March 17, 2016
In This Issue
On March 10, the President Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced their two countries have agreed to a series of efforts to cut methane emissions in the oil and gas sector to mitigate the impacts of global climate change. They also reinforced their commitment to joining and implementing the Paris climate change agreement.
Both nations plan to reduce methane emissions 40-45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025 and will work to reduce their hydrofluorocarbon emissions. The statement called for increasing renewable energy investments and “conserving Arctic biodiversity through science-based decision making.” The two nations also called for all oil and gas development in the Arctic to align with science-based standards.
Click here to view the full statement.
NSF selected Battelle to complete the construction, commissioning and initial operations for the $432 million project National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) project. Battelle is a nonprofit organization with the mission of translating scientific discovery and technology advances into societal benefits. They currently manage seven national laboratories and have a long history of managing large and complex technical projects.
For the next 90 days, Battelle will be in a transition period to develop an organizational/management structure to prepare for the next steps to complete construction of the network in 20 ecologically distinct zones across the United States, from Alaska to Puerto Rico.
The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is seeking nominations of experts and fellows for its global assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Nominated experts should “have expertise in one or more disciplines within natural science, social science or humanities, represent or have expertise in indigenous and local knowledge systems, or be policy experts and practitioners.” Nominations are due May 5, 2016.
IPBES began a three-year study into humanity’s impact on ecosystems and biodiversity on March 1, 2016. The study, due in 2019, will examine a wide array of lifeforms, habitats, and measure progress towards meeting commitments under the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity of the United Nation’s Convention on Biological Diversity.
Established in 2012, IPBES includes 124 member nations, which participate in the report. It released its first summary on pollinators in late February 2016. The report found that bees, bats and other pollinators that play a critical role in food production are declining.
Click here for additional details on how to submit a nomination.
Click here to read the unedited advanced summary for policymakers for the pollinator report.
On March 16, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, Chief Justice of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.
A Chicago native, Garland began his tenure as Chief Justice in 2013. He was first nominated to serve on the court by President Clinton in late 1995, but consideration of his nomination was postponed by the Republican-controlled Congress until after the 1996 presidential election. President Clinton renominated him in Jan. 1997, and he was confirmed by a bipartisan vote of 76-23. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) were among the 23 Republicans who voted against his appointment in 1997 to the US Court of Appeals.
His record suggests some level of deference to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulatory authority. Garland was part of a three-judge panel that upheld US EPA’s mercury standards for power plants in 2014. In American Corn Growers Association v. EPA (2002), the US Court of Appeals struck down EPA’s national park haze rules. Garland dissented asserting that the agency was entitled to deference in interpreting how pollution sources should be treated. In American Farm Bureau Federation v. EPA (2009), he ruled against the agency, although it was because he determined its particle standards were not strong enough and could put human populations at risk.
Whether or not Garland will receive hearings or a vote remains unclear. Senate Republican leadership has maintained that President Obama’s nominees should not receive a vote during a presidential election year. Some Republican Senators, including those up for reelection this year in swing states, have indicated they would be willing to meet with the nominee. Grassley is among those who agreed to meet with the nominee, but is to date, still unwilling to hold hearings or allow a vote on confirmation.
On March 15, House Republicans unveiled their FY 2017 budget resolution, which would cut the deficit by $7 trillion over the decades.
The non-binding resolution does not need to be signed by the president and does not hold the force of law. It does, however, serve as a reference for appropriators when they craft their spending bills for the coming fiscal year and forecasts what their policy priorities may be. Among its environmental priorities, the budget calls for continued oil and natural gas exploration and endorses hydraulic fracturing.
The budget also criticizes the US Environmental Protection Agency for its “unprecedented activist regulatory policy to the detriment of states, localities, small businesses, and energy consumers.” The budget also “rescinds unobligated balances from stimulus green energy programs, and calls for reforming and streamlining numerous other research & development programs across the Department of Energy.”
The 40-member far-right conservative House Freedom Caucus opposes the Republican budget. Given that the overwhelming majority (if not all) House Democrats are also expected to oppose it, the measure is unlikely to pass the House of Representatives.
Click here to view the full request.
The Zika virus is prompting the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine to consider approving an Investigational New Animal Drug trial from Oxitec, Ltd., regarding the company’s genetically engineered mosquitoes. As part of the review, the FDA has published for public comment a draft environmental assessment submitted by Oxitec, Ltd. that assesses the potential environmental impacts of conducting a field trial in Key Haven, Florida and a preliminary finding of no significant impact.
