ESA Policy News March 18: House reviews NSF budget request, FWS bans four constrictor snakes, ESA comments on EPA biomass memo
Mar18

ESA Policy News March 18: House reviews NSF budget request, FWS bans four constrictor snakes, ESA comments on EPA biomass memo

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  APPROPRIATIONS: CJS SUBCOMMITTEE REVIEWS NSF FY 2016 BUDGET REQUEST On March 17, the Commerce Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing on the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 budget. The request is for $7.7 billion for the agency, a five percent increase over FY 2015. During the hearing, Chairman John Culberson (R-TX) expressed support for NSF while also asserting that it is important to ensure NSF grant awards continue to reinforce its reputation for funding high-quality research. NSF Director France Córdova referenced the new guidance released several months ago to promote accountability and transparency for program officers, specifically citing the requirement that a nontechnical description explains each research project’s national significance. Córdova also defended funding for the social and behavioral sciences. She noted that NSF’s Social, Behavioral and Economics Sciences Directorate has funded 51 Nobel Prize recipients since 1998. Chairman Culberson asked Córdova about NSF Inspector General (IG) reports that critique agency expense audits on major research equipment and facilities construction projects. Córdova stated that the agency will continue to strengthen its policies and procedures and address the IG recommendations. She affirmed that the agency properly follows the Office of Management and Budget guidelines for contingency funding and awards. Click here to view the full hearing. INVASIVE SPECIES: FWS BANS IMPORTATION OF FOUR CONSTRICTOR SNAKES On March 6, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced a ban on import and transport of four nonnative large constrictor snake species under the Lacey Act. A fifth snake species, the boa constrictor, was removed from consideration for the restrictions. The restrictions define the reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, the green anaconda and the Beni anaconda as “injurious” under the Lacey Act. The reticulated python and the green anaconda have been traded commercially as pets in the United States. The Beni and DeSchaunsee’s anaconda are not believed to be present in the US. The ban on all four snakes will go into effect on April 9, which is 30 days after the formal listing in the Federal Register. Click here for additional information. CLIMATE: ESA EXPRESSES CONCERN WITH BIOMASS MEMO ON WOOD BURNING On March 11, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) sent a letter to US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy expressing concern with an internal agency memo proposing to credit wood biomass use in carbon emission reduction efforts. The EPA memo, issued in Nov. 2014, contends that using biomass as a source of power is likely to have little or no net contributions to carbon dioxide emissions if the biomass is...

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ESA Policy News: June 28
Jun28

ESA Policy News: June 28

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here.   CLIMATE CHANGE: OBAMA OUTLINES PLAN TO REGULATE GREENHOUSE GASES On June 25, President Obama announced his plan to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The plan seeks to implement federal action on addressing climate change in lieu of  Congress that has not passed comprehensive legislation  to reduce carbon emissions throughout the president’s first-term. “Today, about 40 percent of America’s carbon pollution comes from our power plants.  But here’s the thing:  Right now, there are no federal limits to the amount of carbon pollution that those plants can pump into our air,” said President Obama. “We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air or our water, but power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free.  That’s not right, that’s not safe, and it needs to stop.” The president asserted that rising sea-levels over the past century have contributed to more damaging hurricanes and that temperature changes have caused more severe droughts and increased the duration and reach of wildfires. Implemented largely through the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Agriculture and Interior, the plan would set carbon limits on coal-fired industrial plants and invest in renewable energy usage on public lands. To brace for the continued impacts of climate change, the plan utilizes strategies developed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to help communities guard against flooding and extreme weather events. It also intends to apply scientific knowledge to help farmers, ranchers and landowners manage droughts and wildfires and improve forest restoration efforts. Recognizing that mitigating climate change is a global effort, the White House plan also increases federal government involvement in international efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and sets guidelines for how foreign assistance is spent. For additional information on the plan, click here. To read President Obama’s full remarks, click here. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE, SENATE COMMITTEES PASS ENERGY AND WATER SPENDING BILLS This month, the House and Senate appropriations committees move forward on legislation to fund federal energy and water development programs for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. Such programs are implemented largely through the Department of Energy (DOE) and US Army Corps of Engineers. The $30.4 billion House energy and water bill slashes funding for a number of renewable energy and research programs at DOE. Funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would be cut by 40 percent compared to existing sequester level funding. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy would be cut by 80 percent below the sequestered funding. The...

