In This Issue
In late March, the House and Senate Budget Committees released their respective budgets for Fiscal Year 2016 that begins Sept. 30. The House passed its FY 2016 budget (H.Con.Res. 27) March 25 by a vote of 228–199. All Democrats opposed the House budget as did 17 Republicans. The Senate budget (S.Con.Res. 11) passed its budget March 27 by a vote of 52–46, also along largely partisan lines. Sens. Rand Paul (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) joined all Democrats in voting against the Senate budget.
In contrast to the president’s annual proposed budget, House and Senate budgets do not outline spending levels for specific federal agencies and programs. The budgets are nonbinding resolutions that set general polices intended to provide direction to House and Senate appropriators. Leaders of the House and Senate Budget Committees hope to reconcile their budgets by mid-April. As concurrent resolutions simply express the intent of Congress, they are not sent to the president.
With Republicans in control of both chambers, the House and Senate FY 2016 budgets are fairly similar. Unlike the president’s FY 2016 proposed budget, the House and Senate FY 2016 budgets would seek to balance the budget in ten years. This deficit reduction would be achieved largely through repealing the Affordable Care Act and cuts to Medicaid, Pell grants and the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program that provides food stamps. The president’s proposal would not balance the budget in ten years, but would keep the deficit from substantially increasing.
The House and Senate budgets also differ from the president’s proposal because they adhere to the annual automatic sequestration cuts for all federal discretionary spending set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112–25). Both budgets would provide defense discretionary spending with $523 billion and non-defense discretionary with $493 billion in FY 2016.
The Budget Control Act mandates an automatic annual $109.3 billion cut to discretionary programs through 2021 unless Congress provides offsets through spending reductions elsewhere in the budget or revenue increases. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (P.L. 113-67), also known as the Murray-Ryan budget agreement, provided some relief to sequestration by allowing limited spending increases for some discretionary spending programs in Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015; however, this temporarily relief ends in January 2016 when the automatic annual sequester cuts are reinstated.
In contrast, the president’s FY 2016 budget raises overall discretionary spending above the Budget Control Act spending limits. The increase would be paid for through more targeted spending reductions as well as increasing revenue through closing tax loopholes and capping certain tax deductions for wealthy earners. The president’s budget would provide an additional $74 billion for discretionary spending above levels enacted under sequestration, split between defense and non-defense spending.
To secure votes from pro-defense Republicans, both of the House and Senate budgets increase funding for the Pentagon’s war account, known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund. The House-passed budget increases OCO funding by $96 billion. The Senate-passed budget also increases OCO funding by $96 billion, but specifies that $7 billion of this funding shall be dedicated to State-Department related spending, a priority of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who chairs the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Subcommittee. Republicans are relying on the OCO fund, which falls outside budgetary ceilings, to increase defense spending.
The Senate budget also includes an amendment that would establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund to help mission-critical Department of Defense infrastructure withstand the impacts of climate change. The amendment was adopted at the committee level by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA).
During floor debate of the Senate budget, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) offered an amendment calling for Congress to address carbon emissions. The amendment failed 49–50, though Republican Senators Kelly Ayote (NH), Susan Collins (ME), Lindsey Graham (SC), Mark Kirk (IL) and Rob Portman (OH) joined most Democrats in voting for the amendment. Democratic Senators Joe Manchin (WV) and Heidi Heitkamp (ND) voted against the amendment.
An amendment by Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from denying highway funds to states that ignore the Clean Power Plan was adopted by a vote of 57–43. Sens. Manchin, Heitkamp and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) joined all Republicans in supporting the amendment.
Sens. Michael Bennett (D-CO), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Heitkamp and Manchin offered an amendment to address human-induced climate change by use of renewable energy and energy efficiency. The amendment passed by a vote of 53-47 with Republican Sens. Dean Heller (NV), Ayotte, Collins, Graham, Kirk and Portman joining all Democrats in support of the measure.
Collectively, the adopted amendments offer a preview of the policy riders that will be sought when the appropriations process moves forward. However, unlike nonbinding budget amendments, which require only a simple majority for adoption, appropriations amendments traditionally require 60 votes in the Senate. Given that Congressional Democrats and the White House object to many of the policy prescriptions included in the two budgets, it is unlikely that the final FY 2016 appropriations bills will be signed into law without some concessions to Democrats on discretionary spending levels.
Click here for additional information on the House budget.
Click here for additional information on the Senate budget.
Click here for a White House analysis comparing the congressional budgets with the president’s proposal.
On March 19, President Obama signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to reduce their carbon dioxide (CO2) output by 40 percent by 2025 compared with 2008 levels.
The CO2 reductions would come from improved energy efficiency from the government’s 360,000 federal buildings and 650,000 fleet vehicles. The government would set a goal to draw 25 percent of its power from clean energy sources by 2025 and cut fleet emissions per vehicle by 30 percent in the same timeframe compared with 2014 levels.
