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Policy News Update

February 02, 2007

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]

HOUSE FY 2007 BUDGET WRAP-UP PROVIDES GOOD NEWS FOR SCIENCE AGENCIES

The 110th Congress filed a spending bill to finalize the FY 2007 appropriations bills left unfinished by the previous Congress.  The 'joint funding resolution' provides funding for the entire fiscal year for all programs funded by the 9 unfinished FY 2007 appropriations bills covering most domestic programs, mostly at FY 2006 funding levels but with increases for selected programs. The bill was quickly approved by the House on January 31 and goes to the Senate with a deadline of February 15, when the current temporary appropriation expires, for the President to sign it into law. The new spending bill contains pleasant surprises for several federal science agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF).  The proposed funding resolution may still be amended by the Senate or rejected by the President.

Based on the current version of the funding resolution, Agency highlights include:

WHITE HOUSE PROPOSES FARMBILL

The Bush administration's proposal to increase spending for conservation incentives in the next farm bill is meeting the praise of environmental groups, who were concerned that the administration's budget crunch could leave the programs flatlined.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns unveiled his proposal for the next farm bill January 31. It would increase spending for conservation programs by $7.8 billion over the next 10 years and more than double the funds for renewable energy and biomass research. It also adds conservation payments to the farmer subsidy system for the first time. 

Johanns proposed reauthorizing the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which pays farmers to idle marginal cropland, but allowing some of the land to go into biomass production. The administration's proposal would give priority to farmers who would use part of the land for biomass production, an idea that has not flown with wildlife and hunting groups who say it could compromise the wildlife benefits on CRP land.

MILLER TO LEAD HOUSE SCIENCE OVERSIGHT PANE

Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) was selected January 25 to head a new oversight panel within the House Science and Technology Committee that could delve deeply into matters of scientific censorship.  The committee created the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee that will handle "investigative and oversight activities on matters covering the entire jurisdiction" of the full committee.

Members of the Science and Technology Committee also chose Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) to head the Research and Science Education Subcommittee. Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) will serve as ranking member, making the research panel the only subcommittee headed by two members with doctorates. Ehlers holds a doctoral degree in physics, while Baird holds one in clinical psychology.

Other leaders of Science and Technology subcommittees include:

Energy and Environment Subcommittee: Rep. Nick Lampson (D-TX), Chair; Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC), Ranking member.
Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee: Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO), Chair; Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), Ranking member.
Technology and Innovation Subcommittee: Rep. Wu, Chair; Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA), Ranking member.

Climate-Related Articles:
CLIMATE: IPCC REPORT PEGSWARMING ON HUMAN ACTIVITIES

Evidence that global warming is happening is now "unequivocal," and human activities are the major factor driving the temperature rise, according to the long-anticipated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released February 2 in Paris.

The report concludes, with 90 percent certainty, that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions have been the primary factor in Earth's overall temperature rise since 1950.  The last major IPCC report, issued in 2001, pegged the certainty at just 66 percent.

If greenhouse gas emissions stay at their current level or increase, the planet will see a temperature rise of about 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade, the report predicts. Stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions at year 2000 levels would raise temperatures by about 0.1 degree Celsius per decade.

But even if greenhouse gas concentrations are stabilized, Earth would continue to warm and sea levels would continue to rise "for centuries," due to amount of carbon dioxide, other greenhouse gases and aerosols already in the atmosphere, the IPCC report finds.

The February 2 release is the first of three major sections of the IPCC report, the fourth put out by the international panel since its founding in 1988.

A second portion, on the environmental and social effects of climate change, will be released in April, and a third section, on options to limit GHG emissions and mitigate global warming, is set for May. An overall summary of the three sections is due in November.

About 2,500 scientists from more than 100 countries have worked to put the report together over the last six years.

SIX YEARS IN, BUSH GIVES WARMING HIS STATE OF THE UNION DEBUT

Until this year’s address, President Bush had never specifically mentioned global warming in a State of the Union speech.  Bush's climate comments came packaged with a pair of energy proposals designed for the transportation sector of the U.S. economy, the source of about a third of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions.  By 2017, Bush's new energy policies would cut annual emissions from cars and light trucks by as much as 10 percent, the White House said.

That's 175 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, or equal to zeroing out the emissions of 26 million automobiles.  Environmentalists did not dispute the White House's figures, but they did question how much of a contribution the new policies would have when the nation's overall emission rates remain uncapped and seem likely to continue rising.  Said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, “President Bush's rhetoric and goals on global warming have improved, but his proposed solutions are flawed and inadequate.  His plan to address global warming is like fighting a forest fire with a garden hose."

SCIENTISTS WORRY THEY OVERSTATED DANGER OF GLOBAL WARMING IN ORDER TO JUMPSTART PUBLIC AWARENESS

Global warming's recent escape from the scientific ghetto into the arena of public consciousness has some researchers warning that the dangers of climate change may not live up to mainstream expectations.

Some scientists who agree about the concept of human-caused global warming are nonetheless objecting to its public portrayal as, in the words of National Academy of Sciences President Ralph Cicerone, "the most carefully and fully studied scientific topic in human history."

