December 16, 2015

In This Issue

[/toggle]

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: WORLD LEADERS REACH FIRST EVER CLIMATE ACCORD

On Dec. 12, over 190 countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed to the first-ever international climate change agreement in Paris. The 31-page agreement sets a goal of limiting global temperature increases to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and  pursues efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Assessments on the progress of countries’ pledges will be conducted every five years, beginning in 2018. All countries will update and revise existing climate targets every five years, starting in 2020 with a goal of each target reflecting progress over the prior one. As part of the agreement, developed countries will pledge to raise $100 billion to aid developing nations in tackling climate change. For the first time, the agreement requires all countries to report on national inventories of emissions by source, allowing the general public to understand better the level of pollution generated by countries around the world.

The agreement is considered a win for President Obama, who had pledged that the United States would lead by example in mitigating the effects of climate change.

“In short, this agreement will mean less of the carbon pollution that threatens our planet, and more of the jobs and economic growth driven by low-carbon investment,” said President Obama.  “Full implementation of this agreement will help delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change, and will pave the way for even more progress, in successive stages, over the coming years.”

Since the accord does not legally bind the United States to anything it has not already agreed to in previous treaties, the Obama administration argues that it does not require Senate ratification. Nonetheless, key Republican leaders are skeptical of the agreement and can be expected to continue efforts to block the administration from implementing climate regulations.

“The Obama administration’s Paris climate deal will increase the control of the federal government over the lives of Americans, all for little environmental benefit,” said House Science and Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “The cornerstone of the president’s pledge, the so-called Clean Power Plan regulation, would cost billions of dollars and risk thousands of jobs.”

“The ‘agreement’ sets an effort towards a 1.5-degree cap on increase is no more realistic or technologically feasible than two degrees simply because it’s in the document,” said Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK).  “The agreement further provides that developed countries like the United States shall provide financial resources to assist developing countries with no specificity despite ‘requesting expedited funds through the Green Climate Fund’ to which this administration has committed the US to a $3 billion contribution.  Congress, where authority to approve such an expenditure exists, has appropriated zero dollars.”

Click here for a summary of the agreement.

APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS REACHES FUNDING AGREEMENT FOR REMAINDER OF FY 2016

On the evening of Dec. 15, congressional leaders released a bipartisan $1.149 trillion omnibus spending deal that funds the federal government for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. The bill comes after enactment of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which made it possible for moderate increases in overall discretionary spending for the next two fiscal years.

To prevent a shutdown, Congress passed a stopgap continuing resolution to fund the government through Dec. 22. The House is expected to take up the measure on Dec. 18. with the Senate expected to vote on the bill shortly after. The legislation is expected to pass both chambers of Congress and the president has indicated he will sign the measure.

Most of the major harmful environmental riders from House appropriations bills were not included from the final bill. Policy riders pushed by Congressional Republicans that were absent from the final bill included prohibitions on climate change research and related activities, restrictions on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Ocean Policy, restrictions on implementation of Fishery Management Council decisions, delisting of gray wolves in Wyoming and Great Lakes from Endangered Species Act protection, and prohibitions on enforcing the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The bill also omits language to make the Census’s American Community Survey (ACS) voluntary, a victory for the National Science Foundation (NSF), which uses ACS data to measure the number of Americans with education or employment in science and engineering-related fields.

The bill does include language that would continue to prohibit the US Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, despite the fact that the agency this year signaled it’s already taken steps that would make the listing unnecessary. The bill also retained a prohibition prohibiting the administration from changing the definition of “fill material” under the Clean Water Act, which coal state lawmakers argue could restrict mining.

The bill does not include language recommended by the Obama administration to reform how the nation funds its activities related to wildfire management and containment.

For NSF, the bill includes $7.46 billion, a $119 million increase over the FY 2015 enacted level. The bill does not include restrictions on the NSF directorates that fund the geosciences or social and behavioral sciences. The bill requires federal agency Inspector Generals to conduct random audits of grant funding to combat waste and fraud and establishes an early warning system on cost overruns and requires agencies to notify congressional committees when costs grow more than 10 percent.

The omnibus also provides a three-year reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and funds the program at $450 million in FY 2016, a $143.86 million increase over the FY 2015 enacted level.

Below of FY 2016 funding levels for other federal agencies and bureaus of interest to the ecological community relative to the FY 2015 enacted level:

Agricultural Research Service: $1.36 billion; a $178.3 million increase.

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: $897.59 million; a $23.1 million increase.

Bureau of Land Management: $1.23 billion; a $116.5 million increase.

Bureau of Reclamation: $1.27 billion; a $134.88 million increase.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management: $74.24 million; a $1.81 million increase.

Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement: $88.46 million; a $7.4 million increase.

Department of Energy (DOE) Biological and Environmental Research: $609 million; a $17 million increase.

DOE Office of Science: $5.35 billion; a $279 million increase.

Environmental Protection Agency: $8.14 billion; level with the previous year.