The US State Department formally submitted its 2025 emissions reduction target to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on March 31.
Click here for additional information on the executive order.
Click here to view the State Department submission to the UNFCCC.
On March 18, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released a policy requiring grantees to make their peer-reviewed research papers freely available within 12 months of publication. The requirement goes into effect for proposals submitted or due in January 2016.
Initially, NSF plans to use the Department of Energy’s PAGES (Public Access Gateway for Energy and Science) system as its designated repository and will require NSF-funded authors to upload a copy of their journal articles or juried conference paper. The NSF repository will contain abstracts, authors, the journal issue, and other metadata intended to preserve publications long-term in a “dark archive.” For public access, the NSF repository will provide a link to the full-text paper on the publisher’s website. If the publisher’s website is not available, the repository will have a PDF version available.
The new policy will be announced as a change NSF’s Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide in the Federal Register this month and is open for public comment.
The plan is in accordance with a Feb. 2013 memorandum from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy directing federal agencies with over $100 million in research and development expenditures per year to make publicly available to the “greatest extent and with the fewest constraints possible and consistent with law” the “direct results of federally funded scientific research.”
Along with NSF, the Department of Defense and the US Department of Agriculture and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have announced efforts to improve access to federally-funded research. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Geological Survey have yet to announce their policies.
Click here for additional information on the NSF plan.
The Ecological Society of America was among 35 scientific societies and academic institutions to send a letter to Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) expressing concern with the Secret Science Reform Act of 2015. The letter contends that key components of the bill, such as a requirement prohibiting the agency from using research that is not transparent or reproducible, could have unintended detrimental consequences.
“With respect to reproducibility of research, some scientific research, especially in areas of public health, involves longitudinal studies that are so large and of great duration that they could not realistically be reproduced,” the letter notes. “Rather, these studies are replicated utilizing statistical modeling. The same may be true for scientific data from a one-time event (e.g., Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill) where the data are gathered in real time. We could foresee a situation in which the EPA would be constrained from making a proposal or even disseminating public information in a timely fashion.”
Click here to view the full letter.
On March 20, the Bureau of Land Management released a final rule intended to support safe and responsible hydraulic fracturing for 750 million acres of federal and Native American lands.
The rule requires companies to disclose the chemicals injected during the hydraulic fracturing process, commonly known as “fracking.” It also requires companies to verify the integrity of cement barriers to ensure fracking fluids do not leak into groundwater systems. The rule also stipulates use of above-ground tanks to store fluids that return to the surface in an effort to reduce risks to surrounding ecosystems.
Click here for additional information:
US Fish and Wildlife Service
Proposed Rule: Public comment closes April 23, 2015
To Amend the Listing of the Southern Selkirk Mountains Population of Woodland Caribou
Proposed rule: Public comment closes June 22, 2015
Identification and Proposed Listing of Eleven Distinct Population Segments of Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas) as Endangered or Threatened and Revision of Current Listings
US Geological Survey
Notice: Nominations must be received by June 1, 2015
Opening of Nomination Period for Members of the Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science
Introduced in House
H.R. 1667, the 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Act – Introduced March 26 by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), the bill would require the online publication of research data used to add animal and plant species to the federally endangered and threatened species listing. The bill allows for exemptions at the request of a governor or state legislature. It also prohibits the posting of legally protected personal information. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.
Passed House Committee
H.R. 1561, the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act – Introduced by Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), the bill would improve weather research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration through the development of more accurate, timely and effective observation, computing and modeling capacity. The House, Science, Space and Technology Committee approved the bill on March 25.
H.R. 897, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act – Introduced by Rep. 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 House Agriculture Committee approved the bill March 19 by voice vote.
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 new EPA requirements that went into effect in 2011, are unnecessary.
The House passed similar legislation in the 113th Congress by a vote of 267-161, but it stalled in the Democratic-controlled Senate. A Senate companion to the House bill has not yet been introduced. Former Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) introduced a Senate version of the bill in 2013 that did not advance.
Introduced in Senate
779, the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research (FASTR) Act – Introduced March 18 by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), the bill would shorten the required embargo period for sharing federally funded research papers from twelve months to six months. The bill has been referred to the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House by Reps. Mike Doyle (D-PA), Kevin Yoder (R-KY) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).
782, the Grand Canyon Bison Management Act – Introduced March 18 by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the bill directs the Department of Interior, within 180 days of enactment of the legislation, to use “humane lethal culling” to reduce the number of bison that have migrated into the Grand Canyon.
785, the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals(FRAC) Act – Introduced March 18 by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), the bill would allow the US Environmental Protection Agency to regulate hydraulic fracturing. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
828, the Fracturing Regulations are Effective in State Hands (FRESH) Act – Introduced March 19 by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the bill would clarify that states have sole authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing.
Sources: National Science, Foundation, the White House, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, National Journal, POLITICO, Roll Call, Science