ESA Policy News, January 17, 2014: budget relief, enviro-ed grants, and a toxic spill in WV

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

APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS PASSES FY 2014 SPENDING BILL

This week, Congress passed a $1.012 trillion omnibus spending measure to fund the government for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2014, which ends Sept. 30. Overall, the bill alleviates the effects of sequestration for some federal programs while placing limits on certain regulatory efforts through federal riders.

The bill uses the spending levels set by the Murray-Ryan bipartisan budget agreement as a framework, which helped foster bipartisan support for the omnibus measure. The bill was crafted under the bicameral leadership of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY).  The bill passed the House by a vote of 359-67 and subsequently passed the Senate by a vote of 72-26. The president has indicated he will sign the measure.

Implementation of sequestration led to significant drops in funding for most federal agencies in the final seven months of FY 2013 (a 5.3 percent cut to non-defense discretionary programs and a 7.9 percent cut to defense discretionary programs). Enclosed are FY 2014 funding levels for key federal agencies that focus on science and the environment relative to FY 2012 enacted levels:

  • Agricultural Research Service: $1.122 billion, a $27 million increase.
  • Animal Plant Health Inspection Service: $821.7 million, a $5.2 million increase.
  • Army Corp of Engineers: $5.467 billion, a $465 million increase.
  • Bureau of Land Management: $1.1 billion (level).
  • DOE Office of Science: $5.071 billion, a $136 million increase.
  • EPA: $8.2 billion, a $200 million decrease.
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration: $17.65 billion, a $150 million decrease.
  • National Institute of Food and Agriculture:
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $5.315 billion, a $409 million increase.
  • National Science Foundation: $7.172 billion, a $67 million increase.
  • National Park Service: $2.5 billion, a $100 billion decrease.
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service: $813 million, a $31 million decrease.
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.4 billion, a $100 million decrease.
  • US Forest Service: $5.5 billion, a $900 million increase.
  • US Geological Survey: $1.032 billion, a $36 million decrease.

A detailed summary of the omnibus bill can be found clicking on links to the House and Senate appropriations committee websites.

TOXIC SUBSTANCES: WEST VIRGINIA SPILL SPARKS CHEMICAL SAFETY POLICIES REVIEW

Members of Congress are beginning to review different policy responses in the wake of the recent chemical spill that left roughly 300,000 West Virginia residents without water for several days.

On Jan. 9, as much as 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (also known as crude MCHM) spilled into the Elk River due to leaks from a Freedom Industries facility storage tank. Lawmakers are currently reviewing various changes to the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. Among them is Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) who is readying a bill that would require above ground storage tanks located near a waterway to be subject to more stringent regulations, akin to existing requirements for below ground storage tanks.

West Virginia’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) issued an advisory warning pregnant women to drink bottled water until there is no longer detectable levels of MCHM in the state’s tap water. This notice came after federal officials had confirmed that MCHM levels had dropped below one part per million (ppm), which is deemed safe for consumption. The notice prompted Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Sen. Manchin to send a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which prompted the state DHHS action. Policymakers, with the backing of health groups and scientists, are now questioning whether there is enough research available to accurately confirm that the on ppm level for MCHM should be considered safe.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has stated she intends to hold hearings on the spill. The Water and Wildlife Subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), will hold a hearing focused specifically on the water issues surrounding the spill and the full committee will hold a separate hearing focused on general chemical safety.

To view the West Virginia notice, click here. View the Capito-Manchin letter here.

WHITE HOUSE: OSTP DIRECTOR HOLDREN EXPLAINS ‘POLAR VORTEXT’ VIA YOUTUBE

In a brief two-minute YouTube video on Jan 8, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren sought to refute claims that the recent extreme cold front that hit much of North America, commonly known as the “polar vortex,” challenges the existence of global climate change.

Director Holdren clarifies that no single weather event can prove or disprove climate change while noting that the US can expect to experience an increasing frequency of extreme weather conditions as climate change increases. “A growing body of evidence suggests that the kind of extreme cold being experienced by much of the United States as we speak is a pattern that we can expect to see with increasing frequency as global warming continues,” states Holdren.

Holdren explains that the rapid warming of the arctic is decreasing the temperature difference between the far northern regions and mid-latitude regions. As a consequence of this decreasing temperature difference between the two regions, the polar vortex weakens allowing cold air to be released from the arctic towards the mid-latitude regions while allowing warmer air to reach further north.

Watch the full video here.

