June 3, 2015

In This Issue

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RESEARCH: AMERICA COMPETES REAUTHORIZATION NARROWLY PASSES HOUSE

On May 20, the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 1806, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act, by a vote of 217-205. No Democrats supported the bill and 23 Republicans broke with party leaders in voting against it.

Sponsored by House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), the bill authorizes small increases for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science. Within the aforementioned federal agencies, it cuts funding for biological and environmental research at DOE as well as geoscience and social science research at NSF. A total of 12 amendments were voted on.

Chairman Smith introduced an amendment that restored cuts to the NSF Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) and Graduate Research Fellowship at the cost of cuts to the NSF directorates that fund biological, engineering and computer sciences. Smith’s amendment was adopted by voice vote.

An amendment by Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) to encourage female entrepreneurs was adopted by voice vote as was an amendment by Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) requiring NSF to establish a Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education grant program for Hispanic-serving institutions.  

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) introduced an amendment striking Sec. 106 from the bill, controversial language adding a new requirement that NSF specify that grant funding is “in the national interest.” The amendment failed by a vote of 177-243, largely along partisan lines, with all but four Republicans opposing Ranking Member Johnson’s amendment and most Democrats supporting the amendment.

Research and Technology Subcommittee Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) was among the nine Democrats who opposed the amendment, noting that NSF Director France Cordova is supportive of the language and efforts to make NSF grants more transparent and accessible to the general public. Rep. Foster had sponsored a similar amendment during committee mark-up of the bill. Both Lipinski and Foster hold Ph.Ds. The four Republicans who voted for the amendment were Carlos Curbello (FL), Robert Dold (IL), Steve Stivers (OH) and Pat Tiberi (OH). Reps. Curbello and Dold were also among the 23 Republicans who voted against the bill.

The Ecological Society of America joined with other scientific societies in sending correspondence to Congress opposing the bill. ESA members relayed concerns to congressional offices in person during the 2015 Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition congressional visits last month. The Society co-organizes the congressional visits day with the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

While a comprehensive Senate bill has yet to be introduced, early efforts suggest Senate legislation will be comparatively more bipartisan. A Senate bill introduced May 20 to reauthorize funding for DOE research would increase the agency’s Office of Science funding from $5.3 billion in FY 2016 to $6.2 billion in FY 2020 and does not include cuts to environmental research as H.R. 1806 does. The bill (S. 1398) was introduced by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Chris Coons (D-DE). Original cosponsors include Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

For additional information on the America COMPETES Reauthorization, see the May 20 edition of ESA Policy News.

WATER: OBAMA ADMINISTRATION FINALIZES CLEAN WATER RULE

On May 27, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and US Army Corps of Engineers finalized the Clean Water Rule, clarifying jurisdiction over streams and wetlands of the United States.

Supreme Court rulings over the past decade, including Solid Waste Agency of North Cook County (SWANCC) v. United States Army Corps of Engineers (2001) and Rapanos v. United States (2006) called into question what “navigable waters” as defined under the Clean Water Act can be regulated by the federal government. The new rule clarifies that streams and wetlands that can carry pollution into larger waterways also fall under jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

The rule includes exclusions for groundwater, artificial lakes and ponds, puddles and water-filled depressions from construction and grass swales. The rule will only apply to ditches that function like streams and can carry pollution downstream. Administration officials emphasize that the rule only protects waters that have been historically covered by the Clean Water Act.

The rule has long spurred contention on Capitol Hill. Congressional Republicans have repeatedly challenged the rule through the appropriations process. House appropriations bills with jurisdiction over EPA and the Army Corps have repeatedly included language prohibiting funding to implement the rule, though the language has traditionally been stripped out by the Senate.

These legislative efforts have been bolstered with the support of a few moderate and conservative Democrats in the Senate and House critical of EPA’s regulatory efforts, including Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN). H.R. 1732, the Regulatory Integrity Act, which would prohibit enforcement of the rule, passed the House with the support of 24 Democratic votes.

It remains to be seen how Republican control of the Senate will affect such attempts for the Fiscal Year 2016 appropriations process.

Click here for a one-page fact sheet on the rule.

Click here for additional information on the rule.

INTERIOR: SAGE GROUSE PROTECTION PLAN FINALIZED

On May 28, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the US Forest Service released their finalized plan to protect the greater sage grouse.

The comprehensive plan includes 14 environmental impact statements and will cover ten states: California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. Over half of existing sage grouse habitat is on federal land.

The plan will seek to 1) minimize disturbance to avoid fragmentation of sage grouse habitat 2) improve conditions of existing sagebrush habitat and 3) reduce the threat of wildfires to grouse habitats.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to make a final determination over whether the sage grouse warrants Endangered Species Act protection this September. It is BLM’s hope that the plans will negate the need to list the animal under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, a move which would lead to tighter federal restrictions on lands occupied by the sage grouse. Nonetheless, key leaders in Congress claim the plan is a case of federal regulatory overreach.

“This is just flat out wrong,” said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT). “If the Administration really cares about the bird they will adopt the state plans as they originally said they would. The state plans work. This proposal is only about controlling land, not saving the bird.” 

Chairman Bishop used a recent Natural Resources Committee hearing to highlight various state efforts to conserve the sage grouse and has called upon the US Fish and Wildlife Service to delay the September listing decision. Natural Resources Committee Democrats have expressed concern further delay could undermine sage grouse conservation efforts and are supportive of the BLM and Forest Service plans.

“I applaud the Administration and the states for working together to revise these plans in an attempt to conserve the greater sage-grouse,” said Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) in a May 28 press statement. “This unprecedented collaborative effort proves that a strong Endangered Species Act is a catalyst for positive change that protects species and landscapes while promoting sustainable economic development.”

