ESA Policy News, January 31, 2014: farm bill conservation wins, record CA drought, comment on the prairie chicken
Jan31

ESA Policy News, January 31, 2014: farm bill conservation wins, record CA drought, comment on the prairie chicken

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. STATE OF THE UNION: OBAMA HAILS 2014 AS ‘YEAR OF ACTION After a year of very few real legislative achievements in Congress outside of averting a politically self-inflicted federal government shutdown, President Obama cautioned that continued gridlock and inaction from the legislative branch during the second session of the current 113th Congress will spur unilateral action from the executive branch. President Obama praised Congress for coming together on a budget that offers some relief for sequestration, and urged the body to move forward on administration proposals that create jobs and advance opportunity for Americans. The president’s call to get the economy moving included a request for Congress to increase funding for scientific research. “We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow,” said Obama.  “This is an edge America cannot surrender.  Federally-funded research helped lead to the ideas and inventions behind Google and smart phones.  That’s why Congress should undo the damage done by last year’s cuts to basic research so we can unleash the next great American discovery – whether it’s vaccines that stay ahead of drug-resistant bacteria, or paper-thin material that’s stronger than steel.” The president touted the United States’ energy successes such as higher fuel efficiency standards for cars and investments in solar. While noting that these efforts have led to a “cleaner, safer planet” he maintained that more needs to be done to tackle the issue of climate change. “Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth,” said President Obama.  “But we have to act with more urgency – because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods.  That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities, and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.” The full address is available for listening and reading here. AGRICULTURE: FARM BILL CONFERENCE REPORT INCLUDES WINS FOR CONSERVATION On Jan. 27, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) unveiled the final conference report for a new farm bill reauthorization. H.R. 2642, the Agricultural Act of 2014, renews federal agricultural programs through the end of Fiscal Year 2018 while implementing a number of consolidations and spending reductions to federal agriculture programs. The bill passed the House by a vote...

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Sowing the seeds of support for science
Sep23

Sowing the seeds of support for science

Growing fiscal constraints as well as a growing distrust of science among some factions of the conservative movement have made it harder to reach the bipartisan consensus on science issues that existed in days of yore. The House Science, Space and Technology Committee, once a sanctuary from political sparring, has now fallen into the soap opera-style partisan rivalries more commonplace in committees with jurisdiction over hot button issues related to social or fiscal policy. Earlier this month, the House was scheduled to take up H.R. 1891, the Science Laureates of the United States Act of 2013, which would allow the president to appoint a Science Laureate of the United States to encourage young people to pursue careers in science. Despite the Republican chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee being an enthusiastic lead cosponsor, the bill was pulled by House leaders over concern from conservative groups that President Obama would appoint an individual who would promote a partisan agenda related to climate change. Issues related to science were not always so polarizing. As late as the past decade, substantive legislation to authorize funding for scientific research was signed by a Republican president after passing a Republican Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. In 2002, the National Science Foundation Authorization Act passed a Republican-controlled House with a lopsided 397-25 vote, was met with swift passage in the Democratic-controlled Senate by unanimous consent and was signed by Republican President George W. Bush. More recently, the initial America COMPETES Act passed the then-Democratic-controlled House with bipartisan support from leaders of both parties by a 367-57 vote margin in 2007 and was also signed by President Bush. In stark contrast, the America COMPETES Reauthorization bill, passed just three years later, passed the Senate by unanimous consent, but was opposed by a majority of House Republicans (16 supported, 130 opposed). When Republicans garnered control of the House after the Nov. 2010 mid-terms, buttressed by (and now arguably reliant upon) political support of the tea party movement, there have been marked increases in legislative attempts to curtail scientific processes. There have been increasing legislative attempts to unilaterally delist various species from protection under the Endangered Species Act without traditional scientific input, additional requirements placed upon the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) merit review process and even a successful effort to at least temporarily limit NSF’s ability to fund political science research. It should be noted that while the latter was pushed by a Republican Senator, there was not sufficient vocal opposition from either of the major political parties to prevent the provision from being signed into law. In the most recent edition of The Ecologist...

