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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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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Geothermal engineering in Newberry volcano
Jun10

Geothermal engineering in Newberry volcano

By Peter Janetos, ESA public affairs intern In the quest for cleaner, greener, and cheaper energy some are looking 10,000 feet below central Oregon where temperatures exceed 600 degrees Fahrenheit in Newberry Volcano.  A recent Popular Science article takes a closer look at this latest initiative for renewable energy.  Deschutes National Forest is home to the volcano, where AltaRock Energy Inc. plans to perform enhanced geothermal engineering, or EGS, to generate renewable energy.  EGS is the process of extracting geothermal energy from naturally occurring resources such as hot springs, underground gases, or in this case a volcano. Called The Newberry Project, after the volcano, the project was started back in October 2012. As reported by Jeff Barnard in the Huffington Post, the federal government and private investors, such as Google, are investing $43 million in the project. Barnard notes that heat in the earth’s crust has been used to generate power for over a hundred years by gathering hot water or steam that bubbles near the surface to spin a turbine that creates electricity. The “new frontier” of EGS are locations with hot rocks but without the cracks in the rocks or water to deliver the steam. Head of the Newberry Project is President and CEO of AltaRock, Susan Petty, who founded the company in 2007.  According to Petty, “We know the heat is there. The big issue is can we circulate enough water through the system to make it economic.” AltaRock extracts thermal energy produced by the volcano by pouring thousands of gallons of water deep into preexisting fractures underground and then mechanically pumping the water which becomes super heated.  The heated water is then pushed through a second pump which sends it through a turbine to produce energy before eventually shooting it back into the fractures, in a continuous loop.  There are drawbacks, of which earthquakes are the most obvious.  The water pumped underground exerts a force around 2,400 pounds per square inch against the earth’s walls.  Natural cracks in rocks are expanded and can trigger earthquakes.  Since the projected started, AltaRock has recorded 219 earthquakes. Trenton Cladouhos is AltaRock’s Senior Vice President of Research and Development and said the largest earthquake they’ve recorded was at a magnitude of 2.4. According to  Cladouhos, most of the earthquakes were around or under magnitude 1, barely felt by most people. The company says it has a system in place to shut down production completely if necessary. “There’s never guarantees in any kind of geothermal situation,” said CEO Petty. However, a geoengineering effort in Switzerland sparked a series of earthquakes that resulted in considerable damage and likely contributed to a...

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Spaceship Earth?

This post contributed by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer Astronaut Bruce McCandless II drifts free, 350 kilometers above Earth’s surface and 100 meters from the safe haven of the Space Shuttle Challenger, during one of NASA’s first un-tethered spacewalks (credit, STS-41B, NASA 1984, via the Astronomy Picture of the Day). Invisible bonds of absolute necessity hold the free-flying astronaut to his shuttle, and to Earth below. He can take a short walk in space, but he is sightseeing on borrowed time. Earth has a monopoly on all the necessities of life. When the space programs of the ‘60s began sending back images of a small, blue jewel suspended in the vast darkness of space, the metaphor of the Earth itself as a spaceship came easily into public discourse. Modern economics also leant power to the notion of the Earth as a single, global system. Humans had begun to appreciate the scale of change that our technology had wrought. Abruptly, we found ourselves fellow passengers on a lonely vessel, our fortunes tied together. Barring radical reformation of our conception of physics, colonization of other planets is not practical or practicable even as a small-scale curiosity, much less an escape plan. The good ship Earth is our only ship, so we had best not sink it. In Tuesday’s Washington Post, Joel Achenbach reports on a movement toward a new paradigm of management and intervention in environmentalism, a Spaceship Earth on which we are not just passengers, but engineers. Just what sinking Earth would entail is a matter of debate. The idea that it would even be possible to sink it is rather new. For a substantial US voting bloc, the world is still a garden for us to harvest, and its upkeep and management is not our business. At passionate odds with the champions of this resource Manifest Destiny, environmentalists object morally to the loss of wilderness, the present wave of extinctions, and the invasion of the successful, surviving species into exotic new locations with the help of human transport. To the less ideologically committed folks in the middle, keeping Earth afloat is synonymous with keeping their own lives and lifestyles afloat, leavened with some empathy for distant communities and future generations. So conservation traditionally operates under a paradigm of custodianship, protection, and restoration. To what perfect historical time do wish to restore our pockets of wildlands? ask the proponents of the new school. Though our current numbers and technological reach are tremendous, humans have been manipulating our environs for thousands of years. There is no pristine Before which can be restored, say the interventionists. The great grasslands of North America...

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Mechanized planet? Where geoengineering stands

Several proposals for geoengineering projects are being explored–including cloud seeding, ocean iron fertilization and afforestation–as a plan for mitigating climate change. Monica Kanojia explores these methods and the current economic and technological issues surrounding them.

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ESA Policy News: October 29

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Terence Houston.

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Ecology meets technology in a mechanized planet

It goes without saying that the world as we know it is becoming increasingly infused with technology. Besides the everyday devices—computers, cell phones, cameras, cars—huge advances are being made on a daily basis at the intersection of biology and technology. Areas like biorobotics, nanotechnology, geoengineering, genetically engineered organisms and global monitoring, for example, are gaining steam. In biorobotics, which also includes advances in medicine through nanotechnology, engineers draw on the processes of locomotion and navigation to design biologically-inspired robots (see above video), some of which have contributed to military aircraft designs. Just this week, physicists have found a way to extract water from air using lasers—a discovery that geoengineers propose could produce rain clouds. Genetically modified organisms, such as cotton plants in India containing a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis that codes for a protein toxic to insects, are being engineered to grow larger and faster and to be resistant to predators and diseases. With satellites and remote sensing, global monitoring is becoming more precise—such as NASA’s Earth Observing System, which was most recently used to track the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. One could easily argue that technology also played a role in  the ecological disaster in the Gulf region, and it is a technological innovation that BP is proposing to use in an effort to mitigate the spill. According to a BBC article, the containment chamber is a 40 foot steel box—ready to be installed this week—that will be placed over the leaking pipe to siphon a projected 85% of the oil into a tanker (see below video). As Felicia Coleman mentioned in Monday’s Q&A, we are living in a world of trade-offs. That is, if society is going to continue inventing machinery and expanding technologically on a global scale, then collaborative systems to assess, control and mitigate any potential consequences should also be taken into account. In biotechnology, as with any emerging field, questions will arise as quickly as advancements are made. Some will be specific (what is the potential impact of nanoparticles introduced to a stream ecosystem?), while others will address the biosphere as a whole. For example, how do we sustain a world that has been so altered and influenced by human development? How can we balance the Earth’s resources with present demands for energy, water and food? But perhaps the most notable inquiry to address is what will happen in the future because of our actions now. In other words, are we adapting to life on a mechanized planet, or are we becoming reliant on it? The upcoming series of posts entitled “Mechanized Planet” will explore the current state of and advancements in such areas as...

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