ESA Policy News: Science groups discuss climate on the Hill, Smith seeks more NOAA data, Interior publishes invasive threat framework
Mar02

ESA Policy News: Science groups discuss climate on the Hill, Smith seeks more NOAA data, Interior publishes invasive threat framework

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  POLICY ENGAGEMENT: ESA SCIENTISTS MEET ON CAPITOL HILL TO DISCUSS CLIMATE SCIENCE In February, ESA participated in Climate Science Days, an annual outreach event sponsored by the Climate Science Working Group (CSWG) to advance understanding of climate change research among lawmakers on Capitol Hill.  ESA is a CSWG member as are other scientific associations. Multiple teams of scientists, paired by geographic location, met with over 100 House and Senate offices and committee staff. Meetings with Republican Senate and House members were given priority along with lawmakers who serve on committees with jurisdiction over climate science issues. ESA member participants included Matthew Hurteau (University of New Mexico), Knute Nadelhoffer (University of Michigan) and Adam Rosenblatt (Yale University). Other participating CSWG organizations included the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Chemical Society, American Geophysical Union, American Meteorological Society, American Society of Agronomy, American Statistical Association, the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, the Geological Society of America, the Soil Science Society of America and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE EXPANDS REQUEST FOR NOAA CLIMATE SCIENCE DOCUMENTS On Feb. 22, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) sent a letter to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) demanding more documents related to the agency’s analyses of global temperature data. This follows a previous subpoena sent to NOAA by the Committee on October 13, 2015. So far, NOAA has given the committee 301 pages of emails between NOAA officials (excluding scientists’ emails) regarding a study published last year in the journal Science. “The integrity of federal scientists’ research published in the journal Science is being questioned despite a lack of public evidence of scientific misconduct. The progress and integrity of science depend on transparency about the details of scientific methodology and the ability to follow the pursuit of scientific knowledge,” the letter states. Although the Committee is no longer seeking communications from NOAA scientists, the sparring between NOAA and the House Science Committee is likely to continue. So far, NOAA has not made a public statement about the recent request although the original deadline of Feb. 29 to submit the documents to the Committee has passed. INTERIOR: NEW FRAMEWORK SEEKS TO IMPROVE FEDEARL RESPONSE TO INVASIVE THREATS The Department of the Interior (DOI) released a report on Feb. 18: Safeguarding America’s Lands and Waters from Invasive Species: A National Framework for Early Detection and Rapid Response.  The National Invasive Species Council (NISC) assisted DOI in the report’s development, including the US Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, the Environmental Protection Agency, State...

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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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What’s your number?

This post contributed by Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs Many of us still operate under the notion that, as responsible car owners, we should get our vehicle’s oil changed every 3,000 miles to keep our engines running smoothly.  But it turns out that this engrained wisdom is not true if you own a vehicle that is about ten years old or younger.  Newer car models have cleaner-running engines and usually only need oil changes every 5,000 to 10,000 miles. In addition to saving money and time, the main reason this is important is because of how much oil is unnecessarily wasted and also contributes to water pollution by people who incorrectly dispose of oil  filters. An article in February’s Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment by Robin Meadows reports on this topic and on a recent survey administered by California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle).  The survey revealed that about half of all non-commercial drivers in the Golden State change their motor oil much too frequently. And while most of us are responsible—according to the article, 80 percent of used motor oil is recycled in the U.S.—the remaining 20 percent is not disposed of properly, ending up contaminating water.  According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 40 percent of the pollution in U.S. streams, rivers, and lakes is from motor oil. The CalRecycle survey also showed that many of us don’t bother looking up the recommended oil change frequency in our car manuals.  To raise awareness and encourage better practices, CalRecycle has started a campaign called Check Your Number.  As described in the Frontiers article: “Related kick-off events entailed giving free parking spots in crowded venues to drivers who check their owner’s manuals and display the recommended oil-change intervals on their windshields.” CalRecycle hopes to next focus on do-it-yourselfers who don’t properly dispose of oil filters. Photo credit:...

