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: 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: August 19, 2011

Here are some highlights from the latest Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. EPA: AGENCY DEFENDS ‘ENDANGERMENT’ FINDING IN FEDERAL COURT On August 18, the Environmental Protection Agency filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit defending its Dec. 2009 ‘endangerment’ finding that carbon dioxide emissions threaten public health. The finding resulted in the first-ever federal limits on greenhouse gases from large industrial plants. The brief is being challenged by various conservative states and industry organizations, including the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who contend that EPA’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gases are a burden on the nation’s economy. The Obama administration maintains that it relied on “thorough and peer-reviewed assessments of climate change science” from the U.N.-affiliated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the National Research Council. FWS: RECOVERY DECLARED FOR LAKE ERIE WATER SNAKE On August 15, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced it has removed the Lake Erie water snake from the endangered and threatened species list after a nearly decade long recovery from threats including human killings and habitat loss. The snake, found on offshore islands in western Lake Erie in Ohio and Ontario, is the 23rd species to be delisted due to recovery. The species was first listed as threatened in 1999. In 2003, FWS finalized a recovery plan that called for protecting the animal’s shoreline habitat and increasing cooperation with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife and other partners. Recovery criteria include a combined population of at least 5,555 snakes on the U.S. islands, sustained for six years, and protection of key habitat. According to the Department of Interior, through continued habitat protection and public education, the Lake Erie water snake population grew to about 11,980 in 2009, and has exceeded the minimum recovery level since 2002. About 300 acres of inland habitat and 11 miles of shoreline have been protected for the snake since it was listed. Partners in the efforts to recover the Lake Erie water snake include the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), Northern Illinois University, Lake Erie Islands Chapter of the Black Swamp Conservancy, Western Reserve Land Conservancy, Put-in-Bay Township Park District, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Ohio State University Stone Laboratory. GREAT LAKES: EPA DISTRIBUTES RESTORATION GRANTS On August 8, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the first of several awards towards totaling nearly $30 million for Great Lakes Restoration. The awards are distributed through the administration’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), first proposed by President Obama in Feb. 2009 and...

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ESA’s 95th Annual Meeting Kicks off in Pittsburgh

Last night the Ecological Society of America’s 95th Annual Meeting was off to a rousing start as an audience of over 500 applauded Mayor John Fetterman of Braddock, Pennsylvania, this year’s winner of ESA’s Regional Policy Award.  The award recognizes a regional policymaker who uses ecological science to help inform policy decisions.  Since 2005, Mayor Fetterman has used innovative approaches—including encouraging green technology—to turn Braddock around, a town that is a mere shadow of what it was during the heyday of the steel industry.  In his acceptance remarks, Fetterman noted that climate change shouldn’t be a political issue but that unfortunately when a divisive figure like Al Gore becomes a spokesperson for the issue, that automatically “turns off” half the population.  Fetterman said that it’s hard to hear the message when the messenger is someone who is someone you may not like.  Fetterman has been advocating for alternative energy sources, such as wind power, which would also be a natural fit for Braddock, as a former steel mill town.  Fetterman described the ESA award as a great honor and also said that he really believes that “environmental justice is social justice.” Directly following the award presentation, panelists of the Opening Plenary explored the topic of environmental disasters and risk perception.  David Dzombak (Carnegie Mellon) reviewed the response of the Environmental Protection Agency to contaminated sediment sampling after Hurricane Katrina, David Lodge (Notre Dame) highlighted the story of invasions in the Great Lakes, culminating in the recent advances of Asian Carp, Robert Twilley (Louisiana State University) spoke of the long history of “hardening the landscape” along the Gulf Coast, especially in reaction to crises, and Baruch Fischoff (Carnegie Mellon) gave his perspective as an expert in risk  perception and its effects on decisions affecting environmental and other big issues society faces.  ESA Vice President for Public Affairs Laura Huenneke (Northern Arizona University) moderated.  Panelists noted that the “reactive crisis mode” is the worst time for people to devise long-term, thoughtful, collaborative plans.  Panelists Twilley and Lodge pointed out that other interests (such as navigation or flood control) can sometimes help advance another cause such as restoration.  Fischoff reminded the audience that people have trouble integrating information that is non-intuitive or non-linear but that “running the numbers” and explaining what they mean can help clarify such issues.  Dzombak described the various  “publics” that often have very diverse interests and come at an issue with their different perspectives and that each setting is colored by its own political dynamic. Once the audience participated in the discussion, the discourse very quickly shifted to engaging in policy.  Advice from panelists included: “Be persistent and consistent,”...

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