Policy News Update

June 03, 2011

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]


On May 31, President Obama announced his intention to nominate John Bryson to the post of Secretary of the Department of Commerce. Bryson would bring a lengthy resume working on energy and environmental issues to the department that includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Bryson is one of the co-founders of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the United State’s top environmental groups. His credentials include several years as chairman of the California State Water Resources Control Board in the late 1970s and head of the California Public Utilities Commission.

Bryson served as CEO of Edison International, a California-based electric power generator from 1990 to 2008. He is also board chairman of BrightSource Energy, a California-based solar company and co-chairman of the Pacific Council on International Policy. The group's current work includes a task force on climate adaptation. He has also served as a co-chairman of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, an electric vehicles trade association and as a member of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change.

Bryson would succeed current Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, whom the president has nominated to serve as ambassador to China.  The president’s transition teams had previously interviewed Bryson for the Energy secretary job before it ultimately went to Steven Chu, according to Democratic officials.

Bryson’s nomination requires confirmation by the Senate, where reaction from some Republicans has been highly critical most notably from Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK).  Inhofe has stated he may place a procedural hold on Bryson’s nomination over his support for the White House’s environmental agenda.  In addition, a number of Senate Republicans have warned that the nomination would be stuck until the administration sends Congress legislation implementing three trade deals, with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. Forty-four Republican senators signed a letter to the president earlier this year warning they would withhold support for any nominee for Commerce Secretary to force action on the trade deals. Only 41 votes are needed in the Senate to hold up a nominee.


Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), a known conservative fiscal hawk, released a report May 26 that claims to identify $3 billion in “fraud, waste and abuse” at the National Science Foundation (NSF). In the 73 page report, entitled The National Science Foundation: Under the Microscope, Sen. Coburn, states, “the consensus surrounding the importance of NSF is precisely why it is essential to increase and enhance oversight over agency expenditures.”

In the report’s introductory letter, the Senator outlines specific grant proposals he believes should be called into question, including: “How to ride a bike; When did dogs became man’s best friend; If political views are genetically pre-determined; How to improve the quality of wine; Do boys like to play with trucks and girls like to play with dolls; How rumors get started; If parents choose trendy baby names; How much housework does a husband create for a wife; and When is the best time to buy a ticket to a sold out sporting event.” 

In response, a number of scientific organizations, including the Ecological Society of America (ESA), issued “Action Alerts” calling upon Oklahoma constituents to contact Sen. Coburn’s office. The ESA Alert highlights how the state of Oklahoma has benefitted from NSF funding, noting that between 2000 and 2010, the state received $312,612,000 in funding from the agency.

The ESA Alert also countered several assertions from the report, stating “NSF ranked higher than almost any other federal agency for the quality of its management when it was reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush.” It also points out that “NSF obligates money for multi-year grants and has not—as the report charges—failed to recover $1.7 billion in “expired grants.” ESA also noted that projects should not be superficially judged.

Sen. Coburn also called for the elimination of NSF's Social, Behavioral and Economics (SBE) division, questioning whether "these social sciences represent obvious national priorities that deserve a cut of the same pie." He also charged that some of the work in these and other areas is duplicative of other federal agencies.

During a June 2 Congressional hearing of the House Space, Science and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Education, Myron P. Gutmann, Assistant Director of the SBE Directorate at NSF, vigorously defended his division. “The social, behavioral and economic sciences – familiarly known as the SBE sciences – increase fundamental understanding of human social development and interaction and of human behavior, as individuals and as members of groups and more formal organizations.  Our sciences contribute knowledge that has societal relevance and can inform critical national areas such as job creation, health care, education, public safety, law enforcement, and national security, among others,” he said. 

Dr. Gutmann also defended NSF’s processes of awarding funding for research, stating “NSF’s review processes remain, in the words of the National Academies [of Sciences], among ‘the best procedures known for insuring the technical excellence of research projects that receive public support.’”

To view the Coburn report, see:

To view the House Research and Education Subcommittee hearing see:


On June 2, the House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee marked-up its funding bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. The bill, which funds federal agencies that oversee energy and environmental programs, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, appropriates a total of $30.639 billion, $1.043 billion below fiscal year 2011 and $5.9 billion below the President's FY 2012 budget request.

Funding for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science would decline by $43 million from FY 2011 to $4.8 billion for FY 2012. The president’s FY 2012 budget request for the office is $5.4 billion. According to DOE, the office supports energy research at DOE laboratories in all 50 states as well as more than 300 universities and institutions of higher learning nationwide. The bill also increases the number of Energy Innovation Hubs from three to five (the administration’s FY 12 budget proposed to increase the number of hubs to six).

