ESA Policy News October 14: Republican speaker search continues, OSTP seeking interns, White House signs STEM bill
Oct14

ESA Policy News October 14: Republican speaker search continues, OSTP seeking interns, White House signs STEM bill

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. HOUSE: MCCARTHY DROPS OUT OF SPEAKERSHIP RACE On Oct. 8, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) dropped his bid to succeed John Boehner (R-OH) as Speaker of the House. With no clear successor in place, Boehner postponed the speakership election until further notice. McCarthy had undergone criticism for statements that linked the creation of the House Select Committee on Benghazi with an effort to damage 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) also announced his intent to run against McCarthy for speaker. The House Freedom Caucus, which consists of over 40 far-right conservatives, had also endorsed Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) for speaker. Collectively, these alternative candidates raised doubt on whether McCarthy could easily secure the 218 majority votes necessary to win among the 247 member House Republican conference. Much of the media speculation for alternative candidates for speaker has centered on Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who currently chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, one of the most sought-after committees in the House. To date, Ryan has declined interest in the role. Other House members reportedly mulling a run include Michael Conaway (R-TX), Bill Flores (R-TX), Michael McCaul (R-TX), Pete Sessions (R-TX)  and Lynn Westermoreland (R-CA). INVASIVE SPECIES: COURT RULES FOR STRONGER BALLAST WATER REGULATIONS In a 3-0 ruling, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit sided with environmental groups who contended that  existing  US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations did not go far enough to reduce the spread of invasive species through cargo ship ballast water. Environmental groups sued EPA in 2008 seeking stronger regulations related to the spread of aquatic invasive species through cargo transport vessels. While EPA eventually finalized ballast water rules in March 2013, the groups argued that the standards did not sufficiently protect waterways from future species invasions. As a result of the ruling, the agency will reconsider its technology decisions and its exemption for certain older vessels. The existing standards will remain in place until the agency can finalize stricter regulations. Click here to view the full ruling. EPA: COURT STAYS OBAMA ADMINISTRATION WATER RULE On Oct. 9, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued an order granting the request of eighteen states to place a nationwide stay on the Obama administration’s rule clarifying Clean Water Act jurisdiction over US waterways. The US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Army Corps of Engineers had finalized the rule in May. In a 2-1 ruling the court decided that the rule,...

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ESA Policy News, January 31, 2014: farm bill conservation wins, record CA drought, comment on the prairie chicken
Jan31

ESA Policy News, January 31, 2014: farm bill conservation wins, record CA drought, comment on the prairie chicken

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. STATE OF THE UNION: OBAMA HAILS 2014 AS ‘YEAR OF ACTION After a year of very few real legislative achievements in Congress outside of averting a politically self-inflicted federal government shutdown, President Obama cautioned that continued gridlock and inaction from the legislative branch during the second session of the current 113th Congress will spur unilateral action from the executive branch. President Obama praised Congress for coming together on a budget that offers some relief for sequestration, and urged the body to move forward on administration proposals that create jobs and advance opportunity for Americans. The president’s call to get the economy moving included a request for Congress to increase funding for scientific research. “We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow,” said Obama.  “This is an edge America cannot surrender.  Federally-funded research helped lead to the ideas and inventions behind Google and smart phones.  That’s why Congress should undo the damage done by last year’s cuts to basic research so we can unleash the next great American discovery – whether it’s vaccines that stay ahead of drug-resistant bacteria, or paper-thin material that’s stronger than steel.” The president touted the United States’ energy successes such as higher fuel efficiency standards for cars and investments in solar. While noting that these efforts have led to a “cleaner, safer planet” he maintained that more needs to be done to tackle the issue of climate change. “Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth,” said President Obama.  “But we have to act with more urgency – because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods.  That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities, and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.” The full address is available for listening and reading here. AGRICULTURE: FARM BILL CONFERENCE REPORT INCLUDES WINS FOR CONSERVATION On Jan. 27, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) unveiled the final conference report for a new farm bill reauthorization. H.R. 2642, the Agricultural Act of 2014, renews federal agricultural programs through the end of Fiscal Year 2018 while implementing a number of consolidations and spending reductions to federal agriculture programs. The bill passed the House by a vote...

