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...

Read More

Jewell would bring multifaceted credentials to Interior Dept.

By Terence Houston, ESA science policy analyst President Obama’s second-term pick for Secretary of Interior sparked tempered optimism from both sides of the aisle this week. With a strong background in both conservation and the business industry, it is hoped that nominee Sally Jewell will be able to bridge the divide between constituencies that prioritize environmental stewardship with those that prioritize energy development. The Department of Interior encompasses a diverse set of bureaus including the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Geological Survey. In addition to overseeing public lands, the new Interior Secretary is expected to be entrenched in policymaking regarding contentious issues involving mineral development, oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing over the course of President Obama’s second term. Jewell is unconventional in the sense that she lacks the political background of many of her predecessors.  However, what she lacks in direct policymaking is made up for with a unique combination of high level professional industry savvy and a personal passion for the outdoors. Her business background includes two decades in corporate banking, having worked for Rainer Bank, Security Pacific, WestOne Bank and Washington Mutual from  1981-2000. She also spent time as an engineer for Exxon Mobile (1978-81). In 2005, she became CEO of  Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI) after having been its chief operating officer since 2000. She also serves on the board of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). Jewell bikes to work every day and is an avid hiker, having once led a group of women to the top of Mt. Rainer, Washington.. She’s also spent a month climbing the mountains of Antarctica. Her outdoor exercise portfolio stands to make her the fittest high-profile member of the executive branch. (Lookout, Michelle Obama!) Jewell  has contributed to the Outdoor Industry Association’s Political Action Committee, which has supported environmentally-friendly Democrats and Republicans, including Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Mike Simpson (R-ID), who notably serves as Chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which drafts the annual bill to fund the agency she would oversee. Past personal donations include President Obama’s re-election campaign, Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) (her two Senators), Mark Udall (D-CO), Mark Begich (D-AK) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which will hold her confirmation hearing. Immediate reactions from key Senate leaders suggest Jewell will get a fair confirmation hearing. “Sally Jewell is an inspired choice to lead the Interior Department. Her experience leading a nearly $2 billion outdoor recreation company, combined with her years...

Read More

ESA Policy News: February 1

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 BILL TO SUSPEND DEBT CEILING TEMPORARILY On Jan. 23, the House passed H.R. 325, the No Budget, No Pay Act. The bill would temporarily eliminate the debt ceiling until May 19 while temporarily suspending pay for Members of Congress until the House and Senate each pass a budget. The measure prevents the nation from defaulting on its debt, potentially into August if the US Department of Treasury takes extraordinary measures. The bill gives additional breathing room to a series of fiscal debates set to occur in March concerning budget sequestration and continuing appropriations for Fiscal Year 2013. A trigger of automatic across-the-board spending cuts to both defense and non-defense discretionary spending programs will occur on March 1 unless Congress can come up with a plan to reduce the debt beforehand. Under H.R. 325, if either the House or Senate fails to pass a budget by the April 15 deadline, all income earned by the members of that chamber would be set aside. The members pay would be received in full once a budget is passed or on the final day of the 113th Congress at the end of calendar year 2014. The technical decision to withhold members pay as opposed to eliminating it indefinitely seeks to minimize conflicts with the 27th Amendment to the US Constitution, which prevents Congress from changing its pay after it has already convened. The bill also does not require both the House and Senate to pass the same budget, unlikely to occur, given the current party division between the two chambers. Murray takes Senate Budget Committee reins A new key player in federal debt talks this year will be Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), who assumes the chairmanship of the Senate Budget Committee. Even before the House legislation was finalized, Chairwoman Murray had pledged that the Senate would put forward and pass a budget this year, which would mark the first time the Senate has passed a budget since 2009. The Senate Budget Committee has posted a site that allows individuals to solicit their ideas on how to achieve fiscal reform as well as share stories of how federal investment has impacted them. To view the site and offer comments, click here. WHITE HOUSE: PRESIDENT EMPHASIZES NEED TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE IN SECOND INAUGURAL ADDRESS After a year of relative silence on the issue of climate change, President Obama gave the topic center stage in his second inaugural address. “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the...

Read More

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...

