ESA Policy News July 1: White House voices concern with Senate CJS funding bill, Supreme Court rebuffs air pollution rule, ESA commends pope for climate emphasis
Jul01

ESA Policy News July 1: White House voices concern with Senate CJS funding bill, Supreme Court rebuffs air pollution rule, ESA commends pope for climate emphasis

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  APPROPRIATIONS: WHITE HOUSE VOICES CONCERN WITH SENATE CJS BILL On June 24, the White House Office of Management and Budget submitted a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee expressing concern with the Senate Commerce Justice and Science Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. Like official Statements of Administration Policy, the letters outline its position on the bills. Unlike the Statements of Administration Policy, the letters do not specify whether the president would veto the bill. Areas of concern cited in the letter include significant funding decreases in the FY 2016 budgets for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as compared to the president’s FY 2016 budget request. For NSF, the letter notes that the bill “would lead to about 700 fewer research grants, affecting about 9,100 researchers, technicians, and students.” The disparities in funding levels exist because Congressional Republicans have sought to adhere to sequestration, the automatic across-the-board cuts to all discretionary spending included in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25), while the administration has not. The sequestration cuts can be avoided if Congress passes a deficit reduction measure. Alternatively, Congress would have to pass a new law to nullify the automatic spending cuts, unlikely with the House and Senate under Republican control. The president’s FY 2016 budget would offset sequestration by implementing targeted discretionary spending cuts and revenue increases through tax reform. Click here to view the White House letter on the Senate FY 2016 CJS bill. EPA: SUPREME COURT OVERTURNS AIR POLLUTION RULE On June 29, the US Supreme Court struck down the Obama administration’s Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS) rule for coal-fired power plants. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should have considered compliance costs before deciding to move forward with the air pollution rule. The Supreme Court ruling effectively reverses the ruling of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which concluded the EPA rule was within its powers under the Clean Air Act. The DC Circuit Court must now decide whether to instruct EPA to carry out additional analyses or strike down the rule altogether. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia stated “EPA must consider cost — including cost of compliance — before deciding whether regulation is appropriate and necessary. It will be up to the Agency to decide (as always, within the limits of reasonable interpretation) how to account for cost.”...

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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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ESA Policy News: December 22

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS PASSES BILL FUNDING AGENCIES THROUGH FY 2012 The week of Dec. 16, Congress passed H.R. 2055, an omnibus bill which funds the government through the remainder of the current fiscal year (FY) 2012, which ends Sept. 30, 2012. The bill passed the House by a vote of 262-121 and the Senate by a vote of 67-32. The omnibus bill incorporates the remaining nine appropriations bills that were not included in the “minibus” that passed earlier this year (P.L. 112-55). The new omnibus bill includes funding for the Departments of Interior and Energy as well as the Environmental Protection Agency. Energy and Water Overall, energy and water programs are funded at $32 billion for FY 2012, a $328 million increase over FY 2011. For Department of Energy science programs, the bill includes $4.9 billion, an increase of $46 million from FY 2011. The bill also includes $769 million for nuclear energy research and development, $43 million above FY 2011. For environmental management activities, the bill includes $5.7 billion, a $31 million increase over FY 2011. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is funded at $5 billion, a $145 million increase from FY 2011. The FY 2012 funding level for the Corps is also $429 million above the president’s request, one of the few agencies to enjoy this distinction this year. Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): $8.4 billion for FY 2012, $233 million below FY 2011.The conference agreement cuts $14 million (six percent) in clean air and climate research programs; $12 million (9.5 percent) in EPA’s regulatory development office; and $14 million (five percent) to air regulatory programs. The bill also reduces the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund by $101 million. Bureau of Land Management: $1.1 billion, $5 million below FY 2011. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.5 billion, $28 million below FY 2011. National Park Service: $2.6 billion, $32 million below FY 2011. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement: $60 million (this agency was formalized in FY 2011). Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement: $76 million, including $15 million for oil spill research for this agency, formalized in FY 2011. U.S. Forest Service: $4.6 billion for the Forest Service in FY 2012, $91 million below FY 2011. Department of Defense Research and Development: $72.4 billion, $2.5 billion below FY 2011. Click here for the House summary of the omnibus bill or here for the Senate summary of the omnibus bill. A comprehensive listing of policy riders included in the bill...

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ESA Policy News: November 18

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: CONFERENCE AGREEMENT INCREASES SCIENCE INVESTMENT Congressional leaders recently agreed upon a conference report agreement on a mini-omnibus appropriations measure (“mini-bus”) to for three separate appropriations bills through the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. The bill also contains a continuing resolution (CR) that extends through December 16 to allow Congress additional time to come to an agreement on funding levels for the nine remaining appropriation bills. All together, the mini-bus includes $182 billion in spending for the Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Commerce, Justice as well as the National Science Foundation (NSF). The bill passed the House on Nov. 17 by a vote of 298-121. All but 20 Democrats supported the bill while 101 Republicans voted against it. President Obama is expected to sign the measure. For NSF, the bill provides $7.033 billion, a $173 million increase from what was enacted for FY 2011. NOAA is funded at $4.9 billion for FY 2012, an increase of $306 million over FY 2011. For programs funded under the Department of Agriculture, the Agricultural Research Service is provided with $1.09 billion, down from $1.133 billion in FY 2011. The National Institute of Food and Agricultural receives nearly $705.6 million, an increase from $698.7 million in FY 2011. The bill provides $844 million for Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) programs, a $45 million decrease from FY 2011. A detailed summary of the conference report can be found here. STATE DEPARTMENT: DECISION ON KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE POSTPONED UNTIL 2013 On Nov. 10, the U.S. Department of State announced that it was delaying a decision on the controversial TransCanadian Keystone XL pipeline until the first quarter of 2013, in effect postponing the decision until after the 2012 presidential election. The State Department said it needed to conduct further investigation of the impact of  Keystone XL on the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, a process it said could not be completed until at least the first quarter of 2013. The agency had previously said it expected a decision by the end of the year. If constructed, Keystone XL would run 1,700 miles from Canada to Texas and would convey a type of oil from Alberta, Canada, that is more carbon-intensive to produce than are other forms. Environmentalists are strongly opposed to the pipeline, with some asserting that the administration’s decision would significantly impact their support for Obama in 2012. Opposition to the pipeline also attracted a significant proportion of young voters, a key demographic in the president’s election in 2008. Nebraska politicians had...

