A  GSPA winner’s close encounter with an Alaska senator and a fish called ‘Walter’ while advocating for NSF
Jun14

A GSPA winner’s close encounter with an Alaska senator and a fish called ‘Walter’ while advocating for NSF

A guest commentary by Timothy Treuer (Princeton University), 2016 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award recipient Walking through the door into Senator Lisa Murkowski’s fourth floor office in the Hart Senate Building feels like stepping from the halls of the nation’s capital into a home in Alaska. The walls and shelves are covered in photos of arctic landscapes, Alaska Native artwork, and other mementos of my home state. Indeed, walking around the reception area felt a lot like pacing the living room of my parents’ house back in suburban Anchorage. There were five of us there on the afternoon of April 28th. We constituted the California and Alaska contingent of the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day. The event is organized annually to give biologists and ecologists from around the country a chance to interact with Congress on the ever-pressing issue of National Science Foundation (NSF) funding. ESA sponsored my participation through a Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA), along with Brian Kastl of University of California, Santa Barbara and four other awardees representing different states. Though we had been expecting to meet with Senator Murkowski’s legislative aide, as we were ushered into a conference room we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the senator herself would be dropping in for the second half of the meeting. Because of a last minute conflict with a vote in the Capitol Building, this meant that Sen. Murkowski would be our only in person meeting with a member of Congress that day. The goal of BESC’s Congressional Visits Day is twofold. First, we were there to put a human face on NSF funding–too often federally funded research gets caricatured and lambasted by politicians whose mental image of a scientist is likely something along the lines of a Revenge of the Nerds protagonist in a lab coat. Having a collection of business-attired biologists with a polished pitch on how their federally funded research achieves real world impacts leaves a lasting impression. Second, and more concretely, we were there to ask for $8 billion in funding for NSF for fiscal year 2017. If that seems like a lot to you, consider the following three facts: (1) $8 billion is $2.44 billion less than the cost of a single Ford-class aircraft carrier, (2) proposal funding rates at NSF have fallen over the last decade by a third, and (3) the NSF would need an additional $4 billion to fund all proposals deemed meritorious (average review of ‘very good’ or higher). The meeting with Sen. Murkowski’s staff started off in what by that point felt like a familiar routine. We went around our table introducing ourselves,...

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ESA Policy News May 4: Senate committee moves NSF, DOE funding bills, ESA grad students visit Capitol Hill
May04

ESA Policy News May 4: Senate committee moves NSF, DOE funding bills, ESA grad students visit Capitol Hill

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE COMMERCE, JUSTICE AND SCIENCE BILL CLEARS SUBCOMMITTEE On April 19, the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee approved its Fiscal Year 2017 spending bill. The bill includes $56.3 billion, $563 above the FY 2016 enacted level and $1.6 billion above the Obama administration’s FY 2017 budget request. The National Science Foundation (NSF) would receive $7.5 billion in FY 2017, a $46.3 million increase over FY 2017. The added funding is directed solely towards NSF major research and facilities construction, specifically the design and construction of three Regional Class Research Vessels. NSF research and related activities remains flat at the FY 2016 enacted level. Below are funding levels for other science agencies in the bill, compared to the FY 2016 enacted level: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $5.7 billion, a $33.5 million increase. National Aeronautics and Space Administration: $19.3 billion, a $21 million increase. White House Office of Science and Technology Policy: $5.6 billion, level. Click here for additional information on the Senate CJS bill.   APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE, SENATE REPORT ENERGY AND WATER SPENDING BILLS On April 20, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees moved their respective energy and water spending bills for Fiscal Year 2017, which begins Oct 1, 2016. The House bill would provide $37.4 billion in funding, a $259 million increase over the FY 2016 enacted level. Below are funding levels for specific federal entities of interest to the ecological community compared to FY 2016: US Army Corps of Engineers: $6.1 billion, a $100 million increase. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science: $5.4 billion, a $50 million increase. Advanced Research Agency-Energy (ARPA-E): $306 million, a $15 million increase. DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy programs: $1.8 billion, a $248 million cut. DOE Environmental Management: $6.2 billion, a $66 million cut. DOE Fossil Energy Research and Development: $645 million, a $13 million increase. Bureau of Reclamation: $1.1 billion, a $131 million cut. In contrast, the Senate Energy and Water appropriations bill passed committee with bipartisan support. Its Energy and Water bill would provide $37.5 billion in FY 2017, slightly larger than the House measure. Below are funding levels for specific federal entities of interest to the ecological community compared to FY 2016 enacted levels: The US Army Corps of Engineers: $6 billion, an $11 million increase. The DOE Office of Science: $5.4 billion, a $50 million increase. DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy programs: $2 billion, level. DOE Environmental Management: $6.4 billion, a $133 million increase. DOE Fossil Energy Research and Development: $632...

