July 27, 2012

In This Issue


On July 19, the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs held an oversight hearing on the impact climate change is having on Native Americans and tribal lands as well as what resources are available to adapt to changes in the environment.

Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-HI) spoke of the importance of “Malama Aina,” which is Hawaiian for “caring for the land.” Chairman Akaka said that Native Americans hold the oldest record for being environmental stewards of the nation as it has been a foundation of their culture and world view “over thousands of years” and “hundreds of generations.”In his opening statement, he noted that “while environmental changes are widespread, studies indicate that native communities are disproportionately impacted because they depend on nature for traditional foods, sacred sites and to practice ceremonies that pass on cultural values to future generations.”

Testifying on behalf of the Obama administration was Joann Chase, Director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) American Indian Environmental Office who is also a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. She noted that the agency has had “over a hundred consultations with tribal governments.” During consultations, tribal leaders said that the agency staff need to better understand federal Indian law and policy, which has led to new staff training for EPA employees. Tribal leaders have also called for better interagency coordination between federal bureaus. Chase cited the various impacts of climate change on tribes, including rising sea levels, loss of species, habitat degradation and relocation of entire communities. She also noted that EPA has established an adaptation work group at the request of tribes to enhance the agency’s efforts to develop climate adaptation strategies to aide tribal communities in sustaining their natural resources.

Also testifying was Margaret Davidson, Acting Director of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management. She noted that NOAA is working with tribal leaders to anticipate and adapt to the risks and vulnerabilities associated with climate change. In her testimony, she said that in 2013, the National Climate Assessment “for the first time ever” will include a chapter specifically on the impacts of climate change on “tribal, indigenous, and native lands and peoples.” She also discussed NOAA’s collaborations with state and local governments, NGOs (including the Nature Conservancy) to develop training programs for tribal communities to help mitigate impacts of climate change.

Indian Affairs Committee Vice Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) asserted that federal regulations can have unintended consequences that “unduly burden the economy” and “interfere with economic growth.” These sentiments were seconded by Tex Hall, Chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation of the Fort Berthold Reservation, who called for restoration of full tribal authority over tribal lands. He also urged EPA and other federal agencies to let tribal lands make their own rules on oil and gas development on their lands. In stark contrast, Billy Frank, Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, called for more federal assistance in aiding salmon recovery in the state of Washington. In his testimony, Frank noted that disappearing glaciers, ocean acidification and increased violent weather conditions have diminished the cold, clean water that salmon and other fish populations need to thrive.

Most of the other witness testimony focused on the impacts climate change is having on their specific communities. Chief Mike Williams of the Yupiit Nation noted that 86 percent of indigenous Alaskan villages are threatened by flooding and erosion due to warming temperatures. Malia Akutagawa, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Hawaii – Manoa said that climate change has reduced the number of good fishing days for Native Hawaiians, led to a 15 percent decline in rainfall, drying of forests, crop loss, beach erosion from sea level rise, increased destruction from wildfires, and increased surface air temperature. She also noted that climate change has affected plant flowering and animal migration cycles. Akutagawa called for federal assistance for increasing Hawaiian food security, family farms and coastal zone management programs.

There was a general consensus from the witnesses representing indigenous communities that the federal government needs to increase or improve consultation with tribal leaders. Frank called for more congressional field hearings on tribal lands to better understand local issues.

View the full hearing here:


On July 25, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing to review the status of federal drought forecasting efforts. The hearing comes as the existing authorization for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) is due to expire this year.

In his opening statement, Chairman Hall (R-TX) sought to keep the focus on drought mitigation efforts and steer clear of climate change discussions. “Debating the causes of drought is not in front of us today,” he said. “The real question is: What can be done to provide better and timelier information to help enable federal, state and local governments, and individual citizens better deal with droughts’ impacts, and how to afford better forecasting and quicker reactions by governmental entities?”

Committee Democrats, nonetheless, maintained that a discussion on drought conditions and mitigation efforts must account for environmental changes. “We cannot have a comprehensive approach to drought research and mitigation without exploring the potential linkages with a changing global climate,” asserted Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “While I will be the first to urge caution in jumping to conclusions about the present-day impacts of a warming planet, I know that climatologists around the world are coming to a much better understanding of this complex relationship. We should leave the science to the scientists.”

