May 18, 2016

In This Issue

RESEARCH: SENATE COMMITTEE CONTINUES DELIBERATION OF AMERICA COMPETES REAUTHORIZATION

 

On May 11, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee convened a hearing entitled “Leveraging the US Science and Technology Enterprise.” The hearing is part of the committee’s ongoing efforts to solicit input from the scientific community as it drafts legislation to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act.

In his opening statement, Chairman John Thune (R-SD) praised the work of committee members Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Gary Peters (D-MI) in their bipartisan efforts to solicit input from and convene roundtables allowing members of the scientific community to weigh in on the Senate’s efforts to reauthorize the bill.

“Common themes arising from the roundtables included support for continued investment by the federal government in basic research, as well as encouragement of wider participation in STEM subjects; stronger partnerships among government, the private sector, and academia that could better leverage discoveries emerging from our research universities to drive innovation; and the importance of minimizing barriers and improving incentives for universities and the private sector to better maximize the scientific and economic return on limited federal research resources,” said Thune.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), filling in as ranking member, touched on some of those findings, “Experts from the scientific community, industry, academia, nonprofits and economic development organizations agree that modest, sustained and predictable increases in federal research and development investments are critical to ensuring the economic competitiveness of the United States moving forward,” said Peters.

Witnesses testifying included  Kelvin Droegemeier, vice chairman, National Science Board; Jeannette Wing, corporate vice president for research, Microsoft Corp.; Robert Atkinson, president, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation; and David Munson, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of engineering, University of Michigan College of Engineering.

Click here to view the hearing.

APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE CJS BILL REDUCES NSF, SCIENCE FUNDING

On May 17, the House Appropriations Committee released its Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) and Related Agencies Fiscal Year 2017 spending bill. In total, the bill includes $56 billion in discretionary spending, a $279 million increase over the FY 2016 enacted level.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) would receive $7.4 billion in FY 2017, a $57 million decrease over FY 2016. Research and Related Activities is increased by $46 million targeted to programs that foster innovation and US economic competitiveness, including funding for research on advanced manufacturing, physics, mathematics, cybersecurity, neuroscience and STEM education. Reductions are made in equipment and construction costs. Unlike the Senate CJS appropriations bill, there is no increased funding allocated towards the construction of Regional Class Research Vessels, setting up a potential showdown if the two chambers negotiate a final bill this fall.

Below are funding levels for other science agencies in the bill, compared to the FY 2016 enacted level:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $5.6 billion, a $185 million decrease 

National Aeronautics and Space Administration:$19.5 billion, a $223 million increase

National Institute of Standards and Technology: $865 million, a $99 million decrease

As in past years, the House has rescinded NOAA funding related to climate research and its National Oceans Policy. The bill maintains existing funding for NOAA’s current Joint Polar Satellite System weather satellite program and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite program.

Click here for additional information on the House CJS bill.

Click here for ESA testimony in support of FY 2017 funding for NSF.

 

APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE PASSES FY 2017 ENERGY AND WATER FUNDING BILL

On May 12, the Senate passed its version of the Energy and Water Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 by a vote of 90-8.

The House also passed its FY 2017 energy and water spending bill (H.R. 2028) earlier this month by a vote of 240-177. The Senate took up the House version of the bill and added an amendment in the nature of a substitute, replacing the House-passed language with the text of the Senate bill (S. 2804). The Senate bill provides $37.5 billion for FY 2017, $100 million more than the House bill.

The bill cleared the Senate after a protracted fight involving an amendment to bar the administration from purchasing heavy water used in nuclear reactors from Iran failed by a vote of 57-42. Under Senate cloture rules, 60 votes were needed to adopt the amendment. The vote was largely partisan. Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Rand Paul (R-KY) joined most Democrats in opposing the amendment. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-NE) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) joined most Republicans in support of the amendment.

The House and Senate will negotiate a final bill in conference before sending it to the president. In recent years, it’s been more likely that the energy and water appropriations bill will be incorporated into an omnibus measure that funds all or most federal agencies for Fiscal Year 2017. It is unlikely Congress will complete negotiations on all appropriations measures before the Nov. 2016 elections, meaning Congress will likely enact a continuing resolution that will run through the first part of FY 2017, which begins Sept. 30, 2016.

Historically, Congress waits until finalizing appropriations during a presidential year until after the election, passing a short-term continuing resolution to maintain federal funding instead. The presidential election results could influence whether Congress finalizes its existing FY 2017 appropriations bills before or after the next president takes office.

The White House released a Statement of Administration Policy that objects to many of the funding levels in the Senate bill, but it stopped short of declaring the president would veto it.

Click here to view the statement.

 

APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE AGRICULTURE SPENDING BILL PASSES COMMITTEE

On May 17, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its FY 2017 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017.

The Senate bill includes $21.25 billion in discretionary spending for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), $250 million lower than the FY 2016 enacted level, though slightly higher the House’s FY 2017 agricultural spending bill.

The legislation provides $2.54 billion to support agricultural research conducted by the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.  This amount includes $375 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, a $25 million increase above the FY2016 enacted level. 

Below are funding levels for additional USDA entities of interest to the ecological community compared to FY 2016 enacted levels:

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: $939.3 million, a $44.9 million increase.

Natural Resources Conservation Service:  $864.5 million, a $4.1 million increase.

Click here to view for additional information on the bill.

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: KENYA HOSTS SECOND UN ENVIRONMENTAL ASSEMBLY

The second annual United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-2) will convene in Nairobi, Kenya from May 23-27 under the overarching theme of Delivering on the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SD) UNEA-2 will reflect the latest global, regional and national developments related to the environment. It will also provide the first global platform for reviewing progress on the SDGs, particularly their environmental dimensions. 

The UNEA is the world’s highest level decision-making body for environmental issues. UNEA enjoys the universal membership of all 193 UN Member States and the full involvement of major groups and stakeholders. UNEA-2 will also witness the launch of a global UN thematic report on health and the environment as well as several brand new studies on the state of the world environment, air pollution, and sustainable food production. Other issues the body hopes to address include the illegal trade of wildlife, coral reefs, food waste, global natural capital, green economy, and microplastics.

In advance of UNEA-2, ESA penned a letter to to Dr. Oyun, president, United Nations Environment Assembly, asking for her support for a proposal to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly to recognize 2020 as an “International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists.” Nearly half of the Earth’s land surface is classified as rangeland and grassland, and the health and productivity of these lands are critical to the livelihoods of an estimated 500 million people around the world. Rangeland and grassland habitats provide a multitude of ecosystems services. 

Others groups that are in support of an “International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists” are the Society for Range Management & The Rangelands Partnership, ILRI/International Land Coalition, International Rangelands Congress, and International Grasslands Congress.

Click here to view the ESA letter. 

 Click here for additionalUNEA-2 information.

NSF: NEW PLAN LAYS OUT VISION FOR FUTURE RESEARCH INVESTMENT

On May 2, the National Science Foundation released a nine-point plan for its vision for the future of fundamental research.

Six of the goals concern research ideas:

  • Accelerating future discovery by providing the fundamental techniques, tools, research cyberinfrastructure, and educational foundations to harness the data revolution.
  • Understanding how technologies affect human behavior and testing new learning environments inside and outside schools.
  • Developing our capacity to predict the phenotype of a cell or organism.
  • Identifying and supporting research that answers deep questions about quantum behavior and develops the means of accessing and manipulating quantum systems.
  • Establishing an observing network of mobile and fixed platforms and tools across the Arctic to document ongoing rapid biological, physical, chemical and social changes.
  • Examining the universe’s beginnings and seek to improve understanding of some of the universe’s most exotic properties.

Three of the goals concern concept ideas: 

  • Focusing on convergent multi-disciplinary research among the physical sciences, biological sciences, computing, engineering, and the social and behavioral sciences
  • Increasing support for midscale research infrastructure.
  • Identifying bold, long-term foundational research questions to set the stage for breakthrough science and engineering all the way to NSF’s Centennial in 2050.

The plan is supported by the National Science Board, but would require funding support from Congress and the next administration for its implementation.

Click here to view the plan.

 

OSTP: WHITE HOUSE ANNOUNCES NATIONAL MICROBIOME INITIATIVE

On May 13, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced its National Microbiome Initiative. The new initiative seeks to expand our knowledge of microbiomes to “aid in the development of useful applications in areas such as health care, food production, and environmental restoration.”

The federal agencies will collectively invest $121 million, while institutions, businesses, and other stakeholders will invest an additional $400 million towards the effort.

Click here for additional information.

EPA: METHANE RULES ISSUED

 

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA issued for the first time regulations that will reduce methane emissions from oil and gas production. 

Methane is a key constituent of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential more than 25 times greater than that of carbon dioxide. The regulations are part of the administration’s Climate Action Plan to reduce methane emissions, and stay on course to achieve its goal of cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. The regulations received praise from environmental groups, while industry criticized them.

Click here for more information.

 

FWS: PRESIDENT SIGNS LAW DESIGNATING BISON NATIONAL MAMMAL

On May 9, President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act into law (P.L. 114-152). The new law designates the bison as the national mammal.

The original legislation (H.R. 2908) was sponsored in the House by Reps. William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Kristi Noem (R-SD) and José Serrano (D-NY). Sens. John Hoeven (R-ND) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) subsequently introduced companion legislation (S. 2032) in the Senate. H.R. 2908 passed the House April 26 by voice vote and passed the Senate April 28 by unanimous consent.

The Vote Bison Coalition, which is led by steering committee members from the Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council, National Bison Association, and Wildlife Conservation Society, championed the legislation.

The bison joins the bald eagle (animal), oak (tree), and rose (flower) as official United States symbols.

FEDERAL REGISTER PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITIES

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

Availability of an Environmental Assessment for Field Testing of a Vaccine for Use Against Infectious Laryngotracheitis, Marek’s Disease, and Newcastle Disease

https://federalregister.gov/a/2016-11148

Environmental Protection Agency

Proposed rule: Public comments due June 16, 2016

Approval of California State Air Plan Revisions, Eastern Kern Air Pollution Control District

Proposed rule: Public comments due June 17, 2016

Approval and Promulgation of Implementation Plans; California; San Joaquin Valley; Revisions to Motor Vehicle Emissions Budgets for Ozone and Particulate Matter

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice: Public comments due June 9, 2016

Proposed Gopher Tortoise Conservation and Crediting Strategy

Notice: Public comments due June 13, 2016

Incidental Take During Specified Activities; Proposed Incidental Harassment Authorization for Northern Sea Otters From the Southcentral Stock in Cook Inlet, Alaska

Notice: Public comments due June 13, 2016

Receipt of Incidental Take Permit Applications for Participation in the Amended Oil and Gas Industry Conservation Plan for the American Burying Beetle in Oklahoma

Proposed Rule: Public comments due July 5, 2016

Revisions to Regulations for Eagle Incidental Take and Take of Eagle Nests

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Proposed Rule: Public comments due July 11, 2016

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; 90-Day Finding on a Petition To List the Taiwanese Humpback Dolphin as Threatened or Endangered Under the Endangered Species Act

National Science Foundation

Notice: Public comments due July 15, 2016

Comment Request: National Science Foundation Proposal/Award Information-NSF Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide 

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 5243, the Zika Response Appropriations Act – Introduced May 16 by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rodgers (R-KY), the bill would provide $622.1 million to deter the spread of the Zika virus over the next five months through the end of current Fiscal Year 2016. The funding is offset by cuts to unobligated funding to address Ebola and the H1N1 virus. The bill has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee and the House Budget Committee.

The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy declaring the president would veto the bill, primarily because it falls short of the administration’s request of $1.9 billion in emergency supplemental funding. Click here to view the statement.

Passed by House Committee/Subcommittee

On May 17, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a mark-up of the following bills:

H.R. 4775, the Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2016 – Introduced by Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX), the bill would delay the deadline for the US Environmental Protection Agency to implement its70 parts per billion ozone standards for states by eight years to 2025. Companion legislation (S. 2882) has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV).

H.R. 4979, the Advanced Nuclear Technology Development Act of 2016 – Introduced by Reps. Bob Latta (R-OH) and Jerry McNerney (D-CA), the bill would require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and US Department of Energy to craft a new framework for reviewing advanced reactors and vet them publicly within 270 days.

Failed Passage

H.R. 897, the Zika Vector Control Act – Introduced by Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), the bill would have eliminated pesticide permitting requirements under the Clean Water Act, while providing a two-year waiver for permits mandated by the Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. The bill failed to pass the House May 17 by a vote of 262 – 159. Twenty-three Democrats joined all Republicans in support of the bill. The bill was considered under “suspension of the rules,” where a two-thirds majority vote is required for passage.

The language of the bill is nearly identical to the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2014, which failed passage in the House under suspension along similar partisan lines in July 2014.

Considered by Senate Committee

On May 17, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee considered the following bills:

S. 2533, the California Long-Term Provisions for Water Supply and Short-Term Provisions for Emergency Drought Relief Act– Introduced by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), the bill would authorize $1.3 billion for long-term drought mitigation, including water storage, recycling and desalination projects, as well as authorize short-term operational changes to increase pumping in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Companion legislation (H.R. 5247) has been introduced by Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA).

S. 2902, the Western Water Supply and Planning Enhancement Act– Introduced by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), the bill would direct the Army Corps of Engineers to update their forecasting methods to improve planning for water storage in light of climate change.


Sources: Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, the White House, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, ClimateWire, Greenwire, the Hill, Science Magazine

May 4, 2016

In This Issue

APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE COMMERCE, JUSTICE AND SCIENCE BILL CLEARS SUBCOMMITTEE

On April 19, the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee approved its Fiscal Year 2017 spending bill. The bill includes $56.3 billion, $563 above the FY 2016 enacted level and $1.6 billion above the Obama administration’s FY 2017 budget request.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) would receive $7.5 billion in FY 2017, a $46.3 million increase over FY 2017. The added funding is directed solely towards NSF major research and facilities construction, specifically the design and construction of three Regional Class Research Vessels. NSF research and related activities remains flat at the FY 2016 enacted level.

Below are funding levels for other science agencies in the bill, compared to the FY 2016 enacted level:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $5.7 billion, a $33.5 million increase. National Aeronautics and Space Administration: $19.3 billion, a $21 million increase.

White House Office of Science and Technology Policy: $5.6 billion, level.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (P.L. 114-74) authorized an additional $50 billion above existing sequestration spending caps for FY 2016 and additional $30 billion above existing sequestration spending caps for FY 2017. Consequently, the total federal funding available for FY 2017 discretionary spending is less than the previous fiscal year.

Click here for additional information on the Senate CJS bill.

APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE, SENATE REPORT ENERGY AND WATER SPENDING BILLS

On April 20, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees moved their respective energy and water spending bills for Fiscal Year 2017, which begins Oct 1, 2016.

The House bill would provide $37.4 billion in funding, a $259 million increase over the FY 2016 enacted level. Below are funding levels for specific federal entities of interest to the ecological community compared to FY 2016:

US Army Corps of Engineers: $6.1 billion, a $100 million increase.

Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science: $5.4 billion, a $50 million increase.

Advanced Research Agency-Energy (ARPA-E): $306 million, a $15 million increase.

DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy programs: $1.8 billion, a $248 million cut.

DOE Environmental Management: $6.2 billion, a $66 million cut.

DOE Fossil Energy Research and Development: $645 million, a $13 million increase.

Bureau of Reclamation: $1.1 billion, a $131 million cut.

Several amendments put forward by Democrats failed. One sought to strike policy riders in the bill to block the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing its Clean Water Rule and allowing firearms on Army Corps of Engineers land. Another failed amendment would have provided emergency funding for Flint, Michigan to address its drinking water crisis. 

In contrast, the Senate Energy and Water appropriations bill passed committee with bipartisan support. Its Energy and Water bill would provide $37.5 billion in FY 2017, slightly larger than the House measure. Below are funding levels for specific federal entities of interest to the ecological community compared to FY 2016 enacted levels:

The US Army Corps of Engineers: $6 billion, an $11 million increase.

The DOE Office of Science: $5.4 billion, a $50 million increase.

DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy programs: $2 billion, level.

DOE Environmental Management: $6.4 billion, a $133 million increase.

DOE Fossil Energy Research and Development: $632 million, level.

Bureau of Reclamation: $1.14 billion, a $327 million increase.

Like the House bill, the Senate bill prohibits EPA from revising enforcement of the Clean Water Act. The Senate did adopt an amendment that would increase total funding for ARPA-E to $325 million by a vote of 70-26.

Senate Democrats are blocking the energy and water spending bill over an amendment from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) that would bar the United States from buying heavy water, a product used in nuclear reactors, from Iran. Democrats view the amendment as a political ploy to undermine the Iran deal.

The House energy and water appropriations bill passed on May 1. Floor debate on the Senate bill will resume when the Senate reconvenes May 9. Both the House and Senate are in recess the week of May 2.

In a Statement of Administration Policy, the White House stated it would veto the House bill if the policy riders are maintained, but it has not yet taken a firm position on whether it would veto the Senate bill.

Click here to view additional information on the House bill.

Click here to view additional information on the Senate bill.

APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE AGRICULTURE SPENDING BILL INCREASES FUNDING FOR CONSERVATION, RESEARCH

On April 19, the House Appropriations Committee approved H.R. 5054, the House Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017.

The bill includes $21.3 billion in discretionary spending, $451 million lower than the FY 2016 enacted level. Overall US Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation programs are funded at $868 million, level with FY 2016. Below are funding levels for specific USDA entities of interest to the ecological community compared to FY 2016 enacted levels:

Agricultural Research Service: $1.15 billion, an $8 million increase.

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: $930.83 million, a $36.42 million increase.

National Institute of Food and Agriculture: $832.86 million, a $13.18 million increase.

Natural Resources Conservation Service: $855.26 million, a $4.4 million increase.

Click here for additional information on the bill.

SENATE: COMPREHENSIVE ENERGY REFORM BILL PASSES WITH BIPARTISAN SUPPORT

On April 20, the US Senate passed S. 2012, the Energy Policy Modernization Act by a vote of 85-12. Introduced by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the comprehensive energy legislation would modernize federal energy policies to prioritize investment in renewable energy sources and promote energy efficient infrastructure.

Among its conservation-related provisions, the bill would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund and create a National Park Maintenance and Revitalization Fund to address maintenance backlogs at national parks. The bill also incorporates (S. 1408), which would support research and development of fuel-efficient and advanced safety technologies for motor vehicles.

The 12 Senators who opposed the bill were all Republicans. Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) missed the vote.

The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy praising the bill for its conservation provisions. It also also expressed concern with other language, including restrictions on Department of Energy oversight of technology demonstration and commercial activity at National Laboratories and limitations on National Environmental Policy Act reviews.  Provisions in the bill to modernize the electric grid were also commended by Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

One of the bill’s  amendments from Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN),calls on the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Energy and US Department of Agriculture to craft a coordinated biomass policy that reflects “the carbon-neutrality of forest bioenergy.”

Environmental groups oppose the biomass provisions and others that expedite natural-gas-export permitting decisions.

The House passed a more partisan energy bill (North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015) in Dec. 2015 by a vote of 249-174. If a conference agreement were negotiated and signed into law, the legislation would be the first comprehensive energy policy package enacted since the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-140).

Click here to view additional information on the bill.

Click here to view the White House Statement of Administration Policy on S. 2012

EPA: STATES REQUEST GUIDANCE ON CLEAN POWER PLAN IMPLEMENTATION

Over a dozen state regulatory agencies are requesting that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provide additional guidance on how to implement the clean power plan rule in light of the Supreme Court’s stay on the rule.

The EPA cannot require states to comply with its power plant regulations during the stay, although states are can voluntarily meet the regulatory standards.

“We are a group of state environmental agency officials writing to request additional information and technical assistance related to the final Clean Power Plan in a manner that is respectful of the Supreme Court’s stay of the regulations until the conclusion of pending litigation,” states the letter. “This additional information and assistance will be important to our state efforts to prudently plan for and implement a variety of state and federal obligations.”

States signing the letter include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

Click here to view the letter.

 

NSF: NATIONAL SCIENCE BOARD REPORT EMPHASIZES VALUE OF HIGHER EDUCATION

On May 2, the National Science Foundation’s National Science Board released a policy companion brief outlining the economic benefits provided by the United States’ higher education system, particularly related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. 

The policy brief utilizes data from the most recent Science and Engineering Indicators report. It also includes a “sense of the Board” statement highlight the broad public benefits that the US higher education system provides.

 The National Science Board believes that higher education plays a broader, intangible, and crucial role in supporting the past, current, and future success of our democratic society. “This role must be highlighted and better appreciated,” reads the statement.

Click here to view the report.

POLICY ENGAGEMENT: SCIENTISTS ADVOCATE FOR NSF FUNDING ON CAPITOL HILL

On April 28, scientists and graduate students from across the United States visited Capitol Hill, meeting with 60 congressional offices to support $8 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Fiscal Year 2017. They highlighted how federal investment in scientific research, specifically related to NSF’s biological sciences directorate, benefits the communities the lawmakers represent. 

The Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) event is organized each year by the Ecological Society of America (ESA) and the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). BESC draws participation from Ph.D. scientists and graduate students affiliated with the two organizations. This year’s ESA Graduate Student Policy Award winner participants were Brian Kastl (University of California), Kristen Lear (University of Georgia), Matthew Pintar (University of Mississippi), Timothy Treuer (Princeton University), Jessica Nicole Welch (University of Tennessee), and Samantha Lynn Werner (University of New Hampshire).

Participants in the BESC Hill visits came prepared with personal stories describing how federal funding aids their research, helps them in advancing professional development and benefits their states. While firm commitments to support science funding varied from office-to-office, the graduate students and other participants mostly received collegial receptions from congressional staff and elected officials using local experiences to relate with the congressional staff and lawmakers.

The morning prior to the Hill visits, the students met informally with several ESA members working in policy-related positions in federal offices: Nadine Lymn (National Science Foundation), Rich Pouyat (US Forest Service), Alan Thornhill (US Geological Survey) and Brittany Marsden (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and 2014 GSPA recipient). The afternoon before the visits, all BESC participants were also briefed on the federal budget process and protocols regarding meeting with congressional offices on Capitol Hill.

FEDERAL REGISTER PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITIES

 

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service 

Notice: Public comments due June 28, 2016

Notice of Request for Revision to and Extension of Approval of an Information Collection; Scrapie in Sheep and Goats; Interstate Movement Restrictions and Indemnity Program

Environmental Protection Agency

Notice: Public comments due June 17, 2016

Extension of Public Comment Period for the Draft EPA-USGS Technical Report: Protecting Aquatic Life from Effects of Hydrologic Alteration

Proposed rule: Public comment period ends June 27, 2016

Ocean Disposal; Designation of a Dredged Material Disposal Site in Eastern Region of Long Island Sound; Connecticut

Federal Aviation Administration

Notice: Public comments due July 5, 2016

Agency Information Collection Activities: Requests for Comments; Clearance of Renewed Approval of Information Collection: Bird/Other Wildlife Strike Report

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Notice: Public comments due May 20, 2016

Notice of Availability of a Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment for Fisheries and Ecosystem Research Conducted and Funded by the National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science Center

Proposed Rule: Public comments due May 31, 2016

Intent to Conduct Scoping and Prepare a Draft Environmental Assessment for Changes in Regulations for Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries

US Department of Interior

Notice: Public comments due May 16, 2016

Draft 2016-2020 Environmental Justice Strategic Plan

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Proposed Rule: Public comments due May 19, 2016

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Proposed Rule to Amend the Listing of the Southern Selkirk Mountains Population of Woodland Caribou

Proposed Rule: Public comments due June 13, 2016

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Threatened Species Status for Platanthera integrilabia (White Fringeless Orchid)

Notice: Public comments due July 14, 2016

Availability of the Draft Midwest Wind Energy Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement

US State Department

Notice: Public comments due May 30, 2016

Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Upland Pipeline in Williams, Mountrail, and Burke Counties, North Dakota and Conduct a Public Scoping Meeting

CURRENT POLICY

Approved by House Committee

H.R. 5049, the NSF Research Facility Reform Act of 2016 – Introduced by House Science, Space and Technology Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), the bill would enhance management and oversight of major multiuser research facilities funded by the National Science Foundation. The bill passed the House Science, Space and Technology Committee April 27 by voice vote.

Passed House

H.R. 223, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative – Introduced by Rep. David Joyce (R-OH), the bill would reauthorize $300 million in spending for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The bill passed the House April 26 by voice vote. Companion legislation (S. 1024) introduced by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) was approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Feb. 24, 2016.

H.R. 1684, the Foreign Spill Protection Act of 2016 – Introduced by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), the bill would amend the 1990 Oil Pollution Act to include foreign offshore companies as entities liable for oil spill damage. The bill passed the House April 26 by voice vote and has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Introduced in Senate

S.2843, to provide emergency supplemental appropriations to address the Zika crisis – Introduced April 21 by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the bill would provide the Obama administration with its $1.9 billion request in emergency supplemental funding for its Zika initiative. The bill has been referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Companion legislation (H.R. 5044) has been introduced in the House by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY). 

S. 2886, the Fisheries Restoration and Irrigation Mitigation Act – Introduced April 28 by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the bill would reauthorize the Fisheries Restoration and Irrigation Mitigation Act of 2000. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. 

Approved by Senate Committee

S. 2848, the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 – Introduced by Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) and Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the $9.4 billion bill would reauthorize US Army Corps of Engineers water infrastructure, flood control, and environmental restoration programs. The committee approved the bill April 28 by a vote of 19-1. The bill also incorporates legislation (S. 2579) authored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to authorize $170 million to repair aging water infrastructure nationally and $50 million for health care needs linked to lead poisoning.

Click here for a summary of the bill.


Sources:House Appropriations Committee, Senate Appropriations Committee, Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation, the White House, Bloomberg BNAEnergy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, ClimateWire, Greenwire, the Hill 

April 13, 2016

In This Issue

SENATE: LAWMAKERS REVIEW USGS PROPOSED FY 2017 BUDGET REQUEST

 

The US Geological Survey (USGS) received bipartisan praise for its nonpartisan scientific research during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the agency’s $1.2 billion Fiscal Year 2017 budget request.

“I am among those who appreciate both the work of the USGS and the spirit in which it is typically undertaken,” said Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in her opening statement. “The agency is known for being non-partisan, and for seeking out concrete scientific evidence. And let me tell you, it’s quite refreshing to have an agency come before our Committee that does not have a significant regulatory agenda moving full speed ahead.”

She also praised the agency’s work to understand the nation’s water resources. Murkowski did press USGS Director Suzette Kimball on critical minerals research, urging the agency to give greater priority towards funding its energy and minerals division. Kimball noted that the USGS has an open a call to hire a new associate director for its energy and mineral resources program that would help advance and prioritize the mission area’s budget.

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) commended USGS’s climate change research and noted the importance of its satellite imagery in collecting climate data. Observing that Kimball refers to the USGS as “the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] of wildlife,” he also highlighted the importance of tracking and monitoring the spread of zoonotic diseases, including Ebola and Zika.

Sens. Franken and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) both voiced concern about the spread of Asian Carp. Sen. Stabenow referenced a bipartisan Congressional Great Lakes Task Force that urges federal agencies to develop technology that prevents expansion of Asian carp into the Great Lakes, noting “the fish aren’t waiting for us.”

Kimball remarked the primary challenge is the development of technology that can eradicate Asian Carp without affecting other biological organisms in the Great Lakes. Stabenow asked for an update on current microparticle-toxins research that targets Asian Carp. To date, the agency’s laboratory trials have been completed with field trials scheduled for this spring. Kimball pledged to keep the Senate updated.

Click here to view the hearing.

Click here to read more about the USGS budget request. 

USGS: STUDY AFFIRMS ECOSYSTEM RESTORATION PROMOTES ECONOMIC GROWTH

On April 6, the US Geological Survey (USGS) published a report finding that various ecosystem restoration efforts create jobs and benefit local, state, and national economies.

The study, examining 21 US Department of Interior (DOI) restoration projects, finds that for each dollar invested in ecosystem restoration, there is between double and triple the return in economic growth. The report quantified economic impact analysis by focusing on the jobs and business activity generated through money spent on ecosystem restoration activities.

The report was a collaborative effort between the USGS, the DOI Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Program, the DOI Office of Policy Analysis and the Bureau of Land Management Socioeconomics Program.

Click here to view the individual restoration projects.

Click here to review the report.

WHITE HOUSE: REPORT HIGHLIGHTS CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS ON HUMAN HEALTH

 

On April 4, the US Global Change Research Program released a three-year study that articulates global climate change health impacts. Most of the projections are fairly grim for human health, especially vulnerable populations of society. 

Certain demographics, including minority communities, pregnant women, children, elderly, low-income communities, and the mentally ill will suffer disproportionately from climate change impacts. 

Extreme heat-related deaths are projected to outweigh deaths from extreme cold. 

