ESA Policy News May 16, 2014: national climate assessment, water resources bill agreement, drought initiatives
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ESA Policy News May 16, 2014: national climate assessment, water resources bill agreement, drought initiatives

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. WHITE HOUSE: ASSESSMENT OUTLINES NATIONWIDE IMPACTS OF HUMAN-INDUCED CLIMATE CHANGE On May 6th, the US Global Change Research Program released the 3rd National Climate Assessment that summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future. The NCA report concludes that the effects of human-induced climate change, once thought to be a distant problem, are happening now and causing significant ecosystem changes with numerous consequences for the natural world and human society. Precipitation patterns are changing, sea level is rising, the oceans are becoming more acidic, and the frequency and intensity of some weather events are increasing. “As an ecologist, you can’t escape the effects of climate change on natural resources. We’re observing climate impacts in nearly all natural and managed ecosystems,” said Ecological Society of America President Jill Baron in an ESA press release. “In order to protect biodiversity and the natural resources that we rely on, we need to be developing policy now. The National Climate Assessment provides guidelines for how to respond and adapt.” Baron was also a contributor to the NCA. Reaction on Capitol Hill was typically partisan. An array of press statements from Republicans and Democratic leaders on related committees highlights how far Congress has to go in reaching any consensus on legislation to address climate change. “The new National Climate Assessment report confirms with the greatest level of detail yet that climate change in the United States is all around us and we are already feeling the impacts,” stated Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA). “We must act in a comprehensive way to reduce carbon pollution for the sake of public health, our nation’s economy, and the well-being of future generations.” “This is a political document intended to frighten Americans into believing that any abnormal weather we experience is the direct result of human CO2 emissions,” asserted House Science, Space and Technology (SST) Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “In reality, there is little science to support any connection between climate change and more frequent or extreme storms.  It’s disappointing that the Obama administration feels compelled to stretch the truth in order to drum up support for more costly and unnecessary regulations and subsidies.” View the National Climate Assessment by clicking this link. A White House Fact sheet on climate change by region is available by clicking this link. View the full ESA press release by clicking this link. WATER: HOUSE, SENATE REACH AGREEMENT ON ARMY CORPS REAUTHORIZATION BILL This week, House and Senate leaders who sit on committees with jurisdiction...

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Putting Hurricane Sandy into context

By Nadine Lymn, ESA director of public affairs As the reports began coming in about the approaching “superstorm” known as Hurricane Sandy, the chatter about how and if it was connected to global warming was not far behind.  Indeed, it seemed that in the days following its devastating coastal landfall, attention on climate change was revived. In his Bloomberg view editorial, the New York mayor wrote that “Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be — given this week’s devastation — should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.” On Discovery News, Larry O’Hanlon didn’t mince words: “Did climate change cause Hurricane Sandy? Absolutely not. Did climate change have anything to do with Sandy being as bad as it was? Absolutely so, say scientist bloggers whose bread and butter is understanding the physics of our atmosphere.” Over at Climate Central, Andrew Freedman wrote an illuminating piece on Hurricane Sandy noting that “If this were a criminal case, detectives would be treating global warming as a likely accomplice in the crime.” In his article, Freedman noted that the most damaging aspect of the hurricane was the storm surge. A US Geological Survey study published in Nature Climate Change this past summer focused on the risks that rising sea levels pose to the US Atlantic coast, including major cities such as New York, Boston, Baltimore and Norfolk.  The study found that sea level is rising up to four times faster than the global average along the 1,000 kilometer (620 mile) coastline stretching from north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina up to north of Boston, Massachusetts.  The USGS researchers found that since about 1990, sea level along this so-called “hotspot” of coastline has risen by two to 3.7 millimeters per year, compared with a global rise of between 0.6 and one millimeter per year over the same time period. In a USGS press release about the study, Asbury (Abby) Sallenger, USGS oceanographer and project lead said that “Ongoing accelerated sea level rise in the hotspot will make coastal cities and surrounding areas increasingly vulnerable to flooding by adding to the height that storm surge and breaking waves reach on the coast.” The NASA images below show the shoreline of Mantoloking, New Jersey before and after Hurricane Sandy.             A 2009 US Global Change Research report included a focus on the nation’s coastal areas and addressed both sea level rise as well as warming sea surface temperatures and...

