ESA Policy News April 1: House, Senate pass FY 2016 budgets, Obama orders federal agencies to cut carbon emissions, NSF releases public access policy
Apr01

ESA Policy News April 1: House, Senate pass FY 2016 budgets, Obama orders federal agencies to cut carbon emissions, NSF releases public access policy

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  BUDGET: HOUSE AND SENATE FY 2016 BUDGET PROPOSALS ADVANCE IN CONGRESS In late March, the House and Senate Budget Committees released their respective budgets for Fiscal Year 2016 that begins Sept. 30. The House passed its FY 2016 budget (H.Con.Res. 27) March 25 by a vote of 228–199. All Democrats opposed the House budget as did 17 Republicans. The Senate budget (S.Con.Res. 11) passed its budget March 27 by a vote of 52–46, also along largely partisan lines. Sens. Rand Paul (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) joined all Democrats in voting against the Senate budget. In contrast to the president’s annual proposed budget, House and Senate budgets do not outline spending levels for specific federal agencies and programs. The budgets are nonbinding resolutions that set general polices intended to provide direction to House and Senate appropriators. Leaders of the House and Senate Budget Committees hope to reconcile their budgets by mid-April. As concurrent resolutions simply express the intent of Congress, they are not sent to the president. With Republicans in control of both chambers, the House and Senate FY 2016 budgets are fairly similar. Unlike the president’s FY 2016 proposed budget, the House and Senate FY 2016 budgets would seek to balance the budget in ten years. This deficit reduction would be achieved largely through repealing the Affordable Care Act and cuts to Medicaid, Pell grants and the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program that provides food stamps. The president’s proposal would not balance the budget in ten years, but would keep the deficit from substantially increasing. The House and Senate budgets also differ from the president’s proposal because they adhere to the annual automatic sequestration cuts for all federal discretionary spending set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112–25). Both budgets would provide defense discretionary spending with $523 billion and non-defense discretionary with $493 billion in FY 2016. Given that Congressional Democrats and the White House object to many of the policy prescriptions included in the two budgets, it is unlikely that the final FY 2016 appropriations bills will be signed into law without some concessions to Democrats on discretionary spending levels. Click here for additional information on the House budget. Click here for additional information on the Senate budget. Click here for a White House analysis comparing the congressional budgets with the president’s proposal. WHITE HOUSE: PRESIDENT ORDERS REDUCTION IN FEDERAL AGENCY EMISSIONS On March 19, President Obama signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to reduce their carbon dioxide (CO2) output by 40 percent by 2025 compared with 2008 levels. The CO2...

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ESA Policy News: July 26
Jul26

ESA Policy News: July 26

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: ENVIRONMENTAL AGENCIES SLASHED, FIRE PREVENTION GETS BOOST On July 22, House Republicans released a draft of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. The bill primarily funds environmental agencies such as the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Forest Service. The Interior and Environment appropriations bill is among the more controversial of the discretionary spending bills as the bill has jurisdiction over the funding of many Obama administration environmental regulatory initiatives that are unpopular with Congressional Republicans. House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Jim Moran (D-VA) briefly appeared at the hearing to give a statement calling the legislation “an embarrassment” and immediately left the hearing in protest. “We are going to continue to see these kinds of dramatic reductions as long as we keep trying to reduce the debt by cutting discretionary spending alone, rather than also tackling mandatory spending, which is the real driver of our debt,” warned Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID). As with all non-defense discretionary appropriations bills put forward by the House for the coming fiscal year, the bill includes drastic cuts that assume budget sequestration continues through FY 2014. For many agencies, funding is reduced sharply even when accounting for the five percent across-the-board non-defense discretionary spending cuts enforced under sequestration in part because House Republicans are seeking to lessen sequestration’s impact on defense spending. Overall, the bill provides $24.3 billion in funding for FY 2014 for the aforementioned environmental agencies. This is $5.5 billion less than what was enacted in FY 2013 and still amounts to a $4 billion cut when accounting for the FY 2013 sequestration cuts. The House bill is expected to differ substantially with the Senate, which plans to continue drafting all its spending bills under the assumption that sequester will not continue into Fiscal Year 2014.  However, budget sequestration will only end when and if Congress takes legislative action to change the law that put sequestration into effect. For additional information on the bill, click here. EPA: MCCARTHY CONFIRMED AS NEW ADMINISTRATOR The Senate on July 18, voted 59-40 to confirm Gina McCarthy as administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Republican Senators Lamar Alexander (TN), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Susan Collins (ME), Bob Corker (TN), Jeff Flake (AZ) and John McCain (AZ) voted for her confirmation. Joe Manchin (WV) was the lone Democrat to vote against McCarthy. McCarthy takes the reins from Robert Perciasepe, who has served as acting-administrator since Lisa Jackson stepped...

