July 01, 2008

In This Issue

SCIENCE FUNDING: ESA participates in Hill Exhibition showcasing NSF projects

On June 25, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) sponsored ESA member and graduate student Robert Pringle (Stanford U.) to participate in the annual Coalition for National Science Funding Exhibition and Reception. Pringle joined scientists from more than 30 other scientific societies, organizations and universities to showcase research sponsored by the National Science Foundation. About a dozen members of Congress attended the exhibition, as well as NSF Director Arden Bement, Deputy Director Kathie Olsen, Assistant Director of the Biological Sciences Directorate Jim Collins, and several hundred congressional staffers. Pringle spoke with Olsen, Collins, and congressional staff about his research on the drivers of African savanna ecosystems.

Pringle also met with his California delegation to emphasize the importance of NSF to science overall and to biological research in particular (67 percent of fundamental biology research at universities and other research institutions is funded by this agency). Pringle met with staff from the Office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), as well as staff from the offices of Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA).

APPROPRIATIONS: Drilling fight could make Interior/EPA budget increases disappear

The ongoing fight among House lawmakers over offshore drilling could derail major funding increases to Interior Department, Forest Service and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programs for fiscal year 2009.

The $27.9 billion spending bill the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee has approved was publicly released in late June as part of a GOP attempt to force a vote on an offshore drilling amendment.

At an Appropriations Committee review of the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education spending bill, ranking member Jerry Lewis (R-CA) attempted to introduce the Interior spending bill as an amendment to the labor bill, so that GOP lawmakers could introduce drilling-related proposals. Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-WI) and Democrats quickly voted to adjourn the meeting, and threatened to instead turn to a continuing resolution (CR) to fund government operations next year.

If appropriators go with a CR, it would likely extend the current spending levels and not include proposed funding increases contained in the subcommittee bill. Some aides for Appropriations Committee members suspect that the CR would last through next year, when lawmakers would likely try a larger omnibus if a Democrat is in the White House.

The subcommittee bill would give $1.05 billion to the U.S. Geological Survey, in contrast to the $968 million proposed by the Bush administration.

The subcommittee bill also includes increases for the Fish and Wildlife Service, especially the National Wildlife Refuge system. The increase is the second in a row for refuges, which received a sizeable $39 million boost last year in light of a funding crisis that threatened to cut programs and force layoffs. This year’s bill would provide another rush of cash to the refuge system, increasing its funding by $35 million for a total of $469 million.

For the Forest Service, an agency plagued by high firefighting costs, House lawmakers have sought to restore funding to agency’s non-fire initiatives. Overall, the subcommittee’s bill provides $2.97 billion for the wildland fire accounts of Interior and the Forest Service. U.S. EPA would receive a nearly $700 million boost in fiscal 2009 under the House bill. The bill would provide EPA with $7.8 billion, restoring funding for key water and air programs that were drastically cut in the Bush administration’s budget proposal.

Invasive Species: Bordallo, Brown push bill to change nonnative species policy

Legislation to change the way the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) treats imports of nonnative species is necessary to prevent widescale infestations, the leaders of the House Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans Subcommittee said in late June.

The bill, the Non-Native Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act (H.R. 6311) would prohibit the intentional introduction of any nonnative species before a scientific assessment affirms it poses no threat to the U.S. health, economy or environment. Currently, species may be imported unless declared “injurious” under the Lacey Act, which can only happen after the animal has caused demonstrable harm.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), who introduced the bill after several of her island’s native bird species were devastated by invasive brown tree snakes, wants to reverse the burden of proof. “Other industries — pharmaceuticals, food, medical devices — are required to demonstrate their products pose no threat before they can release them,” Bordallo said. “Why should it be different for the pet industry?”

The bill would direct FWS to create an assessment process for species within two years of enactment and to compose a “white list” of safe species within 37 months.

Rep. Henry Brown (R-SC), the panel’s Ranking Member, expressed support for the bill, saying the Lacey Act process is too reactive and cumbersome to be effective. Pet industry officials said damage from intentionally introduced invasive species has been overstated.

Invasive species cause $123 billion in annual damage to the U.S. economy, Bordallo said. Gary Frazer, Director for Fisheries and Habitat Conservation at FWS, said the timeline was brisk but not impossible, provided proper resources were allocated.

Members of the Ecological Society of America’s Rapid Response Team met with Subcommittee staff as well as with Frazer in late February to discuss this issue and the Society issued a position paper on invasive species in 2006: www.esa.org/pao/policyStatements/pdfDocuments/bioIvasions2006.pdf

WATER: Dicks introduces Puget Sound bill

The chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee has urged House lawmakers to support legislation that would address pollution problems in Puget Sound.

Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) has introduced a bill that would establish an Environmental Protection Agency Puget Sound office in order to coordinate state and federal efforts to restore the health of the estuary.