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Learning the lingo of science communication that resonates

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst Many political observers would liken the current climate on Capitol Hill to a virtual total breakdown of civil communication where differing sides have become increasingly entrenched in their own ideological philosophies, either unwilling or incapable of meeting in the middle. The latest calamity concerning the failure of the so-called “supercommittee” to “go big” and come up with comprehensive deficit reduction legislation further reinforces this perception. Past major budget agreements in modern history, specifically the 1990, 1993 and 1997 balanced budget agreements collectively included a mix of spending, entitlement cuts and revenue increases. Two of the three agreements were passed during a time when the White House and Congress were controlled by separate parties. The failure of current political leaders to come to agreement on significant revenue and entitlement reforms, which could reduce the nation’s debt by trillions of dollars, makes it all the more likely discretionary spending, including federal investments in science, will be significantly diminished in coming years. The current gridlock can partially be attributed to an unwillingness by opposing sides to understand the perspective of their colleagues on the other side of the aisle, a failure to adhere to the concept of “meet me halfway.” This lack of comprehending or acknowledging the virtues or commonalities within the arguments made by the opposing side becomes the main reason each of the two parties are increasingly not talking to one another, but talking past one another in negotiations and legislative debates. The talking-past-one-another-syndrome is also a failing that scientists unaware of or inexperienced in effective communication practices can easily fall prey to. Consequently, the art of effective communication is one that scientists need to master if they hope to garner any success in advancing (or preserving) policies that are important to them. Hence, if scientists are to affect change in policy, they need to learn to speak the language of the entity they are talking to, inform through the use of concepts or ideas of mutual importance or interest. The Aldo Leopold Leadership Program (ALLP) intends to improve environmental scientists’ ability to communicate effectively and persuasively beyond the world of academia, with a specific focus on the public policy realm. The program was created in 1998 by Jane Lubchenco, who now heads the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, Hal Mooney and Paul Risser, all former presidents of the Ecological Society of America. In the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, Elena Bennett, Assistant Professor for the Department of Natural Resource Sciences and McGill School of Environment at McGill University in Montreal, Canada discusses her experiences with the...

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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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It takes more than climate change to cause amphibian decline

This post contributed by Monica Kanojia, Administrative Assistant/Governance for ESA. Amphibians have been around for hundreds of millions of years. They have survived numerous extinction events and yet somehow, in the past two decades, their numbers have been in severe decline. The population changes have been linked to many factors, including climate change and disease, habitat destruction and water pollution. Studies indicate that amphibians are sensitive to all of the proposed variables—not just one root cause. A unique quality of amphibian biology is their transdermal water uptake ability. Transdermal uptake allows for nutrients to be delivered across the skin. For example, the skin of a frog allows for the direct exchange of oxygen, carbon dioxide and water from the environment. While in ideal situations this would be beneficial, it currently poses a threat to amphibian populations. Overexposure to any nutrient can be lethal to an organism. With increased rates of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, heavily polluted water and loss of water, amphibians’ ability to survive is diminishing. A majority of amphibian species go through reproductive and developmental stages that require a body of water. The eggs of amphibians are not as resilient as reptile or bird eggs because they are jelly coated and unsuitable for development on land; therefore, amphibians must return to water to reproduce. Increased agricultural and industrial run off and poor waste management has led to a decline in the quality of water available for amphibians. The main types of chemical contaminants affecting amphibian environments are pesticides and herbicides, heavy metals, increasingly acidic water and nitrogen pollution. According to a study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives by Tyrone Hayes from the University of California, Berkeley and colleagues, pesticides commonly used in cornfields in the western United States have adverse affects on amphibian larval growth and development, immune system and the size prior to and after metamorphosis. High levels of pesticides enter streams and groundwater as water runs off of farms, ranches, golf courses and suburban areas. While organic and low-risk pesticide use is encouraged by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it remains predominantly unregulated… That is, the EPA lists guidelines for how to safely use pesticides for commercial and agricultural needs, but it does not strictly regulate what can and cannot be used. Herbicides, on the other hand, are made to disrupt photosynthesis capabilities of plants and were thought to have little to no effect on fish and wildlife.  But, as Science Daily reported in 2008, studies have revealed otherwise. For example, atrazine—one of the most commonly used herbicides on golf courses, home lawns and soybean and corn crops—is responsible for lethal changes...

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How a polluted environment can lead to illness

A study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics revealed alarming findings: A link between children diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and traces of the breakdown of organophosphate pesticides in their urine. Pollutants like pesticides can have both direct and indirect effects on human and wildlife health as a result of changes in an ecosystem.

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