ESA Policy News April 1: House, Senate pass FY 2016 budgets, Obama orders federal agencies to cut carbon emissions, NSF releases public access policy
Apr01

ESA Policy News April 1: House, Senate pass FY 2016 budgets, Obama orders federal agencies to cut carbon emissions, NSF releases public access policy

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  BUDGET: HOUSE AND SENATE FY 2016 BUDGET PROPOSALS ADVANCE IN CONGRESS In late March, the House and Senate Budget Committees released their respective budgets for Fiscal Year 2016 that begins Sept. 30. The House passed its FY 2016 budget (H.Con.Res. 27) March 25 by a vote of 228–199. All Democrats opposed the House budget as did 17 Republicans. The Senate budget (S.Con.Res. 11) passed its budget March 27 by a vote of 52–46, also along largely partisan lines. Sens. Rand Paul (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) joined all Democrats in voting against the Senate budget. In contrast to the president’s annual proposed budget, House and Senate budgets do not outline spending levels for specific federal agencies and programs. The budgets are nonbinding resolutions that set general polices intended to provide direction to House and Senate appropriators. Leaders of the House and Senate Budget Committees hope to reconcile their budgets by mid-April. As concurrent resolutions simply express the intent of Congress, they are not sent to the president. With Republicans in control of both chambers, the House and Senate FY 2016 budgets are fairly similar. Unlike the president’s FY 2016 proposed budget, the House and Senate FY 2016 budgets would seek to balance the budget in ten years. This deficit reduction would be achieved largely through repealing the Affordable Care Act and cuts to Medicaid, Pell grants and the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program that provides food stamps. The president’s proposal would not balance the budget in ten years, but would keep the deficit from substantially increasing. The House and Senate budgets also differ from the president’s proposal because they adhere to the annual automatic sequestration cuts for all federal discretionary spending set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112–25). Both budgets would provide defense discretionary spending with $523 billion and non-defense discretionary with $493 billion in FY 2016. Given that Congressional Democrats and the White House object to many of the policy prescriptions included in the two budgets, it is unlikely that the final FY 2016 appropriations bills will be signed into law without some concessions to Democrats on discretionary spending levels. Click here for additional information on the House budget. Click here for additional information on the Senate budget. Click here for a White House analysis comparing the congressional budgets with the president’s proposal. WHITE HOUSE: PRESIDENT ORDERS REDUCTION IN FEDERAL AGENCY EMISSIONS On March 19, President Obama signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to reduce their carbon dioxide (CO2) output by 40 percent by 2025 compared with 2008 levels. The CO2...

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ESA Policy News February 19: President’s FY 2016 budget request, NRC examines geoengineering, ESA scientists talk climate on the Hill
Feb19

ESA Policy News February 19: President’s FY 2016 budget request, NRC examines geoengineering, ESA scientists talk climate on the Hill

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  SCIENCE: RESEARCH INVESTMENTS GET BOOST IN PRESIDENT’S FY 2016 FUNDING PROPOSAL On Feb. 2, the president released the proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 budget. It functions as a wish list of administration federal policy priorities in the government’s budget. However, Congress, holding the “power of the purse,” has the final say on how these priorities are rolled into the 12 appropriations bills that fund the government. While the Budget Control Act of 2011 limits FY 2016 discretionary spending to $1.016 trillion, the president’s proposed budget would provide $1.091 trillion. This spending increase is paid for through various proposals in the president’s budget to raise revenue by closing loopholes in the tax code and also increasing taxes for wealthier Americans and other entities. Legislation to increase tax revenue is not expected to move in the Republican-controlled Congress. Consequently, the president’s budget spending increases are unlikely to be included in the 12 appropriations bills Congress passes later this year. Overall, the president’s budget request would provide $146 billion for federal research and development (R&D), a 5.5 percent increase over the FY 2015 enacted level.  While the overall R&D figure is good, basic research that funds most US academics only increases by 2.6 percent, to $32 billion. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education programs would receive $3 billion in FY 2016, a 3.6 increase over FY 2015. Click here for additional information on the FY 2016 NSF budget. Click here for additional information on the FY 2016 NOAA budget. Click here for additional information on the FY 2016 USDA budget request. Click here for additional information on the FY 2016 DOE budget request. Click here for additional information on the FY 2016 USGS budget request. Click here for additional information on the White House’s R&D investments. EPA: PRESIDENT’S BUDGET REQUEST PRIORITIZES CLIMATE ACTION For the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the president’s FY 2016 request provides $8.6 billion, $452 million above the FY 2015 enacted level. This includes a $120 million increase towards agency-wide programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change. Programs that would be eliminated in the president’s budget include the Beaches Protection categorical grants and the Water Quality Research and Support grants. Below are FY 2016 funding levels for specific EPA programs compared to FY 2015 enacted levels: Environmental Program and Management: $2.84 billion; a $228.03 million increase. Environmental Education: $11 million; a $2.3 million increase. Water Quality Protection: $254.3 million; a $43.88 million increase. Hazardous Substance Superfund: $1.088 billion; a $65.07 million increase. Environmental Justice: $14.6 million; a $7.3 million increase. EPA Science and Technology: $759.2 million;...

