May 30, 2014

In This Issue

NSF: REAUTHORIZATION BILL SPURS CONTENTION DURING COMMITTEE MARKUP

On May 22nd, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee began a mark-up of H.R. 4186, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act of 2014 reauthorizing funding for programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology.. After postponing completion of the committee mark-up for a week in order to secure votes among the majority Republican Party committee members, the committee approved the bill by a party-line vote on the evening of May 28th.

Several provisions that would alter the existing merit review process, establish new guidelines intended to minimize falsification of research results and specify funding allocations for each of NSF’s individual directorates have drawn criticism from the scientific community.

The Ecological Society of America joined the American Institute of Biological Sciences and other biological entities in sending a letter to the committee expressing concern with the misconduct language within the FIRST Act. The letter noted, “The Inspector General for NSF already has the authority to investigate accusations of scientific misconduct.”

Committee Republicans argued that the provisions are necessary to ensure scientific integrity and minimize spending on research projects that could be perceived as frivolous.

The FIRST Act would authorizes a 1.5 percent increase for NSF for FY 2015, lower than the amount included in the House Commerce Justice and Science Appropriations bill, but $24 million higher than the president’s FY 2015 budget request for the agency. The bill is part of a larger legislative package of bills that would reauthorize science programs under the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science (COMPETES) Act of 2007.

“American researchers are already falling behind in critical areas,” stated Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “Today the fastest supercomputer in the world is located in China. And we risk losing our lead in other areas such as nanotechnology, the health sciences, aerospace, and lasers. To remain globally competitive, we must ensure that our priorities are funded and that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. The FIRST Act keeps America first in areas of science and research that are crucial to economic growth.”

Democrats offered over 20 amendments that sought to increase funding in the bill and eliminate provisions that altered the current merit review process, but the amendments were voted down. They countered that the controversial provisions are unnecessary, given NSF’s reputation globally as the gold standard in its merit review processes. In her opening statement, Democratic Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) contrasted the FIRST Act with the initial America COMPETES Act, which passed the Democratic House and Senate in 2007 with large bipartisan majorities and signed into law by Republican President George W. Bush.

“Where the COMPETES Act was clearly focused on spurring innovation, the FIRST Act seems preoccupied with questioning the motives of America’s premiere science agency and the integrity of the scientists it funds,” stated Ranking Member Johnson. Where the Competes Act focused on broadly lifting America’s commitment to the sciences, the FIRST Act instead seeks to pit different scientific disciplines against one another. Where the COMPETES Act sought to provide a clear vision and stability to our science agencies, the FIRST Act instead provides them with a year’s worth of authorization at levels below those provided by our own Appropriations Committee.”

The Senate has not yet introduced an America COMPETES reauthorization bill. Given that such a bill would need significant bipartisan support, it is highly unlikely that the FIRST Act in its present form would move through the Senate before the current Congress adjourns at the end of the year.

An additional $552 million in funding for NSF was included in the president’s separate Opportunity Growth and Security Initiative, which, if enacted by Congress, would be offset by revenue increases by closing tax loopholes. The added funding for NSF in the Opportunity Growth and Security Initiative is unlikely to move this Congress due to the lack of a bipartisan consensus on tax legislation that would generate net revenue increases.

This week, the committee also passed a much less contentious bill, S. 1254, the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2013. It is similar to legislation that passed the House in 2010, but failed to gain traction in the Senate. This bill would authorize federal agency efforts to address harmful algae blooms. The S. 1254 bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent in February of this year. The bill now has to be voted on in the House before being signed by the president.

View the committee mark-up by following this link. View the scientific societies letter by following this link.

AGRICULTURE: HOUSE, SENATE COMMITTEES REPORT FY 2015 SPENDING BILLS

Over the past two weeks, the House and Senate Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittees reported out their spending bills for FY 2015.

The House bill would fund federal agriculture programs at $20.9 billion in discretionary spending for FY 2015—comparable to FY 2014. The Senate bill would fund these programs at $20.575 billion, $325 million less than the House bill. Included are summaries of funding for specific US Department of Agriculture entities of interest to the ecological community:

Agricultural Research Service

House: $1.12 billion, a $2.2 million decrease over FY 2014.

Senate: $1.14 billion, a $17.2 million increase over FY 2014.

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

House: $867.5 million, a $45.78 million increase over FY 2014.