Read More

ESA Policy News: October 26

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: REPORT FINDS SPENDING CUTS POSE THREATS TO PUBLIC SAFETY, CONSERVATION EFFORTS ON PUBLIC LANDS A recent report from several conservation organizations concludes that the automatic spending cuts, set to take place in January 2013 under the Budget Control Act, would adversely impact efforts to protect public health and safety in public parks, forests and natural recreational areas. For National Parks, the study concludes that budget sequestration would force a loss of park rangers, jeopardizing public safety for park visitors and hindering the promptness of emergency response personnel. The cuts could also spur increases in vandalism and looting in public parks and impede efforts to monitor endangered species. For the  Forest Service, the cuts would decrease the agency’s ability to respond to wildfires. Inadequate campground maintenance would also lead to park trail closures, increasingly unkempt bathroom facilities, halted restoration projects and unprocessed recreational permits. All of this would adversely impact revenue brought in from tourism. The automatic cuts would also hinder the agency’s ability to manage  invasive species. The report was led by the Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Parks Conservation Association and Defenders of Wildlife. View the full report here. ENDANGERED SPECIES: INTERIOR VACATES CRITICAL HABITAT DESIGNATION FOR SEABIRD Department of Interior officials have agreed to vacate nearly four million acres of critical habitat for the threatened marbled murrelet until 2018 as part of a settlement agreement with the American Forest Resource Council (AFRC), a prominent timber industry advocate. The designation would have included parts of California, Oregon and Washington states. The agreement must be approved by the US District Court for the District of Columbia before it is final. According to court documents, defendants agreed that vacating critical habitat would not significantly impair conservation efforts for the species. Conservation groups, however, differ with this opinion. According to the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), marbled murrelets have been declining by roughly four percent per year since 2002. This decline is mainly attributed to continued habitat loss due to logging, particularly on state and private lands. On Oct. 24, CBD joined with several environmental groups in sending a letter to the Obama administration requesting that it withdraw from the agreement before it becomes final. To view the CBD letter, click here. For more information on federal conservation efforts for the marbled murrelet, click here. GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT: SCIENCE EXEMPTION SOUGHT FOR TRAVEL BAN LEGISLATION A legislative effort to curb participation of  federal employees at national conferences has spurred an effort from several organizations to seek an exemption...

Read More

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...

Read More

ESA Policy News: September 14

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: HOUSE PASSES SIX MONTH FUNDING BILL, AUTOMATIC CUTS STILL PENDING This week, Congress took up a six month continuing resolution (CR), an omnibus appropriations measure (H. J. Res. 117) that would fund government agencies through the end of March 2013. The funding is necessary as the current fiscal year 2012 ends on Sept. 30. The bill passed the House Sept. 13 by a vote of 329-91. Seventy Republicans and 21 Democrats opposed the measure. The agreement between House and Senate leaders of both parties uses funding based on the original Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25) agreement, the ceiling level of $1.047 trillion. Among its provisions, the bill adds about $800 million in funding for the Department of Interior (DOI) and the US Forest Service for wildfire suppression. The bill also continues a provision to deny funding for a provision in a 2007 energy law that would enforce light bulb efficiency standards. The measure also extends the current pay freeze for federal workers. Sequestration threat still looms While passage of the measure will ensure that government programs can continue to be funded through the opening months of the new calendar year, whether or not these funding levels will be sustained remains in limbo due to another provision of the Budget Control Act  which would initiate a budget sequestration in January. The sequestration would mean an eight percent cut to all discretionary programs (defense and non-defense) unless Congress takes action after the election to either find an alternative $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction or pass legislation to postpone or nullify the proposed discretionary spending cuts. On Sept. 14, the White House released a detailed account of how sequestration will impact federal agencies, as mandated by the Sequestration Transparency Act, passed by Congress last month. Read the report here. A few weeks ago, the Ecological Society of America, the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the American Mathematical Society teamed up to craft an action alert to their respective members, encouraging them to make their voices heard to their congressional representatives.  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. FWS: WYOMING GREY WOLVES REMOVED FROM ENDANGERED SPECIES PROTECTIONS On Aug. 31, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that gray wolves in Wyoming no longer require protection under the Endangered Species Act. According to FWS, there are 328 wolves in Wyoming, 230 of which live outside the...

Read More

ESA Policy News: August 17

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS AVOIDS FALL SHUTDOWN, SEQUESTRATION CUTS STILL LOOM On July 31, congressional leaders announced an agreement on federal appropriations funding that would avoid a government shutdown when current funding runs out at the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 on Sept. 30. The deal has the benefit of punting a contentious debate over federal spending levels for FY 2013 until after the November elections. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that Congress would take up a continuing resolution in September, reportedly free of riders, to fund the government through the end of March. Overall, the agreement would fund the government at $1.047 trillion for the six months beginning after Sept. 30. Politically, the move would give whichever party is in control of Congress and the White House next year the ability to set funding levels for the remainder of FY 2013. Given the closeness of the presidential election, both parties feel this works in their favor. The deal also takes an issue off the table for what could be a potentially busy and contentious lame duck session. In addition to needing to address a swath of tax cuts set to expire at year’s end, Congress has still not yet reached agreement on how to handle across-the-board sequestration cuts instituted under the Budget Control Act. If Congress does not act before January, discretionary spending programs will receive an eight percent cut in funding totaling $109 billion. SENATE: COMMITTEE HEARING REVIVES CLIMATE CHANGE DEBATE On August 1, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee convened for a hearing on climate change science. The hearing marked the first time the committee had dedicated a hearing specifically focused on the issue since 2009. In her opening statement, Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) referenced the National Academy of Sciences as well as reports from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautic Space Administration that state that humans are impacting climate change and that these changes are already having detrimental impacts on the environment including extreme weather conditions, droughts and melting glaciers. In her statement, Chairwoman Boxer also referenced a New York Times article by former climate-skeptic Professor Richard Muller who stated: “Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.” In the article’s opening sentence, Muller proclaims “Call me a converted skeptic.”...

Read More