Oxitec’s patented technique for genetically modifying insects is known as RIDL (Release of Insects carrying a Dominant Lethal genetic system). Oxitec’s male Aedes aegypti OX513A GM mosquitoes are intended to mate with wild females and produce offspring that dies as larvae with the intent of suppressing the mosquito population at the release site.
Ae. aegypti is known to transmit potentially debilitating human viral diseases, including Zika, dengue, yellow fever, and chikungunya and has been found in some US states, mostly in the South. Open field trials of the OX513A genetically engineered mosquito have been conducted in Brazil, the Cayman Islands, Panama, and Malaysia.
The FDA is accepting public comments on the draft environmental assessment and the preliminary finding of no significant impact in the Federal Register. Comments must be received by April 13.
Click here for information on how to comment.
On March 15, Interior Sec. Sally Jewell and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Director Abigail Ross Hopper announced an updated proposal for the Obama administration’s Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022. The revised proposal removes any lease sales for the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic region.
The administration cited “current market dynamics, strong local opposition and conflicts with competing commercial and military ocean uses” in its decision not to lease in the Atlantic region. The plan does permit consideration of 13 leasing sales, 10 in the Gulf of Mexico and and one sale each in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, and Cook Inlet Program Areas offshore Alaska . The Department of Defense had expressed concern that drilling off the Atlantic might affect military training.
The plan also received bipartisan opposition from Members of Congress representing mid-Atlantic states. In Dec. 2015, Reps. Mark Sandford (R-SC) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) sent a letter to BOEM requesting a halt to the permitting and review process for potential seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean.
The OCS Lands Act requires the Secretary of the Interior to prepare a five-year program that includes a schedule of potential oil and gas lease sales and indicates the size, timing and location of proposed leasing determined to best meet national energy needs, while addressing a range of economic, environmental and social considerations.
The updated draft plan is open for 90 days of public comment. Click here for additional information as well as directions on how to comment.
Click here to view the Sanford-Scott letter.
On March 10, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that after 24 years of recovery efforts, it will delist the Louisiana black bear as a protected species under the Endangered Species Act.
According to FWS, the formal delisting followed a comprehensive agency scientific review process as well as the release of a post-delisting monitoring plan. The agency credits curbing the net loss of forested lands in the Lower Mississippi River Alluvial River Valley, public management efforts in national wildlife refuges, wildlife management areas and Army Corps of Engineers lands in helping to protect Louisiana black bear populations.
Click here for additional information on federal Louisiana black bear recovery efforts.
Environmental Protection Agency
Proposed Rule: Public comment period ends May 13, 2016
National Science Foundation
Notice: Public comment period ends May 9, 2016
US Fish and Wildlife Service
Proposed Rule: Public comments due May 9, 2016
Proposed Rule: Public comment period ends May 10, 2016
Notice: Public comment period ends May 10, 2016
Introduced in House
H.R. 4665, the Outdoor Recreation’s Economic Contributions (REC) Act – Introduced March 2 by Reps. Don Beyer (D-VA), David Reichert (R-WA), Peter Welch (D-VT) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the billwould direct the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis to assess the outdoor industry’s contribution to job creation and consumer spending. The bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
H.R. 4680, the National Park Service Centennial Act – Introduced March 3 by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), the bill establishes the National Park Centennial Challenge Fund in the US Department of Treasury to finance signature projects and programs to enhance the National Park System (NPS) as it approaches its centennial in 2016. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands.
H.R. 4742, the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act – Introduced March 15 by Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), the bill authorizes the National Science Foundation to support entrepreneurial programs for women. The bill has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Research and Technology Subcommittee Chair Barbara Comstock (R-VA) are lead cosponsors of the bill.
H.R. 3797, the Satisfying Energy Needs and Saving the Environment (SENSE) Act – Introduced by Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA) the bill would exempt coal refuse facilities from US Environmental Protection Agency regulatory authority under the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. The bill passed the House March 15 by a vote of 231-183. Three Democrats joined all but eight Republicans in voting for the bill.
The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy declaring that the president would veto the bill.
Sources: Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, US Forest Service, the White House, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, ClimateWire, Greenwire, the Hill