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ESA Policy News May 17
May17

ESA Policy News May 17

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. NSF: FORMER DIRECTORS EXPRESS CONCERN WITH DRAFT PEER REVIEW BILL On May 8, six former officials who headed the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Science Board during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations sent a letter to the leadership of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee expressing concern with the High Quality Research Act. The draft bill would require the NSF Director to provide Congress with information certifying research projects meet certain national interest requirements before they can be funded, which has been interpreted as negating NSF’s existing scientific peer-review process for funding research. “We believe that this draft legislation would replace the current merit-based system used to evaluate research and education proposals with a cumbersome and unrealistic certification process that rather than improving the quality of research would do just the opposite,” the letter states. “The history of science and technology has shown that truly basic research often yields breakthroughs – including new technologies, markets and jobs – but that it is impossible to predict which projects (and which fields) will do that.” The High Quality Research Act, proposed by House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), has yet to be introduced and there is no indication yet whether or when the committee will move on the bill. The draft legislation has already met strong opposition from scientific societies and universities as well as House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) who asserted that the bill would “undermine NSF’s core mission as a basic research agency.” View the directors’ letter here. NOAA: CARBON DIOXIDE LEVELS REACH NEW MILESTONE The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently reported that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have peaked above 400 parts per million (ppm), the first time since measurements began in 1958. According to NOAA, the global carbon dioxide average was 280 ppm in the 19th century preceding the industrial revolution and has fluctuated between 180-280 ppm over the past 800,000 years. The agency asserts that a concentration this great has not been seen in at least three million years. The news got very little reaction from key leaders on Capitol Hill, on either side of the aisle in both the House and Senate. The exceptions were Democratic leaders on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. “We know that the Earth is warming, sea ice is disappearing, the glaciers are receding, the oceans are acidifying, and sea levels are rising. We know all of this from climate...

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40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act
Oct18

40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act

by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer “Help!” 1969. Cleveland State University Library Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection. Bill Roberts Editorial Cartoon Collection. Roberts0706. By 1969, there had long been no fish left in the Cuyahoga to plead for help, according to a Time magazine article that ran that August, and commented, memorably,  “Some River! Chocolate-brown, oily, bubbling with subsurface gases, it oozes rather than flows.” ON the afternoon of June 22, 1969, the Cuyahoga River was on fire. It wasn’t the first time; the river had burned in Cleveland on 13 occasions over the previous century. This was just a little flare up, of no particular note, put out in less than half an hour by the local fire department. Nothing like the 1952 blaze that burned through three days, a bridge, and a fleet of fishing vessels, to the tune of $1.5 million. But people did notice. Time magazine noticed, and Washington noticed. Americans, seeing the costs of pollution, were mobilizing for change. The stage was set for the Clean Water Act. Though he supported the Clean Air Act and set up the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, President Nixon vetoed the Clean Water Act when it arrived on his desk two years later, complaining of its bloated $24 billion price tag and retroactive payments to state and local governments for sewer upgrades already completed. The water quality bill he sent to Congress, he wrote, would get the job done in a fiscally responsible manner. “It would have committed $6 billion in Federal funds over a three-year period, enough to continue and accelerate the momentum toward that high standard of cleanliness which all of us want in America’s waters,” he told Congress in his veto statement. “I have nailed my colors to the mast on this issue. The political winds can blow where they may. I am prepared for the possibility that my action on this bill may be overridden.” Congress did overrule him, voting the Clean Water Act into law on October 18, 1972.  But it took the Impoundment Act of 1974 and a Supreme Court ruling to get him to spend all of the money Congress appropriated for the purpose. US rivers do not run thick with oil anymore, thanks to the Clean Water Act, the EPA, and other environmental policies of the 1970s. The Clean Water Act has been very effective at cleaning up point sources of pollution to the “navigable waters” in it’s purview, sources like municipal sewers and stormdrains, stockyards, and refineries (ephemeral water bodies like seasonal rivers, playa lakes, and wetlands disconnected from a “significant nexus” with a navigable waterway are not protected,...

