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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ESA Policy News: May 18

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE CJS BILL CUTS NOAA, RESEARCH INITIATIVES On May 10, the House passed H.R. 5326, the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2013, which includes funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), among other agencies. The bill passed by a vote of 247-163 with 23 Democrats joining all but eight Republicans in supporting the measure. Democrats supporting the measure included House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Norman Dicks (D-WA) and House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Chaka Fattah (D-PA). In total, the bill provides $51.1 billion in funding for FY 2013, $1.6 billion below FY 2012 and $731 million below the president’s FY 2013 budget request. The White House has released a statement of administration policy declaring that President Obama will veto the bill, if it is presented to him in its current form. The administration asserts that the bill’s overall funding level violates those set by the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25), agreed to in August of last year, and says  that the cuts included in the bill will be a detriment in furthering “economic growth, security, and global competitiveness” for the nation. While applauding the funding for the Office of Science and Technology Policy as well as the $7.3 billion funding level for NSF, the White House says that significant funding cuts to NOAA would adversely affect the agency’s ability to implement the nation’s fisheries and oceans stewardship programs. The House bill must be reconciled with the Senate CJS bill approved in committee last month.  For additional background on the House and Senate CJS appropriations bills, see the April 20 edition of ESA Policy News. To view the full White House statement of administration policy on the House CJS appropriations bill, click here. HOUSE: SCIENCE SUBCOMMITTEE CONSIDERS POTENTIAL OF OIL SHALE DEVELOPMENT On May 10, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened for a hearing entitled “American Jobs and the Economy through Expanded Energy Production:  Challenges and Opportunities of Unconventional Resources Technology.” “The amount of energy under own soil is striking.  With continued technological advances and the right policies to enable access to these resources, America could become the global leader in energy production for the next generation and beyond,” stated Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD). “The Green River Basin, located in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, may contain up to three trillion barrels of oil, more potential oil than the rest of the world’s current oil reserves...

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ESA Policy News: May 4

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. SENATE: APPROPRIATORS APPROVE ENERGY AND WATER, AGRICULTURE SPENDING BILLS The week of April 26, the Senate Appropriations Committee marked up its Energy and Water Development and Agriculture Appropriations bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. Energy and Water The Energy and Water Appropriations Act for FY 2013 is funded at $33.361 billion, $373 million less than FY 2012. The bill is primarily responsible for funding the Department of Energy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation. The legislation’s funding overall is slightly more than the $32.1 billion approved by the House in committee. For additional information on the House Energy and Water bill, see the April 20 edition of ESA Policy News here. Unlike the House measure, the Senate Energy and Water bill does not include funding for the controversial nuclear waste site under Yucca Mountain, which is opposed by the Obama administration. The Department of Energy would receive $27.128 billion, $1.38 billion more than in FY 2012 to boost research related to clean energy technologies. Agriculture The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Act for FY 2013 includes $20.785 billion in discretionary spending for FY 2013, an increase over the $19.565 billion FY 2012 enacted amount. For additional information on the two bills, click here. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS LOCAL EFFORTS ON STEM EDUCATION On April 30, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a field hearing in Madison, Alabama to review science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programs and partnerships at the local level and their impact on the economy. The hearing was entitled “STEM Education in Action: Local Schools, Non-Profits, and Businesses Doing Their Part to Secure America’s Future.” Among the subcommittee leadership, there was consensus on the important role STEM education can play in boosting the economy. “Our commitment to STEM education is exemplified by contributions to STEM programs in the community by the University of Alabama-Huntsville’s Propulsion Research Center and related scholarships and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s educational programs, as well as many other local initiatives supporting STEM programs for students ranging from elementary school through high school,” stated Research and Science Education Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL). Ranking Member Dan Lipinski (D-IL) noted that fewer than 40 percent of college students who start in a STEM-related field obtain a degree in that field, leading to a shortage of qualified employees to fill positions in science and technology, for which there is growing demand in the economy. Additional information on the...

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Efforts to mitigate white-nose syndrome continue amid new reports

