ESA Policy News: September 28

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


On Sept. 27, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) published a report outlining the impacts of budget sequestration on federal science funding.

Established under the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25), the budget sequestration, set to go into effect on January 2, 2013, would shave $55 billion in defense spending and $38 billion in non-defense discretionary spending. Within these numbers, Department of Defense Research and Development (R&D) would lose an average of $6.7 billion per year for the next five years. The National Science Foundation would lose $456 million in FY 2013 and a total of $2.1 billion over the next five years. Over the same five-year period, funding for R&D at the Departments of Agriculture (-$875 million), Energy (-$4.585 billion) Interior (-$299 million), the National Aeronautics Space Administration (-$3.527 billion) and the Environmental Protection Agency (-$213 million) would also be drastically reduced.

Last month, the Ecological Society of America, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) and the American Mathematical Society crafted an action alert encouraging their members to contact their representatives to let them know the devastating impacts budget sequester would have on research in the communities they represent.

To go to the AIBS Legislative Action page where you’ll find more information on the fiscal cliff and budget sequestration as well as a letter to Members of Congress, click here. To view the full AAAS report, click here.


On Sept. 21, the House adjourned for the fall and will not convene again until after the November elections. The month-long October district work period has become typical in modern presidential election years. However, this year differs from four years ago in that Congress has chosen to adjourn without taking up an extension of the farm bill.

The most recent reauthorization of the agricultural law, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act (P.L. 110-234), was passed by a Democratic House and Senate and signed by a Republican president in June 2008. Four years later, while Senate leaders passed a bill to reauthorize the nation’s food and agricultural programs, the House has failed to take up such a measure. House Speaker John Boehner cited the splintered factions on the both sides of the aisle as rationale enough to assume the bill cannot obtain the 218 vote threshold necessary to clear the chamber. The Senate bill passed this June with a bipartisan vote of 64-35, including the support of Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-KY). Chairwoman Stabenow is pledging to work to get the legislation enacted into law before the calendar year ends.

The farm bill differs from appropriations bills in that it is authorization legislation, meaning that it only authorizes maximum funding levels, creates new programs eligible for funding or continues to authorize maximum funding levels for programs. The specific funding is still required through the annual appropriations bills. In short, expiration of farming authorization programs will not lead to any type of government shutdown, as long as there are continued appropriations. Congress recently passed a continuing resolution continuing federal appropriations funding through March 2013, which the president is expected to sign.

Nonetheless, allowing the authorization bill to die this weekend will still have consequences as a number of programs will expire. New enrollments would end for the conservation reserve, wetlands reserve, grassland reserve and healthy forest reserve programs. The Department of Agriculture can continue restoration work through the programs that have already begun, however.


On Sept. 25, the Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee released its Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 funding bill. The bill funds the Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Forest Service at $29.7 billion for FY 2013, a 1.7 percent increase over current levels and level with the White House’s budget request. The House has marked up a $28 million Interior and Environment appropriations bill, which has passed at the committee level, but has yet to see floor consideration.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would receive $8.5 billion, an increase of $66 million from FY 2012 and $171 million more than the Obama administration’s request for fiscal 2013. The House bill includes $7 billion in funding for EPA. The bill increases EPA science and technology funding to $798.8 billion, an increase from $793.7 billion in FY 2012. Clean air and climate programs would receive 306.9 billion, an increase from $286.1 billion in FY 2012. Overall, the Department of Interior (DOI) would receive $10.5 billion in FY 2013, a 1.6 percent increase over FY 2012 and $24 million above the president’s budget request. The US Forest Service would receive $4.737 billion in FY 2013, an increase from the $4.594 million received in FY 2012. The total includes an additional $236.5 million for wildland fire management.

The bill itself is not expected to be taken up before the end of the year, but serve as a starting point for negotiations on how to fund the environmental agencies when current funding runs out under the recently passed continuing resolution, which runs through March. For more information on the Senate Interior and Environment appropriations bill, click here. For information on the House Interior and Environment appropriations bill for FY 2013, see the June 22 edition of ESA Policy News.


The National Wildlife Federation is calling on scientists to sign a letter to the Obama administration outlining ecological and economical concerns with the potential for bioenergy initiatives to promote the spread of invasive plants.

Under White House Executive Order 13112 (issued Feb 3, 1999), a federal agency cannot take action that causes or promotes the spread of invasive species unless the agency has publicly determined that the benefits of such actions clearly outweigh the potential harm. Accordingly, the letter requests that the Obama administration enforce this order and take an assessment of the invasion risk of bioenergy feedstocks before they are eligible for federal incentives that pave the way for their cultivation.

“Studies have shown that some of the plants considered most promising in terms of bioenergy capacity may actually be highly invasive and potentially harmful to native species and ecosystems,” the letter notes. “In fact, many of the characteristics that make a plant appealing as an ideal source of biomass such as ease of establishment, rapid growth, resistance to pests and diseases, and low input requirements, are the same characteristics that make a plant more likely to become invasive.”

NWF has also put together a report outlining the invasive potential of bioenergy feedstocks. To view the NWF report on bioenergy, click here. To view the letter click here. To sign the letter, click here.


On Sept. 13, the first Golden Goose Awards ceremony was held on Capitol Hill. Conceived by Congressman Jim Cooper (D-TN), the purpose of the “Golden Goose” award is to showcase federally funded research of seemingly obscure studies that led to a major breakthrough that made a significant contribution to human society.

The name is a play on the late Senator William Proxmire’s (D-WI) Golden Fleece awards. The Senator used the awards to call attention to research that sounded like a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie and Roget Tsien were honored for their discovery of green fluorescent protein while seeking to identify why jellyfish glow green. Green fluorescent protein (GFP) has led to advances in genetics, cell biology, and a better understanding of HIV, cancer and brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Eugene White, Rodney White, Della Roy and the late Jon Weber were honored for their 1960s work in developing bone grafts from coral found in tropical oceans. Another award recipient was Nobel Prize winner Charles Townes, whose discovery of laser technology in the 1950s began with an odd-sounding quest to amplify microwave radiation.

For more information on the Golden Goose award, click here.


Former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Russell Train passed away on Sept. 17 at the age of 92. Train, the second EPA Administrator who served under Presidents Nixon and Ford, was a lifelong conservationist.

Train led the EPA from 1973-1977. Prior to that, he served as the first chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality between 1970 and 1973. After leaving EPA he worked with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), serving as president of the organization’s US branch from 1978 to 1985 and then chairman from 1985 to 1994. Prior to his service in government, he was president of the Conservation Fund (1965-1969) and served as the first vice president of WWF upon its establishment in 1961.

Train is credited with helping to enact most of the landmark environmental protection legislation of the 1970s, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. He also played a key role in the initial implementation of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System that protects our nation’s waters, according to EPA.


Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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