also commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. Panelists discussed existing fiscal and political factors that affect the law’s implementation and ideas to improve species protection. An August, 2013, EcoTone post outlines the arguments, and includes links to the participants’ slide presentations. Photo Credit:...

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ESA Policy News: September 13
Sep13

ESA Policy News: September 13

ESA action alert on Farm Bill;
FWS extends comment period on wolf delisting;
Science Laureates bill torpedoed;
Budget punted;
EPA announces environmental justice grants;
NOAA says human activity influenced 2013 extreme weather events.

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Ignite session commemorates Endangered Species Act 40th anniversary
Aug21

Ignite session commemorates Endangered Species Act 40th anniversary

The 98th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America commemorated this year’s 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act with an Ignite session that brought together a diverse group of panelists to give an overview of the landmark law, its accomplishments and insights into various methods to improve species recovery. Daniel Evans, an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow with the USDA Forest Service, took the lead in organizing  The Endangered Species Act turns 40: Lessons learned for conservation of threatened and endangered species in the United States. Evans outlined the four main causes of species’ decline: habitat destruction/degradation, introduction of exotic/invasive species, pollution and overexploitation.  He explained that the Endangered Species Act has stymied a great deal of exploitation, which was the single biggest driver of species decline during the 18th and 19th centuries. However, he noted that the three other causes remain with habitat destruction and degradation being the biggest driver of extinction. Camille Parmesan, with the University of Texas, proposed coping with habitat fragmentation by transplanting certain endangered and threatened species to less imperiled areas.. As an example, she referenced her research on how climate change has altered the geographical range of Edith’s checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha). Sylvia Fallon, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) land and wildlife program, gave an overview of contemporary legislative attempts at the federal level to alter enforcement of the law. She noted that while the majority of unprecedented efforts to legislatively delist species have come from Republican leaders in Congress, Senate Democrats pushed legislative language co-authored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) to remove federal protections for gay wolves in Montana and Idaho. The incentive for pushing this measure was to give Senator Tester a legislative victory he could promote at home in hopes of bolstering his 2012 re-election efforts, which were ultimately successful. Fallon noted that while prior attempts to weaken the scope of the law from Members such as former Congressman Richard Pombo (R-CA) failed, current budget constraints are likely to motivate Members of Congress to continue to pursue legislative efforts to alter federal protections for endangered species in the name of deficit reduction.   The current political climate and pressure from Congress may also motivate the administration to delay decisions on listing certain species, said Fallon. Mark Schwartz, of the University of California-Davis, suggested that, given current funding constraints, we need to generate alternative methods to sustain imperiled species. Schwartz also cited various factors which result in uneven funding for animal and plant species.  Among them: congressional priorities, agency decisions and the general popularity of furry and “cute” species over scaly or otherwise less appealing...

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ESA Policy News: February 15

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here.   STATE OF THE UNION: PRESIDENT URGES ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE, SEQUESTER President Obama’s fourth State of the Union address outlined a number of bold domestic priorities, including addressing climate change and diverting a series of automatic discretionary spending cuts set to occur in March as a result of congressional  failure to come to agreement on comprehensive deficit reduction. “Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense,” said President Obama. “We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.” With regard to budget sequestration, President Obama affirmed his support for a bipartisan, balanced approach to deficit reduction while contending that he would oppose an effort that unduly burden discretionary programs. “Now, some in this Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training; Medicare and Social Security benefits. That idea is even worse,” said the president. “We won’t grow the middle class simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are already struggling, or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers, cops, and firefighters.” Among solutions to avert the sequester, President Obama endorsed changes to Medicare and tax reform proposals such as those outlined in the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, commonly known as the Simpson-Bowles commission. Read or listen to President Obama’s full 2013 State of the Union address here. BUDGET: SENATE DEMOCRATS INTRODUCE LEGISLATION TO AVERT SEQUESTER On Feb. 14, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) unveiled a legislative proposal to avert automatic discretionary spending cuts to federal agencies. The deficit reduction in the bill is equally divided between spending cuts and new revenue. Members of Congress have until March 1 to pass a bill to avert the $1.2 trillion cuts to federal programs over the next ten years. The American Family Economic Protection Act would postpone the sequester for one year by canceling out the first year of the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, which total $85 billion. In total, the bill includes $110 billion in deficit reduction, $55 billion in revenue increases and $55...

