ESA Policy News September 24: Congress extends federal funding through Dec., Obama urges global climate action, comment periods extended for power plant rule, groundwater plan

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. 

APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS PASSES MEASURE TO FUND GOVERNMENT THROUGH DECEMBER

On Sept. 17, the US House passed H.J.Res. 124, a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the federal government through Dec. 11. In general, the resolution includes an across-the-board cut of 0.0554 percent in order to bring spending within the $1.012 trillion FY 2014 discretionary level agreed to in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (P.L. 113-67). Voting on the CR was delayed a week after the president requested the legislation include assistance to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also referred to as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The resolution includes emergency funding to address Ebola; legislative language to prevent data gaps in weather forecasting from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellites; and extends previously enacted provisions of past appropriations bills such as the language prohibiting funding to phase-out the use of incandescent light bulbs.

The final CR passed the House with a strongly bipartisan vote of 319–108. One-hundred forty-three Democrats joined 176 Republicans in support of the measure. The Senate subsequently passed the measure by a 78–22 vote followed by President Obama signing the measure on Sept. 19.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: OBAMA CALLS FOR GLOBAL ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE AT U.N. SUMMIT

On Sept. 23, President Obama spoke before the United Nations Climate Summit to an audience of over 120 world leaders. He outlined his administration’s Climate Action Plan and called on “all major economies” around the world to join him in reducing carbon emissions and investing in renewable energy.

“The emerging economies that have experienced some of the most dynamic growth in recent years have also emitted rising levels of carbon pollution,” stated President Obama. “It is those emerging economies that are likely to produce more and more carbon emissions in the years to come.  So nobody can stand on the sidelines on [these] issues.  We have to set aside the old divides.  We have to raise our collective ambition, each of us doing what we can to confront this global challenge.”

The president also signed an executive order that day, directing all federal agencies to factor climate resilience into the design of international development programs and investments.

Click here to listen to the president’s speech. Click here for the text of the president’s remarks.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: 26 SENATORS EXPRESS SUPPORT FOR CLIMATE MARCH

Senate Climate Action Task Force Co-chairs Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) spearheaded a letter of support to the People’s Climate March participants. Held on Sunday, Sept. 21, the march was an effort to rouse global action on climate change preceding the United Nations Climate Summit in New York this week.

“The call for action from concerned citizens like you is one of the reasons why the Senate Climate Action Task Force was formed,” the letter states. “It’s a way for us to use our bully pulpit to ‘Wake up Congress’ about the serious threat posed by climate change and to push leaders across the globe to do more to address this problem.”

Click here to view the full letter.

SENATE: CHAIRMAN ROCKEFELLER CALLS FOR ACTION ON AMERICA COMPETES

In an op-ed for The Huffington Post, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) outlined seven reasons why Congress should advance the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act. The legislation would authorize stable and sustained increases in federal research and development for the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“Throughout my career in public service — first as president of West Virginia Wesleyan College, then as governor of West Virginia, and now in the US Senate as Chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation — I have supported investments in science and technology, and in educating our young people in these areas,” writes Rockefeller. “There is no better way to maintain our global leadership and economic vitality.”

Click here to view the full op-ed piece.

EPA: COMMENT PERIOD EXTENDED FOR POWER PLANT RULE

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is extending the public commentary period on the agency’s Clean Power Plant Proposed Rule by an additional 45 days.

The new deadline gives the public until Dec. 1 to comment on the rule and will not delay the June 2015 deadline for finalizing the rule. The rule is part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and would decrease carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent from 2005 levels.

Fifty-thee Senators (including 10 Democrats) sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on Sept. 11 requesting a 60-day extension for the public comment. State regulators and industry had also called for an extension of the public comment period.

For additional information on how to comment on the proposal, click this link. View the Senate letter by clicking this link.

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS WHITE HOUSE CLIMATE ACTION PLAN

On Sept. 17, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee convened for a hearing entitled “The Administration’s Climate Plan: Failure by Design.”

Committee Republicans asserted that the administration’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would have considerable economic costs in the form of job loss and increased energy prices. Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) argued that the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Clean Power Plant Proposed Rule to reduce carbon pollution would have minimal impact on climate change.

“We in Congress have to acknowledge that we are not the experts and that allowing partisan politics to distort the scientific understanding of climate change is cynical and short-sighted,” countered Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) in her opening statement.  “We may not agree on where the uncertainties within climate science lie, but we should all be able to understand that vast and avoidable uncertainties will remain if we stop the progress of climate research.”

White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren and EPA Office of Air and Radiation Acting Administrator Janet McCabe testified on behalf of the Obama administration. In response to questions about whether the EPA power plant rule will have a significant impact on global temperatures, Holdren asserted that if the United States does not take action on climate change, it is unlikely that other major emitters such as China, India, Japan, and Russia will do so. He also noted that the effects of climate change will have detrimental economic impacts related to costs associated with increased flooding, droughts, more extreme heat waves, wildfires, pest outbreaks, and pathogen spread.

View the full hearing here.

HOUSE: 59 DEMOCRATS CALL FOR POLYSTYRENE BAN IN HOUSE CAFETERIA

On Sept. 11, House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) were joined by 57 House Democrats in a letter to House Republican leaders requesting a polystyrene foam products ban in the House cafeterias.

The letter references a July 28 National Academy of Sciences report that supported listing of styrene as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

View the full letter.

FOREST SERVICE: COMMENT PERIOD EXTENDED FOR GROUNDWATER DIRECTIVE

The US Forest Service has extended the public comment period an additional 30 days for a proposed directive to codify best management practices for groundwater monitoring and protection of 193 million acres of National Forest System land. The deadline is now Oct. 3.

Environmental groups have praised the Service’s effort to better understand how groundwater impacts ecosystems and its connections to surface water. However, the agriculture industry and western state governors are concerned the federal effort is an unnecessary infringement on the authority of states to manage their water resources.

There is also a degree of bipartisan skepticism towards the effort among Members of Congress with Republicans sharing the sentiments of the agricultural industry and state officials. Democrats are concerned that the Forest Service may not have the resources for the effort, given that it is cash-strapped due to its expenditures to combat wildfires. The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry held a hearing on the proposal Sept. 10.

To comment on the proposed directive, click here. Click here to view the congressional hearing.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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