ESA Policy News October 14: Republican speaker search continues, OSTP seeking interns, White House signs STEM bill
Oct14

ESA Policy News October 14: Republican speaker search continues, OSTP seeking interns, White House signs STEM bill

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. HOUSE: MCCARTHY DROPS OUT OF SPEAKERSHIP RACE On Oct. 8, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) dropped his bid to succeed John Boehner (R-OH) as Speaker of the House. With no clear successor in place, Boehner postponed the speakership election until further notice. McCarthy had undergone criticism for statements that linked the creation of the House Select Committee on Benghazi with an effort to damage 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) also announced his intent to run against McCarthy for speaker. The House Freedom Caucus, which consists of over 40 far-right conservatives, had also endorsed Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) for speaker. Collectively, these alternative candidates raised doubt on whether McCarthy could easily secure the 218 majority votes necessary to win among the 247 member House Republican conference. Much of the media speculation for alternative candidates for speaker has centered on Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who currently chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, one of the most sought-after committees in the House. To date, Ryan has declined interest in the role. Other House members reportedly mulling a run include Michael Conaway (R-TX), Bill Flores (R-TX), Michael McCaul (R-TX), Pete Sessions (R-TX)  and Lynn Westermoreland (R-CA). INVASIVE SPECIES: COURT RULES FOR STRONGER BALLAST WATER REGULATIONS In a 3-0 ruling, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit sided with environmental groups who contended that  existing  US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations did not go far enough to reduce the spread of invasive species through cargo ship ballast water. Environmental groups sued EPA in 2008 seeking stronger regulations related to the spread of aquatic invasive species through cargo transport vessels. While EPA eventually finalized ballast water rules in March 2013, the groups argued that the standards did not sufficiently protect waterways from future species invasions. As a result of the ruling, the agency will reconsider its technology decisions and its exemption for certain older vessels. The existing standards will remain in place until the agency can finalize stricter regulations. Click here to view the full ruling. EPA: COURT STAYS OBAMA ADMINISTRATION WATER RULE On Oct. 9, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued an order granting the request of eighteen states to place a nationwide stay on the Obama administration’s rule clarifying Clean Water Act jurisdiction over US waterways. The US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Army Corps of Engineers had finalized the rule in May. In a 2-1 ruling the court decided that the rule,...

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ESA Policy News July 15: Flag debate stifles Interior funding bill, Senate seeks science community input for new COMPETES bill, Obama designates new monuments
Jul15

ESA Policy News July 15: Flag debate stifles Interior funding bill, Senate seeks science community input for new COMPETES bill, Obama designates new monuments

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  APPROPRIATIONS: BILL FUNDING INTERIOR, EPA STALLS IN HOUSE On July 9, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) pulled the Fiscal Year 2016 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations bill over a contentious amendment related to the confederate flag. The appropriations bill funds the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the US Forest Service and most of the US Department of Interior. Sub-agencies within Interior funded by the bill include the Bureau of Land Management, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey and the National Park Service (NPS). Earlier in the week, Democrats successfully attached several amendments to the bill banning display and sale of the confederate flag on NPS grounds for all purposes except historical usage. Spurred by concerns from southern Republicans over the added language related to the confederate flag, Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert (R-CA) offered an amendment that would undo the aforementioned amendments, allowing the display of the confederate flag at NPS cemeteries and codifying existing law regarding sale of the confederate flag at NPS gift shops. Rather than have his Republican conference go on record with a vote on a contentious issue, Speaker Boehner elected to pull the entire bill. With most Democrats expected to oppose the bill and a significant number of Republicans opposed to the adopted confederate flag amendments, the bill likely no longer had the majority votes necessary to pass the House. STEM: HOUSE, SENATE ADVANCE EDUCATION REAUTHORIZATION BILLS This past week, two comprehensive measures to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) moved through the House and Senate. The last ESEA reauthorization signed into law was the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (P.L. 107-110).  That reauthorization expired in 2007, and to date, Congress has been unable to reach a consensus approach to renewing the law. House Republicans have put forward H.R. 5, the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act, which would reauthorize federal education programs through FY 2021.  The House reauthorization bill flat-funds educational programs at existing FY 2015 levels. Many educational organizations oppose the bill. The White House also released a Statement of Administration Policy declaring the president would veto H.R. 5, then titled the Student Success Act. Meanwhile, the Senate began consideration of its ESEA reauthorization bill, S. 1177, the Every Child Achieves Act, introduced by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN). The White House released a statement urging changes to certain provisions of the bill, but stopped short of declaring the president would veto it....

