ESA Policy News: March 9

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

BUDGET: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS ADMINISTRATION PRIORITIES

The House Science, Space and Technology committee recently convened hearings that examined the science and research investments outlined in President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget proposal. During a Feb. 17 hearing that focused on research and development, there was a consensus among committee leaders on certain investments while views differed sharply on where the administration’s priorities should lie.

“I continue to believe that while it is true that prudent investments in science and technology, including STEM education, will almost certainly yield future economic gains and help create new jobs of the future, it is also true that these gains can be hindered by poor decision-making,” said Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX). Hall expressed his concern for increases in programs he views as “duplicative and wasteful” as well as increases for climate change related research. Hall also expressed concern for the National Aeronautical and Space Administration’s (NASA) request, which would cut funding by $59 million.

Committee Democrats were overall supportive of the budget, mindful of the current political climate that has members of both parties urging some manner of fiscal restraint. “Investments in research and development and STEM education are critical to fostering innovation and maintaining our nation’s competitive edge.  But these are also fiscally challenging times,” stated Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “We will have some concerns and disagreements, but let me be clear.  This is a good budget for research, innovation, and education under the circumstances,” she added.

With regard to the administration’s budget request for the National Science Foundation (NSF), austerity concerns from the majority were somewhat more tepid. “While a nearly five percent increase for NSF in FY 13 shows stronger fiscal constraint than the FY 2012 request at 13 percent, I remain concerned that our federal agencies still are not doing enough to encourage austerity and properly prioritize scarcer federal funds,” stated Research and Education Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL). “NSF has a long and proven track record, one in which we are all proud, and I have every reason to believe NSF will continue this good work with whatever budgets are forthcoming from Congress,” he concluded.

View the R&D hearing here. View the NSF hearing here.

BUDGET: EPA ADMINISTRATOR CRITICIZED OVER REGULATORY EFFORTS

The week of February 27 brought Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson to Capitol Hill for congressional hearings concerning the agency’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget request.

Funding for EPA under the president’s budget request would be cut by one percent for a total of $8.3 billion in FY 2013. Nonetheless, congressional Republicans have been steadfast in calling for additional cuts, noting the substantial increases the agency received during FY 2009 and 2010. They are also critical of many EPA regulations and initiatives making it likely that environmental policy riders will again be attached to appropriations bills when legislation is considered this spring and summer.

Much of the critique from majority Republicans is related to EPA’s hydraulic fracturing study, clean water and air quality regulations as well as proposals to improve the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) was particularly critical of EPA’s handling of coal mining permits, contending the agency’s failure to approve permits in the Appalachian region has cost jobs in his congressional district. EPA administrator Jackson maintained that the 37 mining permits to which the agency has objected were rejected because scientists said they would have contaminated local water.

An equal level of partisanship was evident during a joint hearing of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittees on Energy and Power, chaired by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Environment and Economy, chaired by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL). A recurring theme among committee Republicans during the hearing was the sentiment that implementation of EPA’s regulations ultimately prove to be doubly costly for American taxpayers.

For additional information on the House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing, click here. For additional information on the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, click here.

BUDGET: HOUSE, SENATE COMMITTEES REVIEW NOAA PRIORITIES

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Jane Lubchenco endured critique from both chambers and both parties during committee hearings on the agency’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget request.

Lubchenco said that the NOAA budget reflects numerous tough choices, including program terminations and budget cuts that include cutting the National Weather Service, terminating the National Mesonet, a network of weather stations designed to observe certain meteorological phenomena and cutting the budget for the NOAA Education Program by more than half.  “To ensure that we can deliver on these core services, we have prioritized our activities, made limited targeted investments, reduced or terminated activities that while important could not be accommodated in the current fiscal environment without threatening our capacity to deliver our core services and sought out administrative efficiencies to ensure that every dollar is maximized,” asserted Lubchenco.

During the March 6 House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment hearing, Republicans expressed concerns that the Obama administration was prioritizing “political environmental agendas” over quality science. “Only in Washington, as we face an unprecedented fiscal train wreck and continue to be forced to borrow 40 cents on the dollar, can a requested budget increase of 3.1 percent for NOAA and 1.4 percent for EPA be characterized as making ‘tough choices,’” said Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD).

Critique from Democrats was totally contrary to that of Republicans “Despite the challenging economic times, it is unwise to sacrifice services that the public relies on, such as weather forecasting and warning capabilities,” said Subcommittee Ranking Member Brad Miller (D-NC).  This sentiment was more or less echoed the following day by Democrats during a Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee hearing on NOAA’s budget request.

View the House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing here. View the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing here.

BUDGET: INTERIOR OFFICIALS TESTIFY ON AGENCY PRIORITIES

In recent weeks, representatives of the Department of Interior (DOI) and its various sub agencies have ascended Capitol Hill for a series of congressional meetings of the president’s FY 2013 budget request for the agency.

