ESA Policy News: June 28

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



On June 25, President Obama announced his plan to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The plan seeks to implement federal action on addressing climate change in lieu of  Congress that has not passed comprehensive legislation  to reduce carbon emissions throughout the president’s first-term.

“Today, about 40 percent of America’s carbon pollution comes from our power plants.  But here’s the thing:  Right now, there are no federal limits to the amount of carbon pollution that those plants can pump into our air,” said President Obama. “We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air or our water, but power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free.  That’s not right, that’s not safe, and it needs to stop.”

The president asserted that rising sea-levels over the past century have contributed to more damaging hurricanes and that temperature changes have caused more severe droughts and increased the duration and reach of wildfires.

Implemented largely through the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Agriculture and Interior, the plan would set carbon limits on coal-fired industrial plants and invest in renewable energy usage on public lands. To brace for the continued impacts of climate change, the plan utilizes strategies developed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to help communities guard against flooding and extreme weather events. It also intends to apply scientific knowledge to help farmers, ranchers and landowners manage droughts and wildfires and improve forest restoration efforts. Recognizing that mitigating climate change is a global effort, the White House plan also increases federal government involvement in international efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and sets guidelines for how foreign assistance is spent.

For additional information on the plan, click here. To read President Obama’s full remarks, click here.


This month, the House and Senate appropriations committees move forward on legislation to fund federal energy and water development programs for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. Such programs are implemented largely through the Department of Energy (DOE) and US Army Corps of Engineers.

The $30.4 billion House energy and water bill slashes funding for a number of renewable energy and research programs at DOE. Funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would be cut by 40 percent compared to existing sequester level funding. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy would be cut by 80 percent below the sequestered funding. The DOE Office of Science would be funded at $4.7 billion, slightly above the sequester, yet 5.7 percent lower than pre-sequester FY 2012. It was approved by the House Appropriations Committee June 26 along party lines by a vote of 28-21.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) asserts the cuts are necessary to maintain national security and economic investments, including funding the Army Corps. Under the House bill, the Army Corps of Engineers would receive $4.9 billion in FY 2014, two percent below the pre-sequester enacted level for FY 2013. House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey called for an additional $2.6 billion in funding for the Army Corps., citing the agency’s $60 billion backlog in authorization projects. The measure also includes a provision blocking funding for any effort to clarify Clean Water Act jurisdiction over regulating wetlands.

In contrast to the House measure, the Senate bill includes a $300 million boost over pre-sequester FY 2013 spending levels for the Army Corps, $287 million above pre-sequester FY 2013 spending levels for the DOE Office of Science, a $114 million increase for ARPA-E and a $470 million increase for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. Senate Democratic leaders are seeking to enact overall appropriations that adhere to the pre-sequester Budget Control Act levels. They insist the sequester should be addressed, not through appropriations, but in a separate long-term deficit reduction agreement.

For additional information on the Senate Energy and Water bill, click here. For additional information on the House Energy and Water bill, click here.


In a 5-4 ruling, the US Supreme Court this week ruled that governments can owe compensation to property owners who are denied land development permits. The court affirmed that a Florida resident who sought building permits to develop his land could pursue a property rights claim against the St. Johns River Water Management District. The water management district had refused to approve his project unless he made certain concessions, including spending money to improve public lands elsewhere.

The opinion, written by Associate Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas, serves to place greater restrictions on what standards government regulators place on permit applications. In its opinion, the court cited Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, and Dolan v. City of Tigard, which held that a government may not condition a land-use permit on an owner to give up the use of their property unless a “nexus” and rough proportionality” is present between the demand and the effect of the proposed land use.

The Supreme Court opinion reverses the opinion of the Florida Supreme Court, which held that the Nollan-Dolan standard applies to the approval, not the denial, of a permit and that the standard does not apply to a demand for the payment of money, in contrast to a specific burden on property interest. Traditionally, the standard has applied in instances where an approved permit includes a condition that the property owner relinquishes some property. Alito argued that the standard should apply even in instances of a denied permit because landowners are particularly vulnerable to coercion in the land permit process.

The dissenting opinion was penned by Associate Justice Elena Kagan, who agreed with the Florida Supreme Court’s opinion that the Nollan-Dolan standard does not apply to a monetary requirement. Kagen asserted that the majority “threatens to subject a vast array of land-use regulations, applied daily in states and localities throughout the country, to heightened constitutional scrutiny.” Her opinion was joined by the liberal wing of associate justices: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

The full opinion is available here.


On May 31, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released its five year strategic plan for further investment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education. The plan outlines a series of priorities to help federal agencies expand STEM Education in the United States.

Overall, the plan seeks to improve STEM participation in the United States both across all educational levels and in the workforce. In line with the proposal outlined in the president’s FY 2014 budget, the plan also seeks to consolidate all STEM programs under the Department of Education (K-12), the National Science Foundation (undergraduate and post graduate), and the Smithsonian Institution (informal education). The plan’s recommendations include:

  • Improve STEM instruction among the existing STEM Education teacher workforce.
  • Increase youth and public engagement in STEM Education.
  • Enhance the STEM experience among undergraduate students.
  • Better serve women, minority groups and the economically disadvantaged who are historically underrepresented in STEM-related fields.
  • Increase STEM participation in the US workforce by providing graduate-trained STEM professionals with basic and applied research expertise.

View the strategic plan here. Additional information on CoSTEM is available here.


The American Association for the Advancement of Science has released its annual Research &Development report summarizing the president’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget request and its impact on funding for science research.  The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is a long-time contributor to the annual budget analysis.

The report focuses on a number of federal agencies and programs of importance to the scientific community. ESA’s contribution, in collaboration with the American Institute on Biological Sciences, highlights federal programs of importance to the biological and ecological science community, including initiatives at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Departments of Agriculture and Energy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation and the United States Geological Survey.

To view the biological and ecological sciences chapter, click here. To view other individual agencies or sections of the report, click here.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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