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ESA Policy News March 30: House committees review FY 2017 NSF, NOAA, Forest Service budget requests, ESA submits funding testimony to Capitol Hill
Mar30

ESA Policy News March 30: House committees review FY 2017 NSF, NOAA, Forest Service budget requests, ESA submits funding testimony to Capitol Hill

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE EXAMINES NSF FY 2017 BUDGET On March 22, a House Science, Space and Technology Research Subcommittee hearing examined the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) FY 2017 budget. During the committee hearing, both Subcommittee Chair Barbara Comstock (R-VA) and Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) expressed general support for the work of the National Science Foundation. In her remarks, NSF Director France Córdova noted that since 2010, research funding for the agency in constant dollars has declined, which affects the number of NSF grants awarded. “The result is that the fraction of proposals that we can fund has decreased significantly. The funding rate was 30 percent in FY 2000 and is just over 20 percent now,” said Córdova. “Of great concern to us is that the situation is more challenging for people who haven’t previously received an NSF award, including young investigators. For them, the funding rate has gone from 21 percent in FY 2000 to 16 percent today.” Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) voiced skepticism about new mandatory spending outlined in the agency’s budget request, but he remained hopeful that colleagues could support another bipartisan increase for NSF. He expressed support for continuing to give NSF discretion in how it prioritizes directorate funding, citing similar views recently iterated by House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Culberson (R-TX). Click here to view the Research and Technology Subcommittee NSF hearing. Click here to view the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee hearing. HOUSE: NOAA WEATHER FORECASTING, CLIMATE RESEARCH EXAMINED IN FY 2017 BUDGET REQUEST“] On March 16, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on the Environment convened for a hearing examining the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s FY 2017 budget request. Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) accused the budget request of prioritizing climate research over weather forecasting. “Instead of hyping a climate change agenda, NOAA should focus its efforts on producing sound science and improving methods of data collection.  Unfortunately, climate alarmism often takes priority at NOAA,” said Smith. “This was demonstrated by the agency’s decision to prematurely publish the 2015 study that attempted to make the two-decade halt in global warming disappear.” Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) used her opening statement to emphasize the importance of NOAA’s climate change research and how monitoring rising temperatures and changes in ocean chemistry and ecosystems helps us better manage our fisheries, coasts, and improves the resiliency of our nation’s coastal communities. She also took the opportunity to address Chairman Smith’s investigation into NOAA’s climate science research. “Before I yield back...

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ESA Policy News March 17: US, Canada announce climate pledge, IPBES seeks experts, Obama court pick supports EPA authority
Mar17

ESA Policy News March 17: US, Canada announce climate pledge, IPBES seeks experts, Obama court pick supports EPA authority

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  WHITE HOUSE: US, CANADA ANNOUNCE CLIMATE CHANGE PLEDGE On March 10, the President Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced their two countries have agreed to a series of efforts to cut methane emissions in the oil and gas sector to mitigate the impacts of global climate change. They also reinforced their commitment to joining and implementing the Paris climate change agreement. Both nations plan to reduce methane emissions 40-45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025 and will work to reduce their hydrofluorocarbon emissions. The statement called for increasing renewable energy investments and “conserving Arctic biodiversity through science-based decision making.” The two nations also called for all oil and gas development in the Arctic to align with science-based standards. Click here to view the full statement. NSF: BATTELLE CHOSEN TO MANAGE NEON NSF selected Battelle to complete the construction, commissioning and initial operations for the $432 million project National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) project. Battelle is a nonprofit organization with the mission of translating scientific discovery and technology advances into societal benefits. They currently manage seven national laboratories and have a long history of managing large and complex technical projects. For the next 90 days, Battelle will be in a transition period to develop an organizational/management structure to prepare for the next steps to complete construction of the network in 20 ecologically distinct zones across the United States, from Alaska to Puerto Rico. IPBES: NOMINATIONS SOUGHT FOR GLOBAL BIODIVERSITY, ECOSYSTEMS ASSESSMENT The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is seeking nominations of experts and fellows for its global assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Nominated experts should “have expertise in one or more disciplines within natural science, social science or humanities, represent or have expertise in indigenous and local knowledge systems, or be policy experts and practitioners.” Nominations are due May 5, 2016. IPBES began a three-year study into humanity’s impact on ecosystems and biodiversity on March 1, 2016. The study, due in 2019, will examine a wide array of lifeforms, habitats, and measure progress towards meeting commitments under the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity of the United Nation’s Convention on Biological Diversity. It released its first summary on pollinators in late February 2016. Click here for additional details on how to submit a nomination. Click here to read the unedited advanced summary for policymakers for the pollinator report. SUPREME COURT: OBAMA NOMINEE SUPPORTIVE OF EPA RULES On March 16, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, Chief Justice of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to...