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ESA Policy News: February 1

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: CONGRESS PASSES BILL TO SUSPEND DEBT CEILING TEMPORARILY On Jan. 23, the House passed H.R. 325, the No Budget, No Pay Act. The bill would temporarily eliminate the debt ceiling until May 19 while temporarily suspending pay for Members of Congress until the House and Senate each pass a budget. The measure prevents the nation from defaulting on its debt, potentially into August if the US Department of Treasury takes extraordinary measures. The bill gives additional breathing room to a series of fiscal debates set to occur in March concerning budget sequestration and continuing appropriations for Fiscal Year 2013. A trigger of automatic across-the-board spending cuts to both defense and non-defense discretionary spending programs will occur on March 1 unless Congress can come up with a plan to reduce the debt beforehand. Under H.R. 325, if either the House or Senate fails to pass a budget by the April 15 deadline, all income earned by the members of that chamber would be set aside. The members pay would be received in full once a budget is passed or on the final day of the 113th Congress at the end of calendar year 2014. The technical decision to withhold members pay as opposed to eliminating it indefinitely seeks to minimize conflicts with the 27th Amendment to the US Constitution, which prevents Congress from changing its pay after it has already convened. The bill also does not require both the House and Senate to pass the same budget, unlikely to occur, given the current party division between the two chambers. Murray takes Senate Budget Committee reins A new key player in federal debt talks this year will be Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), who assumes the chairmanship of the Senate Budget Committee. Even before the House legislation was finalized, Chairwoman Murray had pledged that the Senate would put forward and pass a budget this year, which would mark the first time the Senate has passed a budget since 2009. The Senate Budget Committee has posted a site that allows individuals to solicit their ideas on how to achieve fiscal reform as well as share stories of how federal investment has impacted them. To view the site and offer comments, click here. WHITE HOUSE: PRESIDENT EMPHASIZES NEED TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE IN SECOND INAUGURAL ADDRESS After a year of relative silence on the issue of climate change, President Obama gave the topic center stage in his second inaugural address. “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the...

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Citizens first, scientists second: The argument for advocacy

Attention, ecologists. Have you ever wondered how to reconcile the supposed objectivity of the scientific profession with the urge to speak up as an ecologist and say something about environmental protection? Or have you avoided the topic, thinking that advocacy for a cause would undermine your credibility as a scientist? In a new paper online in Conservation Biology (abstract only; subscription required), Michael Nelson, an environmental ethicist at Michigan State, and John Vucetich, a wildlife ecologist at Michigan Technological University, get together to say that as citizens first and scientists second, scientists “have a responsibility to advocate to the best of their abilities and in a justified and transparent manner.” The authors  then go on to debunk the logic of many reasons not to advocate — and, interestingly, one reason why scientists should advocate (#4). (1) Advocacy compromises the credibility of the scientist and the field of science as a whole (2) Advocacy conflicts with the essential nature of science, which is to objectively observe phenomena and report facts in an impartial manner (3) In a practical sense, advocacy simply takes too much time away from scientists’ real job of doing science (4) Science and advocacy are both value-based processes, and are therefore alike. The only two logically sound arguments that emerge, say the researchers, are the social harm that might result if scientists, who are the true experts, don’t advocate; and the fact that researchers are citizens first and scientists second, and therefore have an obligation to advocate. They write: “According to this argument scientists, by virtue of being citizens first and scientists second, have a  responsibility to advocate to the best of their abilities and in a justified and transparent manner. Importantly arguments against science advocacy are valuable for offering insight about how one should or should not be an advocate, not whether one should advocate.” That’s all well and good; they didn’t need to convince this blogger that scientists should advocate. But at the end of their paper they throw in an interesting twist: “Broad participation, however, will undoubtedly result in disagreement among good scientists and in some scientists advocating in an unjustified and dishonest manner. Thus broad participation will substantially complicate the policy-making process.” So even though they prove with logical arguments that scientists should advocate, here they say that if everyone advocated, mass confusion would result in the halls of our lawmaking bretheren, defeating the purpose of the exercise?  But, say the authors: “Although this might seem undesirable, our goal here should not be simplicity but rather the betterment of society.” It seems like a highly unlikely issue, that the world would have so...

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