ESA Policy News January 15: Congressional action on Keystone, Boxer retires, House, Senate committees take shape

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  KEYSTONE: CONGRESS MOVES ON PIPELINE BILLS, STATE COURT UPHOLDS PROJECT On Jan. 9, the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 3, the Keystone XL Pipeline Act, which would approve construction of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline. The bill passed by a vote of 266-153, over 20 votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto. Twenty-eight Democrats voted with all Republicans to support the bill. Approval of the pipeline has been held up for years due to route alterations and court litigation. The most recent judicial hurdle was overcome when the Nebraska Supreme Court last week upheld a 2012 law granting the Nebraska governor permitting authority for the pipeline. The court decision was announced just hours before the House voted. The White House has threatened to veto the bill, stating Congress’s move to legislatively approve the pipeline “conflicts with longstanding executive branch procedures regarding the authority of the president and prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues that could bear on US national interests (including serious security, safety, environmental, and other ramifications).” Meanwhile, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee marked-up and approved its own Keystone pipeline bill (S. 1, the Keystone XL Pipeline Act) on Jan. 8 by a vote of 13-9. The bill is being debated on the Senate floor this week. At least 60 Senators have committed to voting for the bill, making it likely Obama will have to exercise his first veto in several years. Click here to read the White House Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 3. SENATE: CLIMATE CHANGE CHAMPION BARBARA BOXER TO RETIRE IN 2016 Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who chaired the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for the past eight years, announced she will retire when her term expires at the end of the 114th session of Congress. Sen. Boxer has long been an advocate of women’s rights and addressing global climate change. She has been a staunch proponent of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan and defender of its efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. During her tenure as chair, she held numerous hearings on climate change featuring testimony from Ph.D. climate science experts. Along with Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), she serves as co-chair of the Senate Climate Change Clearinghouse. She is also a member of the Senate Oceans Caucus. Click here to view Senator Boxer’s retirement announcement. SENATE: DEMOCRATS NAME APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE RANKING MEMBERS Democrats announced their picks to serve in the top positions on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittees, which has the authority...

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ESA Policy News November 19: US, China reach emissions agreement, NSF ‘Truthy’ study scrutinized, House committee chairs named for 2015
Nov19

ESA Policy News November 19: US, China reach emissions agreement, NSF ‘Truthy’ study scrutinized, House committee chairs named for 2015

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  FOREIGN AFFAIRS: US, CHINA REACH AGREEMENT ON CARBON EMISSION REDUCTIONS On Nov. 12, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced an agreement that aims to set the US and China on a path to dramatically reducing their carbon emissions. The United States will cut its emissions 26–28 percent below 2005 emission levels by 2025. China agreed to “peak” its emissions by 2030 and will work to meet that goal earlier. China has also set a target to expand use of non-carbon emitting energy sources to 20 percent of its total energy consumption by 2030. The breakthrough is pivotal as China previously resisted calls to cap its emissions. The Obama administration declared the reduction goals can be met “under existing law,” without approval from Congress. However, Congress could block funding for the effort using the appropriations process. It appears likely that the Republican-controlled Congress will try. This could pose problems for the president’s subsequent pledge of $3 billion (USD) for the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund to address the ramifications of climate change in developing nations. Click here for additional information on the agreement. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE CHAIR QUESTIONS ‘TRUTHY’ NSF STUDY On Nov. 10, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) sent a letter to National Science Foundation (NSF) Director France Cordova requesting information on the agency’s decision to fund research into the spread through social media of ideas and memes, including political commentary and campaign messaging. The study in question, entitled “Truthy,” is a multi-year research project by the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing. The name is derived from the term “truthiness,” coined by political comedian, Stephen Colbert for information that feels like truth. The authors apply the term to social media messages from bots [programs] that seem to come from real people and sponsored messages that seem to come from grassroots movements. According to the University of Indiana project website, one of the goals of the study is to “develop machine learning and visual analytics tools that could aid people in recognizing misinformation such as harmful rumors, smear campaigns, astroturfing, and other social media abuse.” Chairman Smith contends that the project singles out conservative messaging tactics and threatens free speech. The day Chairman Smith issued the letter; the Association of American Universities (AAU) released a statement on his committee’s continued inquires into NSF grants. Click here to view the AAU statement. Click here to view Chairman Smith’s letter. Click here to view the author’s response. Click here to link to the ‘Truthy’ study website. HOUSE: REPUBLICAN CONFERENCE NAMES NEW COMMITTEE CHAIRS...

