H.R. 2729: To authorize the designation of National Environmental Research Parks by the Secretary of Energy, and for other purposes

H.R. 2729

To authorize the designation of National Environmental Research Parks by the Secretary of Energy, and for other purposes

Sponsor
Rep. Ben Ray Lujan

Date
July 14, 2009 (111th Congress, 1st Session)

Staff Contact
Sarah Makin

Floor Situation

H.R. 2729 is being considered on the floor under suspension of the rules, requiring a two-thirds majority vote for passage on July 14, 2009. This legislation was introduced by Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) on June 4, 2009. The bill was referred to the Committee on Science and Technology, which held a mark-up on June 24, and reported the bill, as amended, by voice vote.

Bill Summary

H.R. 2729 would designate the seven National Environmental Research Parks located at Department of Energy sites as permanent protected outdoor research reserves for the purposes of conducting long-term environmental research on the impacts of human activities on the natural environment. The seven National Environmental Research Parks are the Savannah River National Environmental Research Park; the Idaho National Environmental Research Park; the Los Alamos National Environmental Research Park; the Fermi Lab National Environmental Research Park; the Hanford National Environmental Research Park; the Oak Ridge National Environmental Research Park; and the Nevada National Environmental Research Park.

The bill requires that each site support environmental research and monitoring activities as well as public outreach and education activities to characterize and monitor present and future site conditions, and serve as control areas for comparison with environmental impacts of Department of Energy land management, energy technology development, remediation, and other site activities outside the National Environmental Research Park areas. Areas of research and monitoring on the sites must include ecology of the site and the region; population biology and ecology; radioecology; ecosystem science; pollution fate and transport research; surface and groundwater modeling; and undergraduate and graduate student training.

H.R. 2729 requires the Secretary to enter into a cooperative agreement with a university or consortium of universities with expertise in ecology and environmental science of the region in which the National Environmental Research Park is located. The bill requires that each site support an outreach program to inform the public of the diverse ecological activities conducted at the park and to educate students at various levels in environmental science. The bill lists the following program activities: on-site and in-classroom education programs for elementary and secondary students; presentations to school, civic, and professional groups; exhibits at local and regional events; development of educational projects and materials for students at all levels; undergraduate internship and graduate research opportunities; and regularly scheduled public tours.

The bill authorizes $35 million including $5 million for each National Environmental Research Park, for each of the fiscal years 2010 through 2014.

Background

The National Environmental Research Parks (NERPs) are outdoor laboratories that provide opportunities for environmental studies on protected lands around Department of Energy (DOE) facilities. They offer secure settings for long-term research on a broad range of subjects, including biomass production, environmental remediation, plant succession, population ecology, ecological restoration, climate change and thermal effects on freshwater ecosystems. The Parks also provide environments for training researchers and introducing the public to ecological sciences.

The seven National Environmental Research Parks are located within six major ecological regions of the United States, covering more than half of the nation. The mission of the Parks is to: conduct research and education activities to assess and document environmental effects associated with energy and weapons use; explore methods for eliminating or minimizing adverse effects of energy development and nuclear materials on the environment; train people in ecological and environmental sciences; and educate the public. A number of long-term data sets have been gathered and maintained by researchers working at the Parks. These long-term data sets are available nowhere else in the U.S. or in the world and include information on amphibian populations, bird populations, prairie succession and restoration, and soil moisture and plant water stress. These data are uniquely valuable for the detection of medium and long-term variability and changes in ecology and climate. They also provide valuable baseline information for assessing short and long-term effects of energy development activities, pollution exposures, pollution remediation, and other land-use changes.

Over the years since their establishment, there have been thousands of scientific papers published on the environmental studies done at the NERPs. The research at these sites has been conducted by DOE scientists, scientists from other federal agencies, universities and private foundations. The Parks themselves have never been formally authorized and currently have no designated source of funding within the federal government. Research and outreach activities have been coordinated on an ad hoc basis to date. H.R. 2729 attempts to address these issues.

Cost

According to CBO, implementing H.R. 2729 would cost the federal government $143 million over the 2010-2014 period and $32 million after 2014.