ESA Policy News: April 9

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


On March 29, the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposed budget resolution for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. The bill passed by a vote of 228-191 with 10 Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against the bill.

The non-binding resolution sets discretionary spending at $1.028 trillion, $19 billion below the $1.047 trillion agreed upon during the compromise enacted under the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25). The budget resolution typically serves as a maximum funding ceiling for congressional appropriators to work from as House and Senate appropriation bills are drafted and marked-up in the spring and summer.

Under the House-passed resolution, H. Con. Res. 112, environmental spending, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies, would take a $4.1 billion hit, sinking to budget authority levels not seen since 2001. The funding cut is nearly double the $2.3 billion reduction proposed by President Obama’s FY 2013 budget request. At the same time, the House budget bill would seek to increase revenue by expanding oil and gas drilling.

The 10 Republicans voting against the budget were Reps. Justin Amash (MI), Joe Barton (TX), John Duncan (TN), Chris Gibson (NY), Tim Huelskamp (KS), Walter Jones (NC), David McKinley (WV), Todd Platts (PA), Denny Rehberg (MT) and Ed Whitfield (KY). The rationale for the opposition varied. Some members supported a more far-reaching resolution offered by the far-right conservative Republican Study Committee that claims it would balance the budget in five years through more severe cuts. Other Republicans objected to the proposed changes to Medicare.

For additional information on Chairman Ryan’s budget, see the March 23 edition of ESA Policy News.


On March 28, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened to examine the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) weather forecasting methods. The hearing focused on the broad range of technologies available to gather weather and climate data and whether those technologies could improve weather forecasting methods.

In addition to representation from NOAA, the committee heard from several witnesses from the private sector who discussed how they could provide the same weather collection data for less money. Committee Republicans were critical of NOAA for allocating 40 percent of its proposed $5.1 billion Fiscal Year 2013 budget towards its two satellite programs, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-Series (GOES-R), at the expense of cheaper observing systems based closer to Earth’s surface.

According to Mary Kicza, Assistant Administrator of NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, funding the Joint Polar Satellite System program, which plans to launch two satellites in 2017, is a high priority because the satellites provide the bulk of the data that go into weather forecasts. Polar satellites orbiting around the Earth every 90 minutes, 520 miles from the Earth’s surface, provide 84 percent of the data that allows forecasters to issue severe weather warnings two to five days in advance, she said.

Kicza also noted that her agency was already expanding collaboration with the private sector and emphasized the importance of sustaining a “network of networks” that includes working with local and regional observing networks. View the full hearing here.


On March 29, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing that reviewed the issue of public access to research disseminated by scholarly journals.

Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun (R-GA) said that “taxpayers rightfully expect access to research they have funded,” but also noted the issue’s  complexity. “This is no small matter.  There are more than 25,000 peer-reviewed journals, produced by over 2,000 publishers.  These journals publish more than 1.5 million articles a year, and earn revenues between $8 and $10 billion dollars from their subscribers.  This revenue funds over 100,000 jobs worldwide – 30,000 in the U.S. alone.”

Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NY) noted the various interests at play. “On the one hand, the taxpayers who provide support for research through grants provided by federal science agencies have an interest in having the research they fund deliver maximum public benefit. On the other hand, the public is not only interested in quantity, they want quality. The scientific publishing enterprise, working with the research community, academia and the government traditionally has had an important role in ensuring that quality through management of the peer review process.” Tonko noted that there is a growing need for all publications to revamp their current models to accommodate the changing landscape, but cautioned about taking a broad sweeping “legislative approach.”

Chairman Broun, citing the committee’s history of reviewing the issue of public access asserted that any federal policy concerning public access issue should have the committee’s input. The Science, Space and Technology Committee expects to receive a report in the coming weeks on this issue from the Office of Science and Technology Policy, as directed in the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010. View the full committee hearing, here.


On March 27, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry met to review U.S. Forest Service (FS) forest management policies in rural America. Committee members agreed that the FS needs to implement a balanced approach towards conservation that accounts for the economic role that forests play in rural communities and for the timber industry.

Earlier this year, the FS released a report outlining its goals for forest health. In the report, the agency cited increasing annual timber harvests as one of its goals. There has been bipartisan concern from lawmakers that timber harvests remain substantially lower than they were during the late 1980s. Both Chairman Glenn Thompson (R-PA) and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) asserted that the FS needs to focus more on the needs of communities that depend on the jobs and revenue brought in from timber harvests.

Reps. Schrader and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) also questioned FS Chief Tom Tidwell on the pine bark beetle infestations in their respective states. Chief Tidwell pointed to the role investment in research plays in improving ways to mitigate the bark beetle infestations as well as those of other insects that plague timber managers, such as the emerald ash borer and gypsy moth.

To view the hearing and find more information, click here.


On March 27, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the first-ever proposed Clean Air Act standard for carbon pollution from new power plants. The regulations are intended to reduce the amount of fossil fuels emissions.

