Latest benchmark on environmental justice

This post contributed by Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs Among its many responsibilities, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is charged with implementing Plan EJ, issued by Executive Order twenty years ago by then-President Clinton to advance environmental justice through federal actions.  According to EPA’s website, Plan EJ 2014 aims to “protect health in communities over-burdened by pollution; empower communities to take action to improve their health and environment; [and] establish partnerships with local, state, tribal and federal organizations to achieve health and sustainable communities.” As reported in today’s Greenwire, a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that looks at EPA’s progress in implementing EJ 2014 gives a mixed review.  On the one hand, GAO gives the agency good marks for reaching out to private stakeholders through the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.  GAO also lauds EPA for reviving the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice after it had languished for 10 years. “EPA has generally defined a mission and goals for its environmental justice efforts, ensured leadership involvement and accountability for these efforts, and coordinated with other federal agencies––all consistent with leading practices in federal strategic planning,” said GAO in its report. On the other hand, the report says that EPA needs to do a better job evaluating the resources required to implement environmental justice considerations within the agency, among other critiques: “However, EPA has not yet fully (1) established a clear strategy for how it will define key environmental justice terms or identified the resources it may need to carry out its environmental justice implementation plans, (2) articulated clearly states’ roles in ongoing planning and environmental justice integration efforts, or (3) developed performance measures for eight of its nine implementation plans to track agency progress on its environmental justice goals.” One of the Ecological Society of America’s many thematic Sections is devoted to the issue of Environmental Justice and encourages ecologists to address EJ issues through education, research and outreach. Robert Bullard, described in the Greenwire article as the “father of the environmental justice movement” said in the article that the GAO report and others like it provide “….benchmarks to determine where we are or what we have and have not accomplished.” Photo credit: Claudio Papapietro, Make the Road New York  ...

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New report highlights mercury pollution impacts on ecosystems

Earlier this week, the Ecological Society of America, in partnership with the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI), the Great Lakes Commission and the Northeast-Midwest Institute, cosponsored a Congressional briefing entitled: “Mercury and Air Pollution Impacts on Ecosystems: Policy-Relevant Highlights from New Scientific Studies.” The briefing sought to highlight the findings of a recent report from BRI highlighting mercury pollution in the Great Lakes region. The featured speakers included Charles Driscoll, a National Academy member and professor at Syracuse University and David Evers, Executive Director and Chief Scientist at BRI.  Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) kicked off the briefing with some opening remarks noting the detrimental health effects mercury pollution can have on families in the Great Lakes region. According to the report, emissions of mercury to the air (and subsequent deposition) are now the primary source of mercury pollution to the Great Lakes region. Twenty-six percent of mercury deposition in Canada and the continental United States is from the Great Lakes region, with the highest concentrations in Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin. The presence of methylmercury (inorganic mercury that has been altered by bacteria in the natural environment) affects the entire food-chain of an ecosystem. Plants take up the toxin and are subsequently fed upon by plant-eating insects and fish, which in turn are consumed by insectivores and fish-eating animals, including songbirds, waterfowl and humans. A number of bird species were found to have “high sensitivity” to mercury pollution, including the American Kestrel, the American White Ibis, the Snowy Egret, the Osprey and the Tri-Colored Heron.  The study notes that the U.S.  national bird, the Bald Eagle, is also negatively impacted by mercury, with effects that  include “subclinical neurological damage.” The Bald Eagle was removed from being listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 2007. It was declared a federally endangered species from 1967-1995. The speakers noted that fish polluted with mercury can have detrimental impacts on the local economy and human health. “In recent years, we’ve come to appreciate that pollution from mercury and acid rain affects wildlife health as well as human health,” said Evers. Among 15 fish species in the region consumed by people and wildlife, six species have average mercury concentrations above 0.30 parts per million. The report notes that five states in the region “have issued statewide consumption advisories for mercury in fish from all fresh waters, two have issued statewide advisories for mercury in fish from all lakes, and one has issued advisories for specific water bodies.” According to the BRI study, “sport fishing in the eight Great Lakes states supports more than 190,000 jobs and annually has a total economic impact of more...