NIDIS was established in 2006 following a Western Governors’ Association report two years earlier that urged for one centralized, comprehensive source of detailed and accurate information. It was established under the National Integrated Drought Information System Act of 2006 (P.L. 109-430), introduced by Chairman Hall. A new draft reauthorization bill to be introduced by the chairman requires NOAA to submit a report to Congress within 18 months of enactment that illustrates the agency’s progress in implementing the program and details specific plans for its continued development. The report must also show research, monitoring and forecasting needs for improving the ability to predict droughts. The language includes $13.5 million in funding per fiscal year for 2013 through 2017.

All the witnesses praised the multiple ongoing efforts of NOAA and expressed appreciation for the NIDIS US Drought Monitor, which maps updated drought conditions and is relied upon by farmers, city planners and the media, among others, as a source of detailed and accurate information. Testifying on behalf of the administration was Roger Pulwarty, Director of NIDIS. In his written testimony he asserted that “key to the future success of NIDIS is an improved understanding of the drivers of drought onset, severity and duration from seasonal to yearly to decades. Success will also be heavily dependent on a sustained national system of credible, consistent, and authoritative observations.”

J.D. Strong, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board expressed support for the NIDIS program and referred to droughts as “arguably the nation’s most menacing and costly natural disaster, as evidenced by the billions of dollars each year attributed to the impacts of all too common drought episodes.” Strong also endorsed the monitoring of environmental changes as essential to effective drought monitoring. “Specific to development of a drought early warning system, which is a key goal of the program and central to effective drought preparedness and response, NIDIS should work to advance climate observation. Scientists at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center and elsewhere should focus efforts on evaluation of such things as sea surface temperature variations and La Niña events to forecast, with the greatest accuracy and most advanced warning time possible, the onset and severity of particular drought events.”

To view the hearing, click here:


On July 25, several hundred individuals representing organizations that benefit from federal non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending met for a rally that sought to highlight the importance of NDD funding and call for a balanced approach towards addressing the rising national debt.

The rally was convened by the NDD Summit, which consists of 60 delegates representing a broad swath of federal interests including healthcare, education, science and infrastructure. Organizers sought to promote the importance of NDD spending in lieu of scheduled across-the-board federal spending cuts scheduled to be implemented in January 2013 unless Congress takes action. The cuts were mandated under the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25) and can only be avoided if Congress passes a bill that either outright nullifies the cuts or, in accordance with existing law, passes legislation that will reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion, an amount roughly equal to the indiscriminate cuts to discretionary spending.

According to a recent report by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), not only will implementation of the cuts lead to a loss of over one million jobs over the next two years, but it will not have a substantial long-term impact on the deficit, which is primarily driven by factors other than discretionary spending. “Our unsustainable fiscal situation is driven by health care inflation, the retirement of the baby boomers, and an inefficient tax code that raises too little revenue,” the report notes. “Yet the sequester does nothing to address these problems, instead cutting almost exclusively from defense and non-defense discretionary spending, which are already projected to decline substantially as a percentage of the economy over the coming decade.”

Members of Congress speaking at the rally included Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA), House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA).

For additional information on the rally, see the recent post on ESA’s blog

To view the BPC report, click here:


On July 17, the Obama administration announced its plan to create a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Master Teacher Corps, which it says will consist of the nation’s top STEM educators.

The White House reports that the STEM Master Teacher Corps will begin with 50 exceptional STEM teachers established in 50 sites and will be expanded over four years to reach 10,000 Master Teachers. The selected teachers will make a multi-year commitment to the Corps and be rewarded with an annual stipend of up to $20,000 added on to their base salary. Key aspects of the effort include the following:

  • A rigorous selection of the best and brightest math and science teachers nationwide
  • National recognition and rewards, including compensation to keep Corps members in the profession
  • Corps members will function as a national resource for their schools and other STEM educators

The president immediately dedicated $100 million in funding for the program through the existing Teacher Incentive Fund. However, the $1 billion for the program outlined in his Fiscal Year 2013 budget request must first be approved by Congress. The STEM Master Teacher Corps would be incorporated into the administration’s proposed RESPECT Project, which stands for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching, a broader effort to improve teaching in the United States.

The STEM Master Teacher Corps initiative is part of the administration’s effort to advance STEM education to enhance student skills to increase their success in the current job market as well as boost the nation’s overall global standing in innovative competitiveness.

View the full announcement here:


On July 24, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced a final rule providing federal protections for six South American bird species. Under the rule, the ash-breasted tit-tyrant, Junín grebe, Junín rail, Peruvian plantcutter, royal cinclodes, and white-browed tit-spinetail, native to Peru would be listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. The ash-breasted tit-tyrant and the royal cinclodes are also native to Bolivia.

