ESA Policy News: March 9

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS ADMINISTRATION PRIORITIES The House Science, Space and Technology committee recently convened hearings that examined the science and research investments outlined in President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget proposal. During a Feb. 17 hearing that focused on research and development, there was a consensus among committee leaders on certain investments while views differed sharply on where the administration’s priorities should lie. “I continue to believe that while it is true that prudent investments in science and technology, including STEM education, will almost certainly yield future economic gains and help create new jobs of the future, it is also true that these gains can be hindered by poor decision-making,” said Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX). Hall expressed his concern for increases in programs he views as “duplicative and wasteful” as well as increases for climate change related research. Hall also expressed concern for the National Aeronautical and Space Administration’s (NASA) request, which would cut funding by $59 million. Committee Democrats were overall supportive of the budget, mindful of the current political climate that has members of both parties urging some manner of fiscal restraint. “Investments in research and development and STEM education are critical to fostering innovation and maintaining our nation’s competitive edge.  But these are also fiscally challenging times,” stated Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “We will have some concerns and disagreements, but let me be clear.  This is a good budget for research, innovation, and education under the circumstances,” she added. With regard to the administration’s budget request for the National Science Foundation (NSF), austerity concerns from the majority were somewhat more tepid. “While a nearly five percent increase for NSF in FY 13 shows stronger fiscal constraint than the FY 2012 request at 13 percent, I remain concerned that our federal agencies still are not doing enough to encourage austerity and properly prioritize scarcer federal funds,” stated Research and Education Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL). “NSF has a long and proven track record, one in which we are all proud, and I have every reason to believe NSF will continue this good work with whatever budgets are forthcoming from Congress,” he concluded. View the R&D hearing here. View the NSF hearing here. BUDGET: EPA ADMINISTRATOR CRITICIZED OVER REGULATORY EFFORTS The week of February 27 brought Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson to Capitol Hill for congressional hearings concerning the agency’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget request. Funding for EPA under the president’s budget request would be cut by one percent for a total of...

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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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In ecology news– land-walking octopi, turtle locomotion, Pebble Mine science, fracking, Neanderthal love

This post contributed by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer An unusual crowd converged at the recent meeting of the Arctic Division of the American Association for Science in Dillingham, AK. Over 150 locals joined the 75 meeting attendants to discuss technical and scientific questions about development of a very large copper mine in the area. The fight over the proposed Pebble Mine has been under way for much of the last decade, with passionate verbal artillery flying from both sides. John Shively, CEO of the mining conglomerate Pebble Limited Partnership, was on hand to discuss the interests of the mine. Bryce Edgmon, who represents the region in the Alaska State Legislature, described the pro-mining atmosphere in Juneau. With oil revenues declining, state government is looking to mining to fill the gap. The Pebble claim sits at the headwaters of two major salmon spawning rivers, the Nushagak and Kvichak, which flow into Bristol Bay, the largest and most profitable salmon fishery in the world. The mining company promises unprecedented technological feats to secure mine tailings and contain dangerous, contaminated water behind dams up to 740 feet high. But members of the half-billion a year salmon industry are worried. The sport fishing industry, environmental organizations, and Alaska Native groups reliant on subsistence fishing have joined them in resisting exploitation of the deposit. Pebble has the potential to become one of the largest mines in the world, holding an estimated 80.6 billion pounds of copper and smaller amounts of gold, molybdenum, silver, rhenium and palladium worth 300-500 billion dollars. The ore also contains sulfides, which will be exposed to the elements by the digging and crushing of the mining process. Without stringent mitigation, sulfuric acid drainage from the mine will profoundly change the chemistry of the watershed. Pebble Partnership is cagy about its exact plans for the site, but it is likely that the open pit mine would cover two square miles and would require an enormous amount of power from a source yet to be identified. During the public forum, CEO Shively offered the Fraser River near Vancouver, British Columbia, as evidence that salmon and mining can coexist. Not everyone agrees. The Fraser had an unexplained record run of 36 million fish in 2010 after a decade of decline (2009’s run was below 2 million). The river hosts two copper mines, including Highland Valley, the largest copper mine in Canada, in operation since the 1970s. Scientists say that only 5 grams of copper (about 2 pennies) in 1 million liters of water (around the volume of public swimming pool)  is enough to screw up salmon’s sense of smell and cause them...

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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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Weighing potential costs of hydraulic fracturing

The recent expansion of hydraulic fracturing across the nation has set off a debate among oil and gas industry officials and conservationists and environmental scientists. During a recent House Space, Science and Technology Committee hearing, Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) outlined the points of contention: “You have one group that’s got long experience with hydraulic fracturing [contending] it’s very safe” and “you have another group that’s new to it and is having to analyze the potential of risks associated with it.” Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking” involves using high-pressure injections of water, chemicals and sand to open cracks that release gas trapped in rock deep underground. Advances in fracturing technology have led to a dramatic surge in gas extraction nationwide. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that the United States has 2,119 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas, about 60 percent of which is “unconventional gas” stored in low permeability formations such as shale, coalbeds, and tight sands. In 2010, production of this “shale gas” doubled to 137.8 billion cubic meters, up from 63 billion cubic meters in 2009. A Pennsylvania State University study stated that deployment in 2008 of hydraulic fracturing technology in the Marcellus Shale region generated more than $240 million in state and local taxes for Pennsylvania, 29,000 jobs and $2.3 billion in total economic development. The oil and gas industry falls into the camp of those who contend that decades of practice show that hydraulic fracturing is important economically and poses no discernable threat to public health or the environment. In the other camp are conservationists and some researchers who say that fracking could pose a risk to drinking water supplies. During the recent congressional hearing, the committee’s majority Republican members repeatedly asserted that the Environmental Protection Agency’s $12 million study on the safety of hydraulic fracturing is wasting taxpayer dollars. “The study intends to identify the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water without ever taking into consideration the probability that such an effect may occur,” said Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX). A key part of understanding different views of the potential risks of “fracking” is how it is defined. Many in the oil and gas industry use the term to describe not the drilling process but, more specifically, the completion phase where chemical-laced water and sand are blasted underground to break apart rock and release gas. Companies assert it is a safe practice since so far there has been no indication of hydraulic fracturing fluid rising above the mile or so of rock layers to reach drinking water aquifers. Others outside the industry typically view fracturing and drilling as interconnected. Consequently,...

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