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ESA Policy News May 20: America COMPETES reauthorization set for House floor vote, ESA GSPA winners visit Capitol Hill, NSF report analyzes STEM workforce
May20

ESA Policy News May 20: America COMPETES reauthorization set for House floor vote, ESA GSPA winners visit Capitol Hill, NSF report analyzes STEM workforce

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  SCIENCE: AMERICA COMPETES REAUTHORIZATION BILL HITS HOUSE FLOOR This week, the US House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 1806, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015. The bill reauthorizes funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, the Department of Energy Office of Science and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017. The Ecological Society of America was among many scientific and education societies who issued action alerts to membership calling for scientists to express concern with the bill. The original America COMPETES Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-69) was a strongly bipartisan measure passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress and signed by a Republican president. It contained significant increases for federal science agencies. The 2007 bill and its 2010 reauthorization (P.L. 111-358) received strong support from the scientific community. In contrast, the 2015 bill is expected to pass the House largely along partisan lines and includes only mild increases for the federal agencies authorized in the bill. These increases also come at the cost of targeted cuts to the DOE Biological and Environmental Research Office and the NSF directorates for the social, behavioral, and economic sciences and the geosciences. The White House also issued a Statement of Administration Policy declaring that the president would veto the bill. Read the statement here. Click here to read NSF’s Impact Statement about the bill’s consequences to the research community. Click here to read ESA’s letter. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE COMMITTEE RELEASES FY 2016 CJS FUNDING BILL On May 13, the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee unveiled its Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 funding bill. The bill includes funding for the Department of Justice, Department of Commerce and several key federal science agencies for the coming fiscal year that starts October 1, 2015. In total, the bill includes $51.4 billion in discretionary spending in FY 2016, a $1.3 billion increase over the FY 2015 enacted level. The bill includes $7.4 billion for the National Science Foundation; a $50 million increase over the FY 2015 enacted funding level, but $300 million less than the president’s request for FY 2016. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would receive $5.2 billion, $274 million below the FY 2015 enacted level.  The National Aeronautic and Space Administration would receive $18.5 billion in FY 2015, a $519 million increase over FY 2015. Science programs at the agency would decrease by $7 million compared to the FY 2015 enacted level. Additional information on the...

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ESA Policy News April 15: California orders new water restrictions, EPA moves to protect pollinators, NOAA initiates algal bloom ‘early warning system’
Apr15

ESA Policy News April 15: California orders new water restrictions, EPA moves to protect pollinators, NOAA initiates algal bloom ‘early warning system’

