ESA Policy News: July 13

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. WILDFIRES: FEDERAL MANAGEMENT EFFORTS CONTINUE A number of federal agencies, including the US Forest Service (FS), the Department of Interior (DOI), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Defense, are continuing to support community recovery efforts from wildfires in Colorado and across the western US. As of this week, there are 40 large wildfires reported in the states of Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Missouri, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, Florida, Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Alaska, according to DOI. Federal officials report that wildfires nationwide have burned over three million acres, slightly above the 10-year average for this time of year. President Obama formally declared Colorado a federal disaster area on June 29, upon a request from Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and the state’s entire congressional delegation. The designation will offer federal money for assistance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, including temporary housing, debris removal and repairs to public facilities. The president toured the state in late June and DOI Secretary Ken Salazar visited Colorado Springs in July to survey damage and meet with first responders and other local officials. The FS has also opened a public comment opportunity to seek input on its broader forest conservation efforts. The comment period ends Aug. 13. For more information, click here. To view the National Interagency Fire Center’s recently released National Wildland Significant Fire Potential Outlook for July – October 2012, click here.  BUDGET: ESA JOINS EFFORT TO PREVENT NONDEFENSE DISCRETIONARY CUTS On July 12, the Ecological Society of America joined nearly 3,000 national, state and local organizations in signing a letter to Members of Congress requesting that they take a balanced approach to deficit reduction that does not include further cuts to nondefense discretionary (NDD) spending. The organizations are representative of a wide breath of fields that benefit from federal NDD programs including science, education, health and civil rights. The letter comes ahead of a potential across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending in Jan. 2013 that the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25) stipulates. Under the current law, the $1.2 trillion in cuts would come 50 percent from defense spending and 50 percent from non-defense discretionary spending. The letter notes the important role NDD programs play and urges Congress to work to reduce the deficit in a manner that prevents further significant cuts to these programs. “In total, if Congress and the President fail to act, between fiscal 2010 and 2021 NDD programs will have been cut by 20 percent overall. Such indiscriminate cuts...

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Court upholds EPA climate rules

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst  During a week of landmark (some might call “supreme”) judicial rulings at the federal level on issues concerning immigration and healthcare, another pivotal ruling was issued from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that gave legitimacy to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The three-judge panel unanimously denied industry and state petitions that sought to invalidate the federal agency’s position that greenhouse gases pose a health risk and should be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The court held that EPA’s endangerment finding and tailpipe rules on greenhouse gases are “neither arbitrary nor capricious and found the agency’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act to be “unambiguously correct.” Challengers to the EPA rules included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Mining Association, the National Association of Manufacturers as well as the states of Texas and Virginia. Judges on the panel consisted of two appointees from President Clinton and one (the Chief Justice) from President Reagan. The ruling will in no way slow continued attempts from the legislative branch to prevent EPA from implementing regulations that seek to curb greenhouse gas emmissions. A host of riders included in the House Interior Appropriations bill that would seek to prevent funding a host of EPA initiatives that seek to regulate everything from greenhouse gas emissions and asbestos to pesticide labeling and lead paint. The Republican-controlled House has already passed bills that seek to stifle EPA’s regulatory reach, including a bill from Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), who was highly critical of the court ruling. To date, President Obama has not had to wield his veto pen for the bills his administration opposes because the Democratic-controlled Senate’s key leaders have supported EPA’s regulatory efforts.  However, because Senate Democrats lack a strong supermajority, it is difficult to get partisan legislation through the Senate, whose rules often require 60 votes to counter a filibuster whereas the House generally runs under a simple majority rule. For better or worse, the court system is not held by policymakers as the final arbiter over whether an existing law or statute is legal or constitutional. However, there is a consensus that once a court has ruled on a given issue, overturning such a ruling is difficult given the diverse interests (and individuals), which must all be in strong unison among the legislative and executive branch to do so. Photo Credit:...

