In this Issue
On Nov. 13, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research considered the Frontiers in Innovation Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act, draft legislation to reauthorize programs in the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as well as various Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education programs.
Committee Democrats were concerned about provisions of the bill that would supersede NSF’s existing merit review process. Chief among Democrats’ concerns was Section 104 of the bill, which requires the NSF director to provide a written justification for each grant verifying that it meets certain requirements, including furthering “the national interest,” being “worthy of federal funding,” furthering economic competitiveness and advancing the health and welfare of the general public. The requirements are similar to those laid out in a previous draft bill authored by science committee Republicans, the High Quality Research Act, which was opposed by the scientific community. The Ecological Society of America joined the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) in sending a letter to the science committee expressing concerns with such efforts earlier this year.
House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-LA) states that the language is necessary to ensure accountability to the American taxpayer over federal funding decisions. “They [government employees] should explain why grants that receive taxpayer funding are important research that has the potential to benefit the national interest. It’s not the government’s money; it’s the people’s money,” asserted Smith. “Enhanced transparency and accountability isn’t a burden; it will ultimately make NSF’s grant award process more effective.”
Research Subcommittee Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) noted the importance of funding for behavior research, which has also been targeted by conservatives. “Social and behavioral sciences have played a critical role in strengthening our response to disasters, improving public health, strengthening our legal system, and optimizing the use of federal resources,” said Lipinski. “I believe any reauthorization of NSF should provide sustainable funding to all scientific disciplines and not impose any unique restrictions or conditions on any specific type of research.”
There was also concern regarding the bill’s lack of provisions to promote women and minority participation in STEM education fields. Alternative legislation sponsored by House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) includes such a provision. Her bill also functions as a comprehensive reauthorization for all federal science agencies in stark contrast to the piecemeal multiple bill approach taken by House Republicans.
The Republican bill also includes a provision to require public posting of the written justification used to award a grant before it is awarded. Testifying witness Vice President for Research at Purdue University Richard Buckius stated this provision would “severely compromise the process and add tremendous administrative burden.”
The draft is the second bill House Republicans have put forward to reauthorize the AMERICA COMPETES Act. Several weeks ago, the committee considered a bill to reauthorize Department of Energy science initiatives. For additional information, see the Nov. 11 edition of ESA Policy News.
On Nov. 12, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved several of President Obama’s choices to lead key positions at the administration’s science agencies.
The committee approved Kathryn Sullivan for the position of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator, Jo Handelsman to be Associate Director for Science for the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and Robert Simon for Associate Director for Environment and Energy for OSTP. Sullivan has previously served as NOAA’s chief scientist and assistant secretary for observation and predictions. If approved by the full Senate, Sullivan would succeed Jane Lubchenco, a former president of the Ecological Society of America.
The upcoming Senate floor confirmation votes for the nominees were made easier this week when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) held a procedural vote to allow most presidential appointments to be approved by a simple majority vote. The rule change effectively denies the Senate minority party the power to filibuster such nominees. The rule change does not apply to legislation or US Supreme Court nominees.
The rule change is often referred to as the “nuclear option” in the media, due to its unprecedented restrictions on the power of the Senate minority party. The move was prompted by Senate Republicans’ recent attempts to hold up three of President Obama’s nominees to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals for partisan purposes. The change comes as Senate Republicans have sought to hold up a historically large number of President Obama’s nominees.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) warned that Reid may regret invoking the option, arguing that it could lead to the eventual elimination of the power of the Senate minority to filibuster. The rule change also sets a new precedent for Senate Republicans to implement similar limits on the minority’s power, should they take the majority in the future.
The recent death of House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Chairman Bill Young (R-FL) spurred a slight reorganization of chairmanships at the subcommittee level, including two committees that oversee funding for several key energy and environmental federal agencies.
Former Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) will now chair the Defense Subcommittee in Young’s place. Former Interior and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) will now head the Energy and Water Subcommittee. Congressman Ken Calvert (R-CA) will take Simpson’s former spot as chairman of the Interior and Environment Subcommittee.
The Interior and Environment Subcommittee has primary jurisdiction over funding the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Council on Environmental Quality and the US Forest Service. The Energy and Water Subcommittee funds the Department of Energy, the Bureau of Reclamation, the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
One of the first major tasks for the new subcommittee chairmen will potentially be to outline spending levels of the agencies under their jurisdiction for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, which began Oct. 1. The existing continuing resolution runs out Jan. 15, 2014. The spending levels set in a new appropriations bill will in part depend on the details of a budget agreement between House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) and to what degree such an agreement nullifies the existing sequestration cuts, which have carried over from FY 2013. The two chairs have until Dec. 13 to produce a budget deal.
