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Policy News Update

August 18, 2008

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]

ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT ACTION ALERT : BUSH ADMINISTRATION PROPOSAL WOULD ALLOW FEDERAL AGENCIES TO DETERMINE WHETHER SCIENTIFIC REVIEW IS NECESSARY FOR NEW PROJECTS

The Bush Administration has proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that would allow federal agencies to decide whether protected species would be threatened by agency construction projects. These changes were published in the Federal Register on August 15th, thus beginning a 30-day public comment period. The proposal does not require the approval of Congress, and is on course to go into effect before November’s presidential election. Congress and the new administration will have the ability to reverse or overturn the rules, but in both cases the process could take months.

If approved, revisions would represent the biggest overhaul of endangered species regulations since 1986. The major revisions are:

According to the proposed rules, federal agencies have more expertise now than when the original rules were laid out, and are thus capable of identifying which projects warrant scientific review.  The National Marine Fisheries Service and Fish and Wildlife Service reviewed unilateral ESA evaluations for wildfire prevention projects, however, and found that about half these evaluations were not legally or scientifically valid.

The regulations were drafted by attorneys at both the Interior and Commerce Departments. Scientists with both agencies were reportedly first briefed on the proposal last week during a conference call.

The Ecological Society of America will submit a letter during the public comment period, which ends on September 15, and encourages interested members to send in their own comments during this time.

There are two ways to submit comments:

  1. Through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov.
  2. By U.S. mail or hand-delivery to Public Comment Processing,

Attention: 1018-AT50, Division of Policy and Directives Management,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 222, Arlington, VA 22203.

In 2004, the Ecological Society of America took the lead in developing a position statement on scientific peer review, which you may find relevant to the issue at hand. The statement is available at: www.esa.org/pao/policyStatements/Statements/Position-Statement_ScientificPeerReview.php

ENERGY: STALEMATE CONTINUES INTO AUGUST RECESS, BIPARTISAN EFFORT SEEKS COMPROMISE

After a lengthy partisan battle, Congress disbanded for the August break without moving any major energy legislation forward. The debate will likely escalate in September; with the November elections quickly approaching, both parties are attempting to reframe the debate for political gain.

In September, expect the following:

The “Gang of 10,” a bipartisan group of senators, unveiled their broad energy plan on August 1st. It would relax some offshore drilling bans in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and on southeastern Atlantic coast (from Virginia to Georgia, if the states allow it) while repealing oil industry tax breaks and funding investments in renewable energy and conservation. Members of the group say the plan is designed to gain 60 Senate votes, the threshold for passing most major bills.

Total funding for the proposal's various energy programs is $84 billion— $30 billion of this would come from oil companies. Other offsets have yet to be disclosed.

If enacted into law, it would provide:

WATER: HOUSE APPROVES WATER CONSERVATION BILLS

On July 30, the House easily approved two bills to improve water conservation:

  1. H.R. 3957, sponsored by Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT), which directs the Environmental Protection Agency to create a research and development program to improve water efficiency and conservation technologies.

The legislation would create:

  1. H.R. 2339, sponsored by Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), which directs the Energy Department to establish a program aimed at improving technologies that allow farmers and municipalities to use water extracted from energy projects. The measure would authorize $20 million annually from fiscal 2008 through 2016.

RESOURCES: SENATE REJECTS OMNIBUS MEASURE INCLUDING SEVERAL ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH BILLS

A package of 34 largely noncontroversial bills, including several key oceans research provisions, fell eight votes short of cloture on July 28th. The Senate will not likely return to the measure this year— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he would not bring the measure back up for consideration again until a new Congress is in place.

Reid had lumped the small, noncontroversial bills together in an effort to expedite their passage, but Republicans, most notably Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) stood firm in their insistence that the Senate address gas prices before taking up any other measures. Although most of the bills cleared committees with bipartisan votes, Coburn objected to higher spending authorizations and put a hold on most of the bills, forcing debate and votes on the Senate floor.

The omnibus measure included bills in areas ranging from health to foreign relations, but also included many important pieces of environmental legislation, such as:

SCIENCE FUNDING: STALEMATE CONTINUES FOR INTERIOR SPENDING BILL, COMMITTEE-APPROVED LEGISLATION INCLUDES INCREASES FOR NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION AND NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION

Congress made limited progress on 2009 appropriations before the August recess. The Senate Appropriations Committee has now approved 9 of its 12 appropriations bills, but the full Senate has not debated any of them yet. Neither the House nor the Senate approved the Interior spending bill.  As a result, a continuing resolution will likely maintain 2008 funding for associated agencies, most notably the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Geological Survey, through March 2009.

The Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill (S. 3182) fared better, however, and was approved by appropriation committees in both the House and the Senate. The Senate’s version of the bill would match the Bush Administration’s request for a 12.5 percent increase in the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget (for a total of $6.9 billion)—this would keep NSF on track to double its budget between 2006 and 2016. The plan would also invest a total of $5.2 billion in NSF research and development (R and D), a 15.1 percent increase and an all-time high.

The 2009 NSF request and the Senate bill favor the physical sciences, however; programs such as engineering would see funding increases of almost 20 percent, compared to a 10 percent increase for the biological sciences.

Due to the tight overhaul of the budget, Commerce’s other main R and D agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, whose portfolio is oriented toward environmental R and D rather than the physical sciences, would be in line for cuts like most domestic programs. The Senate has a more generous domestic allocation to work with, though, and would grant an 8.9 percent ($52 million) increase.

Within Oceanic and Atmospheric Research:

The August recess is an ideal time for ESA members to bring up issues of concern with representatives in their home districts. Home office contact information is available on the Member’s website, and ESA’s Public Affairs Office is happy to assist interested members as needed.


Sources: Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Send questions or comments to Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs, Nadine@esa.org; Piper Corp, Policy Analyst, Piper@esa.org

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