Senate: $872.4 million, a $50.69 million increase over FY 2014.

National Institute of Food and Agriculture

House: $774.5 million, a $1.9 million increase over FY 2014.

Senate: $787.5 million, a $15 million increase over FY 2014.

Natural Resources Conservation Service

House: $843 million, a $30.1 million increase over FY 2014.

Senate: $849.3 million, a $36.4 million increase over FY 2014.

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE MEMBERS QUESTION CONSENSUS BEHIND IPCC FINDINGS

On May 30th, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing examining the recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) report that concluded that failure to take action now on climate change will have disastrous long-term consequences for all life on this planet, including humanity.

Committee Republicans were skeptical of the report as were the majority of the witnesses invited, which included economist professor Richard Tol, University of Sussex; Daniel Botkin, Professor Emeritus with the University of California-Santa Barbara’s Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology; and Roger Pielke Sr., Senior Research Scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at Colorado State University. The sole witness defending the findings of IPPC was Michael Oppenheimer, Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs at Princeton University.

“Both the IPCC and the White House’s documents [the National Climate Assessment] appear to be designed to spread fear and alarm and provide cover for previously determined government policies,” asserted Chairman Lamar Smith. “The reports give the Obama administration an excuse to control more of the lives of the American people.”

A key topic of debate during the hearing was whether there was a “97 percent” consensus among the scientific community that humans are contributing significantly to climate change. Tol, himself once a member of the panel, asserted that the panel leadership has an “alarmist bias” that gives preference to like-minded authors. Under questioning from committee Democrats, Tol did concede he had previously written that “It is well-known that most papers and most authors in the climate literature support the hypothesis of anthropogenic climate change. It does not matter whether the exact number is 90 percent or 99.9 percent.”

In his written testimony, Oppenheimer noted “several studies have compared projections of IPCC reports to actual outcomes, providing a basis to assess bias. Overall, if there is a significant bias, it reflects the professional caution of scientists.  In this regard, it is important to note that assessments by the US National Academy of Sciences, the other major national academies around the world, the major scientific professional societies relevant to climate change, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, have arrived at judgments largely similar to IPCC’s.” Oppenheimer did contend that the IPCC improving its transparency could help reinforce its credibility.

This sentiment was reiterated by Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “Mr. Chairman, we have a responsibility to listen to the facts and act to protect the American people from the growing risks of a changing climate,” she said. “The IPCC makes clear to anyone who will listen that the science is well established and well accepted by the vast majority of climate scientists. We cannot continue to turn a deaf ear to the pleas from our constituents to start working towards solutions.”

For additional information and to view the hearing, click this link.

APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE PASSES BILL FUNDING NSF, NOAA

This week, the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 4660, the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, which begins October 1, 2014 and ends September 30, 2015. The bill passed with a large bipartisan vote of 321–87. Only 70 Democrats and 17 Republicans opposed the bill.

The bill funds the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $7.4 billion, a 3.3 percent increase over FY 2014 and 2.1 percent above the president’s FY 2015 budget request for the agency. The increase is attributable to House CJS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA), a longtime ally of NSF, who is also retiring at the end of the calendar year.

The bill also includes funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at $5.3 billion, virtually equal to the FY 2014 enacted level. Within NOAA, the House bill cut climate research by $37.5 million, a 24 percent cut from the $156.5 million FY 2014 enacted level.

The House also adopted an amendment from Scott Perry (R-PA) that prohibits any funding in the bill from being directed towards the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or the National Climate Assessment. Additional amendments adopted included one from Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), which cut funding from NSF’s Social, Behavioral and Economic Directorate by $15 million. Another amendment from Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) prohibits funding in the bill to implement the Obama administration’s National Ocean Policy.

This week, the Ecological Society of America issued an action alert urging members to support the NSF funding and restore the climate research cuts. While an effort to restore funding for climate research via an amendment from Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) failed, it is anticipated that the cuts may be restored when the bill is in conference negotiations with the Senate this fall. The fate of the other amendments adopted will also be determined at that time.

In its Statement of Administration Policy, the White House did not issue a formal veto threat of the bill. With regard to NSF, the administration stated that it “appreciates the [House Appropriations] Committee’s support for NSF.”