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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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Increase in magnitude 3+ earthquakes likely caused by oil and gas production (but not fracking)

by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer WE don’t typically think of the middle of the US as earthquake country, but small earthquakes, many just on the edge of perception, send shock waves through the prairies and southlands more than twenty times a year, on average,  and have done so since regular monitoring began circa 1970. They are becoming more common. Over the last few years, earthquakes in the magnitude 3-6 range have increased in frequency, and people are starting to notice. In 2011, 134 quakes of magnitude 3 or higher shook central North America, up from 87  in 2010 and 50 in 2009. Last week, USGS geologist Bill Ellsworth linked the increasing incidence of quakes to oil and gas production. He told the Seismological Society of America meeting in San Diego that forcing wastewater deep underground appears to be triggering earthquakes.  An abstract posted to the meeting site stated that “the seismicity rate changes described here are almost certainly manmade,” triggering a wave of news reports. Many headlines erroneously implied that hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of shale rock for natural gas production directly triggers earthquakes. Earthquakes are a known hazard of deep wastewater injection wells. Geologists and engineers discovered the complication in the 1960s, when injections of contaminated water from a big surface reservoir into a 12,000 ft deep well at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal chemical munitions plant triggered a series of over 700 earthquakes in the Denver area. Not all deep injection wells trigger earthquakes, but if they are in the vicinity of a fault, the increasing fluid pressure in the pores of the rock can relieve the friction resisting slippage (strain) between the rock layers. It accelerates the timetable on a jolting slip in the fault. The effect is accentuated if fluid is pumped in fast. It takes time for the liquid to disperse and pressure to return to equilibrium (hydrostatic pressure), and in the meantime, the dynamically heightened pore pressure opposes the weight of the rock on top, “floating” it. Surface reservoirs, flooded mines, extraction of large amounts of oil, gas or ore, and geothermal energy projects can also stimulate earthquakes. “Manmade” earthquakes, it turns out, are not a novelty at all. Fracking is in the hot seat because the method has expanded so rapidly and successfully in the last decade. The process uses a lot of water. Ecologists have pointed out potential risks to surface water quality, and the void of empirical data on impacts. Fracking forces water (mixed with proprietary additives, some of which are fairly nasty) horizontally through shale rock to open pores, releasing natural gas.  Some 25-50 percent of the fluid returns to...

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In Ecology News: Heartland leak, hydrofracking law, and conservation in pictures

