ESA Policy News: May 18

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 NOAA, RESEARCH INITIATIVES On May 10, the House passed H.R. 5326, the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2013, which includes funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), among other agencies. The bill passed by a vote of 247-163 with 23 Democrats joining all but eight Republicans in supporting the measure. Democrats supporting the measure included House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Norman Dicks (D-WA) and House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Chaka Fattah (D-PA). In total, the bill provides $51.1 billion in funding for FY 2013, $1.6 billion below FY 2012 and $731 million below the president’s FY 2013 budget request. The White House has released a statement of administration policy declaring that President Obama will veto the bill, if it is presented to him in its current form. The administration asserts that the bill’s overall funding level violates those set by the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25), agreed to in August of last year, and says  that the cuts included in the bill will be a detriment in furthering “economic growth, security, and global competitiveness” for the nation. While applauding the funding for the Office of Science and Technology Policy as well as the $7.3 billion funding level for NSF, the White House says that significant funding cuts to NOAA would adversely affect the agency’s ability to implement the nation’s fisheries and oceans stewardship programs. The House bill must be reconciled with the Senate CJS bill approved in committee last month.  For additional background on the House and Senate CJS appropriations bills, see the April 20 edition of ESA Policy News. To view the full White House statement of administration policy on the House CJS appropriations bill, click here. HOUSE: SCIENCE SUBCOMMITTEE CONSIDERS POTENTIAL OF OIL SHALE DEVELOPMENT On May 10, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened for a hearing entitled “American Jobs and the Economy through Expanded Energy Production:  Challenges and Opportunities of Unconventional Resources Technology.” “The amount of energy under own soil is striking.  With continued technological advances and the right policies to enable access to these resources, America could become the global leader in energy production for the next generation and beyond,” stated Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD). “The Green River Basin, located in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, may contain up to three trillion barrels of oil, more potential oil than the rest of the world’s current oil reserves...

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ESA Policy News: April 20

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: CJS BILLS SUPPORT SCIENCE, SENATE TRANSFERS SATELLITES TO NASA The week of April 16, both the House and Senate Commerce Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittees approved their respective funding bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. In total, the House CJS appropriations bill would provide $51.1 billion to all agencies under its jurisdiction, a reduction of $1.6 billion below FY 2012 and $731 below the president’s request. The Senate bill would fund all agencies under its jurisdiction at $51.862 billion, a $1 billion reduction from FY 2012.  While the House bill’s funding levels are overall less than the Senate, both chambers supported increases in key science agencies in comparison to the current fiscal year. The Senate CJS bill would also move funding for weather satellite procurement from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). There has been bipartisan, bicameral criticism directed at NOAA’s costly satellites. According to Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), the move would save $117 million in FY 2013 and reduce duplicative federal activities. Enclosed are funding levels for key science bureaus outlined within the House and Senate bills: The National Science Foundation House: $7.333 billion, an increase of $299 over FY 2012. Senate: $7.273 billion, an increase of $240 million over FY 2012. NASA House: $17.6 billion, $226 million below FY 2012 Senate: $19.4 billion, an increase of $1.6 billion over FY 2012. (*The increase is due to the bill’s provision transferring weather satellite procurement from NOAA to NASA. Absent these funds, the bill would mean a $41.5 million cut for NASA. NOAA House: $5 billion, $68 million above FY 2012 Senate: $3.4 billion, $1.47 billion below FY 2012 For additional information on the Senate CJS bill, click here. For additional information on the House CJS bill, click here.  APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE RELEASES FY 2013 ENERGY AND WATER BILL On April 17, the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee released its funding bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. The bill, which funds federal programs for the Department of Energy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and water programs within the Department of Interior, would be funded at $32.1 billion, $965 million less than the president’s request, yet a slight increase from FY 2012. Department of Energy (DOE) – DOE would receive $26.3 billion, $365 million less than FY 2012. DOE environmental management activities would be funded at $5.5 billion, $166 million below FY 2012. The bill increases funding for nuclear security by $300 million from FY 2012 and would direct funding...