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.    DROUGHT: CALIFORNIA ORDERS MANDATORY CUTS IN WATER USAGE On April 1, California Gov. Jerry Brown issued a landmark executive order requiring state residents to cut their water usage by 25 percent through February 28, 2016. The first-ever water restrictions target watering on lawns, campuses, cemeteries and golf courses. The order also instructs the California Energy Commission to pass appliance efficiency standards for toilets, faucets, urinals and other appliances resulting in saving 10 billion gallons of water in the first year. It also directs the State Water Resources Control Board to develop rate structures and other pricing mechanisms to discourage overuse. On April 9, the California Energy Commission adopted new efficiency standards for water-using appliances. The emergency situation allowed the Commission to prohibit the sale and installation of certain toilets, urinals and faucets that do not meet minimum water efficiency requirements as of Jan. 1, 2016, regardless of the manufactured date. Click here to view the full executive order announcement. Click here to view the California Energy Commission announcement. EPA: LETTERS SEEK TO CURB USAGE OF PESTICIDE HARMFUL TO POLLINATORS The US Environmental Protection Agency issued correspondence notifying manufacturers of neonicotinoid pesticides for outdoor use that applications to the agency seeking approval for usage may not be approved until risk assessments to pollinators are complete. The agency asks manufacturers with pending registrations for outdoor use of neonicotinoid pesticides to withdraw or change any references to using the product outdoors by April 30. Click here for more information. EUROPEAN ACADEMIES: NEONICOTINOIDS STUDY RELEASED On April 8, the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) published its latest study on neonicotinoids and their effects on ecosystem services. It concludes that widespread preventive use of neonicotinoids has adverse effects on non-target organisms that provide ecosystem services such as pollination and natural pest control, as well as on biodiversity. David Inouye, ESA president offered his insight on the report. “The effects on pollinators (other than honey bees and bumble bees) and organisms that contribute to natural pest control and soil functioning have rarely been addressed in research so far, but acute lethal or sub-lethal effects have been observed on several natural pest control species such as insects and birds, and soil dwelling species such as earthworms. Thus neonicotinoids appear to have many of the same detrimental features that previous generations of pesticides, starting with DDT, have ultimately been found to have.” Click here for more information. EPA: CLEAN WATER RULE SENT TO WHITE HOUSE FOR FINAL REVIEW On April 6, the US Environmental Protection Agency and...

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Federal efforts underway to streamline research grant review process
Jul17

Federal efforts underway to streamline research grant review process

  A recent report from the National Science Board seeks to ease the burden of private investigators and lower costs associated with the overall merit review process for federal research grants. The National Science Foundation’s National Science Board (NSB) has released a report outlining recommendations to reduce administrative workload for principal investigators of federally funded research. The report is in response to several previous federal surveys and reports from the Federal Demonstration Partnership and the National Research Council that found these results: 1)      Federally supported scientists spend an average of 42 percent of their research time on administrative tasks. 2)      “The problem of excessive regulatory burdens…puts a drag on the efficiency of all university research,” potentially costing “billions of dollars over the next decade.” Among its recommendations, the NSB report recommends focusing grant proposal oversight on merit and achievement; harmonizing and streamlining grant management requirements among federal agencies and bureaus; eliminating or modifying unnecessary or ineffective regulations; and, identifying and disseminating model programs and practices that increase the efficiency of university research review processes. On July 14, the House passed bipartisan H.R. 5056, the Research Development and Efficiency Act, that seeks to implement the report recommendations. It was introduced by Chairman Larry Bucshon (R-IN) of the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology with bipartisan agreement. The bill would create an interagency working group under the authority of the National Science and Technology Council with these mandates: (1) Harmonize, streamline, and eliminate duplicative Federal regulations and reporting requirements; and (2) minimize the regulatory burden on United States institutions of higher education performing federally funded research while maintaining accountability for Federal tax dollars. The NSB, various research entities and institutions, including the American Association of Universities, support the legislation. Additional information on the NSB report is available...

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EPSCoR: Expanding Job Growth and Opportunity in Science
May06