USGS: KIMBALL NOMINATED AS NEW DIRECTOR

On Jan. 9, President Obama nominated Acting-Director Suzette Kimball to lead the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

Kimball has served at USGS since 1998. Prior to her appointment as acting-director upon the departure of Marcia McNutt, she served as deputy director from 2010-2013. She served as associate director for geology from 2008-2010 and director of the eastern region from 2004-2008. She had previously served as acting director of USGS between Jan. 2009 and Nov. 2009.

The USGS director serves as the US Department of Interior secretary’s chief science advisor. The agency’s mission includes providing scientific input in response to natural disasters as well as in federal management of energy, water, biological and mineral resources.

GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS: ESA WEIGHS IN ON FEDERAL EMPLOYEE CONFERENCE ATTENDANCE

In advance of a Jan. 14 Senate hearing on the issue of conference and travel spending in the federal government, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) joined a number of scientific societies in sending letters to Capitol Hill highlighting the importance of federal employee participation in science conferences.

Referencing ESA’s annual meeting, the letter notes how scientific conferences provide for the open exchange of information that advances scientific innovation and fosters professional development for participants from a variety of backgrounds. “The exchange of information at such conferences between federal employees, industry representatives, students, teachers and practitioners serves as a vital conduit in conveying science from a multitude of disciplines,” the letter notes. “The loss of one of these critical perspectives creates a knowledge gap that hinders the capability of all the others to apply their research effectively.”

The sentiments of the ESA letter were echoed by Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) during the hearing. “When properly planned and managed, conferences serve a legitimate and oftentimes necessary purpose of fostering collaboration and partnerships between government employees, state regulators, academia and industry,” said Chairman Carper. “And while it is important that agencies make efforts to eliminate any wasteful spending on conferences and travel, we must be careful that we don’t unduly restrict the ability of our agencies to interact with outside groups.”

View the full committee hearing here. View the ESA letter here.

EPA: ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION GRANT APPLICATIONS ACCEPTED

The US Environmental Protection Agency is accepting applicants for environmental education projects under its environment education grant program.

The grant program seeks to engage communities through educational projects that improve public health through environmental stewardship. EPA will award between 22-32 grants through its 10 regional offices. The each grant will be roughly $75,000-$200,000 with the overall program totaling $2.77 million.

Organizations eligible to apply include local education agencies, colleges or universities, state education or environmental agencies, tribal education agencies, 501(C)(3) nonprofit organizations, and noncommercial educational broadcasting entities working in education. Applications are due Feb. 4, 2014.

For additional information, click here.

POLICY ENGAGEMENT: ESA ANNOUNCES 2014 GSPA RECIPIENTS

The Ecological Society of America has selected the 2014 recipients of its annual Graduate Student Policy Award: Sarah Anderson (Washington State University), Andrew Bingham (Colorado State University), Amber Childress (Colorado State University), Brittany West Marsden (University of Maryland) and Johanna Varner (University of Utah). The five students will travel to Washington, DC to participate in policy training sessions as well as meetings with decision-makers on Capitol Hill in April.

Complementing her research into atmospheric nitrogen deposition, Anderson is working in a National Science Foundation-Interdisciplinary Graduate Education and Research Traineeship focused on training scientists in policy. Bingham’s geospatial data work with the National Park Service over the past decade has included service as a resource advisor during the BP gulf oil spill. After spending years in DC immersed in policy engagement, Childress decided to pursue an Ecology Ph.D, furthering her understanding of climate change mitigation.  Marsden was inspired to apply her research on aquatic vegetation populations towards policy after stints at the US Fish and Wildlife Service Patuxent Research Refuge and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Varner’s biological research has included research into the impacts of Hantavirus on rodent populations in Utah as well the effects of human disturbance.

The two-day event is sponsored by the Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition, co-chaired by ESA.

FWS: WILDLIFE REFUGES TO OFFER FEE FREE DAYS IN 2014

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that its national wildlife refuges will offer free admission days in 2014 on the following days:

  • January 20: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • February 15-17: Presidents’ Day weekend
  • September 27: National Public Lands Day
  • October 12: The first day of National Wildlife Refuge Week
  • November 11: Veterans Day

There are 562 national wildlife refuges in the United States, 460 of which are open to the public and 35 offer a $3-$5 entrance fee. According to FWS, the refuges are visited by over 45 million people annually, generate $2.4 billion into the national economy and support over 35,000 jobs.

Additional information about National Wildlife Refuges, including refuges by location, can be found here. 

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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