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ESA Policy News: November 4

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE PASSES ‘MINI-BUS’ FUNDING NSF, NOAA On Nov. 1, the Senate passed a mini omnibus (“minibus”) measure that incorporated three individual appropriations bills: Commerce Justice and Science, Transportation Housing and Urban Development as well as the Agriculture Rural Development Food and Drug Administration appropriations for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. The minibus bill (H.R. 2112) passed with bipartisan support by a vote of 69-30. Sixteen Republicans joined all Democrats and Independents in supporting the measure. Funding levels are largely unchanged from the measures approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee two months ago. The bill includes $6.7 million for the National Science Foundation, a reduction of $162 million from FY 2011. For the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the bill includes $5 billion, a $434 million increase from FY 2011. The Senate measure increases investment in NOAA research initiatives, including $161.5 million for the agency’s climate service. The House bill prohibits funding for the climate service. For the Agricultural Research Service, the FY 2012 bill provides $1.09 billion, down from $1.133 billion in FY 2011.  The bill provides $709.8 million for research and education activities within the National Institute on Food and Agriculture, up from $698.7 million in FY 2011. The Natural Resources Conservation Service would receive $828 million for FY 2012, down from $871 million in FY 2011. For more information on the science-related components of the appropriations measure, see the Sept. 23 edition of ESA Policy News or see the  Sept. 9 edition of ESA Policy News for more information on the agricultural research components of the measure. OCEANS: ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS DEFEND NATIONAL OCEANS POLICY On Oct. 26, the House Natural Resources Committee convened a hearing on the Obama administration’s National Ocean Policy. While this was the second hearing by the committee to examine the policy, it was the first to feature testimony from key senior officials from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ). House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) said the plan  places restrictions on ocean and coastal inland activities. “I have asked the administration for the specific statutory authority that allows the president, by executive order, to create regional planning bodies and require them to create regional zoning plans. So far, I have been given only a hodge-podge list of all the statutes that apply to ocean and/or coastal activities,” he said. Hastings cited the policy as a “huge new bureaucracy” that could “cost jobs and have devastating long-term economic impacts throughout the country.” Chairman Hastings asserted that...

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New report highlights mercury pollution impacts on ecosystems

Earlier this week, the Ecological Society of America, in partnership with the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI), the Great Lakes Commission and the Northeast-Midwest Institute, cosponsored a Congressional briefing entitled: “Mercury and Air Pollution Impacts on Ecosystems: Policy-Relevant Highlights from New Scientific Studies.” The briefing sought to highlight the findings of a recent report from BRI highlighting mercury pollution in the Great Lakes region. The featured speakers included Charles Driscoll, a National Academy member and professor at Syracuse University and David Evers, Executive Director and Chief Scientist at BRI.  Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) kicked off the briefing with some opening remarks noting the detrimental health effects mercury pollution can have on families in the Great Lakes region. According to the report, emissions of mercury to the air (and subsequent deposition) are now the primary source of mercury pollution to the Great Lakes region. Twenty-six percent of mercury deposition in Canada and the continental United States is from the Great Lakes region, with the highest concentrations in Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin. The presence of methylmercury (inorganic mercury that has been altered by bacteria in the natural environment) affects the entire food-chain of an ecosystem. Plants take up the toxin and are subsequently fed upon by plant-eating insects and fish, which in turn are consumed by insectivores and fish-eating animals, including songbirds, waterfowl and humans. A number of bird species were found to have “high sensitivity” to mercury pollution, including the American Kestrel, the American White Ibis, the Snowy Egret, the Osprey and the Tri-Colored Heron.  The study notes that the U.S.  national bird, the Bald Eagle, is also negatively impacted by mercury, with effects that  include “subclinical neurological damage.” The Bald Eagle was removed from being listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 2007. It was declared a federally endangered species from 1967-1995. The speakers noted that fish polluted with mercury can have detrimental impacts on the local economy and human health. “In recent years, we’ve come to appreciate that pollution from mercury and acid rain affects wildlife health as well as human health,” said Evers. Among 15 fish species in the region consumed by people and wildlife, six species have average mercury concentrations above 0.30 parts per million. The report notes that five states in the region “have issued statewide consumption advisories for mercury in fish from all fresh waters, two have issued statewide advisories for mercury in fish from all lakes, and one has issued advisories for specific water bodies.” According to the BRI study, “sport fishing in the eight Great Lakes states supports more than 190,000 jobs and annually has a total economic impact of more...

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