According to FWS, there are currently 600 foreign species listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, compared to 1,390 native to the United States. While FWS has no regulatory jurisdiction in foreign countries, their federal listing places restrictions on the importation of the animal and raises awareness, prompting research and conservation efforts on the species’ behalf. The Act also provides limited financial assistance to develop and manage programs to conserve listed species in foreign countries.

FWS reports that the bird species’ habitats have become highly-fragmented as a result of forest clearing for agriculture, grazing and wood extraction. The Junín grebe and Junín rail’s water habitats have been adversely impacted by hydropower generation, mining activity and diseases caused by lake water contamination. These birds are also considered endangered due to their extremely small population sizes, which makes them particularly vulnerable to human activities or unexpected events.

The final rule was published July 24 in the Federal Register and will become effective on August 23. The document is available online at http://www.fws.gov/policy/frsystem/default.cfm by clicking on the 2012 Final Rules under Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants.

Information on grant opportunities for critically endangered species can be found on the FWS’s Wildlife without Borders-Critically Endangered Animals Conservation Fund website:

For more information on the agency’s efforts to aid foreign endangered species, click here:


On July 24, the Department of Interior (DOI) and the Department of Energy finalized a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for solar energy development on public lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

The Solar PEIS will serve as a roadmap for solar energy development by establishing solar energy zones with access to existing or planned transmission, the fewest resource conflicts and incentives for development within those zones. The planning effort sought to identify locations on federal lands that had “excellent solar resources, good energy transmission potential, and relatively low conflict with biological, cultural and historic resources,” DOI reports. It is expected that ultimately, the 17 Solar Energy Zones identified in the PEIS will develop enough energy to power over seven million homes.

Additionally, the plan establishes a framework for regional mitigation plans, including an initial pilot project for the Dry Lake zone north of Las Vegas. It also finalizes a process for identifying future solar energy zones, including efforts already underway with California’s Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan and West Chocolate Mountains Renewable Energy Evaluation Area and Arizona’s Restoration Energy Design Project.

To view the final PEIS, click here: http://solareis.anl.gov/documents/index.cfm

For a copy of the executive summary of the PEIS, click here:


Considered by House Committee/Subcommittee

On July 19, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs held a hearing on the following bills:

H.R. 3906, to amend the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act to allow recreational fishing for Atlantic Striped Bass in the Block Island Sound transit zone – Introduced by Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY), the bill would allow increased recreational fishing in Block Island Sound, located off the coast of Rhode Island.

H.R. 6007, the North Texas Zebra Mussel Barrier Act of 2012 – Introduced by Reps. Ralph Hall (R-TX), Pete Sessions (R-TX) and Sam Johnson (R-TX), the bill would allow water transfers by the North Texas Municipal Water District and the Greater Texoma Utility Authority to keep invasive zebra mussels from entering the state’s waterways.

H.R. 6096, the Atlantic Fisheries Statutes Reauthorization Act of 2012 – Introduced by Reps. John Runyan (R-NJ) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ), the bill would reauthorize the Anadromous Fish Conservation Act, the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act, the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Convention Act. The bill would authorize $4.5 million a year through Fiscal Year 2017 for the National Marine Fisheries Service in its efforts to preserve salmon, smelt, shad, striped bass and other species that live in the ocean, yet return to freshwater to spawn. The bill also sets a deadline for survey and assessment of the Atlantic sturgeon, which was listed under the Endangered Species Act in Feb. 2012.

On July 20, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands considered the following wildfire bills:

H.R. 5960, the Depleting Risk from Insect Infestation, Soil Erosion, and Catastrophic Fire Act of 2012 – Introduced by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), the full committee ranking member, the bill would amend the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 to extend the bill’s authority beyond the wildland-urban interface to include beetle-killed trees. The bill would allow agencies to designate sub-watersheds experiencing an insect or disease epidemic and to carry out projects to improve forest resiliency. It would also permanently extend a popular stewardship contracting authority set to expire in 2013 that allows the US Forest Service to use timber sale revenues to fund forest restoration projects.

H.R. 6089, Healthy Forest Management Act of 2012 – Introduced by Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO), the bill would allow state governors to designate “high-risk areas” and “emergency hazardous fuels reduction projects” that agencies must implement within two months, which critics, including the Forest Service, contend would inappropriately erode federal authority. The bill also allows National Environmental Policy Act reviews to be waived for projects within 500 feet of utility or telephone infrastructure, campgrounds, roadsides, heritage sites, recreation sites, schools or other infrastructure.

