ESA Policy News: January 4

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 LEGISLATION TO DELAY SEQUESTRATION, EXTEND TAX CUTS After an extended period of partisan gridlock, Congress on Jan. 1 passed legislation to address “the fiscal cliff.” The term applied largely to automatic cuts to federal agencies that were set to kick in this month as well as a number of tax cuts and credits that were to expire Dec. 31, 2012. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 punts action on the sequestration (the automatic cuts to military and non-defense discretionary spending) by two months into March. This is paid for with $24 billion in offsets, half by lowering caps on overall defense and non-defense discretionary spending by $12 billion for the next two years and the other half by revenue changes to Individual Retirement Accounts that raise $12 billion in revenue. The bill makes permanent the Bush tax cuts for individuals making under $400,000 and families making under $450,000. It also permanently fixes the Alternative Minimum Tax by indexing for inflation, delays Medicare physician payment cuts for a year and extends unemployment benefits for a year in addition to extending other tax provisions. A wind energy tax credit is also extended for a full year under the agreement. The new law also includes a nine-month extension of the farm bill for several key provisions, including one to prevent milk prices from rising substantially. However, the law lacks an extension of mandatory funding for energy programs, its conservation title or research into organic crops, according to Senate leaders. While the fiscal deal resolves much of the immediate economic uncertainty related to taxes, the federal spending aspects of the fiscal cliff have yet to be resolved. Important Upcoming deadlines: Sequestration – Across-the-board cuts of eight percent to all federal agencies have been delayed to now go into effect on March 1 unless Congress can come up with a plan to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion. Debt ceiling – A deal on budget sequestration may now have to include provisions to address the federal debt limit. The existing spending limit was reached Dec. 31, but the US Department of Treasury has enacted “extraordinary measures” that will extend the federal government’s borrowing authority until roughly late February or early March, basically around the same time that legislation to address sequestration would be needed. Congressional Republicans are vowing to ensure that any increase in the debt limit be tied to significant cuts in federal spending. FY 2013 appropriations – Fiscal Year 2013 appropriations must also be addressed. The Continuing...

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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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ESA Policy News: September 9

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. AIR POLLUTION: OBAMA ADMINISTRATION POSTPONES OZONE STANDARDS On Sept. 2, the White House requested the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) postpone plans to strengthen the George W. Bush administration’s 2008 ozone standard. In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator Cass Sunstein cites a need to “minimize regulatory costs and burdens” during an “economically challenging time.” Sunstein references Executive Order 13563, which states that the administration’s regulatory policy “must promote predictability and reduce uncertainty.” The letter notes that the Clean Air Act sets a five year cycle to review national ambient air quality standards, effectively allowing EPA to hold off on revisiting the standards until 2013. The EPA in January 2010 had proposed to set the national health-based standard for ozone between 60 and 70 parts per billion (ppb) when averaged over an eight-hour period. The Bush administration had tightened the ozone limits from 84 ppb to 75 ppb in 2008, despite scientific advisers’ recommendations to issue a standard between 60 and 70 ppb. The move earned President Obama rare praise from Republican leaders in Congress. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) released a statement that referred to the ozone standard as “the most expensive environmental regulation ever imposed” and described the president’s move as “a step in the right direction.” EPA Administrator Jackson released a statement affirming that the standard would be revisited at some point and cited the Obama administration’s efforts to address air pollution “as some of the most important standards and safeguards for clean air in U.S. history,” citing reductions in sulfur and nitrogen dioxide, mercury pollutions from power plants and carbon pollution standards for cars and trucks. To view the White House letter, see: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/ozone_national_ambient_air_quality_standards_letter.pdf To review Executive Order 13563, see: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/memoranda/2011/m11-10.pdf To view the EPA statement, see: http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/1e5ab1124055f3b28525781f0042ed40/e41fbc47e7ff4f13852578ff00552bf8!OpenDocument APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE COMMITTEE APPROVES FY 2012 SPENDING BILLS During the week of Sept. 7, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its energy and water development and agricultural appropriations bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. The bills must be voted on by the full Senate and agreed to by the House before they can be signed by the president. Energy and Water The FY 2012 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act includes $31.625 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Energy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and water programs within the Department of Interior, $57 million below the FY 2011 level, but still $1 billion more than the House-bill (H.R. 2354), passed in July. It’s also...

