ESA Policy News May 2, 2014: House bill boosts NSF, NOAA climate research reviewed, new USDA conservation programs

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

APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE CJS BILL INCREASES SCIENCE INVESTMENT

On April 30, the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee released its funding bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. The bill includes funding for the Department of Justice, Department of Commerce and several key federal science agencies for the coming fiscal year that starts October 1, 2014.

The bill includes $7.4 billion for the National Science Foundation; a $237 million increase over the FY 2014 enacted funding level and $150 million above the president’s request for FY 2015.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would receive $5.3 billion in FY 2015; level with its FY 2014 enacted funding level. The bill also fully funds NOAA’s two satellite programs—the Joint Polar Satellite System and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite.

Additional information on the bill is available here.

SENATE: HEARING EXAMINES IMPORTANCE OF RESEARCH INVESTMENT

On April 29, the Senate Appropriations Committee held a hearing entitled, “Driving Innovation through Federal Investments.” The hearing focused on the important role that federal funding plays in supporting scientific research.

“It’s not an understatement to argue that federal investment in research is an investment in America’s future,” stated Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). “This realization has led me, and many of my colleagues, to consider some difficult questions.”

“I agree reducing the budget deficit is important, but are we being so austere that we are limiting our future growth? And as one of the greatest countries in the world, are we so preoccupied with making budget cuts that we’re heading towards an innovation deficit as well?”

Federal agency witnesses testifying before the committee included Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren. He noted that while the share of funding for US research and development supported by the federal government has dropped from as much as two-thirds in the 1960s to one-third today, the federal government remains “the largest funder of the basic research that produces the seed-corn from which all applied advances in innovation grow.”

Holdren noted that the National Science Foundation (NSF) is currently viewed around the world as “the gold standard” in its peer review grant-making process and argued that the agency’s existing grant-making process be maintained.

View the full hearing here.

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS NOAA PRIORITIES

On April 30, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Environment held a hearing examining the proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

While expressing support for the overall NOAA budget request, Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) was critical of the amount of funding dedicated towards climate change research.

“Almost $190 million is requested for climate research, more than twice the amount dedicated to weather research,” stated Chairman Smith. “There are 13 other agencies that are involved in climate change research, and according to the Congressional Research Service, they have spent $77 billion between 2008 and 2013.” Smith was also critical of NOAA’s climate.gov website, which he contended included “non-peer reviewed” information “promoting climate alarmism for children.”

Testifying, NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, clarified the importance of climate research by noting that while weather services help us predict events and trends over a two week period, climate research helps us understand atmospheric changes over longer time scales. As an example, she stated that climate research will provide important information about the future drought outlook for water managers and ranchers.

“The range of information needs that American citizens and businesses have is across a huge range of time scales,” stated Sullivan. “And if we aspire, as NOAA is chartered to do, to respond to those demands, to those really urgent needs across that whole range of scales, we have to be able to investigate and study and understand the many different timescales that are natural to this planet,” she continued. “To use a metaphor, we have to be able to play the whole keyboard if we’re going to play the symphony that our communities are really asking us to play.”

View the full hearing here.

EPA: SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS CROSS-STATE AIR POLLUTION RULE

On April 29, the US Supreme Court upheld a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that allows the agency to regulate air pollution that drifts across state lines.

“EPA’s cost-effective allocation of emission reductions among upwind States, we hold, is a permissible, workable, and equitable interpretation of the Good Neighbor provision,” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the 6-2 ruling decision. Ginsburg referenced an earlier Supreme Court case, Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, which held that if a statute’s language is ambiguous, courts must defer to an agency’s interpretation. A federal appellate court had previously held that the EPA’s authority superseded the state’s by implementing federal plans for cutting air pollution before states were allowed to draft their own.

Ginsburg was joined in her opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Anthony Kennedy and Sonia Sotomayor. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas filed a dissenting opinionwhile Justice Samuel Alito recused himself.

For additional information on the ruling, click here. Additional information on the EPA rule can be found here.

NSF: NATIONAL SCIENCE BOARD REBUFFS FIRST ACT

On April 24, the National Science Board (NSB), the Governing Board for the National Science Foundation, released a statement criticizing legislation that would reauthorize funding for the National Science Foundation, the Frontiers in Innovation Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act.

The NSB rarely releases public statements on legislation. At the same time, it is highly unusual  and unprecedented for Congress to write legislation, as it does in the FIRST ACT, stipulating how NSF would conduct its grant-making process.

A major contention NSB cited in its statement is language in the bill that would allow Congress to authorize funding levels for individual NSF Directorates, much the way they do for NIH. This however, limits the agency’s discretion in allocating funding for specific NIH priorities. NSF officials fear the legislation would ultimately lead to the same constraints.

“Some elements of the bill would also impose significant new burdens on scientists that would not be offset by gains to the nation,” the NSB press statement notes. “Our greatest concern is that the bill’s specification of budget allocations to each NSF Directorate would significantly impede NSF’s flexibility to deploy its funds to support the best ideas in fulfillment of its mission.”

View the full NSB press release here.

SENATE: KEYSTONE DELAY PROMPTS AMENDMENT TO ENERGY EFFICIENCY BILL

The Obama administration’s recent move to postpone its decision on whether it will approve the Keystone XL pipeline has political implications for a bipartisan energy bill moving through the Senate.

On April 18, the US State Department announced that it would delay reaching a decision on the pipeline until after a court challenge to its proposed route through Nebraska is resolved. Prior to the announcement, there was an expectation that the administration could reach a decision as early as this month, when the public comment period ended. It is now expected that a final decision may not be reached until the end of the year.

A court ruling that invalidates the route as planned could necessitate the need for an alternative route. Therefore, a decision by the administration to approve the pipeline could be subject to further litigation. When viewed through a political lens, this also benefits the Obama administration by punting a contentious decision until after the 2014 mid-term elections. Consequently, pipeline proponents have begun to refocus on legislative efforts to expedite its approval.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) plans to take up a bipartisan energy efficiency bill sponsored by Senators Jeanne Sheehan (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) beginning May 5th. Currently, Republican leaders in the Congress and the Senate who support the pipeline have indicated they may propose an amendment to the energy bill to help fast-track its approval.

 

USDA: FARM BILL AUTHORIZES NEW CONSERVATION INITIATIVES

On May 1, the US Department of Agriculture announced it was accepting applications for two new conservation programs authorized by the Agricultural Act of 2014, which reauthorizes farm bill programs.

The Agricultural Conservation Easements Program (ACEP) and the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) will provide up to $386 million for outdoor recreational activities, wetland restoration and protection assistance for agricultural lands.

ACEP consolidates three former easement programs—the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program, the Grassland Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program—into a single program to strengthen land and water conservation efforts. VPA-HIP is a competitive grant program that enables state and Tribal governments to increase opportunities for owners and managers of private lands who want to make their land available for public recreation.

Applications for ACEP funding are due June 6, 2014. Additional information can be found here. Applications for the VPA-HIP are due June 16, 2014. Addition information can be found here.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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