June 1, 2016

In This Issue

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ENERGY: HOUSE PASSES BILL THAT RESTRICTS CLIMATE, ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH

On May 25, the House passed S. 2012, the Energy Policy Modernization Act. The bill passed by a vote of 241-178. Eight Democrats joined all but six Republicans in supporting the measure.

S. 2012 passed the Senate April 20, 2016 by a strong bipartisan vote of 85-12. The House used “an amendment in the nature of a substitute” to replace the Senate-passed text with the language of a more partisan House energy bill, H.R. 8, the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015. The White House released a statement threatening to veto H.R. 8 in Nov. 2015, stating it would undercut efforts to increase the nation’s energy efficiency.

The House language includes a number of restrictions on scientific research, particularly related to the Department of Energy Office of Science’s Biological and Environment Research (BER) program. The House legislation would authorize funding for BER 9.7 percent ($59 million) below the FY 2016 appropriated level. The legislation would also prevent BER from carrying out climate science research that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) identifies as “overlapping or duplicative.” Further, the legislation would also require BER to “prioritize fundamental research on biological systems and genomics science” over “climate and environmental research.”

Since both the House and Senate have passed differing energy bills, the two chambers must appoint conferees composed of the two House and Senate committee members with primary jurisdiction over the energy bill. The chairs and ranking members of the two committees will lead negotiations to reach a bill that could pass both chambers.

The House rejected a motion by House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) to instruct conferees on the bill to support inclusion of the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund included in the Senate bill.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) has expressed reluctance to go to conference with the House bill in light of the presidential veto threats against so many of its provisions. As ranking member, Cantwell would be among the conferees designated to negotiate a final bill.

Congress would need to reach an agreement that could pass both chambers and be sent to the president before the two-year session of the current Congress adjourns towards the close of the current calendar year. Any bill not signed by the president will have to be reintroduced when the 115th session of Congress convenes in Jan. 2017.

ESA submitted a letter to the leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee requesting that the cuts and restrictions to scientific research included in the House bill not be included in legislation negotiated between the two chambers.

Click here to read the White House Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 8.

APPROPRIATIONS: FY 2017 INTERIOR BILL CUTS FUNDING FOR ENVIRONMENTAL ENTITIES

On May 24, the House Appropriations Committee unveiled its Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. As in recent years, the bill includes several provisions that would prohibit funding for Obama administration environmental regulatory initiatives.

In total, the bill provides $32.095 billion for the US Department of Interior, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Forest Service, $64 million below the fiscal year 2016 enacted level.

The bill funds wildland firefighting and prevention programs at $3.9 billion – fully funding the 10-year average for federal agency wildland fire suppression costs. The committee report outlining funding for wildfire specific accounts between the Department of Interior and US Forest Service has yet to be released. Of the $5.3 billion appropriated for the US Forest Service, $2.9 billion is targeted towards wildland fire suppression and prevention activities.

EPA would receive $7.98 billion, $164 million less than the FY 2016 enacted level. Policy riders to prohibit the agency from implementing new regulations for greenhouse gas emissions, methane, mining and navigable waters, among others, were also included in the bill. Traditionally, many of these provisions have been removed during the conference process between the House and Senate.

Enclosed are FY 2017 funding levels for agencies and programs of interest to the ecological community compared to the FY 2016 enacted level:

US Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.5 billion, a $17 million decrease.

US Geological Survey:  $1.1 billion, an $18 million increase.

Office of Surface Mining: $236 million, level with existing funding.

Bureau of Land Management: $1.2 billion, a $10 million decrease.

National Park Service: $2.9 billion, s $71 million increase. The increase is targeted toward reducing the park maintenance backlog and priorities related to its centennial anniversary.

Smithsonian Institution: $863 million, a $23 million increase.

Land and Water Conservation Fund: $322 million, a $128 million decrease.

The Ecological Society of America provided testimony to the Interior appropriations subcommittee requesting support for the Joint Fire Science Program.

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE CONVENES ZIKA HEARING

On May 25, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing entitled “Science of Zika: The DNA of an Epidemic.”