The proposed standard would only apply to power plants built in the future. The regulations would require new power plants that burn fossil fuels to release no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt‐hour. According to EPA, new natural-gas plants will be able to meet the standard without supplemental technology while new coal plants will need new technology like carbon capture and storage, in which carbon dioxide emissions are collected and sequestered in the ground rather than released into the atmosphere.

The agency said new natural-gas plants will be able to meet the standard without adding any additional technology. However, new coal plants would need to add new technology like carbon capture and storage (CCS), in which carbon dioxide emissions are collected and sequestered in the ground rather than released into the atmosphere. EPA reports that the rules give new coal-fired power plants flexibility to meet the standard by allowing those that implement CCS to use a 30-year average of their carbon dioxide emissions as opposed to meeting the standard on an annual basis.

For additional information on the standard, click here.


On March 29, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) announced its “Big Data Research and Development Initiative.” The multi-agency endeavor seeks to improve federal methods of organizing research findings from large quantities of digital data.

Participating agencies include the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy and the United States Geological Survey. NSF and NIH have released a solicitation, “Core Techniques and Technologies for Advancing Big Data Science & Engineering,” or “Big Data.”  This program aims to extract and use knowledge from collections of large data sets in order to improve data collection and management of science and engineering research.

The initiative comes in response to recommendations by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, which last year concluded that the federal government is under-investing in technologies related to Big Data.  Additional information, including a fact sheet, on the initiative can be found here.


On March 29, House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) and House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Edward Markey (D-MA) announced the release of a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that evaluates the oil industries’ oil spill containment capabilities in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident.

“Interior Has Strengthened Its Oversight of Subsea Well Containment, but Should Improve Its Documentation,” provides information on the status of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement’s (BOEMRE) efforts to oversee the oil industry’s subsea well containment capabilities in the Gulf of Mexico. While GAO found that industry had improved its response and containment capabilities, it concluded that the agency still needs to fully document its internal oversight processes as well as outline its plan for incorporating its containment response tests into its unplanned oil spill drills for private companies.

“Interior has not tested most operators’ ability to respond to a subsea blowout, and has not established a time frame to incorporate these tests,” the report says. “Until Interior sets a time frame for incorporating well containment scenarios into unannounced spill drills, there is limited assurance that operators are prepared to respond to a subsea blowout.” A senior Interior official reportedly concurred with GAO that response scenarios should be a regular part of annual plans for future drills.

View the full report here.


The Lenfest Ocean Program recently released a report that finds small fish are roughly three times as valuable in the sea where they become food for commercially valuable larger species as opposed to when they are caught for livestock feed or dietary supplements.

According to the report, forage fish contribute an estimated total of $16.9 billion to global fisheries annually. In contrast, the report estimates that direct catch value is “approximately one-third of that total.” The small fish were found to play a vital in virtually every ocean ecosystem and are vulnerable to localized depletion due to overfishing. The report urges fishery managers to drastically reduce the worldwide catch for forage fish, which include anchovies, sardines and herrings.

“We understand that every ecosystem is unique and would benefit from tailor-made solutions that account for individual characteristics, management structure, and research capacity of each system,” the report notes. “However, we believe that the guidance provided herein will prove widely useful in holistic management of forage fish fisheries because it is flexible enough to be applied in data-rich situations as well as low-information scenarios.”

The report was developed by the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force, a team of scientists which includes Ecological Society of America (ESA) members Marc Mangel (University of California – Santa Cruz), Tim Essington (University of Washington), Robert Steneck (University of Maine) and Dee Boersma (University of Washington) who also serves on ESA’s Rapid Response Team. The task force was chaired by Ellen K. Pikitch, Director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, who is also an ESA member.

View the full report here.


On March 29, the Ecological Society of America’s 2012 Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA) recipients joined over twenty other biologists to encourage lawmakers in the House and Senate to continue to invest in in science.

As in years past, the 2012 GSPA winners Sara Kuebbing (University of Tennessee), Adam Rosenblatt (Florida International University) and Matthew Schuler (University of Washington – St. Louis) along with ESA President Steward Pickett (Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies) spoke with Capitol Hill lawmakers and staff to support the president’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 budget request for the National Science Foundation. During the two-day event, participants were also briefed by federal officials, including representatives from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and NSF and took part in a policy orientation session.

The annual Congressional Visits Day is sponsored by the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC), jointly spearheaded by the Ecological Society of America (ESA) and the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). Six BESC “teams” comprised of biological scientists from across the U.S. met with nearly 50 offices in the House and Senate. The scientists underscored their message with personal stories regarding the research they are doing in the local communities the lawmakers represent.

The individual congressional visits constituted a plethora of diversity, both regionally and ideologically. The overwhelming majority of offices were receptive to the message that investment in science has multifaceted benefits to society that include advancing educational opportunities and job creation.   Several offices encouraged the scientists to reach beyond their own communities and take the time to talk with other Americans about the benefits of federal investment in research and science education.


Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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