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Policy News Update

June 17, 2011

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]

HOUSE: AG APPROPRIATIONS BILL CUTS CONSERVATION, RESEARCH INITIATIVES

On June 16, the House passed H.R. 2112, the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. Sponsored by House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jack Kingston (R-GA), the bill cuts $2.7 billion in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) FY 2011 budget and is $5 billion below the president’s FY 2012 budget request.

A number of research and environmental programs would face significant cuts, including:

•   Conservation Programs: The bill provides $770 million for Conservation Operations through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a decrease of $99 million below FY 2011.

Additionally, the House also adopted a several amendments that would affect funding for conservation and research programs at USDA:

For a summary table of the FY 2012 House Agriculture Appropriations Act, see: appropriations.house.gov/UploadedFiles/52311AgricultureSubMarkUpSummaryTable.pdf

CLIMATE SCIENCE: FORMER CONGRESSMAN TO LAUNCH CONSERVATIVE CLIMATE COALITION

Former Congressman Bob Inglis (R-SC) is planning to launch a new conservative coalition this fall consisting of fellow Republicans who believe that human activities are contributing to climate change and that action needs to be taken.

Inglis, a former ranking member of the House Science and Technology Committee’s Energy and Environment Subcommittee, lost his seat in a 2010 primary, partially due to his  stance on issues such climate change. Inglis argued that his party should embrace what the consensus view of scientists, that human-made greenhouse gas emissions are driving climate change.

Inglis favors what he calls "free enterprise" policies to address climate change and voted against the 2009 House-Democratic cap-and-trade bill. He said the new group would look for ways to stimulate a private-sector response to the problem.

INTERIOR: SALAZAR REQUESTS CONGRESS IDENTIFY WILDERNESS PROTECTION AREAS

On June 10, Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued a letter to Members of Congress asking for their input in identifying public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that would be eligible for permanent wilderness protection under the Wilderness Act.

“Both Democratic and Republican Members of Congress support providing permanent protection for some BLM lands under the Wilderness Act.  In this current session of Congress, several Members have already introduced legislation to create new areas of Wilderness,” said Salazar in the letter. “I believe these bills – and others that have been introduced with strong local support – provide a foundation from which we can build a strong, bipartisan wilderness agenda in this Congress,” he continued.

Secretary Salazar’s letter also asks Members for input to inform Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes’s efforts to develop recommendations for how BLM should manage the millions of acres of public land that are not protected under the Wilderness Act, but that have wilderness characteristics.

Salazar’s letter comes after congressional Republicans rejected an Interior Department “wild lands” policy that would give the department the authority to set aside certain public lands for wilderness protection. Critics said the plan was as an effort to circumvent Congress’s authority and raised fears that it could be used to make lands off-limits to oil-and-gas drilling. A provision in the Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution signed by the president earlier this year blocked funding for the program.

Democratic leaders in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee have held hearings on a handful of wilderness bills this year, but none have been marked up. Senator Bingaman (D-NM), who is chairman of the committee, said this week he is still unsure whether Congress will be able to pass a public lands package this session.

To view the text of the letter, see: www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/info/newsroom/2011/june/NR_06_9_2011.html

WATER: SPORTSMEN, CONSERVATIONISTS OPPOSE CLEAN WATER ACT PROVISION

On June 13, fifteen major national hunter and angler  and conservation groups urged House Appropriations Committee Members to drop a provision from the draft Fiscal Year 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations Act that would block funding for a new policy intended to expand federal protection of streams and wetlands.

On April 27, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released draft guidance to clarify waters under the federal protection of the Clean Water Act. For additional information, see the May 6 edition of ESA policy news at: www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2011/05062011.php

“Section 109 of the Energy and Water Development appropriations bill seeks to prevent the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from continuing to work on administrative guidance that has been developed with an unprecedented level of public input. As written, the guidance increases clarity and efficiency for agencies, farmers and businesses without expanding the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. Moreover, the guidance does not – and cannot – limit exemptions for normal activity related to agriculture, forestry and mining that have been in the Clean Water Act since 1977,” the letter states. Signers of the letter include the American Fisheries Society, Ducks Unlimited, the National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the Wildlife Management Institute and the Wildlife Society.

Proponents of the new policy say it seeks to restore federal protection to wetlands that was complicated by two Supreme Court decisions in 2001 (Solid Waste Agency of North Cook County (SWANCC) v. United States Army Corps of Engineers) and 2006 (Rapanos v. United States). Opponents of the policy, which include Congressional Republicans as well as agriculture and industry stakeholders, assert it represents overreach by the federal government, specifically the executive branch.

The House Appropriations Committee marked-up the bill on June 15. For additional information on the Energy and Water Appropriations Act for FY 2012, see the June 3 edition of ESA Policy News at: www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2011/06032011.php

FISHERIES: NOAA RELEASES NEW FISH-FARMING POLICY

On June 9, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a marine aquaculture policy in an effort to develop an offshore fish-farming industry.

Most U.S. fish farming now occurs in near-shore coastal waters or inland farms. Offshore aquaculture occurs only outside of U.S. waters. According to NOAA, the United States imports about 84 percent of the seafood Americans consume, half of which is grown in foreign fish farms.

