ESA Policy News: May 4

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. SENATE: APPROPRIATORS APPROVE ENERGY AND WATER, AGRICULTURE SPENDING BILLS The week of April 26, the Senate Appropriations Committee marked up its Energy and Water Development and Agriculture Appropriations bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. Energy and Water The Energy and Water Appropriations Act for FY 2013 is funded at $33.361 billion, $373 million less than FY 2012. The bill is primarily responsible for funding the Department of Energy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation. The legislation’s funding overall is slightly more than the $32.1 billion approved by the House in committee. For additional information on the House Energy and Water bill, see the April 20 edition of ESA Policy News here. Unlike the House measure, the Senate Energy and Water bill does not include funding for the controversial nuclear waste site under Yucca Mountain, which is opposed by the Obama administration. The Department of Energy would receive $27.128 billion, $1.38 billion more than in FY 2012 to boost research related to clean energy technologies. Agriculture The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Act for FY 2013 includes $20.785 billion in discretionary spending for FY 2013, an increase over the $19.565 billion FY 2012 enacted amount. For additional information on the two bills, click here. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS LOCAL EFFORTS ON STEM EDUCATION On April 30, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a field hearing in Madison, Alabama to review science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programs and partnerships at the local level and their impact on the economy. The hearing was entitled “STEM Education in Action: Local Schools, Non-Profits, and Businesses Doing Their Part to Secure America’s Future.” Among the subcommittee leadership, there was consensus on the important role STEM education can play in boosting the economy. “Our commitment to STEM education is exemplified by contributions to STEM programs in the community by the University of Alabama-Huntsville’s Propulsion Research Center and related scholarships and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s educational programs, as well as many other local initiatives supporting STEM programs for students ranging from elementary school through high school,” stated Research and Science Education Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL). Ranking Member Dan Lipinski (D-IL) noted that fewer than 40 percent of college students who start in a STEM-related field obtain a degree in that field, leading to a shortage of qualified employees to fill positions in science and technology, for which there is growing demand in the economy. Additional information on the...

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Hot and cold come together in the deep sea

By Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs The old expression “there’s nothing new under the sun” certainly does not apply to the still largely unknown territory of the deep sea.  Although our capacity to explore life in these dark, deep (2,100 meters /7,000 ft) underwater locations has improved with such technological wonders as remotely operated underwater vehicles and submersible, deep-diving research craft, we still know relatively little about life in these hard-to-reach places. As Lisa Levin, lead researcher of a new study highlighted in a press release by the National Science Foundation which helped fund the work, noted: “Plenty of surprises are left in the deep sea.  There are new species, and almost certainly new ecosystems, hidden in the oceans.” During a submersible expedition off Costa Rica, Levin and her colleagues discovered an area deep in the sunless sea where a hot water hydrothermal vent and cold methane seep co-exist.  Researchers had previously discovered hydrothermal vents as well as habitats where methane emerges from seeps on the ocean bottom, but never both in the same location.  According the NSF press release, the site lies at a tectonic plate margin and the animals living there include tube worms, deep-sea fish, mussels, clams and legions of crabs.  The group published their findings last week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.  As Levin and her colleagues explain in the abstract of their paper, scientists initially thought that hydrothermal vents and methane seeps were related but distinctly different ecosystems that harbor mostly different species.   But the subsequent discovery of additional vents and seep systems blurred this distinction. Levin and her group describe the site they found as a “composite, hydrothermal seep ecosystem” that represents an intermediate between vents and seeps.  They think it likely that other such “mosaic” ecosystems exist, along with life forms adapted to live there. Levin, L., Orphan, V., Rouse, G., Rathburn, A., Ussler, W., Cook, G., Goffredi, S., Perez, E., Waren, A., Grupe, B., Chadwick, G., & Strickrott, B. (2012). A hydrothermal seep on the Costa Rica margin: middle ground in a continuum of reducing ecosystems Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2012.0205 Photo credits: Fish and tubeworms, Lisa Levin/NSF; Anemone-hermit crab symbiosis, Greg...

