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...

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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...

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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...

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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.”...

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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: June 8

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE PASSES ENERGY AND WATER SPENDING BILL  On June 6, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5325, the Energy and Water Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. The bill funds the Department of Energy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Interior water programs for the fiscal year (FY) 2013. It passed by a vote of 255-165 with 48 Democrats joining all but 29 Republicans in supporting the bill. In total, the bill funds the aforementioned federal agencies at $32 billion, an overall increase of $87.5 million in spending over the current fiscal year. The Obama administration, however, has pledged to veto the bill as it is part of an overall Republican budget effort to decrease spending by $19 billion for FY 2013. The administration reasons that the increase in this bill as well as a recently approved veterans’ appropriations bill, will lead to funding cuts for other appropriations bills that have not yet been taken up, which include Interior, Commerce Justice and Science, Transportation Housing and Urban Development and Labor Health Human Services and Education. For information on specific programmatic funding levels in the House and Senate Energy and Water bills, see the May 4 edition of ESA Policy News. For additional details on the House-passed bill, click here. View the Obama administration statement of administration policy on H.R. 5325 here. AIR POLLUTION: SUBCOMMITTEE EXAMINES EPA’S COST BENEFIT ANALYSIS TECHNIQUES On June 6, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened for a hearing entitled “EPA’s Impact on Jobs and Energy Affordability: Understanding the Real Costs and Benefits of Environmental Regulations.” The hearing sought to weigh the costs and benefits of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. In his opening statement, Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) questioned EPA’s methods. “Our witnesses today will describe a pattern of scientific and economic practices at EPA and OIRA that inflates health-based regulatory benefits, overlooks actual economic, energy affordability, and jobs impacts, and fails to reflect uncertainty in communicating risks.  All too often, major EPA regulations have been underpinned by secret science, hidden data, and black box models,” he stated. “More and more of these regulations are almost exclusively justified on the basis of incidental “co-benefits” from particulate matter reductions, raising the specter of double-counting, and private benefits on the assumption that all regulated entities are acting irrationally and against their economic self-interest and that EPA knows what is best for their bottom line.” Democrats criticized the format of the hearing, in which...

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Fed announces new summer job program for youth

 As part of a federal government initiative to create summer jobs for youth, the Department of Interior (DOI) recently announced a new competitive grant initiative to hire 20,000 young adults, ages 15-25 for summer jobs on public lands. In an attempt to expand work opportunities for young people, federal agencies have joined together in implementing Summer+, a program that calls for businesses, non-profits and government to work towards providing employment opportunities for low-income and disconnected youth in the summer of 2012. The new environmental initiative is coordinated primarily through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) with support from the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of Agriculture and the Council for Environmental Quality. It would seek to expand youth employment opportunities in national forests, national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands. The competitive grant is funded at a total of $1.4 million from NFWF, federal agencies and private partners through the America’s Great Outdoors: Developing the Next Generation of Conservationists initiative. It currently includes 17 projects across 15 states. Projects involve mentorship, plant and animal invasive species management, federally protected species monitoring and various research and ecosystem restoration activities. The Summer+ proposal was first announced in January and was originally included as a component of President Obama’s American Jobs Act. View the official announcement here or click here for information on how to get involved. Photo Credit: Council of Environmental...

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ESA Policy News: March 23

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. HOUSE: FY 2013 BUDGET PROPOSAL CUTS INNOVATION, FEDERAL WORKFORCE On March 20, House Republicans unveiled their proposed budget resolution for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. Sponsored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), the budget bill sets an overall discretionary spending limit of $1.028 trillion in FY 2013, $19 billion below the spending caps established in the Budget Control Act. Among its provisions, the House budget resolution includes significant cuts to Department of Energy programs while expanding oil and gas drilling. It also supports the sale of 3.3 million acres of federal lands identified in a 1997 Department of Interior report that were deemed suitable for sale or exchange to benefit the Everglades restoration effort in Florida. The White House released a statement asserting that the Ryan plan would cut clean energy programs by 19 percent and slash $100 billion from science, space and technology programs over the next decade. The budget also proposes to cut the federal government workforce by 10 percent, providing $368 billion in savings. Under the proposal, federal employee retirement contributions would also rise from 0.8 percent to 6.3 percent. The bill would also extend the current federal pay freeze to 2015. View the full FY 2013 House budget proposal here. The White House response to the House budget proposal can be viewed here. SENATE: COMMITTEE REVIEWS EPA MERCURY STANDARDS FOR POWER PLANTS On March 20, the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety met for a hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s new mercury rules for power plants. EPA finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), the first national standards to protect American families from power plant emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollution like arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium, and cyanide on Dec. 16, 2011. “I believe it’s possible to have a clean environment and a strong economy. I think it’s a false choice to say that we have to have one or the other; we can have both. That is especially true for cleaning up our air pollution,” declared Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) in his opening statement. “In fact, as the EPA has implemented the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, our nation’s air has gotten cleaner, while electricity rates have stayed constant and our economy has grown by 60 percent. For every dollar we spend cleaning the air, we’ve seen $30 returned in reduced health care costs, better workplace productivity, and lives saved.” Subcommittee Ranking Member James...

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