Agriculture workers will face unsafe  temperatures if they work outdoors. Medications taken by mentally ill people make them sensitive to heat, so increased heat will only exacerbate their problems.  Warmer winters and spring temperatures will promote a northward expansion of the ticks that carry Lyme disease and increase the number of cases of vector-borne diseases in the northern US.

Regarding extreme weather events, the report found that “climate change will increase exposure risk in some regions of the United States due to projected increases in the frequency and/or intensity of drought, wildfires, and flooding related to extreme precipitation and hurricanes.” These events will disrupt essential infrastructure, including water, power, transportation and emergency response services.

The assessment is a coordinated effort by eight federal agencies led by the US Environmental Protection Agency, US Department of Health and Human Services and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration along with over 100 experts from across the nation.

Click here to view the report.

UNITED NATIONS: RELIGIOUS GROUPS ASK CONGRESS TO SUPPORT GREEN CLIMATE FUND

 

A coalition of 120 multifaith groups penned a letter to Congress requesting approval of $750 billion for the Obama administration’s contribution to the international Green Climate fund. Signers of the letter include the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Green Muslims,  the National Council of Churches, and the Evangelical Environmental Network, and others. 

“Our scriptures and religious texts call us to care for God’s creation and our most vulnerable neighbors. We believe that climate change presents an unprecedented threat to all of Creation, but particularly to those living in poverty around the world,” stated the groups.

The Green Climate Fund is part of  the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change  used for mitigation and adaption efforts in developing countries. President Obama pledged the US would offer $3 billion over the next four years.

Click here to view the faith groups’ letter.

Click here for additional information on the Green Climate Fund

COURT: DIVERSE GROUPS FILE AMICUS BRIEFS IN SUPPORT OF CLEAN POWER PLAN

The US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan garnered backing by industry and mayor’s across the country.

Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft filed an amicus brief with the DC Circuit Court of Appeals on April 1 in support of the Plan. Twenty-eight states and more than 50 cities, together with The US Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities and the mayors of Dallas, Knoxville, and Orlando also submitted an amicus brief on April 1. Additionally, other religious and health groups sent amicus briefs.

The Clean Power Plan seeks to reduce US carbon emissions from the power sector (and primarily coal-fired plants) by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The EPA rule assigned states specific emissions targets, but allows each state the flexibility to tailor its plan.

Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for June 2, 2016 in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. A group of 27 US states opposed the Plan before the Supreme Court in February, which voted  by a 5-4 put to put it on hold until an appeals court can rule on the arguments.

Click here to read more about the mayor’s amicus brief.

EPA: STUDY CONCLUDES THREE PESTICIDES HARM MOST PROTECTED WILDLIFE

 

On April 6, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a draft biological evaluation stating that 97 percent of plant and animal species protected under the Endangered Species Act are likely being harmed by two widely-used pesticides: chlorpyrifos and malathion.

The two chemicals are used primarily in agriculture to kill insects, but similarly enter the environment through stormwater runoff. For chlorpyrifos and malathion, the study concludes that they are “likely to adversely affect” 1,725 out of the 1,782 plant and animal species protected under the Endangered Species Act.

A third pesticide used in agriculture, diazinon, is “likely to adversely affect” 1,416 listed species, or 79 percent of all protected animals and plants, EPA determined. The US Fish and Wildlife Service will review the findings and provide an analysis of the chemicals’ impact on federally protected species.

Click here for additional information on the study and how to comment on it.

ENDANGERED SPECIES; NMFS, FWS RELAX SEA TURTLE PROTECTIONS

 

On April 5, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service issued a final rule for the protection green sea turtles. The decision is part of a larger reclassification that separates green sea turtles into 11 distinct populations globally. The final rule moves two green sea turtle populations  in the Florida and Mexico region from “endangered” to “threatened.”

The federal agencies cited various coordinated conservation efforts, including protecting nesting beaches and reducing direct harvesting and fishery bycatch as critical in the species recovery. The revised protections go into effect on May 6.

NEON: BATTELLE ASSUMES MANAGEMENT

 
The management of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) transitioned from NEON, Inc. to Battelle on April 8, 2016.  Notably, its url changed  from www.neoninc.org to www.neonscience.org. Battelle is the world’s largest nonprofit research and development organization, with over 22,000 employees at more than 60 locations globally.  The management transition  appears to have gone smoothly between the NEON, Inc Board of Directors and Battelle at NEON’s Boulder headquarters.

“Battelle is excited to begin this new chapter for the Observatory,” said Manager of Battelle’s Ecology Business Rich Leonard. “We look forward to working with the scientific community to establish NEON as a transformational presence in the ecological sciences for decades to come.” 

NEON is a continental-scale ecological observation facility sponsored by the National Science Foundation to gather and synthesize data on the impacts of climate change, land use change and invasive species on natural resources and biodiversity.

  Read more about NEON. 

FEDERAL REGISTER PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITIES

 

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

Proposed rule: Public comment period ends June 3, 2016

Importation of Fresh Cherimoya Fruit from Chile into the United States

Environmental Protection Agency

Notice: Nominations due May 6, 2016

Request for Nominations of Candidates to the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) and the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB)

Proposed rule: Public comment period ends May 9, 2016

Approval and Promulgation of Air Quality Implementation Plans; Pennsylvania; Measurement and Reporting of Condensable Particulate Matter Emissions

Proposed rule: Public comment period ends May 11, 2016

Approval and Promulgation of Air Quality Implementation Plans; Texas; Interstate Transport of Air Pollution for the 2008 Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards

Proposed rule: Public comment period ends May 13, 2016

Finding of Attainment and Approval of Attainment Plan for Klamath Falls, Oregon Fine Particulate Matter Nonattainment Area

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Proposed rule: Public comment period ends June 6, 2016

Designating the Sakhalin Bay-Nikolaya Bay-Amur River Stock of Beluga Whales as a Depleted Stock Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act

National Park Service

Notice: Public comment period ends May 11, 2016

Fisheries Management, Aquatics Restoration, and Climate Change Response Plan, Environmental Impact Statement, Glacier National Park, Montana

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice: Public comment period ends June 10, 2016

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Draft Recovery Plan for Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse

Notice: Public comments due May 11, 2016

Habitat Conservation Plan for the Morro Shoulderband Snail; Sweet Springs Nature Preserve, Community of Los Osos, San Luis Obispo County, California

Proposed rule: Public comment period ends June 6, 2016

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Listing the Scarlet Macaw

Notice: Public comment period ends May 31, 2016

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Draft Recovery Plan for the Gulf of Maine Distinct Population Segment of Atlantic Salmon


Sources: Columbia Law School, Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, National Ecological Observatory Network, the White House, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, ClimateWire, Greenwire, the Hill

March 30, 2016

In This Issue

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE EXAMINES NSF FY 2017 BUDGET REQUEST

 

On March 22, a House Science, Space and Technology Research Subcommittee hearing examined the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) FY 2017 budget.

During the committee hearing, both Subcommittee Chair Barbara Comstock (R-VA) and Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) expressed general support for the work of the National Science Foundation. The questions from Comstock and House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) largely centered around investment in computer science and enforcement of the STEM Education Act of 2015 (P.L. 114-59), authored by Chairman Smith. The law adds computer science to the definition of STEM fields used by the United States federal government in determining grants and education funding.

In her remarks, NSF Director France Córdova noted that since 2010, research funding for the agency in constant dollars has declined, which affects the number of NSF grants awarded.

“The result is that the fraction of proposals that we can fund has decreased significantly. The funding rate was 30 percent in FY 2000 and is just over 20 percent now,” said Córdova. “Of great concern to us is that the situation is more challenging for people who haven’t previously received an NSF award, including young investigators. For them, the funding rate has gone from 21 percent in FY 2000 to 16 percent today.”

Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) voiced skepticism about new mandatory spending outlined in the agency’s budget request, but he remained hopeful that colleagues could support another bipartisan increase for NSF. He expressed support for continuing to give NSF discretion in how it prioritizes directorate funding, citing similar views recently iterated by House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Culberson (R-TX).

“Finally, I anticipate that there will be some discussion today about prioritizing some fields of science over others. So let me conclude by quoting from our colleague Mr. Culberson, Chairman of the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) Subcommittee on Appropriations. Following his own hearing last week with Dr. Córdova, in which he stated clearly that he does not want to appropriate by directorate at NSF, he said, ‘I think that we should let NSF pick the most promising areas and give the agency the flexibility to pursue them.’ I strongly agree with Mr. Culberson on those points.”

During the hearing, CJS Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Mike Honda (D-CA) questioned Córdova on how congressional funding by directorate would impact NSF. Cordova noted that congressional elections and changes in committee make-up would politicize the budget process. Additionally, it would bring instability and uncertainty to the existing scientific process used to determine funding, noting the scientific community opposes congressional funding by NSF directorate.

During the appropriations subcommittee hearing, Rep. David Jolly (R-FL) expressed support for keeping directorate-level funding at NSF from being politicized. He asked whether the agency preferred discretion to prioritize its funding because of differing political interests between Congress and the president or whether it’s because the agency wants the discretion to allocate funding where the latest breakthroughs are being made. Cordova responded that “it’s the latter for sure” and clarified that NSF priorities are decided by the potential for breakthroughs as well as the needs of scientific communities.

Click here to view the Research and Technology Subcommittee NSF hearing.

Click here to view the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee hearing.

HOUSE: NOAA WEATHER FORECASTING, CLIMATE RESEARCH EXAMINED IN FY 2017 BUDGET REQUEST

On March 16, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on the Environment convened for a hearing examining the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s FY 2017 budget request.

Environment Subcommittee Chairman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) and Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) touched on how NOAA funding affects their congressional districts. Chairman Bridenstine praised the NOAA FY 2017 budget request for continuing the Commercial Weather Data Pilot program authorized by H.R. 1561, the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act, noting that Oklahoma is regularly hit with severe weather. Bonamici expressed general support for NOAA’s budget request, but expressed concern with a proposed reduction of education and awareness grants through the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program.

Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) accused the budget request of prioritizing climate research over weather forecasting.

“Instead of hyping a climate change agenda, NOAA should focus its efforts on producing sound science and improving methods of data collection.  Unfortunately, climate alarmism often takes priority at NOAA,” said Smith. “This was demonstrated by the agency’s decision to prematurely publish the 2015 study that attempted to make the two-decade halt in global warming disappear.”

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) used her opening statement to emphasize the importance of NOAA’s climate change research and how monitoring rising temperatures and changes in ocean chemistry and ecosystems helps us better manage our fisheries, coasts, and improves the resiliency of our nation’s coastal communities. She also took the opportunity to address Chairman Smith’s investigation into NOAA’s climate science research.

“Before I yield back I’d like to address the majority’s ongoing investigation of NOAA’s climate scientists. It is clear to me that this investigation is unfounded and that it is being driven by ideology and other agendas,” Johnson countered. “The majority has asserted, without offering any credible evidence, that NOAA and the climate science community, at-large, are part of some grand conspiracy to falsify data in support of the significant role humans play in climate change. However, the overwhelming body of scientific evidence, across many different fields has shown that this is not the case.”

Click here to view the full hearing.

 

HOUSE: MEMBERS, USFS CHIEF DISCUSS GROWING COSTS OF WILDFIRES

On March 22, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands held a hearing examining the US Forest Service’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget request.

For most of the hearing, Republican committee members criticized US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell for failing to invest in states’ timber sales. The committee hearing also focused on the growing cost of wildfire suppression activities.

According to Tidwell, fire suppression activities, which take up roughly half of the Forest Service’s budget, will grow to 67 percent of the agency’s budget by 2025. Tidwell maintained that the agency’s budget constraints have led to the agency prioritizing funds for fire suppression at the cost of maintaining forests. He called for Congress to enact a new mechanism for funding wildfire suppression that eliminates the need to transfer funding from other agency accounts.

Federal Lands Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock (R-CA) argued that increasing logging and timber sales would make forests less vulnerable to wildfires and generate revenue for the government.

“The fact is fire expenses will grow every year until we restore sound forest management practices to our national forests and that in turn will require very different policies than those presented by the Forest Service today,” stated McClintock.

McClintock said that H.R. 2647, the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015, would improve federal management of US forests and address growing wildfire expenses. The bill, which passed the House along largely partisan lines in July 2015, would shorten National Environmental Policy Act reviews and expedite logging sales on federal lands. It would similarly limit environmental lawsuits that slow restoration projects. The Obama administration has threatened to veto the bill, stating it “falls short of fixing the fire budget problem and contains other provisions that will undermine collaborative forest restoration, environmental safeguards, and public participation across the National Forest System and public lands.”

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), who stood in as ranking member in place of Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA), called for Congress to reform the wildfire budget in a “permanent and sustainable” manner.

“Warmer average temperatures and prolonged periods of drought brought on by global climate change mean that longer more intense wildfire seasons are the new normal,” said Dingell. “The fact that last year’s omnibus spending bill appropriated enough money to fund this year’s anticipated wildfire costs is extremely encouraging, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that the wildfire budget needs a permanent fix.”

Click here to view the hearing.

APPROPRIATIONS: ESA SENDS FY 2017 FUNDING REQUEST TESTIMONY TO CAPITOL HILL

 In March, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) sent correspondence in the form of testimony to various appropriations committees in support of science funding.

In testimony submitted to the House and Senate Commerce Justice and Science appropriations subcommittees, ESA requested $8 billion in funding for NSF in FY 2017. The testimony highlights the critical role NSF funding plays in funding ecological research and furthering careers in science in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. It also encourages Congress to permit NSF to continue choosing funding levels for individual directorates.

ESA relatedly issued testimony to the House and Senate Interior and Environment appropriations subcommittees requesting restoration of funding for the Joint Fire Science Program. The program is funded by the Department of Interior and the US Forest Service. While the Interior portion of its funding was sustained in the FY 2017 budget request, its Forest Service funding was cut.

“Research in fire science is crucial to anticipating how ecosystems and landscapes may change in the future, how fire should be managed in both wildlands and developed areas, and where mitigation or adaptation strategies are most appropriate,” states the ESA testimony. “Reductions in support for JFSP are inconsistent with high-priority national research needs.”

ESA joined several organizational in statements sent to the Hill. The USGS Coalition, of which ESA is a member, sent testimony to the Hill in support of the Obama administration’s request of $1.2 billion for the US Geological Survey. ESA joined a Coalition for National Science Funding statement that supports $8 billion for the National Science Foundation in FY 2017. ESA also cosigned a letter from science education and conservation organizations supporting funding for environmental literacy grants at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Click here to view the ESA letters.

COMMERCE: 'NATURAL CAPITAL' WEBSITE TO PROVIDE ECOSYSTEM DATA FOR BUSINESS

The US Department of Commerce unveiled a new website for the business community that provides resources and information for incorporating natural capital into their planning and operations.