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ESA Policy News: March 11

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. HOUSE: COMMITTEE MEMBERS, SCIENTISTS DISCUSS CLIMATE CHANGE, EPA REGS The House Energy and Commerce Energy and Power Subcommittee met Tuesday, March 8, 2011 to examine climate science. The hearing served as a precursor to the mark-up of H.R. 910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act, a bill to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) asserted that the overall issue is not whether or not one considers climate change to be a serious problem, but whether EPA’s regulatory efforts present a wise solution. Whitfield maintained that the Upton bill was not a response to climate science, but a way to eliminate an unsound strategy for curbing greenhouse gas emissions. “One need not be a skeptic of global warming to be a skeptic of EPA’s regulatory agenda,” he said. Full committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) was quick to note that the hearing focus on climate science was at the insistence of committee Democrats. Waxman asserted the Upton bill would remove the administration’s main tools to address one of the most critical problems facing the world today. “If my doctor told me I had cancer, I wouldn’t scour the country to find someone to tell me that I don’t need to worry about it,” Waxman said. Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush (D-IL) said that 95 percent of scientists and scientific organizations worldwide have reached a consensus that man-made greenhouse gases are substantially contributing to climate change. Rush highlighted what he viewed as the many benefits of mitigating climate change, including “energy independence, sustainability, cleaner air and water, and a healthier populace.” While the witnesses included several scientists who supported the consensus view that man-made greenhouse gas emissions are a central driver of the adverse impacts of climate change, two of the witnesses, Dr. John Cristy of the University of Alabama and Dr. Donald Roberts of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, were ardent climate skeptics. APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE REJECTS PARTISAN LONG-TERM SPENDING PROPOSALS On March 9, the Senate rejected two continuing resolutions (CRs) to fund the government through Sept. 30, 2011, the end of the current fiscal year. H.R. 1, the House-passed CR, which would cut $61 billion in funding from FY 2010, failed by a vote of 44-56 with no support from Democrats. Additionally, three members of the Senate Tea Party Caucus voted against the bill: Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT). Senate Democrats put forward an amendment in the nature of a substitute...

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EPA leaders talk water pollution at PBS documentary preview

PBS gave a sneak preview of its Frontline documentary, Poisoned Waters, today at the National Press Club. The featured speakers included EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and the founding EPA Administrator, Bill Ruckelshaus, who served under Richard Nixon. Both agreed that to really clean up our nation’s waterways, we need one thing: new legislation. “There is murkiness about the jurisdiction that states have within the clean water act,” said Jackson, who — see below — was filled with puns today. “Folks approach a particular wetland or stream and say ‘Do I need a permit?’ There is anything but clarity on when water means water.” In the documentary, journalist and Pulitzer prize winner Hendrick Smith explores the science and politics of the massive amounts of polluted runoff from industry, agriculture and suburban development that run into America’s waterways each year. At the sneak preview, Jackson spoke about agricultural runoff, which is one of the country’s biggest hurdles toward clean water. The documentary shows vivid images of overcrowded hog farms, chicken farms and cow ranches along riverways, pointing out that a major inland water polluter is animal manure. “As we all know, manure happens,” joked Jackson.  But she and Ruckelshaus both noted that a major obstacle toward passing legislation or reforming the Clean Water Act is to wake people up to the practices that contribute to damaged waterways — and to the idea that they are still, in fact, polluted. Ruckelshaus said that although 97 percent of people polled in the Puget Sound area feel a responsibility to keep it clean, more than 70 percent of them also think its waters are in excellent health. (They’re not.)  He stressed that the country needs rules to guide the conduct of individuals and companies in the way they interact with environment. Eventually, he thinks, the culture of quick-fixes needs to give way to real stewardship. “If we’re going to protect the environment for ourselves and all the living things we share the world with, we have to stay everlastingly at it,” he said. View a teaser for the documentary, which will air on PBS April 21 (check local listings),...

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