April 27, 2007
In This Issue
The Senate approved a broad science research-and-education bill April 25 that creates an agency in the Department of Energy (DOE) aimed at spurring research into breakthrough energy technologies. The bill also requires policies to prevent suppression or distortion of research at science agencies and to ensure the open communication of federal scientific research, both within the government and to the general public.
The chamber voted 88-8 for S. 761, the “America COMPETES Act.” The measure creates an Advanced Research Projects Authority for Energy aimed at overcoming technological barriers to energy technology development.
The Senate bill also would authorize other science and education programs at several federal agencies, including provisions that would nearly double funding for DOE’s Office of Science over 10 years. Included in the bill are sections related to research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). In particular, the bill states that the Director of the NSF shall “focus on strengthening the Nation’s lead in physical science and technology.”
On April 19, the Ecological Society of America co-hosted an event that brought scientists to Washington, DC to meet with their members of Congress to encourage federal support of the biological and agricultural sciences. The Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC www.esa.org/besc) and the Coalition on Funding Agricultural Research Missions (CoFARM) again teamed up to sponsor this year’s event, in which 40 scientists held meetings with over 70 congressional offices, including with 10 Representatives.
The Interior Department last year linked greenhouse gas emissions to declining polar bear populations in a review completed shortly before the agency’s final proposal to list the bears as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, according to documents posted on the agency’s Web site.
But the findings of the Department’s “Range-Wide Status Review of the Polar Bear” — completed six days before the Dec. 27, 2006, final listing proposal was released — were not included in the final listing proposal.
The status review cites several studies on how greenhouse gases (GHGs) are affecting the Arctic and how cuts in carbon dioxide could slow the pace of global warming. One section of the review refers to a 2005 National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) study that suggests “the warming trend would change considerably if actions were taken soon enough to keep the atmospheric gases from increasing.” But the final listing proposal omits this line and says that “there are few, if any, processes that are capable of altering [climate change] trajectory” in the Arctic.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) opened a public comment period April 24 on California ‘s 15-month-old request for federal approval to begin regulating auto-tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide, marking the Bush administration’s first official move in response to the recent Supreme Court opinion on global climate change.
EPA had not taken action on California ‘s request since December 2005, prompting a wave of criticism from Capitol Hill and even a personal lobbying visit two weeks ago by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).
But with the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA that rebuked the administration on climate change, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said he would take the next step on California ‘s request.
EPA will hold a public hearing on the state’s waiver request May 22 in Washington, DC, and the public comment period will run through June 15, 2007.
Johnson made no promise on when he will make a final decision on California ‘s request, prompting complaints from several senators and a promise for more hearings from the chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) signed the Clean Cars Act April 24, requiring the state to adopt the tougher emissions standards imposed by California rather than those used by the U.S. EPA.
The law mandates raising average fuel efficiency for new vehicles sold in the state to 43 miles per gallon starting in model year 2011. The current average for cars is 27.5 mpg, and for light trucks and SUVs it is 22.2 mpg. Automakers will have to reduce emissions an average of 30 percent across their entire fleets.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed April 19 that Cook Inlet beluga whales be listed as an endangered species.
The agency found that the Cook Inlet whales have a 26 percent chance of becoming extinct in the next 100 years. In the event of a mass stranding or oil spill, that chance increases greatly. Their population has declined by 4 percent each year since 1999. NMFS has one year to review the proposal to list the whales as endangered and identify critical habitat.
Oceangoing vessels that are dumping invasive species in the Great Lakes should be banned, and a group of Michigan Democrats and Republicans said this month that they are open to the idea.
In order for a ban to take effect, the United States would have to coordinate with Canada. Michigan passed a law restricting contaminated discharges in 2005 that was supposed to go into effect this year, but the state gave the oceangoing ships a grace period, provided they give the state a sample of the ballast they dump into its waters. The shippers responded by suing the state last month in order to block the new law.
Experts estimate the annual transportation savings from using overseas shipping on the Great Lakes at $55 million. The estimated price to date just for dealing with the zebra and quagga mussels that now live in the lake is $2 billion. Altogether, officials said, 183 foreign species are living in the lakes.
Sources: Energy and Environment Daily and Greenwire