ESA Policy News, March 28, 2014: NSF funding reviewed, new climate change intiatives, EPA releases draft water rule

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

BUDGET: CJS SUBCOMMITTEE HEARING DRAWS BIPARTISAN SUPPORT FOR NSF RESEARCH

On March 27, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce Justice and Science and Related Agencies (CJS) held a hearing examining the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 budget request. The hearing is among the last duties of Cora Marrett attending in her current capacity as acting director of NSF before she hands the reins over to the new NSF Director France Cordova, confirmed by the Senate on March 12.

“The subcommittee is a big supporter of basic research, both [Ranking Member Chaka Fattah (D-PA)] and myself, which enables innovative discoveries that boost our economy, improve our national security and answer fundamental questions about the world,” said CJS Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA). “As a result, we have worked hard to ensure NSF receives adequate support even in times of fiscal restraint. In fact, with the exception of Fiscal Year 2013, when sequestration unfortunately produced across the board reductions, we have increased NSF’s research budget every year for the past decade.”

Chairman Wolf expressed concern, however, over NSF’s main research account, which would decrease under the president’s budget and for the consequences of such a decrease on areas such as advanced manufacturing cyber-security and cyber-infrastructure. Acting Director Marrett shared Wolf’s concern while noting the current fiscal restraints that the administration is operating under in view of existing overall discretionary spending limits set by the Murray-Ryan budget agreement for FY 2014-2015. Marrett expressed interest in working with Chairman Wolf and Ranking Member Fattah to address any perceived shortcomings in the existing budget request.

View the full committee hearing here.

BUDGET: SCIENCE COMMITTEE HEARING PROMPTS DISCUSSION OVER NSF TRANSPARENCY

A March 26 House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on the president’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal included discussion over research grants funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and whether there is presently adequate accountability and transparency at the agency.

House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) questioned Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director John Holdren about NSF grants funding a “climate change musical,” and studies of fishing practices around Lake Victoria in Africa, the ecological consequences of early human-set fires, and causes of stress in Bolivia, among others.

The committee recently approved H.R. 4186, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act, which would require NSF to describe why grants they fund are in the national interest. The Ecological Society of America has joined with the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) in expressing concern with these provisions of the FIRST Act as well as its overall authorization funding levels in the bill.

Space Subcommittee Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-MD) said that committee members should look beyond grant titles to get a better sense of their relevancy. “For example, some members have questioned grants studying stress in Bolivia. Well, if someone looked into the research and not just the title, what they would find is that this study was investigating a relatively isolated group of people who are remarkably resilient,” said Edwards. “Other grants that have been mentioned are similar and once you look into the research, you actually read, you understand its importance.”

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

EPA: NEW RULE WOULD CLARIFY FEDERAL JURISDICTION OVER US WATERWAYS

On March 25, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Army Corps of Engineers jointly released a new proposed rule to clarify Clean Water Act (P.L. 92-500) jurisdiction over streams, rivers, tributaries and wetlands.

Federal jurisdiction over management of these waterways in recent years has been somewhat murky following Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006 (Rapanos v. United States), which called into question whether all national waters constituted “navigable waters” under jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. The rule effectively clarifies that nearly all waterways fall under the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction. Geographically isolated wetlands would require a regulator to decide on a case-by-case basis whether the water body significantly affects the surrounding ecosystem.

“We are clarifying protection for the upstream waters that are absolutely vital to downstream communities,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in an agency press release. “Clean water is essential to every single American, from families who rely on safe places to swim and healthy fish to eat, to farmers who need abundant and reliable sources of water to grow their crops, to hunters and fishermen who depend on healthy waters for recreation and their work, and to businesses that need a steady supply of water for operations.”

The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 90 days from publication in a forthcoming edition of the Federal Register. For additional information, click here.

CLIMATE CHANGE: WHITE HOUSE LAUNCHES NEW CLIMATE DATA WEBSITE

On March 19, the White House officially launched its new Climate Data Initiative website to help local communities plan for the impacts of climate change.

The website (http://www.data.gov/climate/) allows the public to access National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Aeronautics Space Administration, the US Geological Survey (USGS), the US Department of Defense (DoD), the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other federal agency data collected on climate change projections. The pilot phase will focus on rising sea levels and coastal flooding. Additional climate change related impacts will be added to the website as it is further developed.

The initiative is a component of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan, a larger comprehensive series of executive branch actions to help address climate change. Additional information on the White House Climate Action Plan is available here.

CLIMATE CHANGE: NEW INITIATIVE SEEKS TO ENGAGE BLACK YOUTH

Two members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) have joined in a new effort to get young African-Americans engaged in the issue of climate change.

The CBC Members involved in the effort are Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Andre Carson (D-IN). The goal of the organizers is to help educate African-American youth on how black communities in urban communities are disproportionately exposed to air and water pollution and its health consequences. The organizers also state that these communities are more vulnerable to natural disasters.

The effort constitutes a six-college tour that began on March 27 at Hampton University in Virginia and continues on to Central State University (OH), Wayne State University (MI), Howard University (DC), North Carolina A&T University, and Clark Atlanta University (GA). The tour is spearheaded by the Hip Hop Caucus, a national civil rights organization that seeks to engage young people ages 14-40 on social issues in policy.

US Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy is scheduled to speak at the Clark Atlanta University event April 24.

For more information, click here.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: LESSER PRARIE CHICKEN GARNERS ‘THREATENED’ LISTING

On March 27, the US Fish and Wildlife Service listed the lesser prairie chicken as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

“The lesser prairie-chicken is in dire straits,” said US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe in a press statement. “Our determination that it warrants listing as a threatened species with a special rule acknowledges the unprecedented partnership efforts and leadership of the five range states for management of the species. Working through the [Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies] range-wide conservation plan, the states remain in the driver’s seat for managing the species – more than has ever been done before – and participating landowners and developers are not impacted with additional regulatory requirements.”

The listing will apply to the states of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, where the species has suffered significant habitat decline. The listing was accompanied by a special FWS rule that will exempt individuals and businesses from limitations on energy development, utility maintenance and other activities that can be affected by a threatened listing.

Additional information on the listing is available here.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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