July 25, 2014

In This Issue


A recent Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee hearing offered US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy her first opportunity to testify before Capitol Hill legislators on her agency’s Clean Power Plan. The proposed rule in the EPA plan falls under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and seeks to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels.

“The President’s plan is a win-win for the American people, because by addressing climate change through carbon pollution reduction, we can cut many types of air pollutants that also threaten human health,” stated EPW Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA). “Climate change and rising temperatures will lead to increased ground level ozone and smog which could worsen respiratory illnesses like asthma, increased air pollutants from wildfires, and more heat-related and flood-related deaths.”

While Chairwoman Boxer other committee Democrats were supportive of the rule, committee Republicans put Administrator McCarthy on the defensive, questioning EPA’s authority to implement the carbon rules as well as the level of consensus behind the science that prompted them. Some, such as Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MI), denied that global temperatures have been on the rise in recent decades.

“The consequences of the administration’s proposed rule would be disastrous for our economy and again would have [a] miniscule impact on the environment,” said Wicker. “It is a job-killer. It is based on questionable science. It is of dubious legality under the Clean Air Act. It amounts to an end run against Congress. It is inflexible. It would have no effect on the climate and is, therefore, pointless, and it is punitive.”

In her testimony, McCarthy emphasized that individual states will have flexibility in designing their own compliance strategy for adhering to the carbon-reduction rules. She also noted the many economic benefits of implementing the Clean Power Plan.

“In 2030, the Clean Power Plan will deliver climate and health benefits of up to $90 billion dollars,” stated McCarthy. “And for soot and smog reductions alone, that means for every dollar we invest in the plan, families will see $7 in health benefits. And because energy efficiency is such a smart, cost-effective strategy—we predict that, in 2030, average electricity bills for American families will be eight percent cheaper.”

At various points in the hearing, Chairwoman Boxer and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) noted that it was only a month ago that four former EPA administrators under Republican presidents testified before the committee, supporting EPA’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Chairwoman Boxer added “I don’t know why we have to fight about things that have been settled three times by the Supreme Court,” referencing the high court’s repeated rulings affirming EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

View the full hearing here.


On July 16th, Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Oversight Subcommittee Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced legislation that would prohibit the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from implementing regulations based on science that is not reproducible.

S. 2613, the Secret Science Reform Act, would effectively restrict the quality and quantity of research data that the agency can utilize to inform its regulatory efforts. EPA states that much of the data (including public health records) is confidential. The bill’s seven original cosponsors include Republicans Mike Crapo (ID), Mike Enzi (WY), Deb Fischer (NE), James Inhofe (OK), James Risch (ID) and David Vitter (LA). Senate Democrats, like their House counterparts, are largely opposed to the measure.

The Secret Science Reform Act is the Senate companion bill to legislation of the same name that is already moving through the US House of Representatives (H.R. 4012). The Science, Space and Technology Committee approved the House version of the bill on June 24th. House leadership has not yet indicated when the bill will be voted on by the full House. The Senate bill has been referred to the EPW Committee, but it is unlikely to move through the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The Ecological Society of America recently joined a number of scientific organizations in cosigning a letter outlining a number of unintended negative consequences implementation of the legislation would have on scientific research at the EPA. The organizational letter will be sent to House leadership and the Senate EPW Committee next week.


The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced $9.7 million in funding to help rural areas of California impacted by drought. The funding will go to 73,000 residents in 11 California counties stricken with severe drought.

The funding is made possible through the UDSA’s Emergency Community Water Assistance Grant program. The program helps rural communities that have experienced a significant decline in water quality or quantity due to an emergency.

A report from the University of California-Davis (UC-Davis) Center for Watershed science states that the drought will cost the state of California $2.2 billion this calendar year and that the probability of drought in 2015 is above 50 percent.

For a full list of drought funding recipients, click here. The UC-Davis report is available here.


On July 23rd, US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the creation of a new Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research to “leverage public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to boosting America’s agricultural economy.”

Authorized by the Agricultural Act of  2014 (P.L. 113-79), the foundation will operate as a non-profit corporation seeking private donations to fund research activities that promote plant and animal health, food safety, renewable energy and natural resources, among other issues.

A 15-member board of directors representing various fields of expertise in agriculture will lead the foundation. The board of directors includes a large number of Ph.D. researchers. Congress mandated the board’s separate five ex-officio members choose the initial board of directors, which includes seven members from a candidate list provided by industry and eight members from a list provided by the National Academy of Sciences.

The five ex-officio board members designated by Congress are Secretary Vilsack; National Science Foundation Director France Córdova; USDA Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics Chief Scientist Catherine Woteki; Agricultural Research Service Administrator Chavonda Jacobs-Young; and National Institute of Food and Agriculture Director Sonny Ramaswamy.

A full listing of the board of directors is available here.


The US Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Region 1, representing the upper Northwest United States, announced a phase out of the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on national wildlife refuge system lands.

The phase out is based on the agency’s determination that there is a growing body of scientific evidence to suggest that these pesticides are contributing to the decline of pollinator populations, including honeybees. State and territories under the jurisdiction of Region 1 include Washington state, Oregon, Idaho, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. Region 1 plans to fully phase out the use of the pesticide by 2016.

“The prophylactic use of neonicotinoids and the potential broad-spectrum adverse effects to non-target species do not meet the intent of [Integrated Pest Management] principles or the Service’s Biological Integrity, Diversity, and Environmental Health (BIDEH) policy,” states the memorandum, released earlier this month.

According to FWS, the decision was an internal management decision not directly linked to the White House’s June memorandum urging federal agencies to invest in research that reduces the decline in honeybees and other pollinators.

