October 12, 2012
In This Issue
EDUCATION: SUBCOMMITTEE CHAIRMAN REQUESTS GAO REVIEW OF REGULATORY IMPEDIMENTS TO UNIVERSITY RESEARCH
On Oct. 3, House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL) sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting a review of regulatory actions that may hinder research at the nation’s universities.
The letter comes following a recent report from the National Research Council of the National Academies entitled Research Universities and the Future of America: Ten Breakthrough Actions Vital to our Nation’s Prosperity and Security. Among its recommendations was a call to “reduce or eliminate regulations that increase administrative costs, impede research productivity, and deflect creative energy without substantially improving the research environment.”
“While it is necessary and imperative that research universities maintain transparent and accountable systems to track the use of federal dollars, I am concerned with the amount of time and resources being spent on duplicative and burdensome paperwork and red tape in the conduct of federally funded scientific research,” Brooks’ letter states. The letter goes on to request answers from GAO regarding specific federal reporting and record requirements that could be modified by Congress to reduce the overall regulatory burden on federally funded research universities.
The National Academies report also recommends raising government, industry and philanthropy support for Research and Development (R&D) to three percent of Growth Domestic Product, fully funding the America COMPETES Act and “doubling the level of basic research conducted by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.” The report recommends strengthening federal partnerships with businesses to advance research, improving the capacity of graduate programs to attract students and taking action to increase participation among women and minorities in the fields of science, technology, mathematics and engineering.
To view Rep. Brooks’ letter, click here:
The full National Academies report and a PDF summary is available here:
On Oct. 1, the United States Supreme Court stated it would not review a Clinton administration roadless rule that protects 45 million acres of national forest from road construction and logging. The decision ends a decade of legal challenges that began when the rule was first finalized in January 2001.
Petitioners had asked the Supreme Court to overturn a decision last year by the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the Clinton rule and reversed a US district judge’s determination that the rule had created de facto wilderness and violated the National Environmental Policy Act. Petitioners included the state of Wyoming, the Colorado Mining Association and the American Petroleum Institute. After the ruling, Gov. Matt Mead stated that while he had concerns about what the decision would mean for economic opportunity in his state, he intends to work collaboratively with the US Forest Service to address these issues.
Earthjustice, which led the argument for the conservationists, released the following statement: “The ten-plus years of our legal campaign to defend the Roadless Rule have seen many twists and turns in the legal process, but one thing hasn’t changed-the undeveloped forest lands at issue remain some of the most environmentally important public lands in our country. They produce clean water and clean air, offer a last refuge to imperiled wildlife across a warming, changing landscape, and provide world-class recreation opportunities for campers, hunters, hikers, fishermen, and bird watchers. Americans love these lands, and it has been an honor to represent those American values before the courts for the last decade.”
While leading congressional Republicans were largely silent on the issue, Democrats hailed the decision: “It’s been a long road since this decade-old conservation proposal was put forward, but today’s announcement by the Court means that millions of acres of our forests will be protected. The timber industry’s legal obstructionist tactics have failed to undermine the public’s strong support for protecting 50 million acres of pristine forests,” stated House Natural Resources Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-MA).
The US Department of Interior (DOI) is seeking nominations for a new panel to be composed of outside scientific experts to help inform the agency’s work on the impacts of climate change on natural resources.
Those nominated would serve on DOI’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science. The committee will advise the US Geological Survey’s National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center (NCCWSC) and the Interior’s network of regional Climate Science Centers. The group’s mission is to provide input on the “contents of a national strategy identifying key science priorities to advance management of natural resources in the face of climate change.” The group will also be charged with advancing scientific integrity and evaluate the performance of individual Climate Science Centers before re-establishing expiring agreements.
Nominations should be sent to:
Policy and Partnership Coordinator
National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center
US Geological Survey
12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, Mail Stop 400
Reston, VA 20192
Written nominations must be received by November 19, 2012. For additional information, click here: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2012/10/04/2012-24478/establishment-of-the-advisory-committee-on-climate-change-and-natural-resource-science
Two new studies from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) highlight the challenges faced in properly monitoring energy development through hydraulic fracturing and the potential risks to the environment and public health.