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ESA Policy News: June 22

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE COMMITTEE MOVES AGRICULTURE, INTERIOR SPENDING BILLS  This month, the House Appropriations Committee has continued work on its Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 spending bills. Most recently, it has released legislation funding environmental and agricultural federal programs. On June 19, the committee approved its Agriculture Appropriations Act for FY 2013. That day, the committee also released its FY 2013 Interior and Environment appropriations bill, which was marked up by subcommittee the following day. Agriculture In total, the Agriculture Appropriations Act for FY 2013 includes $19.4 billion in discretionary spending, a $365 million reduction from FY 2012 and $1.7 billion less than Obama’s FY 2013 budget request. Agricultural research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, would be funded at $2.5 billion, a $35 million reduction from FY 2012. The Natural Resources Conservation Service would receive $812 million, a $16 million decrease from FY 2012. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service would receive $787 million, $33 million below FY 2012. A funding program to help farmers make environmental improvement on their lands was cut by $500 million compared to the current farm bill’s authorized levels. Interior The House Interior and Environment Appropriations Act for FY 2013 contains $28 billion in funding, a cut of $1.2 billion below FY 2012 and $1.7 billion below the president’s FY 2013 budget request. The bill funds the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Forest Service and related environmental initiatives. EPA funding undergoes a particularly high number of cuts in the House bill. The bill funds EPA at $7 billion, a $1.4 billion (17 percent) cut from FY 2012. This brings total funding in the bill below FY 1998 levels. The legislation continues a cap on EPA’s personnel at the lowest number since 1992 and cuts the office of the EPA administrator by over 30 percent. The EPA Congressional Affairs office receives a 50 percent cut. For additional information on the Agriculture bill, click here. For additional information on the Interior bill, click here. OSTP: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS WHITE HOUSE PRIORITIES On June 20, 2012, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee hosted White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren for a hearing entitled “Examining Priorities and Effectiveness of the Nation’s Science Policies.” During the hearing several Republicans inquired if the U.S. was maintaining investment in certain areas, including space technology and high-energy physics, relative to other countries. Holdren responded that the U.S. remains “on the cutting edge” and “unmatched”...

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Scientists discuss federal role in hydraulic fracturing research

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA science policy analyst   The issue of hydraulic fracturing, a fairly new energy production method, has spurred intense debate, in part due unfamiliarity with the overall process. Recently on Capitol Hill, a group of federal scientists discussed their research in an attempt to inform the ongoing policy debate by Republicans and Democrats in Congress. On June 9, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) sponsored a briefing entitled “Hydraulic Fracturing: the State of Science.” During the briefing, federal scientists highlighted recent research  findings on  hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and also touched on  potential ecological impacts of the process. The speakers noted that while information to date suggests that the overall process is safe with proper monitoring efforts, additional research is needed to quantify its long-term effects. Speakers noted that groundwater contamination from imperfect cementing, existing wells, cracks in rock and levels of seismic activity are all variables that present some potential environmental risk factors of fracking. Brenda Pierce, Coordinator for the Energy Resources Program at USGS, discussed the program’s lead role in assessing energy resources for the onshore United States.  She  noted that assessments of recoverable energy resources change over time due to technological advancements and improved geologic understanding, among other factors. Rick Hammack, Natural Systems Monitoring Coordinator for the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory discussed the multifaceted role his agency and others, including the USGS, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, play in monitoring the environmental impacts of shale gas development. Hammack stressed that the overall process takes five years, including one year of scientific study before fracking begins, several years of monitoring and assessment during energy production and a period of assessment after production is completed. Consequently, Hammack noted, it may be some time before we have a full picture of the environmental impacts from fracking and continued investment in research is important. Bill Leith, Senior Science Advisor for Earthquakes and Hazards at USGS, touched on the research USGS, other federal agencies and universities are conducting to better understand human-induced seismic activity from oil and gas production. Noting that mid-continent earthquakes have increased significantly in recent years, Leith clarified that the risk is manageable and that the fracking process itself has not triggered an earthquake large enough to raise safety concerns. Leith’s presentation, however, noted that the subsequent wastewater injection, which transmits wastewater from fracking into deep disposal wells, can cause earthquakes large enough to be felt and cause damage, though only a small fraction have caused earthquakes large enough to be of public concern. Leith believes that further research...

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ESA Policy News: June 8

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE PASSES ENERGY AND WATER SPENDING BILL  On June 6, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5325, the Energy and Water Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. The bill funds the Department of Energy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Interior water programs for the fiscal year (FY) 2013. It passed by a vote of 255-165 with 48 Democrats joining all but 29 Republicans in supporting the bill. In total, the bill funds the aforementioned federal agencies at $32 billion, an overall increase of $87.5 million in spending over the current fiscal year. The Obama administration, however, has pledged to veto the bill as it is part of an overall Republican budget effort to decrease spending by $19 billion for FY 2013. The administration reasons that the increase in this bill as well as a recently approved veterans’ appropriations bill, will lead to funding cuts for other appropriations bills that have not yet been taken up, which include Interior, Commerce Justice and Science, Transportation Housing and Urban Development and Labor Health Human Services and Education. For information on specific programmatic funding levels in the House and Senate Energy and Water bills, see the May 4 edition of ESA Policy News. For additional details on the House-passed bill, click here. View the Obama administration statement of administration policy on H.R. 5325 here. AIR POLLUTION: SUBCOMMITTEE EXAMINES EPA’S COST BENEFIT ANALYSIS TECHNIQUES On June 6, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened for a hearing entitled “EPA’s Impact on Jobs and Energy Affordability: Understanding the Real Costs and Benefits of Environmental Regulations.” The hearing sought to weigh the costs and benefits of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. In his opening statement, Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) questioned EPA’s methods. “Our witnesses today will describe a pattern of scientific and economic practices at EPA and OIRA that inflates health-based regulatory benefits, overlooks actual economic, energy affordability, and jobs impacts, and fails to reflect uncertainty in communicating risks.  All too often, major EPA regulations have been underpinned by secret science, hidden data, and black box models,” he stated. “More and more of these regulations are almost exclusively justified on the basis of incidental “co-benefits” from particulate matter reductions, raising the specter of double-counting, and private benefits on the assumption that all regulated entities are acting irrationally and against their economic self-interest and that EPA knows what is best for their bottom line.” Democrats criticized the format of the hearing, in which...