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ESA Policy News January 28: State of the Union, Senate votes on climate science, NMFS releases climate strategy
Jan28

ESA Policy News January 28: State of the Union, Senate votes on climate science, NMFS releases climate strategy

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 URGES ACTION ON CLIMATE, EDUCATION OPPORTUNITY In the wake of a mid-term election with considerably low voter turnout, President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address focused on issues that energized various Democratic constituencies. Central topics included income and gender inequality, educational opportunity and climate change. The president directly responded to the “I’m not a scientist” refrain used by climate skeptics, saying “Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what, I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and at NOAA, and at our major universities.  And the best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we don’t act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration and conflict and hunger around the globe.” President Obama asked Congress to close tax loopholes and use the added revenue to help families pay for college as well as investing in infrastructure and research. The president also mentioned his plan to expand access to community college and called on Congress to pass legislation to reduce student debt. Click here to read the full State of the Union address. Click here for more information on the president’s community college proposal. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE APPROVES NEW OVERSIGHT, SUBPOENA RULES On Jan. 27, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a business meeting to adopt its rules and oversight plan for the 114th Congress. The normally routine meeting became contentious as members adopted new rules that minority members cited as unprecedented. At issue were rules that allowed the chairman to issue unilateral subpoenas and shorten the notice time required before committee votes. Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) stated the rule changes were necessary because the Obama administration has been slow to respond to information requests. Reciting several historical events where the committee exercised its investigative authority—including the deadly Apollo 1 fire that killed three astronauts, the Space Shuttle Challenger and Columbia disasters— Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) noted the chairmen at the time did not take action that suppressed the rights of members of either party who did not agree with him. The rules were approved along partisan lines. Click here to view the full hearing. SENATE: LAWMAKERS AGREE CLIMATE IS CHANGING, DISPUTE HUMAN CONTRIBUTION As the Senate debated a bill to expedite approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, Democratic lawmakers sought votes to put their Republican colleagues on record regarding climate science. Senators adopted an amendment by...

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State of the Union 2015: Obama calls out climate skeptics, urges expansion of educational opportunity, civility
Jan21

State of the Union 2015: Obama calls out climate skeptics, urges expansion of educational opportunity, civility

A common refrain from skeptics of the severity of humanity’s contribution to climate change over the past year is “I’m not a scientist.” During his 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama responded to that sentiment head on, suggesting climate skeptics should actually get to know some scientists and suggested a few places they could go to find them, including institutions within their own communities. “Well, I’m not a scientist, either.  But you know what, I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and at NOAA, and at our major universities,” said President Obama.  “And the best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we don’t act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration and conflict and hunger around the globe.” The president used the Oct. 2014 Department of Defense report on climate change to reaffirm the urgency of tackling the issue and the various actions he’s taken to protect public lands and waters and build international support to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security.  We should act like it,” he said. President Obama also called for Congress to find common ground on how to pay for federal investments that stimulate innovation and job creation, including scientific research. “Now, the truth is, when it comes to issues like infrastructure and basic research, I know there’s bipartisan support in this chamber.  Members of both parties have told me so.  Where we too often run onto the rocks is how to pay for these investments.” The president suggested Congress increase federal revenue by closing tax loopholes that disproportionately benefit large corporations. The president also touched on his plan to expand access to community college, which he stated is the route that 40 percent of college students have taken when they pursue higher education. “Tennessee, a state with Republican leadership, and Chicago, a city with Democratic leadership, are showing that free community college is possible.  I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today,” said the president. In a more somber and reflective moment, President Obama acknowledged that he hadn’t lived up to his 2008 presidential campaign pledge to foster more unity and break the partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill. Even still, citing recent cases where Americans have remained optimistic in the face of adversity, he challenged lawmakers to “better reflect America’s hopes.” “If...

