ESA Policy News: September 23

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.


The specter of a federal government shutdown looms again as the House passed a bill to fund the government beyond the end of the current fiscal year only to see it fail in the Senate. On Sept. 22, the House passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government through Nov. 18, by a vote of 213-209. The measure subsequently failed in the Senate by a vote of 59-36, falling one vote shy of the 60 vote majority needed to advance the bill under Senate rules.

The bill is similar to a measure the House voted on earlier in the week that failed to win support of conservative Republicans. House GOP leadership added a provision to the bill to cut $100 million from the Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee program that funded Solyndra, a bankrupt solar company that has sparked controversy in recent weeks. Democrats have countered that the DOE program cuts would hinder job growth.

Democrats have also opposed the bill because it requires disaster assistance funds to be offset by spending cuts. The House bill provides $3.65 billion in disaster assistance while the Senate passed a similar disaster assistance bill that included $7 billion with no offsets.

If Congress does not approve a bill early next week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency could run out of funds by Monday, Sept. 26 and the government would shutdown at the end of the current fiscal year, Sept 30.


On Sept. 14, the Senate Appropriations Committee marked up S. 1572, the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. The bill includes $52.701 billion in discretionary spending, $626 million less than FY 2011.

The National Science Foundation, would receive $6.7 billion, a reduction of $162 million or 2.4 percent below the FY 2011 enacted level. The proposed cut to NSF was largely due to the prioritization of other CJS programs by Senate CJS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD).The House Appropriations CJS bill would fund NSF level with FY 2011 at $6.9 billion.

For the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the bill provides $6 million, $647,000 below FY 2011 and $650,000 less than the president’s budget request. The House version allocated only allocated $3 million for OSTP.

The bill also provides funding to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). For FY 2012 the bill proposes $5 billion for NOAA, a $434 million increase from FY 2011. This includes $675 million for NOAA research and development, an increase of $16 million from FY 2011. The House bill would cut NOAA R&D by $61 million.

To view a summary of the Senate CJS bill, click here or view the Senate committee report. For more information on the House CJS bill, see the July 10 edition of ESA Policy News.


On Sept. 22, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) announced that his committee intends to launch an investigation into the formation of a climate service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Chairman Hall has repeatedly expressed his opposition to the climate service in committee hearings and by proposing amendments to appropriations bills to prohibit funding for the initiative. According to Hall, NOAA has not answered repeated inquiries and correspondence, requesting information on whether the agency has subtly taken steps or engaged in activities related to the establishment of its proposed climate service.

During a June hearing on the climate service proposal, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco maintained that the climate service was an attempt to streamline extreme weather and climate monitoring activities at NOAA. During the hearing and in more recent statements, Lubchenco has also consistently affirmed that NOAA has not moved forward in the establishment of a climate service, noting that congressional approval must be required.


On Sept. 15, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing intending to review the scientific, procedural, and technical basis for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR).

Finalized in July, the CSAPR orders 27 states to cut sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions by 73 percent and nitrogen oxides by 54 percent by 2014. It was prompted by a section of the Clean Air Act that requires states to be “good neighbors” when it comes to air pollution. The move has drawn criticism from the committees’ leaders who criticized the rules tougher limits for the state of Texas.

In his opening statement, Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) asserted that “through a flexible, pro-jobs, all-off-the-above energy strategy, Texas has achieved recent environmental progress that eclipses many other states in the country.  Since 1995, electric utilities in Texas have reduced sulfur dioxide emissions by 26 percent and NOx emissions by 62 percent. The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule requires Texas to reduce its SO2 emissions by an additional 47 percent, by January 1, 2012.”

In her testimony, Regina McCarthy, Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation at EPA, asserted that the SCAPR “will save lives, prevent illness, and protect American communities by cutting power plant pollution that hurts air quality in downwind states.”  McCarthy also cited a decade-old study from Harvard economist Dale Jorgenson that found that implementing the Clean Air Act actually increased the size of the US economy “because of lower demand for health care and a healthier, more productive workforce.” Additional information on the hearing can be found here.


On Sept. 13, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators announced the formation of a new Senate Oceans Caucus. The caucus will work to increase awareness and find common ground on issues related to the oceans and coastal areas.

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will serve as co-chairs of the caucus. Inaugural caucus members include Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Scott Brown (R-MA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chris Coons (D-DE), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), John Kerry (D-MA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

In his announcement, Senator Whitehouse stated that the oceans and coasts “support millions of jobs in America and contribute more to the country’s GDP than the entire farm sector, grossing more than $230 billion in 2004.” View the full announcement here.


An action alert letter from the Ecological Society of America and the American Institute of Biological Sciences encourages scientists and educators to contact their Senators to restore funding to the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The Senate Appropriations Committee has voted to cut the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Research and Related Activities account by $120,875,000 in the next fiscal year.  This account funds the agency’s research directorates, including that of the biological sciences.  The NSF cuts were initiated by Senate Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) in favor of other priorities.

In contrast, the House Appropriations Committee bill would fund the Research and Related Activities account about $43 million above the current fiscal year.  The difference between the two bills will need to be worked out but unless the Senate increases funding for NSF, the negotiation starting point is so low that NSF would almost certainly suffer a significant cut in fiscal year 2012. View the Action Alert, here.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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