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ESA Policy News: January 13

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. INTERIOR: GRAND CANYON HARDROCK MINING PROHIBITION ENACTED On Jan. 9, the Department of Interior (DOI) announced its decision to ban new hardrock mining claims on more than one million acres around Grand Canyon National Park for the next 20 years. The order was signed by Sec. of Interior Ken Salazar. The withdrawn area includes 355,874 acres of U.S. Forest Service land on the Kaibab National Forest; 626,678 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands; and 23,993 acres of split estate – where surface lands are held by other owners while subsurface minerals are owned by the federal government. The affected lands, all in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon or Grand Canyon National Park, are located in Mohave and Coconino Counties of Northern Arizona. The process for approving withdrawal involved an extensive public comment period in which a wide array of stakeholders, including the Ecological Society of America, participated. To view the ESA letter, click here. For more information on the Interior’s withdrawal, click here. INTERIOR: NEW ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTERS SCIENCE PANEL CREATED On Jan. 6, the Department of Interior (DOI) announced the creation of the Strategic Sciences Group, a team intended to improve federal responsiveness to environmental disasters. The creation of the group is authorized under a recent order signed by DOI Secretary Ken Salazar. Interior officials contend the need to improve communication and coordination between federal scientists representing DOI, the United States Geological Survey and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, among others, led to the creation of the new group. The Strategic Sciences Group will be co-led by Gary Machlis, Science Adviser for the National Park Service Director and David Applegate, United States Geological Survey Associate Director for Natural Hazards. The group was given three months to establish an operational plan describing its organization and high-priority crisis scenarios. Rhea Suh, Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget, is in charge of implementing the order. More information on the DOI order can be found here. PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: WHITE HOUSE RELEASES DRAFT OCEAN PLAN On Jan. 12, the White House National Ocean Council released a draft of its National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan. The plan outlines a series of actions the federal government will take to improve environmental stewardship of the nation’s oceans, Great Lakes and coastal areas. The report instructs federal agencies to post all non-confidential data on ocean research to a new centralized ocean data website over the next three years. It also directs the federal government to streamline ocean and coastal permitting processes and call...

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Briefing highlights importance of ecosystem services in Gulf of Mexico

On November 16, the Consortium for Ocean Leadership joined with the Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea (COMPASS) and the National Research Council of the National Academies to sponsor House and Senate briefings on restoring the ecosystem services that support economic vitality in the Gulf of Mexico. The briefing highlighted findings from a recent National Academies report that examined changes to ecosystem services in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The report intends to provide guidance on methods to identify and assess important ecosystem services in the Gulf region in the wake of the oil spill. Reps. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Kathy Castor (D-FL) made appearances at the briefing, expressing their support for legislation that would foster economic and environmental recovery in the region.  Scalise and Castor co-chair  the House Gulf Coast Caucus. Rep. Scalise is a sponsor of H.R. 3096, Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States (RESTORE) Act of 2011. The RESTORE Act would dedicate at least 80 percent of penalties paid by the responsible parties under the Clean Water Act (CWA) to Gulf Coast states to invest in the long-term health of the coastal ecosystem and bring about environmental and economic recovery in the region. Companion legislation (S. 1400) has been introduced by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA). The Greater Houston Partnership, Chamber Southwest Louisiana, and Greater New Orleans Inc., joined with several other commerce organizations in writing to House and Senate leaders in support of the bill. “The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the five states of the Gulf Coast region was almost $2.4 trillion in 2009, representing 30 percent of the nation’s GDP,” the letter states. “We believe that enacting the RESTORE Act is vital to the environmental and economic recovery of a region still dealing with the devastating impact of the disaster.” According to one of her congressional aides, Rep. Castor has not cosponsored the RESTORE Act because she is working with Rep. Scalise on improvements to the bill, but she has voiced her support for getting 80 percent of the CWA fines for the Gulf region. Rep. Castor has sponsored H.R. 480, the Gulf of Mexico Economic and Environmental Restoration Act of 2011, a similar bill that would also direct 80 percent of BP’s fines towards Gulf Coast restoration. The briefing’s speakers included David Yoskwitz of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies; Nancy Rabalais, Executive Director and Professor at Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium; Heather Allis, Lead Scientist at the Natural Capital Project; Robin Barnes, Executive Vice President of Greater New Orleans Inc. and Timothy Reilly, Managing Partner at CatVest Petroleum Services,...

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AAAS exhibition captures an undersea world worth conserving

This post contributed by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer “A composer, an artist, a physicist and a philosopher walk into a bar,” said artist Rachel Simmons, introducing her work to a crowd at the opening of Beneath the Surface: Rediscovering a World Worth Conserving at the American Association for the Advancement of Science on November 17th. What emerges is a curious combination of sound and graphics interpreting the underwater experience of our noisy marine activities for terrestrial human perception. Noise is a problem for whales that communicate by sound. Simmons teaches at Rollins College near Orlando, and regularly draws on her scientific colleagues for collaboration and inspiration. Describing the construction of her ceramic coral reef Courtney Mattison said that the corals’ chalky exoskeleton and her artistic medium share base materials—and fragility. Her art is also heavy. Though most of her clay corals are hollow, the wall in the AAAS lobby had to be reinforced to support the weight of the installation. Above the artist’s head, bone whites and pale grays replace the vibrant glazes, illustrating the “bleaching” of stressed corals that have evicted their photosynthesizing algal cohabitants. Corals are vastly disadvantaged by the loss, usually triggered by changes in water temperature, of their symbionts. The exhibition features seven artists and ranges from descriptive nature photography to overt criticism of modern culture and its discarded byproducts, with Simmons’ and Mattison’s work somewhere in between. “Fortunately for me, I don’t have to come to conclusions. I just have to ask questions,” said Simmons. “It’s the scientists’ job to make conclusions.” But it’s the public’s job to decide how to use the information, the exhibit’s curators would seem to reply. Beneath the Surface is on display, and open to the public, at AAAS headquarters in Washington DC until March 2nd.   Listen to the art at Simmons’...