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ESA Policy News: April 9

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. HOUSE: GOP BUDGET SETS FURTHER DISCRETIONARY SPENDING CAPS On March 29, the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposed budget resolution for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. The bill passed by a vote of 228-191 with 10 Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against the bill. The non-binding resolution sets discretionary spending at $1.028 trillion, $19 billion below the $1.047 trillion agreed upon during the compromise enacted under the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25). The budget resolution typically serves as a maximum funding ceiling for congressional appropriators to work from as House and Senate appropriation bills are drafted and marked-up in the spring and summer. Under the House-passed resolution, H. Con. Res. 112, environmental spending, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies, would take a $4.1 billion hit, sinking to budget authority levels not seen since 2001. The funding cut is nearly double the $2.3 billion reduction proposed by President Obama’s FY 2013 budget request. At the same time, the House budget bill would seek to increase revenue by expanding oil and gas drilling. The 10 Republicans voting against the budget were Reps. Justin Amash (MI), Joe Barton (TX), John Duncan (TN), Chris Gibson (NY), Tim Huelskamp (KS), Walter Jones (NC), David McKinley (WV), Todd Platts (PA), Denny Rehberg (MT) and Ed Whitfield (KY). The rationale for the opposition varied. Some members supported a more far-reaching resolution offered by the far-right conservative Republican Study Committee that claims it would balance the budget in five years through more severe cuts. Other Republicans objected to the proposed changes to Medicare. For additional information on Chairman Ryan’s budget, see the March 23 edition of ESA Policy News. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS NOAA WEATHER FORECASTING SYSTEMS On March 28, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened to examine the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) weather forecasting methods. The hearing focused on the broad range of technologies available to gather weather and climate data and whether those technologies could improve weather forecasting methods. In addition to representation from NOAA, the committee heard from several witnesses from the private sector who discussed how they could provide the same weather collection data for less money. Committee Republicans were critical of NOAA for allocating 40 percent of its proposed $5.1 billion Fiscal Year 2013 budget towards its two satellite programs, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-Series (GOES-R), at the expense of...

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ESA Policy News: November 18

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: CONFERENCE AGREEMENT INCREASES SCIENCE INVESTMENT Congressional leaders recently agreed upon a conference report agreement on a mini-omnibus appropriations measure (“mini-bus”) to for three separate appropriations bills through the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. The bill also contains a continuing resolution (CR) that extends through December 16 to allow Congress additional time to come to an agreement on funding levels for the nine remaining appropriation bills. All together, the mini-bus includes $182 billion in spending for the Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Commerce, Justice as well as the National Science Foundation (NSF). The bill passed the House on Nov. 17 by a vote of 298-121. All but 20 Democrats supported the bill while 101 Republicans voted against it. President Obama is expected to sign the measure. For NSF, the bill provides $7.033 billion, a $173 million increase from what was enacted for FY 2011. NOAA is funded at $4.9 billion for FY 2012, an increase of $306 million over FY 2011. For programs funded under the Department of Agriculture, the Agricultural Research Service is provided with $1.09 billion, down from $1.133 billion in FY 2011. The National Institute of Food and Agricultural receives nearly $705.6 million, an increase from $698.7 million in FY 2011. The bill provides $844 million for Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) programs, a $45 million decrease from FY 2011. A detailed summary of the conference report can be found here. STATE DEPARTMENT: DECISION ON KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE POSTPONED UNTIL 2013 On Nov. 10, the U.S. Department of State announced that it was delaying a decision on the controversial TransCanadian Keystone XL pipeline until the first quarter of 2013, in effect postponing the decision until after the 2012 presidential election. The State Department said it needed to conduct further investigation of the impact of  Keystone XL on the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, a process it said could not be completed until at least the first quarter of 2013. The agency had previously said it expected a decision by the end of the year. If constructed, Keystone XL would run 1,700 miles from Canada to Texas and would convey a type of oil from Alberta, Canada, that is more carbon-intensive to produce than are other forms. Environmentalists are strongly opposed to the pipeline, with some asserting that the administration’s decision would significantly impact their support for Obama in 2012. Opposition to the pipeline also attracted a significant proportion of young voters, a key demographic in the president’s election in 2008. Nebraska politicians had...

