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 August 7: Science groups oppose travel bill, White House outlines climate change costs
Aug07

ESA Policy News August 7: Science groups oppose travel bill, White House outlines climate change costs

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.    GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS: SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES OPPOSE TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS BILL The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is among 70 research organizations that signed a letter expressing concern with legislation moving in the Senate that would impose restrictions on the ability of government scientists and engineers to participate in scientific conferences. On July 30th, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee approved S. 1347, the Conference Accountability Act, introduced by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). The approved legislation includes language proposed by the bill’s sponsor that would add additional limits to existing travel policy regulations imposed on government employees in the wake of the General Services Administration scandal. It passed the committee by voice vote. The bill includes language prohibiting a federal agency from expending funds on “not more than one conference that is sponsored or organized by a particular organization during any fiscal year, unless the agency is the primary sponsor and organizer of the conference.” In addition to this letter, ESA also submitted a letter on the importance of scientific conferences to the committee earlier this year. Read the scientific societies letter by clicking this link. View the January ESA letter by clicking this link. APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE RELEASES INTERIOR, EPA FUNDING BILL On August 1st, the Senate Appropriations Committee unveiled its Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. The bill provides $30.7 billion for the US Department of Interior, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Forest Service, slightly higher than the $30.2 billion provided in the House version of the bill. Funding levels are as follows for selected agencies: EPA: $8.2 billion, an $18 million decrease below FY 2014. The Senate bill would increase funding for climate-related activities by $9.8 million over FY 2014. This amount includes $8.8 million to implement the president’s Climate Action Plan. Science and technology programs at EPA would receive $752.88 million, a $6.3 million decrease.  Office of Surface Mining: $144.8 million; a $5 million decrease below FY 2014. Bureau of Land Management: $1.113 billion; a $6 million increase above FY 2014. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management: $72.4 million, a $3.4 million increase above FY 2014. National Park Service: $2.632 billion; a $71 million increase above FY 2014. US Forest Service: $4.626 billion; an $853.5 million decrease below FY 2014. The bill designates $2.171 billion to be shared by the US Forest Service and the Department of Interior for wildland fire suppression activities. US Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.451 billion; a $23 million increase over FY 2014. US Geological Survey: $1.046 billion; a $14 million increase above FY 2014. Smithsonian...

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ESA Policy News, January 17, 2014: budget relief, enviro-ed grants, and a toxic spill in WV
Jan17

ESA Policy News, January 17, 2014: budget relief, enviro-ed grants, and a toxic spill in WV

APPROPRIATIONS: congress passes FY 2014 spending bill
TOXIC SUBSTANCES: West Virginia spill sparks chemical safety policies review
WHITE HOUSE: OSTP director Holdren explains ‘polar vortex’ via Youtube
USGS: Kimball nominated as new director
GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS: ESA weighs in on federal employee conference attenance
EPA: environmental education grant applications accepted
POLICY ENGAGEMENT: ESA announces 2014 GSPA recipients
FWS: wildlife refuges to offer free days in 2014

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John Foley – climate change is a ‘civilization problem’
Aug06

John Foley – climate change is a ‘civilization problem’

By Terence Houston, ESA policy analyst In the face of what he called an “inflection point in history,” on issues such as climate change and natural resources consumption, opening plenary speaker John Foley called on Ecological Society of America (ESA) Annual Meeting attendees to reexamine and build upon the traditional methods of public engagement. Noting that traditional modes of governance (such as Congress) are “broken and inadequate,” Foley suggested that we reexamine our theories and methods of influencing policy changes, asserting that relying on grassroots activism, international support or free markets alone are “theories of change” that need to be re-evaluated in favor of a new frameworks. He stated that we should not “pigeon-hole” an issue like climate change as an environmental problem, but as a “civilization problem – do you get to have one?” We often get stuck focusing on the aspects of climate change that are more polarized, namely the 60 percent of carbon emissions generated from energy production, said Foley. He suggested mitigating global warming through a focus on the 35 percent of carbon emissions that come from agricultural production. Addressing human diets, biofuels and food waste would put a significant dent in what we need to grow, putting a dent in the greenhouse gas emissions that drive global warming. He noted that China, India and the United States contribute 60 percent of the world’s nitrogen oxide from fertilizer and make up 77 percent of irrigation water use. Foley called on scientists to “get out of your bloody cage” and interact with individuals with different areas of expertise, such as people in the business community or governance. He applauded the work of ESA and other scientific societies to engage their members in policy, referencing the work of the Leopold Leadership program in helping scientists gain skills to better share their scientific information with the media and decision-makers.  Referencing author Barbara Kingsolver, he reminded attendees not to forget to hope: “The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for.” Foley’s message was a refrain on 2013 ESA Regional Policy Award recipient Ellen Anderson, Energy and Environment Senior Advisor to Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton. She touted the role scientific understanding has in helping us as a society gain understanding and wisdom so we can “fear less” and asserted there is hope for the future, given that a majority of millennials when surveyed, stated that they are unlikely to support a candidate who does not believe the scientific consensus regarding human-influenced climate...

