ESA Policy News: June 28
Jun28

ESA Policy News: June 28

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here.   CLIMATE CHANGE: OBAMA OUTLINES PLAN TO REGULATE GREENHOUSE GASES On June 25, President Obama announced his plan to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The plan seeks to implement federal action on addressing climate change in lieu of  Congress that has not passed comprehensive legislation  to reduce carbon emissions throughout the president’s first-term. “Today, about 40 percent of America’s carbon pollution comes from our power plants.  But here’s the thing:  Right now, there are no federal limits to the amount of carbon pollution that those plants can pump into our air,” said President Obama. “We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air or our water, but power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free.  That’s not right, that’s not safe, and it needs to stop.” The president asserted that rising sea-levels over the past century have contributed to more damaging hurricanes and that temperature changes have caused more severe droughts and increased the duration and reach of wildfires. Implemented largely through the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Agriculture and Interior, the plan would set carbon limits on coal-fired industrial plants and invest in renewable energy usage on public lands. To brace for the continued impacts of climate change, the plan utilizes strategies developed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to help communities guard against flooding and extreme weather events. It also intends to apply scientific knowledge to help farmers, ranchers and landowners manage droughts and wildfires and improve forest restoration efforts. Recognizing that mitigating climate change is a global effort, the White House plan also increases federal government involvement in international efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and sets guidelines for how foreign assistance is spent. For additional information on the plan, click here. To read President Obama’s full remarks, click here. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE, SENATE COMMITTEES PASS ENERGY AND WATER SPENDING BILLS This month, the House and Senate appropriations committees move forward on legislation to fund federal energy and water development programs for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. Such programs are implemented largely through the Department of Energy (DOE) and US Army Corps of Engineers. The $30.4 billion House energy and water bill slashes funding for a number of renewable energy and research programs at DOE. Funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would be cut by 40 percent compared to existing sequester level funding. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy would be cut by 80 percent below the sequestered funding. The...

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In defense of federally-funded research
Jun27

In defense of federally-funded research

A continued drive towards fiscal belt-tightening by lawmakers in Congress has spurred unprecedented attempts to curb federal investment in scientific research. With a continued unwillingness by members of both major parties in Congress to tackle a comprehensive bipartisan plan to reduce the national debt that includes mandatory spending reform and tax reform, non-defense discretionary spending programs are continuing to be scrutinized for initiatives that seem duplicative or frivolous. For discretionary spending programs that fund scientific research, this means targeting grant proposals that may be perceived as frivolous. The highlighting of research initiatives is nothing new. However, until recently, the lambasting of such programs was usually limited to a minority of lawmakers. These attempts to belittle the value of certain areas of scientific research were often tempered by members from both parties with more expertise on scientific research issues who recognize the role science investment plays in maintaining the United State’s global competitiveness.  Unfortunately, political extremists have grown to a level of influence that now a certain degree of catering to their agenda is apparently necessary to sustain normal order. Just this past March, Congress approved by voice vote an amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) to the Consolidated and Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 (P.L. 113-6) prohibiting the National Science Foundation (NSF) from funding political science research unless such research was certified to promote the national security or economic interests of the United States. The fact that the language was passed by voice vote meant that no Senator sought to contest the amendment during floor debate in a meaningful way. More recently, House, Space, Science and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) floated a draft bill, the High Quality Research Act, which would require NSF to certify that every research project meet certain criteria as being in the national interest of the United States.  Though the draft legislation has garnered no shortage of push back, both from inside and outside Capitol Hill, federal efforts to redirect how science funding is distributed and determine what projects are funded are expected to continue, nonetheless. In the latest edition of The Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, Matthew Berg, a recipient of ESA’s 2013 Graduate Student Policy Award, discusses his interactions with congressional offices who questioned the value of certain science research projects. Berg stressed the importance of emphasizing local connections that resonate with each particular congressional office. “Tailoring the message to each individual office was hugely important. I addressed the importance of [Texas A&M University] as a local economic driver to the local congressman I met with first. I pointed to water supply issues to the Senator from the San Antonio and Edwards...