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ESA Policy News January 15: Congressional action on Keystone, Boxer retires, House, Senate committees take shape

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  KEYSTONE: CONGRESS MOVES ON PIPELINE BILLS, STATE COURT UPHOLDS PROJECT On Jan. 9, the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 3, the Keystone XL Pipeline Act, which would approve construction of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline. The bill passed by a vote of 266-153, over 20 votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto. Twenty-eight Democrats voted with all Republicans to support the bill. Approval of the pipeline has been held up for years due to route alterations and court litigation. The most recent judicial hurdle was overcome when the Nebraska Supreme Court last week upheld a 2012 law granting the Nebraska governor permitting authority for the pipeline. The court decision was announced just hours before the House voted. The White House has threatened to veto the bill, stating Congress’s move to legislatively approve the pipeline “conflicts with longstanding executive branch procedures regarding the authority of the president and prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues that could bear on US national interests (including serious security, safety, environmental, and other ramifications).” Meanwhile, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee marked-up and approved its own Keystone pipeline bill (S. 1, the Keystone XL Pipeline Act) on Jan. 8 by a vote of 13-9. The bill is being debated on the Senate floor this week. At least 60 Senators have committed to voting for the bill, making it likely Obama will have to exercise his first veto in several years. Click here to read the White House Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 3. SENATE: CLIMATE CHANGE CHAMPION BARBARA BOXER TO RETIRE IN 2016 Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who chaired the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for the past eight years, announced she will retire when her term expires at the end of the 114th session of Congress. Sen. Boxer has long been an advocate of women’s rights and addressing global climate change. She has been a staunch proponent of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan and defender of its efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. During her tenure as chair, she held numerous hearings on climate change featuring testimony from Ph.D. climate science experts. Along with Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), she serves as co-chair of the Senate Climate Change Clearinghouse. She is also a member of the Senate Oceans Caucus. Click here to view Senator Boxer’s retirement announcement. SENATE: DEMOCRATS NAME APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE RANKING MEMBERS Democrats announced their picks to serve in the top positions on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittees, which has the authority...

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ESA Policy News December 17: Congress passes “CRomnibus” spending bill, Senate committee chairs announced, US Census public comment opportunity
Dec17

ESA Policy News December 17: Congress passes “CRomnibus” spending bill, Senate committee chairs announced, US Census public comment opportunity

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS PASSES FY 2015 ‘CROMNIBUS’ FUNDING PACKAGE On Dec. 11, the US House of Representatives passed an omnibus bill to continue funding for most federal agencies through the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. The Senate then passed a two-day continuing resolution (CR) to avoid a government shutdown. In a rare evening session on Dec. 13, the Senate passed the bill in a bipartisan vote of 56-40. Dubbed the “CRomnibus,” (a play on the words continuing resolution and omnibus), the bill funds most federal agencies throughout the remainder of FY 2015 ending on Sept. 30, 2015. The sole exception is the Department of Homeland Security, which is funded under a CR until Feb. 2015. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rodgers (R-KY) negotiated the compromise agreement. Under the measure, most federal agencies enjoyed only modest increases due to spending caps set forth under the Murray-Ryan budget agreement. The FY 2015 spending levels for federal agencies and programs of interest to the ecological community in comparison to FY 2014 enacted spending are as follows:  Agriculture Research Service: $1.8 billion, a $55.1 million increase. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: $871 million, a $49 million increase. Bureau of Land Management: $1.1 billion, a $13.7 million increase. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management: $72.4 million, a $3.4 million increase.   Bureau of Reclamation: $1.1 billion, a $25.8 million increase. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement: $81 million, a $2.4 million increase. Department of Energy Biological and Environmental Research: $592 million, an $18.2 million decrease. Department of Energy Office of Science: $5.1 billion, level with FY 2014. Environmental Protection Agency: $8.1 billion, a $60.1 million decrease. National Aeronautics and Space Administration: $18 billion, a $364 million increase. National Science Foundation: $7.3 billion, a $172.3 million increase. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $5.4 billion, a $126 million increase. Natural Resources Conservation Service: $858.4 million, a $33.5 million increase. National Park Service: $2.6 billion, a $53.1 million increase Smithsonian Institution: $819.5 million, a $14.5 million increase. US Army Corps of Engineers: $5.5 billion, a $15 million increase. US Forest Service: $5.1 billion, a $423.4 million decrease. US Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.4 billion, a $12.4 million increase. US Geological Survey: $1 billion, a $13 million increase. Click here for additional information on the FY 2015 omnibus bill. Click here for summaries of individual appropriations bills included in the FY 2015 omnibus. Click here for the White House Statement of Administration Policy. SENATE: COMMITTEE CHAIRS, RANKING MEMBERS ANNOUNCED FOR 114TH CONGRESS With the Senate set to change hands in January, Democrats and Republicans announced their picks for top committee positions...