While the sage grouse plan does include limits on energy development, Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell stated that 90 percent of sage grouse habitat will remain available for oil and gas development. The plan has the support of Gov. Matt Mead (R-WY), who appeared with Jewell during the announcement of the plan. Wyoming has the largest sage grouse population in the United States.

Click here for additional information on the sage grouse conservation plan.

Click here to view the House Natural Resources Committee sage grouse hearing.

OCEANS: EPA, COAST GUARD ISSUE ORDER FOR CALIFORNIA SPILL CLEANUP

On May 29, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Coast Guard issued a joint Clean Water Act order, setting deadlines for pipeline operators to clean up a crude oil spill in the vicinity of Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara, CA.

The May 19 pipeline breach caused roughly 105, 000 gallons of crude oil to spill into Refugio State Beach. About 21,000 gallons from that amount made its way into the Pacific Ocean. The cause of the pipeline failure is being investigated by EPA and the US Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The order requires Plains All American Pipeline, the company responsible for the oil spill, to submit a work plan to EPA and the Coast Guard by June 6 for clean-up and environmental sampling.

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Edward Markey (D-MA) have written Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration seeking details on the pipeline rupture and Plains Pipeline’s response efforts. 

To view the Senators’ letter, click here.

Click here for additional information on the oil spill and response efforts.

FEDERAL REGISTER PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITIES

National Science Foundation

Notice: Public comment period ends July 28, 2015

Comment Request; NSF’s Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES) Portfolio of Programs Survey; Proposed Information Collection Request

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-13041

US Environmental Protection Agency

Notice: Public comment period ends June 19, 2015

Request for Nominations of Experts to the Science and Information Subcommittee of the Great Lakes Advisory Board

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-12259

Proposed Rule: Public comment period ends June 29, 2015

Proposal To Mitigate Exposure to Bees From Acutely Toxic Pesticide Products

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-12989

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice: Public comment period ends June 29, 2015

Habitat Conservation Plan for the Morro Shoulderband Snail

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-12849

Proposed Rule: Comment period ends July 20, 2015

Removal of the Louisiana Black Bear From the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Removal of Similarity-of-Appearance Protections for the American Black Bear

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-11748  

Proposed Rule: Comment period ends July 20, 2015

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Revisions to the Regulations for Petitions

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-12316

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 2494, the Global Anti-Poaching Act – Introduced May 21 by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), the bill requires the Secretary of State to identify and withhold assistance to countries that participate in wildlife trafficking and provides increased assistance to nations attempting to fight it. The bill puts wildlife trafficking in the same category as weapons trafficking and drug trafficking, making it a liable offense for money laundering and racketeering and requires fines, forfeitures, and restitution received to be transferred to federal conservation and anti-poaching efforts. The bill has nine bipartisan cosponsors has been referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

H.R. 2553, the Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act – Introduced May 21 by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), the bill would direct the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to conduct coastal community vulnerability assessments related to ocean acidification to determine threats to the seafood industry and other aspects of coastal community economies. The bill has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Passed House

H.R. 880, the American Research and Competitiveness Act – Introduced by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the bill would simplify and make permanent the method for calculating a 20 percent tax credit for qualified research expenses that exceed 50 percent of the average qualified research expenses for the three preceding taxable years. The bill passed the House May 20 by a vote of 274-145 with 37 Democrats joining all but one Republican, Rep. Walter Jones (NC), in support of the bill.

The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy threatening to veto the bill, stating “making the R&D credit permanent without offsets, H.R. 880 would add $180 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years.” Click here to view the full statement.

H.R. 1335, Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act – Introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the bill reauthorizes the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the primarily law governing fisheries resource management in offshore federal waters. The bill passed the House June 1 by a vote of 225-152. Five Democrats voted with all but three Republicans in support of the bill. Democrats opposed new exemptions in the bill on catch limits as well as new exemptions to National Environmental Policy Act requirements for federal fishery management plans that seek to prevent overfishing.

The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy threatening to veto the bill, stating the bill would “impose arbitrary and unnecessary requirements that would harm the environment and the economy.” Click here to view the full statement.

Introduced in Senate

H.R. 1394, Columbia River Basin Restoration Act – Introduced May 20 by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), the bill would authorize $50 million over five years for the Environmental Protection Agency to establish a voluntary competitive Columbia Basin grants program for projects that help reduce pollution, improve water quality, monitoring and clean-up efforts and promote citizen engagement on restoration efforts for Columbia Basin. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced a companion bill (H.R. 2469) in the House.

H.R. 1398, Energy Title of America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 – Introduced May 20 by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Chris Coons (D-DE), the bill authorizes $5.3 billion in Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science funding for FY 2016, and authorizes annual increases to $6.2 billion by FY 2020. The bill authorizes ARPA-E with $291 billion for FY 2016, increasing to $341 million in FY 2020. In total, this amounts to four percent annual increases for DOE research over the FY 2015 enacted level. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) are original cosponsors of the bill.

H.R. 1479, the Brownfields Utilization, Investment and Local Development (BUILD) Act – Introduced June 2 by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), the bill reauthorizes the US Environmental Protection Agency’s brownfields cleanup program through Fiscal Year 2018. The program provides grants and technical assistance to states, local communities and redevelopment agencies to support cleanup of contaminated and abandoned sites. The bill would also expand eligibility of grant recipients to include non-profit community groups. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is also a cosponsor of the bill.


Sources: House Natural Resources Committee, US Department of Interior, US Environmental Protection Agency, the White House, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill