March 28, 2014

In This Issue

BUDGET: CJS SUBCOMMITTEE HEARING DRAWS BIPARTISAN SUPPORT FOR NSF RESEARCH


On March 27, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce Justice and Science and Related Agencies (CJS) held a hearing examining the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 budget request. The hearing is among the last duties of Cora Marrett attending in her current capacity as acting director of NSF before she hands the reins over to the new NSF Director France Cordova, confirmed by the Senate on March 12.

“The subcommittee is a big supporter of basic research, both [Ranking Member Chaka Fattah (D-PA)] and myself, which enables innovative discoveries that boost our economy, improve our national security and answer fundamental questions about the world,” said CJS Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA). “As a result, we have worked hard to ensure NSF receives adequate support even in times of fiscal restraint. In fact, with the exception of Fiscal Year 2013, when sequestration unfortunately produced across the board reductions, we have increased NSF’s research budget every year for the past decade.”

Chairman Wolf expressed concern, however, over NSF’s main research account, which would decrease under the president’s budget and for the consequences of such a decrease on areas such as advanced manufacturing cyber-security and cyber-infrastructure. Acting Director Marrett shared Wolf’s concern while noting the current fiscal restraints that the administration is operating under in view of existing overall discretionary spending limits set by the Murray-Ryan budget agreement for FY 2014-2015. Marrett expressed interest in working with Chairman Wolf and Ranking Member Fattah to address any perceived shortcomings in the existing budget request.

The subcommittee hearing included praise of Chairman Wolf from Ranking Member Fattah and Acting NSF Director Marrett for his steadfast support for NSF. Chairman Wolf will retire at the end of 2014.

View the full committee hearing here.

BUDGET: SCIENCE COMMITTEE HEARING PROMPTS DISCUSSION OVER NSF TRANSPARENCY

A March 26 House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on the president’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal included discussion over research grants funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and whether there is presently adequate accountability and transparency at the agency.

House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) questioned Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director John Holdren about NSF grants funding a “climate change musical,” and   studies of fishing practices around Lake Victoria in Africa, the ecological consequences of early human-set fires, and causes of stress in Bolivia, among others.

“All government employees and their agency heads need to remember they are accountable to the American taxpayer who pays their salary and funds their projects,” said Chairman Smith. “It is not the government’s money; it’s the people’s money.” Chairman Smith also criticized the president’s budget for “spending too much money, time and effort on alarmist predictions on climate change.”

The committee recently approved H.R. 4186, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act, which would require NSF to describe why grants they fund are in the national interest. The Ecological Society of America has joined with the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) in expressing concern with these provisions of the FIRST Act as well as its overall authorization funding levels in the bill.

In response to Chairman Smith’s questions on individual NSF grants, OSTP Director Holdren contended that NSF has issued new guidelines to promote transparency and emphasize the relevance of grants funded. Holdren added that justifications for individual grants are currently posted online, though Chairman Smith seemed to believe what is presently online is not satisfactory.

Space Subcommittee Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-MD) said that committee members should look beyond grant titles to get a better sense of their relevancy.

“For example, some members have questioned grants studying stress in Bolivia. Well, if someone looked into the research and not just the title, what they would find is that this study was investigating a relatively isolated group of people who are remarkably resilient,” said Edwards.

“Understanding a group like that and comparing it to the US population, which is less resilient in some cases, could be helpful to understand the link between behavioral and social factors and diseases like cardiovascular disease that we are seeing in the US population,” Edwards continued. “Other grants that have been mentioned are similar and once you look into the research, you actually read, you understand its importance.”

View the full committee hearing here. View the CNSF letter here.

EPA: NEW RULE WOULD CLARIFY FEDERAL JURISDICTION OVER US WATERWAYS

On March 25, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Army Corps of Engineers jointly released a new proposed rule to clarify Clean Water Act (P.L. 92-500) jurisdiction over streams, rivers, tributaries and wetlands.

Federal jurisdiction over management of these waterways in recent years has been somewhat murky following Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006 (Rapanos v. United States), which called into question whether all national waters constituted “navigable waters” under jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. The rule effectively clarifies that nearly all waterways fall under the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction. Geographically isolated wetlands would require a regulator to decide on a case-by-case basis whether the water body significantly affects the surrounding ecosystem.

“We are clarifying protection for the upstream waters that are absolutely vital to downstream communities,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in an agency press release. “Clean water is essential to every single American, from families who rely on safe places to swim and healthy fish to eat, to farmers who need abundant and reliable sources of water to grow their crops, to hunters and fishermen who depend on healthy waters for recreation and their work, and to businesses that need a steady supply of water for operations.”

The reaction to the proposed rule on Capitol Hill, as with most EPA regulations, was decidedly partisan. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) praised the proposed rule.

“I am so pleased that the EPA and Army Corps are taking important steps to provide certainty and clarity to ensure that our wetlands and streams are protected,” said Chairwoman Boxer. “Communities and businesses depend on a safe water supply, and the proposed rule will provide the consistency and predictability that is needed to safeguard the nation’s water resources.”