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Congressional briefing brings together former lawmaker, scientists to consider climate engineering options
Dec11

Congressional briefing brings together former lawmaker, scientists to consider climate engineering options

On Dec. 4, 2014 the Ecological Society of America (ESA) co-organized a congressional briefing entitled “Climate Engineering: Future Guiding Principles and Ethics.” The briefing was also sponsored by the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America and the Soil Science Society of America. The briefing featured former House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), who held several hearings on climate engineering—also known as geoengineering—in 2009 and 2010. Featured speakers also included Paul Bertsch, Deputy Director of Australia’s Land and Water Flagship of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Michael MacCracken, Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs with the Climate Institute. Click here for additional information on the briefing.              ...

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ESA Policy News December 5: House floats FY 2015 spending deal, NEON scrutinized, Apply for 2015 GSPA
Dec05

ESA Policy News December 5: House floats FY 2015 spending deal, NEON scrutinized, Apply for 2015 GSPA

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE FLOATS FY 2015 SPENDING BILL This week, House leadership announced its plan to continue spending for most government agencies throughout the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 and avert a government shutdown. The House’s 2015 omnibus appropriations bill would fund most government agencies through Sept. 30, 2015. The sole exception would be the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which would only be funded through March. The deal has often been nicknamed a “cromnibus” package, given that it’s mostly an omnibus, save for DHS, which is funded at existing levels, much like a continuing resolution.  An omnibus is preferential to a continuing resolution in that it gives appropriators more leeway to direct spending levels at a programmatic level. GOP lawmakers singled out the DHS because it has jurisdiction over implementation of the president’s controversial immigration executive order to provide a pathway to legal status for an estimated five million undocumented immigrants. The shortened extension would allow next year’s Republican-controlled House and Senate to pass an FY 2015 funding bill with spending constraints on the agency related to the executive order. The bill is expected to be introduced on Dec. 8. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE EXAMINES NEON ACCOUNTING On Dec. 3, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing to review a series of audits of spending by the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). National Science Foundation (NSF) Office of the Inspector General and the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) conducted the audits. The first 2011 audit found that the documentation proposing a $433.7 million NEON construction project was inadequate to audit as “none of its proposed cost elements for labor, overhead, equipment, etc., reconcile to its supporting data.” Subsequent audits reports were conducted. Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) acknowledged “in response to these audits, NSF has made a number of adjustments to how the agency evaluates costs of major projects” while maintaining that “$150 million in unsupported and questionable costs in the NEON proposal demonstrates that major problems at NSF continue.” Democratic committee members noted there was no representative from NSF itself to provide a balanced perspective.  An NSF spokesperson has stated that the agency has already addressed some issues raised in the audits and is actively working to resolve others. Click here to view the 2011 audit report. Click here to view the 2012 audit report. Click here to view the 2014 audit report. Click here for additional information on the hearing. NSF: CORDOVA ANNOUNCES REVISED TRANSPARENCY, ACCOUNTABILITY GUIDELINES At the November National Science Board (NSB) meeting, National Science Foundation (NSF) Director France A. Córdova outlined...

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