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ESA Policy News: July 27

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. SENATE: COMMITTEE REVIEWS CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS ON NATIVE AMERICANS On July 19, the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs held an oversight hearing on the impact climate change is having on Native Americans and tribal lands as well as what resources are available to adapt to changes in the environment. Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-HI) spoke of the importance of “Malama Aina,” which is Hawaiian for “caring for the land.” Chairman Akaka said that Native Americans hold the oldest record for being environmental stewards of the nation as it has been a foundation of their culture and world view “over thousands of years” and “hundreds of generations.”In his opening statement, he noted that “while environmental changes are widespread, studies indicate that native communities are disproportionately impacted because they depend on nature for traditional foods, sacred sites and to practice ceremonies that pass on cultural values to future generations.” Most of the witness testimony focused on the impacts climate change is having on their specific communities. Chief Mike Williams of the Yupiit Nation noted that 86 percent of indigenous Alaskan villages are threatened by flooding and erosion due to warming temperatures. Malia Akutagawa, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Hawaii – Manoa said that climate change has reduced the number of good fishing days for Native Hawaiians, led to a 15 percent decline in rainfall, drying of forests, crop loss, beach erosion from sea level rise, increased destruction from wildfires, and increased surface air temperature. She also noted that climate change has affected plant flowering and animal migration cycles. Akutagawa called for federal assistance for increasing Hawaiian food security, family farms and coastal zone management programs. There was a general consensus from the witnesses representing indigenous communities that the federal government needs to increase or improve consultation with tribal leaders. View the full hearing here. HOUSE: COMMITTEE REVIEWS FEDERAL DROUGHT MONITORING EFFORTS On July 25, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing to review the status of federal drought forecasting efforts. The hearing comes as the existing authorization for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) is due to expire this year. In his opening statement, Chairman Hall (R-TX) sought to keep the focus on drought mitigation efforts and steer clear of climate change discussions. “Debating the causes of drought is not in front of us today,” he said. “The real question is:  What can be done to provide better and timelier information to help enable federal, state...

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ESA Policy News: December 9

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. CONGRESS: ENVIRONMENTAL RIDERS LOOM FOR MUST-PASS MEASURES Before the first session of the 112th Congress adjourns at the end of next week (or weekend), it will take up a short, but important list of measures to keep the government funded and extend the existing payroll tax cut. Each of these bills could potentially include environmental policy riders to overturn or scale back Obama administration efforts. Congressional Republican leaders appear set on taking up a comprehensive measure that ties a year-long extension of President Obama’s payroll tax cut to the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project. Earlier this fall, the Obama administration announced it would postpone review of the pipeline project until after 2012 and the president has personally stated he would veto an effort to politicize the payroll tax extension. However, some Members have voiced concern that the president may end up taking back that statement, particularly as the bill also includes an extension of unemployment insurance. Entitled the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2011, the 396-page measure is sponsored by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI). Congressional leaders also have to deal with the remaining appropriations measures, which must be acted on by the end of next week to maintain government funding of several agencies. The House Interior Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2012 is a virtual Christmas tree “ornamented” with policy riders to restrict various Department of Interior and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. Provisions incorporated into the House measure include efforts to restrict EPA’s cross-state air pollution rule, curbs on toxic emissions from power plants, industrial boiler regulations, a proposed change in the definition of “navigable waters” under the Clean Water Act, Interior’s withdrawal of acreage surrounding the Grand Canyon from uranium mining and efforts to restrict mountain-top removal mining. Senior Congressional Democrats have already conceded they may need to relent on a few environmental riders in order to pass a bill. Those concerned about the extension of the Keystone XL pipeline or any of the aforementioned environmental policy riders are encouraged to contact their Members and Senators. For additional information on the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, click here. To contact your Member of Congress, click here. To contact your Senator, click here. ENDANGERED SPECIES: COMMITTEE EXAMINES LITIGATION, EFFICACY SURROUNDING E.S.A. On Dec. 6, the House Natural Resources Committee convened for a hearing examining the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act. Committee Republican majority members took the opportunity to call for reform of the legislation....