Many agricultural and environmental organizations have published studies highlighting the negative impact neonicotinoids have on various pollinator species. The June 2013 edition of the Ecological Society of America’s Frontiers in Ecology and Environment mentioned neonicotinoids as being among anthropogenic pressures that contribute to population declines of crop and wild plant pollinators.

View the full FWS memorandum by clicking here. Additional information on the White House memorandum is available by clicking here. The Frontiers article is available here.


According to a new study by NASA and University of California, Irvine, scientists found that more than 75 percent of the water loss in the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin since late 2004 came from underground resources.

The Colorado River is the only major river in the southwestern United States. Its basin supplies water to about 40 million people in seven states—California, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming — and to people and farms in part of Mexico.

This study is the first to quantify the amount that groundwater contributes to the water needs of western states. The research team used data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission to track changes in the mass of the Colorado River Basin, which are related to changes in water amount on and below the surface. Monthly measurements of the change in water mass from December 2004 to November 2013 revealed the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater, almost double the volume of the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead. More than three-quarters of the total — about 41 million acre feet (50 cubic kilometers) — was from groundwater.

View the full NASA press release by clicking here.


The Ecological Society of America (ESA) has offered its assistance as a resource to the US Department of Interior’s (DOI) Strategic Sciences Group (SSG). Established in 2012 within the Office of the Secretary by Secretarial Order 3318, the SSG provides the Department with a standing capacity to rapidly assemble teams of scientists to construct interdisciplinary scenarios of environmental crises affecting DOI resources.

If deployed, the SSG aims to bring response teams within 36 hours of deployment to the environmental crisis site. Through the development and application of science-based scenarios, the SSG can assist in strategic response, mid-term recovery, and long-term restoration. In addition, the SSG can provide valuable advisory tools to decision makers as they manage crises at the field, regional, and national levels. As part of the nonbinding, voluntary agreement, ESA will recommend its members with a specific subject-matter expertise for deployment teams if requested.

For additional information on the SSG, click here.


The Ecological Society of America joined seven organizational members of the National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species in a letter to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, requesting that it issue a final regulation listing for five invasive constrictor snake species.

“It has been more than five years since the agency started considering the listing of these five snakes and the necessity for the rule has not diminished,” the letter states. “As these species present imminent threats to wildlife and human safety, we urge the administration to take action and immediately list the reticulated python, the DeSchauensee’s anaconda, the green anaconda, the Beni anaconda and the boa constrictor as injurious under the Lacey Act.”

Currently, there are only four invasive constrictor species listed as injurious under the Lacey Act:  Burmese pythons, yellow anacondas, and northern and southern African pythons.

View the full letter by clicking here.


Passed the House

H.R. 1786, the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act Reauthorization of 2014 – Introduced by Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), the bill reauthorizes the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program, implemented by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The program carries out research to help mitigate damage from windstorms such as hurricanes and tornadoes. The bill passed the House July 14th by voice vote and has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

H.R. 5029, the International Science and Technology Cooperation Act – Introduced by Rep. Daniel Lipinski (R-IL), the bill would instruct the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to coordinate federal-interagency efforts that strengthen international science and technology cooperation. The bill passed the House July 14th by a vote of 346–41 and has been referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

H.R. 5031, the STEM Education Act – Introduced by House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), the bill authorizes the National Science Foundation to continue awarding grants for research that advances Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education and ensures computer science is included in these efforts. The bill passed the House July 14th by voice vote and has been referred to the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee.

H.R. 5056, the Research and Development Efficiency Act – Introduced by Rep. Larry Buschon (R-IN), the bill would establish a working group to streamline and eliminate duplicative regulations and reporting requirements for federal research-grant approval processes. The bill passed the House July 14th by voice vote and has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

H.R. 5035, the NIST Reauthorization Act – Introduced by Rep. Buschon, the bill would reauthorize the National Institutes of Standards and Technology. The bill passed the House July 22nd by voice vote and has been referred to the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

H.R. 5120, the Department of Energy Laboratory Modernization and Technology Transfer Act – Introduced by Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL), the bill would provide Department of Energy laboratories with greater flexibility to enter into public-private partnerships. The bill passed the House July 22nd by voice vote and has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Considered by Senate Committee

On July 16th, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing, which included consideration of the following bills:

S. 571, the Great Lakes Water Protection Act – Introduced by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), the bill would set a 2033 deadline for ending sewage dumping in the Great Lakes.

S. 1202, the Safeguarding America’s Future and Environment (SAFE) Act – Introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), the bill would establish an interagency Natural Resources Climate Change Adaptation Panel to adopt climate change adaptation plans.

S. 1232, the Great Lakes Ecological and Economic Protection Act – Introduced by Sen. Carl Levin, the measure would authorize $475 million to codify the Obama administration’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

S. 1153, the Invasive Fish and Wildlife Prevention Act – Introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), the bill would reform US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) regulatory procedures to help expedite the determination of invasive species as “injurious.”

S. 2530, the Protecting Lakes Against Quaggas (PLAQ) Act – Introduced by Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), the bill would immediately add the quagga mussel to the federal invasive species list.

A full listing of bills considered during the hearing is available by clicking here.

Approved by Senate Committee

On July 23rd, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a mark-up session and approved the following bills:

S. 2030, the National Sea Grant College Program Amendments Act of 2014 – Introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), the bill reauthorizes the National Sea Grant College Program through Fiscal Year 2020. The National Sea Grant College Program promotes research, education, training and advisory activities that increase understanding the nation’s oceans, coastal and Great Lakes resources.

S. 2094, the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act – Introduced by Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK), the bill would streamline regulations on wastewater discharges from ships. Environmental groups are concerned that the bill would preempt state efforts to control invasive species that spread when ships discharge ballast water. The bill has 30 bipartisan cosponsors, including Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).

Sources: National Aeronautics Space Administration, US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Interior, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House, House Space, Science and Technology Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill