Obama Administration Rejects Keystone XL in Lead-up to Paris Climate Conference

The same week as the United Kingdom Met Office and University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit announced the global average temperature has increased by 1 degree Celsius, the Obama Administration moved to solidify its stance on U.S. climate change policy.

On 6 November, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the Keystone XL pipeline would not be approved, ending a multiyear debate over its economic and environmental impact. Chief among the reasons given for halting the project was that continuing to build infrastructure to provide crude oil instead of focusing on renewable energy would be counterproductive to efforts to cut emissions and would undermine the United States’ role as a leader in renewable energy development and research.

“Now, for years, the Keystone Pipeline has occupied what I, frankly, consider an overinflated role in our political discourse,” said the President. “It became a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel by both parties rather than a serious policy matter. And all of this obscured the fact that this pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others.”

President Obama also announced he will be personally attending the upcoming international climate change meeting in Paris, signaling his administration’s dedication to advancing a global solution to climate problems.

On 10 November, Secretary Kerry spoke to an audience at Old Dominion University about climate change. The Secretary said it is not only a scientific and environmental issue, but also one of the primary challenges to military readiness and national security.

“[T]he science tells us unequivocally: Those who continue to make climate change a political fight put us all at risk. And we cannot sit idly by and allow them to do that,” said Secretary Kerry.

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Graduate Student Leaders Sought to Shape Science Policy

Are you a science graduate student looking to make a difference in science policy and funding? Applications are being accepted for the 2016 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award. This award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who have demonstrated initiative and leadership in science policy. Recipients receive first-hand experience at the interface of science and public policy.

Winners receive:

  • A trip to Washington, DC, to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition Congressional Visits Day, an annual event that brings scientists to the nation’s capital to advocate for federal investment in the biological sciences, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation. The event will be held in spring 2016. Domestic travel and hotel expenses will be paid for the winners.
  • Policy and communications training, including information on the legislative process and trends in federal science funding.
  • Meetings with congressional policymakers to discuss the importance of federal investments in the biological sciences.
  • A one-year AIBS membership, including a subscription to the journal BioScience and a copy of “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media.”

The 2016 award is open to U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents enrolled in a graduate degree program in the biological sciences, science education, or a closely allied field. Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in and commitment to science policy and/or science education policy. Prior EPPLA winners and AIBS science policy interns/fellows are not eligible.

Applications are due by 11:59 PM Eastern Time on Sunday, 10 January 2016. The application can be downloaded at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/eppla.html.

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Obama Directs Agencies To Mitigate Environmental Harm

President Obama issued a memorandum on 3 November ordering five federal agencies to put policies in place for mitigating environmental harm resulting from their approved projects.

Obama directed the Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to streamline processes and regulations “to avoid and then minimize harmful effects to land, water, wildlife, and other ecological resources (natural resources) caused by land- or water-disturbing activities, and to ensure that any remaining harmful effects are effectively addressed, consistent with existing mission and legal authorities.”

The memorandum calls for the agencies to establish at a minimum a “no net loss goal” for natural resources managed by the agencies. It emphasizes that the agencies should use landscape- or watershed-scale planning to inform the identification of areas where mitigation, protection, and restoration efforts may be most effective or where natural resource values are irreplaceable.

The memo directs the agencies to recognize that “some resources are of such irreplaceable character that minimization and compensation measures, while potentially practicable, may not be adequate or appropriate.” Consequently, “agencies should design policies to promote avoidance of these resources.”

The memorandum will also affect oil and gas production, logging activities, and construction on public lands. The memo, however, does not apply to “military testing, training, and readiness activities”.

The memorandum states that it “will encourage private investment in restoration and public-private partnerships, and help foster opportunities for businesses or non-profit organizations with relevant expertise to successfully achieve restoration and conservation objectives.”

The President also called for increased public transparency as agencies implement the policy. Specifically, agencies would be required to set measurable performance standards at the project and program level and clearly identify the parties responsible for different mitigation processes.

The memo directs the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service to develop and implement additional manual and handbook guidance within 180 days and have the mitigation policies finalized within two years. At Interior, the Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service will have a year to finalize revised mitigation regulations.

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Research Links Climate Change and Extreme Weather

A new scientific paper published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society finds that human activities, such as greenhouse gas emissions and land use changes, influenced and increased the likelihood of extreme weather and climate events last year.

“For the past four years, this report has shown that human activities are influencing specific extreme weather and climate events around the world,” stated Thomas R. Karl, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

Twenty-eight extreme events, including heavy rainfalls in Europe and drought in East Africa, that took place in 2014 were studied. Scientists identified factors that led to these events, including the degree to which natural variability and human-induced climate change contributed.

The paper is available at https://www2.ametsoc.org/ams/index.cfm/publications/bulletin-of-the-american-meteorological-society-bams/explaining-extreme-events-from-a-climate-perspective/.

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Briefing Highlights Role of Ecosystem Resilience in Extreme Events

Last month, the Association of Ecosystem Research Centers organized a congressional briefing on the resilience of ecosystems to extreme events. A panel of experts presented their findings on the ability of natural systems to respond to extreme events such as sea level rise, oil spills, and climate change.

Presentations were made by

  • Dr. Todd Crowl Director, Southeast Environmental Research Center Professor, Florida International University “Effects of Everglades restoration on sea level rise resilience in urban Miami”

  • Dr. Samantha Joye Athletic Association Professor of Arts and Sciences, University of Georgia “How an offshore oceanic ecosystem responded to extreme perturbation: The 2010 Gulf of Mexico BP/Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout”

  • Dr. Daniel Obrist Research Professor, Desert Research Institute “Ecosystem regulation and retention of mercury”

Links to the presentations from the AERC briefing are available at http://ecosystemresearch.org/2015-meeting/index.htm.

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Roundtable on Gene Editing in Animal Research

The National Academy of Science will hold an event on 7-8 December 2015 to address the ethical and regulatory issues related to gene editing in animal research. The workshop is free and open to the public and will be webcast.

Peter Hohenstein of the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, who studies kidney development, stem cells, and disease in transgenic mouse models, will lead Day 1 sessions focused on the state of science, specific animal species, and governance. On Day 2, bioethicist Arthur Caplan of New York University’s Langone Medical Center will lead sessions on ethical and regulatory issues.

Register at http://nas-sites.org/ilar-roundtable/roundtable-activities/gene-editing-to-modify-animal-genomes-for-research/.

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Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center.

The Legislative Action Center is a one-stop shop for learning about and influencing science policy. Through the website, users can contact elected officials and sign-up to interact with lawmakers.

The website offers tools and resources to inform researchers about recent policy developments. The site also announces opportunities to serve on federal advisory boards and to comment on federal regulations.

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the Society for the Study of Evolution, Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, and the Botanical Society of America.

AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become policy advocates today. Simply go to policy.aibs.org to get started.

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