This post contributed by Terence Houston, Science Policy Analyst  In recent weeks, federal scientists have reported that the fungal disease Geomyces destructans, commonly known as white-nose syndrome, has extended its reach across the eastern region of the United States. On March 29, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control announced that the disease was reported in Fort Delaware State Park, and reports have also confirmed the disease in Maine’s Acadia National Park, and Alabama’s Russell Cave in Jackson County, the first observations of the disease in these states. The National Park Service also reported that the disease has spread to the Great Smoky Mountain region in Tennessee, home to eleven bat species including the largest hibernating population of the endangered Indiana bat in the state. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), white-nose syndrome has killed 5.7-6.7 million bats in North America since it was first discovered in 2006. The disease is identified by a white fungus visible on the noses, wings, tails and ears of bats. While it is communicable among bats, it has not been found to infect humans. The fungus thrives in cold temperatures and is found mainly in areas with caves and mines where bats hibernate. The disease has drawn bipartisan concern from Capitol Hill, as insect-eating bats play a vital economic role in cutting pesticide costs to the nation’s farming industry. During a June 2011 House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs hearing on the disease, Subcommittee Chairman John Fleming (R-LA) pointed out that the bats are worth billions the agricultural industry and that 80 different medicines come from plants that are dependent on bats. The consensus support from Congress has led to increased investment in understanding and managing the disease. For Fiscal Year 2012, the Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 112-74) provides $4 million to the Department of Interior’s Endangered Species Recovery Fund towards research and management of white-nose syndrome. The Act also contains specific language directing the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service and FWS to prioritize research and response activities related to curtailing spread of the disease. Non-governmental organizations such as the Organization for Bat Conservation and Bat Conservation International are also working to conserve bat populations and halt the spread of the disease. Additional information on federal efforts to manage white-nose syndrome as well as updates on new reports of the disease can be found here. Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife...

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Emerging Issues Symposium II: Amid Search for Answers, a Search for Hope

This post contributed by Celia Smith, ESA Education Programs Coordinator Attendees of the Ecological Society of America (ESA)’s 2012 Emerging Issues Conference are spending the week of February 27 immersed in symposia and intensive working groups to turn cutting-edge ecology research into concrete environmental management and policy products. In addressing the conference theme of Conservation Targets under Global Change, each presentation and discussion session involves wrestling with tough questions for which simple answers do not exist. Despite these challenges, another informal conference theme is hope. Global change can evoke fear, panic and even despair over the unsustainable use of natural resources. While it can’t be denied that problems including  overpopulation, pollution, habitat fragmentation and climate change threaten many species, including our own,  Ronald Swaisgood of the San Diego Zoo argues that hope is not only possible—it is essential to our success in overcoming these challenges. “As conservation biologists we feel like we are tinkering around the edges and fiddling while Rome burns,” Swaisgood said during his Monday afternoon talk entitled, “Finding hope for conservation and endangered species because we must.”  Swaisgood argued that confident expectations for conservation outcomes lead to increased effort, while low expectations “robustly predict giving up.” Moreover, Swaisgood emphasized that hope is an essential tool for garnering public support for conservation efforts, and challenged scientists to assume responsibility for engaging citizens—particularly the next generation—in science and nature in a hopeful and productive way. “Time spent in nature predicts environmental attitudes… [but] Americans are becoming increasingly indifferent to the environment” Swaisgood said. He encouraged scientists to get involved in community leadership, outreach, K-12 education reform, and citizen science to help communicate conservation messages that are framed positively, constructively and optimistically. As Swaisgood and his co-author James Sheppard have put it, “Our point is not that hope is the logical alternative but that it is the necessary alternative” (BioScience 2011). Whether or not hope is a logical alternative is likely to be a personal decision; however Bernd Blossey of Cornell University also offered positive evidence, supported by science, that our idea of ‘nature’ as a pristine entity separate from humans is a fallacy. In his introduction to the conference, he stressed that historically, nature has repeatedly demonstrated extraordinary resilience by returning from disaster and disruption to support life in one form or another. Blossey left the audience with a quote from Aldo Leopold—“I have no hope for conservation born of fear”—that helped to set the tone of optimism for the discussions to come. Photo: National Conservation Training Center, Shepherdstown, WV, Ryan Hagerty/USFWS...

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Great Lakes gray wolves delisted, federal monitoring efforts continue

The United State Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) recent decision to remove the gray wolf from protection under the Endangered Species Act in the Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan has been met with a wide array of praise from policymakers and conservationists alike, including Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Aside from some concerns about species classification of the population, the move has been met with substantially less criticism than the unconventional legislative action that mandated the delisting of gray wolves in areas of the Northern Rockies. The gray wolf was first granted federal protection after enactment of the Endangered Species Act of 1973. In 1978, the Minnesota population of gray wolves was re-classified as “threatened” under the Act while gray wolves throughout the remainder of the continental United States were listed as “endangered.” The law afforded the wolves protection from unregulated killing and resulted in increased scientific research on wolves as well as education efforts that increased public understanding of the animals. At the time of the Act’s enactment, there were only a few hundred wolves in Minnesota and a small number on Isle Royal, Michigan. Since that time, the Minnesota populations have expanded into new packs that migrated into Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan. Combined, there are now over 4,000 wolves in the three states. Each of these states has designated federally approved population minimums for its wolves. According to the FWS, Minnesota’s management plan would allow the state’s population to drop from nearly 3,000 to as low as 1,600 wolves. In Wisconsin, where there are an estimated 782 wolves, the minimum population management goal is 350 in areas outside of American Indian reservations. Michigan has set a minimum of 200 wolves from its current population of 687. This new designation does not have any effect on the current federal status of wolf populations outside the Great Lakes’ “distinct population segment.” But what’s to prevent these wolves from being hunted and killed to the point where they have to be reinstated as threatened under the Endangered Species Act? The FWS has published a monitoring plan to track wolf populations in the Great Lakes area. In collaboration with a number of other U.S. federal agencies, including the Forest Service, Geological Survey, and Park Service, the FWS will continue to monitor wolf populations in the Great Lake states for a minimum of five years to ensure that populations remain robust. These federal agencies will work closely with tribal natural resource agencies and the respective state wildlife agencies to monitor wolf populations for threats, including diseases and human-caused mortality. If the status...

