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Policy News Update

October 20 2011

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]

APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE RELEASES INTERIOR SPENDING BILL

On Oct. 14, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies released is funding bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. In total, the bill provides $29.3 billion for programs funded by the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other environmental agencies, slightly less than the $29.5 billion approved for FY 2011. The House bill includes $27.5 billion in funding for FY 2012.

The bill includes $10.27 billion for the Interior Department in FY 2012, down from the $10.56 billion enacted in FY 2011. EPA would receive $8.62 billion, down from the $8.68 billion enacted in FY 2011. The House bill includes $9.9 billion for Interior and $7.1 billion for EPA.

For the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) the bill provides $1.08 billion in funding for FY 2012, less than the $1.11 billion provided in FY 2011. The House bill provides approximately $919.22 million for BLM.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) would receive $1.47 billion for FY 2012, less than the $1.5 billion allocated in FY 2011. The House bill provides $1.1 billion for FWS.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) would be funded at $1.06 billion for FY 2012, less than the $1.08 billion in funding it received in FY 2011. The House bill includes $1.05 billion for USGS.

For the U.S. Forest Service, the bill includes $4.56 billion for FY 2012, less than the $4.69 billion allocated in FY 2012. The House bill provides $4.5 billion for the Forest Service.

The Senate bill does not include the numerous policy riders adopted in the House measure that seek to delay multiple EPA and Interior rules. The bill also incorporates Senator John Tester’s (D-MT) Forest Jobs and Recreation Act (S. 268), which designates as wilderness nearly 700,000 acres in Montana while releasing about 100,000 acres in the state for timber harvests. The bill also retains funding for a number of conservation initiatives to preserve wetlands and endangered species that were cut in the House bill.

A conference report must be negotiated between the House and the Senate before the bill can be sent to the president to be signed into law. Senate leaders have indicated the Interior bill will not see floor action, increasing the likelihood that it may be included in an omnibus appropriations measure later in the year. The move against a Senate floor vote is speculated to prevent the Senate bill from being amended with the policy riders included in the House bill.

This week, the Senate is currently debating amendments to a “mini-bus” (mini-omnibus) appropriations measure consisting of three separate bills for the Senate Agriculture, Commerce Justice and Science, and Transportation Housing and Urban Development appropriations measures. The Senate intends to complete consideration of the “mini-bus” measure by the end of this week or weekend.

For additional information on the Senate Interior bill see:
http://www.appropriations.senate.gov/news.cfm?method=news.view&id=e92a6e86-4681-46ca-ab46-0470023050f2

The current version of the House Interior bill can be found here:

http://appropriations.house.gov/UploadedFiles/INTERIOR-FY2012_-_Working_v20_xml.pdf

ENDANGERED SPECIES: JUDGE THROWS OUT INTERIOR RULE LIMITING POLAR BEAR PROTECTIONS

On Oct. 17, a federal judge struck down a George W. Bush administration rule that barred the use of the Endangered Species Act to regulate greenhouse gasses.

The ruling concerned a rule issued by the U.S. Department of Interior in 2008 that said the polar bear's designation as threatened in 2008 could not be used as a backdoor way to control greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. The rule was subsequently upheld by the Obama administration.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan of the District of Columbia ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to carry out an environmental review to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). But, importantly, he upheld FWS's decision that the Endangered Species Act was not the appropriate vehicle to regulate greenhouse gases.

On NEPA, Sullivan wrote that FWS had failed to take into account the potential environmental impacts of the special rule, which addressed, among other things, the direct impact on polar bear habitat from oil and gas exploration. At the time, FWS did not carry out any NEPA analysis.

Sullivan wrote that his decision does not mean the agency is required to carry out a full environmental impact statement, but it must convince him of the need not to do so. While the NEPA analysis is carried out, a May 2008 interim rule that is essentially the same as the final rule, remains in place.

The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that filed a lawsuit over the 2008 rule, said the decision puts the fate of the polar bear back in the hands of the Obama administration and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Sullivan's decision directs the Interior Department to respond by Nov. 17 with a timetable for when it will complete the required environmental review.