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ESA Policy News: May 3

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. NSF: SCIENCE COMMITTEE LEADERS WEIGH IN ON BEHAVIORAL RESEARCH INVESTMENT A letter to National Science Foundation (NSF) Acting-Director Cora Marrett from House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) received a sharp rebuttal from Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). In his letter, Chairman Smith expressed concern with how NSF prioritizes scientific research. “Based on my review of NSF-funded studies, I have concerns regarding some grants approved by the foundation and how closely they adhere to NSF’s ‘intellectual merit’ guideline,” he wrote.  “To better understand how NSF makes decisions to approve and fund grants, it would be helpful to obtain detailed information on specific research projects awarded NSF grants.” He then cited several social science studies, including research projects entitled “Picturing Animals in National Geographic,” “Comparative Network Analysis: Mapping Global Social Interactions,” and “Regulating Accountability and Transparency in China’s Dairy Industry” as “studies of interest” to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. Ranking Member Johnson’s response letter addressed to Chairman Smith came the following day. “Like you I recognize that NSF grants have a responsibility back to the taxpayers,” she noted. “But I also believe that: 1) the progress of science itself – across all fields, including the social and behavioral sciences – is in the interest of the taxpayer; and 2) that NSF’s Broader Impact criterion is the right way to hold the individual grantee accountable.” Her letter included a sharp criticism of the chairman’s move as entirely unprecedented in modern history. “In the history of this committee, no chairman has ever put themselves forward as an expert in the science that underlies specific grant proposals funded by NSF. In the more than two decades of committee leadership that I have worked with – Chairmen Brown, Walker, Sensenbrenner, Boehlert, Gordon, and Hall – I have never seen a chairman decide to go after specific grants simply because the chairman does not believe them to be of high value.” To view Chairman Smith’s letter, click here. To view Ranking Member Johnson’s rebuttal letter, click here. To view President Obama’s recent remarks before the National Academy of Sciences, click here. SENATE: APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE REVIEWS EPA FY 2014 BUDGET REQUEST On April 24, the Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee convened for a hearing examining the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget request for FY 2014. “I’m disappointment with the overall budget level. This is the fourth year in a row that the agency’s budget request has contracted,” noted Subcommittee Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI). Chairman Reed cited clean...

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Climate change impacts on the bottom dollar

 By Terence Houston, ESA science policy analyst The second annual Climate Leadership Conference offered a new prism in which to consider an issue that has not gained much traction in recent years in the realm of federal policymaking. Various conference speakers representing a broad cross section of private industry sought to illustrate the notion that the debate over whether to prioritize efforts to address climate change over economic well-being is a false choice. The first day’s keynote address was given by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe who discussed the agency’s Energy Star program, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. He noted that the Energy Star program has helped customers save $230 billion in utility bills in the years since its inception. Perciasepe also mentioned EPA’s Center for Corporate Climate Leadership, which works as a resource for businesses to develop innovative cost-effective solutions to save energy and reduce their carbon footprint. That businesses nationwide are already implementing such efforts is heartening, but the full scope of climate change’s effects on both the economy and national security priorities illuminate the need for private sector actions to be complemented and buttressed with leadership in the public sector. Several representatives from the private sector and key federal agency officials discussed how climate change has already impacted the US economy and national security. Department of Homeland Security Senior Counsel Alice Hill noted how increasing temperatures have led to a rise in shipping activity in Arctic routes, which in turn prompts the need for additional security infrastructure to deter illegal activities or threats to national security interests. She cited a 34 percent increase in the number of vessels in the Arctic region in 2008 as well as a 47 percent increase in transit along the Bering Strait. Hill cited a number of factors, including the state’s remoteness, vast land area, limited existing infrastructure and extreme cold temperatures as hindrances in efforts to expand national security in the region. She noted that DHS has published a Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan, which outlines its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and evaluate the extent of financial costs and outline threats to national security posed by climate change. Lindene Patton, Chief Climate Product Officer with Zurich Insurance offered a perspective on how climate change has impacted the insurance industry. In her presentation, she noted that weather-related supply disruptions result in higher energy prices and increased cooling demand can coincide with an increase in blackouts. Overall she maintained that pre-emptive action by businesses to anticipate environmental risks from climate change can help reduce insurance costs. Jay Bruns of the Hartford cited a study that noted...