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ESA Policy News: April 5

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: SEQUESTRATION IMPLEMENTATION HAS AGENCIES PLANNING FURLOUGHS With policymakers seemingly adapting to the implementation of the sequester budget cuts as a fact of life for the time being, many federal agencies are now faced with furloughs to compensate for the funding cuts they must implement. The cuts remain in effect until such time as Congress comes up with a deal to reach $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next ten years, an unlikelihood in the immediate future at least. On April 1st, the White House announced that 480 of the 500 Office of Management and Budget (OMB) employees have been notified that they will be furloughed for 10 days for the remainder of the current Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. For each pay period beginning April 21 and through Sept. 7, OMB employees will have to take one unpaid furlough day. In addition, less money is being spent on supply and equipment purchases and many agencies have instituted work-related travel restrictions. In an effort to minimize staff furloughs, the United States Geological Survey has pulled back on a number of its popular educational initiatives. This summer, it will no longer hire 1800 college students it utilizes to help monitor flood forecasting data and earthquake seismic activity. The agency is also ending its tours for school groups and the two-week science summer camps for children ages 8-12 that it has hosted annually since 1996. The next opportunity Congress has to reach a deal on the sequester will be when the temporary suspension of the debt ceiling expires. Under current law, the debt ceiling suspension will expire on May 19. However, the US Department of Treasury has indicated that the implementation of extraordinary measures may extend a government default on debt until late July or early August. The White House plans to introduce its budget proposal for FY 2014 on April 10 to nullify sequester cuts. The proposal is expected to include $1.8 trillion in savings through a mix of entitlement reforms and revenue increases. EPA: OVER HALF US RIVERS, STREAMS IN POOR CONDITION On March 26, the Environmental Protection Agency released a report that finds that 55 percent of US rivers and streams are in poor condition for aquatic life. Among its findings:  27 percent of rivers and streams have high levels of nitrogen and 40 percent of these water bodies have high levels of phosphorous. Excessive amounts of these chemicals causes nutrient pollution that increases oxygen-depleting algae that make waterways uninhabitable for aquatic wildlife. The study also found...

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Is the world failing at conservation?

A #ScienceLive Chat on Thursday, 28 March at 3pm EDT Moderated by Erik Stokstad, a staff  journalist covering environmental research and policy, with a focus on natural resources and sustainability, for the Science Magazine news team. Obstreperous Peter Kareiva, chief scientist of the Nature Conservancy, who has ruffled feathers in the conservation community with his strong views on new directions for environmentalism, will be online and taking questions. We featured Kareiva in an EcoTone post about a year ago when he was making waves posing the question Do we love environmental horror stories too much? Kareiva has argued for less adherence to “purity,” less focus on protected parks and wilderness, and more consideration for the needs of disadvantaged people affected by conservation policy and projects. Joining Kareiva is zoologist John Robinson, executive vice president for conservation and science at the Wildlife Conservation Society (formerly known as the New York Zoological Society) and an adjunct professor of anthropology at the City University of New York.  He has a long interest in forest fragmentation and the effects of subsistence hunting on wildlife, especially primates, and has worked to secure protected zones for threatened charismatic megafauna like chimps, tigers, and elephants. But this strategy “is unlikely to be socially and economically sustainable,” he said during a symposium at the annual AAAS meeting in Boston last month. The Chat sprang from that AAAS symposium, “Is the Future of Conservation at a Crossroads?” Now they are opening the question to the online conservation community at large. They’ve posed a few interlinked questions to get the conversation started: What should be done to preserve biodiversity, especially as climate changes? Should some parks be sold to improve other protected areas? And how can the conservation of nature be reconciled with development in poor nations? Tune in here or at AAAS...

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ESA voices concern over US fiscal situation

On March 1, a series of automatic spending cuts are set to occur unless Congress produces a plan that reduces the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion. These cuts will drastically scale back federal support of scientific research, environmental protections and education and do nothing substantive to address the nation’s fiscal problems. “Scientific research reaches across a broad cross section of society that goes well beyond academia,” said Scott Collins, President of the Ecological Society of America, the world’s largest organization of ecological scientists. “Cutting costs of federal spending in an area that has helped the nation lower costs associated with natural disaster mitigation, public health threats from pollution and disease, and agricultural cultivation just seems counterproductive to say the least.” Non-defense discretionary spending programs would receive a 5.3 percent cut under the sequester, slightly lowered from the 8.2 percent cut due to altered spending caps set by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-240). Among the impacts: • Cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would likely lead to gaps in the weather collection data used to predict hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and snowstorms. • The United States Geological Survey’s capacity to monitor land and water changes from natural disasters that may pose a threat to public safety would decline. • The National Park Service would need to cut back on vital services that would limit park operation hours and accessibility to the estimated 300 million individuals who visit our national parks annually. • The Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality monitoring efforts would decrease. • The National Science Foundation would have to cut nearly 1,000 research grants impacting the research of 12,000 people, including graduate and undergraduate students, professors and K-12 teachers and students. Federal mandatory spending has drastically overtaken discretionary spending programs in recent decades.  Discretionary spending has largely been on the decline, particularly since enactment of the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25). The American Association for the Advancement of Science notes that our nation’s commitment to scientific research is dwindling: “As a share of the economy, federal R&D is 16.7 percent smaller than it was a decade ago and 29.7 percent smaller than it was in the 1970s.” Ultimately, says ESA President Collins, the US risks eroding its competitiveness in research and innovation, losing its capacity to manage natural resources and implement laws that protect the public and failing to prepare for increasingly technical needs in the global workforce. Photo Credit: Don Becker,...