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ESA Policy News: June 14
Jun14

ESA Policy News: June 14

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. EDUCATION: STEM REORGANIZATION EFFORT MEETS BIPARTISAN CRITICISM On June 4, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee convened for a hearing examining the Obama Administration’s proposed reorganization of Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering (STEM) programs outlined in its proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budget. Under the plan, 110 of 226 federal agency STEM programs would be eliminated. The plan would house STEM programs primarily under three agencies: the Department of Education (DOE), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Smithsonian Institution (SI). DOE would oversee K-12 programs, NSF would oversee undergraduate and graduate programs while the Smithsonian would be responsible for informal science education. The proposal, an effort on the part of the administration to deal with the reality of current fiscal constraints, was met with inquiries and skepticism from both Republican and Democratic members of Congress. Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and former chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) were all particularly concerned with the reorganization’s impact on STEM programs within the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The reorganization would cut NASA programs by one-third. NASA’s STEM programs would lose $50 million under the reorganization effort.  There were also bipartisan concerns that the reorganization does not include enough focus on vocational training programs or programs that seek to increase STEM participation among underrepresented groups, including women and minorities. Members of Congress expressed concern that the reorganization effort was decided primarily through the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, with little input from school districts, non-profits, universities or the federal agency program managers responsible for the programs slated for elimination. “In addition to being concerned about the process, I have serious concerns with the budget proposal itself.  To be blunt, it seems to me it was not very well thought out,” stated Ranking Member Johnson. Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren noted that no one wants to see their own programs reduced or eliminated. View the full hearing here. CLIMATE CHANGE: US, CHINA REACH DEAL ON HFC EMISSIONS On June 8, the White House announced that the United States had reached an agreement with China to reduce the use of use of heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are greenhouse gases used in refrigerator and air conditioner appliances. The most common types of HFCs are anywhere from a hundred to a thousand times as potent as carbon dioxide in warming the planet. According to the White House, HFC emissions could grow to nearly...

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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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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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Briefing highlights importance of social science research

By Terence Houston, Science Policy Analyst In recent months, there have been multiple congressional attempts to interfere with  the  National Science Foundation’s support of the nation’s fundamental research particularly  related to social and behavioral science research.  Such attacks have happened periodically over the years, but recent actions have been particularly aggressive. Congressional Republicans have pushed legislative efforts to restrict federal funding for social science research. The Continuing Resolution enacted to fund the government for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013 included language authored by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) prohibiting NSF from funding political science research unless such research was certified to promote the national security or economic interests of the United States. House Space, Science and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) has repeatedly emphasized his intention to increase oversight of NSF’s grant approval process. Chairman Smith has also put forward draft legislation, the High Quality Research Act, which would cripple NSF’s existing scientific merit  peer-review process . These actions have drawn criticism from Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and concern from science advocates. On April 25, the Coalition for National Science Funding joined with the House Research and Development Caucus, Co-Chaired by Reps. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Rush Holt (D-NJ), in sponsoring a briefing entitled “Social Science Research on Disasters: Communication, Resilience, and Consequences.” The briefing highlighted examples of federally-funded social and behavioral science research contributions to the nation. Rep. Holt, a practicing Ph.D. physicist before he was elected to Congress, highlighted the need for the US to continue to sustain investment of basic research across all fields of science.  NSF Acting Director Cora Marrett also underscored that message. For example, NSF-funded social science research at Washington University in St. Louis helped the Army Research Institute incorporate nonverbal communication into soldier training, helping defense efforts towards improving cross-cultural non-verbal communication. A Western Washington University behavioral study on US veterans identified certain patterns of disadvantages in educational and career trajectories that could help the 200,000 military servicemen and women  who must readjust to civilian life each year post-service. Behavior research on human response to natural disasters shows that local culture plays a role in how individuals respond to evacuation orders issued for hurricanes. Researchers Susan Weller (University of Texas) and Roberta Baer (University of South Florida) identified various factors, including exhaustion, traffic concerns and a belief in the ability to “ride out the storm” as affecting the manner in which people respond to mandated evacuations. Each of the briefing’s speakers gave their perspective on how behavior research informs federal response to human-made and natural disasters. H. Dan O’Hair(University of Kentucky) discussed the sociology of collaborative efforts between broadcast...