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ESA Policy News: May 18

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE CJS BILL CUTS NOAA, RESEARCH INITIATIVES On May 10, the House passed H.R. 5326, the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2013, which includes funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), among other agencies. The bill passed by a vote of 247-163 with 23 Democrats joining all but eight Republicans in supporting the measure. Democrats supporting the measure included House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Norman Dicks (D-WA) and House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Chaka Fattah (D-PA). In total, the bill provides $51.1 billion in funding for FY 2013, $1.6 billion below FY 2012 and $731 million below the president’s FY 2013 budget request. The White House has released a statement of administration policy declaring that President Obama will veto the bill, if it is presented to him in its current form. The administration asserts that the bill’s overall funding level violates those set by the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25), agreed to in August of last year, and says  that the cuts included in the bill will be a detriment in furthering “economic growth, security, and global competitiveness” for the nation. While applauding the funding for the Office of Science and Technology Policy as well as the $7.3 billion funding level for NSF, the White House says that significant funding cuts to NOAA would adversely affect the agency’s ability to implement the nation’s fisheries and oceans stewardship programs. The House bill must be reconciled with the Senate CJS bill approved in committee last month.  For additional background on the House and Senate CJS appropriations bills, see the April 20 edition of ESA Policy News. To view the full White House statement of administration policy on the House CJS appropriations bill, click here. HOUSE: SCIENCE SUBCOMMITTEE CONSIDERS POTENTIAL OF OIL SHALE DEVELOPMENT On May 10, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened for a hearing entitled “American Jobs and the Economy through Expanded Energy Production:  Challenges and Opportunities of Unconventional Resources Technology.” “The amount of energy under own soil is striking.  With continued technological advances and the right policies to enable access to these resources, America could become the global leader in energy production for the next generation and beyond,” stated Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD). “The Green River Basin, located in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, may contain up to three trillion barrels of oil, more potential oil than the rest of the world’s current oil reserves...

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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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ESA Policy News: April 9

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. HOUSE: GOP BUDGET SETS FURTHER DISCRETIONARY SPENDING CAPS On March 29, the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposed budget resolution for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. The bill passed by a vote of 228-191 with 10 Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against the bill. The non-binding resolution sets discretionary spending at $1.028 trillion, $19 billion below the $1.047 trillion agreed upon during the compromise enacted under the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25). The budget resolution typically serves as a maximum funding ceiling for congressional appropriators to work from as House and Senate appropriation bills are drafted and marked-up in the spring and summer. Under the House-passed resolution, H. Con. Res. 112, environmental spending, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies, would take a $4.1 billion hit, sinking to budget authority levels not seen since 2001. The funding cut is nearly double the $2.3 billion reduction proposed by President Obama’s FY 2013 budget request. At the same time, the House budget bill would seek to increase revenue by expanding oil and gas drilling. The 10 Republicans voting against the budget were Reps. Justin Amash (MI), Joe Barton (TX), John Duncan (TN), Chris Gibson (NY), Tim Huelskamp (KS), Walter Jones (NC), David McKinley (WV), Todd Platts (PA), Denny Rehberg (MT) and Ed Whitfield (KY). The rationale for the opposition varied. Some members supported a more far-reaching resolution offered by the far-right conservative Republican Study Committee that claims it would balance the budget in five years through more severe cuts. Other Republicans objected to the proposed changes to Medicare. For additional information on Chairman Ryan’s budget, see the March 23 edition of ESA Policy News. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS NOAA WEATHER FORECASTING SYSTEMS On March 28, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened to examine the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) weather forecasting methods. The hearing focused on the broad range of technologies available to gather weather and climate data and whether those technologies could improve weather forecasting methods. In addition to representation from NOAA, the committee heard from several witnesses from the private sector who discussed how they could provide the same weather collection data for less money. Committee Republicans were critical of NOAA for allocating 40 percent of its proposed $5.1 billion Fiscal Year 2013 budget towards its two satellite programs, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-Series (GOES-R), at the expense of...

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