The bill allocates $4.8 billion to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, $89 million less than last year but $195 million above the president's request. It is generally typical for the president to low-ball a request for the Corps out of the expectation that Congress increases the funding substantially to fund Congressional “earmarks,” also known as district project requests, which are banned under current rules. The Corps is primarily responsible for water resources projects, including flood control and ecosystem restoration activities.

The bill would provide $35 million for Yucca Mountain-related activities, in stark contrast to the Obama administration's efforts to end consideration of the long-term storage of nuclear waste at the Nevada site. It also would provide $10 million for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to continue its review of the Yucca license application and would bar the use of funds to close down study of the site.

The bill provides $1.3 billion for energy efficiency programs, $491 million less than the FY 11 enacted level and $1.9 billion below the president's FY 12 budget request. Programs of note include:

House Energy and Water Appropriations Committee majority Republicans touted the bill’s fiscal restraint. “The highest priorities are protected by supporting the Department of Energy’s national defense programs, and by preserving activities that directly support American competitiveness, such as water infrastructure and basic science research,” said Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) in a prepared statement. “These priorities are balanced by reductions to applied energy research and other areas in which the private sector is most likely to act without federal support,” he continued.

House Appropriations Committee Democrats were highly critical of the measure. "The 'cut-at-any-cost' mantra that has overtaken the Republican majority has severely hindered our committee's ability to produce bills that adhere to principles of good governance. This bill contains inadequate funding levels for fuel efficiency initiatives, the Army Corps budget, and environmental cleanup,” said Ranking Member Norman Dicks (D-WA) in a press statement.

For additional information on the bill, see: http://appropriations.house.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=PressReleases.Detail&PressRelease_id=320


On June 1, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment considered legislation that would expand research into harmful algal blooms that have had numerous adverse environmental impacts, including creating "dead zones,"  in countless waterways.

The legislation under review is tentatively titled the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 2011. The measure, expected to be introduced in coming weeks by Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD), would reauthorize programs under the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998. The act was last reauthorized in 2004 (P.L. 108-456), passing by unanimous consent in the Senate and by voice vote in the House.

The issue seemed to draw bipartisan support from both sides of the aisle. “Given the importance of these issues to human health, economic prosperity and the environment, I think it is important for us to ensure that these research programs continue and work on providing multiple ways of addressing HABs and hypoxia in the future,” said Chairman Harris. Subcommittee Ranking Member Brad Miller (D-NC) concurred, stating “we must continue to invest in a way that will move this research forward and advance our understanding of these blooms and the hypoxic events they cause.”

Much of Subcommittee Chairman Harris’s congressional district borders the Chesapeake Bay. Over the past 10 years, more than 75 percent of the Bay and its tidal rivers have been found to have insufficient levels of dissolved oxygen, leading to a marked decline in seagrass, crab and oyster populations, according to Beth McGee, Senior Water Quality Scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, who testified at the hearing.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the estimated economic damage of algal blooms is $82 million per year for the United States.

McGee testified that her organization’s "overwhelming concern" is that the lawmakers have not proposed that the legislation support the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recently launched effort to address nutrient pollution, which some Republicans and farm-state Democrats have opposed due to concerns from the agriculture industry. Subcommittee Chairman Harris voted to cut off funding for the EPA program earlier this year.


On May 26, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced that the agency’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service have launched a joint effort to identify and implement administrative changes to the Endangered Species Act (E.S.A.) to accelerate recovery of imperiled species, and better engage the resources and expertise of partners to meet the goals of the Act.

According to Interior, the effort will strive to make administrative and regulatory improvements, while remaining true to the intent of the law. Among its goals, the joint agency effort will seek to revise the process for designating critical habitat as well as improve procedures for the development and approval of conservation agreements with landowners. Currently, private landowners can enter special agreements with the FWS that allow them to continue to use land with imperiled species on it, as long as they provide appropriate habitat. Landowners say the current process is too burdensome and environmental groups agree there is room for improvement, as long as safeguards for species remain.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle seem supportive. House Interior and Environment Appropriations Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) praised the administration’s efforts to streamline procedures. House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, however, said that instead of changing regulations, the administration should work with lawmakers to revamp the Act itself, which has not been reauthorized in more than 20 years.
The E.S.A. currently protects more than 1,300 species in the United States. An additional 249 species have been identified as candidates for protection under the Act.

