Here are some highlights from the latest Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.
The week of July 6, two House appropriations subcommittees that fund federal agencies with jurisdiction over ecological issues released and marked-up their draft funding bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012.
The House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill includes a total of $50.2 billion in funding, a reduction of $3.1 billion below FY 2011 spending levels. The House Interior and Environment Appropriations bill includes a total of $27.5 billion in spending, a reduction of $2.1 billion below FY2011 spending levels.
FY2012 CJS Bill Highlights:
National Science Foundation (NSF) – The bill funds NSF at $6.9 billion, level with FY2011 and $907 million below the president’s request for FY2012.
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) – The bill funds OSTP at $3 million, less than half of the $6.6 million it received in FY2011 and $3.65 million below the president’s request.
Department of Commerce – The bill contains $7.1 billion for the Commerce Department, $464 million (six percent) below last year’s level and $1.7 billion (19 percent) below the president’s request.
Department of the Interior (DOI) – DOI is funded at $9.9 billion, $720 million or seven percent below FY2011 and $1.2 billion below the President’s request.
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) – The bill includes $1.1 billion for the USGS, a $30 million cut below last year’s level. The majority of the reductions are in climate change and satellite imaging programs, while energy and minerals, natural hazards, and water programs are prioritized. The bill also does not provide funding for the administration’s proposal to transfer the “LandSat” satellite imaging program from NASA to the USGS.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – The bill includes $1 billion for BLM – a decrease of $63 million below last year’s level and a decrease of $60 million below the budget request. This does not include a proposal by the President to increase oil and gas fees by $38 million.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) – The FWS is funded at $1.2 billion in the bill, a cut of $315 million (21 percent) below last year’s level.
National Park Service (NPS) – NPS is funded at $2.5 billion, $129 million below FY2011.
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) – The bill contains $154 million for BOEMRE, which is $72 million below FY2011.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – EPA is funded at $7.1 billion, $1.5 billion (18 percent) below FY2011 and $1.8 billion (20 percent) below the president’s request. The bill also cuts a number of EPA programs and initiatives.
U.S. Forest Service – The bill includes $4.5 billion for the Forest Service, $164 million below FY2011 and $412 million below the president’s request.
APPROPRIATIONS: ESA JOINS SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES IN SUPPORT OF NSF FUNDING
The Ecological Society of America has joined a number of scientific societies in sending a letter to senior House appropriations committee members in support of the National Science Foundation.
The letter, spearheaded by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, highlights the importance of using the scientific peer review system as the foundation for awarding research grants based on merit, noting that funding for individual programs should not be threatened by criticism that stems from outside the independent nonpartisan scientific review process. “As you prepare to debate the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012, the undersigned organizations stand in strong opposition to legislative attempts to undermine the peer review process by seeking to defund research grants that have already been awarded after extensive evaluation by independent scientific review panels,” the letter states.
The letter expresses opposition to eliminating or reducing funding for specific areas of science, noting specific examples on how diverse disciplines of science have worked collectively to make vital contributions to society.
The Commerce Justice and Science Appropriations Act of FY2012 was marked up July 7. The week the letter is intended to be sent before the full committee mark-up of the bill, currently scheduled for July 13. Appropriations committee staff expects the bill to be taken up by the full House by the first week of August, before the month-long recess.
APPROPRIATIONS: WHITE HOUSE OPPOSES GOP ENERGY AND WATER FUNDNG BILL
On July 6, the White House released a statement in opposition to H.R. 2354, the Energy and Water Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2012, which the House began debating this week.
Among its criticism, the Obama administration states that the levels of funding provided for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) research and development programs is insufficient to further scientific research and puts America’s technological competiveness at risk. The bill substantially cuts a number of administration energy priorities, including solar energy, efficient vehicles, weatherization and biomass research and development.
Regarding DOE’s climate research the administration states that “the funding level for the Office of Science’s Biological and Environmental Research program would hamper the administration’s efforts to conduct and support scientific research on the relationship between energy production and the environment. The administration also strongly disagrees with the Committee Report suggestion that climate and atmospheric research are unrelated to DOE’s core basic science mission.”
BATS: SUBCOMMITTEE REVIEWS WHITE NOSE SYNDROME CONTROL EFFORTS
On June 24, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs reviewed the impact White-Nose Syndrome is having on 47 species of bats in North America.
In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman John Fleming (R-LA) noted the importance of the hearing. “Bats consume vast amounts of insects and according to the April edition of Science magazine, their value to U.S. agriculture is between $3.7 to $53 billion each year,” he stated. “As a doctor, I was interested in learning that some 80 different medicines come from plants that need bats to survive.”