Land and Water Conservation Fund: $450 million; a $143.86 million increase.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration: $19.3 billion; $1.27 billion increase.

National Institute of Food and Agriculture: $1.33 billion; a $37 million increase.

National Institutes of Standards and Technology: $964 million; a $100 million increase.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $5.77 billion; a $324.6 million increase.

National Park Service: $2.85 billion; a $236.65 million increase.

Natural Resources Conservation Service: $862.86 million; a $4.43 million increase.

Smithsonian Institution: $840.24 million; a $20.7 million increase.

US Army Corps of Engineers: $5.99 billion; a $534 million increase.

US Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.51 billion; a $68.6 million increase.

US Forest Service: $5.66 billion; a $608.1 million increase.

US Geological Survey: $1.06 billion; a $17 million increase.

Click here for a summary of the bill.

The full text of the bill is available here.

SENATE: CRUZ CLIMATE HEARING CHALLENGES SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS ON WARMING

On Dec. 8, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who chairs of the Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Science, Space and Competitiveness, convened a hearing to question the consensus among scientists that humans significantly contribute to climate change and the earth’s warming.

The hearing was largely viewed as a politically-motivated gambit to energize support for the Senator’s 2016 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Witnesses included three climate skeptics: John Christy, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science and Director of the Earth System Science Center, University of Alabama in Huntsville; Judith Curry, Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology; William Happer, Cyrus Fogg Bracket Professor of Physics, Princeton University; and Mark Steyn a writer for the conservative National Review in Canada. The lone Democratic invitee testifying was retired Rear Admiral David Titley, a professor with Pennsylvania State University and Director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk.

For Cruz, the hearing was an opportunity to publicly reiterate his opinion that there has been “no significant warming” of the earth since 1998 as well as criticize the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan. Cruz also accused Democrats and the scientific community of seeking to suppress the views scientists skeptical of the evidence of climate science. Titley responded that 1998 was an unusually warm year to choose as a starting point for comparison and noted that a warming bias would be evident if you measured against another year.

Committee Democrats argued that it was Republicans who are attempting to stifle or downplay the magnitude of scientific consensus on climate change, noting the lopsided makeup of witnesses testifying, who were predominantly climate skeptics.

During the hearing, Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) entered into the committee’s record a number of letters and position statements on climate change from scientific societies, which Peters noted represented “tens of thousands of scientists.” In addition to the Ecological Society of America, position statements and letters were also submitted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science Society of America, and the Geological Society of America.

“It is the position of these organizations that the evidence is overwhelming that the earth is warming; global warming is real and that human activity is the primary contributor,” Peters stated.

Click here to read ESA’s statement.

Click here to view the hearing.

INVASIVE SPECIES: NISC SCRUTINIZED BY LAWMAKERS

On Dec. 1, the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Interior convened for a hearing examining the National Invasive Species Council (NISC) and its effectiveness in treating and eradicating invasive threats.

Interior Subcommittee Chairwoman Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Ranking Member Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) were both critical of the council.

“In the past several years, there has been relatively little oversight of the council’s work and success in managing the invasive species problem,” said Chairwoman Lummis. Questions continue to be raised about whether the council and other federal agencies are effective in stopping the spread of invasive species.”

”We know that the invasive species problem has worsened,” said Ranking Member Lawrence. “And I feel strongly that the lack of a proper plan is contributing to the impact.”

Lummis referenced a Government Accountability Office review of NISC’s 2001 management plan, which uncovered problems with coordination and setting long-term goals.

NISC Executive Director Jamie Reaser contended that staff turnover and budget constraints have prevented the agency from revising its management plan, which was last updated in 2008. Executive Order 13112 (adopted in 1999) required NISC to update its management plan every two years. Prior to 2008, the plan was last updated in 2001. Reaser also noted that NISC does not get directly involved in on-the-ground efforts and more functions as a resource to help states coordinate and address invasive species threats. She also stated that NISC intends to have a revised management plan completed by Spring 2016.

Also testifying was Scott Cameron, President of the Reduce Risks from Invasive Species Coalition, who outlined a number of recommendations to improve NISC. These recommendations included requiring the council to submit an annual work plan to Congress with deadlines for action, seeking out international best practices for invasive species management and allow NISC to serve as a forum for federal interagency coordination with regional governor associations.

Click here for additional information on the hearing.

NSF: NEON TO UNDERGO MANAGEMENT RESTRUCTURING

On Dec. 11, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced it is changing the management plan for its National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) and will pursue new management options to complete the NEON project. NSF hopes the reorganization will address various issues that have led to various delays and cost overruns. The agency does not anticipate additional re-scoping of the project. NEON Inc. will continue to perform its work until NSF announces the new management structure.

“During this transition period, our staff remains committed to the work of building, commissioning and operating NEON. Moving forward, our priorities are ensuring a smooth, seamless and efficient transition to a new management organization and working collaboratively with the scientific community,” stated Gene Kelly, Interim CEO of NEON Inc.

