April 22, 2008 EE Legislation Update

Higher Education Sustainability Act (HESA) – ANOTHER BIG STEP FORWARD!

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the College Opportunity and Affordability Act (HR 4137) on February 8, and it included all the provisions of the Higher Education Sustainability Act (HESA) with a few minor changes! To all of you who endorsed HESA and reached out to your Representatives in the House, we sincerely thank you for your help. It definitely would not have passed the House without you.

Our attention is now on building support for HESA in the conference between the House and Senate to create the final higher education act. Perhaps half of the 40 or so new programs that are created between the two versions of the act will be cut in the final version, so we need to insure that HESA is not one of those cut.

To date, Senators Bingaman, Collins, Dodd, Durban, Kennedy, and Kerry have co-sponsored Senator Murray’s Senate version of HESA (S. 2444). As the best way for keeping HESA in the final higher education bill, we are working hard to expand the list of co-sponsors to include:

  • Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
  • Judd Gregg (R-NH)
  • Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT)
  • Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
  • Wayne Allard (R-CO)
  • Olympia Snowe (R-ME)
  • Arlen Specter (R-PA) 
  • Jack Reed (D-RI)
  • Blanche Lincoln (D-AR)
  • Daniel Inouye (D-HI)
  • Herbert Kohl (D-WI)
  • Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)

These Senators want to hear from colleges and universities in their states about the importance of HESA, so we need your help in getting schools in these states to contact them. For more detailed information on how to do this, click here.

And of course, if your school, association, or NGO has yet to join the impressive list of prominent HESA endorsers, please do so ASAP.

FY09 Appropriations

The President’s FY2009 budget released in February as usual zeroed out EPA’s $9 million Environmental Education Program, NOAA’s $9.7 million BWET (Bay Watershed Education and Training) programs and reduced the Environmental Literacy Grants program to $1 million from $5 million, and NASA’s new $8.5 million global climate change education program. 

In response to the NOAA cuts, the environmental education community has sent letters urging that these funds be restored and increased to the House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee (click here for a copy) and the Senate Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee (click here for a copy).

In response to the EPA cuts, we helped arrange two important “Dear Colleague” letters led by Congressmen Walsh and Udall (click here for a copy) and Senators Clinton and Collins (click here for a copy) which urge their appropriator colleagues to restore this $9 million program.

We also organized letters from an impressive 120 college and university presidents to the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee (click here for a copy) and the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee (click here for a copy), urging them to fund the new Department of Energy "Energy Sustainability and Efficiency Grants and Loans for Institutions" program created by Section 471 of the Energy Independence and Security Act enacted earlier this year. This new law authorizes the Department of Energy to make up to $500 million in loans and up to $250 million in grants annually for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects to higher education institutions, public schools and local governments. For a briefing on this bill and how it relates to HESA, click here.

Many thanks to all who joined in these efforts above. Congress likely will not pass any new appropriations bills in 2008, choosing instead to maintain FY08 funding levels until 2009 when a new President takes office and will possibly support higher spending levels than President Bush has done.  But it was nonetheless important to get our requests in within the very short deadlines set by these committees.

No Child Left Inside Act

While the House and Senate NCLI stand alone bills continue to gain additional co-sponsors who now total 43 in the House and 13 in the Senate, our challenge is whether the House and/or Senate will include the provisions from these bills in their versions of a new No Child Left Behind act. These important and controversial bills remain stalled in committee in both chambers, with small hope for a bill to emerge from either the House or Senate education committee this year.

However, the House in particular is demonstrating interest in the concept of including environmental education in No Child Left Behind. The House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education held a Field Hearing on environmental education at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Refuge in Maryland on April 22. The full House Education and Labor Committee also announced a Field Hearing on environmental education for April 21 in Berkeley, California but later cancelled it. These are promising signs of support and interest.

You can play an important role in keeping environmental education on the radar screen of these Committees by clicking here

Jim Elder