Dr. Gabriela Chavarria, Science Adviser to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, noted that the disease, discovered in 2006, is a new species to science and grows on living tissues, unlike most fungi. Dr. Chavarria noted a number of stakeholders from the state and federal agencies, including FWS, the U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Department of Agriculture and academics have coordinated an effort to “identify the impact of white nose syndrome on bat populations and the ecosystem as a whole” as well as “develop management and containment efforts for federal and state wildlife managers.”
Nina Fascione, Executive Director of Bat Conservation International, based in Austin Texas, noted that researchers are predicting the Northeast regional extinction of the little brown bat, North America’s most common bat species, “in as little as 16 years.” She also noted that the lost of bat species would lead to farmers using more pesticides, which is both an economic burden to them and an environmental hazard. She predicted farmers could see the impacts in as little as four to five years. She also noted the impacts of increased listing of bat species for protection under the Endangered Species Act would have regulatory impacts on “mining, defense, energy, forestry, construction, transportation, tourism and outdoor recreation.”
HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS PROPOSED NOAA CLIMATE SERVICE
On June 22, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco testified before the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment on the agency’s proposed climate service.
NOAA first announced the reorganization in Feb. 2010. Dr. Lubchenco described the proposed center as an efficiency improvement and emphasized that it would be budget-neutral and would not detract from NOAA’s other operations. The center would house the agency’s existing climate research, modeling, services and data management activities, including the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research and the National Weather Service.
The move has garnered opposition from Republicans in Congress who believe the reorganization would also refocus the agency’s research into ideologically-driven motives. Chairman Ralph Hall (R-Texas) added language to the most recent Fiscal Year 2011 continuing resolution to prohibit NOAA from using any funds to create the new office at least through September. Dr. Lubchenco stated the role of the center would be to coordinate NOAA’s response to weather trends, not to advocate for policy. “This proposal would strengthen science across the agency, increase organizational effectiveness and create a new line office to allow NOAA to better meet the growing demand for information and services to help Americans plan for drought, prepare for floods and support U.S. national security priorities around the globe,” said Dr. Lubchenco.
SUPREME COURT: JUSTICES WILL HEAR WETLANDS CASE
The Supreme Court has decided to take up a case challenging whether people accused by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of violating environmental laws have a right to immediately take their case to a federal judge.
Chantell and Michael Sackett sought to build a house on a half-acre parcel near Priest Lake, Idaho. After they began earth-moving work, the Sacketts were halted by EPA, which said the property fell within the jurisdiction of Section 400 of the Clean Water Act. According to EPA, the landowners were in violation after they placed fill material into wetlands. The order prevented further construction work on the site and required the Sacketts to restore the wetlands.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Sacketts’ due process rights were not violated because those subject to compliance orders have an opportunity to go to court if EPA commences an enforcement action. The Sacketts contend they have a constitutional right to seek judicial review of that order right away.
INTERIOR: SENATE CONFIRMS NEW FWS DIRECTOR
On June 30, the U.S. Senate confirmed Daniel M. Ashe as the 16th Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
During his tenure with FWS, Ashe helped craft the strategy to help the agency deal with effects of climate change. Ashe has led in the development of the agency’s Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, which are intended to leverage resources and strategically target science to inform conservation decisions and actions.
AIR POLLUTION: CALIFORNIA DELAYS CAP AND TRADE PROGRAM
In the wake of increased litigation, California state regulators announced June 29 that they would give industry an additional year to comply with a new state program that provides financial incentives to emit fewer greenhouse gases.
In testimony before a state senate committee, California Air Resources Board (ARB) Chairwoman Mary Nichols announced the extended the deadline to comply from 2012 to 2013. Nichols said the state would still initiate the regulatory framework for cap and trade in 2012, pending the outcome of an appeal of a lawsuit challenging the program. Nichols said the state would still initiate the regulatory framework for cap and trade in 2012, pending the outcome of an appeal of a lawsuit challenging the program.
The program is a key statute of state’s first-in-the-nation effort to cut planet-warming gases to 1990 levels by 2020 through a cap-and-trade program. Under the program, 600 industrial facilities, including cement manufacturers, electrical plants and oil refineries, would cap their emissions in 2012, with that limit gradually decreasing over eight years.
MINING: INTERIOR ANNOUNCES ONE MILLION ACRE WITHDRAWAL NEAR GRAND CANYON
On June 20, Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar announced plans to withdraw one million acres near the Grand Canyon from new uranium mining claims for a period of 20 years. The lands are located within portions of the Grand Canyon watershed, including the Colorado River and its tributaries that flow into Grand Canyon National Park.
Conservationists assert the ban protects natural resources, human health, wildlife as well as tourism activity in the region. Industry groups, meanwhile, are critical of the move. The National Mining Association released a statement, claiming that “DOI has made an arbitrary decision that has consequences for nearly 300,000 people in Arizona still looking for work, the nation’s dependency on foreign sources of energy and the scientific integrity of the regulatory process.”