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ESA Policy News Dec. 16: World leaders reach climate accord, Congress finalizes FY 2016 spending deal, NEON to undergo management restructuring
Dec16

ESA Policy News Dec. 16: World leaders reach climate accord, Congress finalizes FY 2016 spending deal, NEON to undergo management restructuring

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: WORLD LEADERS REACH FIRST EVER CLIMATE ACCORD On Dec. 12, over 190 countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed to the first-ever international climate change agreement in Paris. The 31-page agreement sets a goal of limiting global temperature increases to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and  pursues efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Assessments on the progress of countries’ pledges will be conducted every five years, beginning in 2018. All countries will update and revise existing climate targets every five years, starting in 2020 with a goal of each target reflecting progress over the prior one. As part of the agreement, developed countries will pledge to raise $100 billion to aid developing nations in tackling climate change. For the first time, the agreement requires all countries to report on national inventories of emissions by source, allowing the general public to understand better the level of pollution generated by countries around the world. The agreement is considered a win for President Obama, who had pledged that the United States would lead by example in mitigating the effects of climate change. Click here for a summary of the agreement. APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS REACHES FUNDING AGREEMENT FOR REMAINDER OF FY 2016 On the evening of Dec. 15, congressional leaders released a bipartisan $1.149 trillion omnibus spending deal that funds the federal government for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. The bill comes after enactment of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which made it possible for moderate increases in overall discretionary spending for the next two fiscal years. To prevent a shutdown, Congress passed a stopgap continuing resolution to fund the government through Dec. 22. The House is expected to take up the measure on Dec. 18. with the Senate expected to vote on the bill shortly after. The legislation is expected to pass both chambers of Congress and the president has indicated he will sign the measure. Most of the major harmful environmental riders from House appropriations bills were not included from the final bill. For NSF, the bill includes $7.46 billion, a $119 million increase over the FY 2015 enacted level. The bill does not include restrictions on the NSF directorates that fund the geosciences or social and behavioral sciences. The bill requires federal agency Inspector Generals to conduct random audits of grant funding to combat waste and fraud and establishes an early warning system on cost overruns and requires agencies to notify congressional committees when costs grow...

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GSPA recipients bridge the gap between science and policy
Dec08

GSPA recipients bridge the gap between science and policy

In some respects, this year has been a politically tumultuous one for scientists working in federal policy. The US House Science, Space and Technology Committee has pushed legislation that would radically alter how the National Science Foundation prioritizes its budget and made repeated requests for information related to how certain federal agencies utilize science in their decision-making processes. While it is true that for some policymakers, their critique of scientific findings or priorities are based in fundamental differences of ideology, there are many others who are simply unaware of the degree of rigor involved in the scientific peer review process for science publications or the high level of transparency and competitiveness that constitutes the National Science Foundation’s merit review process for grant proposals. Consequently, it is critically important to maintain an open dialogue of communication between those who make science policy and those who practice the science. This is necessary to advance understanding of basic scientific research and seek consensus on how this research can be used to improve and improve our way of life. The Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA) is one such tool the Ecological Society of America (ESA) uses to engage scientists in policy and help lawmakers understand the ecological research being conducted in their congressional districts and how it helps the communities they represent. During the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, 2015 GSPA recipient Emlyn Resetarits (University of Texas-Austin) reflects on her experience. For Resetarits, meeting with congressional offices highlighted the “isolated scientific community” she operates in, given that certain ecological terms and species she referred weren’t immediately familiar to some of the legislative staff during their discussion. She hopes that more Members of Congress will hire scientists as policy aides, but noted it’s beneficial to continue a dialogue with not just offices that are less familiar with science, but also those that may be critical of certain scientific findings or processes. “I think we’re strengthened when we really are able to talk to people who disagree with us, take their doubts and incorporate it into our research or how we explain ourselves,” said Resetarits. “I think it strengthens how we do science when we talk to people who maybe disagree with us.” Resetarits encourages scientists looking to get involved with policy to volunteer with a local agency whose work they found valuable— noting that public speaking skill is vital for communicating scientific research to wide audiences. “Just being able to public[ly] speak to a general audience about what you do is really important and if you can do that, that will really give you a leg up on trying...