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ESA Policy News: December 14

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES REQUEST ACTION TO DETER ‘FISCAL CLIFF,’ SPENDING CUTS On Dec. 7, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) joined a host of other scientific societies, universities and business leaders in sending a letter, spearheaded by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), urging President Obama and Congressional leadership to reach a compromise deal that averts the ‘fiscal cliff’ while preserving federal investment in scientific research. ESA had sent the White House and Congress a similar letter late last month. The fiscal cliff includes a series of automatic discretionary spending cuts (sequestration) set to occur in January, if the Congress does not come up with an alternative plan to lower the deficit by $1.2 trillion before then either through spending cuts or revenue increases. Defense discretionary spending programs would be cut by 9.4 percent while non-defense discretionary spending programs would be cut by 8.2 percent under the automatic cuts.  The fiscal cliff also includes expiring tax cuts and unemployment benefits that, if left unaddressed, collectively threaten to plunge the economy into another recession. The letter encourages the president and congressional leaders to come up with a balanced approach to deficit reduction, noting the important role of science and technological investment. “It is important to recognize that federal research and development (R&D) investments are not driving our national deficits,” the letter notes. “These investments account for less than one-fifth of the current discretionary budget, but discretionary spending is the only place where deep cuts will be made. Placing a significant burden on these crucial areas, as sequestration would do, is nothing less than a threat to national competitiveness.  We recognize that the United States faces severe fiscal challenges, and we urge you to begin to address them through a balanced approach that includes tax and entitlement reform.” Both sides have put forward general plans that propose increased revenues and cuts to entitlement programs. However, despite several face-to-face meetings between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in the weeks since the election, Congressional Republicans and Democrats remain deadlocked over the particulars of a compromise proposal. With the holidays fast approaching, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has repeatedly asserted that the House will not adjourn until issues related to the fiscal cliff are resolved. The White House Office of Management and Budget has already begun directing federal agencies to begin planning for the sequester. To view the joint society letter, click here. To view the ESA letter, click here. DISASTER RELIEF: SENATE PROPOSES SANDY SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS LEGISLATION...

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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. BUDGET: NEW REPORT OUTLINES SEQUESTRATION IMPACTS ON SCIENCE 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. AGRICULTURE: HOUSE LEADERSHIP PUNTS FARM BILL TO LAME DUCK SESSION 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...

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The Last Reef

Advocacy film delivers “Cities beneath the Sea” in 3D IMAX, bringing you nudibranchs as you’ve never seen them before and activism that you have. By Liza Lester, ESA communications officer. La Evolución Silenciosa (The Silent Evolution), an installation of 400 life-size figures 9 meters under the sea off Cancun / Isla Mujeres, Mexico, is featured in the new IMAX film The Last Reef: Cities beneath the Sea. Credit, Jason deCaires Taylor. WE OPEN with an atomic explosion mushrooming over Bikini Atoll. Historic footage, made 3D through the magic of post-production graphic arts, rolls on a projector screen in a 3D schoolroom. In 1946, the United States removed all humans from Bikini in preparation for atomic tests that would span twelve years and 23 nuclear detonations. Lingering radioactivity has kept people away. In our absence, the disembodied voice of Jamie Lee tells us, the reef has rebounded. Fishy, invertebrate and microbial life now thrives on the resurgent coral (with the exception of a few species that didn’t make it back). From this promising beginning, The Last Reef plunges us into the present, into the ocean, into full throttle modern 3D-IMAX, and into an old school advocacy film, heavy with environmental rhetoric and swelling music. “We love working with images and music,” said director Steve McNicholas, during the post-preview panel discussion at AAAS headquarters, explaining that he and co-creator Luke Cresswell are not scientists or wildlife documentarians, and began filming the ocean because they wanted to take us on an underwater adventure. During the filming of their first underwater feature they awakened to the not-so-beautiful developments in the ocean resulting from fishing, shipping, agriculture, and fossil fuel combustion. “Mid-way through making Wild Ocean we became quite politicized.” The team behind the Broadway sensation STOMP!, McNicholas and Cresswell know what they are doing with sight and sound.  They commissioned a novel containment system from cinematographer D.J. Roller to house the massive 3D macro beamsplitting IMAX camera system, helping him shoot closer close-ups of reef creatures underwater. You have never seen nudibranchs like this before! A soundtrack thrumming with complicated rhythms (and a descending harp line reminiscent of John Adams’ El Nino) matches the vibrant underwater colors and textures, occasionally freezing with anxiety or swelling with promise as the narrator tells us of human threats to the reefs. McNicolas and Cresswell intercut scenes of the reef “cities beneath the sea” with some beautiful, if frenetic, footage of New York City – drawing an analogy of two kinds of communities built on the accretions of past generations. We get a simple introduction to the ecology of the reef, couched in balance-of-nature oratory; the coral...

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