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Learning the lingo of science communication that resonates

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst Many political observers would liken the current climate on Capitol Hill to a virtual total breakdown of civil communication where differing sides have become increasingly entrenched in their own ideological philosophies, either unwilling or incapable of meeting in the middle. The latest calamity concerning the failure of the so-called “supercommittee” to “go big” and come up with comprehensive deficit reduction legislation further reinforces this perception. Past major budget agreements in modern history, specifically the 1990, 1993 and 1997 balanced budget agreements collectively included a mix of spending, entitlement cuts and revenue increases. Two of the three agreements were passed during a time when the White House and Congress were controlled by separate parties. The failure of current political leaders to come to agreement on significant revenue and entitlement reforms, which could reduce the nation’s debt by trillions of dollars, makes it all the more likely discretionary spending, including federal investments in science, will be significantly diminished in coming years. The current gridlock can partially be attributed to an unwillingness by opposing sides to understand the perspective of their colleagues on the other side of the aisle, a failure to adhere to the concept of “meet me halfway.” This lack of comprehending or acknowledging the virtues or commonalities within the arguments made by the opposing side becomes the main reason each of the two parties are increasingly not talking to one another, but talking past one another in negotiations and legislative debates. The talking-past-one-another-syndrome is also a failing that scientists unaware of or inexperienced in effective communication practices can easily fall prey to. Consequently, the art of effective communication is one that scientists need to master if they hope to garner any success in advancing (or preserving) policies that are important to them. Hence, if scientists are to affect change in policy, they need to learn to speak the language of the entity they are talking to, inform through the use of concepts or ideas of mutual importance or interest. The Aldo Leopold Leadership Program (ALLP) intends to improve environmental scientists’ ability to communicate effectively and persuasively beyond the world of academia, with a specific focus on the public policy realm. The program was created in 1998 by Jane Lubchenco, who now heads the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, Hal Mooney and Paul Risser, all former presidents of the Ecological Society of America. In the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, Elena Bennett, Assistant Professor for the Department of Natural Resource Sciences and McGill School of Environment at McGill University in Montreal, Canada discusses her experiences with the...

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Floodplains: A cost-effective complement to flood management

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst On November 2, the Ecological Society of America sponsored a congressional briefing entitled “Using Science to Improve Flood Management.” Featured speakers were Emily Stanley (University of Wisconsin, Madison, Center for Limnology) and Jeff Opperman (Senior Freshwater Scientist, The Nature Conservancy, Ohio Field Office).  The briefing drew 40 attendees, including congressional staff and representatives of federal agencies, NGOs and private organizations. The speakers highlighted the multiple benefits—both ecological and economical—of increased investment in floodplains and their role in lessening the severity of floods. Stanley’s presentation touched on the many benefits floodplains have on flood attenuation, water quality, fish production, agriculture, aquaculture, groundwater recharge and maintaining ecosystem biodiversity. A striking visual showed that fish caught in a floodplain were remarkably larger than those of the same age, but from the main river channel. Stanley’s presentation also illuminated the potential cost savings and increased efficiency that would incur through more reliance on floodplains than on aging infrastructure, such as levees. Her presentation noted that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is estimating $750 million to $1.3 billion in damage to flood control structures alone for the Missouri River after the 2011 flooding, in addition to its annual operation/maintenance cost of $130 million. In his presentation, Opperman highlighted the detriments of flood control efforts that focus primarily on increasing infrastructural investment, the ‘levees only’ approach. He noted that despite massive investments in flood control infrastructure, flood-related damages continue to rise. He also referenced the Yolo Bypass in Sacramento, California as a prime example of an effective working floodplain. Opperman highlighted improvements in flood management along the Mississippi River since the flood of 1927. He contrasted the failed 1927 ‘levees only’ approach that managed the river in fragments with current efforts that manage the river as an entire system, relying more on the river’s floodplains natural ability to convey and store floodwater. While the death toll from the 1927 flood was at least in the  hundreds, and potentially thousands,, the 2011 Mississippi flood incurred no human deaths;  no land flooded that was not intended to be flooded. The Army Corps of Engineers’ post-1927 approach in managing the Mississippi River as a system is embodied in the formation of the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project. The project coordinates Corps activities, such as levee and infrastructure construction and maintenance with management of “floodways,” areas of historic floodplain that can be reconnected to the river during high flood events, relieving pressure on levees. Opperman contends this management technique proved critical in 2011 and likely provided significant cost savings for communities along the Mississippi. According to the Federal Emergency...

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