On Nov. 21, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report concluding the United States is now losing over 80,000 acres of coastal wetlands per year, up from 60,000 in a prior study.
Coastal areas around the Gulf of Mexico accounted for 71 percent of the wetland loss. The study attributed wetland loss predominantly to losses of saltwater wetlands in the Gulf due to coastal storms in combination with freshwater forested wetland loss due to urban renewal development. The report concludes that rising ocean levels are also affecting coastal wetland loss.
According to the report, coastal wetlands provide a home to 75 percent of the nation’s waterfowl and other migratory birds. Also, over half of all fish caught for commercial and recreational purposes depend on coastal wetlands at some point in their lives.
The data used in this report will be used in the development of policies and initiatives to promote environmental stewardship of coastal resources such as the National Ocean Policy. View the full report here.
ESA invites applications for its 2014 Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA). This award, offered annually to up to three winners, provides graduate students hands-on science policy experience in Washington, DC including interacting with congressional decision-makers, federal agency officials, and others engaged in science and public policy.
ESA covers travel and lodging expenses associated with this event for GSPA recipients. The two-day event will occur April 9 and 10, 2014. The application deadline is Monday, January 6. For more information, click here.
Introduced in House
H.R. 3533, the Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act – Introduced Nov. 19 by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), the bill would allow states to opt-out of regulation under the Endangered Species Act. The bill also requires approval of a congressional joint resolution for the addition of new federally protected species. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.
Considered by House Committee
On Nov. 21, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation held a hearing on several bills related to the federal government shutdown, including the following:
H.R. 3286, the Protecting States, Opening National Parks Act – Introduced by Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT), the bill would direct the Secretary of the Treasury to reimburse states that opened national parks during the Oct. 2014 federal government shutdown. The bill has 26 bipartisan cosponsors. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has introduced companion legislation in the Senate (S. 1572) that also has bipartisan support.
H.R. 3311, the Providing Access and Retain Continuity Act – Introduced by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), the bill would automatically reimburse states if they operate parks during a shutdown. The bill would also call on the Secretary of Interior to preemptively work with states to ensure they can ably take over park operations in the event of a federal government shutdown. The bill’s 17 cosponsors are all Republicans.
H.R. 3294, the State-Run Federal Lands Act – Introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the bill would authorize a state to petition the federal government to enter in agreement to allow state control of federal lands managed by the National Park Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Forest Service.
Approved by House Committee
H.R. 2824, the Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America Act – Introduced by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH), the bill would prevent the US Department of Interior’s (DOI) Office of Surface Mining from implementing a stream protection rule intended to protect water and wildlife from detrimental effects of mountaintop removal mining projects in the Appalachian region. The House Natural Resources Committee approved the bill Nov. 14 by vote of 24-14.
H.R. 1965, the Federal Jobs and Land Security Act – Introduced by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), the bill would set deadlines for the Bureau of Land Management to make leasing and permitting decisions for oil and gas development on federal lands. The bill sets a 60 day limit for review of such permits. The bill passed the House Nov. 20 by a vote of 228-192.
The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy (veto threat) against the bill. Among its concerns, the administration noted the bill would “direct that federal lands be managed for the primary purpose of energy development rather than for thoughtfully balanced multiple uses.” View the full statement here.
H.R. 2728, the Protecting States’ Rights to Promote Energy Security Act – Introduced by Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), the bill would prohibit DOI from enforcing federal hydraulic fracturing standards if states currently have their own guidance governing the practice. The bill passed Nov. 20 by a vote for 235-187 with 12 Democrats joining all but two Republicans in voting yes.
The White House issued a veto threat against the bill, asserting the president would veto the measure, noting the bill would “require [the Bureau of Land Management] to defer to existing state regulations on hydraulic fracturing on Federal lands, regardless of the quality or comprehensiveness of the State regulations – thereby preventing consistent environmental protections.” View the full White House statement here.
H.R. 1900, the Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act – Introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), the bill would expedite approval of natural gas permits through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The legislation sets a deadline of one year for FERC to reach a decision on whether to approve new gas pipeline applications. Failure of the agency to meet the review deadlines outlined in the bill will result in a permit being automatically deemed approved. The House passed the bill Nov. 21 by a vote of 252-165 with 26 Democrats joining Republicans in support of the bill.
The White House issued a veto threat against the bill, asserting “the bill’s requirements could force agencies to make decisions based on incomplete information or information that may not be available within the stringent deadlines.” View the full statement here.
Sources: American Association for the Advancement of Science, ClimateWire, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House