HOUSE: COMMITTEE REVIEWS STEM EDUCATION REPORT

On Oct. 12, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education convened to review a recent report from the National Academies entitled Successful K-12 STEM Education:  Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.”

In his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL) asserted “I believe the findings of this report reveal many things that we already know about what it takes to have a successful K-12 STEM school.  A number of these success stories are highlighted in the report.  And while research gaps continue to exist, getting this helpful information into the hands of state education departments and local school districts is important, because that is where real change takes place.”

The report was requested in 2009 by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), the current Chairman of the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee who also spoke at the hearing. Wolf sought to highlight the importance of science education in further overall American competitiveness, asking, “will the 21st century be the American century or will the 21st century be the Chinese century?” Rep. Wolf asserted that the Chinese have 200,000 people working in their space program while America has only committed 90,000 to 95,000.

 Suzanne Wilson, Chair of the Department of Teacher Education in STEM fields at Michigan State University noted the lack of a coordinated effort to prepare and train teachers.  “There are 1,500 school districts in the U.S. and each has an entirely independent portfolio of professional training for its teachers,” she said. “Despite the investment of these material and human resources, teachers seldom receive coordinated guidance about what they should study or have opportunity to select professional development that builds on their previous experiences. This is irresponsible. It has adverse effects for our young people and on our Nation’s position in a rapidly changing world and global economy.”

Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) touted his bill, H.R. 2547, the No Child Left Inside Act of 2011, noting that it encourages students to partake in innovative science education activities, such as going outdoors on field trips to explore science in their communities. Adam Gamoran, Director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin, told Rep. Sarbanes that the NAS report “would add fuel to your fire.” Gamoran maintained that the approach of Sarbanes’s bill was consistent with report’s recommendations to further research experiences that go beyond textbooks to actual physical engagement activities.

Barbara Means, Director of the Center for Technology in Learning at SRI International added that teachers need an appropriate curriculum and structure in order for such instruction to be implemented properly, so it is “not just a matter of going outside for the day.” Rep. Sarbanes noted that “one of the key components of this legislation is to provide resources for the kind of training that you’ve all alluded to…so that it’s a fully integrated experience.”

Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI) inquired what Congress can do to enact policies that could help African-American students get involved in STEM education. Mark Heffron, Director of the Denver School of Science and Technology at Stapleton High School reiterated the sentiments expressed by Gamoran and Means, noting the importance of outside-the-textbook programs to engage in legitimate science and math activities.

In response to Rep. Clarke’s inquiry, Elaine Allensworth, Senior Director and Chief Research Officer, Consortium on Chicago School Research, University of Chicago noted that relationships are key. “Schools that actually get more students to graduate, get them through their classes, are schools where teachers closely monitor students. When a student is absent, they call home that day, they don’t let a student get away with being absent for two weeks,” she said. “Schools that have structures that are set up to actually track absences and make sure kids are coming right away, get them back on track, have better than expected absence rates, they have better than expected grades and pass rates.”

View the full hearing here:
http://science.house.gov/press-release/witnesses-discuss-what-makes-successful-k-12-stem-education

View the full National Academies report here:
http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13158

HOUSE: COMMITTEE REVIEWS ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT IMPLEMENTATION

On Oct. 13, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations convened for a hearing entitled “The Endangered Species Act: Reviewing the Nexus Between Science and Policy.”

In his opening statement, Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun R-GA) sought to use the proportionally low number of species that have been delisted from the Endangered Species Act as evidence of the law’s failure. “In terms of effectiveness, I believe it would be hard to argue that the law has been anything but an abject failure,” he said.  “Of the roughly 2,000 species listed as endangered or threatened, only about one percent have actually recovered.   As a tool for advancing other special interest policy goals, it has certainly been very influential, but I’m not sure that was the Act’s original intent.”