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ESA Policy News November 5: Senate elections shake up committees, IPCC report finds climate change effects irreversible
Nov05

ESA Policy News November 5: Senate elections shake up committees, IPCC report finds climate change effects irreversible

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  SENATE: ELECTIONS, RETIREMENTS SHAKE UP KEY SCIENCE, ENVIRONMENTAL COMMITTEES On Nov. 4, Republicans decisively gained control of the US Senate for the first time in eight years. The party managed to hold onto all their incumbents while picking up seats in Arkansas (Tom Cotton), Colorado (Cory Gardner), Iowa (Joni Ernst), North Carolina (Thom Tillis), Montana (Steven Daines), West Virginia (Shelley Moore Capito) and South Dakota (Michael Rounds). Among races too close to call, Republican candidate Dan Sullivan is leading Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in Alaska, while current Democratic Sen. Mark Warner holds a very small edge over Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia. As anticipated, Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu was forced into a run-off in her race against Republican Bill Cassidy when neither candidate obtained a majority of the vote according to state rules. Senate Republicans could hold between 53–55 Senate seats next Congress after the dust finally settles at the conclusion of the Dec. 6 Louisiana run-off. The 2014 election results, as well as retirements, will mean new leadership for a handful of Senate committees with jurisdiction over issues that affect the ecological community. Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) is the Ranking Member and is in line to become chair under a Republican-controlled Senate. Current Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is expected to serve as the ranking member. Appropriations Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the senior Republican is expected to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee in the Republican Senate majority. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) would continue as Ranking Member under the new leadership. Mikulski and Shelby also hold the top spots for their parties on the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, which has funding jurisdiction over the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Commerce, Science and Transportation Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is retiring at the close of the current 113th Congress. Ranking Member John Thune (R-SD) is expected to chair the committee next year. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Cantwell are the next most senior Democrats that could serve as ranking member in January. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is the ranking member of the Science and Space Subcommittee and may take control of the subcommittee in the Republican Senate. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) currently chairs the subcommittee and could serve as ranking member. The next Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chair will have to decide on how to move forward with legislation to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act, which outlines funding priorities...

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ESA Policy News, February 14, 2014: Keystone Pipeline, fisheries reauthorization debate, and FWS criticized in wolf delisting.
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ESA Policy News, February 14, 2014: Keystone Pipeline, fisheries reauthorization debate, and FWS criticized in wolf delisting.