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ESA Policy News: January 18

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: BEYOND THE FISCAL CLIFF, SPENDING BATTLES AWAIT As battle lines on both sides are beginning to be drawn, the initial makeup of what will prove to be a highly contentious battle next month over how to raise the national debt ceiling and address pending budget cuts to federal agencies has already begun to simmer. On Jan. 11, Senate Democratic leaders formally aligned themselves in supporting President Obama utilizing a perceived, yet contentious constitutional authority under the 14th amendment to raise the debt ceiling through sending him a letter on the matter. In their letter to the President, the Senators said: “In the event that Republicans make good on their threat by failing to act, or by moving unilaterally to pass a debt limit extension only as part of unbalanced or unreasonable legislation, we believe you must be willing to take any lawful steps to ensure that America does not break its promises and trigger a global economic crisis — without Congressional approval, if necessary.” Meanwhile House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has made two specific pledges to his conference on any potential debt deal: 1) that he will only bring legislation to the floor that a majority of Republicans support and 2) that any debt limit increase will only happen if it is met dollar-for-dollar with additional spending cuts. If the past is prologue, it is expected that House Republicans will try to tie any debt limit increase with further cuts to discretionary spending and mandatory spending programs that provide assistance to low-income individuals, similar to a bill House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) put forward last May. It is anticipated that any potential deal to increase the national debt may also address budget sequestration, a “trigger” of automatic indiscriminate spending cuts across all federal agencies set to occur on March 1 if Congress doesn’t come up with $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction. Congressional Democrats have insisted that such a deal included some type of revenue, likely the closure of tax loopholes. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, however, considers the tax issue “resolved” in lieu of the tax provisions passed in the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-240). The Senate letter to Obama is viewable here. DISASTER RELIEF: HOUSE PASSES ADDITIONAL HURRICANE SANDY ASSISTANCE On Jan. 15, the House passed H.R. 152, the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, the second of two major bills to provide emergency federal assistance to areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy. The bill originally included $17 billion for immediate repairs, including $5.4...

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ESA Policy News: January 4

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: CONGRESS PASSES LEGISLATION TO DELAY SEQUESTRATION, EXTEND TAX CUTS After an extended period of partisan gridlock, Congress on Jan. 1 passed legislation to address “the fiscal cliff.” The term applied largely to automatic cuts to federal agencies that were set to kick in this month as well as a number of tax cuts and credits that were to expire Dec. 31, 2012. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 punts action on the sequestration (the automatic cuts to military and non-defense discretionary spending) by two months into March. This is paid for with $24 billion in offsets, half by lowering caps on overall defense and non-defense discretionary spending by $12 billion for the next two years and the other half by revenue changes to Individual Retirement Accounts that raise $12 billion in revenue. The bill makes permanent the Bush tax cuts for individuals making under $400,000 and families making under $450,000. It also permanently fixes the Alternative Minimum Tax by indexing for inflation, delays Medicare physician payment cuts for a year and extends unemployment benefits for a year in addition to extending other tax provisions. A wind energy tax credit is also extended for a full year under the agreement. The new law also includes a nine-month extension of the farm bill for several key provisions, including one to prevent milk prices from rising substantially. However, the law lacks an extension of mandatory funding for energy programs, its conservation title or research into organic crops, according to Senate leaders. While the fiscal deal resolves much of the immediate economic uncertainty related to taxes, the federal spending aspects of the fiscal cliff have yet to be resolved. Important Upcoming deadlines: Sequestration – Across-the-board cuts of eight percent to all federal agencies have been delayed to now go into effect on March 1 unless Congress can come up with a plan to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion. Debt ceiling – A deal on budget sequestration may now have to include provisions to address the federal debt limit. The existing spending limit was reached Dec. 31, but the US Department of Treasury has enacted “extraordinary measures” that will extend the federal government’s borrowing authority until roughly late February or early March, basically around the same time that legislation to address sequestration would be needed. Congressional Republicans are vowing to ensure that any increase in the debt limit be tied to significant cuts in federal spending. FY 2013 appropriations – Fiscal Year 2013 appropriations must also be addressed. The Continuing...

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A coordinated national strategy for wildlife conservation
Dec15

A coordinated national strategy for wildlife conservation

Meretsky and colleagues propose a national conservation-support program to help knit together state level efforts and larger federal programs, such as the recently established Landscape Conservation Cooperatives delineated here, and prevent species from falling through the gaps.

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