ESA Policy News: July 27

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. SENATE: COMMITTEE REVIEWS CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS ON NATIVE AMERICANS On July 19, the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs held an oversight hearing on the impact climate change is having on Native Americans and tribal lands as well as what resources are available to adapt to changes in the environment. Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-HI) spoke of the importance of “Malama Aina,” which is Hawaiian for “caring for the land.” Chairman Akaka said that Native Americans hold the oldest record for being environmental stewards of the nation as it has been a foundation of their culture and world view “over thousands of years” and “hundreds of generations.”In his opening statement, he noted that “while environmental changes are widespread, studies indicate that native communities are disproportionately impacted because they depend on nature for traditional foods, sacred sites and to practice ceremonies that pass on cultural values to future generations.” Most of the witness testimony focused on the impacts climate change is having on their specific communities. Chief Mike Williams of the Yupiit Nation noted that 86 percent of indigenous Alaskan villages are threatened by flooding and erosion due to warming temperatures. Malia Akutagawa, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Hawaii – Manoa said that climate change has reduced the number of good fishing days for Native Hawaiians, led to a 15 percent decline in rainfall, drying of forests, crop loss, beach erosion from sea level rise, increased destruction from wildfires, and increased surface air temperature. She also noted that climate change has affected plant flowering and animal migration cycles. Akutagawa called for federal assistance for increasing Hawaiian food security, family farms and coastal zone management programs. There was a general consensus from the witnesses representing indigenous communities that the federal government needs to increase or improve consultation with tribal leaders. View the full hearing here. HOUSE: COMMITTEE REVIEWS FEDERAL DROUGHT MONITORING EFFORTS On July 25, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing to review the status of federal drought forecasting efforts. The hearing comes as the existing authorization for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) is due to expire this year. In his opening statement, Chairman Hall (R-TX) sought to keep the focus on drought mitigation efforts and steer clear of climate change discussions. “Debating the causes of drought is not in front of us today,” he said. “The real question is:  What can be done to provide better and timelier information to help enable federal, state...

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ESA Policy News: June 22

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE COMMITTEE MOVES AGRICULTURE, INTERIOR SPENDING BILLS  This month, the House Appropriations Committee has continued work on its Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 spending bills. Most recently, it has released legislation funding environmental and agricultural federal programs. On June 19, the committee approved its Agriculture Appropriations Act for FY 2013. That day, the committee also released its FY 2013 Interior and Environment appropriations bill, which was marked up by subcommittee the following day. Agriculture In total, the Agriculture Appropriations Act for FY 2013 includes $19.4 billion in discretionary spending, a $365 million reduction from FY 2012 and $1.7 billion less than Obama’s FY 2013 budget request. Agricultural research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, would be funded at $2.5 billion, a $35 million reduction from FY 2012. The Natural Resources Conservation Service would receive $812 million, a $16 million decrease from FY 2012. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service would receive $787 million, $33 million below FY 2012. A funding program to help farmers make environmental improvement on their lands was cut by $500 million compared to the current farm bill’s authorized levels. Interior The House Interior and Environment Appropriations Act for FY 2013 contains $28 billion in funding, a cut of $1.2 billion below FY 2012 and $1.7 billion below the president’s FY 2013 budget request. The bill funds the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Forest Service and related environmental initiatives. EPA funding undergoes a particularly high number of cuts in the House bill. The bill funds EPA at $7 billion, a $1.4 billion (17 percent) cut from FY 2012. This brings total funding in the bill below FY 1998 levels. The legislation continues a cap on EPA’s personnel at the lowest number since 1992 and cuts the office of the EPA administrator by over 30 percent. The EPA Congressional Affairs office receives a 50 percent cut. For additional information on the Agriculture bill, click here. For additional information on the Interior bill, click here. OSTP: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS WHITE HOUSE PRIORITIES On June 20, 2012, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee hosted White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren for a hearing entitled “Examining Priorities and Effectiveness of the Nation’s Science Policies.” During the hearing several Republicans inquired if the U.S. was maintaining investment in certain areas, including space technology and high-energy physics, relative to other countries. Holdren responded that the U.S. remains “on the cutting edge” and “unmatched”...

