ESA Policy News April 29: Scientific societies weigh in on America COMPETES reauthorization, relay support for federal participation at conferences, oppose ‘climate riders’
Apr29

ESA Policy News April 29: Scientific societies weigh in on America COMPETES reauthorization, relay support for federal participation at conferences, oppose ‘climate riders’

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE APPROVES AMERICA COMPETES REAUTHORIZATION On April 22, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee passed Chairman Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) bill to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act. The bill passed by a party-line vote of 19-16. H.R. 1806, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act, would reauthorize funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science. Collectively, this bill authorizes a five percent increase for these agencies through Fiscal Year 2017. However, a large number of controversial provisions in the bill drew critique from committee Democrats and the scientific community, which opposed the bill. The bill boosts funding for DOE fusion and the NSF directorates with jurisdiction over the biological sciences, mathematics, physical sciences, computer science and engineering at the cost of sharp cuts to NSF geosciences, social and behavioral directorates and DOE renewable energy and environmental research. DOE Office of Science is flat-funded as are DOE high energy and nuclear physics, DOE advanced computing and DOE basic energy sciences. While the bill somewhat softens transparency and accountability requirement language from past bills, it expands oversight and legislative authority in others. Foremost of concern was that the bill authorizes funding for the National Science Foundation by directorate, which Congress hasn’t done since Fiscal Year 1999, when the agency’s pot of money was significantly smaller and in a period where the agency was arguably under less contentious political scrutiny. The Ecological Society of America was among professional organizations in the scientific, education and conservation community writing in opposition to the bill. ESA also signed onto a joint letter from the Coalition for National Science Funding opposing the bill. Click here to view the mark-up. Click here to view the statement from Chairman Smith and Chairman Thune. Click here to view the ESA letter. Click here to view the CNSF letter. Click here to view Democratic amendments and additional letters from professional organizations opposing H.R. 1806. Click here for a summary of H.R. 1898, the Democratic alternative America COMPETES Reauthorization Act. HOUSE: SUBCOMMITTEE APPROVES FY 2016 ENERGY AND WATER SPENDING BILL On April 22, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water passed its spending bill for the upcoming Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. The bill (H.R. 2028) includes $35.4 billion in funding for the US Department of Energy (DOE), the US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Department of Interior’s (DOI) major water office, and the Bureau...

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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: August 23
Aug23

ESA Policy News: August 23

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: ENVIRONMENTAL AGENCIES SLASHED, FIRE PREVENTION GETS BOOST Congress has adjourned for the August district work period leaving a full plate of must-dos when members return after Labor Day. Many items on their list will  need to be addressed before the end of September. The largest item will be the completion of the appropriations cycle. While it is typical for many (if not most) appropriations bills not to have been sent to the president’s desk at this stage, the current party divide between the House and the Senate had added an extra layer of contention to the appropriations cycle in recent years. The Democratic-controlled Senate must reach a consensus with the Republican-controlled House on spending levels for 12 appropriations spending bills in order to prevent a partial or full shutdown of the government on Sept. 30, when Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 ends. The partisan tension is heightened by the continued budget sequestration, given that Republicans in the House are drafting their non-defense discretionary spending assuming the sequestration continues through FY 2014 while Senate Democrats are drafting their bills in line with the much higher spending caps originally mandated in the Budget Control Act in 2011. Nonetheless, unless the House and Senate can either come up with a deficit reduction alternative to the existing sequester or vote to nullify it altogether, sequestration by law will continue to be implemented through FY 2014 and beyond. Congress must also reach a consensus on reauthorization of the farm bill, which also runs out on Sept. 30. Both the House and Senate have passed farm bills, but the legislation differs substantially both in funding and scope. The Senate bill, which passed by a bipartisan vote of 66-27, also includes a requirement that farmers meet certain conservation requirements in order to receive federal subsidies for crop insurance. The House farm bill, which passed by a narrow vote of 216-208 with no Democratic support, does not include the conservation provisions and lacks a food stamp extension as House Republicans were not able to reach a consensus on food stamp funding prior to the August recess. It also differs from the Senate in that it includes provisions that waive regulatory rules related to pesticide control and environmental reviews of forestry projects. Another major issue Congress will have to tackle around the same time is the national debt ceiling, which is projected to be reached around the start of the new fiscal year. Members of Congress have so far been unsuccessful in reaching an agreement on a deficit...

