Canada under the influence of oil

Grave consequences for ecology, democracy, and environmental protection   This post contributed by Sean Hoban, a post-doc in conservation biology at the University of Ferrara, Italy The past year has seen some forward-thinking environmental policies in the US: pro-science budgets, automobile fuel efficiency standards, coal power plant and fracking regulations, a recent (though rough) climate commitment, and rejection (for now) of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. We might expect our neighbor Canada, often pictured as a realm of clean water and majestic forests, to at least keep pace. Instead we see the opposite, a worrisome erosion of environmental regulations, depreciation of science, and disregard for democratic process from a conservative and proudly pro-oil government. The following regressive changes matter to ecologists, and just about everyone, worldwide. Budget cuts The recently passed 2013 Canadian federal budget enacts steep cuts to environmental agencies including Parks Canada and Environment Canada, which will reach beyond layoffs to changes in agency priorities and abilities, especially to pollution monitoring and mitigation. Scientist Peter Ross writes an eloquent response here. Another victim is the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, an independent, interdisciplinary panel that studied and offered recommendations on air, water, biodiversity, economic, and energy policy. Disturbingly, the government openly admits the reason for disbanding the panel is only partially budgetary- its recommendations on carbon taxes were not in line with government and public opinion: “It should agree with Canadians. It should agree with the government,” said Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. Most problematic is that the budget bill extended far beyond apportionment of funds to radically change dozens of environmental regulations. Even Conservatives say that it was undemocratic to amalgamate so much in a budget bill, that each change deserved separate debate and voting. Fisheries Protection For example, the bill re-words the Fisheries Act, one of Canada’s strongest environmental protection measures, which banned activities resulting in “harm” to any fish habitat. New wording focuses only on “serious harm” (permanent alteration or destruction) to “commercial, recreational or aboriginal fisheries, or the fish they depend on.” A letter written by the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution states that this will remove protection of most endangered fish and other organisms in the food web, and devalues the inherent importance of habitats and biodiversity, though conservatives defend the measure as re-focusing agency efforts. The change was enacted in spite of opposition from hundreds of scientists, including fisheries organizations. Environmental Assessment In addition to a 40 percent cut in funds for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the government has enacted several changes to environmental review of energy development projects: a cap of one to two...

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ESA Policy News: May 4

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. SENATE: APPROPRIATORS APPROVE ENERGY AND WATER, AGRICULTURE SPENDING BILLS The week of April 26, the Senate Appropriations Committee marked up its Energy and Water Development and Agriculture Appropriations bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. Energy and Water The Energy and Water Appropriations Act for FY 2013 is funded at $33.361 billion, $373 million less than FY 2012. The bill is primarily responsible for funding the Department of Energy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation. The legislation’s funding overall is slightly more than the $32.1 billion approved by the House in committee. For additional information on the House Energy and Water bill, see the April 20 edition of ESA Policy News here. Unlike the House measure, the Senate Energy and Water bill does not include funding for the controversial nuclear waste site under Yucca Mountain, which is opposed by the Obama administration. The Department of Energy would receive $27.128 billion, $1.38 billion more than in FY 2012 to boost research related to clean energy technologies. Agriculture The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Act for FY 2013 includes $20.785 billion in discretionary spending for FY 2013, an increase over the $19.565 billion FY 2012 enacted amount. For additional information on the two bills, click here. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS LOCAL EFFORTS ON STEM EDUCATION On April 30, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a field hearing in Madison, Alabama to review science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programs and partnerships at the local level and their impact on the economy. The hearing was entitled “STEM Education in Action: Local Schools, Non-Profits, and Businesses Doing Their Part to Secure America’s Future.” Among the subcommittee leadership, there was consensus on the important role STEM education can play in boosting the economy. “Our commitment to STEM education is exemplified by contributions to STEM programs in the community by the University of Alabama-Huntsville’s Propulsion Research Center and related scholarships and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s educational programs, as well as many other local initiatives supporting STEM programs for students ranging from elementary school through high school,” stated Research and Science Education Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL). Ranking Member Dan Lipinski (D-IL) noted that fewer than 40 percent of college students who start in a STEM-related field obtain a degree in that field, leading to a shortage of qualified employees to fill positions in science and technology, for which there is growing demand in the economy. Additional information on the...

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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,...

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