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ESA Policy News: March 9

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS ADMINISTRATION PRIORITIES The House Science, Space and Technology committee recently convened hearings that examined the science and research investments outlined in President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget proposal. During a Feb. 17 hearing that focused on research and development, there was a consensus among committee leaders on certain investments while views differed sharply on where the administration’s priorities should lie. “I continue to believe that while it is true that prudent investments in science and technology, including STEM education, will almost certainly yield future economic gains and help create new jobs of the future, it is also true that these gains can be hindered by poor decision-making,” said Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX). Hall expressed his concern for increases in programs he views as “duplicative and wasteful” as well as increases for climate change related research. Hall also expressed concern for the National Aeronautical and Space Administration’s (NASA) request, which would cut funding by $59 million. Committee Democrats were overall supportive of the budget, mindful of the current political climate that has members of both parties urging some manner of fiscal restraint. “Investments in research and development and STEM education are critical to fostering innovation and maintaining our nation’s competitive edge.  But these are also fiscally challenging times,” stated Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “We will have some concerns and disagreements, but let me be clear.  This is a good budget for research, innovation, and education under the circumstances,” she added. With regard to the administration’s budget request for the National Science Foundation (NSF), austerity concerns from the majority were somewhat more tepid. “While a nearly five percent increase for NSF in FY 13 shows stronger fiscal constraint than the FY 2012 request at 13 percent, I remain concerned that our federal agencies still are not doing enough to encourage austerity and properly prioritize scarcer federal funds,” stated Research and Education Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL). “NSF has a long and proven track record, one in which we are all proud, and I have every reason to believe NSF will continue this good work with whatever budgets are forthcoming from Congress,” he concluded. View the R&D hearing here. View the NSF hearing here. BUDGET: EPA ADMINISTRATOR CRITICIZED OVER REGULATORY EFFORTS The week of February 27 brought Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson to Capitol Hill for congressional hearings concerning the agency’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget request. Funding for EPA under the president’s budget request would be cut by one percent for a total of...

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ESA Policy News: President’s FY 2013 Budget Special Edition

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. WHITE HOUSE: FY 2013 BUDGET PRIORITIZES INNOVATION AMIDST FISCAL AUSTERITY On Feb. 13, President Obama released his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2013, which begins Oct. 1, 2012. While the $3.8 trillion budget continues the president’s focus on fiscal discipline with significant cuts to environmental initiatives, it also contains a wish list of proposed boosts for science and research programs intended to foster job creation. In his message to Congress, the president maintained that investment in innovation is needed to help the economy recover.  Revenue provisions of the proposed budget that would pay for increased funding by ending certain tax breaks for oil companies raising taxes on wealthy individuals are expected to be blocked by Congressional Republicans. The budget highlights investments in clean energy as well as research and development (R&D) increases for most agencies. Overall, the president’s budget proposes $140.8 billion for federal R&D, an increase of $2 billion (or 1.2 percent) over the current FY 2012 enacted level. The budget also proposes $3 billion for Science Technology Education and Mathematics programs across federal agencies, a 2.6 percent increase over FY 2012 enacted levels. Additional information on the president’s FY 2013 budget request can be found here. SCIENCE: ADMINISTRATION INCREASES SUPPORT FOR NSF, RELATED PROGRAMS The National Science Foundation (NSF) is the only federal agency that provides funding for basic research across all fields of science and engineering.   Accordingly, the president’s FY 2013 budget request includes $7.4 billion for NSF, a 4.8 percent increase over the current enacted level for FY 2012. This includes a request for $5.98 billion for Research and Related Activities, an increase from $5.69 billion in FY 2012. NSF funding currently supports research at 1,875 colleges, universities and institutions and supports the research of an estimated 276,000 people. The Directorate for Biological Sciences would receive $733.86 million dollars in FY 2013 under the president’s budget, an increase from $712.38 million in FY 2012. This includes $220.52 million for Integrative Organismal Systems (3.9 percent increase), $143.73 million for Environmental Biology (0.8 percent increase) and $129.68 million (2.8 percent increase) for Biological Infrastructure. ENVIRONMENT: KEY CONSERVATION AGENCIES SEE MIX OF INVESTMENTS, CUTS Overall, President Obama’s FY 2013 budget request seeks to balance continued investment in natural resource conservation efforts with a political climate that continues to prioritize fiscal restraint. EPA The president’s proposed FY 2013 budget recommends $8.3 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a decrease of $105 million (1.2 percent) compared with FY 2012. The decrease marks the third consecutive year in which the administration...

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ESA Policy News: February 10

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. HOUSE: SUBCOMMITTEEE ASSESSES EPA SCIENTIFIC REVIEW PROCESS On Feb. 3, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened for a hearing entitled “Fostering Quality Science at EPA: Perspectives on Common Sense Reform.” The hearing sought to examine EPA’s scientific processes, as outlined under the Environmental Research, Development, and Demonstration Authorization Act (ERDDA). Citing the testimony of witnesses from a related hearing last year, Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) stressed that efforts to improve EPA’s research activities should seek “to separate science and policy, to quantify uncertainties, to ensure greater transparency in the data, models, and assumptions used in regulatory decisions, to prioritize environmental problems and solutions, and to stop overly alarmist approaches to benefit-cost analysis.” Panelists were divided over the quality of EPA’s scientific research. Deborah Swackhamer, Chairwoman of the EPA Science Advisory Board, concurred that EPA could do more to give the public access to the data it relies on in its reports, but she said there are existing controls to prevent conflicts of interest. She noted that peer reviewers must disclose their positions on various issues and their sources of funding before they are assigned to assess a report. View the complete hearing here. OIL DRILLING: LAWMAKERS URGE INTERIOR TO EXPAND LEASING PLAN   Led by Reps. Bill Flores (R-TX) and Gene Green (D-TX), a group of 182 bipartisan House Members have signed a letter to Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, requesting expanded access to offshore energy production. The letter urges Interior to offer new and expanded access in its proposed 2012-2017 offshore leasing plan. The new five-year plan, required under federal law, would be the first since presidential and congressional moratoria against drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific were lifted in 2008, according to the letter. According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the five-year plan makes roughly 75 percent of the country’s known oil and gas resources available for development. While areas of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic are included, the plan omits both the Pacific Coast and Atlantic Coast, noting there are outstanding issues related to locality interest and environmental safety for the two latter regions. The proponents of the letter argue that opening up additional waters to offshore drilling will spur job creation and generate revenue to help foster economic recovery. View a copy of the House letter here. Additional information on the Interior proposal is viewable here.     OIL DRILLING: GOP MODERATES RISE IN OPPOSITION TO ANWR LEGISLATION   On Feb. 9, six moderate Republicans spearheaded...

