ESA Policy News: March 22

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS PASSES MEASURE FUNDING GOVERNMENT THROUGH FY 2013 This week, Congress passed H.R. 933, a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government for the remainder of current Fiscal Year (FY) 2013, which ends Sept. 30. The bill in effect prevents a government shutdown when the current CR runs out at the end of the month while giving some federal agencies slightly more latitude in how they allocate funding. The measure does not nullify the sequestration of automatic spending cuts (5.3 percent to non-defense programs, 7.9 percent to defense programs) implemented March 1 under the Budget Control Act. President Obama is expected to sign the measure. The $984 billion bill is altered from the House version in that it adds funding language for the agriculture, homeland security and commerce justice and science appropriations bills. The House version had only incorporated appropriations bills that fund the Department of Defense and Veteran Affairs agencies. Incorporating the language of actual bills gives federal agencies greater direction and specificity in how to distribute funding than what is provided by a simple CR. While overall funding in the bill was not increased, funding levels for several programs within agencies were reshuffled to sustain critical initiatives. For the National Science Foundation in FY 2013, the Senate-passed bill includes a $221 million increase over FY 2012 for a total of $7.25 billion. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is funded at $17.5 billion in FY 2013, less than the $17.8 billion it received in FY 2012. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will receive $5 billion for FY 2013, above the $4.9 billion funded in FY 2012. For agriculture research programs, the FY 2013 bill provides $1.074 billion for the Agricultural Research Service (down from $1.09 billion in FY 2012) and $290 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (up from $264 million in FY 2014). Among the amendments adopted was one from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) to prohibit the National Science Foundation from funding political science research unless such research was certified to promote the national security or economic interests of the United States. The Senate also adopted by unanimous consent an amendment from Sens. James Inhofe (R-OK) and Kay Hagan (D-NC) to shield farmers who store fuel on their property from an Environmental Protection Agency oil spill prevention rule. Another amendment from Coburn to shift funding within the National Parks Service to ensure national parks are open to the public and allow White House tours to resume failed 44-54. An additional Coburn...

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ESA Policy News: March 8

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: AGENCIES IMPLEMENT SEQUESTRATION AS POLICYMAKERS WRESTLE WITH DEBT Congress’ failure to address budget sequestration by coming up with $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction has federal agencies trimming investment priorities and beginning (reportedly in some cases already implementing) employee furloughs as budget sequestration went into effect March 1. As enacted by the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25) and modified by the American Taxpayer Relief Act (P.L. 112-240), sequestration includes across-the-board cuts of 7.9 percent for defense discretionary spending programs and 5.3 percent to non-defense discretionary spending programs. It is estimated that for the current Fiscal Year of 2013, which began on Oct. 1, the non-defense discretionary cuts will actually total about nine percent while the defense cuts will total about 13 percent for the remainder of the year to compensate for the five months of spending that have already occurred for the current fiscal year. For federal agencies, the 5.3 percent sequester for non defense amounts to the following monetary decreases: Environmental Protection Agency ($472 million), Department of Energy ($1.9 billion), Department of Interior ($883 million), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ($271 million) and the National Science Foundation ($361 million), according to a report from the White House Office of Management and Budget released March 1. The Interior cuts include the National Park Service ($153 million), the US Fish and Wildlife Service ($127 million), US Geological Survey ($54 million) and the Bureau of Land Management ($75 million). Department of Defense (DoD) research and development programs would decrease by 7.9 percent, roughly $6 billion. (A House-passed continuing resolution to fund the government would cut an additional $2.5 billion to DoD research and development). In an effort to reduce partisan tensions over the budget, President Obama held several meal discussions with lawmakers this week at the White House. On March 6, the president met with Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte (NH), Richard Burr (NC), Saxby Chambliss (GA), Dan Coats (IN), Tom Coburn (OK), Bob Corker (TN), Lindsey Graham (SC), John Hoeven (ND), Mike Johanns (NE), Ron Johnson (WI), John McCain (AZ) and Pat Toomey (PA). During the meeting, President Obama said that lawmakers must reach agreement on a comprehensive bipartisan debt reduction plan by the end of July, which coincides with when the federal debt ceiling will need to be addressed. The White House has released a plan for addressing the sequester that would cut defense and non-defense discretionary spending equally by a total of $200 billion below pre-sequestration levels, cut healthcare costs by $600 billion and include $580 billion...