During the hearing there was bipartisan consensus that more support is needed for further research and monitoring of the Zika virus. As summer nears, the terrain with weather favorable to mosquitoes in the continental United States will expand.  

Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) felt the Zika threat warrants the Obama administration raising travel alert threat protocols. He called on the administration to raise the travel alert to level three for Brazil, Colombia and other countries with high rates of Zika infections. The level three warning acknowledges high risk to travelers and recommends avoiding all non-essential travel. Smith cited the Olympics in Brazil as factoring into the administration’s decision not to raise the travel alert level.

“At the least, pregnant women should be told to avoid nonessential travel to Brazil and Colombia,” said Smith. “Anything less is putting political correctness ahead of the well-being of American women.”

Questions predominantly centered on improving monitoring and public awareness, understanding the molecular biology of the virus, how it interacts with the human body and the difficulties of pesticide use in light of the fact that the mosquito species that spreads the virus is common on the private property of Americans’ backyards.

“It is perplexing that the Zika virus was first identified in the late 1940s, but we are only seeing major Zika outbreaks now,” noted Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) “What has changed in the last 70 years to make conditions more suitable for the virus to be transmitted?”

“I imagine that the rapid increase in human travel has played a large role, but I do wonder how much other factors like insecticide resistance and climate change may be playing in the spread of this disease,” she continued. “All of these research questions need to be answered as we plan effective mosquito control programs and prepare to invest our resources.”

Witnesses testifying included Kacey Ernst, Associate Professor, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Arizona; Daniel Neafsey, Associate Director, Genomic Center for Infectious Disease, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard; Steven Presley, Professor, Department of Environmental Toxicology, Texas Tech University; and Hadyn Parry, Chief Executive Officer, Oxitec.

Click here to view the hearing.

EDUCATION: NEW REGULATIONS GUIDE IMPLEMENTATION OF 'STUDENT SUCCEEDS' LAW

On May 26, the US Department of Education announced proposed regulations to carry out the recently enacted Every Student Succeeds Act, which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The regulatory reform include these key topics:

  • Refining definitions and measurements for academic achievement and success for schools.
  • Providing targeted specialized support for struggling schools
  • Ensuring parents and communities have data that helps them productively engage and in their educational systems.
  • Streamlining state education plans to eliminate duplication.

Click here for additional information.

FEDERAL REGISTER PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITIES

CURRENT POLICY

Approved by House Committee

H.R. 5303 – The Water Resources Development Act of 2016  – Introduced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-OH) and Ranking Member Grace Napolitano (D-CA), the bill authorizes $5 billion for US Army Corps of Engineering infrastructure projects surrounding the nation’s waterways. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved by bill by voice vote on May 25.

A similar bipartisan Water Resources Development Act (S. 2848) was approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on April 28 by a vote of 19-1.

Passed House

H.R. 897, the Zika Vector Control Act – Introduced by Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), the bill would have eliminated pesticide permitting requirements under the Clean Water Act while providing a two-year waiver for permits mandated by the Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. The bill passed the House May 24 by a vote of 262-159 with 23 Democrats joining all Republicans in support of the measure. The bill previously failed to pass the House on May 17 as it was considered under “suspension of the rules,” where a two-thirds majority vote is required for passage.

The White House released a Statement of Administration Policy declaring the president would veto the bill. Click here to read the statement.

H.R. 5243, the Zika Response Appropriations Act – Introduced by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rodgers (R-KY), the bill would provide $622.1 million to deter the spread of the Zika virus over the next five months through the end of current Fiscal Year 2016. The funding is offset by cuts to unobligated funding to address Ebola and the H1N1 virus. The bill passed the House May 18 by a vote of 241-184.

The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy declaring the president would veto the House bill, primarily because it falls short of the administration’s request of $1.9 billion in emergency supplemental funding.

Click here to view the statement.

Introduced in Senate

S.1398, Energy Title of America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 – Introduced May 20 by Sen Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the bill would reauthorize through FY 2020 designated energy research, development, and commercial application programs conducted through the Office of Science of the Department of Energy (DOE).


Sources: Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, the White House, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, ClimateWire, Greenwire, the Hill, Science Magazine