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ESA Policy News: October 7

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS APPROVES, PRESIDENT SIGNS TEMPORARY SPENDING BILL On Oct. 5, President Obama signed the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-36), which provides federal funding for the new fiscal year (FY) 2012 through Nov. 18. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 79-12 and the House by a vote of 352-66. The agreement came in part when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced late last month that it would not need additional funds for the remainder of FY 2011, which ended Sept. 30. Consequently, the compromise legislation provided $2.6 billion to FEMA for disaster relief spending with no offsets. The funding would address the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, flooding and other natural disasters that occurred during calendar year 2011. The agreement also eliminated the $1.5 billion offset cut to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) advanced vehicle loan program. The bill provides additional time for Congress to continue work on its 12 individual FY 2012 appropriations bills.  To date, the House has passed six individual bills and the Senate has passed one. Neither of the bills has been agreed upon by both bodies, which must reconcile and pass the bills  before they can be sent to the president. AIR POLLUTION: SCIENCE COMMITTEE EXAMINES EPA SMOG RULES On Oct. 4, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened for a hearing entitled “Quality Science for Quality Air.” The hearing sought to examine the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) process for setting standards under the Clean Air Act. In his opening statement, Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) asserted “it is important to note at the outset that overall air quality in the United States is excellent. He contended that “EPA seems to rely on making statistical hay out of minor associations between pollutants and premature mortality.” Committee Democrats defended EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act, citing enforcement of such regulations as the reason why air quality has improved over the past few decades.  “Stricter pollutions limits force us to push the envelope of scientific innovation and create new technologies.  And, as it has been proven many times over, improved worker productivity, increased agricultural yield, reduction in mortality and illness, and other economic and public health benefits far outweigh the costs of compliance,” said Energy and Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Brad Miller (D-NC). View the hearing here. WATER: COMMITTEE CONSIDERS FEDERAL, STATE NUTRIENT POLLUTION CONTROL EFFORTS On Oct. 4, the Senate Environment and Public Works Water and Wildlife Subcommittee held...

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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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Floods and foods, dogs protecting cats and microbial munchers

This post contributed by Molly Taylor, ESA Science Writing Intern. Tiny critters: Though all smaller than a millimeter in size, four critters highlighted by Neatorama are much larger in effectiveness. When there is no oxygen around to speak of (or to breathe in), shewanella inhales the likes of uranium and chromium. The bacterium exhales the toxic metals with a few extra electrons, which prevents the toxins from moving through ground water. By surrounding toxic waste sites with the bacteria, scientists are hoping to protect lakes and streams from pollutants. And despite the harsh reputation, E. coli is not all bad either. Not only is it one of the most important bacteria inside the human intestinal tract, its rapid reproduction time has contributed to research exploring the role of chance in evolution. And there is a wormier side to the fountain of youth. A transparent, low-maintenance roundworm that shares 35 percent of human genes may reveal the key to diminishing the effects of aging. Read more at “4 Little Creatures That Pack a Big Scientific Punch.” Floods and foods: Floods, such as those in the Mississippi River valley, raise concerns about food safety. According to a recent Scientific American article, “the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] doesn’t allow any flooded out crops—organic or otherwise—to be sold or consumed by people,” and the FDA policy governing farmers’ response to floods is designed to make sure that consumers have access to safe food. According to a group of Italian researchers working in the Swiss Alps, however, we can expect more floods as long as the global temperature continues to rise. The study showed that global warming does increase flood risk significantly, with so-called “100 year floods” increasing in frequency by as often as every 20 years. Read more at “Sop Soil: Have the Recent Record Floods Compromised the Safety of Organic Farm Produce?” Active learning: Graduate student David Haak wanted to boost the performance of educationally and economically disadvantaged students in introductory science classes. Disadvantaged students were previously more than twice as likely as their classmates to fail the huge intro lecture courses that serve as key portals to higher-level sciences. To address this challenge, Haak turned to the latest K-12 teacher books to design a more structured course, including small group discussions, short weekly exams and class-wide quizzes that enable instructors to get instant feedback on the class’s comprehension. The new design, which was based on an active learning model, saw improved learning for all students, especially the disadvantaged students. “Even as class size more than doubled, lab time was cut by 30 percent and the ratio of teaching assistants-to-students fell...

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