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ESA Policy News: April 19

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: SCIENCE RECEIVES HIGH PRIORTY IN WHITE HOUSE FY 2014 PROPOSAL On April 10, the White House released its Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 budget proposal, which includes significant increases for scientific research. The proposal sets different priorities than the proposed budgets put forward by Congressional leaders, particularly those of the House majority. The budget takes into account spending caps instituted through the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25). However, it does not take into account implementation of sequestration and compares program funding levels to those of FY 2012, before sequestration was implemented. Obama’s budget proposes to nullify budget sequestration with $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction. This would include $580 billion in revenue through closing tax loopholes, $400 billion in healthcare savings, $200 billion in mandatory spending programs that would include agriculture and retirement contributions and $200 billion in discretionary savings. The remaining $430 billion would come from cost-of-living adjustments and reduced interest payments on the debt. Congress needs to come up with $1.2 trillion in savings to eliminate the existing sequester cuts. In total, the White House FY 2014 budget request includes $142.8 billion for federal research and development (R&D), a 1.3 percent increase over FY 2012. In his official message on the budget, President Obama sought to tie science investment to economic development. “If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas,” he asserted. “That is why the budget maintains a world-class commitment to science and research, targeting resources to those areas most likely to contribute directly to the creation of transformational technologies that can create the businesses and jobs of the future. The president’s budget would provide OSTP with $5.65 million for FY 2014, an increase from $4.5 million in FY 2012. In the president’s proposal, many federal agencies that invest in scientific research would garner large boosts, compared to what was enacted in FY 2012: National Science Foundation: $7.6 billion (an 8.4 percent increase) US Geological Survey: $1.2 billion (a 9 percent increase) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $5.4 billion (an 8 percent increase) Department of Energy R&D: $12.7 billion (an 18 percent increase) National Aeronautics and Space Administration R&D: $11.6 billion (a 2.6 percent increase) US Global Change Research Program: $2.7 billion (a 6 percent increase) Additional information on the White House FY 2014 budget request is available here. Information specific to the White House’s scientific research budget proposals is available here. Information specific to the White House’s proposal for STEM programs is available here. BUDGET: PRESIDENT’S PROPOSAL INCLUDES...

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Scientist citizens—biologists on Capitol Hill

By Terence Houston, ESA science policy analyst and Nadine Lymn, ESA director of public affairs “The Congressman believes strongly in the value of fundamental research the National Science Foundation makes possible and will continue to support it.” “…the Senator is concerned that NSF funds some “silly research” such as a study on duck penises….” These are just a few examples of what various congressional staffers said to scientists participating in last week’s Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition Congressional Visits Day, co-organized by the Ecological Society of America and the American Institute of Biological Sciences.  For many scientists, it was their first time to step into the marble-floored congressional buildings on Capitol Hill.  Their goal: to meet with their congressional delegations, highlight the value of federally supported science, and, hopefully, begin to cultivate professional relationships with policymakers. Over 30 graduate students, field researchers and professors visited 55 congressional offices to highlight the contributions of federally supported biological research programs to their respective states and the nation.  It was an energetic group that found compelling ways to make their message resonate with policymakers. As evidenced by the quotes above, while congressional offices varied in how they viewed sustained funding for federal science programs, the scientists participating in the meetings used their local ties as well as areas of common interest to connect with policymakers. One of ESA’s Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA) recipients, Matthew Berg, for example, an eco-hydrology graduate student at Texas A&M University, has a folksy Texas charm.  Focusing on his state’s water limitations, he talked about the role federal agencies play there in enabling monitoring and research into water-related issues. But before he even got to those points, Matt had successfully established himself as a fellow Texan: he was wearing his “Aggie” ring—the massive Texas A&M ring widely known to all alums of that institution and instantly recognized from across the room.  Upon entering his Congressman’s office, Matthew’s ring was immediately spotted by a young, broad-shouldered man who was sporting the same ring and the two swapped stories about their alma mater while we waited.  And then the staffer with whom Matt was actually meeting appeared and he, too, was wearing the same ring.  This common denominator fostered an easy rapport between the grad student and the congressional staffer and a productive dialogue ensued. Scott Collins and Don Natvig, professors at the University of New Mexico, had the advantage of being able to offer congressional staff a tour of an especially alluring research area: the Sevilleta Long-term Ecological Research site. Collins is director of the Sevilleta LTER while Natvig is director of the Sevilleta Field Station.  The two invited...

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