August 7, 2014

In This Issue

GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS: SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES OPPOSE TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS BILL

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is among 70 research organizations that signed a letter expressing concern with legislation moving in the Senate that would impose restrictions on the ability of government scientists and engineers to participate in scientific conferences.

On July 30th, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee approved S. 1347, the Conference Accountability Act, introduced by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). The approved legislation includes language proposed by the bill’s sponsor that would add additional limits to existing travel policy regulations imposed on government employees in the wake of the General Services Administration scandal. It passed the committee by voice vote.

The bill includes language prohibiting a federal agency from expending funds on “not more than one conference that is sponsored or organized by a particular organization during any fiscal year, unless the agency is the primary sponsor and organizer of the conference.” The bill also places a 50 person limit on the number of individuals per agency who can attend conferences outside the US.

“Scientific and technical conferences help maintain a ‘talented and interconnected workforce’ — one of the three critical pillars of a vibrant, economically productive scientific enterprise identified in the National Research Council’s Furthering America’s Research Enterprise report,” the letter notes. “These conferences promote collaborations between federal scientists and those in private industry and academia, provide for rapid dissemination of federally funded research results, and provide high-quality professional development for the next generation of scientists and engineers.”

The Conference Accountability Act could be voted on by the full Senate as early as September, following the month-long August district-work period that began at the end of last week.

In addition to this letter, ESA also submitted a letter on the importance of scientific conferences to the committee earlier this year.

Read the scientific societies letter by clicking this link. View the January ESA letter by clicking this link.

APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE RELEASES INTERIOR, EPA FUNDING BILL

On August 1st, the Senate Appropriations Committee unveiled its Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. The bill provides $30.7 billion for the US Department of Interior, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Forest Service, slightly higher than the $30.2 billion provided in the House version of the bill.

Funding levels are as follows for selected agencies:

  • EPA: $8.2 billion, an $18 million decrease below FY 2014. The Senate bill would increase funding for climate-related activities by $9.8 million over FY 2014. This amount includes $8.8 million to implement the president’s Climate Action Plan. Science and technology programs at EPA would receive $752.88 million, a $6.3 million decrease.
  •  Office of Surface Mining: $144.8 million; a $5 million decrease below FY 2014.
  • Bureau of Land Management: $1.113 billion; a $6 million increase above FY 2014.
  • Bureau of Ocean Energy Management: $72.4 million, a $3.4 million increase above FY 2014.
  • National Park Service: $2.632 billion; a $71 million increase above FY 2014.
  • US Forest Service: $4.626 billion; an $853.5 million decrease below FY 2014. The bill designates $2.171 billion to be shared by the US Forest Service and the Department of Interior for wildland fire suppression activities.
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.451 billion; a $23 million increase over FY 2014.
  • US Geological Survey: $1.046 billion; a $14 million increase above FY 2014.
  • Smithsonian Institution: $825.4 million; a $20.4 million increase above FY 2014.

The Senate bill will be reconciled with its House version that was reported out of committee, but has yet to be voted by the full US House of Representatives.

Since 1994, Congress has not completed work on all of its appropriations bills before the conclusion of the fiscal year. The current fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, 2014. Consequently, it is anticipated that House and Senate appropriators will likely wait until after the November mid-term elections to negotiate a final bill. In recent years, appropriation bills have been rolled into either large omnibus bill or smaller “mini-omnibuses,” made up of three or four funding bills.

In order to prevent a government shutdown, Congress needs to send the president a continuing resolution to fund the government after Sept. 30. Congressional capacity to prevent a government shutdown by passing an appropriations bill is contingent on whether Members on either side of the aisle are willing to engage in a partisan public discourse  weeks before the Nov. midterm elections (the House is not scheduled to be in session throughout most of October).

For additional information on the Senate FY 2015 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations bill, click this link.

For information on the House FY 2015 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations bill, see the July 11, 2014 edition of ESA Policy News by clicking this link.

RESEARCH: SENATE INTRODUCES AMERICA COMPETES REAUTHORIZATION

On July 31st, Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced a draft bill to reauthorize the original America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science (COMPETES) Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-69).

Entitled the “America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2014,” the bill authorizes funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science. As an authorization measure, the bill does not provide actual funding, which is allocated through the appropriations process. As an authorization, the bill sets maximum spending levels for the agencies for coming fiscal years. These spending ceilings serve as a guide for appropriators when crafting their annual spending bills.

The Senate comprehensive multiyear funding reauthorization bill is markedly different than the approach the US House of Representatives has taken to reauthorizing America COMPETES. The House has taken a multi-bill approach, which includes H.R. 4869, the Energy Research and Development Act, which reauthorizes the DOE Office of Science, and the H.R. 4186, the FIRST Act, which reauthorizes NSF and NIST.

Uniquely, the Senate bill would reauthorize annual budget increases for NSF at about 6.7 percent. This increase is significantly higher than the one percent budget increase authorized under the FIRST Act. It is also greater than the 4.9 percent budget increase for NSF authorized under the America COMPETES reauthorization bill introduced by House Democrats. Annual increases for NSF have average 2.2 percent over the past five years, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The original America COMPETES authorized doubling the budgets for NSF, NIST and DOE science by FY 2013, a goal hindered by a congressional focus on restraining overall discretionary spending in light of the burgeoning national debt.

Unlike the House FIRST Act, the Senate bill does not include changes to the NSF peer review process or science funding budget cuts for the behavioral sciences. Nor does the Senate bill authorize cuts to DOE climate change research, included in the House Energy Research and Development Act. The House bills also differ in that they authorize funding only through FY 2015. The Senate bill takes a long-term outlook in line with the preceding bills. It authorizes funding through FY 2019. The 2010 America COMPETES bill reauthorized funding through FY 2013.