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. DEBT CEILING: CONGRESS PASSES BILL EXTENDING DEBT LIMIT TO 2015 This week, the House and Senate passed a bill to extend the debt ceiling through March 2015. The bill was passed shortly after the US Department of Treasury announced it had to resort to extraordinary measures to keep the nation from defaulting on its federal debt. Passage of the clean debt ceiling occurred after several alternative proposals, including one to add legislation approving the Keystone pipeline, could not garner a majority of the Republican conference. Consequently, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), realized he would have to rely on a proposal that could gain backing of a majority of House Democrats. Congressional Democrats were steadfast in echoing the president’s sentiments that any legislation to increase in the debt ceiling be a clean bill free of extraneous measures. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 55-43 with all Republicans voting no. It passed the House with the support of 28 Republicans and opposition from two Democrats (Reps. Jim Matheson (UT) and John Barrow (GA). The 28 Republicans consisted of House Speaker John Boehner (OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA), Ken Calvert, (CA), Dave Camp (MI), Howard Coble (NC), Chris Collins (NY), Charlie Dent (PA), Mike Fitzpatrick (PA),Michael Grimm (NY), Richard Hanna (NY), Doc Hastings (WA), Darrell Issa (CA), Peter King (NY), Frank LoBiondo (NJ), Kevin McCarthy (CA), Buck McKeon (CA), Pat Meehan (PA), Gary Miller (CA), Devin Nunes (CA), Dave Reichert (WA), Harold Rogers (KY), Peter Roskam (IL),Ed Royce (CA), Jon Runyan (NJ), John Shimkus (IL), Chris Smith (NJ), David Valadao (CA) and Frank Wolf (VA). NSF: US GLOBAL LEAD IN SCIENCE INNOVATION INVESTMENT CONTINUES TO FALL On Feb. 6, the National Science Foundation’s National Science Board (NSB) released a report, which concludes that a select group of foreign countries, including China and South Korea, are now contributing a greater share of their economies to research and development (R&D) investment than in decades past. Since 2001, the share of the world’s R&D performed by the United States has decreased from 37 percent to 30 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, Asian countries’ share of global R&D has risen from 25 to 34 percent over the same period. China’s share alone spiked from four percent to 15 percent over that decade. The report found that women compromised a higher proportion of occupations in social sciences (58 percent) and life sciences (48 percent) than in engineering (13 percent) and computer and mathematical sciences (25 percent). It also stated that while Hispanics, blacks and...

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ESA Policy News: July 26
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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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ESA Policy News: June 14
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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 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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ESA Policy News: October 26

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: REPORT FINDS SPENDING CUTS POSE THREATS TO PUBLIC SAFETY, CONSERVATION EFFORTS ON PUBLIC LANDS A recent report from several conservation organizations concludes that the automatic spending cuts, set to take place in January 2013 under the Budget Control Act, would adversely impact efforts to protect public health and safety in public parks, forests and natural recreational areas. For National Parks, the study concludes that budget sequestration would force a loss of park rangers, jeopardizing public safety for park visitors and hindering the promptness of emergency response personnel. The cuts could also spur increases in vandalism and looting in public parks and impede efforts to monitor endangered species. For the  Forest Service, the cuts would decrease the agency’s ability to respond to wildfires. Inadequate campground maintenance would also lead to park trail closures, increasingly unkempt bathroom facilities, halted restoration projects and unprocessed recreational permits. All of this would adversely impact revenue brought in from tourism. The automatic cuts would also hinder the agency’s ability to manage  invasive species. The report was led by the Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Parks Conservation Association and Defenders of Wildlife. View the full report here. ENDANGERED SPECIES: INTERIOR VACATES CRITICAL HABITAT DESIGNATION FOR SEABIRD Department of Interior officials have agreed to vacate nearly four million acres of critical habitat for the threatened marbled murrelet until 2018 as part of a settlement agreement with the American Forest Resource Council (AFRC), a prominent timber industry advocate. The designation would have included parts of California, Oregon and Washington states. The agreement must be approved by the US District Court for the District of Columbia before it is final. According to court documents, defendants agreed that vacating critical habitat would not significantly impair conservation efforts for the species. Conservation groups, however, differ with this opinion. According to the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), marbled murrelets have been declining by roughly four percent per year since 2002. This decline is mainly attributed to continued habitat loss due to logging, particularly on state and private lands. On Oct. 24, CBD joined with several environmental groups in sending a letter to the Obama administration requesting that it withdraw from the agreement before it becomes final. To view the CBD letter, click here. For more information on federal conservation efforts for the marbled murrelet, click here. GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT: SCIENCE EXEMPTION SOUGHT FOR TRAVEL BAN LEGISLATION A legislative effort to curb participation of  federal employees at national conferences has spurred an effort from several organizations to seek an exemption...

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