University of Colorado climate scientist Kevin Vranes said that at an American Geophysical Union meeting in December, he detected "tension" among scientists, partly because climate projections carry uncertainties that have not been fully expressed to the public at large. Other concerns are that predictions of Antarctic ice sheets melting, sea levels rising by 200 feet and more catastrophic hurricanes like Katrina may not be accurate.  Some say it is worth protecting against even remote possibilities of catastrophic climate change.

ENERGY POLICY: INOUYE, COMMERCE DEMS GETBEHIND 35 MPG CAFE LEVEL

A half-dozen Senate Commerce Committee Democrats on January 22 threw their support behind a bill that would boost corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) levels to 35 miles per gallon by the 2019 model year.

The legislation, which applies to both passenger cars and light trucks, is sponsored by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Dan Inouye (D-HI) and is likely to be the base CAFE bill taken up by his panel.  The legislation, if implemented, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent by 2025 and cut oil use by 2.1 million barrels of oil per day by that same date, advocates claim.

CEOS, ENVIROS ISSUE JOINT PLEA FOR GLOBAL WARMING BILL

CEOs from DuPont, Alcoa, General Electric, Duke Energy and six other corporations joined two large environmental groups January 23 in urging Congress to pass global warming legislation that curbs greenhouse gas emissions over the next 50 years.  The U.S. Climate Action Partnership is calling for emissions reductions from all economic sectors, including power plants, buildings and transportation.

Principles spelled out by the partnership center around a cap-and-trade system phased in over several decades. The group endorses emission offsets that allow industries to meet their requirements by funding projects that cut greenhouse gas emissions.

OLVER, GILCHREST UNVEIL FIRST GLOBAL WARMING BILLON HOUSE SIDE

This session's first global warming bill in the House was introduced January 22 by Reps. John Olver (D-MA) and Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), who took the cover off legislation that would cut greenhouse gas emissions over the next half century through multiple sectors of the U.S. economy.  The "Climate Stewardship Act" is in many ways a companion to a plan recently unveiled by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and John McCain (R-AZ). The House version differs in that it calls for a more aggressive set of emission cuts by 2050 and it does not include a title aimed specifically at promoting new energy technologies.

GROUPS PETITION 7 AGENCIES TO STEP UP RESPONSE TO GLOBAL WARMING

Environmental groups filed petitions February 1 with seven federal agencies seeking more coordinated planning and responses to global warming, including an assessment of how climate change will affect thousands of the world's species.

The Center for Biological Diversity is the lead author of the petition, which asks the government to factor climate change into everything from habitat designations to road building and permit approval for new energy projects. The petition, filed with U.S. EPA and the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Interior and Transportation, asks for a number of changes in U.S. policies.

For example, the groups want the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to inventory within three years all threatened and endangered species likely to be affected by climate change. The two agencies should also determine if their recovery plans need to be updated to assess the threats of global warming.  Conservation groups gave the agencies 90 days to respond, and they have left open the prospect of a lawsuit in federal court if not satisfied.

BOXER’S DAYLONG HEARING RAISES CURTAINONWARMING DEBATE

The chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee battled Republican critics January 30 who say her efforts to enact global warming legislation this year would crimp the U.S. economy.

"No one is suggesting destroying the American way of life," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said in response to comments that a mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions would increase energy costs and drive up unemployment.

Boxer's comments came at the start of a daylong hearing on global warming that included commentary from 33 senators both on and off her committee. Throughout the day, Boxer talked up the session as an unprecedented attempt to "take the temperature" of lawmakers on climate legislation.

Republican Sen. James Inhofe (OK), the committee's ranking member, questioned whether any of the climate bills drafted to date meet the thresholds stated in a 1997 Sense of the Senate resolution that ultimately drove President Clinton not to submit the Kyoto Treaty to the Senate for ratification. Those criteria, Inhofe reminded senators, include simultaneous efforts from developing nations and a vow not to harm the U.S. economy.

Shrugging off Republicans' criticism, Boxer appeared intent on moving climate legislation. Her committee plans multiple hearings on the issue, including a subcommittee session the second week of February on global warming's effects on wildlife, and another session tentatively scheduled for March 1 with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) as the lead witness.

NO SUBPOENAS NECESSARY IN WHITE HOUSE PROBE, WAXMAN SAYS

Subpoenas may not be necessary to force the White House to hand over internal documents related to allegations that the Bush administration has suppressed or altered the work of government climate scientists, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) said January 30. Though the White House Council on Environmental Quality has withheld documents requested by the House panel as part of its ongoing probe of federal climate reports, Waxman in an interview said he believes the office will voluntarily cooperate with his latest request for internal White House documents. House Democrats have granted Waxman's committee subpoena and deposition power to carry out its investigations.

The controversy over the White House documents largely overshadowed testimony at a January 30 hearing, which included discussion of a new survey of federal climate scientists compiled by two advocacy groups, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Government Accountability Project.


Sources: Energy and Environment Daily; Energy and Environment News PM; Greenwire; American Association for the Advancement of Science

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