In the letter notifying NEON Inc. of the change in management, Jim Olds, assistant director, NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences, states,

“The on-budget completion of the construction and commissioning of the NEON facility will be challenging. But we all recognize that the advanced research infrastructure of the NEON Observatory remains an essential investment that will continue to improve our fundamental understanding of biology, emerging disease, water use, invasive species, and agriculture, forestry, and urban land-use for decades to come.”

Click here to view the NSF letter.

EDUCATION: EVERY STUDENT SUCCEEDS ACT PROMOTES STEM FOR K-12

On Dec. 10, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act. The law is the first comprehensive reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act since the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law on Jan. 8, 2002. The bill passed the Senate Dec. 9 by a vote of 85-12 after passing the House Dec. 2 by a vote of 359-64.

The new law maintains the requirement that state math and science standards are aligned with entrance requirements in higher education and requires that science tests bet given three times between grades 3 and 12. It also establishes the definition of a STEM-Specialty School as a school, or dedicated program within a school, that engages students in rigorous, relevant, and integrated learning experiences focused on STEM education, including computer science.

There is new authority in the bill that allows states and districts to develop and provide professional development and other comprehensive support systems for school teachers and other faculty to promote high-quality instruction in STEM fields.

For teachers, the bill provides new authority to allow states and districts to develop and provide professional development and other comprehensive systems of support for school faculty to promote high-quality instruction and instructional leadership in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subjects, including computer science. The law allows states to establish, expand, or improve alternative routes for state certification of teachers in STEM subjects. 

Prior to the House and Senate going to conference to resolve differences over the bill, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) had sent a letter to the leaders of the House Education and Workforce Committee and the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee requesting that the final bill includes provisions that promote STEM education.

Click here to view the ESA letter: https://www.esa.org/esa/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015-Elementary-and-Secondary-Education-Act-letter.pdf 

TRANSPORTATION: HIGHWAY REAUTHORIZATION SUPPORTS POLLINATORS

On Dec. 4, President Obama signed into law the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act (P.L. 114-94). The legislation reauthorizes federal surface transportation programs at a cost of $305 billion over the next five years.

The bill is the first long-term surface transportation bill signed into law since the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) (P.L. 109-59) was signed into law in 2005. The bill passed the House Dec. 3 by a vote of 359-65 and subsequently passed the Senate by a vote of 83-16.

The new law incorporates, H.R. 2738, the Highways Bettering the Economy and Environment (BEE) Pollinator Protection Act, which was introduced by Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and Jeff Dunham (R-CA). The provisions encourage state departments of transportation to plant and cultivate pollinator habitat and vegetation along highways and freeways.

Specifically, the bill directs the Secretary of Transportation to “1) encourage integrated vegetation management practices on roadsides and other transportation rights-of-way, including reduced mowing; and 2) encourage the development of habitat and forage for Monarch butterflies, other native pollinators, and honey bees through plantings of native forbs and grasses, including noninvasive, native milkweed species that can serve as migratory way stations for butterflies and facilitate migrations of other pollinators.”

Click here for additional information on the FAST Act.

INVASIVE SPECIES: EUROPEAN COUNCIL HALTS SPREAD OF AMPHIBIAN DISEASE

The Standing Committee of the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats recently adopted a recommendation that European countries take a wide range of steps to restrict the commercial salamander and pet trade in order to reduce the spread of the chytrid fungus disease Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (BSal).

The disease is native to Asia, but is thought to have spread to salamanders in Europe through the pet trade. Wild salamanders in several European countries, including Belgium, Germany the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have already been stricken by BSal.

In the United States, scientific societies and conservation groups have teamed in an effort to inform policymakers of the threat and hopefully preempt BSal’s spread to the United States. The Ecological Society of America is working with the National Environmental Coalition of Invasive Species on these efforts.

Click here to view the ESA BSal letter to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

FEDERAL REGISTER PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITIES

Environmental Protection Agency

Notice: Public comments due Jan. 15, 2016

Request for Nominations to the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEPT)

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-31184

Notice: Public comments due Jan. 16, 2016

Information Collection Request Submitted to OMB for Review and Approval; Comment Request; Generic Clearance for Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing Projects

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-31542

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Proposed Rule: Public comments due Feb. 5, 2016

12-Month Finding for seven Foreign Species of Elasmobranchs Under the Endangered Species Act

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-30660

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Proposed Rule: Public comments due Jan. 14, 2016

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Endangered Species Status for the Big Sandy Crayfish and the Guyandotte River Crayfish

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-31369

Notice: Public comments due April 7, 2016

Programmatic Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Invasive Rodent and Mongoose Control and Eradication on US Pacific Islands within the National Wildlife Refuge System and in Native Ecosystems in Hawaii

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-30976


Sources: House Education and Workforce Committee, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, the White House, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, ClimateWire, Greenwire, the Hill, National Journal, PR Newswire, Roll Call

Comments are closed.