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ESA Policy News: July 26
Jul26

ESA Policy News: July 26

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: ENVIRONMENTAL AGENCIES SLASHED, FIRE PREVENTION GETS BOOST On July 22, House Republicans released a draft of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. The bill primarily funds environmental agencies such as the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Forest Service. The Interior and Environment appropriations bill is among the more controversial of the discretionary spending bills as the bill has jurisdiction over the funding of many Obama administration environmental regulatory initiatives that are unpopular with Congressional Republicans. House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Jim Moran (D-VA) briefly appeared at the hearing to give a statement calling the legislation “an embarrassment” and immediately left the hearing in protest. “We are going to continue to see these kinds of dramatic reductions as long as we keep trying to reduce the debt by cutting discretionary spending alone, rather than also tackling mandatory spending, which is the real driver of our debt,” warned Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID). As with all non-defense discretionary appropriations bills put forward by the House for the coming fiscal year, the bill includes drastic cuts that assume budget sequestration continues through FY 2014. For many agencies, funding is reduced sharply even when accounting for the five percent across-the-board non-defense discretionary spending cuts enforced under sequestration in part because House Republicans are seeking to lessen sequestration’s impact on defense spending. Overall, the bill provides $24.3 billion in funding for FY 2014 for the aforementioned environmental agencies. This is $5.5 billion less than what was enacted in FY 2013 and still amounts to a $4 billion cut when accounting for the FY 2013 sequestration cuts. The House bill is expected to differ substantially with the Senate, which plans to continue drafting all its spending bills under the assumption that sequester will not continue into Fiscal Year 2014.  However, budget sequestration will only end when and if Congress takes legislative action to change the law that put sequestration into effect. For additional information on the bill, click here. EPA: MCCARTHY CONFIRMED AS NEW ADMINISTRATOR The Senate on July 18, voted 59-40 to confirm Gina McCarthy as administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Republican Senators Lamar Alexander (TN), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Susan Collins (ME), Bob Corker (TN), Jeff Flake (AZ) and John McCain (AZ) voted for her confirmation. Joe Manchin (WV) was the lone Democrat to vote against McCarthy. McCarthy takes the reins from Robert Perciasepe, who has served as acting-administrator since Lisa Jackson stepped...

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Federal research investment and its benefits for society
Jul19

Federal research investment and its benefits for society

In seeking to improve fiscal restraint through a federal budget that has burgeoned over the past decade (largely due to expansion of mandatory spending coupled with decreased revenue intake), lawmakers have been eyeing numerous areas of discretionary spending, including scientific research due to the fact that cutting spending in these areas is more politically feasible than addressing the growth of entitlement programs or revenue-raising tax reform. When reviewing scientific research investments, some lawmakers have set their sights on research with no immediately apparent applied benefit as well as on research they perceive as politically-motivated. Regarding the latter, much criticism among House Republicans has been leveled at government efforts to fund research on environmental issues like climate change or hydraulic fracturing, partially out of concern that these efforts are  at the expense of industry and economic development. During a recent meeting of the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coaltion with a Member of Congress in a district where hydraulic fracturing (also called “fracking”) is practiced, the Congressman asked the scientists with whom he was meeting why additional research is necessary given that existing information suggests that the practice is safe. In the most recent edition of The Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, Carlos Silva discusses his response to this question. Carlos suggested continued research into fracking could benefit the industry in the long-term by uncovering new methods that ultimately improve efficiency or validate the safety of the practice and expand acceptance of its commercial use. Carlos noted that it was National Science Foundation research in geology that contributed to the technology. In the podcast, he also discussed past meetings he’s had with the Maryland delegation and the bipartisan support for research to understand algal blooms and to remedy water quality issues in the Chesapeake Bay, which provides a multitude of local commercial and economic benefits to surrounding communities in the region. While researchers seem to agree that the process of hydraulic fracturing itself does not cause earthquakes, evidence suggests a connection to the wastewater disposal process In addition, communities are concerned about possible contamination of their drinking water.  Research on this evolving energy extraction process can lead to better strategies and show if some concerns are unwarranted. Scientific research improves our knowledge with regard to how to better cope with changes to the environment in a more cost-effective way. One of the central themes of this year’s Climate Leadership Conference outlined how coping with the various aspects of climate change can save businesses billions of dollars in insurance through investing in extreme weather-resistant infrastructure and energy-saving initiatives. In another example, research into understanding how floodplains work, provides us with knowledge on how...

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ESA Policy News: July 12
Jul12

ESA Policy News: July 12

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE CJS BILL CUTS SCIENCE INVESTMENT On July 9, the House Appropriations Committee released its Commerce, Justice and Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, which includes funding for the Department of Justice, Department of Commerce and several key science agencies for the coming fiscal year. In total, the CJS bill includes $47.4 billion for FY 2014, $2.8 billion below the FY 2013 enacted level and $350 million below FY 2013 when accounting for implementation of sequestration. House Republicans have been drafting legislation under the assumption that sequestration will continue through Fiscal Year 2014. Coupled with the fact that they are simultaneously seeking to boost Department of Defense spending, non-defense discretionary spending programs are set to undergo even further spending declines if their bills are enacted. For the first time in years, the National Science Foundation (NSF) would see a significant reduction in funding under the bill compare to the enacted level in the previous fiscal year. NSF would receive $7 billion in FY 2014, $259 million below the enacted level in 2013 pre-sequestration and $631 million below the president’s budget request.  Other key science agencies under the jurisdiction of the bill include: • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $4.9 billion, $89 million below the FY 2013 enacted level. • National Aeronautics and Space Administration: $16.6 billion, $928 million below the FY 2013 enacted level. For additional information on the bill, click here. DOE: REPORT LINKS CLIMATE CHANGE TO ENERGY SECTOR RISKS On July 11, the US Department of Energy released a report entitled US Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather.” The report comes on the heels of President Obama’s climate speech last month and highlights detrimental effects climate change is having on US energy production. Among its findings, the report notes coastal energy infrastructure is particularly susceptible to violent storms and sea level rise and that drought could negatively affect hydraulic fracturing efforts. The report cites that heat waves have led to shutdowns of coal-fired and nuclear power plants. The report also points to threats to oil and gas production in the Arctic from infrastructure damage from thawing permafrost. It also notes that violent storms in recent years have on several occasions led to massive power losses across several states. Among suggested methods of adapting to climate change, the report calls for “the deployment of energy technologies that are more climate-resilient, assessment of vulnerabilities in the energy sector, adaptation planning efforts, and policies that can facilitate these efforts.” View the...