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ESA Policy News: October 20

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE RELEASES INTERIOR SPENDING BILL On Oct. 14, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies released is funding bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. In total, the bill provides $29.3 billion for programs funded by the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other environmental agencies, slightly less than the $29.5 billion approved for FY 2011. The House bill includes $27.5 billion in funding for FY 2012. The bill includes $10.27 billion for the Interior Department in FY 2012, down from the $10.56 billion enacted in FY 2011. EPA would receive $8.62 billion, down from the $8.68 billion enacted in FY 2011. The House bill includes $9.9 billion for Interior and $7.1 billion for EPA. For the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) the bill provides $1.08 billion in funding for FY 2012, less than the $1.11 billion provided in FY 2011. The House bill provides approximately $919.22 million for BLM. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) would receive $1.47 billion for FY 2012, less than the $1.5 billion allocated in FY 2011. The House bill provides $1.1 billion for FWS. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) would be funded at $1.06 billion for FY 2012, less than the $1.08 billion in funding it received in FY 2011. The House bill includes $1.05 billion for USGS. For the U.S. Forest Service, the bill includes $4.56 billion for FY 2012, less than the $4.69 billion allocated in FY 2012. The House bill provides $4.5 billion for the Forest Service. Click here for additional information on the Senate Interior bill or view the House Interior bill here. ENDANGERED SPECIES: JUDGE THROWS OUT INTERIOR RULE LIMITING POLAR BEAR PROTECTIONS On Oct. 17, a federal judge struck down a George W. Bush administration rule that barred the use of the Endangered Species Act to regulate greenhouse gasses. The ruling concerned a rule issued by the U.S. Department of Interior in 2008 that said the polar bear’s designation as threatened in 2008 could not be used as a backdoor way to control greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. The rule was subsequently upheld by the Obama administration. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan of the District of Columbia ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to carry out an environmental review to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). But, importantly, he upheld FWS’s decision that the Endangered Species Act was not the appropriate vehicle to regulate greenhouse gases. The Center for Biological Diversity,...

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Pittsburgh bioblitz: biological inventory of an urban high school’s oasis

Just down the street from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh—where the Ecological Society of America (ESA) is holding its 95th Annual Meeting this week—is a vacant lot adopted by the City Charter High School. Last Sunday, ESA ecologists and students visited the lot which is being restored by the 10th graders of the City Charter High School in coordination with the Student Conservation Association (SCA).

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President’s budget reflects priorities in STEM, renewable energy, climate, and “bio-economy”

This post was contributed by Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs As is tradition on the first Monday in February, the President yesterday unveiled his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year of 2011.  All over Washington, DC, federal agencies held budget briefings, with more to come over the next several days. Although President Obama called for some fiscal belt-tightening, Administration officials presenting the budget pointed out that Obama was preserving—and in some cases boosting—key science research and development (R&D) programs.  Presidential Science Advisor and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy John Holdren said during a briefing that the President: …managed to preserve what needed to be preserved for science while holding the line on spending. Among other areas that Holdren highlighted, is a 63 percent increase proposed for the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture competitive grants program.  That increase would bring the program to $429 million and a significant part of it would focus on bioenergy research. Holdren also pointed to the President’s proposed $3.7 billion spread across multiple agencies to foster education in STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.  That proposal includes $1 billion to improve science and math achievements of K-12 students.   Jane Lubchenco, who heads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that her agency’s proposed R&D budget is the largest boost that NOAA has seen in over a decade.  Lubchenco characterized strengthening science at the agency as part of her “personal mission” and said agency priorities include addressing ocean acidification, detection of marine pathogens, and aquaculture. The Administration’s budget also reflects renewed emphasis on the US Global Change Research Program, proposing a 21 percent increase to $2.6 billion for the multi-agency program.  The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) would get a boost to its Earth science program to improve forecasting of climate change and natural disasters.  The Department of Interior’s lead science agency, the US Geological Survey is proposed to receive an $18 million increase for its USGCRP programs, focused on understanding the impacts of climate change on natural resources. At the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget briefing, Director Arden Bement’s highlights included the agency’s plans to integrate its existing climate science and engineering research with new education and cyber-based activities through its Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability initiative.  In addition, the agency is interested in fostering the “bio-economy” by drawing on biology to boost agricultural productivity, industrial processes, and environmental sustainability. NSF’s National Ecological Observatory Network—which promises to open up new horizons for large-scale biology—is slated to receive $15 million to complete design of the network and $20 million...

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