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ESA Policy News: November 4

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE PASSES ‘MINI-BUS’ FUNDING NSF, NOAA On Nov. 1, the Senate passed a mini omnibus (“minibus”) measure that incorporated three individual appropriations bills: Commerce Justice and Science, Transportation Housing and Urban Development as well as the Agriculture Rural Development Food and Drug Administration appropriations for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. The minibus bill (H.R. 2112) passed with bipartisan support by a vote of 69-30. Sixteen Republicans joined all Democrats and Independents in supporting the measure. Funding levels are largely unchanged from the measures approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee two months ago. The bill includes $6.7 million for the National Science Foundation, a reduction of $162 million from FY 2011. For the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the bill includes $5 billion, a $434 million increase from FY 2011. The Senate measure increases investment in NOAA research initiatives, including $161.5 million for the agency’s climate service. The House bill prohibits funding for the climate service. For the Agricultural Research Service, the FY 2012 bill provides $1.09 billion, down from $1.133 billion in FY 2011.  The bill provides $709.8 million for research and education activities within the National Institute on Food and Agriculture, up from $698.7 million in FY 2011. The Natural Resources Conservation Service would receive $828 million for FY 2012, down from $871 million in FY 2011. For more information on the science-related components of the appropriations measure, see the Sept. 23 edition of ESA Policy News or see the  Sept. 9 edition of ESA Policy News for more information on the agricultural research components of the measure. OCEANS: ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS DEFEND NATIONAL OCEANS POLICY On Oct. 26, the House Natural Resources Committee convened a hearing on the Obama administration’s National Ocean Policy. While this was the second hearing by the committee to examine the policy, it was the first to feature testimony from key senior officials from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ). House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) said the plan  places restrictions on ocean and coastal inland activities. “I have asked the administration for the specific statutory authority that allows the president, by executive order, to create regional planning bodies and require them to create regional zoning plans. So far, I have been given only a hodge-podge list of all the statutes that apply to ocean and/or coastal activities,” he said. Hastings cited the policy as a “huge new bureaucracy” that could “cost jobs and have devastating long-term economic impacts throughout the country.” Chairman Hastings asserted that...

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ESA Policy News: September 23

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE, SENATE DEADLOCKED OVER TEMPORARY SPENDING BILL The specter of a federal government shutdown looms again as the House passed a bill to fund the government beyond the end of the current fiscal year only to see it fail in the Senate. On Sept. 22, the House passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government through Nov. 18, by a vote of 213-209. The measure subsequently failed in the Senate by a vote of 59-36, falling one vote shy of the 60 vote majority needed to advance the bill under Senate rules. The bill is similar to a measure the House voted on earlier in the week that failed to win support of conservative Republicans. House GOP leadership added a provision to the bill to cut $100 million from the Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee program that funded Solyndra, a bankrupt solar company that has sparked controversy in recent weeks. Democrats have countered that the DOE program cuts would hinder job growth. Democrats have also opposed the bill because it requires disaster assistance funds to be offset by spending cuts. The House bill provides $3.65 billion in disaster assistance while the Senate passed a similar disaster assistance bill that included $7 billion with no offsets. If Congress does not approve a bill early next week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency could run out of funds by Monday, Sept. 26 and the government would shutdown at the end of the current fiscal year, Sept 30. SENATE: APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE MARKS UP BILL FOR NSF, NOAA FUNDING On Sept. 14, the Senate Appropriations Committee marked up S. 1572, the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. The bill includes $52.701 billion in discretionary spending, $626 million less than FY 2011. The National Science Foundation, would receive $6.7 billion, a reduction of $162 million or 2.4 percent below the FY 2011 enacted level. The proposed cut to NSF was largely due to the prioritization of other CJS programs by Senate CJS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD).The House Appropriations CJS bill would fund NSF level with FY 2011 at $6.9 billion. For the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the bill provides $6 million, $647,000 below FY 2011 and $650,000 less than the president’s budget request. The House version allocated only allocated $3 million for OSTP. The bill also provides funding to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). For FY 2012 the bill proposes $5 billion for NOAA, a $434...