Due to the few remaining weeks of the legislative schedule for the current 113th Congress, a final America COMPETES bill will most likely not be enacted before the end of the calendar year, given the wide chasm of policy differences between the Senate and House bills.

The first America COMPETES Act passed with strong bipartisan support and was signed by President George W. Bush. The America COMPETES Act Reauthorization of 2010 was among the last bills signed by President Obama that passed Congress when Democrats controlled both the House and Senate.

For additional information on the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2014, click this link.

WHITE HOUSE: NEW REPORT OUTLINES COSTS OF DELAYING ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE

A new White House report entitled “The Cost of Delaying Action to Stem Climate Change” found that the economic costs associated with delaying action to address climate change will exponentially increase over time.

Delay in action will cost the US 40 percent more for each future decade the US fails to take action to mitigate climate change. According to the findings, the United States faces yearly economic losses of $150 billion if the world fails to decrease its use of fossil fuels, which are the primary cause of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Confronting the possibility of climate catastrophes means taking prudent steps now to reduce the future chances of the most severe consequences of climate change,” states the report. “The longer that action is postponed, the greater will be the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and the greater is the risk. Just as businesses and individuals guard against severe financial risks by purchasing various forms of insurance, policymakers can take actions now that reduce the chances of triggering the most severe climate events.”

The report was conducted by the White House Council of Economic Advisers. View the full report by clicking this link.

WHITE HOUSE: HOLDREN VIDEO OUTLINES CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACT ON WILDFIRES

On August 5th, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren appeared in a video discussing the links between climate change and increasingly long and intense wildfire seasons in the western United States.

“The influence of climate change on the wildfire regime comes not just from the higher summer temperatures and reduced summer soil moisture that go with global warming,” stated Holdren. “Climate change is also bringing us more dead trees—kindling in effect—killed by a combination of heat stress, water stress and attacks by pests and pathogens that multiply faster in a warmer world.”

In the three-minute White House video, he noted the eight worst years on record in the United States in terms of total acreage burned have all occurred since the year 2000. Holdren also outlined the various detrimental effects of wildfires. These include costly property damage, loss of wildlife and soil erosion that puts communities at increased risk of flooding and landslides.

View the full video by clicking this link.

USDA: NEW REPORT HELPS AGRICULTURAL SECTOR REDUCE GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a new report that for the first time provides uniform scientific methods for cataloging efforts by the farmers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their operations.

The report provides guidance in quantifying greenhouse gas emissions from activities related to animal production crop production, grazing and land management. The report is a tool for the agency to use in evaluating its existing greenhouse gas reduction programs and support the development of new methods to reduce carbon emissions.

The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-234) included language directing USDA to develop technical guidelines for science-based methods that “measure the environmental services benefits from conservation and land management activities in order to facilitate the participation of farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners in emerging environmental service markets.” The language called for the USDA Secretary to prioritize guidelines related to participation in “carbon markets.”

For additional information on the USDA report, click this link.

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 5309, the Tsunami Warning, Education, and Research Act – Introduced July 31st by House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Environment Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), the bill would authorize and strengthen the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s tsunami detection, forecast, warning, research, and mitigation program. The bill has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. It has five bipartisan cosponsors, including Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX).

Passed by House

H.R. 935, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act – Introduced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-OH), the bill would prohibit the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from requiring a Clean Water Act permit for spraying pesticides over water.

The legislation would reverse a 2009 federal appeals court ruling that found EPA’s current pesticide regulations did not sufficiently protect the nation’s waterways. Critics of the ruling state that the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) sufficiently protects water from pesticides and the new requirements, which went into effect in 2011, are unnecessary.  The bill passed the House July 31st by a vote of 267-161. Thirty-seven Democrats voted with all Republicans in supporting the bill.

The bill had to be taken up by the House twice after failing to secure the two-thirds vote necessary to advance under a suspension of the rules vote on July 28th.  House leadership decides to take a bill up under suspension of the rules if it is estimated the legislation will attract significant bipartisan support. The bill is not expected to move in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

H.R. 4315, the 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency and Reasonableness Act – Introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the comprehensive bill incorporates several previously introduced measures to reform the Endangered Species Act.

The bill includes provisions that would 1) require the Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce to make publicly available online scientific and commercial data related to the listing of a species as endangered or threatened 2) direct the Secretary of the Interior to make publicly available an annual report detailing federal expenditures for lawsuits against federal agencies brought under the Endangered Species Act 3) provide to affected states all data used as the basis for the determination to list a species as endangered or threatened, regardless of its accuracy and 4) modify the existing standard for awarding court costs, including limiting attorney fees, in citizen suits to a prevailing party in endangered species act lawsuits.

The bill passed the House July 29th by a vote of 233-190 with Democrats joining all but eight Republicans in supporting the bill. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, but it is unlikely to gain traction in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy opposing the bill. Read the full statement by clicking this link.

Introduced in Senate

S. 2771, the Water in the 21st Century Act – Introduced July 31st by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the bill would expand rebates and grants for water recycling, authorize funding support for regional water recycling and ground management projects, and invest in research into water conservation technologies. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Companion legislation (H.R. 5363) has been introduced in the House by Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA).

Considered by Senate

S. 2648, the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act – Introduced by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), the comprehensive bill included supplemental funding to federal agencies charged with addressing the flood of unaccompanied children across  the US border and support for Israel’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile defense system. The bill also included $600 billion for wildfire suppression efforts.

The bill was debated in the Senate, but failed to garner the 60 procedural votes necessary to advance the bill in the Senate, largely along partisan lines. The vote, taken July 31st, failed 50-44. The White House released a Statement of Administration Policy supporting the bill. View the full statement by clicking this link.


Sources: National Aeronautics Space Administration, US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Interior, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House, House Space, Science and Technology Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill

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