The statement did express concern with reductions to NOAA’s fisheries management and  coastal restoration programs included in the bill and the cut to NOAA’s climate research program, noting that “NOAA’s climate research will help the nation better understand, monitor, and prepare for the impacts of climate change.”

View the full statement here.

View the ESA action alert here.

PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: NSF RELEASES DRAFT PROPOSAL GUIDELINES DOCUMENT

The Federal Register published a National Science Foundation (NSF) public comment request on proposed changes to its “Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG).” The draft NSF PAPPG  is now available for review and consideration on the NSF website.

The PAPPG is composed of documents relating to the NSF’s proposal and award process. The purpose of the revision is to clarify and improve the general functionality of this process. For the reader’s ease in its review, the proposed changes are highlighted in the lengthy document.

Written comments should be received by July 8, 2014 to be assured of consideration.

To view the document, click this link:

http://www.nsf.gov/bfa/dias/policy/papp/papp15_1/fedregdraft/nsf15_1draft.pdf

To view the Federal Register notice with comment instruction, click this link:

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2014-05-09/pdf/2014-10685.pdf

For additional background information, click this link:

http://www.nsf.gov/bfa/dias/policy/

USDA: NEW PROGRAM ANNOUNCED FOR WATER CONSERVATION PARTNERSHIPS

On May 27, the US Department of Agriculture announced a new $1.2 billion five-year program aimed at promoting public-private partnerships for soil and water conservation projects.

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), authorized under the recent Agricultural Act of 2014, will consolidate the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative and the Great Lakes Basin Program for Soil Erosion into a single program.

The RCPP will competitively award funds to conservation projects designed by local partners specifically for their region. Eligible partners include private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, local and tribal governments and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials to their proposed initiatives. With participating partners investing along with the Department, USDA’s $1.2 billion in funding over the life of the five-year program can leverage an additional $1.2 billion from partners for a total of $2.4 billion for conservation. There is $400 million in USDA funding is available in the first year. Through RCPP, partners propose conservation projects to improve soil health, water quality and water use efficiency, wildlife habitat, and other related natural resources on private lands.

“This is an entirely new approach to conservation,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We’re giving private companies, local communities, and other non-government partners a way to invest in what are essentially clean water start-up operations. By establishing new public-private partnerships, we can have an impact that’s well beyond what the Federal government could accomplish on its own. These efforts keep our land resilient and water clean, and promote tremendous economic growth in agriculture, construction, tourism and outdoor recreation, and other industries.”

The agency is now accepting proposals for the program, due July 14, 2014. For additional information, click this link.

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 1416, the Sage Grouse Protection Conservation Act – Introduced May 22 by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), the bill would prevent the federal government from listing the sage grouse as an endangered species and instead encourage the Departments of Interior and Agriculture to work with states on conservation initiatives. Companion legislation (S. 2394) has been introduced by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY).

Approved by Committee

H.R. 4472, the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act – Introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill would reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the major law governing fisheries management through the end of fiscal 2018.

Committee Democrats were concerned over provisions of the bill that seek to provide increased flexibility for fish stock rebuilding at the cost of avoiding certain National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act requirements. The bill passed by the House Natural Resources Committee by a largely party-line vote of 24–17.

Passed House

H.R. 4435, the Howard P. “Buck” McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 –The bill provides $600 billion in authorization funding for Department of Defense (DOD) programs. It passed with an amendment from Rep. David McKinley (D-WV) that would prohibit funds in the bill from being used for climate change studies, including the National Climate Assessment and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The amendment was adopted by a vote of 231–192.

The White House has issued a veto threat against the legislation due to conflicts in program funding priorities. The House bill must be reconciled with the Senate Defense authorization bill before it can be sent to the president. The Senate has not yet scheduled when their bill will reach the Senate floor for a vote.

Cleared for White House

H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Development Act of 2013 – The $8.2 billion legislation reauthorizes 34 Army Corps of Engineers water-related projects, including addressing infrastructure, flood protection and environmental restoration needs. It also includes various reforms to the Army Corps. The legislation constitutes the finalized conference report negotiated by House and Senate leaders. The conference report bill passed the Senate on May 22 by a vote of 91–7 after passing the House May 20 by a vote of 412–4. The president is expected to sign the measure.


Sources: National Science Foundation, US Department of Agriculture, House Appropriations Committee, House Space, Science and Technology Committee, Senate Appropriations Committee, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill

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