September 10, 2014
In This Issue
As Congress reconvened Sept. 8, House and Senate appropriators were pressed for time to craft and approve a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government after Sept. 30, 2014 in order to prevent another federal government shutdown.
The CR being considered this week will fund the government through December 11, 2014. The House is expected to take up the CR on Sept. 11. In stark contrast to last year, there seems to be little appetite professed by House and Senate leaders or influential tea party members to shutdown the government in light of the coming November Congressional midterm elections. While the US House of Representatives is expected to maintain Republican control, the US Senate election results and party control is uncertain. In addition to taking up the CR, each chamber will hold votes on issues that appeal to their respective voter base.
The House plans to take up legislation to permanently ban an internet access tax, energy legislation to support construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and a slate of deregulatory bills targeting federal agencies charged with environmental protection efforts.
Meanwhile, the Senate is considering a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission along with other US Supreme Court campaign finance decisions and may also vote to raise the minimum wage.
The House is scheduled to work for two weeks through Sept. 19 and then will break to observe Rosh Hashanah. They may return for one week Sept. 29 if a CR is not enacted. The Senate is scheduled to work through Sept. 23. After the Nov. 2014 elections, the two chambers will reconvene for a lame duck session.
The week before Congress returned from the August district work period, the Ecological Society of America sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expressing concern with S. 1347, the Conference Accountability Act. The bill would place additional restrictions on federal employee and contractor travel. Due to a number of factors, it is unlikely that the bill will be considered this year.
View the full letter here.
On Sept. 8, the House Natural Resources Committee convened for a field hearing to consider a proposal to list the northern long-eared bat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the potential impacts the listing would have on the Pennsylvania economy.
The committee members were skeptical on whether the ESA is an appropriate tool for addressing the bat species’ decline. Several members argued that bat conservation efforts should focus on addressing White Nose Syndrome, which is attributed for its decline in recent years.
“The likely primary cause for any documented decline of the bats is not caused by any human-related activity, but rather from a disease transmitted mostly from bats to other bats called ‘White Nose Syndrome.’ It seems to me that efforts should focus on that issue, rather than creating a federal endangered species solution in search of a problem,” said Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA).
“No one can deny the challenge facing the northern long-eared bat due to White Nose Syndrome and there is consensus that we must learn more about the disease and improve partnerships at all levels to slow its spread. However, it is imperative that we get the science right and strategically address the root cause of the apparent population losses, rather than restrict large areas of the economy and activities that have no bearing on slowing or reversing the disease.”
However, Mollie Matteson, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, testified that the species’ decline is attributable to numerous factors, which White Nose Syndrome has only exacerbated.
“Scientists have evidence that the northern long-eared bat was in decline prior to the onset of White Nose Syndrome, possibly due to factors such as habitat destruction and fragmentation, environmental toxins, and climate change,” stated Matteson. “Now, White Nose Syndrome may be interacting with these other dangers to cause a downward spiral that may soon become irreversible.”
In her written testimony, Matteson also highlighted the important economic role bats play in curbing the proliferation of agricultural and forest pest insects, noting they provide “billions of dollars in crop protection services across the United States.”
“The insect-eating northern long-eared bat provides a valuable population check on moths and beetles that may attack timber and crops,” she said. “Without this bat, the challenges farmers and the timber industry face will grow, not lessen.”
For additional information on the hearing, click here.
On Sept. 3, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) listed twenty additional coral species as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act—fifteen of the newly listed species occur in the Indo-Pacific and five in the Caribbean.
For more information, click here.
On Sept. 3, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) will provide nearly $12 million to federal and state land agencies to address threats to public health and water resources posed by harmful algal blooms (HABs) in western Lake Erie.
The funding will expand water treatment monitoring and forecasting in the region. It will also include incentives for area farmers to reduce their phosphorus runoff and improve measurement of phosphorus loads in Lake Erie tributaries.
The Great Lakes Restoration Task Force, which oversees the GLRI, is chaired by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
For additional information on the GLRI, click here.
On Sept. 9, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe announced nearly $35 million in grants to 20 states to enable collaborative efforts to conserve many of America’s imperiled species, ranging from the red cockaded woodpecker in the Southeast to a variety of bat species in the Midwest to a colorful flower in the Rocky Mountains.
“Partnerships are critical to ensuring future generations will be able to see threatened and endangered species in the wild rather than simply in a history book,” Jewell said. “These grants will enable states to work in voluntary partnership with private landowners and a wide variety of other stakeholders to preserve vital habitat and move these species down the road to recovery.”
The competitive grants allow states to work with private landowners, conservation groups and other government agencies to initiate conservation planning efforts and acquire and protect habitat that benefits threatened and endangered fish, wildlife and plants. The grant funding is provided through programs established to help advance creative partnerships for the recovery of imperiled species. This year, the fund will allocate approximately $7.4 million in grants through the Habitat Conservation Planning Assistance Grants Program; nearly $18 million through the Habitat Conservation Plan Land Acquisition Grants Program, and $9.5 million through the Recovery Land Acquisition Grants Program.
For more information, follow this link.
On Aug. 28, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced new Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships that will help six city communities encourage participation in outdoor recreation and conservation efforts.
