ESA Policy News: September 13
Sep13

ESA Policy News: September 13

ESA action alert on Farm Bill;
FWS extends comment period on wolf delisting;
Science Laureates bill torpedoed;
Budget punted;
EPA announces environmental justice grants;
NOAA says human activity influenced 2013 extreme weather events.

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ESA Policy News: August 23
Aug23

ESA Policy News: August 23

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 Congress has adjourned for the August district work period leaving a full plate of must-dos when members return after Labor Day. Many items on their list will  need to be addressed before the end of September. The largest item will be the completion of the appropriations cycle. While it is typical for many (if not most) appropriations bills not to have been sent to the president’s desk at this stage, the current party divide between the House and the Senate had added an extra layer of contention to the appropriations cycle in recent years. The Democratic-controlled Senate must reach a consensus with the Republican-controlled House on spending levels for 12 appropriations spending bills in order to prevent a partial or full shutdown of the government on Sept. 30, when Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 ends. The partisan tension is heightened by the continued budget sequestration, given that Republicans in the House are drafting their non-defense discretionary spending assuming the sequestration continues through FY 2014 while Senate Democrats are drafting their bills in line with the much higher spending caps originally mandated in the Budget Control Act in 2011. Nonetheless, unless the House and Senate can either come up with a deficit reduction alternative to the existing sequester or vote to nullify it altogether, sequestration by law will continue to be implemented through FY 2014 and beyond. Congress must also reach a consensus on reauthorization of the farm bill, which also runs out on Sept. 30. Both the House and Senate have passed farm bills, but the legislation differs substantially both in funding and scope. The Senate bill, which passed by a bipartisan vote of 66-27, also includes a requirement that farmers meet certain conservation requirements in order to receive federal subsidies for crop insurance. The House farm bill, which passed by a narrow vote of 216-208 with no Democratic support, does not include the conservation provisions and lacks a food stamp extension as House Republicans were not able to reach a consensus on food stamp funding prior to the August recess. It also differs from the Senate in that it includes provisions that waive regulatory rules related to pesticide control and environmental reviews of forestry projects. Another major issue Congress will have to tackle around the same time is the national debt ceiling, which is projected to be reached around the start of the new fiscal year. Members of Congress have so far been unsuccessful in reaching an agreement on a deficit...

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In defense of federally-funded research
Jun27

In defense of federally-funded research

A continued drive towards fiscal belt-tightening by lawmakers in Congress has spurred unprecedented attempts to curb federal investment in scientific research. With a continued unwillingness by members of both major parties in Congress to tackle a comprehensive bipartisan plan to reduce the national debt that includes mandatory spending reform and tax reform, non-defense discretionary spending programs are continuing to be scrutinized for initiatives that seem duplicative or frivolous. For discretionary spending programs that fund scientific research, this means targeting grant proposals that may be perceived as frivolous. The highlighting of research initiatives is nothing new. However, until recently, the lambasting of such programs was usually limited to a minority of lawmakers. These attempts to belittle the value of certain areas of scientific research were often tempered by members from both parties with more expertise on scientific research issues who recognize the role science investment plays in maintaining the United State’s global competitiveness.  Unfortunately, political extremists have grown to a level of influence that now a certain degree of catering to their agenda is apparently necessary to sustain normal order. Just this past March, Congress approved by voice vote an amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) to the Consolidated and Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 (P.L. 113-6) prohibiting the National Science Foundation (NSF) from funding political science research unless such research was certified to promote the national security or economic interests of the United States. The fact that the language was passed by voice vote meant that no Senator sought to contest the amendment during floor debate in a meaningful way. More recently, House, Space, Science and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) floated a draft bill, the High Quality Research Act, which would require NSF to certify that every research project meet certain criteria as being in the national interest of the United States.  Though the draft legislation has garnered no shortage of push back, both from inside and outside Capitol Hill, federal efforts to redirect how science funding is distributed and determine what projects are funded are expected to continue, nonetheless. In the latest edition of The Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, Matthew Berg, a recipient of ESA’s 2013 Graduate Student Policy Award, discusses his interactions with congressional offices who questioned the value of certain science research projects. Berg stressed the importance of emphasizing local connections that resonate with each particular congressional office. “Tailoring the message to each individual office was hugely important. I addressed the importance of [Texas A&M University] as a local economic driver to the local congressman I met with first. I pointed to water supply issues to the Senator from the San Antonio and Edwards...