The agency defines natural capital as “the Earth’s stock of natural resources – air, water, soil, and living resources – that provide a range of goods and services on which the global economy depends.” The website is an interagency effort between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Economics and Statistics Administration. The website includes analyses of direct and indirect drivers of change and trends in ecosystem services along with how this data can be useful to the business community.

The initiative is in line with a “Final Ecosystems Goods and Services Classification System” report from the Environmental Protection Agency, geared towards businesses and communities to aid in quantifying the value of ecosystem services. Other classification systems include The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, and the Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services.  

Click here for additional information.

 

SUPREME COURT: NPS BAN ON HOVERCRAFT OVERTURNED

 

In a unanimous ruling, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of an Alaskan moose hunter, John Sturgeon, who challenged a National Park Service (NPS) ban on the use of hovercrafts in national parks. Sturgeon sued because a lower court ruling blocked him from riding a hovercraft in a national preserve. His position received unanimous support among the Alaskan congressional delegation and business entities.

The 8-0 decision overturns a ruling from the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals that held NPS has authority to enforce its hovercraft regulations on navigable waters in Alaska that run through state lands. In its ruling, the Court cited the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which requires certain accommodations for fishing and recreational activities specific to Alaskan lands that are not applicable to federal lands in the contiguous United States.

“ANILCA repeatedly recognizes that Alaska is different -from its ‘unrivaled scenic and geological values,’ to the ‘unique’ situation of its ‘rural residents dependent on subsistence uses,’ to ‘the need for development and use of Arctic resources with appropriate recognition and consideration given to the unique nature of the Arctic environment,'” Chief Justice Roberts wrote.

FEDERAL REGISTER PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITIES

 

 

Bureau of Land Management

Notice: Nominations due March 18, 2016

2016 National Call for Nominations for Resource Advisory Councils

Environmental Protection Agency

Notice: Public comment period ends April 8, 2016

Request for Nominations of Experts To Augment the Science Advisory Board Chemical Assessment Advisory Committee for the Review of the EPA’s Draft Toxicological Review of Hexahydro-1,3,5-trinitro-1,3,5-triazine (RDX)

Notice: Public comment period ends April 15, 2016

National Environmental Education Advisory Council; Solicitation of Applications

Proposed Rule: Public comment period ends April 25, 2016

Approval of Air Quality Implementation Plans; New Jersey, Carbon Monoxide Maintenance Plan

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Proposed Rule: Public comments due April 18, 2016

Endangered and Threatened Species; Identification of 14 Distinct Population Segments of the Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) and Proposed Revision of Species-Wide Listing

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice: Public comments due April 25, 2016

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Availability of Proposed Low-Effect Habitat Conservation Plan, Palmas Home Owners Association, Palmas Del Mar, Humacao, Puerto Rico

US State Department

Notice: Public comment period ends April 25, 2016

Notice of Availability of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Assessment and Draft Finding of No Significant Impact for the NuStar Dos Laredos (TX) Pipeline Presidential Permit Application Review

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 4751, the Local Enforcement for Federal Lands Act – Introduced March 16 by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the bill would terminate the law enforcement functions of the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to give states block grants that pay local law enforcement to patrol federal lands. The bill has been referred to the House Agriculture Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee.

H.R. 4776, the National Landslide Loss Reduction Act – Introduced Mar. 17 by Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA), the bill would authorize the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Director of the United States Geological Survey, to establish a national program to identify landslide hazards and reduce losses from landslides. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

H.R. 4803, the Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act – Introduced March 17 by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), the bill would authorize the National Science Foundation to award grants that fund online workshops, mentoring programs, undergraduate and graduate internships and other community outreach efforts that increase the participation of historically underrepresented demographic groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.  The bill has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

H.R. 4811, the Coral Reef Sustainability Through Innovation Act of 2016 – Introduced March 17 by Rep. Mark Takai (D-HI), the bill would authorize federal agencies to establish prize competitions for innovation or adaptation management development relating to coral reef ecosystems. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. Companion legislation (S. 2705) has been introduced by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI).

H.R.4827, the Coal Ash Landfill Safety Act – Introduced March 22 by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), the bill would require the US Environmental Protection Agency within six months to review municipal solid waste landfills used for coal ash disposal to determine whether their regulations meet health and environmental protection standards set by the agency’s coal ash disposal rule. The bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

H.R. 4857, the HBCU Innovation Fund Act – Introduced March 23 by Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC), the bill would establish a program at the US Department of Education to make grants to promote innovations at historically black colleges and universities. Among its provisions, the bill will award grants that support the development of programs and initiatives that enhance undergraduate and graduate participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. The bill has been referred to the House Education and Workforce Committee.

 

Passed House

 

H.R. 4742, the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act – Introduced by Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), the bill authorizes the National Science Foundation to support entrepreneurial programs for women. The bill has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Research and Technology Subcommittee Chair Barbara Comstock (R-VA) are lead cosponsors of the bill. The bill passed the House March 22 by a vote of 383-4. The four representatives who opposed the bill were Justin Amash (R-MI), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Glenn Grothman (R-KY), and Thomas Massie (R-KY).

 

H.R.4755, the Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers (INSPIRE) Women Act – Introduced by House Science, Space and Technology Research and Technology Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Comstock (R-VA), the bill authorizes the NASA Administrator to encourage women and girls to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and to pursue careers that will further advance America’s space science and exploration efforts. The bill passed the House March 22 by a vote of 380-3. The three representatives who opposed the bill were Justin Amash (R-MI), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), and Thomas Massie (R-KY).


Sources: Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, US Forest Service, the White House, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, ClimateWire, Greenwire, the Hill

March 17, 2016

In This Issue

WHITE HOUSE: US, CANADA ANNOUNCE CLIMATE CHANGE PLEDGE

 

On March 10, the President Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced their two countries have agreed to a series of efforts to cut methane emissions in the oil and gas sector to mitigate the impacts of global climate change. They also reinforced their commitment to joining and implementing the Paris climate change agreement.

Both nations plan to reduce methane emissions 40-45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025 and will work to reduce their hydrofluorocarbon emissions. The statement called for increasing renewable energy investments and “conserving Arctic biodiversity through science-based decision making.” The two nations also called for all oil and gas development in the Arctic to align with science-based standards.

Click here to view the full statement.

NSF: BATTELLE CHOSEN TO MANAGE NEON

 

 

NSF selected Battelle to complete the construction, commissioning and initial operations for the $432 million project National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) project. Battelle is a nonprofit organization with the mission of translating scientific discovery and technology advances into societal benefits. They currently manage seven national laboratories and have a long history of managing large and complex technical projects.

For the next 90 days, Battelle will be in a transition period to develop an organizational/management structure to prepare for the next steps to complete construction of the network in 20 ecologically distinct zones across the United States, from Alaska to Puerto Rico.

IPBES: NOMINATIONS SOUGHT FOR GLOBAL BIODIVERSITY, ECOSYSTEMS ASSESSMENT

 

 

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is seeking nominations of experts and fellows for its global assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Nominated experts should “have expertise in one or more disciplines within natural science, social science or humanities, represent or have expertise in indigenous and local knowledge systems, or be policy experts and practitioners.” Nominations are due May 5, 2016.

IPBES began a three-year study into humanity’s impact on ecosystems and biodiversity on March 1, 2016. The study, due in 2019, will examine a wide array of lifeforms, habitats, and measure progress towards meeting commitments under the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity of the United Nation’s Convention on Biological Diversity.

Established in 2012, IPBES includes 124 member nations, which participate in the report. It released its first summary on pollinators in late February 2016. The report found that bees, bats and other pollinators that play a critical role in food production are declining.

Click here for additional details on how to submit a nomination.

Click here to read the unedited advanced summary for policymakers for the pollinator report.

SUPREME COURT: OBAMA NOMINEE SUPPORTIVE OF EPA RULES

 

 

On March 16, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, Chief Justice of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

A Chicago native, Garland began his tenure as Chief Justice in 2013. He was first nominated to serve on the court by President Clinton in late 1995, but consideration of his nomination was postponed by the Republican-controlled Congress until after the 1996 presidential election. President Clinton renominated him in Jan. 1997, and he was confirmed by a bipartisan vote of 76-23. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) were among the 23 Republicans who voted against his appointment in 1997 to the US Court of Appeals.

His record suggests some level of deference to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulatory authority. Garland was part of a three-judge panel that upheld US EPA’s mercury standards for power plants in 2014. In American Corn Growers Association v. EPA (2002), the US Court of Appeals struck down EPA’s national park haze rules. Garland dissented asserting that the agency was entitled to deference in interpreting how pollution sources should be treated. In American Farm Bureau Federation v. EPA (2009), he ruled against the agency, although it was because he determined its particle standards were not strong enough and could put human populations at risk.

Whether or not Garland will receive hearings or a vote remains unclear. Senate Republican leadership has maintained that President Obama’s nominees should not receive a vote during a presidential election year. Some Republican Senators, including those up for reelection this year in swing states, have indicated they would be willing to meet with the nominee. Grassley is among those who agreed to meet with the nominee, but is to date, still unwilling to hold hearings or allow a vote on confirmation.

HOUSE: GOP UNVEILS FY 2017 BUDGET REQUEST

 

On March 15, House Republicans unveiled their FY 2017 budget resolution, which would cut the deficit by $7 trillion over the decades.

The non-binding resolution does not need to be signed by the president and does not hold the force of law. It does, however, serve as a reference for appropriators when they craft their spending bills for the coming fiscal year and forecasts what their policy priorities may be. Among its environmental priorities, the budget calls for continued oil and natural gas exploration and endorses hydraulic fracturing.

The budget also criticizes the US Environmental Protection Agency for its “unprecedented activist regulatory policy to the detriment of states, localities, small businesses, and energy consumers.” The budget also “rescinds unobligated balances from stimulus green energy programs, and calls for reforming and streamlining numerous other research & development programs across the Department of Energy.”

The 40-member far-right conservative House Freedom Caucus opposes the Republican budget. Given that the overwhelming majority (if not all) House Democrats are also expected to oppose it, the measure is unlikely to pass the House of Representatives.

Click here to view the full request.

FDA: TRIAL UNDER REVIEW FOR GENETICALLY ENGINEERED MOSQUITO IN FLORIDA

 

 

The Zika virus is prompting the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine to consider approving an Investigational New Animal Drug trial from Oxitec, Ltd., regarding the company’s genetically engineered mosquitoes. As part of the review, the FDA has published for public comment a draft environmental assessment submitted by Oxitec, Ltd. that assesses the potential environmental impacts of conducting a field trial in Key Haven, Florida and a preliminary finding of no significant impact.

Oxitec’s patented technique for genetically modifying insects is known as RIDL (Release of Insects carrying a Dominant Lethal genetic system). Oxitec’s male Aedes aegypti OX513A GM mosquitoes are intended to mate with wild females and produce offspring that dies as larvae with the intent of suppressing the mosquito population at the release site.

Ae. aegypti is known to transmit potentially debilitating human viral diseases, including Zika, dengue, yellow fever, and chikungunya and has been found in some US states, mostly in the South. Open field trials of the OX513A genetically engineered mosquito have been conducted in Brazil, the Cayman Islands, Panama, and Malaysia.

The FDA is accepting public comments on the draft environmental assessment and the preliminary finding of no significant impact in the Federal Register. Comments must be received by April 13.

Click here for information on how to comment.

INTERIOR: OBAMA ADMINISTRATION RENEGES ON ATLANTIC DRILLING

 

 

On March 15, Interior Sec. Sally Jewell and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Director Abigail Ross Hopper announced an updated proposal for the Obama administration’s Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022. The revised proposal removes any lease sales for the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic region.

The administration cited “current market dynamics, strong local opposition and conflicts with competing commercial and military ocean uses” in its decision not to lease in the Atlantic region. The plan does permit consideration of 13 leasing sales, 10 in the Gulf of Mexico and and one sale each in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, and Cook Inlet Program Areas offshore Alaska . The Department of Defense had expressed concern that drilling off the Atlantic might affect military training.

The plan also received bipartisan opposition from Members of Congress representing mid-Atlantic states. In Dec. 2015, Reps. Mark Sandford (R-SC) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) sent a letter to BOEM requesting a halt to the permitting and review process for potential seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean.

The OCS Lands Act requires the Secretary of the Interior to prepare a five-year program that includes a schedule of potential oil and gas lease sales and indicates the size, timing and location of proposed leasing determined to best meet national energy needs, while addressing a range of economic, environmental and social considerations. 

The updated draft plan is open for 90 days of public comment. Click here for additional information as well as directions on how to comment.

Click here to view the Sanford-Scott letter.

FWS: LOUISIANA BLACK BEARS DELISTED FROM ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT

 

On March 10, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that after 24 years of recovery efforts, it will delist the Louisiana black bear as a protected species under the Endangered Species Act.

According to FWS, the formal delisting followed a comprehensive agency scientific review process as well as the release of a post-delisting monitoring plan. The agency credits curbing the net loss of forested lands in the Lower Mississippi River Alluvial River Valley, public management efforts in national wildlife refuges, wildlife management areas and Army Corps of Engineers lands in helping to protect Louisiana black bear populations.

Click here for additional information on federal Louisiana black bear recovery efforts.

FEDERAL REGISTER PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITIES

CURRENT POLICY

 

Introduced in House

H.R. 4665, the Outdoor Recreation’s Economic Contributions (REC) Act – Introduced March 2 by Reps. Don Beyer (D-VA), David Reichert (R-WA), Peter Welch (D-VT) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the billwould direct the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis to assess the outdoor industry’s contribution to job creation and consumer spending. The bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

H.R. 4680, the National Park Service Centennial Act – Introduced March 3 by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), the bill establishes the National Park Centennial Challenge Fund in the US Department of Treasury to finance signature projects and programs to enhance the National Park System (NPS) as it approaches its centennial in 2016. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands.

H.R. 4742, the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act – Introduced March 15 by Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), the bill authorizes the National Science Foundation to support entrepreneurial programs for women. The bill has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Research and Technology Subcommittee Chair Barbara Comstock (R-VA) are lead cosponsors of the bill.

Passed House

H.R. 3797, the Satisfying Energy Needs and Saving the Environment (SENSE) Act – Introduced by Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA) the bill would exempt coal refuse facilities from US Environmental Protection Agency regulatory authority under the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. The bill passed the House March 15 by a vote of 231-183. Three Democrats joined all but eight Republicans in voting for the bill.

The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy declaring that the president would veto the bill.