EPSCoR: Expanding Job Growth and Opportunity in Science

    The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) provides science resources to its jurisdictions, which constitute 28 states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam and the US Virgin Islands. A recent Capitol Hill briefing spotlighted the program’s work to expand science research and education across US states and territories that have traditionally been underfunded. Speakers noted how the program fosters career development and high-paying job opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. The briefing was moderated by Paul Hill, Chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission. NSF Deputy Director Cora Marrett also gave introductory remarks at the briefing. James Rice, Project Director for South Dakota EPSCoR, highlighted the important role businesses in his state play in providing career opportunities for STEM undergraduate students. In partnership with the South Dakota Department of Economic Development, South Dakota EPSCoR established the Dakota SEEDS program to connect STEM undergraduate students with career opportunities at 200 participating South Dakota companies. The program has provided a total of 231 interns (32 percent of participants) full time positions at the companies where they had interned. EPSCoR states and commonwealths are also important for expanding STEM research and education for racial minorities. NSF reports that the populations of EPSCoR jurisdictions consist of 24 percent of the nation’s African-Americans  in areas that are home to 50 percent of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The EPSCoR jurisdiction’s populations also compose 49 percent of the nation’s Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders; 40 percent of the nation’s American Indians and Alaskan Natives; 16 percent of the nation’s Hispanics. EPSCoR jurisdictions include 16 percent of the nation’s Hispanics Serving Institutions and 68 percent of the Tribal Colleges and Universities. The Virgin Islands EPSCoR Project Director Henry Smith noted how the EPSCoR program had partially funded research into invasive lionfish, including research into improving methods for its harvesting for the fishing industry. He also noted how EPSCoR funding has contributed to the understanding of coral reef resiliency. Rising sea temperatures, ocean acidification, ineffective management and other factors are affecting the decline of reefs, which are an important part of the local economy. Smith compared the loss of coral reefs with the tourism financial loss that would occur if Washington, DC saw its cherry blossoms dwindle. Additional information on EPSCoR is available...

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ESA Policy News, February 28, 2014: Supreme Court hears EPA challenge, POTUS links CA drought to climate change
Feb28

ESA Policy News, February 28, 2014: Supreme Court hears EPA challenge, POTUS links CA drought to climate change

WHITE HOUSE: OBAMA PROPOSES CLIMATE FUND AMONG ACTIONS TO ADDRESS DROUGHT

On Feb. 14, President Obama spoke in Fresno, CA regarding his plans to assist California amid its drought crisis. The president took the opportunity to relate climate change to the incident and discuss his latest proposal to address the issue.

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White nose syndrome highlights need for sustained investment in research
Oct31

White nose syndrome highlights need for sustained investment in research

As researchers learn more about Pseudogymnoascus (Geomyces) destructans, the fungus that causes White Nose syndrome in bats, more becomes known about what makes this disease so resilient and seemingly invincible. Various estimates put the bat death toll in the United States in the vicinity of about six million bats since it was first discovered seven years ago. The fungus infects bats during their winter hibernation months when their body temperatures drop below 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit). While it is unknown precisely what causes death in the bats, the virus seems to wake the bats amid their hibernation in the middle of winter, when fruit and insects are scarce. In addition to the damaged skin and tell-tale fungus covered white nose, researchers have found the dead bats with empty stomachs, which suggests that they starve to death. A recent study from the University of Illinois aimed at understanding the biology of the White nose syndrome fungus pinpoints the tenacious adaptability of the disease. The study, spearheaded by graduate student Daniel Raudabaugh, found that the fungus can survive a wide range of pH, with the exception of extremely acidic substances, which would be difficult to introduce into a natural environment without contaminating habitat and other life forms. Other than its vulnerability to warm temperatures, the only other weakness reported in the organism is its low ability to take in water from surfaces. The fungus compensates for this weakness, however, with an ability to absorb water from the degraded fats and free fatty acids found in the skin of living and dead animals. But there are signs of hope in the quest to eradicate the disease. This summer, graduate student Chris Cornelison, a microbiologist with Georgia State University, highlighted a study he is working on in conjunction with several research teams that may have discovered a natural bacterium (Rhodococcus rhodochrous strain DAP96253) that could inhibit the fungus without damaging the bats or the caves they inhabit. While early test results have shown promise, Cornelison asserts further study is needed to properly assess potential impacts on the cave ecosystems and the bats themselves. Additionally, scientists with the US Forest Service, in a recent study, identified a close fungal relative to White Nose Syndrome that may help researchers to better genetically map the fungus and better understand how it functions. Another bright spot: recognition of the need to combat White nose syndrome is among the few issues Democrats and Republicans in Congress agree on. House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs Chairman John Fleming (R-LA) has noted that bats are worth billions to the agriculture industry due to...

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