The study entitled “Information on Shale Resources, Development, and Environmental and Public Health Risks,” concluded that “oil and gas development, whether conventional or shale oil and gas, pose inherent environmental and public health risks, but the extent of these risks associated with shale oil and gas development is unknown, in part, because the studies GAO reviewed do not generally take into account the potential long-term, cumulative effects.”
The study concluded that wildlife could also be affected by oil and gas due to land degradation during the construction of roads and other new infrastructure in previously rural areas. The study noted that ecosystems could be at risk from toxic spills and underground fluid injections. Potential public health risks include diminished air quality caused by engine exhaust from trucks moving to and from drill sites, emissions from diesel-powered machinery, flaring of excess natural gas and emissions from impoundments or pits that store wastewater or chemicals.
The report qualifies, however, that it was impossible to quantify the level of these risks due to a number of factors, including that most studies do not track health impacts on communities over a long period of time and that such studies tend to be localized to one particular site or process. These independent variables made it difficult for the GAO study to reach an overarching conclusion. The report also noted a lack of baseline data, making it difficult for researchers to compare and contrast post-development conditions with pre-development ones.
The second report highlighted statutes that limit EPA’s regulatory authority over shale development. In one example, GAO cites that while the Clean Water Act generally regulates stormwater discharges by requiring industrial and construction facilities to obtain permits, oil and gas well sites are generally exempt from this requirement. It also noted that oil and gas exploration and production wastes are exempt from Resource Conservation and Recovery Act hazardous waste requirements due to an EPA regulatory determination issued in 1988.
Though there have been several legislative attempts by Democratic lawmakers to improve EPA’s regulatory authority over hydraulic fracturing, none have been able to advance in the politically divided 112th Congress. The GAO report was requested by House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA), House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-MA), E&C Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-CO) and four Senators.
To view the environmental and public health risks report, click here:
To view the regulatory challenges report, click here:
To view the Ranking Member Waxman statement on the reports, click here:
A recently publicized report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) contends that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could do more to strengthen its process for reviewing effluent guidelines for reducing water pollution from industrial facilities. The report was requested by House Transportation and Infrastructure Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Rob Bishop (D-NY).
The GAO study found that “limitations in EPA’s screening phase may have led it to overlook some industrial categories that warrant further review for new or revised effluent guidelines.” The study concluded that while EPA has made “great strides” in reducing the pollutants in wastewater discharged from industrial facilities and other point sources since enactment of the Clean Water Act, numerous effluent guidelines for industrial polluters have not been revised in decades and could benefit from improved data collection and the agency’s reliance on incomplete hazard data during the screening phase has limited its ability to comprehensively regulate industrial discharge pollution.
In recent years, EPA’s regulatory focus on this issue has shifted from point sources, such as the industrial facilities covered by these effluent guidelines, to nonpoint sources, including agricultural and urban runoff, which are now responsible for most of the pollution making its way into waterways. EPA stated that staff levels for the effluent guidelines program have been cut 40 percent. To improve its capability, the GAO recommended the following actions:
- Identify and evaluate additional sources of data on the hazards posed by the discharges from industrial categories.
- Identify and evaluate sources of information to improve the agency’s assessment in the screening phase of treatment technologies that are in use or available for use by industrial categories, including better use of NPDES data.
- Modify the screening phase of its review process to include thorough consideration of information on the treatment technologies available to industrial categories.
EPA concurred with the first two recommendations, but stated the third is not practical, given the agency’s currently limited resources. View the full report here:
On Oct. 9, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Centers for Coastal Science (NCCOS) released new guidelines to help coastal managers control the spread of invasive lionfish.
Entitled “Invasive Lionfish: A Guide to Control and Management,” the manual purports to use the latest in science and management practices to mitigate invasive lionfish in conservation areas. According to NOAA, NCCOS scientists collaborated with a wide variety of partners, including the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute, Reef Environmental Education Foundation, the International Coral Reef Initiative, the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, Simon Fraser University of Vancouver, the United Nations Caribbean Environmental Program, and Mexico’s Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas, to develop the publication.
