May 16, 2014

In This Issue



On May 6th, the US Global Change Research Program released the National Climate Assessment that summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future.

A team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced the report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.

The NCA report concludes that the effects of human-induced climate change, once thought to be a distant problem, are happening now and causing significant ecosystem changes with numerous consequences for the natural world and human society. Precipitation patterns are changing, sea level is rising, the oceans are becoming more acidic, and the frequency and intensity of some weather events are increasing.

It explains that the burning of coal, oil, and gas, and clearing of forests have increased the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by more than 40 percent since the Industrial Revolution. The buildup of heat-trapping gases (also known as “greenhouse gases”) has caused most of the Earth’s warming over the past century.

The report also states the amount of future climate change will largely be determined by choices society makes about emissions. Lower emissions of heat-trapping gases mean less future warming and less severe impacts. Emissions can be reduced through improved energy efficiency and switching to low-carbon or non-carbon energy sources.

The NCA report findings are segmented into eight geographical regions across the US and includes analyses of impacts on seven factors—human health, water, energy, transportation, agriculture, forests, and ecosystems. Excerpts of the NCA report by region are highlighted in the following paragraphs.

The Northeast is projected to experience heat waves, heavy downpours, and sea level rise that will pose growing challenges to many aspects of daily life for the sixty-four million who live in the region.

The report finds that the Southeast and Caribbean region are exceptionally vulnerable to sea level rise, extreme heat events, hurricanes, and decreased water availability. The region is home to more than 80 million people and some of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas, three of which are along the coast and vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surge.

The Midwestern region is expected to suffer heavier rains and extreme weather events. Greater crop yields are also expected due to increased carbon dioxide levels and longer growing seasons. In the long term, the combined stresses associated with climate change are expected to decrease agricultural productivity.

In the Great Plains region, rising temperatures are leading to increased demand for water and energy. In parts of the region, the report projects this will constrain development, stress natural resources, and increase competition for water. New agricultural practices will be needed to cope with changing conditions.

The NCA finds that in the Southwest region increased heat, drought, and insect outbreaks, all linked to climate change, have increased wildfires. Declining water supplies, reduced agricultural yields, health impacts in cities due to heat, and flooding and erosion in coastal areas are additional concerns. The Southwest, which includes California, will also undergo severe drought complemented with ocean acidification.

“As an ecologist, you can’t escape the effects of climate change on natural resources. We’re observing climate impacts in nearly all natural and managed ecosystems,” said Ecological Society of America President Jill Baron in an ESA press release. “In order to protect biodiversity and the natural resources that we rely on, we need to be developing policy now. The National Climate Assessment provides guidelines for how to respond and adapt.” Baron was also a contributor to the NCA.

The US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) was established by Presidential Initiative in 1989 and mandated by Congress in the Global Change Research Act (GCRA) of 1990 to “assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.” The law requires USGCRP to report to Congress every four years on the effects of climate change. The first assessment was finalized and published until 2000. Lack of adherence to this mandate on the part of the Bush administration delayed the second assessment’s completion until 2009.

Reaction on Capitol Hill was typically partisan. An array of press statements from Republicans and Democratic leaders on related committees highlights how far Congress has to go in reaching any consensus on legislation to address climate change.

“The new National Climate Assessment report confirms with the greatest level of detail yet that climate change in the United States is all around us and we are already feeling the impacts,” stated Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA). “We must act in a comprehensive way to reduce carbon pollution for the sake of public health, our nation’s economy, and the well-being of future generations.”

“The administration’s Climate Assessment suffers from problems similar to those in reports put forward by the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]; while intended to be a scientific document, it’s more of a political one used to justify more government overreach,” asserted EPW Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA).” Definitive policy decisions and regional planning based on far too many uncertainties could hurt our nation’s economic viability and competitiveness.”

“This is a political document intended to frighten Americans into believing that any abnormal weather we experience is the direct result of human CO2 emissions,” asserted House Science, Space and Technology (SST) Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “In reality, there is little science to support any connection between climate change and more frequent or extreme storms.  It’s disappointing that the Obama administration feels compelled to stretch the truth in order to drum up support for more costly and unnecessary regulations and subsidies.”

“The scientific debate over climate change is over and the impacts are growing more evident in the lives of every American,” stated SST Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “As a Texan, I have seen the impacts myself with severe drought and record temperatures.  These conditions impact our agriculture economy, human health, water supplies, and the livelihoods of many citizens.  In addition, these changing conditions are destroying ecosystems both on land and in the ocean.”

“The challenge before us today is to take the overwhelming evidence of climate change and come together to find solutions that will save lives, protect property, and preserve our environment for generations to come,” stated SST Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR). “This report makes clear that the consequences are real and we are facing them now.”

View the National Climate Assessment by clicking this link. A White House Fact sheet on climate change by region is available by clicking this link.

View the full ESA press release by clicking this link.


This week, House and Senate leaders who sit on committees with jurisdiction over water infrastructure announced an agreement on a conference report for the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA).

The $8.2 billion legislation reauthorizes 34 Army Corps of Engineers projects related to flooding, environmental restoration, dams, levees, bridges and other water-related infrastructure and includes various reforms to the Army Corps.

The key negotiators of the finalized bill were Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), EPW Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA), House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and T&I Committee Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV).

“In my home State of California, Sacramento faces some of the nation’s most severe flood risks,” stated Chairwoman Boxer. “I am so pleased that this bipartisan legislation includes critical flood control that protects lives and property in California. It also includes important reforms to strengthen our ports, including in Los Angeles and Long Beach, and restores critical ecosystems, such as the Salton Sea. I look forward to moving this critical legislation to the President’s desk to be signed into law as soon as possible.”