Subcommittee Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-MD) sought to highlight the bipartisan support that the Act once enjoyed in her opening statement: “I’d like to start off by quoting one of our country’s most famous conservationists, President Richard Nixon: ‘Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed.  It is a many-faceted treasure, of value to scholars, scientists, and nature lovers alike, and it forms a vital part of the heritage we all share as Americans.’ I share that sentiment,” she said. I share that quote because protecting wildlife and protecting nature from utter destruction used to be a bipartisan cause.  Unfortunately, my Republican colleagues no longer see eye to eye with their Party’s former president.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Director Gary Frazer sought to highlight the importance of the Act: “The ESA provides a critical safety net for America’s native fish, wildlife, and plants.  And we know it can deliver remarkable successes.   Since Congress passed this landmark conservation law in 1973, the ESA has prevented the extinction of hundreds of imperiled species across the nation and has promoted the recovery of many others,” he said. “The ESA represents a firm commitment to protect and preserve our natural heritage out of a deeply held understanding of the direct link between the health of our ecosystems, the services they provide and our own well-being.”

The majority of witnesses called to testify were critical of the Act. Many asserted that states were appropriately suited to manage the protection of endangered species. “If recovery goals were optionally deferred to the states, I’m sure that in many instances we would find state-level recovery plans that would be scientifically reliable, science-based and actually deliver greater performance on the act at a lesser cost than the way recovery plans are administered at present,” said Neal Wilkins, Director, Institute of Renewable Natural Resources, Texas A&M University.

Craig Mason, General Counsel of Westlands Water District sought to address criticism about his tenure as Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) during the George W. Bush administration. “Some scientists, lawyers and policymakers misunderstand the relationship between policy and science in ESA decision-making. We make not scientific decisions, but science informed decisions in the ESA and our science must be of the highest quality in order to do that…We have to stop pretending that the ESA is not a politicized statute,” he said. “It’s the job of the executive branch to oversee the work of its employees and that is what happens in most cases that some have viewed as political interference,” he contended.

Committee Democrats sought to question the integrity of several of the witnesses. Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) asked Alaska Department of Fish and Game Special Assistant Douglas Vincent-Lang about Alaska’s gag rule that allegedly directs state scientists to adhere to state positions even in their capacity as peer reviewers of papers.  Ranking Member Edwards and Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) asked Manson about his time at Interior, where his then-deputy Julie MacDonald, whom Interior’s Inspector General found had  “bullied, insulted, and harassed the professional staff of FWS to change documents and alter biological reporting.”

“The ESA works. Less than one percent of listing species have gone extinct since 1973 while ten percent of candidate species still waiting to be listed are gone.  In addition to the hundreds of species that the Act has protected from extinction, listing has contributed to population increases or the stabilization of populations for at least 35 percent of listed species and perhaps significantly more,” contended Francesca Grifo, Senior Scientist and Director, Scientific Integrity Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Grifo noted that the Department of Interior was “first out of the box” to develop a scientific integrity policy during the Obama administration and expressed optimism about its implementation. She cautioned that “science cannot be a mask behind which decision-makers can do anything that special-interests or ideology might dictate. The rightful place for science is as the basis of broad participatory and transparent conversations about how to solve the challenges we face. It is not okay to say the science made me do it while changing the science to justify policy decisions.”

View the full hearing here:
http://science.house.gov/hearing/investigations-and-oversight-subcommittee-hearing-%E2%80%93-endangered-species-act

SENATE: COMMITTEE EXAMINES ARMY CORPS FLOOD-CONTROL EFFORTS

On Oct. 19, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee convened for a hearing entitled “A Review of the 2011 Floods and the Condition of the Nation’s Flood Control Systems." The hearing examined the federal response to the various floods of 2011, focusing primarily on the areas surrounding the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

Both Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) expressed support for working on a new Water Resources Development Act while simultaneously voicing disappointment with the burden the current earmark ban places on lawmakers. “When you don’t do earmarks or don’t do your appropriations, your authorizations as article 1 section 9 of the Constitution tells us to do, then automatically the president does that and the president doesn’t know what our needs our in Oklahoma,” said Ranking Member Inhofe.  “I’ll let that one go,” Chairwoman Boxer joked in response.

Eight Senators and one Congressman from states along the rivers testified, a number Senate Chairwoman Boxer described as “unprecedented” referring to the hearing as a “bipartisan moment” for the committee. The lawmakers who testified called for the Army Corps to rewrite its "Master Manual,” which was last updated in 2004 after a 14-year, $33 million public process. The manual specifically dictates how the system, including water levels in six flood-control reservoirs, should be operated to balance the needs for flood control, commercial navigation, the environment and recreation.