Passed the House

H.R. 6082 – the Congressional Replacement of President Obama’s Energy-Restricting and Job-Limiting Offshore Drilling Plan – Introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill would significantly expand drilling access in the nation’s waters, allowing development along most of the East Coast and Southern California and in a salmon-rich Alaskan bay and overturn the Obama administration’s 2012-2017 leasing plan. Specifically, the bill would allow access to the north and mid-Atlantic, the southern Pacific and parts of Alaska’s Bristol Bay, each of which is off-limits in the administration’s leasing plan. It also roughly doubles the number of sales in the administration’s plan and pushes up by three years sales that Interior scheduled in Alaska’s Chukchi and Beaufort seas in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The bill passed the House July 25, by a vote of 253-170 with 25 Democrats joining all but nine Republicans in supporting the bill. The White House has issued a formal statement of administration policy declaring it would veto the bill.

Introduced in the Senate

S. 3400, the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act of 2012 – Introduced July 18 by Sens. Michael Bennett (D-CO) and Mark Udall (D-CO), the bill would protect 100,000 acres of the Hermosa Creek Watershed, an area in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango, CO. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

S. 3450, Coal Miner Employment and Domestic Energy Infrastructure Protection Act – Introduced July 26 by Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN), the bill would block the Obama administration from issuing new standards to protect waterways from coal mining. The bill has 19 original cosponsors, all Republican, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Approved by Senate Committee

On July 25, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the following bills:

S. 847, the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 – Introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), the bill would amend the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 to require industry, not the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to prove chemical substances are safe before they go on the market. Under current law, the EPA can call for safety testing only after evidence surfaces demonstrating a chemical is dangerous. As a result, EPA has been able to require testing for just 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals currently registered in the United States, and has been able to ban only five dangerous substances. The bill places the burden of proof on chemical manufacturers to demonstrate the safety of their chemicals, requiring manufacturers to develop and submit safety data for each chemical they produce while avoiding duplicative or unnecessary testing. It would prioritize chemicals based on risk, so that EPA can focus resources on evaluating those most likely to cause harm while working through the backlog of untested existing chemicals. It restricts the use of chemicals that cannot be proven safe. The bill was approved in a partisan vote of 10-8. The bill has 23 cosponsors, all Democrats with the exception of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

S. 357, the Wildlife Disease Emergency Act – Introduced by Sen. Lautenberg (D-NJ), the bill authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to declare a wildlife disease emergency in one or more states for a disease that affects wildlife within the United States or has the potential to enter the country. It would also establish a Wildlife Disease Emergency Fund to understand and address disease emergencies, and provide for a coordinated response across state and federal agencies, including White-Nose Syndrome, a deadly fungal disease affecting bats.

S. 810, the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act – Introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the bill would, with certain exceptions, prohibit invasive research on great apes (including chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans and gibbons), prohibit the use of federal funds for great ape research in and outside the United States and permanently retire all great apes owned by the federal government. A companion bill (H.R. 1513) has been introduced in the House by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD).

S. 1494, the National Fish and Wildlife Reauthorization Act – Introduced by Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the bipartisan bill would reauthorize funding for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a congressionally created nonprofit that also provides matching habitat conservation grants. Original cosponsors include Sens. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Pat Roberts (R-KS) and John Thune (R-SD).

S. 2071, the Permanent Electronic Duck Stamp Act – Introduced by Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Mark Pryor (D-AR), the bill would make permanent and extend to all states a pilot program issuing electronic federal migratory bird hunting and conservation stamps, whose sale supports wetland and waterfowl protection within the National Wildlife Refuge System.

S. 2282, the North American Wetlands Conservation Extension Act – Introduced by Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) and Chairwoman Boxer (D-CA), the bill would reauthorizes the North American Wetlands Conservation Act of 1989 (NACWA) until 2017. NACWA provides matching grants to organizations that develop partnerships to carry out wetland conservation projects benefitting migratory birds and other wildlife.

S. 3370, the Albuquerque, New Mexico, Federal Land Conveyance Act of 2012 – Introduced by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), the bill would authorize the Administrator of General Services to convey a parcel of real property in Albuquerque, New Mexico to the Amy Biehl High School Foundation.

Cleared for White House

H.R. 5872, the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012 – Introduced by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), the bill gives the White House 30

Sources: Bipartisan Policy Center, Department of Energy, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senate Indian Affairs Committee, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House