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ESA Policy News November 11: Science coalitions call for funding boost, NOAA under scrutiny, Obama rejects Keystone
Nov11

ESA Policy News November 11: Science coalitions call for funding boost, NOAA under scrutiny, Obama rejects Keystone

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  NOAA: SCIENCE COMMITTEE CHAIR REQUESTS SCIENTISTS’ INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS On Nov. 4, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) sent a letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) requesting documents and communications between NOAA scientists whose research concludes there has been no pause in global warming. The major climate science study was led by Tom Karl, director of the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, that was published in “Science” magazine on June 3. Smith’s investigation into the Karl’s research began in July and escalated through the fall when he wrote multiple letters requesting that NOAA release internal communications between the scientists involved in the study. When NOAA refused the requests, Smith followed up with the warning letter of a subpoena Sept. 25 and subsequently issued a subpoena Oct. 13. Committee Democrats have been critical of Smith’s subpoena, referring to it as a “fishing expedition.” In a response letter to the subpoena, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said, “The baseless conflict you have created by issuing the October 13 subpoena is representative of a disturbing pattern in your use of congressional power since your chairmanship began. In the past two years and ten months that you have presided as chairman of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology you have issued more subpoenas (six) than were issued in the prior 54-year history of the committee.” Click here to view the Smith letter. Click here to view the subpoena response letter from Ranking Member Johnson. APPROPRIATIONS: SCIENTIFIC COALITIONS REQUEST RESEARCH FUNDING FOR FY 2016 On Nov. 2, a broad group of research coalitions sent a letter to House and Senate appropriators praising the Bipartisan Budget Act 2015 and requesting an increase of at least 5.2 percent for federal programs that support scientific research in FY 2016. “As you allocate the additional funding made available under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, we urge you to make strong investments in America’s innovation ecosystem one of your highest priorities by increasing federal research funding by at least 5.2 percent above FY 2015 levels—the same level of increase to discretionary spending,” the letter states. Congress has until Dec. 11 to work out an agreement that would continue federal funding through the remainder of Fiscal Year 2016, which began Oct. 1, 2015. Click here to view the full letter. APPROPRIATIONS: SENATORS URGE PRESIDENT TO OPPOSE ENDANGERED SPECIES RIDERS  Twenty-five US Senators sent a letter to President Obama urging him to reject any spending bills that include provisions to undermine...

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ESA Policy News October 28: President, Congress reach two-year budget deal, Ryan nominated House speaker, Canada elects Trudeau prime minister
Oct28

ESA Policy News October 28: President, Congress reach two-year budget deal, Ryan nominated House speaker, Canada elects Trudeau prime minister

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  BUDGET: WHITE HOUSE, CONGRESS REACH TWO-YEAR BUDGET AGREEMENT The White House and Congressional leaders have finalized a budget deal that raises the debt limit and sets spending levels for Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017. The bill passed the House Oct. 28 by a vote of 266-167. All voting Democrats were joined by 79 Republicans in support of the measure. All 167 opposing votes came from Republicans. Dubbed the “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015,” the deal would extend the debt ceiling until March 5, 2017. Similar to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (P.L. 113-67), it would provide relief for sequestration—automatic spending cuts to discretionary spending programs that are set to go into effect next year. The bill would increase overall discretionary spending by $80 billion over the next two years, equally divided between defense and nondefense discretionary programs. The discretionary spending increases would provide an additional $50 billion above the sequestration spending caps for discretionary programs in FY 2016 and $30 billion in FY 2017. It also includes an additional $32 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations for defense and non-defense security programs for the next two fiscal years. In September, the Ecological Society of America joined 2,500 national, state and local organizations in signing a letter to Members of Congress requesting they replace sequestration with a more balanced approach to deficit reduction. Click here to view the letter. HOUSE: RYAN SELECTED TO BE NEW SPEAKER NOMIMEE Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) was selected by House Republicans today as their nominee for speaker of the House. This will be followed by a formal vote on the floor of the US House of Representatives on Oct. 29. Boehner will resign from the House on Oct. 30. Ryan’s agreement to be speaker rested upon his colleagues assurance of the necessary 218 Republican votes needed to win, which he secured at the close of last week when a majority of the far-right House Freedom Caucus indicated their support. WHITE HOUSE: OBAMA ADMINISTRATION ADDS 68 BUSINESSES TO CLIMATE PLEDGE On October 19, the White House announced that 68 additional companies have signed its “American Business Act on Climate Pledge” joining 13 others who first signed the pledge in June. In signing the “American Business Act on Climate Pledge,” they voiced support for a strong outcome in the upcoming Paris climate negotiations by pledging to reduce their carbon emissions and improve sustainability. Collectively, the 81 companies “have operations in all 50 states, employ over 9 million people, represent more than $3 trillion in annual revenue, and have...

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