Prior to the conference, the House had approved its bill (H.R. 3080) in October 2013 by a vote of 417-3. The Senate approved its WRRDA bill (S. 601) in May 2013 by a vote of 83-14. If signed by the president, the finalized conference bill will likely constitute one of the last major comprehensive pieces of legislation enacted before the Nov. 2014 mid-term elections.

As an authorization measure, WRRDA sets maximum spending levels for Army Corps projects authorized under the Act. Specific funding for Army Corps projects is distributed annually through the Energy and Water Appropriations Act.


A full summary of the conference report is available by following this link:


Passage of comprehensive energy efficiency legislation for the current 113th Congress was scuttled this week as Senate Republicans blocked a vote to end debate on the bill. The move also nullified a deal Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had made with Republicans to allow a vote on legislation to expedite approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) felt that the deal shortchanged Republicans by preventing them from considering amendments to the energy bill.

The vote was 55–36. Sixty votes were needed to overcome the minority party filibuster. The nine Senators who missed the vote were Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mark Begich (D-AK), John Boozman (R-AR), Bob Corker (R-TN), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Dean Heller (R-NV), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and David Vitter (R-LA). Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who cosponsored the bill, along with Sens. Kelly Ayote (R-NH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) were the only Republicans to vote with the majority of Senate Democrats to end debate on the measure.

Supporters of the pipeline contended that a vote on a bill to unilaterally approve the pipeline would not have garnered the 60 votes necessary to pass legislation in the Senate.  Keystone pipeline advocates in Congress are brainstorming how to attach such legislation to a must-pass bill that President Obama would have to sign. House Republicans have attached amendments approving the pipeline to appropriations bills and other legislation in the past, but such legislation has largely failed to clear the Senate.


On May 15th, US Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell announced $20 million in funding for nine Bureau of Reclamation water projects in California intended to provide drought relief.

The funding is provided through DOI’s Water Sustain and Manage America’s Resources for Tomorrow (SMART) program, which works to improve water conservation efforts. California Project funding includes an extension of water recycling service in the city of Corona, construction of a wastewater treatment facility in Yucca Valley, and construction and development of three supply wells and two primary raw water transmission lines to produce groundwater that would replace water that would have been imported from the Colorado River or Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta region.

For additional information, click this link.


For the first time since 1939, water began to flow this week from the Friant Dam near Fresno into the San Joaquin River to help California farmers as they face low water levels in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The Bureau of Reclamation released the water to fulfill water contracts made in 1939 when the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority agreed to take its water from the Delta rather than the San Joaquin River, unless the Delta could not meet needs.

The Exchange Contractors hold senior water rights and provide irrigation water to about 240,000 acres of farmland. They will receive 529,000 acre-feet of their normal 840,000 acre-feet supply. Certain wildlife refuges will also see their supplies increased from 108,000 acre-feet to 170,000 acre-feet. The allotment of irrigation water to many Central Valley farmers who are not considered senior rights holders is expected to remain at zero for the rest of the year, officials said.

The US Drought Monitor reports that conditions in the San Joaquin Valley have intensified from “severe” drought in May 2013 to “exceptional” drought in May 2014. “Exceptional” is the worst of the five stages of the US Drought Monitor Classification.

For additional information, click this link.


On May 9th, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in partnership with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), released two proposed rules and one proposed policy that collectively intend to improve the process of designating critical habitat for endangered species.

The first proposed rule would expand the definition of “adverse modification” to better quantify how various federal activities, including mining, drilling and construction effect critical habitat’s ability to meet a listed species recovery needs. The second proposed rule would clarify the procedures and standards used to designate critical habitats. The policy proposal would improve transparency and consistency with how agencies determine exclusions for critical habitat designations.

Critical habitat designations require other federal agencies to consult with federal entities responsible for endangered species protection to ensure any regulatory action or initiative does not negatively affect the designated habitat area. The proposals, if finalized, will be implemented by FWS and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. They will also help clarify how lands designated as critical habitat can be used for other purposes.

Additional information on the proposals is available via the following link.


Introduced in House

H.R. 4614, the Park Partner Enhancement Act – Introduced May 8th  by Reps. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), the bill would clarify the ability of the National Park Service (NPS) to work with non-federal entities, such as philanthropic organizations and education institutions, to improve investment of non-federal funds towards facility construction, landscape restoration and other NPS priorities. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

H.R. 4654, the Lower Electric Bill Act of 2014 – Introduced May 9th by Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS), the bill would delay implementation of US Environmental Protection Agency Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for five years. The bill also requires EPA to study the economic effects of implementing the standards on local communities. The bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Passed House

H.R. 4438, the American Research and Competitiveness Act of 2014 – Introduced by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the bill would make the research and development tax credit, which expired at the end of calendar year 2013, permanent. A majority of House Democrats opposed the bill, citing a Joint Committee on Taxation estimate that the permanent extension would add $155 billion to the deficit over 10 years and called for offset revenue. The bill passed the House May 9th by a vote of 274-131 with 62 Democrats joining all but one Republican in supporting the bill.

The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy threatening to veto the bill, citing the lack of revenues to offset the cost of the bill. View the statement here.

H.R. 4366, the Strengthening Education through Research Act – Introduced by Rep. Todd Rotika (R-IN), the bill would reauthorize Department of Education bureaus related to science, including the Institute of Education Sciences, the National Center for Education Research, and the National Center for Education Statistics. The bill passed the House May 8th by voice vote and has been referred to the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee.

Introduced in Senate

S. 2306, the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act – Introduced May 8th by Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), the bill would establish a Delaware River Basin Restoration Program within the US Fish and Wildlife Service to coordinate funding for restoration and protection of the Delaware River Basin. Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Robert Casey (D-PA) are also lead cosponsors of the bill.

Sources: Department of Energy, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Natural Resources Committee, House Space, Science and Technology Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the White House