“The ‘waters of the US’ rule may be one of the most significant private property grabs in US history,” said EPW Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA). “Today’s rule also shows EPA picking and choosing the science they use. Peer review of the agency’s connectivity report is far from complete, and yet they want to take another step toward outright permitting authority over virtually any wet area in the country, while at the same time providing a new tool for environmental groups to sue private property owners.”

The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 90 days from publication in a forthcoming edition of the Federal Register. For additional information, click here.:

CLIMATE CHANGE: WHITE HOUSE LAUNCHES NEW CLIMATE DATA WEBSITE

On March 19, the White House officially launched its new Climate Data Initiative website to help local communities plan for the impacts of climate change.

The website (http://www.data.gov/climate/) allows the public to access National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Aeronautics Space Administration, the US Geological Survey (USGS), the US Department of Defense (DoD), the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other federal agency data collected on climate change projections. The pilot phase will focus on rising sea levels and coastal flooding. Additional climate change related impacts will be added to the website as it is further developed.

The data includes post-Superstorm Sandy maps that outline how the New York and New Jersey area floodplain will change under different scenarios of sea-level rise. USGS, DoD and DHS have worked with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to release publically new maps outlining how climate change could affect existing infrastructure, including bridges, roads, railroad tunnels, canals and river gauges.

The initiative is a component of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan, a larger comprehensive series of executive branch actions to help address climate change. Additional information on the White House Climate Action Plan is available here.

CLIMATE CHANGE: NEW INITIATIVE SEEKS TO ENGAGE BLACK YOUTH

Two members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) have joined in a new effort to get young African-Americans engaged in the issue of climate change.

The CBC Members involved in the effort are Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Andre Carson (D-IN). The goal of the organizers is to help educate African-American youth on how black communities in urban communities are disproportionately exposed to air and water pollution and its health consequences. The organizers also state that these communities are more vulnerable to natural disasters.

The effort constitutes a six-college tour that began on March 27 at Hampton University in Virginia and continues on to Central State University (OH), Wayne State University (MI), Howard University (DC), North Carolina A&T University, and Clark Atlanta University (GA). The tour is spearheaded by the Hip Hop Caucus, a national civil rights organization that seeks to engage young people ages 14-40 on social issues in policy.

The next event will occur April 2 at Central State University. US Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy is scheduled to speak at the Clark Atlanta University event April 24.

For more information, click here.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: LESSER PRARIE CHICKEN GARNERS ‘THREATENED’ LISTING

On March 27, the US Fish and Wildlife Service listed the lesser prairie chicken as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

“The lesser prairie-chicken is in dire straits,” said US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe in a press statement. “Our determination that it warrants listing as a threatened species with a special rule acknowledges the unprecedented partnership efforts and leadership of the five range states for management of the species. Working through the [Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies] range-wide conservation plan, the states remain in the driver’s seat for managing the species – more than has ever been done before – and participating landowners and developers are not impacted with additional regulatory requirements.”

The listing will apply to the states of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, where the species has suffered significant habitat decline. The listing was accompanied by a special FWS rule that will exempt individuals and businesses from limitations on energy development, utility maintenance and other activities that can be affected by a threatened listing.

Additional information on the listing is available here.

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R.4315, 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Act – Introduced March 27 by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill would require federal agencies to publicly release data used to make decisions to list species for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Current proprietary rights for research currently allow such information to remain private. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

H.R. 4316, Endangered Species Recovery Transparency Act – Introduced March 27 by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), the bill would require the US Fish and Wildlife Service to report to Congress and make publicly available the total amount of federal expenditures used to respond to Endangered Species Act lawsuits. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

H.R. 4317, State, Tribal, and Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act – Introduced March 27 by Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), the bill would require the federal government to include data from states and tribes in its consideration of the “best available scientific and commercial data” for Endangered Species Act listings. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

H.R. 4318, Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act – Introduced March 27 by Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI), the bill would place a $125 per hour cap on federal agency reimbursement for attorney fees for endangered species litigation. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. 

Passed House

H.R. 2824, the Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America Act – Introduced by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH), the bill would prevent the Office of Surface Mining from implementing a rule that intends to protect waterways from coal mining. The bill passed the House March 25 by a vote of 229-192 with 10 Democrats joining all but seven Republicans in supporting the measure.

The White House statement of administration policy opposing H.R. 2824 is available here.

H.R. 1459, the Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act – Introduced by House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), the bill would require the White House to conduct a National Environmental Policy Act review for landscapes larger than 5,000 acres before they could be designated a national monument. The bill would limit presidential national monument designations to one per state over the course of one four year term. The bill passed the House March 26 by a vote of 222-201 with three Democrats joining all but 10 Republicans in support of the bill.

Introduced in Senate

S. 2181, the Tsunami Warning and Education Reauthorization Act of 2014 – Introduced March 27 by Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK), the bill would authorize and strengthen the tsunami detection, forecast, warning, research, and mitigation program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The bill has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

S. 2156, the Regulatory Fairness Act – Introduced March 25 by Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the bill would place restrictions on the capability of the US Environmental Protection Agency to unilaterally veto Clean Water Act permits. 


Sources: Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Appropriations Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House

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