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ESA Policy News: October 20

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE RELEASES INTERIOR SPENDING BILL On Oct. 14, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies released is funding bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. In total, the bill provides $29.3 billion for programs funded by the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other environmental agencies, slightly less than the $29.5 billion approved for FY 2011. The House bill includes $27.5 billion in funding for FY 2012. The bill includes $10.27 billion for the Interior Department in FY 2012, down from the $10.56 billion enacted in FY 2011. EPA would receive $8.62 billion, down from the $8.68 billion enacted in FY 2011. The House bill includes $9.9 billion for Interior and $7.1 billion for EPA. For the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) the bill provides $1.08 billion in funding for FY 2012, less than the $1.11 billion provided in FY 2011. The House bill provides approximately $919.22 million for BLM. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) would receive $1.47 billion for FY 2012, less than the $1.5 billion allocated in FY 2011. The House bill provides $1.1 billion for FWS. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) would be funded at $1.06 billion for FY 2012, less than the $1.08 billion in funding it received in FY 2011. The House bill includes $1.05 billion for USGS. For the U.S. Forest Service, the bill includes $4.56 billion for FY 2012, less than the $4.69 billion allocated in FY 2012. The House bill provides $4.5 billion for the Forest Service. Click here for additional information on the Senate Interior bill or view the House Interior bill here. ENDANGERED SPECIES: JUDGE THROWS OUT INTERIOR RULE LIMITING POLAR BEAR PROTECTIONS On Oct. 17, a federal judge struck down a George W. Bush administration rule that barred the use of the Endangered Species Act to regulate greenhouse gasses. The ruling concerned a rule issued by the U.S. Department of Interior in 2008 that said the polar bear’s designation as threatened in 2008 could not be used as a backdoor way to control greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. The rule was subsequently upheld by the Obama administration. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan of the District of Columbia ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to carry out an environmental review to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). But, importantly, he upheld FWS’s decision that the Endangered Species Act was not the appropriate vehicle to regulate greenhouse gases. The Center for Biological Diversity,...

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ESA Policy News: October 7

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS APPROVES, PRESIDENT SIGNS TEMPORARY SPENDING BILL On Oct. 5, President Obama signed the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-36), which provides federal funding for the new fiscal year (FY) 2012 through Nov. 18. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 79-12 and the House by a vote of 352-66. The agreement came in part when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced late last month that it would not need additional funds for the remainder of FY 2011, which ended Sept. 30. Consequently, the compromise legislation provided $2.6 billion to FEMA for disaster relief spending with no offsets. The funding would address the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, flooding and other natural disasters that occurred during calendar year 2011. The agreement also eliminated the $1.5 billion offset cut to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) advanced vehicle loan program. The bill provides additional time for Congress to continue work on its 12 individual FY 2012 appropriations bills.  To date, the House has passed six individual bills and the Senate has passed one. Neither of the bills has been agreed upon by both bodies, which must reconcile and pass the bills  before they can be sent to the president. AIR POLLUTION: SCIENCE COMMITTEE EXAMINES EPA SMOG RULES On Oct. 4, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened for a hearing entitled “Quality Science for Quality Air.” The hearing sought to examine the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) process for setting standards under the Clean Air Act. In his opening statement, Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) asserted “it is important to note at the outset that overall air quality in the United States is excellent. He contended that “EPA seems to rely on making statistical hay out of minor associations between pollutants and premature mortality.” Committee Democrats defended EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act, citing enforcement of such regulations as the reason why air quality has improved over the past few decades.  “Stricter pollutions limits force us to push the envelope of scientific innovation and create new technologies.  And, as it has been proven many times over, improved worker productivity, increased agricultural yield, reduction in mortality and illness, and other economic and public health benefits far outweigh the costs of compliance,” said Energy and Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Brad Miller (D-NC). View the hearing here. WATER: COMMITTEE CONSIDERS FEDERAL, STATE NUTRIENT POLLUTION CONTROL EFFORTS On Oct. 4, the Senate Environment and Public Works Water and Wildlife Subcommittee held...

