ESA Policy News: May 31
May31

ESA Policy News: May 31

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

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ESA Policy News May 17
May17

ESA Policy News May 17

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

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ESA Policy News: March 22

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS PASSES MEASURE FUNDING GOVERNMENT THROUGH FY 2013 This week, Congress passed H.R. 933, a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government for the remainder of current Fiscal Year (FY) 2013, which ends Sept. 30. The bill in effect prevents a government shutdown when the current CR runs out at the end of the month while giving some federal agencies slightly more latitude in how they allocate funding. The measure does not nullify the sequestration of automatic spending cuts (5.3 percent to non-defense programs, 7.9 percent to defense programs) implemented March 1 under the Budget Control Act. President Obama is expected to sign the measure. The $984 billion bill is altered from the House version in that it adds funding language for the agriculture, homeland security and commerce justice and science appropriations bills. The House version had only incorporated appropriations bills that fund the Department of Defense and Veteran Affairs agencies. Incorporating the language of actual bills gives federal agencies greater direction and specificity in how to distribute funding than what is provided by a simple CR. While overall funding in the bill was not increased, funding levels for several programs within agencies were reshuffled to sustain critical initiatives. For the National Science Foundation in FY 2013, the Senate-passed bill includes a $221 million increase over FY 2012 for a total of $7.25 billion. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is funded at $17.5 billion in FY 2013, less than the $17.8 billion it received in FY 2012. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will receive $5 billion for FY 2013, above the $4.9 billion funded in FY 2012. For agriculture research programs, the FY 2013 bill provides $1.074 billion for the Agricultural Research Service (down from $1.09 billion in FY 2012) and $290 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (up from $264 million in FY 2014). Among the amendments adopted was one from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) to prohibit the National Science Foundation from funding political science research unless such research was certified to promote the national security or economic interests of the United States. The Senate also adopted by unanimous consent an amendment from Sens. James Inhofe (R-OK) and Kay Hagan (D-NC) to shield farmers who store fuel on their property from an Environmental Protection Agency oil spill prevention rule. Another amendment from Coburn to shift funding within the National Parks Service to ensure national parks are open to the public and allow White House tours to resume failed 44-54. An additional Coburn...

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ESA Policy News: March 8

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: AGENCIES IMPLEMENT SEQUESTRATION AS POLICYMAKERS WRESTLE WITH DEBT Congress’ failure to address budget sequestration by coming up with $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction has federal agencies trimming investment priorities and beginning (reportedly in some cases already implementing) employee furloughs as budget sequestration went into effect March 1. As enacted by the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25) and modified by the American Taxpayer Relief Act (P.L. 112-240), sequestration includes across-the-board cuts of 7.9 percent for defense discretionary spending programs and 5.3 percent to non-defense discretionary spending programs. It is estimated that for the current Fiscal Year of 2013, which began on Oct. 1, the non-defense discretionary cuts will actually total about nine percent while the defense cuts will total about 13 percent for the remainder of the year to compensate for the five months of spending that have already occurred for the current fiscal year. For federal agencies, the 5.3 percent sequester for non defense amounts to the following monetary decreases: Environmental Protection Agency ($472 million), Department of Energy ($1.9 billion), Department of Interior ($883 million), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ($271 million) and the National Science Foundation ($361 million), according to a report from the White House Office of Management and Budget released March 1. The Interior cuts include the National Park Service ($153 million), the US Fish and Wildlife Service ($127 million), US Geological Survey ($54 million) and the Bureau of Land Management ($75 million). Department of Defense (DoD) research and development programs would decrease by 7.9 percent, roughly $6 billion. (A House-passed continuing resolution to fund the government would cut an additional $2.5 billion to DoD research and development). In an effort to reduce partisan tensions over the budget, President Obama held several meal discussions with lawmakers this week at the White House. On March 6, the president met with Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte (NH), Richard Burr (NC), Saxby Chambliss (GA), Dan Coats (IN), Tom Coburn (OK), Bob Corker (TN), Lindsey Graham (SC), John Hoeven (ND), Mike Johanns (NE), Ron Johnson (WI), John McCain (AZ) and Pat Toomey (PA). During the meeting, President Obama said that lawmakers must reach agreement on a comprehensive bipartisan debt reduction plan by the end of July, which coincides with when the federal debt ceiling will need to be addressed. The White House has released a plan for addressing the sequester that would cut defense and non-defense discretionary spending equally by a total of $200 billion below pre-sequestration levels, cut healthcare costs by $600 billion and include $580 billion...