 

 


Sources: Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, US Forest Service, the White House, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, ClimateWire, Greenwire, the Hill

March 2, 2016

In This Issue

POLICY ENGAGEMENT: ESA SCIENTISTS MEET ON CAPITOL HILL TO DISCUSS CLIMATE SCIENCE

 

In February, ESA participated in Climate Science Days, an annual outreach event sponsored by the Climate Science Working Group (CSWG) to advance understanding of climate change research among lawmakers on Capitol Hill.  ESA is a CSWG member as are other scientific associations.

Multiple teams of scientists, paired by geographic location, met with over 100 House and Senate offices and committee staff. Meetings with Republican Senate and House members were given priority along with lawmakers who serve on committees with jurisdiction over climate science issues.

ESA member participants included Matthew Hurteau (University of New Mexico), Knute Nadelhoffer (University of Michigan) and Adam Rosenblatt (Yale University). All three are seasoned veterans of Capitol Hill. Hurteau previously met with Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA), chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Forestry to discuss prescribed burns. Nadelhoffer testified before the House Energy and Commerce committee during a 2011 hearing examining climate science. Rosenblatt is a 2012 recipient of the ESA Graduate Student Policy Award.

Other participating CSWG organizations included the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Chemical Society, American Geophysical Union, American Meteorological Society, American Society of Agronomy, American Statistical Association, the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, the Geological Society of America, the Soil Science Society of America and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE EXPANDS REQUEST FOR NOAA CLIMATE SCIENCE DOCUMENTS

On Feb. 22, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) sent a letter to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) demanding more documents related to the agency’s analyses of global temperature data. This follows a previous subpoena sent to NOAA by the Committee on October 13, 2015. So far, NOAA has given the committee 301 pages of emails between NOAA officials (excluding scientists’ emails) regarding a study published last year in the journal Science.

The Committee’s latest letter is asking NOAA to provide documents with specific words: “Karl,” “buoy,” “ship,” “Night Marine Air Temperature,” “temperature,” “climate,” “change,” “Paris,” “U.N.,” “United Nations,” “clean power plan,” “regulations,” “Environmental Protection Agency,” “President,” “Obama,” “White House,” and “Council on Environmental Quality.”

The original Committee subpoena from October 2015 included requests for documents and communications from NOAA scientists. ESA and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, the American Statistical Association, and the Geological Society of America, sent a letter to the Committee objecting to subpoena.

“The integrity of federal scientists’ research published in the journal Science is being questioned despite a lack of public evidence of scientific misconduct. The progress and integrity of science depend on transparency about the details of scientific methodology and the ability to follow the pursuit of scientific knowledge,” the letter states.

Although the Committee is no longer seeking communications from NOAA scientists, the sparring between NOAA and the House Science Committee is likely to continue. So far, NOAA has not made a public statement about the recent request although the original deadline of Feb. 29 to submit the documents to the Committee has passed.

INTERIOR: NEW FRAMEWORK SEEKS TO IMPROVE FEDEARL RESPONSE TO INVASIVE THREATS

The Department of the Interior (DOI) released a report on Feb. 18: Safeguarding America’s Lands and Waters from Invasive Species: A National Framework for Early Detection and Rapid Response. 

The National Invasive Species Council (NISC) assisted DOI in the report’s development, including the US Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, the Environmental Protection Agency, State Department, and Department of Defense.

According to DOI, “Hundreds of invasive species are already established in the US, including brown rats, house mice, emerald ash borer, Asian carp, cheatgrass, kudzu, Asian tiger mosquitos, and the microscopic chytrid fungus that has devastated amphibian populations. Of substantial concern are the potentially harmful organisms that have not yet established in the US, but are threatening to do so. Examples include the spotted lanternfly and Zika virus.”

The report aims to improve federal agency coordination for early detection and rapid response (EDRR) efforts to eradicate invasive plant and animal species before they become established. It makes five recommendations for federal action: 

  • Establish a multi-stakeholder EDRR Task Force
  • Convene high-level decision makers to assess funding mechanisms for a nationwide preparedness and emergency response initiative
  • Advance pilot projects targeted for high priority areas
  • Scale partnerships across government and with private, non-profit and scientific communities
  • Foster the development and application of innovative scientific and technical approaches to EDRR

EPA: SUPREME COURT REJECTS CHALLENGE TO CHESAPEAKE BAY CLEAN-UP RULE

On Feb. 29, the US Supreme Court declined to hear a case challenging the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Chesapeake Bay clean-up plan. Farming and agricultural industry groups had sought to have the lower court ruling overturned.

The Supreme Court’s decision upholds the ruling of the 3rd US District Court of Appeals that the EPA is within its authority, under the Clean Water Act to enforce and oversee the pollution-reduction progress within the 64,000 square mile watershed. Stormwater pollution from impervious surfaces and agricultural runoff dump large amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment into the Bay causing algal blooms, that create dead zones. Toxic algae, such as some blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), can sicken people, as well, but animals are especially susceptible.

Representatives from conservation organizations lauded the ruling as a pivotal step towards  Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts.

EPA: NOTICE ISSUED TO BAN PESTICIDE HARMFUL TO AQUATIC ENVIRONMENTS

 

On March 1, the US Environmental Protection Agency issued a Notice of Intent to Cancel registration of the pesticide flubendiamide, which research suggests poses risks to aquatic invertebrates.

According to the EPA, the company that manufactures the pesticide, Bayer CropScience LP and Nichino America Inc., failed to comply with the condition to discontinue the product when a scientific study issued by the agency on Jan. 29 found the pesticide was harmful. EPA had requested that the company cancel the product by Feb 5.

Click here to read the full notice.

FEDERAL REGISTER PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITIES

Environmental Protection Agency

Notice: Nominations due April 15, 2016

Nominations request for the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Proposed Rule: Public comments due March 28, 2016

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removal of Solidago albopilosa (White-Haired Goldenrod) From the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Proposed Rule: Public comments due April 24, 2016

90-Day Finding on a Petition To List Three Manta Rays as Threatened or Endangered Under the Endangered Species Act

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 4582, the Save our Salmon Act – Introduced Feb. 23 by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), the bill would amend the 1992 Central Valley Project Improvement Act to remove the provision mandating increases in striped bass populations. The bill is intended to protect the region’s salmon, which are preyed upon by the striped bass. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

H.R. 4595, the Great Lakes Fishery Research Authorization Act of 2016 – Introduced Feb. 23 by Reps. Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Dan Benishek (R-MI), the bill would authorize $17.5 million in funding through FY 2026 for the US Geological Survey Great Lakes Science Center to conduct research into the Great Lakes sport and commercial fishery industry. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee. Companion legislation (S. 2569) has been introduced by Sens. Gary Peters (D-MI) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

Considered by House Committee

On March 2, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a mark-up of the following bills:

H.R. 223, Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2015 – Introduced by Rep. David Joyce (R-OH), the bill would reauthorize the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Great Lakes Restoration Initiative through Fiscal Year 2020.

H.R. 1684, the Foreign Spill Protection Act of 2015  – Introduced by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), the bill would impose penalties and provide for the recovery of removal costs and damages. It would also impose penalties on foreign entities responsible for oil spills that contaminate US waters. The bill would also provide for the recovery of removal costs and damages in connection with oil discharges from these sources.

Passed House

H.R. 2406, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act – Introduced by Rep. Rob Whittman (R-VA), the bill would expand access to hunting, fishing and recreational shooting on federal lands. The bill also would block the administration’s rule to restrict trade in elephant ivory and allows the importation into the US of polar bear hunting trophies taken before polar bears were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The measure prohibits the EPA from regulating lead contained in bullets, angling lures, and other hunting and fishing equipment.  The bill would also prevent the Army Corps of Engineers from restricting firearms on Corps properties. The bill passed the US House of Representatives Feb. 26 by a vote of 242-161. Twelve Democrats supported the bill while four Republicans joined most House Democrats in voting against it.

The White House released a Statement of Administration Policy declaring that the president would veto the bill due to “harmful provisions that impair Federal management of federally-owned lands and undermine important existing public land and environmental laws, rules, and processes.”

Click here to read the statement.

H.R. 4084, the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act – Introduced by Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX), the bill would amend the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to revise the objectives of the civilian nuclear energy research, development, demonstration, and commercial application programs of the Department of Energy (DOE) to encourage private investment in advanced nuclear reactor technologies in the United States. The bill passed the House Feb. 29 by voice vote.

Introduced in Senate

S. 2568, the California Desert Conservation, Off-Road Recreation, and Renewable Energy Act– Introduced Feb. 23 by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), the bill would create five off-road vehicle areas, designate 230,000 acres as wilderness areas, add 43,000 acres to Death Valley National Park and Joshua Tree National Park, designate 77 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers and clarify how desert land can be used for renewable energy development. The bill encourages the development of new renewable energy in solar zones established by the federal government to avoid conflicts over lands intended for conservation. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

S. 2583, the Firm, Unwavering National Dedication to Water (FUND Water) Act of 2016 – Introduced Feb. 25 by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the bill more than triples the authorized appropriations to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and Clean Water State Revolving Fund. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

S. 2587, the Cooper and Lead Evaluation and Reporting (CLEAR) Act of 2016 – Introduced Feb. 25 by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the bill updates the Safe Drinking Water Act to require the US Environmental Protection Agency to develop new regulations to improve reporting, testing and monitoring related to lead and copper levels in drinking water. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

S. 2588, Grants and Education To Tackle Homeowner Exposure to Lead Ensuring America Drinks Only from Unpolluted Taps (GET THE LEAD OUT) Act of 2016 – Introduced Feb. 25 by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the bill provides grants to reduce lead in community drinking water supplies and delivery systems. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.


Sources: Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, US Forest Service, the White House, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, ClimateWire, Greenwire, the Hill

February 17, 2016

In This Issue

WHITE HOUSE: PRESIDENT'S FINAL BUDGET PRIORITIZES CLIMATE, ENERGY RESEARCH

 

On Feb. 9, President Obama released the eighth and final budget of his administration. The president’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 budget request includes significant increases for federal agencies that conduct scientific research with a focus towards increasing investments in renewable energy. The president’s budget seeks to double funding for clean energy research and development over the next five years.[1] Programs that fund climate change and renewable energy research are the most consistently bolstered in the president’s budget request.

The 13-agency US Global Change Research Program that coordinates federal research is funded at $2.8 billion across the various agency budgets in support of the president’s Climate Action Plan. The bill maintains overall funding for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics at the FY 2016 level of $3 billion. The Budget funds competitive research grants through the Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative at $700 million, double the funding provided in FY 2016.

National Science Foundation

For the National Science Foundation (NSF), the request would provide $7.96 billion a $500.53 million (6.7 percent) increase over the FY 2016 enacted level.

The request provides $790.52 million for the biological sciences, a $46.35 million (6.2 percent) increase over FY 2016. The National Ecological Observatory Network would receive $65 million, a $20.96 million (47.6 percent) increase over FY 2016. The Division of Environmental Biology would receive $145.17 million, a $1.14 million (0.8 percent) increase over FY 2016. NSF programs that fund STEM education would see a 2.5 percent increase over FY 2016.

Click here for an overview of the FY 2017 NSF budget request.

Department of Agriculture

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) would receive $25 billion in discretionary spending, $1 billion less than FY 2016. The funding includes $1.11 billion to support 700 research projects at the Agricultural Research Service, a $22 million increase over the FY 2016 enacted level.

The US Forest Service would receive $4.89 billion, $787 million less than the enacted level.[2] The budget seeks to prioritize forest restoration and to reduce the threats posed by wildfires. The budget request would provide $291.98 million for Forest and Rangeland Research, an increase of $982,000 over FY 2016.

Additional USDA entities of interest to the ecological community include these programs:

Agricultural Research Service: $1.26 billion, a $100 million decrease.

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: $904 million, a $1 million increase.

National Institute of Food and Agriculture: $1.38 billion, a $48 million increase.

Click here for additional information on the USDA budget request.

Department of Energy

The administration requests $32.5 billion for the Department of Energy (DOE) in FY 2017, a $2.9 billion increase over FY 2016. Science, energy and DOE-related programs would receive $12.9 billion, a $2.8 billion increase over FY 2016.

The DOE Office of Science would receive $5.67 billion, a $325 million increase over FY 2016. The Biological and Environmental Research program would receive $662 million, a $53 million increase over FY 2016. DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would receive $2.9 billion, an $829 million increase over FY 2016. Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy would receive $500 million, a $209 million (71 percent) increase.

Click here for additional information on the FY 2017 DOE budget.

Department of Interior

The total budget request for the Department of Interior (DOI) is $13.4 billion, a $61 million increase over FY 2016. The budget funds the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center and its eight regional Climate Science Centers at $30.9 million, an increase of $4.5 million above 2016.

The US Geological Survey, which serves as DOI science arm, would receive $1.2 billion in FY 2017, a $107 million increase over the FY 2016 enacted level. Its natural hazards budget includes a $5.8 million increase for the Coastal and Marine Geology Program to help coastal communities address sea-level rise, severe storms and melting permafrost. The USGS budget for ecosystems would increase by $13.7 million over FY 2016.

The ecosystems budget includes $3.2 million in new funding for the Fisheries Program to develop decision support tools for water ecology, assess Great Lakes fisheries and process offshore samples that could provide an early warning for harmful algal blooms.

Core Science Systems would receive $118.4 million, a $6.8 million increase over FY 2016. Climate and Land-Use Change research would receive $171.4 million, a $31.5 million increase over FY 2016.

Below are funding levels for other entities and programs of interest to the ecological community:

Bureau of Reclamation: $1.1 million, a $159 million decrease.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management: $80 million, a $6 million increase.

Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.57 billion, a $55 million increase.

Land and Water Conservation Fund: $347 million, a $22.8 million increase.

National Park Service: $3.1 billion, a $250 million increase.

Click here for additional information on the FY 2017 DOI budget request.

Environmental Protection Agency

For the US Environmental Protection Agency, the president’s FY 2017 request would provide $8.27 billion in discretionary spending, a $127.31 million increase over FY 2016.

The budget prioritizes programs to help the nation mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The budget includes a $25 million increase in grants to states to help them work and planning related to the Clean Power Plan. The EPA’s Air, Climate and Energy Research Program would receive $101.15 million, a $9.25 million increase. The Climate Protection Program would receive $115.9 million, a $12.4 million increase.

EPA Science and Technology would be funded at $754.18 billion in FY 2017 under the president’s budget request, a $19.54 million increase over FY 2016.

EPA environmental education programs would receive $11.2 million, a $2.5 million increase over FY 2016. Within the increase, $2.3 million would support environmental education grants that support lead poisoning and polychlorinated biphenyl outreach efforts. Environmental justice programs would receive $15.9 million, an $8.6 million increase.