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US industry: saving energy is good business

By Nadine Lymn, ESA director of public affairs As someone who is mostly immersed in the world of science and environmental policy, either sharing ecological research related to climate change or tracking congressional efforts (or lack thereof) to develop policy to mitigate and adapt to global warming, it came as an eye-opening and pleasant change of pace to me this week to learn about US business and federal agency actions already underway. The Ecological Society of America (ESA) was invited to be a supporting partner of the 2013 Climate Leadership Conference. With the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the headline sponsor, the meeting drew some 500 leaders in business, government and non-governmental organizations to share their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve energy, water, and waste, and think about new opportunities. Too often, I find myself caught up in the frustrations felt by many in the scientific community in regard to congressional non-action in the arena of climate change.  A topic that often comes with some pessimism was instead cast in a much more positive light—well-known industries—Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, IBM, Hershey, Ford Motor Co.—taking positive steps to help address the problem, sharing best practices and ideas to continue to save energy, improving the efficiency of their operations and thereby also enhancing their bottom line. For example, Steve Tochilin, General Manager, Environmental Sustainability, with Delta Airlines, talked about the “elephant in the room for Delta and other airlines,” namely that about 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are from airlines, a figure that is expected to grow as aviation increases in Brazil, India and China.  “Fuel is killing us,” he said, referring to skyrocketing costs.  Since, so far, there is no viable alternative energy source for planes, every airline is looking to increase fuel efficiency, said Tochilin. Delta is working to reduce how much fuel it uses by some common sense steps to reduce the weight its planes must carry, including: moving to more fuel efficient jets, offering more direct flights (to avoid circling), ripping the “kitchens” out of planes (many routes no longer serve food so why fly around with the extra weight?), installing lighter seats, hauling only the water (water is really heavy) needed for a given flight, etc.  Delta was recently added to the Dow Jones sustainability index. Staples Inc., the office supply store and world’s second largest e-commerce site, has focused on reducing the carbon footprint of its buildings and vehicles, according to Mark Buckley, Staples’ Vice President for Environmental Affairs.  But while it’s had success in reducing its energy use in these areas, Buckley conceded that because the bulk of its carbon...

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Putting Hurricane Sandy into context

By Nadine Lymn, ESA director of public affairs As the reports began coming in about the approaching “superstorm” known as Hurricane Sandy, the chatter about how and if it was connected to global warming was not far behind.  Indeed, it seemed that in the days following its devastating coastal landfall, attention on climate change was revived. In his Bloomberg view editorial, the New York mayor wrote that “Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be — given this week’s devastation — should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.” On Discovery News, Larry O’Hanlon didn’t mince words: “Did climate change cause Hurricane Sandy? Absolutely not. Did climate change have anything to do with Sandy being as bad as it was? Absolutely so, say scientist bloggers whose bread and butter is understanding the physics of our atmosphere.” Over at Climate Central, Andrew Freedman wrote an illuminating piece on Hurricane Sandy noting that “If this were a criminal case, detectives would be treating global warming as a likely accomplice in the crime.” In his article, Freedman noted that the most damaging aspect of the hurricane was the storm surge. A US Geological Survey study published in Nature Climate Change this past summer focused on the risks that rising sea levels pose to the US Atlantic coast, including major cities such as New York, Boston, Baltimore and Norfolk.  The study found that sea level is rising up to four times faster than the global average along the 1,000 kilometer (620 mile) coastline stretching from north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina up to north of Boston, Massachusetts.  The USGS researchers found that since about 1990, sea level along this so-called “hotspot” of coastline has risen by two to 3.7 millimeters per year, compared with a global rise of between 0.6 and one millimeter per year over the same time period. In a USGS press release about the study, Asbury (Abby) Sallenger, USGS oceanographer and project lead said that “Ongoing accelerated sea level rise in the hotspot will make coastal cities and surrounding areas increasingly vulnerable to flooding by adding to the height that storm surge and breaking waves reach on the coast.” The NASA images below show the shoreline of Mantoloking, New Jersey before and after Hurricane Sandy.             A 2009 US Global Change Research report included a focus on the nation’s coastal areas and addressed both sea level rise as well as warming sea surface temperatures and...

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