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Climate change impacts on the bottom dollar

 By Terence Houston, ESA science policy analyst The second annual Climate Leadership Conference offered a new prism in which to consider an issue that has not gained much traction in recent years in the realm of federal policymaking. Various conference speakers representing a broad cross section of private industry sought to illustrate the notion that the debate over whether to prioritize efforts to address climate change over economic well-being is a false choice. The first day’s keynote address was given by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe who discussed the agency’s Energy Star program, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. He noted that the Energy Star program has helped customers save $230 billion in utility bills in the years since its inception. Perciasepe also mentioned EPA’s Center for Corporate Climate Leadership, which works as a resource for businesses to develop innovative cost-effective solutions to save energy and reduce their carbon footprint. That businesses nationwide are already implementing such efforts is heartening, but the full scope of climate change’s effects on both the economy and national security priorities illuminate the need for private sector actions to be complemented and buttressed with leadership in the public sector. Several representatives from the private sector and key federal agency officials discussed how climate change has already impacted the US economy and national security. Department of Homeland Security Senior Counsel Alice Hill noted how increasing temperatures have led to a rise in shipping activity in Arctic routes, which in turn prompts the need for additional security infrastructure to deter illegal activities or threats to national security interests. She cited a 34 percent increase in the number of vessels in the Arctic region in 2008 as well as a 47 percent increase in transit along the Bering Strait. Hill cited a number of factors, including the state’s remoteness, vast land area, limited existing infrastructure and extreme cold temperatures as hindrances in efforts to expand national security in the region. She noted that DHS has published a Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan, which outlines its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and evaluate the extent of financial costs and outline threats to national security posed by climate change. Lindene Patton, Chief Climate Product Officer with Zurich Insurance offered a perspective on how climate change has impacted the insurance industry. In her presentation, she noted that weather-related supply disruptions result in higher energy prices and increased cooling demand can coincide with an increase in blackouts. Overall she maintained that pre-emptive action by businesses to anticipate environmental risks from climate change can help reduce insurance costs. Jay Bruns of the Hartford cited a study that noted...

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ESA Policy News: February 15

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here.   STATE OF THE UNION: PRESIDENT URGES ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE, SEQUESTER President Obama’s fourth State of the Union address outlined a number of bold domestic priorities, including addressing climate change and diverting a series of automatic discretionary spending cuts set to occur in March as a result of congressional  failure to come to agreement on comprehensive deficit reduction. “Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense,” said President Obama. “We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.” With regard to budget sequestration, President Obama affirmed his support for a bipartisan, balanced approach to deficit reduction while contending that he would oppose an effort that unduly burden discretionary programs. “Now, some in this Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training; Medicare and Social Security benefits. That idea is even worse,” said the president. “We won’t grow the middle class simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are already struggling, or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers, cops, and firefighters.” Among solutions to avert the sequester, President Obama endorsed changes to Medicare and tax reform proposals such as those outlined in the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, commonly known as the Simpson-Bowles commission. Read or listen to President Obama’s full 2013 State of the Union address here. BUDGET: SENATE DEMOCRATS INTRODUCE LEGISLATION TO AVERT SEQUESTER On Feb. 14, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) unveiled a legislative proposal to avert automatic discretionary spending cuts to federal agencies. The deficit reduction in the bill is equally divided between spending cuts and new revenue. Members of Congress have until March 1 to pass a bill to avert the $1.2 trillion cuts to federal programs over the next ten years. The American Family Economic Protection Act would postpone the sequester for one year by canceling out the first year of the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, which total $85 billion. In total, the bill includes $110 billion in deficit reduction, $55 billion in revenue increases and $55...

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Jewell would bring multifaceted credentials to Interior Dept.

