February 10, 2012

In This Issue


On Feb. 3, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened for a hearing entitled “Fostering Quality Science at EPA: Perspectives on Common Sense Reform.” The hearing sought to examine EPA’s scientific processes, as outlined under the Environmental Research, Development, and Demonstration Authorization Act (ERDDA).

Citing the testimony of witnesses from a related hearing last year, Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) stressed that efforts to improve EPA’s research activities should seek “to separate science and policy, to quantify uncertainties, to ensure greater transparency in the data, models, and assumptions used in regulatory decisions, to prioritize environmental problems and solutions, and to stop overly alarmist approaches to benefit-cost analysis.”

Subcommittee Ranking Member Brad Miller (D-NC) expressed support for measured reform of ERDDA. “I approach this task hoping to work with my Republican counterparts in pursuing reforms that will lead to better research practices that help EPA accomplish its mission,” he said. Miller qualified that statement, noting “I am not interested in restructuring EPA to take the only environmental cop off the beat.”

Panelists were divided over the quality of EPA’s scientific research. Michael Walls, Vice President of Regulatory and Technical Affairs at the American Chemistry Council was critical of EPA’s chemical assessment methods and outlined recommendations for improving EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System, which assesses chemical toxicity levels.

Stanley Young, Assistant Director for Bioinformatics at the National Institute of Statistical Sciences called for more of EPA’s research to be made publically available. “On publication of a paper, where research is funded by the EPA, the data should be made public.  When the EPA proposes a regulation based on science, it should name the papers it is depending on and it should make data sets used in those papers publicly available.”  Young said that by increasing transparency, “Claims are more likely to be valid and the resulting policy sensible.  Let normal science help in the vetting process.  Make the data available.”

The panelists did include some who praised the EPA scientific practices. “As a research engineer and editor, I can testify that the Office of Research and Development offers world-class science in a number of areas including air quality monitoring, modeling and development of emissions databases.  Improvements in air quality that the U.S. has achieved over the past 40 years are a testament to the good science at EPA,” noted Jerald Schnoor of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Iowa.

Deborah Swackhamer, Chairwoman of the EPA Science Advisory Board, concurred that EPA could do more to give the public access to the data it relies on in its reports, but she said there are existing controls to prevent conflicts of interest. She noted that peer reviewers must disclose their positions on various issues and their sources of funding before they are assigned to assess a report.

In her opening statement, Swackhamer took the opportunity to respond to a letter from Chairman Harris requesting her thoughts on the capability of EPA to utilize the best available science to fulfill its mission. “The agency [EPA] certainly has the capability given its excellent scientific enterprise. It is sorely short of resources to provide the capacity needed for all the science questions at the agency, and yet there is no other agency where such environmentally focused and directed science is being done to fill the unique mission of protecting the public’s health and the environment on which they depend,” she said.

“That said, this capability would be improved by continuing to address scientific questions from an interdisciplinary approach, by partnering more creatively with others, by involving stakeholders in problem formulation, and integrating science across the agency for the most effective decision making,” she concluded.  

Congress first consolidated funding authorizations for EPA’s research under ERDDA in 1976. The law hasn’t been reauthorized since Fiscal Year 1981. Subsequent funding for the ERDDA has been provided through amendments to other environmental legislation.

View the complete hearing here:


Led by Reps. Bill Flores (R-TX) and Gene Green (D-TX), a group of 182 bipartisan House Members have signed a letter to Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, requesting expanded access to offshore energy production.

The letter urges Interior to offer new and expanded access in its proposed 2012-2017 offshore leasing plan. The new five-year plan, required under federal law, would be the first since presidential and congressional moratoria against drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific were lifted in 2008, according to the letter. According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the five-year plan makes roughly 75 percent of the country’s known oil and gas resources available for development.

While areas of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic are included, the plan omits both the Pacific Coast and Atlantic Coast, noting there are outstanding issues related to locality interest and environmental safety for the two latter regions. The proponents of the letter argue that opening up additional waters to offshore drilling will spur job creation and generate revenue to help foster economic recovery.

“We recognize that in the wake of  the Gulf  spill, [Interior] has moved aggressively to implement new safety and environmental regulations and that you have stated publicly that your Department would not be authorizing new activity if you did not believe it was being done safely,” the letter states. “Given these regulatory changes, as well as actions taken by industry to restore confidence, we believe it is time to move ahead in facilitating new access to the OCS and that waiting until 2017 at the earliest to initiate these activities does not serve the public interest.”

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953 requires the Interior Secretary to prepare a five year program that includes a schedule of oil and gas lease sales and indicates the size, timing and location of proposed leasing activity as determined by the Secretary to best meet national energy needs for the five year period following its approval, while addressing a range of economic, environmental and social considerations.