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Climate change impacts on the bottom dollar

 By Terence Houston, ESA science policy analyst The second annual Climate Leadership Conference offered a new prism in which to consider an issue that has not gained much traction in recent years in the realm of federal policymaking. Various conference speakers representing a broad cross section of private industry sought to illustrate the notion that the debate over whether to prioritize efforts to address climate change over economic well-being is a false choice. The first day’s keynote address was given by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe who discussed the agency’s Energy Star program, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. He noted that the Energy Star program has helped customers save $230 billion in utility bills in the years since its inception. Perciasepe also mentioned EPA’s Center for Corporate Climate Leadership, which works as a resource for businesses to develop innovative cost-effective solutions to save energy and reduce their carbon footprint. That businesses nationwide are already implementing such efforts is heartening, but the full scope of climate change’s effects on both the economy and national security priorities illuminate the need for private sector actions to be complemented and buttressed with leadership in the public sector. Several representatives from the private sector and key federal agency officials discussed how climate change has already impacted the US economy and national security. Department of Homeland Security Senior Counsel Alice Hill noted how increasing temperatures have led to a rise in shipping activity in Arctic routes, which in turn prompts the need for additional security infrastructure to deter illegal activities or threats to national security interests. She cited a 34 percent increase in the number of vessels in the Arctic region in 2008 as well as a 47 percent increase in transit along the Bering Strait. Hill cited a number of factors, including the state’s remoteness, vast land area, limited existing infrastructure and extreme cold temperatures as hindrances in efforts to expand national security in the region. She noted that DHS has published a Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan, which outlines its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and evaluate the extent of financial costs and outline threats to national security posed by climate change. Lindene Patton, Chief Climate Product Officer with Zurich Insurance offered a perspective on how climate change has impacted the insurance industry. In her presentation, she noted that weather-related supply disruptions result in higher energy prices and increased cooling demand can coincide with an increase in blackouts. Overall she maintained that pre-emptive action by businesses to anticipate environmental risks from climate change can help reduce insurance costs. Jay Bruns of the Hartford cited a study that noted...

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ESA voices concern over US fiscal situation

On March 1, a series of automatic spending cuts are set to occur unless Congress produces a plan that reduces the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion. These cuts will drastically scale back federal support of scientific research, environmental protections and education and do nothing substantive to address the nation’s fiscal problems. “Scientific research reaches across a broad cross section of society that goes well beyond academia,” said Scott Collins, President of the Ecological Society of America, the world’s largest organization of ecological scientists. “Cutting costs of federal spending in an area that has helped the nation lower costs associated with natural disaster mitigation, public health threats from pollution and disease, and agricultural cultivation just seems counterproductive to say the least.” Non-defense discretionary spending programs would receive a 5.3 percent cut under the sequester, slightly lowered from the 8.2 percent cut due to altered spending caps set by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-240). Among the impacts: • Cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would likely lead to gaps in the weather collection data used to predict hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and snowstorms. • The United States Geological Survey’s capacity to monitor land and water changes from natural disasters that may pose a threat to public safety would decline. • The National Park Service would need to cut back on vital services that would limit park operation hours and accessibility to the estimated 300 million individuals who visit our national parks annually. • The Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality monitoring efforts would decrease. • The National Science Foundation would have to cut nearly 1,000 research grants impacting the research of 12,000 people, including graduate and undergraduate students, professors and K-12 teachers and students. Federal mandatory spending has drastically overtaken discretionary spending programs in recent decades.  Discretionary spending has largely been on the decline, particularly since enactment of the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25). The American Association for the Advancement of Science notes that our nation’s commitment to scientific research is dwindling: “As a share of the economy, federal R&D is 16.7 percent smaller than it was a decade ago and 29.7 percent smaller than it was in the 1970s.” Ultimately, says ESA President Collins, the US risks eroding its competitiveness in research and innovation, losing its capacity to manage natural resources and implement laws that protect the public and failing to prepare for increasingly technical needs in the global workforce. Photo Credit: Don Becker,...

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ESA Policy News: February 15

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here.   STATE OF THE UNION: PRESIDENT URGES ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE, SEQUESTER President Obama’s fourth State of the Union address outlined a number of bold domestic priorities, including addressing climate change and diverting a series of automatic discretionary spending cuts set to occur in March as a result of congressional  failure to come to agreement on comprehensive deficit reduction. “Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense,” said President Obama. “We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.” With regard to budget sequestration, President Obama affirmed his support for a bipartisan, balanced approach to deficit reduction while contending that he would oppose an effort that unduly burden discretionary programs. “Now, some in this Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training; Medicare and Social Security benefits. That idea is even worse,” said the president. “We won’t grow the middle class simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are already struggling, or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers, cops, and firefighters.” Among solutions to avert the sequester, President Obama endorsed changes to Medicare and tax reform proposals such as those outlined in the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, commonly known as the Simpson-Bowles commission. Read or listen to President Obama’s full 2013 State of the Union address here. BUDGET: SENATE DEMOCRATS INTRODUCE LEGISLATION TO AVERT SEQUESTER On Feb. 14, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) unveiled a legislative proposal to avert automatic discretionary spending cuts to federal agencies. The deficit reduction in the bill is equally divided between spending cuts and new revenue. Members of Congress have until March 1 to pass a bill to avert the $1.2 trillion cuts to federal programs over the next ten years. The American Family Economic Protection Act would postpone the sequester for one year by canceling out the first year of the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, which total $85 billion. In total, the bill includes $110 billion in deficit reduction, $55 billion in revenue increases and $55...

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