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9/11 dust study, gypsy-moth caterpillar killer, and hummingbird courtship

Studying the 9/11 WTC dust: Coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) recently published a blog highlighting the agency’s study of the environmental and potential health risks of the massive dust cloud that swept across New York City as a result of the collapse of the World Trade Center. The dust was particularly dense, coating outdoor surfaces in a layer of powdered material up to three inches thick. It also penetrated doors, windows and ventilation systems, contaminating apartments and office buildings alike.  The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Public Health Service requested that USGS examine the dust to identify components that might pose a human health threat to the thousands who inhaled it that day and subsequent days USGS found that the dust contained higher amounts of lead, zinc, antimony, copper, and other elements of building materials than found in natural soils. The team also found the less dangerous variety of asbestos–chrysotile asbestos–in most samples at higher levels than what is found in urban particulate matter. The materials found were deemed dangerous enough to indicate a potential health threat and USGS scientists consequently advised that clean-up be conducted with appropriate respiratory protection and dust control measures. USGS scientists also found that dust indoors was highlight caustic and could be chemically reactive with moisture, including eyes, nose, and lungs.  However, rain and other elements helped neutralize the alkalinity of dust outside. Clever caterpillar killer: Scientists have recently discovered how a virus manipulates an invasive species of caterpillar. The gypsy moth caterpillar larvae is renowned for damaging roughly a million acres of forest in the U.S. each year. However, the baculovirus has infiltrated the caterpillars, taking advantage of their insatiable appetites. The virus has become so effective that the U.S. Department of Agriculture sprays it on trees to help control gypsy moth outbreaks. According to the study’s lead author, Kelli Hoover, an entomologist at Pennsylvania State University, the virus works by altering the gypsy moth caterpillar’s behavior. Once infected with the virus, the caterpillars climb to elevated positions and die. Subsequently, the body cavity of the caterpillar is converted into millions of virus particles as well as an enzyme that causes the caterpillar’s exoskeleton to disintegrate. The “liquefied” caterpillar then “rains” onto the leaves below, which other caterpillars eat, further spreading the virus. The researchers claim that knowing precisely how baculovirus overwhelms the gypsy moth could help scientists develop more potent strains of the virus and determine when in the moth’s life cycle it is most vulnerable to infection. Read more at: “How a clear virus kills a hungry...

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Asian longhorned beetle poses threat to New England maples

Signs of fall are beginning to appear in the northeastern United States.  Glimpses of colorful leaves are showing and a crisp autumn smell hangs in the air.  Maple trees make up much of New England’s landscape and are integral to both thriving tourist and maple syrup industries.  Now, a new study just out in the Canadian Journal of Forest Research suggests that if left uncontrolled, the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) can “readily disperse into natural forest landscapes and alter the makeup of North America’s hardwood forest region.” The study focuses on the ongoing ALB infestation in Worcester, Massachusetts, the only outbreak so far in which the beetles have invaded nearby closed-canopy forests.  ALB infestations have famously occurred in cities including New York, Boston and in Chicago. Native to eastern China, the ALB was first discovered in the U.S. in 1996, probably arriving in wood packaging material shipped from Asia.  As described on the Center for Invasive Species Research website, the wood-boring beetle often kills otherwise healthy trees by girdling them and creating holes in the bark, leaving the trees vulnerable to additional attacks by other insects or disease.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been working to control or eradicate ALB populations and raise public awareness and cooperation as seen in the agency’s public service announcement in the video below. In urban environments, the ALB invades a wide variety of hardwood trees but in forests it favors maple trees.  At one of the study’s research sites in a suburb of Worcester, nearly two-thirds of all maple trees were infested.  According to a National Science Foundation (NSF) press release about the recent study, the Worcester ALB outbreak is the largest so far in North America with more than 19,600 trees infested.  Eradication efforts involve harvesting affected trees and have led to shifts in forest composition from maple to oak. Says co-author David Orwig, a forest ecologist at NSF’s Harvard Forest Long-Term Ecological Research site in the NSF release: “If the ALB continues to spread outside Worcester, the abundance of red maples could provide a pathway for its dispersal throughout New England and other parts of eastern North America.”   Photo: NSF Harvard Forest LTER...

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