ESA Policy News: November 22

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

SCIENCE: SUBCOMMITTEE REVIEWS LEGISLATION TO REAUTHORIZE NSF

On Nov. 13, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research considered the Frontiers in Innovation Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act, draft legislation to reauthorize programs in the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as well as various Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education programs.

Committee Democrats were concerned about provisions of the bill that would supersede NSF’s existing merit review process. Chief among Democrats’ concerns was Section 104 of the bill, which requires the NSF director to provide a written justification for each grant verifying that it meets certain requirements, including furthering “the national interest,” being “worthy of federal funding,” furthering economic competitiveness and advancing the health and welfare of the general public. The requirements are similar to those laid out in a previous draft bill authored by science committee Republicans, the High Quality Research Act, which was opposed by the scientific community. The Ecological Society of America joined the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) in sending a letter to the science committee expressing concerns with such efforts earlier this year.

House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-LA) states that the language is necessary to ensure accountability to the American taxpayer over federal funding decisions. “They [government employees] should explain why grants that receive taxpayer funding are important research that has the potential to benefit the national interest. It’s not the government’s money; it’s the people’s money,” asserted Smith. “Enhanced transparency and accountability isn’t a burden; it will ultimately make NSF’s grant award process more effective.”

The draft is the second bill House Republicans have put forward to reauthorize the AMERICA COMPETES Act. Several weeks ago, the committee considered a bill to reauthorize Department of Energy science initiatives. For additional information, see the Nov. 11 edition of ESA Policy News.

To view the CNSF letter to Chairman Smith, click here. For more information on the hearing, click here.

SENATE: COMMITTEE APPROVES SCIENCE AGENCY NOMINEES AHEAD OF RULE CHANGE

On Nov. 12, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved several of President Obama’s choices to lead key positions at the administration’s science agencies.

The committee approved Kathryn Sullivan for the position of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator, Jo Handelsman to be Associate Director for Science for the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and Robert Simon for Associate Director for Environment and Energy for OSTP. Sullivan has previously served as NOAA’s chief scientist and assistant secretary for observation and predictions. If approved by the full Senate, Sullivan would succeed Jane Lubchenco, a former president of the Ecological Society of America.

The upcoming Senate floor confirmation votes for the nominees were made easier this week when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) held a procedural vote to allow most presidential appointments to be approved by a simple majority vote. The rule change effectively denies the Senate minority party the power to filibuster such nominees. The rule change does not apply to legislation or US Supreme Court nominees.

The rule change is often referred to as the “nuclear option” in the media, due to its unprecedented restrictions on the power of the Senate minority party. The change comes as Senate Republicans have sought to hold up a historically large number of President Obama’s nominees.

HOUSE: ENVIRONMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEES SHUFFLE LEADERSHIP

The recent death of House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Chairman Bill Young (R-FL) spurred a slight reorganization of chairmanships at the subcommittee level, including two committees that oversee funding for several key energy and environmental federal agencies.

Former Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) will now chair the Defense Subcommittee in Young’s place. Former Interior and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) will now head the Energy and Water Subcommittee. Congressman Ken Calvert (R-CA) will take Simpson’s former spot as chairman of the Interior and Environment Subcommittee.

The Interior and Environment Subcommittee has primary jurisdiction over funding the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Council on Environmental Quality and the US Forest Service. The Energy and Water Subcommittee funds the Department of Energy, the Bureau of Reclamation, the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

FWS: NEW REPORT DOCUMENTS CONTINUED COASTAL WETLAND LOSS

On Nov. 21, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report concluding the United States is now losing over 80,000 acres of coastal wetlands per year, up from 60,000 in a prior study.

Coastal areas around the Gulf of Mexico accounted for 71 percent of the wetland loss. The study attributed wetland loss predominantly to losses of saltwater wetlands in the Gulf due to coastal storms in combination with freshwater forested wetland loss due to urban renewal development. The report concludes that rising ocean levels are also affecting coastal wetland loss.

The data used in this report will be used in the development of policies and initiatives to promote environmental stewardship of coastal resources such as the National Ocean Policy. View the full report here.

POLICY ENGAGEMENT: APPLY FOR 2014 ESA GRADUATE STUDENT POLICY AWARD

ESA invites applications for its 2014 Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA). This award, offered annually to up to three winners, provides graduate students hands-on science policy experience in Washington, DC including interacting with congressional decision-makers, federal agency officials, and others engaged in science and public policy.

ESA covers travel and lodging expenses associated with this event for GSPA recipients. The two-day event will occur April 9 and 10, 2014. The application deadline is Monday, January 6. For more information, click here.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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