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ESA Policy News: May 31
May31

ESA Policy News: May 31

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET SEQUESTRATION: COMMITTEE REPORT HIGHLIGHTS IMPACTS ON NATIONAL PARKS House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Edward Markey (D-MA) recently released a report further detailing sequestration’s impacts on national parks. Noting that visitors to national parks spent about $30 billion in 2011, the report highlights several impacts it says are unavoidable. The report was released May 24, to coincide with Memorial Day weekend and the beginning of summer park visitation season. Under budget sequestration, non-defense discretionary spending for all federal agencies is cut across all programs by five percent, leading to staff furloughs, hiring freezes as well as service cutbacks. The report details cutbacks at 23 of the 400 US parks. Several, such as Grand Canyon National Park and Glacier National Park will see reduced hours for their visitor centers. Reduced visitor hours at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia will reportedly deny access to 20,000 park visitors. The report also concludes that most parks will offer fewer educational opportunities and other special programs to visitors. In addition, parks will have less capacity to handle emergencies, such as coping with extreme weather events,   or law-enforcement situations, such as poaching and other crimes. Park repairs, maintenance of park facilities (including rest rooms) will also be scaled back due to sequestration, the report finds. View the full report here. NOAA: SCIENCE COMMITTEE EXAMINES AGENCY WEATHER FORECASTING RESEARCH On May 23, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on the Environment held a hearing entitled “Restoring US Leadership in Weather Forecasting.” The hearing examined legislation that intends to reprioritize research initiatives at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A sentiment among congressional Republicans on the subcommittee is that NOAA invests too much on climate research compared to weather research. “In 2012, NOAA barely spent one-third of the resources on weather research as it did on climate research,” asserted Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT) in his opening statement. In referencing disasters such as Hurricane Sandy and the tornado that hit Oklahoma, he stated “We have seen the devastating effects that severe weather can have on this country, and this bill would establish a priority mission for all of NOAA to improve forecasts and warnings to protect lives and property.” Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Susan Bonamici (D-OR) expressed concern that the legislation might hamper investment in NOAA’s other priorities. She pointed out that NOAA’s broad mission includes collecting weather data as well as research to help understand and anticipate ecosystem changes that may impact coastal communities. “NOAA has a sweeping...

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ESA Policy News May 17
May17

ESA Policy News May 17

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. NSF: FORMER DIRECTORS EXPRESS CONCERN WITH DRAFT PEER REVIEW BILL On May 8, six former officials who headed the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Science Board during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations sent a letter to the leadership of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee expressing concern with the High Quality Research Act. The draft bill would require the NSF Director to provide Congress with information certifying research projects meet certain national interest requirements before they can be funded, which has been interpreted as negating NSF’s existing scientific peer-review process for funding research. “We believe that this draft legislation would replace the current merit-based system used to evaluate research and education proposals with a cumbersome and unrealistic certification process that rather than improving the quality of research would do just the opposite,” the letter states. “The history of science and technology has shown that truly basic research often yields breakthroughs – including new technologies, markets and jobs – but that it is impossible to predict which projects (and which fields) will do that.” The High Quality Research Act, proposed by House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), has yet to be introduced and there is no indication yet whether or when the committee will move on the bill. The draft legislation has already met strong opposition from scientific societies and universities as well as House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) who asserted that the bill would “undermine NSF’s core mission as a basic research agency.” View the directors’ letter here. NOAA: CARBON DIOXIDE LEVELS REACH NEW MILESTONE The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently reported that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have peaked above 400 parts per million (ppm), the first time since measurements began in 1958. According to NOAA, the global carbon dioxide average was 280 ppm in the 19th century preceding the industrial revolution and has fluctuated between 180-280 ppm over the past 800,000 years. The agency asserts that a concentration this great has not been seen in at least three million years. The news got very little reaction from key leaders on Capitol Hill, on either side of the aisle in both the House and Senate. The exceptions were Democratic leaders on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. “We know that the Earth is warming, sea ice is disappearing, the glaciers are receding, the oceans are acidifying, and sea levels are rising. We know all of this from climate...

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