Click here additional information on EPA’s FY 2017 budget request.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would receive $5.85 billion, a $77 million increase over the FY 2016 enacted level. This budget also funds a new Integrated Water Prediction initiative to enhance water prediction and public forecasting and warning capabilities to help communities better prepare for and respond to the increasing frequency of droughts and floods.

Other budget items of interest to the ecological community include these areas:

National Ocean Service: $569.92 million, a $31.93 million decrease.

  • Coastal Science and Assessment: $87.11 million, a $4 million increase. (The increase would expand competitive research grants that address coastal ocean issues, including harmful algal blooms, hypoxia, and coastal ecosystem assessment).

National Marine Fisheries Service: $1.02 billion, a $44.23 million increase

Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research: $519,789 million, a $37.81 million increase.

  • Climate Research: $189.87 million, a $31.87 million increase.
  • National Sea Grant College Program: $68.9 million, a $4.1 million decrease.

National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service: $2.3 billion, a $45.67 million decrease.

National Weather Service: $1.2 billion, a $1 million decrease.

Click here for additional information on the FY 2017 NOAA budget request.

This year’s budget is unique in the sense that President Obama will be in office  only one-third (the first four months) of its implementation. It remains to be seen whether Congress will enact some or all of the budget before he leaves office or pass a continuing resolution (CR) that would allow the next president to enact the appropriations for the remainder of the next fiscal year.

By Dec. 21, 2000, President Clinton had signed all appropriations passed by a Republican Congress for Fiscal Year 2001. The bills were signed eight days after then-Vice President Al Gore had conceded the results of the highly contested 2000 presidential election. In 2008, a Democratic Congress chose to pass a CR that only funded FY 2009 appropriations through March 2009, after Republican President George W. Bush had left office. Concurrently, the results of the 2016 presidential election will likely have an impact on when Congress finalizes FY 2017 appropriations.

Click here for an overview of scientific research in the president’s FY 2017 budget request.

SUPREME COURT: SCALIA VACANCY COULD IMPACT CLEAN POWER PLAN

 

The death of Justice Antonin Scalia this past weekend could significantly impact legal challenges to various Obama administration initiatives, including its Clean Power Plan. Earlier this month, the court ruled 5-4 to stay the plan until US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit completes its review of the plan.

In their lawsuit, the US Chamber of Commerce, 27 state governments and energy companies accused the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of abusing its authority to require states to lower their carbon emissions and move to carbon-free sources of energy.

US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy signaled she would respect the ruling, but encouraged states to continue to implement proposals that reduce carbon emissions. Many states have indicated they will voluntarily continue to work to meet the Clean Power Plan emissions standards.

The stay means that the rule will likely not be implemented until 2017, if at all. If the court of appeals upholds the ruling, it is likely that the Supreme Court will want to consider the case. In order for the high court to hear a case, the votes of only four justices are necessary. 

In Scalia’s absence, the court is equally divided between four Republican-appointed justices and four Democratic-appointed justices. If the seat is filled by a Democratic president, the ideological shift in the court’s composition would bolster the Clean Power Plan’s chances of surviving consideration by the high court. In the meantime, a divided 4-4 ruling on a Supreme Court case would uphold the decisions of lower courts.

President Obama indicated he intends to nominate a successor when the Senate reconvenes next week. Both the House and Senate are in recess for the week-long President’s Day district work period. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) suggested the vacancy should be filled after the next president takes office 11 months from now. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) also stated that Supreme Court nominations should not be voted on during an election year.

“The fact of the matter is that it’s been standard practice over the last nearly 80 years that Supreme Court nominees are not nominated and confirmed during a presidential election year,” said Grassley in a press statement.

Congress failing to confirm a Supreme Court nominee for that long would be near unprecedented in modern history. In the past 30 years, Robert Bjork’s nomination took the longest period to reach a vote. The Senate rejected him on Oct. 23, 1987, by a vote of 58-42, 108 days after his nomination. President Reagan subsequently nominated Anthony Kennedy on Nov. 30, 1987. The Senate confirmed him on Feb. 3, 1988, by a vote of 97-0. Sens. McConnell and Grassley were among the Senators who voted in favor of Kennedy’s confirmation that year.

The longest vacancy since the court went to nine justices in 1869 was 391 days. After Abe Fortas had resigned from the court in May 1969, Richard Nixon’s first two attempts to replace him were narrowly rejected in November of 1969 and April of 1970.

NSF: HOUSE PASSES 'SCIENCE IN THE NATIONAL INTEREST' LEGISLATION

 

On Feb. 11, the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 3293, the Scientific Research in the National Interest Act. Introduced by House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), the bill would require the National Science Foundation (NSF) to award grants only for research projects that the agency can certify as being in the national interest.

The bill passed the House largely along partisan lines by a vote of 236-178. House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) opposed the bill. Four Republicans joined most Democrats in opposition to the bill. Research and Technology Subcommittee Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) was among seven Democrats who voted for the bill. Opponents of the measure argued the bill unnecessarily duplicates NSF existing processes for providing transparency and accountability for grant awards.

“Far from adding anything useful to the NSF’s review process, H.R. 3293 would add more bureaucracy and paperwork,” said Ranking Member Johnson. “But my biggest concern about these new requirements is they will push NSF reviewers to fund less high-risk research, which, by its very nature entails the pursuit of scientific understanding without necessarily any particular or known benefit.”

The Obama administration released a Statement of Administration Policy stating that the president would veto the bill.

“Contrary to its stated purpose, H.R. 3293 would add nothing to accountability in Federal funding for scientific research, while needlessly adding to bureaucratic burdens and overhead at the NSF,” read the statement. “And, far from promoting the progress of science in the United States, it would replace the clarity of the National Science Foundation Act of 1950 with confusing language that could cast a shadow over the value of basic research which, by its nature, will have outcomes with contributions to national interests other than the progress of science which cannot be predicted in advance.”

Click here to read the full statement.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: OBAMA ADMINISTRATION REVISES HABITAT PROTECTION RULES

 

On Feb. 5, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) finalized a series of revisions to the Endangered Species Act, which will change the way that federal wildlife managers determine how much habitat to provide for federally protected species of animals and plants.

Part of the revisions include a new rule that redefines what constitutes “destruction or adverse modification” of critical habitat. The previous regulatory definition was invalidated by court order in 2004. The final revised rule affirms existing agency practices to allow for some destruction of protected habitat if it keeps the larger conservation value of the area intact.

The second rule calls for economic analyses of critical habitats to be completed and made available for public comment at the time that the habitats are proposed for protection. The revisions also will require such analyses to focus on the “incremental effects resulting from the designation of critical habitat.”

Some conservation groups, including the Society for Conservation Biology and Defenders of Wildlife, have called for stronger rules that prevent the destruction of critical habitat in the project permitting process.

FWS and NMFS maintain the revisions will “provide a clearer, more consistent and predictable process for designating critical habitat.”

Click here for additional information.

FEDERAL REGISTER PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITIES

Department of Interior

Notice: Nominations due Feb. 18

Call for nominations for Invasive Species Advisory Committee

https://federalregister.gov/a/2016-02192

Environmental Protection Agency

Notice: Nominations due March 4, 2016

Request for Nominations to the National and Governmental Advisory Committees to the US Representative to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation

https://federalregister.gov/a/2016-02739

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Proposed Rule: Public comment period ends April 18, 2016.

Removing the San Miguel Island Fox, Santa Rosa Island Fox, and Santa Cruz Island Fox From the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, and Reclassifying the Santa Catalina Island Fox From Endangered to Threatened

https://federalregister.gov/a/2016-02669

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 4483, the Gold King Mine Spill Accountability Act of 2016 – Introduced Feb. 4 by Rep. Steven Pearce (R-NM), the bill would commission a special investigation into potential Environmental Protection Agency wrongdoing in the wake of the Gold King mine spill, which discharged three million gallons of mining wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

The bill has been referred to the House Committees on Transportation and Infrastructure, Judiciary, Rules, Energy and Commerce, and Agriculture.

H.R. 4545, the Tennessee Wilderness Act – Introduced Feb. 11 by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), the bill would designate specified federal lands in Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee as wilderness and as additions to existing components of the National Wilderness Preservation System. The bill has been referred to the House Agriculture Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee.

H.R.4568, the Cooperative Research and Development Fund Authorization Act of 2016 – Introduced Feb. 12 by Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), the bill would make funds available to the Department of Energy National Laboratories for the Federal share of cooperative research and development agreements that support maturing Laboratory technology and transferring it to the private sector. The bill has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Passed House

H.R. 4470, the Safe Drinking Water Improved Compliance Act – Introduced Feb. 4 by Reps. Daniel Kildee (D-MI) and Fred Upton (R-MI), the bill would strengthen requirements to have the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notify the public when concentrations of lead in drinking water exceed actionable levels. It requires the EPA to create a strategic plan for handling and improving information flow between water utilities, the states, the EPA, and affected consumers. The bill passed the House Feb. 10 by a vote of 416-2.

Introduced in Senate

S.2481, the Everglades for the Next Generation Act – Introduced Feb. 2 by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the bill would provide for expedited project implementation relating to the comprehensive Everglades restoration plan. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

S. 2532, to authorize appropriations for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund – Introduced by Feb. 10 Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the bill would triple authorization levels for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, raising them to 2009 funding levels that included increases from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.  The legislation intends to help communities contend with water infrastructure tainted by lead and other pollutants. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. 


Sources: Department of Agriculture, Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, US Forest Service, the White House, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, ClimateWire, Greenwire, the Hill, NPR

February 3, 2016

In This Issue

EPA: FLINT WATER CRISIS GETS ATTENTION FROM WHITE HOUSE, CONGRESS

On Jan. 16, the president signed an official state of emergency declaration for Flint Michigan in light of the city’s drinking water crisis. The action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts to alleviate or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the region of Genesee County, MI.

Before 2014, Flint drew its water from Lake Huron. However, disagreements over a short-term supply contract with Detroit led city officials to temporary switch the source of Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. Researchers from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University subsequently found that Flint River water is highly corrosive and picks up lead from household pipes and enters the drinking supply.

Despite complaints from residents and multiple cases of sick children, local public officials maintained for months that the community’s drinking water was safe. Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI) switched back to use of Detroit’s water system from Lake Huron in Oct. 2015. Flint residents have brought suit against the city for ignoring evidence that Flint River water was toxic for the 18 months it was used for its drinking water supply.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has also been accused of not implementing corrosion controls for Flint’s drinking water coming from the Flint River.  Several environmental and civil rights groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the American Civil Liberties Union, have also sued city and state officials over their response to the drinking water crisis.

Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Gary Peters (D-MI) are working on an amendment to the Senate energy bill under consideration this week in the Senate that would allocate $400 million in federal aid for water infrastructure improvements in Flint.

In January, House Energy and Commerce Committee members sent a bipartisan letter to US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy requesting a briefing on the water crisis in Flint, MI.

The letter was led by Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Environment and Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL) and Environment and Economy Subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NJ).

“It is our understanding that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established a Safe Drinking Water Task Force to provide assistance to Flint and has announced plans to audit Michigan’s Drinking Water Program. We urgently request a briefing on these matters and EPA’s anticipated role as the situation in Flint continues to unfold,” stated the letter.

The agency subsequently briefed staff members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

On Feb. 3, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee became the first congressional committee to hold a hearing on the Flint water crisis. 

Click here to view the congressional hearing.

Click here to view the White House statement on the emergency declaration.

Click here to view the House letter.

PUBLIC HEALTH: ZIKA VIRUS DECLARED INTERNATIONAL EMERGENCY

On Feb. 1, leaders of the World Health Organization declared the spread of the Zika virus as a global health emergency and predicted as many as four million cases expected across Central and South America.

The virus, transmitted by mosquitoes, causes mild, dengue fever-like symptoms in healthy adults. It is also linked to birth defects in cases where pregnant women are infected with the virus. In recent years, multiple mosquito-borne illnesses have increasingly either appeared for the first time or reestablished themselves in North and South America. The virus originated in Uganda. Monkeys and humans serve as the primary hosts of the virus.

Human migration, climate change, and urbanization are cited as factors that may contribute to the spread of these diseases. Rising global temperatures and longer periods of warm weather aide both mosquito breeding cycles and the expansion of their geographical range. Human communities provide multiple sources of standing water that serve as breeding grounds for the insects, which include flower pots and drainage ditches.

The Centers for Disease Control has stated that an outbreak in the United States is unlikely, though the Obama administration is monitoring the spread of the virus and is taking precautionary steps in the event of an outbreak.

Click here to view a White House fact sheet on the Zika virus.

NSF: NSB REPORT HIGHLIGHTS INTERNATIONAL TRENDS IN RESEARCH INVESTMENT

On Jan. 19, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) National Science Board released its biennial Science and Engineering Indicators report.

The report highlights United States lead throughout the world in its investment in research and development (R&D), but notes that China, South Korea, and India are rapidly increasing their investments. According to the report, China is now the second-largest performer of R&D, accounting for 20 percent of global R&D. The United States accounts for 27 percent of global R&D.

China leads the United States as the world’s number one producer of undergraduates with degrees in science. China graduates 49 percent of science bachelor’s degrees, compared to 33 percent of bachelor’s science degrees given in the United States.

Among issue areas of public interest, the report indicates 86 percent of respondents were either “very interested” or “somewhat interested” in scientific discovery. Only 9 percent of respondents were “not at all interested” in environmental pollution while 43 percent said they were “very interested” and 46 percent responded as “moderately interested.” New medical discoveries generated the highest interest while space exploration and foreign policy generated the most disinterest.

The report notes that six agencies provide 92 percent of federal funding for academic R&D in science and engineering fields: the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Department of Agriculture.

Click here to view the full report.

ESA 2015 ANNUAL REPORT: CELEBRATING OUR PAST & LOOKING TO OUT FUTURE

ESA turned 100 this year. It was a moment to take stock not only of our past, but of the future of ecology, its relevance to the future of the biosphere, and the role of humans as planetary stewards.

There is a significant change to the ESA 2015 Annual Report this year. We moved to an online format that allows multimedia content and gives readers an option to click through for more details on specific highlights and projects. Our program and focal areas provide a snapshot of activities conducted by the ESA staff and members.

POLICY ENGAGEMENT: ESA ANNOUNCES 2016 GSPA RECIPIENTS

The Ecological Society of America selected the 2016 recipients of its annual Graduate Student Policy Award: Brian Kastl (University of California), Kristen Lear (University of Georgia), Matthew Pintar (University of Mississippi), Timothy Treuer (Princeton University), Jessica Nicole Welch (University of Tennessee), and Samantha Lynn Werner (University of New Hampshire).