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ESA Policy News: September 27
Sep27

ESA Policy News: September 27

WILDLIFE: letter of support for conservation programs
UNITED NATIONS: IPCC report released
HOUSE: testimony on climate action plan
EPA: new carbon standards for powerplants
SCIENCE: Golden Goose awards

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Geothermal engineering in Newberry volcano
Jun10

Geothermal engineering in Newberry volcano

By Peter Janetos, ESA public affairs intern In the quest for cleaner, greener, and cheaper energy some are looking 10,000 feet below central Oregon where temperatures exceed 600 degrees Fahrenheit in Newberry Volcano.  A recent Popular Science article takes a closer look at this latest initiative for renewable energy.  Deschutes National Forest is home to the volcano, where AltaRock Energy Inc. plans to perform enhanced geothermal engineering, or EGS, to generate renewable energy.  EGS is the process of extracting geothermal energy from naturally occurring resources such as hot springs, underground gases, or in this case a volcano. Called The Newberry Project, after the volcano, the project was started back in October 2012. As reported by Jeff Barnard in the Huffington Post, the federal government and private investors, such as Google, are investing $43 million in the project. Barnard notes that heat in the earth’s crust has been used to generate power for over a hundred years by gathering hot water or steam that bubbles near the surface to spin a turbine that creates electricity. The “new frontier” of EGS are locations with hot rocks but without the cracks in the rocks or water to deliver the steam. Head of the Newberry Project is President and CEO of AltaRock, Susan Petty, who founded the company in 2007.  According to Petty, “We know the heat is there. The big issue is can we circulate enough water through the system to make it economic.” AltaRock extracts thermal energy produced by the volcano by pouring thousands of gallons of water deep into preexisting fractures underground and then mechanically pumping the water which becomes super heated.  The heated water is then pushed through a second pump which sends it through a turbine to produce energy before eventually shooting it back into the fractures, in a continuous loop.  There are drawbacks, of which earthquakes are the most obvious.  The water pumped underground exerts a force around 2,400 pounds per square inch against the earth’s walls.  Natural cracks in rocks are expanded and can trigger earthquakes.  Since the projected started, AltaRock has recorded 219 earthquakes. Trenton Cladouhos is AltaRock’s Senior Vice President of Research and Development and said the largest earthquake they’ve recorded was at a magnitude of 2.4. According to  Cladouhos, most of the earthquakes were around or under magnitude 1, barely felt by most people. The company says it has a system in place to shut down production completely if necessary. “There’s never guarantees in any kind of geothermal situation,” said CEO Petty. However, a geoengineering effort in Switzerland sparked a series of earthquakes that resulted in considerable damage and likely contributed to a...

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When it comes to invasive species, can we learn from our mistakes?

This post contributed by ESA member Aviva Glaser, who works on agricultural policy for the National Wildlife Federation Seven years, my father decided to plant bamboo in his backyard, in an effort to improve the landscaping. A few years later, and sprouts can be seen creeping out from the bamboo grove in every direction. While my father keeps the bamboo stand under control for now, I wouldn’t be surprised if in another 20 years from now, bamboo begins popping up on some of the neighboring properties. The history of invasive species in this country has often started with good intentions. In the 1930s, for instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture paid farmers to plant kudzu, promoting it as a “miracle vine” to combat erosion. Years later, this plant is more commonly referred to as “the vine that ate the South,” and is estimated to cover an astonishing seven million acres of land in the southeast.  Not only has it devastated wildlife habitat, but its estimated economic impact in the United States is between $100 and $500 million, and that’s not even considering the millions of dollars spent to control kudzu every year. While we cannot go back and change what has already been done, we can learn from the past and make sure that we are not making the same mistakes in the future. We have just that opportunity right now. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently in the final stages of approving a rule which would allow two known noxious weeds, giant reed (Arundo donax) and napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum), to qualify as renewable fuel sources under the Renewable Fuel Standard. If this rule passes, the U.S. government would once again be creating incentives for the planting of invasive species, this time for renewable fuel. Scientists, however, think that we should be learning from our mistakes – and not be incentivizing the next kudzu or purple loosestrife. Just over a month ago, more than 200 scientists from across the country sent a letter to the Obama administration urging them to take a “look before you leap” approach to potentially invasive plants grown for bioenergy and warning that some crops being considered for large-scale energy plantings may actually be highly invasive and potentially harmful to native species. “Many of today’s most problematic invasive plants – from kudzu to purple loosestrife – were intentionally imported and released into the environment for horticultural, agricultural, conservation, and forestry purposes. These invasive species already cost billions of dollars a year in the United States and are one of the primary threats to North America’s native species and ecosystems. It is imperative that...

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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: 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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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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