November 11, 2015

In This Issue

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NOAA: SCIENCE COMMITTEE CHAIR REQUESTS SCIENTISTS’ INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS

On Nov. 4, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) sent a letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) requesting documents and communications between NOAA scientists whose research concludes there has been no pause in global warming. At the center of the request is the major climate science study led by Tom Karl, director of the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information that was published in “Science” magazine on June 3.

Said Karl in an NOAA press release posted the day after the study was published: “Adding in the last two years of global surface temperature data and other improvements in the quality of the observed record provide evidence that contradict the notion of a hiatus in recent global warming trends. … the rate of warming over the first 15 years of this century has, in fact, been as fast or faster than that seen over the last half of the 20th century.”

Smith’s investigation into the Karl’s research began in July and escalated throughout the fall when he wrote multiple letters requesting that NOAA release internal communications between the scientists involved in the study. When NOAA refused the requests, Smith followed up with the warning letter of a subpoena Sept. 25 and subsequently issued a subpoena Oct. 13.

In a statement to “Nature” magazine, NOAA asserted a confidentiality interest concerning scientific communication, arguing: “Because the confidentiality of these communications among scientists is essential to frank discourse among scientists, these documents were not provided to the Committee. It is a long-standing practice in the scientific community of protecting the confidentiality of deliberative scientific discussions.”  

Smith’s Nov. 4 letter threatens to pursue additional legal mechanisms against NOAA if they do not comply and release the scientists’ internal communications. The letter additionally requests that six senior NOAA officials, including Karl, be made available for transcribed interviews.

Said Smith, “NOAA has failed to fully explain the conditions surrounding its process and procedures for adjusting upward temperature readings that eliminated the ‘pause’ in global warming,” the letter states. “Deficiencies in NOAA’s response to the Committee’s request raises serious concerns about what role officials at NOAA, including political appointees, had in the decision to adjust the temperature data and widely publicize conclusions based on those adjustments.”

Committee Democrats have been critical of Smith’s subpoena, referring to it as a “fishing expedition.” In a response letter to the subpoena, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said, “The baseless conflict you have created by issuing the October 13 subpoena is representative of a disturbing pattern in your use of congressional power since your chairmanship began. In the past two years and ten months that you have presided as chairman of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology you have issued more subpoenas (six) than were issued in the prior 54-year history of the committee.”

Click here to view the Smith letter.

Click here to view the subpoena response letter from Ranking Member Johnson.

APPROPRIATIONS: SCIENTIFIC COALITIONS REQUEST RESEARCH FUNDING FOR FY 2016

 

On Nov. 2, a broad group of research coalitions sent a letter to House and Senate appropriators praising the Bipartisan Budget Act 2015 and requesting an increase of at least 5.2 percent for federal programs that support scientific research in FY 2016.

“As you allocate the additional funding made available under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, we urge you to make strong investments in America’s innovation ecosystem one of your highest priorities by increasing federal research funding by at least 5.2 percent above FY 2015 levels—the same level of increase to discretionary spending,” the letter states.

Congress has until Dec. 11 to work out an agreement that would continue federal funding through the remainder of Fiscal Year 2016, which began Oct. 1, 2015.

The letter notes that while South Korea, China, and several European countries are making robust investments in scientific research, federal research funding in the United States remains flat.

“If we continue on our current path, we risk creating an innovation deficit, as other countries work to create an innovation dividend,” the letter continues.

Click here to view the full letter.

 

APPROPRIATIONS: SENATORS URGE PRESIDENT TO OPPOSE ENDANGERED SPECIES RIDERS

 

Twenty-five US Senators sent a letter to President Obama urging him to reject any spending bills that include provisions to undermine Endangered Species Act protection efforts. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) spearheaded the letter. No Republicans were among the signers.

“Unfortunately, just as we face enormous threats to our planet’s biodiversity, some in Congress are seeking to undermine the Endangered Species Act,” the letter reads. “More than 80 legislative proposals have already been introduced in this Congress to undermine key pieces of this vital law and to block protections for particular species. All such legislative attacks – including the record number of FY 2016 Interior appropriations riders – undermine the Endangered Species Act, which calls for science-based decision-making to protect all wildlife, plants, and fish that are in danger of extinction.”

Under the Republican-controlled Congress, numerous pieces of legislation introduced would either unilaterally delist certain species from federal protection under the law or place limits of its enforcement capability. However, very few of these bills have passed committee or reached the House or Senate floor for a vote. President Obama is also unlikely to sign bills that would undermine Endangered Species Act protection efforts. Consequently, lawmakers looking to restrict or rescind certain species protections have sought to include legislative language (“riders”) in must-pass appropriations bills that continue government funding.

US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe is open to reforming the Endangered Species Act, noting the last comprehensive legislation was enacted in 1988. However, he has been critical of the reforms that have been pushed by Congressional Republicans.