The six national wildlife refuges participating in the Urban Refuge Partnerships include Hopper Mountain Refuge in Ventura, CA; Bayou Sauvage Refuge in New Orleans, LA; Rocky Mountain Arsenal Refuge in Denver, CO; John Heinz Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphia, PA; Wallkill River Refuge in Sussex, NJ; and Santa Ana Refuge in Alamo, TX.
Funding is provided through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration. Over $1.7 million is expected to be generated towards the effort from collaborations between FWS, local communities, corporations and non-profits.
For additional information on the six individual National Urban Refuge Partnerships, click this link.
In August, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced it withdrew its proposal to list the wolverine (Gulo gulo) as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. The Service initially proposed to list the wolverine based on climate change model forecasts showing overall loss of spring snow across the species’ range. However, upon conducting a more thorough review and gathering additional information, the Service found that climate change models are unable to reliably predict snowfall amounts and snow-cover persistence in wolverine denning locations.
“Climate change is a reality, the consequences of which the Service deals with on a daily basis. While impacts to many species are clear and measurable, for others the consequences of a warming planet are less certain. This is particularly true in the Mountain West, where differences in elevation and topography make fine-scale prediction of climate impacts ambiguous,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe in a press statement. “In this case, based on all the information available, we simply do not know enough about the ecology of the wolverine and when or how it will be affected by a changing climate to conclude at this time that it is likely to be in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future.”
Director Ashe stated the decision could be revisited if the agency is presented with new evidence linking climate change to the decline of wolverine populations.
The decision not to list the species has met with critique from environmental organizations who contend the agency is not following the recommendations of a majority of its scientists. FWS scientists had originally proposed listing the species in Feb. 2013. In July, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) authored a letter expressing concern with the manner in which the agency has weighed scientific evidence in determining whether the wolverine qualifies for endangered species protection.
“The regional director’s decision to overturn a scientifically well-vetted and well-supported listing determination sets a bad precedent by allowing an administrator to overrule the expert judgment of the Service’s scientists as well as independent peer reviewers,” the letter states.
The Audubon Birds and Climate Report is a comprehensive, first-of-its kind study that predicts how climate change could affect the ranges of 588 North American birds. The study models indicate that 314 species will lose more than 50 percent of their current climatic range by 2080.
Audubon scientists used three decades of citizen-scientist observations from the Audubon Christmas Bird Count and the North American Breeding Bird Survey to define the “climatic suitability” for each bird species—the range of temperatures, precipitation, and seasonal changes each species needs to survive.
For more information, follow this link.
James L. Olds has been selected by the National Science Foundation(NSF) to serve as the new assistant director for the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) beginning in October 2014.
Olds is a George Mason University professor and director and chief academic unit officer at the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study. He is also the Shelley Krasnow University Professor of Molecular Neuroscience. The international Decade of the Mind project was begun under his leadership at Krasnow, which helped shape President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative.
“Dr. Olds has a strong record of academic leadership with an institution that has grown its global presence during his tenure,” said NSF Director France A. Córdova. “In addition to his leadership, his commitment to interdisciplinary research at Krasnow and his experience with developing scientific policy will be of great benefit to NSF and to the research community we serve.”
For more information click here.
Considered by House Committee
On Sept. 9, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the following bills:
H.R. 1314, to amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to establish a procedure for approval of certain settlements – Introduced by Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), the bill would require states and counties to approve any Endangered Species Act settlements that affect them.
H.R. 1927, the More Water and Security for Californians Act –Introduced by Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA), the bill would temporarily exempt the Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project from some Endangered Species Act requirements to provide more water to farms.
H.R. 4256, the Endangered Species Improvement Act of 2014 – Introduced by Chris Stewart (R-UT), the bill would require the federal government to count animals on private and tribal lands, in addition to federal, when determining whether a species warrants federal protection.
H.R. 4284, the ESA Improvement Act of 2014 – Introduced by Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), the bill would prohibit the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) from listing a species for federal protection before coordinating a State Protective Action plan for states affected by the listing.
H.R. 4319, the Common Sense In Species Protection Act – Introduced by Rick Crawford (R-AR), the bill would require FWS to publish and make available for public comment a more comprehensive economic analysis when determining critical habitat.
H.R. 4866, the Lesser Prairie Chicken Voluntary Recovery Act – Introduced by Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), the bill would reverse the threatened listing for the lesser prairie chicken and put a five year moratorium on any future listing of the species.
H.R. 2495, the American Super Computing Leadership Act of 2014 – Introduced by Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL), the bill would direct the Secretary of Energy to develop a plan to advance exascale high-performance computing technology in the US. The bill passed the House Sept. 8 by voice vote.
H.R. 5309, the Tsunami Warning, Education and Research Act – Introduced by Rep. Susan Bonamici (D-OR), the bill would reauthorize and strengthen tsunami detection, forecasting, warning and research programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The bill passed the House Sept. 8 by voice vote.
H.R. 5078, the Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act of 2014 – Introduced by Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL), the bill would prevent the US Environmental Protection Agency from implementing a proposed rule to clarify its jurisdiction over navigable waterways of the United States. The bill passed Sept. 9 by a vote of 262-152 with 35 Democrats joining all but one Republican (Rep. Chris Smith (NJ)) in supporting the bill.
The White House released a Statement of Administration policy declaring the president would veto the bill. View the statement by clicking here.
Sources: Audubon Society, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, US Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, the Washington Post