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to soon consider H.R. 7, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act. The five-year surface transportation bill would also lift several existing Obama administration bans on offshore drilling, specifically requiring the administration to lease offshore areas containing the most oil and natural gas.

View a copy of the House letter here:

Additional information on the Interior proposal is viewable here:



On Feb. 9, six moderate Republicans spearheaded a letter to the House majority leadership expressing their opposition to a provision in the upcoming surface transportation reauthorization bill that would allow oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

H.R. 7, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, includes a provision that seeks to partially offset funding in the bill by opening the refuge for exploration. The six maverick Republicans (Reps. Charles Bass (NH), Dave Reichert (WA), Robert Dold (IL), Mike Fitzpatrick (PA), Nan Hayworth (NY) and Timothy Johnson (IL)) argue the ANWR provision puts the overall legislation in jeopardy, from a political standpoint.

“In writing you today, we do not want to negate the hard work that the members of the respective committees have put into crafting this legislation, and we appreciate that they have considered a wide array of potential funding sources and issues,” the letter states. “However, opening ANWR for exploration and development raises serious questions from both a fiscal and environmental perspective; we believe that this measure can achieve broader support and better force Senate consideration if ANWR were removed.”

According to the Congressional Budget Office, opening the refuge for drilling would bring in $1.5 billion over the span of the proposed legislation, which is expected to need $40 billion to $50 billion to supplement the federal gas tax and sustain the Highway Trust Fund. Previous legislative efforts to open ANWR that passed the House have failed to clear the Senate and reach the president’s desk, even during the 2000s when Republicans controlled the House, Senate and White House.

The House is expected to take up the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act as early as next week.

View the full letter here:



On Feb. 7, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released its report entitled “Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.”

The report includes a strategy for improving Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education during the first two years of college. PCAST makes five primary recommendations:

  • Catalyze widespread adoption of empirically validated teaching practices.
  • Advocate and provide support for replacing standard laboratory courses with discovery-based research courses.
  • Launch a national experiment in postsecondary mathematics education to address the math preparation gap.
  • Encourage partnerships among stakeholders to diversify pathways to STEM careers.
  • Create a Presidential Council on STEM Education with leadership from the academic and business communities to provide strategic leadership for transformative and sustainable change in STEM undergraduate education.

According to PCAST, fewer than 40 percent of students who enter college intending to major in a STEM field complete college with a STEM degree.  Increasing that rate to  50 percent would generate three-quarters of one million additional STEM degrees over the next decade. The report concludes that retaining more STEM majors is the most cost-effective and efficient policy option to increase the number of STEM professionals in the U.S.

Click here to view the summary fact sheet

Click here to view the executive report

Click here to view the full report


On Jan. 31, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will provide $9.8 million for beach clean-up efforts across the nation. The initiative also includes the launch of a new website to improve dissemination of information on beach advisories and closures.

The new website, BEACON, is capable of updating as frequently as every two hours with data from states, tribes and territories, according to EPA. In addition to public notifications of advisories and closures, users will have access to mapped location data for beaches and water monitoring stations, monitoring results for various pollutants will include reports that combine notifications and water quality monitoring data for over 6,000 beaches nationwide.

The grants are intended to help local authorities monitor beach water quality for bacteria and other pollutants as well as notify the public of conditions that may be unsafe for swimming. According to EPA, this is the 12th year the agency is providing beach grant funds, bringing the total amount EPA has made available to nearly $111 million.

For additional information on the grants, click here: 

To view the new BEACON website, click here: 



On Feb. 3, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced the publication of a draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) seeking comments on a proposal that would downsize a Bush administration proposal to develop oil shale on land in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

Any new land allocation decisions made on the basis of the final PEIS would replace the land allocation decisions made by the Bush administration’s 2008 proposal to make up to two million acres of public lands available for commercial oil shale leasing in the three states and 431,000 acres available for tar sands leasing in Utah.  Some western communities argued that the 2008 PEIS and Record of Decision would have prematurely allowed commercial leasing without technologies having been proven viable and without a clear understanding of impacts on scarce western water supplies, according to BLM. 

BLM’s current proposal would reduce available lands for oil shale development in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah by more than 75 percent. In addition, it would only allow research on the leases until industry demonstrates that commercial development is technically viable and environmentally safe. Lands with wilderness characteristics, areas of critical environmental concern, core habitat for the sage grouse and Wyoming’s Adobe Town would be removed from the two million acres originally allowed under the Bush administration’s 2008 plan.

The plan leaves 461,965 acres for research and development of oil shale, including 35,308 acres in Colorado, 252,181 acres in Utah and 174,476 acres in Wyoming. In addition, nearly 100,000 acres would be made available in eastern Utah for development of tar sands, a type of hydrocarbon-wet sedimentary deposit.

All public comments must be submitted by May 4, 2012. Public comments on the draft PEIS can be submitted through BLM’s preferred method of email through the following link: http://ostseis.anl.gov. Public comments can also be addressed to:

Oil Shale and Tar Sands Resources Draft Programmatic EIS
Argonne National Laboratory
9700 South Cass Avenue—EVS/240
Argonne, IL 60439.

Read the full PEIS draft here:

– Greenwire


The Ecological Society of America announced the recipients of the 2012 Graduate Student Policy Award: Sara Kuebbing (University of Tennessee, Knoxville), Adam Rosenblatt (Florida International University) and Matthew Schuler (Washington University in St. Louis).

The three students will travel to Washington, DC to participate in policy training sessions as well as visits with decision-makers on Capitol Hill on March 28 and 29. This year’s recipients come from distinct scientific research backgrounds, yet collectively share a demonstrated hunger for public policy engagement:

Kuebbing’s doctoral research focuses on management of invasive plant species. She serves on the Board of the Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council and worked for the Nature Conservancy in Vermont. Rosenblatt’s Ph.D. research frequently has him face-to-snout with American alligators. Through his work in the Everglades, he has already advised a policymaker in the Florida state legislature.

Schuler’s scholarly research in species diversity has dovetailed with his work with the Timber Wolf Information Network and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. He’s also spent a decade volunteering for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Sandhill Wildlife Outdoor Education Center.

The two-day event is sponsored by the Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition, co-chaired by ESA. View the full announcement here:


Approved by House Committee

H.R. 3548, the North American Energy Access Act – Introduced by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE), the bill would grant the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authority to approve the Keystone XL pipeline within 30 days. The bill was approved by the Energy and Commerce Committee Feb. 7, by a vote of 33-20 and will be incorporated into H.R. 7, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, tentatively scheduled to be voted on next week.

H.R. 3199, to provide a comprehensive assessment of the scientific and technical research
on the implications of the use of mid-level ethanol blends – Introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the bill would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to commission a study of the ethanol blend E15 before allowing it to be used in vehicles. The bill mandates an 18 month delay in final enactment of an EPA-approved a waiver allowing 15 percent ethanol in gasoline for passenger vehicles from model years 2007 and later while the National Academy of Sciences carries out a study to determine the potential of an ethanol increase in gasoline to result in widespread  misfueling or engine damage. The bill passed the House Space, Science and Technology Committee Feb. 7 by a vote of 19-7.  Committee Democrats offered an amendment by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) that would allow the study without delaying the EPA’s approval of the ethanol blend, which failed 7-19.

H.R. 7, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act – Introduced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL), the base bill authorizes approximately $260 billion over five years to fund federal highway, transit and safety programs, consistent with current funding levels. The bill also substantially limits National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements for surface transportation projects funded under the bill. Among its provisions, the bill waives NEPA for all projects where the federal share of the costs is less than $10 million or 15 percent of the total project cost, regardless of scope of the project. It also requires the environmental review process for a project under NEPA or any other applicable environmental law to be completed within 270 days or the project shall be deemed to have no significant impact on the environment. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the bill Feb. 3.

The bill has since been amended to include legislation that would fast-track approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, expand offshore drilling, open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for energy exploration and reinstate an abandoned George W. Bush administration plan to promote oil shale in the West.

Passed the House

H.R. 306, the Corolla Wild Horses Act – Introduced by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), the bill directs the Secretary of the Interior to enter into an agreement with the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, Currituck County, and the state of North Carolina to provide for the management of free-roaming wild horses in and around the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge. The bill passed the House Feb. 6 by voice vote.

Introduced in Senate

S. 2094, the Clean Water Affordability Act – Introduced Feb. 9 by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) the bill would create a $1.8 billion grant program to assist communities struggling to update aging sewer infrastructure. The bill would also make it easier for communities to reopen existing consent decrees with the Environmental Protection Agency to add green infrastructure to their plans. The bill has been referred to the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Considered by Senate Committee

H.R. 1904, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2011 – Introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), the bill would enact a land swap, giving up nearly 2,422  acres of federal forest on the Oak Flat Campground for 5,350 acres controlled by Resolution Cooper Co., a subsidiary of Rio Tino PLC and BHP Billiton Ltd. The companies are seeking to tap into what they believe is the third-largest undeveloped copper resource in the world. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the bill Feb. 9.

Sources: Bureau of Land Management, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, the House Natural Resources Committee, the House Space, Science and Technology Committee, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the National Park Service, the White House