Click here to view Sen. Booker’s press release, which includes the full text of the letter.

 

WHITE HOUSE: OBAMA REJECTS KEYSTONE PIPELINE

  

On Nov. 6, President Obama rejected the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have carried Canadian crude oil from Canada through the continental United States to ports in the Gulf of Mexico.

In explaining his position, the president asserted that the pipeline would 1) not have a meaningful long-term impact on job creation 2) would not lower gas prices and 3) would not contribute to reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil. The president also stated approving the project would have undercut his administration’s efforts to mitigate the climate change impacts.

In his remarks, the president also mentioned his discussion of the decision with his Canadian counterpart, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is a supporter of the pipeline.

“This morning, I also had the opportunity to speak with Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada,” said President Obama.  “And while he expressed his disappointment, given Canada’s position on this issue, we both agreed that our close friendship on a whole range of issues, including energy and climate change, should provide the basis for even closer coordination between our countries going forward.”

Commenting on the Keystone decision, Secretary of State John Kerry stated, “The critical factor in my determination was this— moving forward with this project would significantly undermine our ability to continue leading the world in combatting climate change.”

Congressional Republicans largely lambasted the decision. In a press statement, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) stated, “It goes to show that the president is more interested in appeasing his wealthy environmental donors than helping the private sector create jobs for working families.”

Click here to read the president’s full statement.

Click here to read Secretary Kerry’s statement.

Click here to read Chairman Inhofe’s statement.

CANADA: GOVERNMENT REVERSES MEDIA COMMUNICATION RESTRICTION FOR SCIENTISTS

  

On Nov. 6, Canadian Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains announced that government scientists are now free to speak to the media.

“Our government values science and will treat scientists with respect,” said Bains in a press statement. “That is why government scientists and experts will be able to speak freely about their work to the media and the public.”

The move reverses a policy under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper that required scientists to seek approval from their departments before speaking to the press.

Click here for the full statement.

SENATE: MODERATE REPUBLICANS FORM ENVIRONMENTAL WORKING GROUP

  

On Oct. 29 Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte (NH), Lamar Alexander (TN), Mark Kirk (IL) and Lindsey Graham (SC) announced the formation of a Senate Energy and Environment Working Group that will focus on climate and environmental protection as well as increase investment in clean energy. All four Republicans have casted votes affirming humans significantly contribute to climate change.

“The Energy and Environment Working Group will be a way for us to bring people together and start an ongoing conversation about these topics—like how we can best protect our environment and climate, pursue common sense and market-based reforms to grow our economy, and promote cleaner energy production,” said Sen. Ayotte, the groups’s lead organizer.

Click here for additional information.

NATURAL RESOURCES: BISHOP FLOATS DRAFT LWCF REAUTHORIZATION BILL

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-CO) has offered draft language for a bill that would reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

Congressional Republicans allowed the bill to expire Sept. 30 of this year, the first time the law was not reauthorized since its passage in 1965. While the LWCF enjoys broad bipartisan support, in recent years fiscally conservative members have pushed to reform the law.

If enacted, Chairman Bishop’s bill would be the first major reform of the LWCF since it was first established. Among its provisions, Bishop’s draft bill would maintain the $900 million funding ceiling for LWCF while providing at least 20 percent of funding support for oil and gas permitting and workforce development and 15 percent for rural counties. 

The bill would increase to a minimum of 45 percent the amount of LWCF funds that go to state-side grants. The bill limits grants for land and water acquisition to no more than 3.5 percent of funds. The bill would also cap the portion of LWCF funds that can be allocated towards reducing the $18.8 billion maintenance backlog of federally managed land at 3.5 percent.

Bishop’s bill has been met with skepticism from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers who have been staunch proponents of LWCF and skeptical of making any major changes to the popular law.

Pro-LWCF Senators have unsuccessfully sought to use Senate procedures to attach an LCWF reauthorization to other bills, including legislation to reauthorize the Toxic Substances Control Act and the recently signed Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. Like Bishop, many Senate Republicans, including Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) are seeking changes to the LWCF.

Earlier this year, Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Patrick Meehan (R-PA) spearheaded a letter signed by 194 additional House members urging increased investment in LWCF. Rep. Meehan, the lead Republican on the letter, released a statement critical of the Bishop draft bill, stating it “diverts money away from conservation, throws up roadblocks to preservation and sets top-down, arbitrary funding formulas.”

Click here to view the Thompson-Meehan letter (PDF).

Click here to view Rep. Meehan’s statement on the Bishop reauthorization draft.

TRANSPORTATION: HIGHWAY REAUTHORIZATION INCLUDES POLLINATOR PROVISIONS

On Nov. 5, the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 22, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015, a $325 billion six-year highway and public transportation reauthorization bill. Under the bill, Department of Transportation (DOT) officials would  “encourage” states to sow vegetation beneficial to bees and other pollinators along highway rights of way. The bill passed the House by a vote of 363-64.