Members from flooded states testifying included Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Ben Nelson (D-NE), John Thune (R-SD), Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO). The lawmakers demanded that flood control be given greater priority. Specifically with respect to flood control efforts along the Missouri river, they alleged that current policies led the Army Corps to store too much water in reservoirs for too long to serve commercial shipping, irrigation, environmental and recreational interests during the dry season, leaving no room to catch the unanticipated overflow from the snowmelt and rainfall.

Sen. Blunt pointed out how flooding, which usually last only for a few weeks, this year lasted in several states for three to five months. Sen. Johnson said that a number of experts forecasted record flooding whereas the Army Corps miscalculated and noted that the current system will not be as capable of containing floods next year due to the stress suffered this year. The members collectively urged the committee, in light of the severe damage to agriculture, housing, infrastructure and state economies, to examine what steps may be necessary to help the Army Corps respond to unprecedented levels of flooding in the future. "Doing the same thing as last year and hoping for a different result is not acceptable," said Sen. Nelson.

Representatives for the Army Corps asserted the flood was a 1-in-500 year event and that efforts were underway to rebuild critical flood-protection infrastructure. Bringing the Army Corps flood-control system to pre-flood condition would cost $2 billion, according to Army  Civil Works Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy. She stated that while lawmakers have pushed for additional disaster recovery money, the administration has not put together a formal request for an emergency appropriation.

The Army Corps has convened a review panel to assess the agency's decision-making throughout the five-month flood emergency and is expected to report back at the end of December.

To view the full hearing, see:
http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Hearings.Hearing&Hearing_id=f46a889c-802a-23ad-4bc9-e93cf1b231c7

OSTP: REPUBLICAN LAWMAKERS ISSUE LETTER CRITICIZING SCIENTIFIC INTEGRITY METHODS

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Science and Space Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA), Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) sent a letter to White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren criticizing the administration’s use of science in its decision-making.

“We write to ask your assistance in helping us better understand the apparent collapse in the quality of scientific work being conducted at our federal agencies. Specifically, we are concerned with data quality, integrity of methodologies and collection of information, agencies misrepresenting publicly the weight of scientific ‘facts,’ indefensible representations of scientific conclusions before our federal court system, and our fundamental notions of ‘sound’ science,” the letter states.

The letter cites a National Research Council review of the quality of work that was done by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Integrated Risk Information System chemical assessment program in April 2011. The NRC review found that “EPA’s draft assessment was not prepared in a logically consistent fashion, lacks clear links to an underlying conceptual framework, and does not sufficiently document methods and criteria used to identify evidence for selecting and evaluating studies.” The letter asks Holdren to clarify what subsequent dialogue there was between himself and the EPA as a result of the report.

The letter also references a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued in May 2011 criticizing the process that the Department of Energy (DOE) used to shut down a program for turning Yucca Mountain, NV into a long-term storage site for U.S. nuclear waste. The GAO asserted that “amid uncertainty over whether it had the authority to terminate the Yucca Mountain repository program, DOE terminated the program without formally assessing the risks stemming from the shutdown, including the possibility that it might have to resume the repository effort.”

“Your informing us of your specific actions in each situation as it arose would be most beneficial and would help us know what steps to take to advance science to its ‘proper place’ and to ensure that ‘sound science’ wins the day,” the lawmakers conclude. The lawmakers ask for a response by Nov. 2.

In March 2009, President Obama called on agencies to ensure that political officials hire scientists for their expertise and refrain from suppressing or altering findings. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) eventually released guidelines, aimed at ensuring government scientists' work isn't altered for political purposes. The guidelines, issued eighteen months after the original deadline, mark the first time the federal government has had an explicit government-wide policy of this kind.