By Terence Houston, ESA science policy analyst President Obama’s second-term pick for Secretary of Interior sparked tempered optimism from both sides of the aisle this week. With a strong background in both conservation and the business industry, it is hoped that nominee Sally Jewell will be able to bridge the divide between constituencies that prioritize environmental stewardship with those that prioritize energy development. The Department of Interior encompasses a diverse set of bureaus including the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Geological Survey. In addition to overseeing public lands, the new Interior Secretary is expected to be entrenched in policymaking regarding contentious issues involving mineral development, oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing over the course of President Obama’s second term. Jewell is unconventional in the sense that she lacks the political background of many of her predecessors.  However, what she lacks in direct policymaking is made up for with a unique combination of high level professional industry savvy and a personal passion for the outdoors. Her business background includes two decades in corporate banking, having worked for Rainer Bank, Security Pacific, WestOne Bank and Washington Mutual from  1981-2000. She also spent time as an engineer for Exxon Mobile (1978-81). In 2005, she became CEO of  Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI) after having been its chief operating officer since 2000. She also serves on the board of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). Jewell bikes to work every day and is an avid hiker, having once led a group of women to the top of Mt. Rainer, Washington.. She’s also spent a month climbing the mountains of Antarctica. Her outdoor exercise portfolio stands to make her the fittest high-profile member of the executive branch. (Lookout, Michelle Obama!) Jewell  has contributed to the Outdoor Industry Association’s Political Action Committee, which has supported environmentally-friendly Democrats and Republicans, including Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Mike Simpson (R-ID), who notably serves as Chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which drafts the annual bill to fund the agency she would oversee. Past personal donations include President Obama’s re-election campaign, Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) (her two Senators), Mark Udall (D-CO), Mark Begich (D-AK) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which will hold her confirmation hearing. Immediate reactions from key Senate leaders suggest Jewell will get a fair confirmation hearing. “Sally Jewell is an inspired choice to lead the Interior Department. Her experience leading a nearly $2 billion outdoor recreation company, combined with her years...

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Meet this year’s ESA Grad Student Policy Awardees

By Nadine Lymn, ESA director of public affairs Threatened and endangered species, alternative energy, sustainable agriculture and fisheries, emerging diseases and climate change—these are all areas in which members of the Ecological Society of America work.  Our members are researchers, educators, natural resource managers and students and work in academia, government and the private sector.  This community of 10,000 shares a strong passion for the environment—to better understand it in order to better manage our resources and take proactive steps to change undesirable trends.  As past ESA President Jerry Franklin noted in his plenary at last summer’s ESA Annual Meeting, engaging with others—policy makers, managers, fellow citizens—is an essential part of sharing ecological information. ESA, which is headquartered in Washington, DC, works to give the ecological community a voice at the federal level through its public policy initiatives.  It also looks for opportunities to support young ecologists’ interest in policy.  One way is through the Society’s annual Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA).  The competitive award brings graduate students to the nation’s capital to participate in two days of science policy activities, including meetings with congressional offices and briefings with policy experts on how current political and fiscal issues may impact the work of federal agencies and support of ecological research. Since 2007, over 20 ESA graduate students have received the GSPA.  Some have gone on to careers that routinely involve policy or public outreach while others have obtained Fellowships through the American Association for the Advancement of Science to work for agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Forest Service. It is always exciting each year to meet the new group of GSPA winners and to see them in action later in the spring when they will head to Capitol Hill to bring their voices to the discussion of national priorities.  As current ESA President Scott Collins notes in a recent BioScience column, “Congress makes a lot of decisions about ecology, and scientists need to be at the table when decisions are made.” This year’s ESA GSPA winners are: Matthew Berg, Texas A&M University Lindsay Deel, West Virginia University Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie, Boston University Carlos Silva, University of Maryland As a Ph.D. student in ecohydrology, Matthew Berg has worked with stakeholders representing multiple interests to improve water quality for an interagency priority watershed in central Texas, coordinated a symposium that brought together speakers from academia and federal agencies to discuss pertinent issues in ecology and sought out opportunities to share ecological information with peers and with local elementary schools. Lindsey Deel, whose dissertation project is supported by an Environmental Protection Agency Science to Achieve Results...

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