For more information see: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/improving_ESA/reg_reform.html


On May 23, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) agreed to collaborate more closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in overseeing offshore oil and gas development.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the two agencies requires "effective and timely communication of agency priorities and upcoming activities," including the identification of critical environmental studies and collaboration on scientific, environmental and technical issues. The MOU is based upon recommendations from the administration’s National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

The agencies plan to coordinate on a range of activities, including which areas to include in five-year leasing plans, when and how to permit exploration and production wells, and National Environmental Policy Act compliance for offshore wind farms.

BOEMRE will invite NOAA to participate in any task forces and environmental reviews of offshore renewable energy. The agencies will also meet four times a year to discuss issues related to offshore energy development.

The MOU requires regular meetings between the agencies to explore ways to align regulatory procedures and identify scientific data needed to inform both policy and regulatory decisions. The agreement also increases collaboration on oil spill response issues and includes an annual evaluation of work to support the president's National Ocean Policy.

To view the MOU, see:


On May 24, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded nearly $2.25 million to 10 small companies to support the development of new technologies intended to protect the environment.

Winners included small businesses in California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, and New Mexico. This year’s projects included reducing toxic chemicals from landfills, producing an environmentally friendly adhesive, reducing methane emissions by converting dilute methane waste gas streams into useful fuel, and designing a real-time environmental water monitoring sensor.

Prior to the current award, the companies received "proof of concept" awards from EPA through its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The companies will use these additional funds to move their technologies towards commercialization and implementation.

Each year, the EPA’s SBIR program gives small businesses the opportunity to compete for funds to develop technology addressing key environmental areas, such as green building, innovation in manufacturing, nanotechnology, greenhouse gases, drinking water monitoring and treatment, wastewater and sustainable infrastructure, air pollution monitoring and control, biofuels, waste monitoring and management, and national security.

More information on the awardees and their proposal abstracts is available at:



Introduced in the House

H.R. 1982, the Community Forestry Conservation Act – Introduced May 25 by Reps. Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Mike Thompson (D-CA), the bill would enable non-profit conservation organizations to use bonds to purchase private, working forests for long-term environmental and economic sustainability management. The bill has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

H.R. 2018, the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011 – Introduced May 26 by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) and Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV), the bill would amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to preserve the authority of states to make determinations relating to water quality standards by restricting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority under the Clean Water Act. The bill has been referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Considered by House Committee

On June 2, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the following bill:

H.R. 1837, the San Joaquin Water Reliability Act – Introduced by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)the bill would void a settlement that attempted to end a long dispute over water flows, salmon and endangered species in the San Joaquin River. The Natural Resources Defense Council and others had sued the Interior and Commerce departments over rules in place in the early 1990s. Under the 2006 settlement, new limits were placed on the amount of water farmers can take for irrigation.

On June 3, the Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on legislation incorporated in the “American Energy Initiative,” the House Republican majority’s energy reform agenda:

H.R. 909, the Roadmap for America's Energy Future – Introduced by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the measure would lift drilling restrictions on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the outer continental shelf, and oil shale production in the United States. It would also expand coal mining to generate fuel for military vehicles and jets and support hybrid and electric vehicles as well as create a fund from revenue generated by new fossil fuel development to finance long-term renewable energy projects. The bill would also prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

On June 3, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing on the following bills:

Approved by House Committee

On May 24, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power marked up bills that included:

Introduced in the Senate

S. 1093, the Solar Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) Act – Introduced May 26 by Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), the bill would expand a 30-percent tax credit available to individuals who install solar panels on their homes to include neighborhood groups and rural co-ops that want to install community solar projects.  The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

Considered by Senate Committee

On May 25, the Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Public Lands held a hearing on a number of wilderness bills, including:

Approved by Senate Committee

During a May 26 mark-up, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee reported the following bills to the full Senate:

Sources: ClimateWire, Department of Interior, Environment and Energy Daily, E&E News PM, the Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Appropriations Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, POLITICO, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Send questions or comments to Terence Houston, Science Policy Analyst, Terence Huston or Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs, Nadine Lymn

If you received Policy News from a friend and would like to receive it directly, please send an e-mail to listserv@listserv.umd.edu with the following in the body of the message: sub ESANEWS {your first and last name}

If you wish to unsubscribe to ESANEWS and your biweekly Policy News, send the command “signoff ESANEWS” to listserv@listserv.umd.edu

Visit ESA’s website at www.esa.org to learn more about our activities and membership.

See past editions of ESA’s Policy News at www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/