The language adopted by the House is similar to the language passed by the Senate earlier this year, which also included the pollinator provisions. The pollinator language had previously been introduced in the House as H.R. 2738, the Highways Bettering the Economy and Environment Pollinator Protection Act, by Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and Jeff Denham (R-CA). Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) put forward an amendment that would have prohibited DOT funds from being used for landscaping and scenic beautification, but her amendment failed by a vote of 172-184 with 71 Republicans joining all Democrats to oppose the measure.

In addition to the pollinator provisions, both bills now include language requiring DOT to map out national corridors for electric vehicle, hydrogen and natural gas charging stations that would be functional by 2021. 

The current reauthorization for surface transportation programs extends through Nov. 20, 2015. The House and Senate will now negotiate a final bill that resolves funding differences between the two chambers before it can be sent to the president for his signature.

Click here for additional information on the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: OREGON REMOVES STATE PROTECTIONS FOR GRAY WOLVES

 

On Nov. 9, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 4-2 to delist the gray wolf from the state’s Endangered Species Act.

The vote was based on a determination by state biologists that Oregon’s 81 gray wolves are not in danger of extinction. Some independent scientists dispute this finding, however. While the move does not immediately change state management policies for the wolf, it does open them up to more lethal means of control.

The decision has no effect of wolves in some areas further west in the state that still have federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. Wolves in eastern Oregon were delisted from the federal Endangered Species Act four years ago.

Click here for additional information.

FEDERAL REGISTER PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITIES

 

US Environmental Protection Agency

Proposed Rule: Public comments due Jan. 8, 2016

Protection of Stratospheric Ozone: Update to the Refrigerant Management Requirements Under the Clean Air Act

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-26946

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice: Public comments due Dec. 7, 2015

Proposed Safe Harbor Agreement for the Reestablishment of the California Red-Legged Frog in the Santa Monica Mountains, California

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-28200

Notice: Public comments due Dec. 14, 2015

Low-Effect Habitat Conservation Plan for Seven Covered Species, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Land, Inyo and Mono Counties, California

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-28050

Notice: Public comments due Dec. 28, 2015

Golden Eagles; Programmatic Take Permit Application; Draft Environmental Assessment; Alta East Wind Project, Kern County, California

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-27240

 

CURRENT POLICY

 

Introduced in House

H.R. 3959, the Innovate America Act – Introduced Nov. 5 by Reps. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) and Rodney Davis (R-IL), the bill seeks to double the number of high schools focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education, promote computer science training, and expand research opportunities for undergraduate STEM majors and study the impact of STEM field retention programs for students.

H.R. 3880, the Stop EPA Overreach Act of 2015 – Introduced Nov. 3 by Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL), the bill clarifies federal regulatory authority under the Clean Air Act to exclude greenhouse gas emissions, effectively prohibiting the US Environmental Protection Agency from regulating air pollutants that contribute to climate change. The bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Natural Resources Committee, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and House Agriculture Committee.

Passed House

H.R. 2494, the Global Anti-Poaching Act – Introduced 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. It also requires revenue received from fines, forfeitures, and restitution to be transferred to federal conservation and anti-poaching efforts. The bill passed the House Nov. 2 by voice vote and has been referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Introduced in Senate

S. 2219, the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act of 2015 – Introduced Oct. 29 by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), the bill would require the Secretary of Commerce to conduct an assessment and analysisof the economic impact of outdoor recreation activities. The bill has been referred to the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

S.2240, the Federal Lands Invasive Species Control, Prevention, and Management Act – Introduced Nov. 4 by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the bill directs the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior to work with on-the-ground experts to develop and implement a strategic plan to improve control and management of invasive species that threaten and harm federal lands. The bill has been referred to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

S. 2276, the Securing America’s Future Energy: Protecting Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (SAFE PIPES) Act – Introduced Nov. 10 by Sens. Deb Fischer (R-NE), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Steve Daines (R-MT) and Gary Peters (D-MI), the bill would reauthorize the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration through Fiscal Year 2019. The bill also includes provisions that grant the agency direct hiring authority and promote collaboration on research and development between the agency, industry and public sector stakeholders. The bill has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Passed Senate

S.J.Res. 22, a joint resolution expressing disapproval of the rule submitted by the US Army Corps of Engineers and US Environmental Protection Agency relating to the definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act – Introduced by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), the non-binding resolution expresses the sense of Congress that it disapproves of the Obama administration rule clarifying federal regulatory jurisdiction of US waterways. The bill passed the Senate Nov. 4 by a vote of 53-44. Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) Joe Manchin (D-WV) joined most Senate Republicans in voting for the resolution. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) was the lone Republican voting against the resolution.


Sources: House, Science, Space and Technology Committee, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the White House, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, ClimateWire, Greenwire, National Journal, Nature, Associated Press, the Hill, Roll Call, USA Today, American Institute of Physics