Kastl’s PhD research on ecosystem services aims to inform the design of policies that support sustainable watershed management.

As a PhD student in the University of Georgia’s Integrative Conservation program, Lear has worked with a Mexican non-governmental organization to develop science-based conservation policies for the Mexican Long-nosed bat.

Pintar interned with the Prince William Forest Park and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. As an undergrad, he studied the effects of acidification on ovenbird territory size within the Bear Brook Watershed in Maine.

Treuer’s NSF-funded research has led to the development of a technique of using arrays of microphones synced by GPS partition to investigate how acoustically active species partition interact and coexist in their environment.

While pursuing her PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Welch is involved with a diverse array of public outreach and volunteer work promoting science education. She also served as a SEEDS mentor during ESA’s 2015 centennial meeting.

Werner’s undergraduate climate change research was also funded by NSF. Through her Master’s degree in environmental economics, she hopes to help policymakers better understand the link between agro-ecological sustainability and economic vitality.

The six students will travel to Washington, DC to participate in policy training sessions as well as meetings with their US Representative and Senators on April 27-28, 2016. On Capitol Hill, they will team with other scientists to discuss with lawmakers the importance of federal funding for the biological sciences, particularly the National Science Foundation.

NSF: PAST ESA PRESIDENT HONORED WITH MEDAL OF SCIENCE AWARD

Ecological Society of America Past-President Simon Levin (1990-1991) is among eight recipients of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) National Medal of Science award.

Levin is also a recipient of the MacArthur Award, the Distinguished Service Citation and ESA’s Eminent Ecologist Award.

Created by statute in 1959, the National Medal of Science was and is administered for the White House by NSF. Awarded annually, the medal recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to science and engineering. The president receives nominations from a committee of presidential appointees based on their extraordinary knowledge in and contributions to the sciences.

Click here to view the recipients.

FEDERAL REGISTER PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITIES

 

Council on Environmental Quality

Notice: Co-sponsorship applications due Feb. 12, 2016.

Opportunity for Sponsorship of the GreenGov Symposium

https://federalregister.gov/a/2016-01132

 

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Proposed Rule: Public comments due Feb. 22, 2016

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Proposed Removal of the Scarlet-Chested Parakeet and Turquoise Parakeet From the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife

https://federalregister.gov/a/2016-01142

Notice: Public comments due Feb. 16, 2016

Draft Methodology for Prioritizing Status Reviews and Accompanying 12-Month Findings on Petitions for Listing Under the Endangered Species Act

https://federalregister.gov/a/2016-00616

 

US Geological Survey

Notice: Nominations due by Feb. 22, 2016

Reopening of Nomination Period for State Government Members of the Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science

https://federalregister.gov/a/2016-01149

CURRENT POLICY

 

Considered by House Committee

On Feb. 3, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans held a hearing on the follow bills:

H.R. 4245, to exempt importation and exportation of sea urchins and sea cucumbers from licensing requirements under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 – Introduced by Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Bruce Poliquin (R-ME), the bill would exempt sea urchins and sea cucumbers from federal inspection when they are imported or exported from the United States.

H.R. 3070, the EEZ Clarification Act – Introduced by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), the bill would modify federal boundaries between areas south of Montauk, New York, and Point Judith, Rhode Island,  so that sport fishermen and charter boats can catch striped bass in Block Island Sound. 

Introduced in Senate

S. 2466, the Improving Notification for Clean and Safe Drinking Water Act – Introduced by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), the bill would authorize the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to notify the public if a state agency and public water system are not taking action to address a public health risk associated with drinking water requirements. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Approved by Senate Committee

On Jan. 20, the Environment and Public Works Committee approved the following bills:

S. 659, the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015 – Introduced by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), the bill would increase public land access for sportsmen. The bill includes language that would ban EPA from regulating lead ammunition and contaminants in fishing gear under the Toxic Substances Control Act. The bill would also reauthorize the North American Wetlands Conservation Act though Fiscal Year 2020.

S. 1024, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2015 – Introduced by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), the bill would reauthorize EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative through fiscal 2020.

S. 1674, the Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Act – Introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), the bill would reauthorize restoration efforts for the Long Island Sound estuary.

S. 1724, the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act of 2015 – Introduced by Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), the bill would Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), the bill would provide for environmental restoration activities and forest management activities in the Lake Tahoe Basin.


Sources: Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation, the White House, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, ClimateWire, Greenwire, the Hill, Roll Call

January 13, 2016

 

In This Issue

WHITE HOUSE: OBAMA SOTU REFLECTS ON ACCOMPLISHMENTS, CALLS FOR COOPERATION

For his final State of the Union address, President Obama sought a conciliatory and hopeful tone while requesting that Congress allay partisan tensions to reach consensus on advancing his remaining priorities.

“Now, I understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we will achieve this year are low. But, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach that you and other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families.”

Regarding his accomplishments and priorities, the president defended his administration’s actions to address climate change and increase investments in renewable energy.

“Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You will be pretty lonely because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it,” said Obama.

“But even if — even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record until 2015 turned out even hotter — why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?”

He also referenced the United Nations climate change agreement reached last year when pushing the need for American leadership worldwide.

“When we lead nearly 200 nations to the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change, yes, that helps vulnerable countries, but it also protects our kids.”

In the final portion of his speech, the president lamented that he had failed to alleviate brinksmanship  between the two parties and called upon Congress and the American people to get engaged in improving discourse and the political process. President Obama suggested one solution could be allowing bipartisan entities to draw congressional districts instead of state legislatures.

“There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber — good people — who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base. I know; you’ve told me. It’s the worst-kept secret in Washington. And a lot of you aren’t enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor,” said President Obama.

“But that means if we want a better politics — and I’m addressing the American people now — if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a president. We have to change the system to reflect our better selves. But I can’t do these things on my own. Changes in our political process — in not just who gets elected, but how they get elected — that will only happen when the American people demand it. It depends on you. That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people.”

While there will be little political incentive for Congress and the administration to work together this election year, there will also be fewer opportunities for Republicans to block the president’s executive actions, at least until the fall. The federal government is funded through Sept. 30, and the debt ceiling is not expected to be reached again until sometime in 2017.

Click here to read the president’s full State of the Union remarks.

FWS: INTERIM RULE WOULD PROHIBIT IMPORTATION OF 201 SALAMANDER SPECIES

The US Fish and Wildlife Service published an interim rule that would prohibit the importation and trade of 201 salamander species. The rule is a preemptive effort to prevent the fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), which has decimated salamander populations in Europe through the pet trade, from spreading to native salamander populations in the United States. The Ecological Society of America (ESA) wrote a letter to the Service in November 2014 requesting the importantion ban. ESA Rapid Response member and amphibian expert, Dr. Karen Lips’ (University of Maryland), research on host-pathogen ecology and Bsal was used to inform the scientific understanding of Bsal’s threat.

The agency may grant permits for the importation and transportation of listed species for scientific, medical, educational or zoological purposes. The rule allows owners of listed animals to keep them as states allow but prohibits interstate transport for all animals listed as alive or dead under the rule.

The interim rule would take effect on Jan. 28, 2016. Click here for additional information.

Click here to read ESA’s letter to FWS.

FWS: WEST INDIAN MANATEES RECLASSIFIED UNDER ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT

On Jan. 7, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed to downgrade its listing of the West Indian manatee from “endangered” to “threatened.” The agency cites “significant improvements in its population and habitat conditions and reductions in direct threats” since the manatees’ listing as the rationale for the reclassification.

The Endangered Species Act defines an endangered species as one that is currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, and a threatened species as one that is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. The new listing does not affect current federal protections for the species.

According to FWS, the Florida manatee population has increased by 500 percent over the last 25 years. The agency worked with state and local officials to establish over 50 manatee protection areas that helped the species recover. Their full geographic range today includes at least 13,000 manatees.

Click here to view the full FWS announcement:

http://www.fws.gov/news/ShowNews.cfm?ref=u.s.-fish-and-wildlife-service-to-reclassify-west-indian-manatee-from-&_ID=35428

INTERIOR: SENATE CONFIRMS KIMBALL AS USGS DIRECTOR

The US Senate voted to confirm Suzette Kimball as director of the US Geological Survey (USGS) on Dec. 18, one of its final acts before adjourning for the remainder of 2015.

President Obama first nominated Kimball in Jan. 2014. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee had approved her nomination in June 2014, but the full Senate had not voted on her before the 113th Congress adjourned at the end of that year, so the process began again when the 114th Congress convened in Jan. 2015. The nomination was also delayed in part because Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who chairs the committee, had concerns with various Department of Interior regulations that impact Alaska.

Having served as acting-director, Kimball’s general duties will not change. The USGS is uniquely non-partisan, given that it does not issue regulations and chiefly functions as the US Department of Interior’s science arm. 

Click here to read Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s statement on the confirmation.

EPA: RISK ASSESSMENT CONCLUDES COMMON PESTICIDE HARMS BEES

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a preliminary pollinator risk-assessment that finds applying the pesticide imidacloprid to crops is harmful to the bees that pollinate them.

The assessment was prepared in collaboration with California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation. EPA also collaborated with Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency, which recently released an imidacloprid pollinator assessment that found the same preliminary conclusions as the EPA report.

The assessment is the first in a series of four risk assessments of neonicotinoid insecticides that are potentially harmful to pollinators. Preliminary pollinator risk assessments for the pesticides clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran are scheduled to be released for public comment in Dec. 2016.

Click here for additional information on EPA’s pollinator risk assessment activities.

EPA: NOMINATIONS OPEN FOR NEW ENGLAND ENVIRONMENTAL MERIT AWARD

 

The US Environmental Protection Agency is accepting nominations for its 2016 Environmental Merit Awards.

The awards are open to “scientists, community activists, business representatives, public officials and other individuals committed to preserving the environment” who reside within EPA’s Region 1 (New England). In addition to individuals, award categories are open to businesses, governmental entities and other organizations.

Nominations are due Feb. 12, 2016. Click here for additional information on specific award categories and the award nomination process.

FEDERAL REGISTER PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITIES

 

Environmental Protection Agency

Notice: Public comments due March 7, 2016

Registration Review; Draft Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessments for Pesticides

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-33298

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Proposed Rule: Public comments due March 14, 2016

90-Day Finding on a Petition To List the Oceanic Whitetip Shark as Threatened or Endangered Under the Endangered Species Act

https://federalregister.gov/a/2016-00384

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Interim Rule: Public comments due March 14, 2016

Listing Salamanders Due to Risk of Salamander Chytrid Fungus

https://federalregister.gov/a/2016-00452

Proposed Rule: Public comments due April 8, 2016

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-Month Finding on a Petition To Downlist the West Indian Manatee, and Proposed Rule To Reclassify the West Indian Manatee as Threatened

https://federalregister.gov/a/C1-2015-32645

Proposed Rule: Public comments due Mar. 14, 2016

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-Day Findings on 17 Petitions on Caribbean skinks, grizzly bear (Cabinet-Yaak, MT population), Yellowstone bison, fisher and insect species.

https://federalregister.gov/a/2016-00157

US Forest Service

Proposed Rule: Public comments due Jan. 15, 2016

Extension of Comment Period on the Proposed Rule on Roadless Area Conservation; National Forests System Lands in Colorado

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-32872

Notice: Public comments due Feb. 17, 2016

Revision of the Land Management Plan for the Chugach National Forest, Alaska

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-32043

CURRENT POLICY

 

Considered in House

H.R. 1644, the Supporting Transparent Regulatory and Environmental Actions in Mining (STREAM) Act – Introduced by Rep. Alexander Mooney (R-WV), the bill would prohibit the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement from enforcing a rule intended to protect waterways from coal mining. The bill passed the House Jan. 12 by a vote of 235-188 with four Democrats joining all but 10 Republicans in voting for the measure.

The White House released a Statement of Administration Policy threatening to veto the bill, asserting it would “prevent the restoration of hundreds of streams, result in deterioration of water quality for thousands of stream miles, and create sustained regulatory uncertainty, as well as public health impacts for downstream communities.”

Click here to read the full statement.

Passed House

 S. 1115, the Grants Oversight and New Efficiency (GONE) Act – Introduced by Sens. Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), the bill would require agencies to close out expired grant accounts with zero-dollar balances and undisbursed funding. It would require federal agencies to submit a report to Congress that identifies remaining expired grants. Following the submission of this report to Congress, agencies would then have one year to confirm all expired grants are closed. Additionally, the inspector general of any agency receiving over $500 million in annual grant funding would be required to conduct a risk assessment to determine if an audit or review of the agency’s grant closeout process is necessary. The bill passed the House Jan. 11 by voice vote after passing the Senate by unanimous consent. The president is expected to sign the measure.

S.J.Res.22, Providing for congressional disapproval of the rule submitted by the Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency relating to the definition of “waters of the United States” under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act – Introduced by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), the joint resolution expresses disapproval of the Obama administration’s effort to clarify federal jurisdiction of waterways under the Clean Water Act. The bill passed the House Jan. 13 by a vote of 253-166 with 12 Democrats joining all but one Republican in voting for the resolution.  The president is expected to veto the measure.

Vetoed by President

S.J.Res. 23, Providing for congressional disapproval of a rule submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency relating to  relating to “Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from New, Modified, and Reconstructed Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units” – Introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the joint resolution expresses disapproval with the Clean Power Plan’s regulations on carbon pollution from new power plants or power plants undertaking significant modifications. The bill passed the House Dec. 1 by a vote of 235-188 after passing the Senate by a vote of 52-46. The president vetoed the measure on Dec. 18.

In the House, 10 Republicans joined all but four Democrats in opposing the resolution. Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte (NH), Susan Collins (ME) and Mark Kirk (IL) joined most Democrats and Independents in voting against the resolution. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (WV), Joe Donnelly (IN) and Heidi Heitkamp (ND) voted with the majority of Senate Republicans in support of the measure.

S.J.Res. 24, Providing for congressional disapproval of a rule submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency relating to “Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units” – Introduced by Sen. Shelley Moore-Capito (R-WV), the joint resolution expresses disapproval with the Clean Power Plan’s regulations on carbon pollution from existing power plants. The bill passed the House Dec. 1 by a vote of 242-180 after passing the Senate by a vote of 52-46.

In the House, two Republicans joined all but four Democrats in opposing the resolution. Republican Sens. Ayotte, Collins, and Kirk joined most Democrats and Independents in voting against the resolution. Democratic Sens. Manchin, Donnelly, and Heitkamp voted with the majority of Senate Republicans in support of the measure.

Signed into law

Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, P.L. 114-114 – Introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), the bill would ban the use of plastic microbeads in personal care products. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent Dec. 18 after passing the House earlier that month. The president signed the measure into law Dec. 28, 2015.


Sources: US Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, the White House, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, ClimateWire, Greenwire, National Journal, the New York Times, the Hill, Roll Call

December 16, 2015

In This Issue

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: WORLD LEADERS REACH FIRST EVER CLIMATE ACCORD

On Dec. 12, over 190 countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed to the first-ever international climate change agreement in Paris. The 31-page agreement sets a goal of limiting global temperature increases to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and  pursues efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Assessments on the progress of countries’ pledges will be conducted every five years, beginning in 2018. All countries will update and revise existing climate targets every five years, starting in 2020 with a goal of each target reflecting progress over the prior one. As part of the agreement, developed countries will pledge to raise $100 billion to aid developing nations in tackling climate change. For the first time, the agreement requires all countries to report on national inventories of emissions by source, allowing the general public to understand better the level of pollution generated by countries around the world.

The agreement is considered a win for President Obama, who had pledged that the United States would lead by example in mitigating the effects of climate change.

“In short, this agreement will mean less of the carbon pollution that threatens our planet, and more of the jobs and economic growth driven by low-carbon investment,” said President Obama.  “Full implementation of this agreement will help delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change, and will pave the way for even more progress, in successive stages, over the coming years.”

Since the accord does not legally bind the United States to anything it has not already agreed to in previous treaties, the Obama administration argues that it does not require Senate ratification. Nonetheless, key Republican leaders are skeptical of the agreement and can be expected to continue efforts to block the administration from implementing climate regulations.

“The Obama administration’s Paris climate deal will increase the control of the federal government over the lives of Americans, all for little environmental benefit,” said House Science and Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “The cornerstone of the president’s pledge, the so-called Clean Power Plan regulation, would cost billions of dollars and risk thousands of jobs.”

“The ‘agreement’ sets an effort towards a 1.5-degree cap on increase is no more realistic or technologically feasible than two degrees simply because it’s in the document,” said Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK).  “The agreement further provides that developed countries like the United States shall provide financial resources to assist developing countries with no specificity despite ‘requesting expedited funds through the Green Climate Fund’ to which this administration has committed the US to a $3 billion contribution.  Congress, where authority to approve such an expenditure exists, has appropriated zero dollars.”

Click here for a summary of the agreement.

APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS REACHES FUNDING AGREEMENT FOR REMAINDER OF FY 2016

On the evening of Dec. 15, congressional leaders released a bipartisan $1.149 trillion omnibus spending deal that funds the federal government for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. The bill comes after enactment of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which made it possible for moderate increases in overall discretionary spending for the next two fiscal years.

To prevent a shutdown, Congress passed a stopgap continuing resolution to fund the government through Dec. 22. The House is expected to take up the measure on Dec. 18. with the Senate expected to vote on the bill shortly after. The legislation is expected to pass both chambers of Congress and the president has indicated he will sign the measure.

Most of the major harmful environmental riders from House appropriations bills were not included from the final bill. Policy riders pushed by Congressional Republicans that were absent from the final bill included prohibitions on climate change research and related activities, restrictions on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Ocean Policy, restrictions on implementation of Fishery Management Council decisions, delisting of gray wolves in Wyoming and Great Lakes from Endangered Species Act protection, and prohibitions on enforcing the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The bill also omits language to make the Census’s American Community Survey (ACS) voluntary, a victory for the National Science Foundation (NSF), which uses ACS data to measure the number of Americans with education or employment in science and engineering-related fields.

The bill does include language that would continue to prohibit the US Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, despite the fact that the agency this year signaled it’s already taken steps that would make the listing unnecessary. The bill also retained a prohibition prohibiting the administration from changing the definition of “fill material” under the Clean Water Act, which coal state lawmakers argue could restrict mining.

The bill does not include language recommended by the Obama administration to reform how the nation funds its activities related to wildfire management and containment.

For NSF, the bill includes $7.46 billion, a $119 million increase over the FY 2015 enacted level. The bill does not include restrictions on the NSF directorates that fund the geosciences or social and behavioral sciences. The bill requires federal agency Inspector Generals to conduct random audits of grant funding to combat waste and fraud and establishes an early warning system on cost overruns and requires agencies to notify congressional committees when costs grow more than 10 percent.

The omnibus also provides a three-year reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and funds the program at $450 million in FY 2016, a $143.86 million increase over the FY 2015 enacted level.

Below of FY 2016 funding levels for other federal agencies and bureaus of interest to the ecological community relative to the FY 2015 enacted level:

Agricultural Research Service: $1.36 billion; a $178.3 million increase.

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: $897.59 million; a $23.1 million increase.

Bureau of Land Management: $1.23 billion; a $116.5 million increase.

Bureau of Reclamation: $1.27 billion; a $134.88 million increase.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management: $74.24 million; a $1.81 million increase.

Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement: $88.46 million; a $7.4 million increase.

Department of Energy (DOE) Biological and Environmental Research: $609 million; a $17 million increase.

DOE Office of Science: $5.35 billion; a $279 million increase.

Environmental Protection Agency: $8.14 billion; level with the previous year.

Land and Water Conservation Fund: $450 million; a $143.86 million increase.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration: $19.3 billion; $1.27 billion increase.

National Institute of Food and Agriculture: $1.33 billion; a $37 million increase.

National Institutes of Standards and Technology: $964 million; a $100 million increase.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $5.77 billion; a $324.6 million increase.

National Park Service: $2.85 billion; a $236.65 million increase.

Natural Resources Conservation Service: $862.86 million; a $4.43 million increase.

Smithsonian Institution: $840.24 million; a $20.7 million increase.

US Army Corps of Engineers: $5.99 billion; a $534 million increase.

US Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.51 billion; a $68.6 million increase.

US Forest Service: $5.66 billion; a $608.1 million increase.

US Geological Survey: $1.06 billion; a $17 million increase.

Click here for a summary of the bill.

The full text of the bill is available here.

SENATE: CRUZ CLIMATE HEARING CHALLENGES SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS ON WARMING

On Dec. 8, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who chairs of the Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Science, Space and Competitiveness, convened a hearing to question the consensus among scientists that humans significantly contribute to climate change and the earth’s warming.

The hearing was largely viewed as a politically-motivated gambit to energize support for the Senator’s 2016 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Witnesses included three climate skeptics: John Christy, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science and Director of the Earth System Science Center, University of Alabama in Huntsville; Judith Curry, Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology; William Happer, Cyrus Fogg Bracket Professor of Physics, Princeton University; and Mark Steyn a writer for the conservative National Review in Canada. The lone Democratic invitee testifying was retired Rear Admiral David Titley, a professor with Pennsylvania State University and Director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk.

For Cruz, the hearing was an opportunity to publicly reiterate his opinion that there has been “no significant warming” of the earth since 1998 as well as criticize the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan. Cruz also accused Democrats and the scientific community of seeking to suppress the views scientists skeptical of the evidence of climate science. Titley responded that 1998 was an unusually warm year to choose as a starting point for comparison and noted that a warming bias would be evident if you measured against another year.

Committee Democrats argued that it was Republicans who are attempting to stifle or downplay the magnitude of scientific consensus on climate change, noting the lopsided makeup of witnesses testifying, who were predominantly climate skeptics.

During the hearing, Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) entered into the committee’s record a number of letters and position statements on climate change from scientific societies, which Peters noted represented “tens of thousands of scientists.” In addition to the Ecological Society of America, position statements and letters were also submitted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science Society of America, and the Geological Society of America.

“It is the position of these organizations that the evidence is overwhelming that the earth is warming; global warming is real and that human activity is the primary contributor,” Peters stated.

Click here to read ESA’s statement.

Click here to view the hearing.

INVASIVE SPECIES: NISC SCRUTINIZED BY LAWMAKERS

On Dec. 1, the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Interior convened for a hearing examining the National Invasive Species Council (NISC) and its effectiveness in treating and eradicating invasive threats.

Interior Subcommittee Chairwoman Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Ranking Member Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) were both critical of the council.

“In the past several years, there has been relatively little oversight of the council’s work and success in managing the invasive species problem,” said Chairwoman Lummis. Questions continue to be raised about whether the council and other federal agencies are effective in stopping the spread of invasive species.”

”We know that the invasive species problem has worsened,” said Ranking Member Lawrence. “And I feel strongly that the lack of a proper plan is contributing to the impact.”

Lummis referenced a Government Accountability Office review of NISC’s 2001 management plan, which uncovered problems with coordination and setting long-term goals.

NISC Executive Director Jamie Reaser contended that staff turnover and budget constraints have prevented the agency from revising its management plan, which was last updated in 2008. Executive Order 13112 (adopted in 1999) required NISC to update its management plan every two years. Prior to 2008, the plan was last updated in 2001. Reaser also noted that NISC does not get directly involved in on-the-ground efforts and more functions as a resource to help states coordinate and address invasive species threats. She also stated that NISC intends to have a revised management plan completed by Spring 2016.

Also testifying was Scott Cameron, President of the Reduce Risks from Invasive Species Coalition, who outlined a number of recommendations to improve NISC. These recommendations included requiring the council to submit an annual work plan to Congress with deadlines for action, seeking out international best practices for invasive species management and allow NISC to serve as a forum for federal interagency coordination with regional governor associations.

Click here for additional information on the hearing.

NSF: NEON TO UNDERGO MANAGEMENT RESTRUCTURING

On Dec. 11, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced it is changing the management plan for its National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) and will pursue new management options to complete the NEON project. NSF hopes the reorganization will address various issues that have led to various delays and cost overruns. The agency does not anticipate additional re-scoping of the project. NEON Inc. will continue to perform its work until NSF announces the new management structure.

“During this transition period, our staff remains committed to the work of building, commissioning and operating NEON. Moving forward, our priorities are ensuring a smooth, seamless and efficient transition to a new management organization and working collaboratively with the scientific community,” stated Gene Kelly, Interim CEO of NEON Inc.

In the letter notifying NEON Inc. of the change in management, Jim Olds, assistant director, NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences, states,

“The on-budget completion of the construction and commissioning of the NEON facility will be challenging. But we all recognize that the advanced research infrastructure of the NEON Observatory remains an essential investment that will continue to improve our fundamental understanding of biology, emerging disease, water use, invasive species, and agriculture, forestry, and urban land-use for decades to come.”

Click here to view the NSF letter.

EDUCATION: EVERY STUDENT SUCCEEDS ACT PROMOTES STEM FOR K-12

On Dec. 10, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act. The law is the first comprehensive reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act since the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law on Jan. 8, 2002. The bill passed the Senate Dec. 9 by a vote of 85-12 after passing the House Dec. 2 by a vote of 359-64.

The new law maintains the requirement that state math and science standards are aligned with entrance requirements in higher education and requires that science tests bet given three times between grades 3 and 12. It also establishes the definition of a STEM-Specialty School as a school, or dedicated program within a school, that engages students in rigorous, relevant, and integrated learning experiences focused on STEM education, including computer science.

There is new authority in the bill that allows states and districts to develop and provide professional development and other comprehensive support systems for school teachers and other faculty to promote high-quality instruction in STEM fields.

For teachers, the bill provides new authority to allow states and districts to develop and provide professional development and other comprehensive systems of support for school faculty to promote high-quality instruction and instructional leadership in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subjects, including computer science. The law allows states to establish, expand, or improve alternative routes for state certification of teachers in STEM subjects. 

Prior to the House and Senate going to conference to resolve differences over the bill, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) had sent a letter to the leaders of the House Education and Workforce Committee and the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee requesting that the final bill includes provisions that promote STEM education.

Click here to view the ESA letter: http://www.esa.org/esa/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015-Elementary-and-Secondary-Education-Act-letter.pdf 

TRANSPORTATION: HIGHWAY REAUTHORIZATION SUPPORTS POLLINATORS

On Dec. 4, President Obama signed into law the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act (P.L. 114-94). The legislation reauthorizes federal surface transportation programs at a cost of $305 billion over the next five years.

The bill is the first long-term surface transportation bill signed into law since the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) (P.L. 109-59) was signed into law in 2005. The bill passed the House Dec. 3 by a vote of 359-65 and subsequently passed the Senate by a vote of 83-16.

The new law incorporates, H.R. 2738, the Highways Bettering the Economy and Environment (BEE) Pollinator Protection Act, which was introduced by Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and Jeff Dunham (R-CA). The provisions encourage state departments of transportation to plant and cultivate pollinator habitat and vegetation along highways and freeways.

Specifically, the bill directs the Secretary of Transportation to “1) encourage integrated vegetation management practices on roadsides and other transportation rights-of-way, including reduced mowing; and 2) encourage the development of habitat and forage for Monarch butterflies, other native pollinators, and honey bees through plantings of native forbs and grasses, including noninvasive, native milkweed species that can serve as migratory way stations for butterflies and facilitate migrations of other pollinators.”

Click here for additional information on the FAST Act.

INVASIVE SPECIES: EUROPEAN COUNCIL HALTS SPREAD OF AMPHIBIAN DISEASE

The Standing Committee of the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats recently adopted a recommendation that European countries take a wide range of steps to restrict the commercial salamander and pet trade in order to reduce the spread of the chytrid fungus disease Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (BSal).

The disease is native to Asia, but is thought to have spread to salamanders in Europe through the pet trade. Wild salamanders in several European countries, including Belgium, Germany the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have already been stricken by BSal.

In the United States, scientific societies and conservation groups have teamed in an effort to inform policymakers of the threat and hopefully preempt BSal’s spread to the United States. The Ecological Society of America is working with the National Environmental Coalition of Invasive Species on these efforts.

Click here to view the ESA BSal letter to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

FEDERAL REGISTER PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITIES

Environmental Protection Agency

Notice: Public comments due Jan. 15, 2016

Request for Nominations to the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEPT)

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-31184

Notice: Public comments due Jan. 16, 2016

Information Collection Request Submitted to OMB for Review and Approval; Comment Request; Generic Clearance for Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing Projects

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-31542

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Proposed Rule: Public comments due Feb. 5, 2016

12-Month Finding for seven Foreign Species of Elasmobranchs Under the Endangered Species Act

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-30660

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Proposed Rule: Public comments due Jan. 14, 2016

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Endangered Species Status for the Big Sandy Crayfish and the Guyandotte River Crayfish

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-31369

Notice: Public comments due April 7, 2016

Programmatic Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Invasive Rodent and Mongoose Control and Eradication on US Pacific Islands within the National Wildlife Refuge System and in Native Ecosystems in Hawaii

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-30976


Sources: House Education and Workforce Committee, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, the White House, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, ClimateWire, Greenwire, the Hill, National Journal, PR Newswire, Roll Call