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ESA Policy News: September 9

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. AIR POLLUTION: OBAMA ADMINISTRATION POSTPONES OZONE STANDARDS On Sept. 2, the White House requested the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) postpone plans to strengthen the George W. Bush administration’s 2008 ozone standard. In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator Cass Sunstein cites a need to “minimize regulatory costs and burdens” during an “economically challenging time.” Sunstein references Executive Order 13563, which states that the administration’s regulatory policy “must promote predictability and reduce uncertainty.” The letter notes that the Clean Air Act sets a five year cycle to review national ambient air quality standards, effectively allowing EPA to hold off on revisiting the standards until 2013. The EPA in January 2010 had proposed to set the national health-based standard for ozone between 60 and 70 parts per billion (ppb) when averaged over an eight-hour period. The Bush administration had tightened the ozone limits from 84 ppb to 75 ppb in 2008, despite scientific advisers’ recommendations to issue a standard between 60 and 70 ppb. The move earned President Obama rare praise from Republican leaders in Congress. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) released a statement that referred to the ozone standard as “the most expensive environmental regulation ever imposed” and described the president’s move as “a step in the right direction.” EPA Administrator Jackson released a statement affirming that the standard would be revisited at some point and cited the Obama administration’s efforts to address air pollution “as some of the most important standards and safeguards for clean air in U.S. history,” citing reductions in sulfur and nitrogen dioxide, mercury pollutions from power plants and carbon pollution standards for cars and trucks. To view the White House letter, see: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/ozone_national_ambient_air_quality_standards_letter.pdf To review Executive Order 13563, see: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/memoranda/2011/m11-10.pdf To view the EPA statement, see: http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/1e5ab1124055f3b28525781f0042ed40/e41fbc47e7ff4f13852578ff00552bf8!OpenDocument APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE COMMITTEE APPROVES FY 2012 SPENDING BILLS During the week of Sept. 7, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its energy and water development and agricultural appropriations bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. The bills must be voted on by the full Senate and agreed to by the House before they can be signed by the president. Energy and Water The FY 2012 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act includes $31.625 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Energy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and water programs within the Department of Interior, $57 million below the FY 2011 level, but still $1 billion more than the House-bill (H.R. 2354), passed in July. It’s also...

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ESA Policy News: August 19, 2011

Here are some highlights from the latest Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. EPA: AGENCY DEFENDS ‘ENDANGERMENT’ FINDING IN FEDERAL COURT On August 18, the Environmental Protection Agency filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit defending its Dec. 2009 ‘endangerment’ finding that carbon dioxide emissions threaten public health. The finding resulted in the first-ever federal limits on greenhouse gases from large industrial plants. The brief is being challenged by various conservative states and industry organizations, including the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who contend that EPA’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gases are a burden on the nation’s economy. The Obama administration maintains that it relied on “thorough and peer-reviewed assessments of climate change science” from the U.N.-affiliated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the National Research Council. FWS: RECOVERY DECLARED FOR LAKE ERIE WATER SNAKE On August 15, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced it has removed the Lake Erie water snake from the endangered and threatened species list after a nearly decade long recovery from threats including human killings and habitat loss. The snake, found on offshore islands in western Lake Erie in Ohio and Ontario, is the 23rd species to be delisted due to recovery. The species was first listed as threatened in 1999. In 2003, FWS finalized a recovery plan that called for protecting the animal’s shoreline habitat and increasing cooperation with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife and other partners. Recovery criteria include a combined population of at least 5,555 snakes on the U.S. islands, sustained for six years, and protection of key habitat. According to the Department of Interior, through continued habitat protection and public education, the Lake Erie water snake population grew to about 11,980 in 2009, and has exceeded the minimum recovery level since 2002. About 300 acres of inland habitat and 11 miles of shoreline have been protected for the snake since it was listed. Partners in the efforts to recover the Lake Erie water snake include the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), Northern Illinois University, Lake Erie Islands Chapter of the Black Swamp Conservancy, Western Reserve Land Conservancy, Put-in-Bay Township Park District, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Ohio State University Stone Laboratory. GREAT LAKES: EPA DISTRIBUTES RESTORATION GRANTS On August 8, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the first of several awards towards totaling nearly $30 million for Great Lakes Restoration. The awards are distributed through the administration’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), first proposed by President Obama in Feb. 2009 and...