Development and population growth are contributing to the decline of the estuary, Dicks said. About 4 million people live in the watershed, and an additional 1.5 million are expected in the area by 2025.

The bill would provide grants to local communities to study the causes of water quality programs and address those threats, along with grants for sewer and stormwater discharge projects. The office would report on the cleanup effort to Congress every two years and submit a cross-cutting budget that would show how much each federal agency is spending on restoring and protecting the sound.

Dicks told the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee that the bill would boost the federal government’s role in restoring Puget Sound and cut down on duplicate efforts. He suggested increased federal involvement would help the United States present a stronger argument to Canada to convince that nation to step up its recovery efforts.

CLIMATE: Analysis of climate change costs splits Energy and Commerce panel

An appearance by a prominent British economist once again split the House Energy and Commerce Committee along partisan lines, as lawmakers battled over the potential economic and political consequences of taking action to address global climate change.

The Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee heard from Lord Nicholas Stern — a former World Bank chief economist whose recent projections about the costs of addressing climate change has sparked a wave of headlines and debate. Stern also met with senators involved with the cap-and-trade legislation including Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), John Warner (R-VA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

“I remain impressed by the degree of understanding of many people of responsibility in the United States,” Stern said at a speech at the Center for Global Development. “At the same time, I was impressed by the extraordinary scientific denial of some of them.”

At the House hearing, Stern repeated his call for world economies to spend 1 to 2 percent of their gross domestic product to stop greenhouse gases from rising to dangerous levels. Though Stern admitted that addressing climate change could have a significant economic impact, he repeatedly emphasized that taking no action would lead to much higher costs.

In particular, Stern said that scientific analysis showed that without some kind of action there is a 50-50 chance that worldwide temperatures will increase by an average of 9 degrees Fahrenheit over the pre-industrial level era by 2100.

“It radically redraws where species, including humans, are able to live,” Stern said of the potential temperature change.

That message was seemingly embraced by prominent Democrats, who saw such warnings as a signal that the federal government and private sector must act fairly quickly on efforts to stem the effects of climate change.

“Scientists cannot tell us precisely what will happen at different greenhouse gas levels, such as how many more people will lose homes and farms to flooding,” said Rep. John Dingell (D-MI). “Instead, we need to understand that the best they can do is tell us what the risks are — the probabilities that certain physical changes will occur and the costs we will incur to address those changes.”

Several top Republicans, meanwhile, acknowledged that there could be potential economic impacts stemming from climate change but also argued that poorly designed efforts to deal with the issue could have even more severe economic consequences.

“Energy costs have already reached alarming levels — we’re all paying the costs,” said Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Ranking Member of the Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee. “We can pursue options that won’t make matters worse.”

CLIMATE: Automakers must comply with CA law if waiver is granted -- U.S. court

A federal court has ruled that automobile manufacturers should not be given extra time to comply with a California law regulating greenhouse gas emissions if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gives the state a waiver allowing the law to take effect.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California told Central Valley Chrysler-Jeep and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers that the court would not insulate business from the consequences of their failure to prepare for possible regulations.

Chrysler and the association had argued that the pending regulations forced automakers to either invest in technology to meet standards that might never be imposed or to forgo investment and risk noncompliance.

Matt Pawa, who represented the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and Environmental Defense in the case, described the decision as a major victory.

“The sooner car companies take action to make more energy-efficient vehicles, the sooner they will rescue themselves from the verge of bankruptcy,” Pawa said.

Chrysler had sued the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to gain more time to comply with regulations if the waiver goes into effect. CARB has said automakers would have 45 days.

Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama have said they support California’s waiver request.

OIL AND GAS: Democrats bring scaled-back energy agenda to floor

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Democratic leaders sought to regain momentum in the partisan Capitol Hill energy debate on June 26, even though a major piece of their energy plan faces highly uncertain prospects on the floor.

Democrats face an uphill battle on the “use it or lose it” bill designed to pressure oil companies to produce oil from leases they currently own. The bill will need a two-thirds vote for passage.

The “use it or lose it” bill is one of three energy-related measures the House considered, along with legislation to encourage use of public transportation and a resolution calling on the White House to act to curb speculation in oil futures markets. The bill would bar oil companies from obtaining new leases unless they are working to develop their currently nonproducing tracts. Democrats say oil companies should not be clamoring for access to currently restricted areas when they are not producing large amounts of oil available on leases they already own.

But Republicans and industry have been attacking the bill, arguing it reflects, at best, a deep misunderstanding of how companies make development decisions and investments. “Companies already are actively exploring their currently leased lands, and once they determine that oil or gas reserves are present only then can they actually begin drilling. The entire process can take years,” states a letter to Pelosi from House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH).

Several observers say it is very unlikely the bill will win the two-thirds support needed for passage and may be intended simply to put Republicans on the record. A GOP aide speculated that Democrats “fully expect to lose.”/p>

Sources: Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, and Land Letter