February 21, 2006

In This Issue

BUSH ADMIN UNVEILS PROPOSED BUDGET FOR FY 2007

On February 6, President Bush released his proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2007. The new budget proposes substantial increases for physical sciences and engineering programs as part of an “American Competitiveness Initiative” that was first previewed in the President’s State of the Union address as a response to a growing wave of concern about the state of U.S. innovation. The three favored agencies of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) laboratories would receive substantial budget increases after years of flat or declining funding.

But total federal basic and applied research investment (excluding development) would decline 3.4 percent to $54.7 billion, meaning increases for physical sciences and related research in DOE, NSF, and NIST would be more than offset by cuts in the research investments of other agencies.

NSF would benefit from the Administration’s American Competitiveness Initiative with a 7.9 percent boost in its total budget to $6.0 billion in 2007. Most research directorates would receive increases between 5 and 9 percent after several years of flat or declining funding. In real terms, funding for the Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Geosciences, Biological Sciences, and the Social Sciences directorates would remain below 2004 funding levels even after the 2007 increase, while the Computer Sciences, Polar, and Engineering directorates would reach new highs. The agency’s Education and Human Resources directorate would barely increase, to a level 20 percent below the 2004 budget in real terms.

At the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, increased funds for developing the next generation of human space vehicles would come at the expense of research programs, such as what remains of its life sciences program, proposed for a 56 percent cut after a 30 percent cut in 2006.

Many R&D agencies would face steep cuts: the Environmental Protection Agency’s (R&D) portfolio would fall 7.2 percent, while Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would see its R&D funding decline 6.3 percent. R&D funding in the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS; down 4 percent) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA; down 16.5 percent) would also fall.

SUPREME COURT HEARS WETLANDS CASES

Justices raised questions about the limits of government regulation of wetlands, canals and seasonal streams as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases that test the scope of the Clean Water Act.

In both — Rapanos v. United States and Carabell v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — Michigan landowners contend that Congress never intended to have authority over wetlands that are adjacent to or separated by man-made berms from “navigable waters” or their tributaries. The Clean Water Act uses “navigable waters” to accommodate the Interstate Commerce Clause and identify wetlands under the purview of the Army Corps and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The agencies have executed “limitless claims of jurisdiction” and “boundless interpretations” of the statute, Rapanos’ lawyer Reed Hopper told the court. The oral arguments marked the first day on the bench for Justice Samuel Alito Jr.

Asked by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg where he would draw the line, Hopper said Congress intended to regulate navigable waters and adjacent wetlands, but did not extend that to tributaries and wetlands that are adjacent to nonnavigable waters.

John Rapanos, who is facing jail time and fines for destroying 50 acres of wetlands, and the developers June and Keith Carabell, who want to build condos on 16 acres regulated as wetlands, allege that the Army Corps and EPA do not have authority to stop their projects.

Army Corps lawyer Paul Clement voiced concern that a ruling in favor of property owners in the Rapanos and Carabell cases would not only make hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands and miles of streams more vulnerable to filling and dredging, they would also lose protection against polluters.

The rulings will come down to the interpretation of “ditch” and “navigable,” some legal experts say. A ruling is expected before the court’s summer recess.

The Ecological Society of America, Society of Wetland Scientists, Estuarine Research Federation, and the American Society for Limnology and Oceanography filed an Amicus (“Friend of the Court”) Brief offering the scientific perspective on wetlands for the Court’s consideration.

LAWMAKERS RESPOND TO CLAIMS OF AGENCY CENSORSHIP

Lawmakers of both parties urged leaders at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to improve the ways the agency conveys scientific information to the public.

The lawmakers were responding to a cascade of reports about efforts by political appointees in the space agency’s press office to restrict interviews or alter news releases that might conflict with Bush administration policies on pollution, global warming and other issues.

House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) said that while NASA had responded well so far, it “still has a lot of work to do to ensure openness.”

The Committee’s Ranking Member Bart Gordon (D-TN), said he was eager to see Michael D. Griffin, the NASA Administrator, follow through on a pledge he made to the agency’s 19,000 employees on February 3 to review its communications policies.

Public scrutiny of NASA’s press office heated up in January, when the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Dr. James Hansen, claimed the Bush Administration tried to prevent him from publicly calling for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, after he gave a lecture on the subject in December 2005. He said the Administration ordered NASA public affairs staff to review his upcoming lectures, papers, and postings on the Goddard website and requests for interviews from journalists. Since Dr. Hansen’s accusations, other researchers at the agency have described how political appointees altered or limited news releases on scientific findings that could have conflicted with administration policies.

Moreover, other federal agencies are finding their policies under high scrutiny, as claims of scientific censorship have begun radiating beyond NASA. “The Hansen situation unfortunately is not isolated,” Rep. Gordon said. “Scientific censorship permeates this administration.”

For example, at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), scientists are not allowed “to speak to reporters or present papers at meetings without departmental review or approval,” Science editor Don Kennedy wrote in an editorial in the February 17 Science.

The claims of censorship at NOAA prompted an all-staff e-mail from agency Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher praising NASA’s move to address the Hansen allegations and reminding employees that NOAA’s “media standards also reflect an open policy.” He encouraged scientists to “speak freely and openly.”

BUSH ADMIN PROPOSES GULF OF MEXICO LEASING PLAN

The Bush administration’s plan to open 2 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling met with strong opposition by Florida lawmakers and by industry groups that feel the plan does not go far enough.

Oil and gas leases would be sold in the Lease Sale 181 area off Florida’s Gulf Coast under the Minerals Management Service’s (MMS) draft five-year plan for development on the outer continental shelf (OCS). The OCS proposal also includes calls for new studies of resource development in the southern gulf, in the Atlantic Ocean off Virginia and part of the North Aleutian Basin off the coast of Alaska.

Johnnie Burton, MMS director, said the need for the potential 3.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas outweighs the environmental concerns of Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R) and the state’s congressional delegation since the administration agreed not to allow oil and gas development in Lease Sale 181 as part of the previous five-year plan.

The Administration’s proposal for leasing 2 million acres of the 181 area is now one of three plans to address the issue, competing with one from the Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and another from Florida’s U.S. senators.

The MMS proposal for Lease Sale 181 is smaller than the area proposed for oil and gas leasing under legislation proposed by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM), who said he plans to go ahead with his bill that would require the Interior Department to begin offering leases in a portion of the Lease Sale 181 area off the Florida coast within one year.

Florida Senators Mel Martinez (R) and Bill Nelson (D) have proposed competing legislation to extend the drilling moratorium in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, including most of the 181 region. This measure, however, would not prevent development on roughly 700,000 acres in the area’s southwest portion.

EUROPE FAILING TO STOP SPECIES DECLINE, REPORT SAYS

Europe is falling behind on goals to protect wildlife and must expand its efforts in order to meet a 2010 goal for biodiversity, according to a report released by the U.N. Environment Programme and Council of Europe.

The report said Europe has failed to follow through on eight of nine pledges made by 53 countries in 2003 to curb species loss by 2010. “It is clear that achieving the 2010 biodiversity target in Europe requires not only a redoubling of efforts in implementing the objectives … but more specifically, a firm commitment by the parties to act,” the report said.

The report acknowledged one pledge as fulfilled: the preservation of lands through national parks and historical areas. Thirty percent of Europe’s lands remain covered by forests.


Sources: AAS R&D Budget Analysis website; Environment and Energy Daily; Greenwire; New York Times

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