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ESA Policy News: August 4

Here are some highlights from the latest Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. NATIONAL DEBT: OBAMA SIGNS MEASURE RAISING DEBT CEILING THROUGH 2012 The week of August 2, Congress passed and the president signed a bill to increase the national debt by as much as $2.4 trillion. After weeks in which a deal between leaders of both parties appeared elusive, the deal was finally announced the weekend preceding the vote, mere days before the Department of Treasury predicted a default if the debt ceiling was not raised. The plan implemented by Congressional leaders has the skeletal frame of a plan first proposed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in that it reduces the debt limit in phases, giving the president sole authority to increase the debt. While revenues were left off the table, the administration was able to win on its contention that the debt increase should run through the end of 2012, punting the issue through the next election. In the interim, however, the measure sets the stage for $917 billion in discretionary spending cuts to federal agencies over a 10 year period beginning in Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. It is expected that this will lead to federal agency appropriations even further below what was enacted in FY 2011. The plan provides for debt ceiling increases in two stages: The president may request a $900 billion increase now, of which $400 billion in borrowing authority is immediately available to the U.S. Treasury. This $900 billion is subject to a resolution of disapproval in both the House and Senate. The disapproval measure would be subject to a presidential veto.  Once the debt comes within $100 billion of the debt ceiling, the president may ask for at least an additional $1.2 trillion, which could rise to $1.5 trillion if a Balanced Budget Amendment is sent to the states or the joint committee process described below enacts more than $1.5 trillion in savings.  This increase is also subject to a resolution of disapproval and can also be vetoed by the president, consequently granting him authority to raise the national debt through the end of 2012. The second part of the plan involves up to an additional $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction, to be decided by a joint committee made up of 12 members (six from each chamber). Appointed by the House Speaker, Senate Majority Leader, Senate Minority Leader and House Minority Leader, the committee members will be tasked with developing legislation to achieve at least $1.5 trillion in future deficit reduction by Thanksgiving. The committee members must be appointed by August 16. As part of the deal, both...

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ESA Policy News: July 22

Here are some highlights from the latest Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. NATIONAL DEBT-CEILING DEBATE: CONSENSUS IN SIGHT, SPECIFIC PLAN REMAINS ELUSIVE House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and President Obama are unanimous in agreeing the federal deficit has to be raised before the projected August 2 deadline to avoid U.S. default on its debt. When, how and under what conditions this will occur remains murky. Most recently, the House Republicans passed H.R. 2560, the Cut, Cap and Balance Act. The measure would cut spending in Fiscal Year 2012 by $111 billion, cap future spending at 19.9 percent of gross domestic product and allow for the debt ceiling to be increased if a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution is approved by Congress and sent to the states.  On July 22, the measure failed to advance in the Senate with a majority of Senators agreeing to table the bill by a vote of 51-46. On July 19, a reunited “Gang of Six,” which originally consisted of a bipartisan group of six  Senators, unveiled a plan to lower the national debt by $3.7 trillion over ten years through a combination of spending reductions as well as entitlement and revenue reforms. The plan is based on the framework of the president’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, co-chaired by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson. Senate Democratic leaders have signaled the proposal is unlikely to be implemented by Aug. 2 for a number of reasons: 1) the Congressional Budget Office likely cannot score the bill (to determine its estimated fiscal price tag) by the deadline and 2) any legislation increasing revenue, under the U.S. Constitution, must begin in the House of Representatives. The plan has already been met with opposition by interest groups across the political spectrum wary of its tax increases and entitlement cut proposals. Another 614-page plan, put forward by Sen. Coburn (R-OK), would trim the deficit by $9 trillion over the next ten years. The plan includes reforms to revenue, entitlements and large cuts ($974.1 billion over 10 years) to discretionary spending. This would include $346.4 billion in cuts to the Department of Agriculture, $409 billion from the Department of Education, $33.67 billion to the Environmental Protection Agency, $26.44 billion from the Department of Interior, $101.8 billion from the Department of Energy and $14.2 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF). Much like another recent Coburn report accusing NSF of wasteful spending, the new report proposes to eliminate the agency’s Social, Behavioral and Economics Directorate. The fact that the plan also includes $1 trillion in tax increases and $1 trillion in...

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