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We are the 7 billion

This post contributed by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer   At midnight, Manila time, on October 31st, UN officials welcomed Danica May Camacho of the Philippines as the world’s 7-billionth person, a symbolic baby for the symbolic Halloween “Day of 7 Billion.” The LA Times led that morning with the steep population growth curve, forecast to pass 9 billion in 2045. The BBC emphasized that population growth is not just a problem of the developing world. “The UK population, one of the highest consumers of resources, is also expected to grow,” says the correspondent, adding gloomily that “Population control is controversial, but without it, experts say the future, for all of us, will be worse.” The Washington Post ran a scary story about our population growing…too old. Can we be both too many and few? It depends on your point of view. In the U.S., Europe, Japan and China, women are having fewer children than necessary to keep the population growing. This is a problem for economies organized around growth. Europe and the U.S. are feeling the strain as the children of the post-WWII baby boom enter retirement. But too many young people can also create social strain. Southwest Asia’s baby boomers are under 30, and many are unemployed. The demographic disharmony may contribute to cultural upheaval. The difference in the U.S.’s fertility rate of 1.6 and our growth rate of 3.3 is made up in immigration — a controversial topic to say the least. Populations are relocating, becoming more urban. In 2008, the balance of the world population tipped from rural to city-dwelling. The world has 21 megacities of more than a million people, compared to the three that existed when the dystopian visions of Logan’s Run, Soylent Green and Blade Runner projected public fears of overcrowding on the big screen. Apocalyptic disease and weather have displaced midcentury fears of apocalyptic overpopulation at the movies. But the image of the crowded city remains a staple of overpopulation fears in the public imagination. The efficiencies of apartments, mass transit and shared infrastructure, however, lighten the footprints of urban humans, as well as contain them to a smaller area. Is space the problem? Since the 70s, environmental groups have moved away from talking about population. Asked about the “taboo” at panel at the Woodrow Wilson Center on Tuesday, Kate Sheppard said she thinks a sensitivity to reproductive rights intervened. Sheppard covers energy, environment and reproductive politics for Mother Jones magazine. The story in the ‘70s had a heavy component of “other people should stop having so many babies,” she said. Now we are talking about resource use and distribution, access...

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A science poster session for Congress

Last week, several hundred congressional staff and several Members of Congress mingled with over 30 scientists during an evening reception on Capitol Hill. While nibbling on finger food and sipping libations, policymakers and researchers chatted about the wide range of research and education projects supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF).  The event was the 17th Annual Exhibition and Reception of the Coalition for National Science Funding, an alliance of over 120 organizations focused on the future of U.S. science, mathematics and engineering. Sharon Collinge, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder—sponsored by the Ecological Society of America—showcased her work on restoring vernal pool plant communities on California’s Travis Air Force Base. Collinge explained to interested visitors who stopped by her poster exhibit that her long-term ecological research demonstrates the difficulties in restoring a system, in this case imperiled plant communities.  She said that one problem is that invasive species can take root and may outcompete native vernal plant communities.  Collinge’s project is of interest to the Department of Defense (DOD) because DOD owns vast acreages of public land and is charged with managing its natural resources holistically through integrated natural resources management plans. Collinge involves 6th graders in her research project, something that delighted Representative Fattah’s (D-PA) Chief of Staff, Maisha Leek.   She enthusiastically recalled a time in elementary school in Philadelphia in which she too was involved in a captivating hands-on outdoor project.  Many other attendees stopped to talk with Collinge about her work, including NSF staff, other exhibitors and staff from the offices of Collinge’s Colorado senators. Collinge’s exhibit was one of 35 at the evening event and reflected the wide breadth of NSF support.  Among the many exhibit topics were: –          Innovations for future computers –          Weather research –          Deepwater Horizon oil spill –          Mathematics and the melting polar ice caps –          Engaging the public in science, technology, engineering and mathematics –          Conversion of biomass carbon to liquid fuel –          Mentoring the next generation of behavioral neuroscientists Collinge and other participants had preceded the exhibition with visits to their respective congressional delegations.  Visiting with the offices of her representative and senators, Collinge talked about the important role NSF plays in her state, where state support of research is fairly weak.   Colorado does very well competing for NSF grants, ranking 5th in the funds it receives from the agency. Well past the scheduled end of the reception, exhibitors and attendees were still talking.  It was only when the tablecloths were removed from exhibit tables and the candles blown out that folks took their cue that it was time to say goodnight. Photo credits: ESA...

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