ESA Policy News: July 13

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


A number of federal agencies, including the US Forest Service (FS), the Department of Interior (DOI), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Defense, are continuing to support community recovery efforts from wildfires in Colorado and across the western US.

As of this week, there are 40 large wildfires reported in the states of Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Missouri, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, Florida, Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Alaska, according to DOI. Federal officials report that wildfires nationwide have burned over three million acres, slightly above the 10-year average for this time of year.

President Obama formally declared Colorado a federal disaster area on June 29, upon a request from Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and the state’s entire congressional delegation. The designation will offer federal money for assistance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, including temporary housing, debris removal and repairs to public facilities. The president toured the state in late June and DOI Secretary Ken Salazar visited Colorado Springs in July to survey damage and meet with first responders and other local officials.

The FS has also opened a public comment opportunity to seek input on its broader forest conservation efforts. The comment period ends Aug. 13. For more information, click here. To view the National Interagency Fire Center’s recently released National Wildland Significant Fire Potential Outlook for July – October 2012, click here.


On July 12, the Ecological Society of America joined nearly 3,000 national, state and local organizations in signing a letter to Members of Congress requesting that they take a balanced approach to deficit reduction that does not include further cuts to nondefense discretionary (NDD) spending. The organizations are representative of a wide breath of fields that benefit from federal NDD programs including science, education, health and civil rights.

The letter comes ahead of a potential across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending in Jan. 2013 that the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25) stipulates. Under the current law, the $1.2 trillion in cuts would come 50 percent from defense spending and 50 percent from non-defense discretionary spending. The letter notes the important role NDD programs play and urges Congress to work to reduce the deficit in a manner that prevents further significant cuts to these programs.

“In total, if Congress and the President fail to act, between fiscal 2010 and 2021 NDD programs will have been cut by 20 percent overall. Such indiscriminate cuts threaten the entire range of bipartisan national priorities,” the letter warns. “For example, there will be fewer scientific and technological innovations, fewer teachers in classrooms, fewer job opportunities, fewer National Park visitor hours, fewer air traffic controllers, fewer food and drug inspectors, and fewer first responders.”

The slated cuts were intended to motivate Congress to take on a comprehensive approach to deficit reduction that included politically unpopular areas of revenue increases and entitlement reductions, similar to what has been recommended by several bipartisan deficit reduction committees. However, there is concern among organizations that benefit from NDD programs that Members of Congress seeking to protect defense spending and unwilling to deal with revenue or entitlement reform, will introduce measures that force NDD programs to bear 100 percent of the sequestration instead of half. View the full letter here.


On July 10, 2012, former Congressman Bob Inglis (R-SC) announced the formation of the Energy and Enterprise Institute (E&EI), a new organization aimed at “presenting conservative solutions to America’s energy and climate challenges.”

Inglis has been vocally critical of “climate deniers” and has repeatedly called upon incumbent Republican lawmakers to join the overwhelming majority of scientists who say that humans are contributing to climate change. Inglis has famously used the analogy “Your child is sick. Ninety-eight doctors say treat him this way. Two say no, this other way is the way to go. I’ll go with the two,” to express his frustration with his party on the issue of climate change. He also worries that other countries that are taking steps to address climate change will leave the US behind in innovative approaches to tackle the issue. He has lamented that being vocal with his views on climate change contributed to his primary loss to a more conservative Republican in 2010.

E&EI would seek consensus on conservative approaches to address climate change. The organization criticizes approaches that “expand the size or scope of government” and “fickle tax incentives” while emphasizing a “free-enterprise approach.” View the full announcement here.


On June 27, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Education convened a hearing entitled “The Role of Research Universities in Securing America’s Future Prosperity: Challenges and Expectations.” The hearing examined a recent report from the National Academies, “Research Universities and the Future of America.”

There was a consensus among members on the importance of sustaining research institutions. “Particularly in today’s tough economic times, research universities play a vital role in America’s ability to maintain its competitiveness in an increasingly technologically developed world, and the knowledge and skills produced by our nation’s research graduates provide the fuel for these endeavors,” stated Research and Education Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL). In a subsequent press statement, the chairman noted that research universities “provide the backbone for the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce essential for US prosperity.”

In his testimony, the National Academies’ Charles Holliday, Chair of the Committee on Research Universities said that the United States remains a leader in research and innovation noting that  “35 to 40 of the top 50” research universities in the world are in America. He also cautioned that public universities “are on thin ice” with state funding cuts that occurred from 2002-2010—some as high as 50 percent—putting a strain on the effectiveness of these institutions.

The National Academies report was requested in 2009 by then-Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) (now retired from Congress), current-Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX), as well as Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who serve as the Chairwoman and Ranking Member respectively of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Children and Families. View the full report here. View the House subcommittee hearing here.


On June 27, the House Science, Space and Technology subcommittees on Energy and Environment as well as Oversight and Investigations convened for a joint hearing on two of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) satellite programs. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that rising costs could reverse the progress of NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series (GOES-R).

Kathryn Sullivan, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction and Deputy Administrator at NOAA agreed with GAO’s assessment. Noting the progress that has been made with both satellite programs, Sullivan cautioned that stable and sufficient budgets for the satellites are required to minimize disruptions that could increase launch delays and cost increases. When asked by Chairman Hall about the Senate’s plan to shift control of NOAA’s four satellite programs to NASA, Sullivan only acknowledged that the administration is reviewing the proposal, but has not yet taken an official position.

GAO contended that data gaps from the lengthy and ongoing process of updating satellites could adversely affect the ability of NOAA satellites to provide accurate and timely weather forecasting data. While acknowledging the persistent cost overruns and potential forthcoming data gaps, GAO praised the current administration’s management efforts. “I think there’s strong program management there. We’ve seen many program managers over the years testifying before this committee and clearly, when you look at where the program is now, it’s in a much better position than where it’s been in the past,” said GAO Director of Information Technology Management David Powner. Click here to view the full hearing.


On June 26, 2012 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it is awarding $2.7 million to 46 organizations in 32 states and Puerto Rico for urban waters restoration and community revitalization.

The funding grants, which range from $30,000 to $60,000, would go to urbanized areas with waterways that include canals, rivers, lakes, wetlands, aquifers, estuaries, bays and oceans. The funding is aimed at boosting community efforts to improve their water resources, which can be damaged by sewage, runoff from city streets and abandoned industrial facility contaminants.

The Urban Waters program supports the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, a partnership of 12 federal agencies working to reconnect urban communities with their waterways. Additional information on the Urban Waters Federal Partnership can be found here. A list of projects that will be funded through EPA’s Urban Waters program can be viewed here. For additional information on EPA’s urban waters program, click here.


Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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