Many of the concerns were state-based. Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI) urged Salazar to accelerate efforts to complete a wind energy lease off the Rhode Island shore. These sentiments were echoed by Susan Collins (R-ME) whose state also benefits from investment in offshore wind energy. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) expressed concern with Interior’s proposal to cut $200 million from a coastal impact assistance program for states affected by offshore drilling. Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) expressed concerns with cuts to the Alaska Conveyance Program and increased fees and royalties for leasing and development on federal lands.

Salazar had previously appeared Feb. 15 before the House Natural Resources Committee where Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) took the opportunity to question him on the agency’s coal regulations and its six year moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Hastings was also critical of the administration’s attempt to slash oil industry tax breaks. Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-MA) expressed support for DOI’s decision to increase investment in both renewable energy permitting and offshore oil and gas oversight. He also highlighted Interior’s proposal to boost research into water supplies and management options in the West by $20 million, raising the program to $75 million. These concerns were also expressed by Republican leaders during a House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee meeting that same week.

To view the House Natural Resources Committee Interior hearing, click here. To view the House Appropriations Committee Interior hearing, click here. To view the Senate Appropriations Committee Interior hearing, click here. To view the House Natural Resources BLM/NPS hearing, click here.

SENATE: AG COMMITTEE CONSIDERS CONSERVATION IN FARM BILL REAUTHORIZATION 

On Feb. 28, the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee met to discuss the importance of conservation programs in the next farm bill, which is up for reauthorization this year. The current farm bill expires Sept. 30, 2012.

Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) asserted that conservation programs benefit Americans in a variety of ways. “Conservation helps farmers and ranchers to produce food, feed, fuel and fiber while taking care of the land and water,” she said. “As we continue our work, this farm bill must focus on making our programs simpler, locally driven, science-based, and flexible.”

Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-KS), however, called for streamlining programs in the conservation title of the next farm bill. “A single program will not meet the needs of all producers, but we have gone too far in the other direction,” he said. “We now have duplicative programs that have become more and more complicated…My goal during this farm bill process is to maintain options for producers while simplifying the programs for producers and those tasked with implementation.”

Senators heard from agency officials and conservation groups on how to best continue federal agricultural programs related to conservation. Representing the U.S. Department of Agriculture, both David White, Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Bruce Nelson, Administrator of the Farm Service Agency, called for targeted assistance to environmentally sensitive areas and expanding state and local input into conservation decisions. The full hearing is viewable here.

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE: AGENCIES RELEASE DISPARITY MITIGATION STRATEGIES

On Feb. 27, several federal agencies, led by the Council on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency released environmental justice strategies that aim to protect communities facing disproportionately high health and environmental risks. The effort seeks to address disparities that currently exist in low-income and minority communities.

Federal agencies releasing new environmental justice strategies include: the Department of Agriculture, Department of Labor, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Transportation, Department of Interior, Department of Veterans Affairs and General Services Administration. The EPA and the Department of Energy published strategies in 2011 and 2008, respectively, and released annual implementation plans last year. Additional information regarding each agency’s environmental justice strategies can be found here.

POLICY ENGAGEMENT: ESA SEEDS STUDENTS ADVOCATE FOR STEM EDUCATION

On March 1, several small teams of Ecological Society of America (ESA) SEEDS students ascended Capitol Hill to advocate for federal investment in Science Technology Education and Mathematics (STEM) Education.

The groups compromising nine students and staff from ESA’s Education and Public Affairs offices met with the offices of over 20 Senators and Representatives to request their support for a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that includes provisions related to STEM education. Specifically, the students called on policymakers to support the bipartisan bill introduced by Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Ranking Member Michael Enzi (R-WY) that takes an all-encompassing approach to advancing science education programs.

Many of the policy sentiments related to reauthorization of ESEA were echoed from feedback given from various science and education organizations on how to best reauthorize the legislation. ESA recently endorsed a letter spearheaded by the STEM Education Coalition, which provided input on the various House and Senate bills that would reauthorize ESEA. To view the STEM Education Coalition letter, click here.

POLICY ENGAGEMENT: ESA JOINS SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES IN OPPOSITION TO GRANT ACT

In February, the Ecological Society of America was among 84 scientific organizations as part of the Coalition for National Science Funding who joined together in sending a letter to Congress expressing concerns with H.R. 3433, the Grant Reform and New Transparency (GRANT) Act.

Introduced by Rep. James Lankford (R-OK), the GRANT Act directs federal agencies to establish uniform standards for how they notice, award, and disclose discretionary competitive grants, with the goal of increasing transparency of the award process. However, the scientific societies were specifically concerned about a provision in the GRANT Act that would require the posting of a complete copy of a funded grant proposal to a new government-wide website.

“Requiring a complete copy of a funded grant proposal to be available on a public website would seriously limit the ability of grant recipients to reap benefits from their own research.  A proposal can contain intellectual property of the researcher and the institution that employs the researcher,” the letter states. “The ideas and directions of research outlined are, in most cases, based on years of work.  These ideas can also be the basis for other research performed by the proposer, including research that may not be funded by the federal government.”

The letter also expresses concern with a provision that would allow identification of grant peer reviewers, forgoing the anonymity that is important in maintaining an impartial peer-review process. To view the full letter, click here.

 

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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