ESA Policy News: March 1

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Piper Corp. Read the full Policy News here.

SENATE CLIMATE BILL: REID WANTS DRAFT ASAP, GRAHAM INTRODUCES NEW ENERGY LANGUAGE-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is urging Senator John Kerry (D-MA) to finish work on a draft climate and energy bill as soon as possible. Kerry is working with Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to produce a sweeping measure that is expected to couple a carbon-pricing mechanism with incentives for nuclear power and domestic oil and gas production in an effort to garner the necessary bipartisan support. The climate debate’s divisive nature makes timing critical—a bill’s chances of passing will fade dramatically as the November elections approach. But 2010 may be one of the best times to negotiate broad support for a climate bill, since industry is calling for increased regulatory certainty in the face of looming regulatory action from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Meanwhile, President Obama continues to urge Congress to pass a comprehensive climate bill before the year is out. In contrast to the healthcare debate, the Administration is not planning to put together a legislative proposal on the issue, but will instead support congressional efforts and allow lawmakers freedom to negotiate a politically viable bill. Obama’s main priority, he says, is putting a price tag on greenhouse gas emissions; to achieve this, he has indicated his willingness to compromise on a variety of issues, including nuclear energy, something that has earned criticism from some of his longtime supporters.

Pricing emissions is perhaps the biggest sticking point in current negotiations, with lawmakers weighing a number of different options beyond the cap-and-trade approach included in the House-passed bill (HR 2454). Still, a resolution may be close: the bill’s authors are, according to Graham, currently leaning towards a power plant-only approach.

ENDANGERMENT FINDING: EPA FACES HEAT IN BUDGET HEARINGS, TEMPERS INITIAL APPROACH-Congressional budget hearings are providing lawmakers with a new means of disputing greenhouse gas emission regulations from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Following its much-discussed “endangerment finding,” EPA plans to roll out initial regulations this March. President Obama’s budget request includes $10 billion for EPA, which—although $300 million less than 2010 levels—includes $43 million in new funding for regulatory programs to reduce emissions.

Opponents of the regulations could use the appropriations process to zero out funding that would have gone toward curbing emissions. Climate skeptics are now claiming that global warming data have been thrown into doubt and that the endangerment finding should be reconsidered. But EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson countered these arguments during a recent Senate hearing, affirming that “the science behind climate change is settled, and human activity is responsible for global warming. That conclusion is not a partisan one.”

NEPA: CEQ RELEASES DRAFT PROPOSAL TO CONSIDER CLIMATE CHANGE IN ENVIRONMENTAL EVALUATIONS-On February 18, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released draft guidance that will require federal agencies to consider greenhouse gas emissions and climate change effects when conducting National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews of projects such as landfills or coal-fired power plants. The proposal would apply only to projects that could produce more than 25,000 metric tons of emissions annually. It would also call on agencies to consider how proposed projects might be affected by the impacts of climate change.

CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley has stressed that the proposal should not be seen as an attempt to regulate emissions or as a substitute for comprehensive climate and energy legislation. Further, she said that it will not likely slow NEPA evaluations, since many agencies have already voluntarily incorporated similar factors into their evaluations. The Council will seek public comment on the proposal for 90 days. Read or comment on the full draft guidance here.

NEGOTIATIONS: UNITED NATIONS’ DE BOER ANNOUNCES RESIGNATION-The top United Nations climate diplomat, Yvo de Boer, has announced that he will resign July of this year. De Boer was at the center of the often contentious Copenhagen climate summit, and has shouldered much of the blame for its lackluster outcome: the non-binding “Copenhagen Accord,” which remains on shaky ground, though more than 50 countries—including the world’s heaviest emitters—have since filed pledges to reduce emissions under the accord. Combined, the countries account for about 78 percent of the world’s total energy users.

FOREST SERVICE: ESA WEIGHS IN ON NATIONAL FOREST SYSTEM MANAGEMENT-In mid-February, the Ecological Society of America(ESA) joined the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) in submitting comments on the Notice of Intent for management of the National Forest System (74 Federal Register 67165-67169, December 18, 2009). The two scientific societies underscored the merits of a scientifically credible rule change that integrates ecological sustainability with well-accepted approaches in climate change planning.

The letter encouraged the Forest Service to use the best available science in meeting its stated objectives with respect to restoration, watershed protection, climate change resilience, and wildlife conservation. SCB and ESA suggested four core planning principles that should be included in all planning alternatives: (1) population viability assessments for focal species and other target species in order to help meet the agency’s obligation to sustain diversity and reduce impacts from forest management and climate change; (2) plan for ecological sustainability using a broad suite of measurable biological indicators such as ecological integrity; (3) prepare for climate change by protecting intact ecosystems (e.g. roadless areas) to facilitate climate-forced wildlife migrations and carbon dense ecosystems (e.g. mature forests) for long-term carbon storage while reducing existing stressors to enable adaptation of species (and, in the aggregate, ecosystems); and (4) conduct effectiveness monitoring using a rigorous approach.

UPCOMING LEGISLATION: PUBLIC LANDS BILLS HEAD TO THE HOUSE FLOOR-On February 24, the House Natural Resources Committee easily cleared a number of public lands bills, including:
• Washington wilderness (HR 1769): Would add more than 20,000 acres to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in western Washington. HR 1769 was introduced by Representative Dave Reichert (R-WA) and is being touted as “a great bipartisan success story” after earning strong support from the state’s Democrats. Washington Senators Patty Murray (D) and Maria Cantwell (D) have introduced companion legislation (S 721).
• Hudson River Valley (HR 4003): Would direct the Interior Department to study sections of New York’s Hudson River Valley for inclusion in the National Park system.
• Stornetta Public Lands (HR 4192): Would designate the Stornetta Public Lands as an Outstanding Natural Area to be administered as a part of the National Landscape Conservation System.
• California water resources (HR 4252): Would direct Interior to conduct a study of water resources in Southern California’s Rialto-Colton Basin.