Lionfish were first detected in Florida coastal waters in 1985. The animals have no natural predators. The densities of lionfish have surpassed some native reef fish in many locations in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean waters. The prevalence of lionfish only adds to the stress of reefs, which are also being impacted by ocean acidification, overfishing and pollution.
View the full manual here: http://lionfish.gcfi.org/manual/
On Oct. 4, the Environmental Protection Agency announced e-NEPA, a new online system that allows federal agencies to submit environmental impact statements (EISs) electronically. The new method reduces paper waste and eliminates the traditional need to mail in or hand deliver hard copies of EISs.
EISs were originally mandated under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to ensure federal agencies take environmental considerations into account when implementing a new federal policy. EPA reviews, provides comments, and maintains a national filing system for EISs.
All agencies are required to use e-NEPA as of the first of the month and EPA no longer accepts paper copies or compact disks of EISs. For additional information on e-NEPA, click here:
ESA President Scott Collins signed a letter to the White House Office of Management (OMB) that requested that OMB not approve an Environmental Protection Agency rule which would allow Arundo donax, an invasive species, to qualify as an “advanced biofuel feedstock” under the Renewable Fuel Standard.
Noting the non-native plant’s propensity to invade, the organizations argued that the plant should not be included as one for which the EPA provides production incentives. According to a recent assessment by the US Department of Agriculture, Arundo can alter the hydrology, nutrient cycling, and fire regimes in areas where it becomes established and can also displace native plants and negatively impact rare animals.
The letter stated that: “Given the high risk of invasion, providing incentives under the Renewable Fuel Standard for the cultivation of Arundo donax has the potential for serious unintended ecological and economic impacts. Under Executive Order 13112, EPA should not provide production incentives for high risk feedstocks such as Arundo donax without determining that the benefits “clearly outweigh” the costs. Given the difficulty of eradicating Arundo donax and the extent of potential environmental damages, it is highly unlikely that the benefits would clearly outweigh the costs.”
To read the full letter, click here:
On Oct. 1, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put forward a plan to address contaminated river sediment at the Grasse River Superfund site in Messena, NY.
For decades, the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa, Inc.) West facility in Massena, NY released cancer-causing chemicals and other hazardous wastes from its aluminum production and fabrication activities into the Grasse River. These chemicals, primarily polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), accumulated in the fatty tissue of fish and mammals. Under the new proposed plan, approximately, 109,000 cubic yards of PCBS-contaminated sediment would be dredged from near-shore areas of the river and replaced with clean material.
In 1989, the EPA issued an Administrative Order that required Alcoa to investigate the extent of contamination in a portion of the river, to evaluate cleanup options and to design and implement a cleanup plan to be selected by the EPA. Over the years, EPA and Alcoa have reevaluated and tested several cleanup options for the site.
The Superfund program operates on the principle that polluters should pay for cleanups, rather than passing the cost to taxpayers. The EPA searches for parties responsible for the contamination and holds them accountable for the costs of investigations and cleanups. The investigation and cleanup of the Grasse River Superfund site is being conducted and paid for by Alcoa, Inc. with oversight by the EPA. The estimated cost of the proposed cleanup is $243 million.
Written comments on EPA’s proposed plan may be mailed or emailed by Nov. 15 to:
Young S. Chang, Remedial Project Manager
US Environmental Protection Agency
290 Broadway, 20th Floor
New York, NY 10007-1866
Additional information on the effort can be found here:
Signed into law
The Billfish Conservation Act (P.L. 112-183) – Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), the bill prohibits the sale of several species of billfish. The International Union for Conservation of Nature released a report noting that several species that will be protected under the bill, including the blue marlin, white marlin and the striped marlin, are endangered. The president signed the bill into law Oct. 5.
The Hazardous Waste Electronic Manifest Establishment Act (P.L. 112-195) – Sponsored by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) – the bill directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish an electronic manifest system to replace its existing carbon-copy manifest. According to EPA, the new system will save agencies and users roughly $75 million annually. The president signed the bill into law Oct. 5.
Sources: Earthjustice, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, Government Accountability Office, the Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, National Wildlife Federation