To read the full Vitter-Inhofe-Issa letter, click here:
http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Files.View&FileStore_id=481b7b1b-53e7-4ae4-b583-e317f7dc2cd3

To see the full OSTP guidelines, read the Dec. 22 edition of ESA Policy News here: http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2010/12222010.php

AIR POLLUTION: EPA AWARDS UNIVERISITIES FUNDING FOR BLACK CARBON RESEARCH

On Oct. 18, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it had awarded over $6.6 million in grants to eight universities to support black carbon research.  EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program awarded the grants to support research to study the role and impacts of black carbon, which is emitted from a wide variety of sources that burn fossil fuel or biomass.

Unlike greenhouse gases, which remain in the atmosphere for decades or centuries, black carbon particles only stay in the atmosphere for days or weeks. Consequently, reducing black carbon emissions could have a more immediate effect on the climate than greenhouse gases.

Award recipients include the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Carnegie Mellon University; the University of California, Irvine; the University of California, Riverside; the University of Iowa; the University of Washington; the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Rutgers University.

View the full EPA press release here:
http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/1e5ab1124055f3b28525781f0042ed40/9995441262f35d748525792d00637fb2!OpenDocument

Additional information on the black carbon research projects can be found here:

www.epa.gov/ncer/blackcarbon

EPA: ORGANIZATIONS AWARDED GRANT FUNDING FOR ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION

On Oct. 18, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced $219,000 in grants to organizations across four states that support environmental education initiatives.

The recent recipients are among the more than 40 organizations across the nation who have received awards by EPA in 2011.  These grants are awarded to local and non-profit organizations, government agencies as well as schools and universities who work to advance environmental education. The recipients include Nuskagak-Mulchatna Wood-Tikchik Land Trust in Alaska; the University of Idaho; Long Tom Watershed Council in Oregon; and the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

EPA is currently working on the Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for the 2012 Environmental Education Grant Program. Click here more information about the 2012 grant program: http://www.epa.gov/education/grants.html
View the full EPA press release here:

http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/1e5ab1124055f3b28525781f0042ed40/bffb39c159bcf36a8525792d005deb6f!OpenDocument

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in the House

H.R. 3315, the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act – Introduced Oct. 11 by Transportation and Infrastructure Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Tim Bishop (D-NY) the bill would address national wastewater infrastructure needs through the investment of $13.8 billion over five years through the State Revolving Fund to improve water quality. The bill currently has five cosponsors including Reps. Steven LaTourette (R-OH), Thomas Petri (R-WI), Nick Rahall (D-WV), Jerry Costello (D-IL) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI).

Passed by House

H.R. 2250, the EPA Regulatory Relief Act – Introduced by Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), the bill would post-pone Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) implementation of rules governing emissions for industrial, commercial, and institutional boilers, process heaters, and incinerators that were finalized in February 2011. The bill passed Oct. 13 by a vote of 275-142 with 41 Democrats voting with all Republicans in favor of the bill.

House Democrats argued that repealing rules intended to remove mercury, lead and cancer-causing toxins from incinerators and industrial boilers would pose a lethal public health threat to thousands of Americans. Democratic amendments rejected included the following:

 

 

 

 

H.R. 2273, the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act – Introduced by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), the bill would increase flexibility for states to create their own coal ash disposal programs as long as they follow minimum federal guidelines. The bill passed the House Oct. 14 by a vote of 267-144 with 37 Democrats voting with most Republicans in supporting the bill. Three Republicans joined a majority of Democrats in voting no: Reps. Frank LoBiondo (NJ), Chris Smith (NJ) and Frank Wolf (VA).

The bill is in response to pending Environmental Protection Agency rules conservatives contend would create more than $100 billion in compliance costs for coal-burning power plants and considerable job loss. Democrats contend the legislation would jeopardize the safe disposal of coal ash. Among Democratic amendments rejected were the following:

 

 

Introduced in the Senate

S. 1690, the Northern Arizona Mining Continuity Act of 2011 – Introduced Oct. 12 by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) the bill would prohibit the Department of Interior from implementing the withdrawal of roughly one million acres from new mining claims around the Grand Canyon National Park for 20 years. Companion legislation (H.R. 3155) has been introduced in the House by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ). The bill has been referred to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.


Sources: Associated Press, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Appropriations Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Senate Appropriations Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

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