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Policy News Update

May 11, 2007

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]

International News:


The world will need to overhaul its energy and land-use policies within the next few decades to avoid a sweeping shift in the Earth's climate, according to a United Nations report approved May 4 by more than 100 government officials, scientists and economists. In sharp detail, the 35-page report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change summarizes six years of modeling data and other studies to spell out the link between energy production, temperature and the level of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions building up in the atmosphere.

Atop a long list of conclusions, the report said emission reductions of 50 percent to 85 percent across the globe will be needed to keep mean temperatures from rising more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit. That is the temperature that scientists say would avert some of the most dramatic changes in sea level rise and coastland loss.

Bush administration officials played up the report's findings about nuclear power and carbon capture but showed reluctance in embracing other statements about the different scenarios needed to curb greenhouse gases.


Biofuels can jump-start rural economies but their benefits may be outweighed by serious environmental problems and increased food prices for the poor, according to a U.N. report on bioenergy released May 8. The report, compiled by U.N. Energy, a consortium of 20 U.N. agencies and programs, warned that the biofuel craze could "make substantial demands on the world's land and water resources at a time when demand for both food and forest products is also rising rapidly." It also described the dangers of monocropping, saying it could "lead to significant biodiversity loss, soil erosion and nutrient leaching."


The International Whaling Commission's scientific committee began two weeks of sessions May 7 ahead of the body's annual meeting at which Japan 's future participation could be decided.

While the committee's deliberations are secret, it is likely to review a proposal by Japan to allow some commercial coastal whaling, according to Patrick Ramage, communications director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

In February, Japan threatened to leave the IWC if it does not allow some form of commercial whaling. The threat was made at the end of a three-day whaling conference in Tokyo, which sought to discuss ways to "normalize" the IWC back to its original design, which the country says was to regulate whaling instead of imposing a ban on the practice.

The IWC passed a ban on commercial whaling in 1986, but Japan utilizes a loophole that allows the hunting of whales for scientific research. The country has since led several efforts to reverse the ban.


More than 20 nations agreed May 4 to limit unregulated and destructive bottom-trawling in the South Pacific. Starting Sept. 30, 2007, the nations will use observers and ship locator systems to keep vessels at least five nautical miles from vulnerable areas. Environmental groups that pushed for the measures hope the agreement will help protect deep-water corals and other vulnerable ecosystems in about one-quarter of the world's high seas. The area extends from the equator to the Antarctic Circle and from Australia to the west coast of South America.

National News:


The Interior Department is considering an Endangered Species Act ( ESA ) rewrite that would change the definition of habitat damage and give states greater authority in administering the law, a Bush administration official has told the House Natural Resources Committee.

Dale Hall, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, told the panel in a letter the week of May 7 that his agency is working on rule changes that would limit ESA protection to plants' and animals' current habitat, rather than throughout their historic range, and allow states and other federal agencies to consult on ESA cases, a task now restricted to Fish and Wildlife biologists.

The proposal is expected to be sent to Interior for review within the next few weeks, Hall said. Provisions no longer under consideration are proposals that would change the definition of what puts a species in "jeopardy," give veto power to states on federal listing decisions and allow the destruction of vegetation grown after critical habitat is designated.

Still being considered, Hall stated, is a provision allowing the government to avoid designating "critical habitat" if a species is not threatened by habitat loss.

Also up for a rewrite are "adverse modification" rules aimed at limiting destruction of important habitat. Current law bars the harm of species habitat, but courts have issued conflicting rulings.


The Bush Administration's choice to oversee the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service May 10 tried to make the case that he would be an agent for change at the Interior Department, but a key Democratic Senator remains unconvinced.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said nothing he heard from Lyle Laverty changed his decision to place a hold on his nomination when it hits the Senate floor. Laverty, until recently the chief of Colorado 's state parks system, is the nominee for assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks.

Much of the discussion at the Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing centered around Julie MacDonald, the Deputy Assistant Secretary who resigned the first week of May after a scathing Interior Inspector General's report found she pressured career employees into changing scientific documents and findings related to Endangered Species Act listings and sent information to third parties to use in challenging the Service in court.

If confirmed, Laverty would fill a post that has officially been vacant since November 2005, when Craig Manson resigned for a teaching post at the University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, CA.


Airlines scheduled a record number of commercial flights in May, sparking concerns from green groups over the aviation industry's potential contribution to climate change. According to OAG Worldwide Limited, airlines have scheduled 2.51 million flights for May, exceeding the previous record of 2.49 million set last August and marking a year-on-year global growth in flight numbers of 5 percent. At this rate, environmentalists claim any improvements made to airlines' fuel efficiency will be negated by the increased number of flights.


A Senate appropriator said May 8 that Congress is planning to cut funding this year for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) told reporters after an Appropriations Committee hearing that lawmakers are "trying to fund it small" and that the trend would continue as long as there is on-site storage for spent fuel at reactors. The Senator also said he would not propose interim storage legislation this year.

Domenici's comments confirm fears of nuclear energy industry lobbyists about potential plans for drastic cuts to the fiscal 2008 program budget for the Nevada repository.

Sources: Energy and Environment Daily and Greenwire.

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