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Policy News Update

March 31, 2006

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]

ESA HOLDS CONGRESSIONAL VISITS DAY

Ecological Society of America scientists met with the congressional offices of their Senators and Representatives to emphasize the importance of funding the biological and ecological sciences across federal agencies. The meetings formed part of the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day, a two-day event that brought over 40 scientists from across the nation to Washington to raise visibility and support for science. The event included briefings from agencies and the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy. BESC also honored two Members of Congress, Representatives Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and Rush Holt (D-NJ) for their integration of research findings into environmental policies such as the prevention and control of invasive species and their strong support for science education.

Event details are available at: www.esa.org/besc/activities.html

COMPETING FISHERIES BILLS INTRODUCED IN HOUSE

House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA) unveiled his proposal for revamping the nation's fisheries management law, adding a host of new scientific and conservation requirements while including some provisions that oceans advocates say would weaken several key environmental protections.

Pombo’s bill would reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which forms the basis of fishery management in waters between three miles and 200 miles offshore -- an area known as the Exclusive Economic Zone. The 30-year-old law is five years overdue for reauthorization, prompting an effort on both sides of Capitol Hill, as well as from the White House, to pass new legislation this year.

Pombo's bill incorporates 17 of the 27 relevant recommendations for fisheries management from the U.S. Ocean Commission. It would bolster the role of fishing council scientific advisory committees, guide the creation of cap-and-trade programs for fishery management and place new requirements on fishing limits.

It would also give federal officials the authority to consider streamlining the measure with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and allow exemptions to the 10-year deadline for rebuilding fish stocks -- provisions that were not recommended by the Ocean Commission.

The bill in large part mirrors legislation the Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved last December. The Senate bill, which would also expand the emphasis on conservation and scientific assessments, won at least some backing from both environmental and fishing groups.

The bill did not receive the support of Fisheries Subcommittee Chairman Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), who introduced separate legislation instead. The Gilchrest measure is likely to be overshadowed by Pombo’s bill, but Gilchrest could use his bill to criticize the Pombo measure or offer all or part of it as an amendment.

"Between the approach taken by Chairman Pombo and my bill, I feel confident that we can pass balanced and responsible legislation over the next few months," Gilchrest said. Reps. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Christopher Shays (R-CT) and House Oceans Caucus Chair Sam Farr (D-CA) signed onto Gilchrest's bill as cosponsors.

SENATOR REQUESTS INQUIRY INTO CLIMATE SCIENCE GROUP

An inquiry by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe into the governance and financing of a leading climate research institution has generated waves of concern and speculation among scientists who see it potentially opening a new front in the battle over the flow of climate information to decision makers and the public.

Inhofe, Oklahoma's senior Republican Senator and arguably the Senate's most outspoken critic of mainstream climate science, sent a letter last month to the director of the National Science Foundation requesting information on funding and management of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and its managing body, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR).

Inhofe’s letter, made public by the advocacy group Climate Science Watch, requests details of a cooperative agreement by which UCAR operates NCAR with funding from NSF, and a list of NCAR research projects and their funding levels for the last three years. In addition, Inhofe is seeking a list of all NCAR and UCAR staff, as well as a roster of all NCAR and UCAR employees working at non-NSF federal agencies or nongovernmental organizations and salary information for those employees.

Inhofe spokesman Bill Holbrooke said the senator's request is a matter of "simple, basic oversight."

"We're looking into the contract," Holbrooke said. "We want to understand more about it."

But Rick Piltz, the director of Climate Science Watch, sees something more threatening in the Inhofe letter. Piltz himself was a UCAR employee working on detail to the U.S. Climate Change Science Program until he resigned his post last year after growing frustrated with what he saw as the intrusion of politics into science.

Criticizing Inhofe for deriding global warming as the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," Piltz said: "I have to suspect that if he's intervening in this relationship, it's from this political perspective."

NASA ANNOUNCES NEW MEDIA POLICY

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator Michael Griffin announced new guidelines governing how agency employees should conduct themselves when speaking with the press in the wake of claims of censorship by the agency's top climatologist.

James Hansen, the head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told the New York Times and Washington Post in January that the agency's public affairs office handed down a gag order after he advocated cuts in greenhouse gas emissions during a speech before the American Geophysical Union.

His allegations prompted a probe of NASA's press office policies by the House Science Committee and the firing of George Deutsch, a 24-year-old political appointee who issued the gag order.

Under the new NASA media policy, "NASA scientists may communicate their conclusions to the media," Griffin said in a statement. "But [it] requires that they draw a distinction between professional conclusions and personal views that may go beyond the scope of their specific technical work, or beyond the purview of the agency."

NASA employees are asked to "coordinate with their public affairs office in advance of interviews whenever possible, or immediately thereafter," according to the guidelines.

FORMER IDAHO GOVERNOR KEMPTHORNE NOMINATED AS INTERIOR SECRETARY

President Bush nominated Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne to the post of Interior Secretary. Known as a states' rights conservative, the Republican is considered the leading candidate to replace outgoing Secretary Gale Norton.

As a former senator, Kempthorne was prominently involved in a bipartisan coalition that worked unsuccessfully to reauthorize the Endangered Species Act. In 1997, Kempthorne and supporters ran into opposition from conservatives who said the bill did not adequately address property rights or water rights issues and from environmentalists who said it would severely weaken statutory protections for imperiled species. The legislation included language to provide incentives to landowners to voluntarily conserve habitat and a streamlined agency consultation process.

Under Kempthorne, Idaho was one of several Western states to go to court and challenge the Clinton-era Roadless Area Conservation Rule limiting roadbuilding, logging and other development on 58.5 million acres of national forests.

OUTGOING INTERIOR SECRETARY SIGNS ORDER ON ROADS

Outgoing Interior Secretary Gale Norton today will sign an order that could open thousands of roads across federal lands in the West to right-of-way claims by state and county governments.

At stake is the ownership and management of thousands of miles of roads, trails and fence lines. Under an 1866 law known as Revised Statute (RS) 2477, states can claim rights-of-way that existed before land was designated as federal property. Critics fear the law will be used to increase motor vehicle use and degrade environmental protections of federally owned land in Utah and elsewhere.

Interior officials say Norton is responding to a federal appeals court decision in September 2005 that said state law should have the final say on what constitutes a road. The 10th Circuit Court ruled that a state's definition of roads that may qualify for RS 2477 claims supercedes the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) definition. For example, Utah has a more liberal definition that says a road must be in continuous use for 10 years, while BLM stated that qualifying roads must be established via mechanical construction.

ESA has provided comments on RS 2477 in the past: www.esa.org/pao/esaPositions/Letters/rs2477.php


Sources: Environment and Energy Daily; Greenwire

Send questions or comments to Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs, Nadine@esa.org; Laura Lipps, Policy Analyst, Laura@esa.org; or Alisha Dahlstrom, ESA Public Affairs Intern, Paointern@esa.org

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