The Obama administration hopes to encourage development of a marine aquaculture industry will create jobs in coastal communities as well as address the nation’s $9 billion seafood trade deficit. However, concerned environmentalists cite concerns about the potential ill-effects of genetically altered fish escaping farms and breeding with wild populations, diseases that farmed fish could spread into wild fisheries, and the strain that offshore farms could put on the base of the oceanic food web.

The Gulf of Mexico would likely be first in line to see fish farming. In 2009, the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council approved an aquaculture plan. However, the policy was put on hold after environmental groups and Congressional leaders expressed concerns. Critics maintained that the law currently governing wild fisheries, the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Act, was not sufficient to regulate offshore fish-farming. After the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Council approved its aquaculture plan in 2009, then-House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) sent a letter expressing concerns.

"Congress did not intend for the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to grant authority to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Regional Fishery Management Councils to regulate offshore aquaculture as fishing under the Act," Rahall said in the letter. Instead, Rahall called for "a national framework of laws and policies that dictate how aquaculture is sited, permitted, and operated in the marine waters of the United States."

Environmentalists have stated the new NOAA policy is a step in the right direction, but cautioned against moving forward without action from Congress to address environmental concerns.

For additional information on the policy, see: aquaculture.noaa.gov/us/aq_policies.html

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITIES: ADMINISTRATION SEEKS INPUT ON CLIMATE PLANS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other partners are seeking public comments on a draft “National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaption Strategy.” The plan seeks to provide natural resources professionals with guidance about what actions will be most successful in promoting natural resource adaption to climate change. The plan would also seek to foster collaboration between all levels of government, conservationists and private landowners. The deadline for comments is July 1.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality is also seeking public comments on a draft plan entitled “National Action Plan: Priorities for Managing Freshwater Resources in a Changing Climate.” The plan seeks to unite government agencies and citizen stakeholders in working to address climate change to effectively manage freshwater resources for the benefit of human health and aquatic ecosystems. The deadline for comments is July 15.

To view the FWS/NOAA draft plan and submit comments, see: www.wildlifeadaptationstrategy.gov/

To view the CEQ plan, see:
www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ceq/napdraft6_2_11_final.pdf

To submit comments to the CEQ plan, see:
www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ceq/initiatives/adaptation/freshwater-plan

SOCIAL MEDIA: ESA PUBLISHES NEW FACEBOOK PAGE

On Tuesday, June 14, the Ecological Society of America launched its new facebook page. The new page will serve as a forum on science, education and policy activities of the Society and the ecological community and serve as an additional social media forum for members to communicate ideas with one another.

Among its features, the new page includes photo albums of ESA policy and other activities, including congressional briefings and meetings to Member offices, exhibitions and much more.  ESA facebook fans can add photos and start a discussion.   Additionally, @ESA_org on Twitter and EcoTone blog posts will be linked to the new page as well.

To “Like” the new ESA facebook page, click on the following link: www.facebook.com/esa.org

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in the House

H.R. 2184, the Rare Earth Policy Task Force and Materials Act – Introduced June 15, by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), the bill would create a "Rare Earth Policy Task Force" within the Interior Department tasked with reviewing laws and rules that may be hampering the development of a domestic rare earths industry. It also calls for a comprehensive plan for research, development, demonstration, and commercial application to ensure a sustainable supply of rare earth materials for the United States. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee as well as the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Considered by House Committee/Subcommittee

H.R. 2150, the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska Access Act - Introduced by Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill would amend the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act of 1976 to direct the Secretary of the Interior to conduct an expeditious program of competitive leasing of oil and gas in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, including at least one lease sale in the Reserve each year in the period 2011 through 2021. The Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the bill June 16.

On June 14, the Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands held a hearing on a number of public lands bills, including:

Approved by House Committee/Subcommittee

H.R. 1938, the North American-Made Energy Security Act - Introduced by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE), the bill would expedite a final decision on the Presidential Permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, an expansion of an existing pipeline that would bring oil from Alberta, Canada and North Dakota to U.S. refineries. The House Energy and Commerce Energy and Power Subcommittee approved the bill June 15.

H.R. 1391, the Recycling Coal Combustion Residuals Accessibility (RCCRA) Act of 2011 – Introduced by Rep. David McKinley (D-WV), the bill would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating fossil fuel combustion waste, effectively restricting the agency from classifying ash from coal-burning power plants as a hazardous waste. The House Energy and Commerce Environment and Economy Subcommittee approved the bill June 16.

On June 15, the House Natural Resources Committee by unanimous consent approved 14 bipartisan water and public lands bills for consideration on the House floor, including:

Considered by Senate Committee/Subcommittee

On June 6, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy held a hearing on the following mineral bills:

Approved by Senate Committee

On June 8, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a mark-up in which a number of bills were reported to the Senate for consideration including:

S. 179, Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries Boundary Modification and Protection Act – Introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the bill would expand the boundaries of the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries off the coast of California.

S. 962, Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative Reauthorization Act of 2011 - Introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the bill would reauthorize the Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative Act. The legislation bill would also create and fund the Northwest Straits Commission to work with local marine resources committees on preservation and restoration projects.


Sources: CNN.com, Department of Interior, Environment and Energy Daily, E&E News PM, the Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Appropriations Committee, House Natural Resources Committee, NOAA, POLITICO, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the White House

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

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