By Liza Lester, ESA communications officer A dead pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) on a back road of the Thunder Basin National Grassland in northeastern Wyoming. Coal, oil and gas development in the basin have brought more vehicles, and more conflicts with wildlife. Rob Mutch, 2004. FRESH water scientist (and MacArthur Fellow and member of the National Academy of Sciences) Peter Gleick was all over conservation news last week with the shocking revelation that he impersonated a board member of the libertarian Heartland Institute in a ruse to extract private documents concerning climate change strategy. The documents had been in the news for several days after arriving anonymously in the inboxes of environmental reporters and bloggers, with Heartland stating that the documents were fake and obtained fraudulently, and threatening bloggers with legal action for publicly posting them in connection with Heartland. The documents revealed the identities of anonymous Heartland supporters and included a memo outlining plans to develop materials for teaching climate change skepticism in schools. Gleick confessed in his Huffington Post column on Monday night, writing that he sought to confirm the provenance of documents that he had received anonymously. He asserted that he had not altered any of the documents that he got from Heartland. But Megan McArdle of The Atlantic has echoed bloggers’ suspicions about the credibility of the memo. Gleick has taken a leave of absence from the presidency of the Pacific Institute, which he co-founded in 1987, and resigned from the American Geophysical Union’s task force on science ethics. Institutions are hurrying to dissociate themselves from him, and the damage is widespread. Gleick has been a major figure in science policy. Public trust in scientists and scientific institutions requires unblemished reputations, conservation columnist Andy Revkin pointed out, in grief and in anger, in his New York Times Dot Earth blog last week. Talk show hosts and anonymous hackers can pull shenanigans without damage to their message, but scientists cannot, as was amply demonstrated by the 2009 theft of private emails and files from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. Joyce, Christopher. “Climate Scientist Admits To Lying, Leaking Documents.” All Things Considered from NPR, 22 February 2012. McArdle, Megan. “The Most Surprising Heartland Fact: Not the Leaks, but the Leaker.” The Atlantic. 22 Feb 2012, 11:58 AM ET Revkin, Andrew. “More on Peter Gleick and the Heartland Files”. NYTimes Dot Earth blog, 22 February 2012, 12:42 pm. Gleick, Peter. “The Origin of the Heartland Documents.” The Huffington Post. Posted: 02/20/2012 7:45 pm. Justice Phillip R. Rumsey of the New York State Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that state municipalities may ban oil and gas...

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State of the Science, 2012

Thoughts and twitterings around the ecosphere on President Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress, Tuesday, January 24th, 2012. In the Wednesday morning quarterbacking that followed this year’s State of the Union, pundits aired the perennial complaint that the President’s speech ran too long, heavily-laden with a Clinton-style laundry list of programs. But citizens like to hear their favorite programs mentioned, and we in the science community are no exception! Technical education and funding for basic research briefly made the list, but the majority of the attention went to energy. The President pitched “clean” energy from wind, sun and reduced waste, alongside a drill-baby-drill enthusiasm for oil and gas exploration, while sidestepping any awkward mention of nuclear energy. Here’s a replay of exciting moments in #SOTU, interleaved with a sampling of comments tweeted out of the eco-science bubbleverse. Enter POTUS, with entourage. Shaking hands as he moves down the aisle, he sweeps down upon Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz) for a rare moment of bipartisan good-feeling. Giffords will formally resign on the following day to continue her recovery from the terrible head wound she suffered in a shooting last year. Share “ Obama and Giffords hug and rock back and forth. WHAT, I HAVE SOMETHING IN MY EYE. #SOTU   daveweigel Wed, Jan 25 2012 20:11:41 ReplyRetweet Share “ Boehner invites pipeline pals to #SOTU: is.gd/VlmGQk   David Roberts Wed, Jan 25 2012 11:04:28 ReplyRetweet “As the camera pans around the Capitol chamber for President Obama’s State of the Union address, see if you can spot the representatives from the state of Oil: four avid supporters of the Keystone XL Pipeline who will attend the speech as the guests of House Speaker John Boehner.” Scott Rosenberg, reporting in real-time on Gristlist. Share Congress leaps before it looks at Keystone pipeline permit review efforts | EcoTone This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst H.R. 3630, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2011,… Esa [*President Obama didn’t actually kill the Keystone XL Pipeline; he rejected a bid from TransCanada. The project is on hold pending a State Department environmental review. Tune in to EcoTone’s Policy News this Friday to learn more.] POTUS: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans: Share “ Climate is only mentioned as something that Congress can’t seem to agree on. #SOTU   Kate Sheppard Wed, Jan 25 2012 20:11:41 ReplyRetweet [Kate Sheppard is clearly reading ahead in the script, because POTUS is still talking about courage, selflessness and teamwork, and coming together to get the job done, like the military (and unlike some other...

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