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ESA Policy News: June 14
Jun14

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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Managing water with natural infrastructure: win-wins for people and wildlife

By Terence Houston, Science Policy Analyst The US Senate is moving forward with a new Water Resources Development Act, a comprehensive bill that authorizes funding for Army Corps of Engineers projects related to flood management, environmental restoration and other water resources infrastructure issues. The bipartisan legislation (S. 601) is sponsored by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA). In light of this, the Consortium for Aquatic Science Societies recently held a congressional briefing that highlighted problems with aquatic invasive species and “natural infrastructure” solutions. David Strayer, Senior Scientist at the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies discussed the varied ways in which invasive species can harm ecosystems, recreation and tourism for communities living alongside major waterways. Invasive species cost the US economy $100 billion a year and cause significant lasting ecological changes, often hindering  recreation and leading to proliferation of less desirable  wildlife. Among the most costly of these is the zebra mussel, which has cost industry and business billions since its initial introduction to the United States several decades ago. The mussels damage boats, invade water treatment and power plants and clog pipes. Strayer also highlighted nutria, plant-eating rodents that can severely erode river banks,  leaving surrounding communities more vulnerable to floods; Japanese knotweed, which crowds out native plants and damages existing infrastructure; and didymo (commonly known as “rock snot”), which – in addition to its obvious aesthetic damage to otherwise scenic landscapes – alters streambeds and cuts out food sources for native aquatic species such as trout. Strayer noted that reservoirs, alteration of water flows in rivers and streams and fish stoking (which can unintentionally include contaminants and undesirable wildlife) can buttress proliferation of invasive species. He praised language in the new WRDA legislation that would establish a program to mitigate invasive species in the Columbia River Basin and manage invasive plants in the northern Rockies and urged support for an amendment recently incorporated into the bill from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) that would seek to restrict invasive species from dispersing into the Great Lakes. Emma Rosi-Marshall, also with the Cary Institute on Ecosystem Services, focused her presentation on the general ecology of rivers. Many animals, including salmon and sturgeon, adapt their migration and breeding patterns on the dynamics of rivers. She also expanded on the important role of natural infrastructure such as wetlands and floodplains in mitigating floods and controlling erosion. Dams, while providing services such as water storage and power generation, can also disrupt wildlife migration and alter the manner in which sediment and nutrients are delivered along waterways. These alterations can impact fish abundance as well as...

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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: April 19

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: SCIENCE RECEIVES HIGH PRIORTY IN WHITE HOUSE FY 2014 PROPOSAL On April 10, the White House released its Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 budget proposal, which includes significant increases for scientific research. The proposal sets different priorities than the proposed budgets put forward by Congressional leaders, particularly those of the House majority. The budget takes into account spending caps instituted through the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25). However, it does not take into account implementation of sequestration and compares program funding levels to those of FY 2012, before sequestration was implemented. Obama’s budget proposes to nullify budget sequestration with $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction. This would include $580 billion in revenue through closing tax loopholes, $400 billion in healthcare savings, $200 billion in mandatory spending programs that would include agriculture and retirement contributions and $200 billion in discretionary savings. The remaining $430 billion would come from cost-of-living adjustments and reduced interest payments on the debt. Congress needs to come up with $1.2 trillion in savings to eliminate the existing sequester cuts. In total, the White House FY 2014 budget request includes $142.8 billion for federal research and development (R&D), a 1.3 percent increase over FY 2012. In his official message on the budget, President Obama sought to tie science investment to economic development. “If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas,” he asserted. “That is why the budget maintains a world-class commitment to science and research, targeting resources to those areas most likely to contribute directly to the creation of transformational technologies that can create the businesses and jobs of the future. The president’s budget would provide OSTP with $5.65 million for FY 2014, an increase from $4.5 million in FY 2012. In the president’s proposal, many federal agencies that invest in scientific research would garner large boosts, compared to what was enacted in FY 2012: National Science Foundation: $7.6 billion (an 8.4 percent increase) US Geological Survey: $1.2 billion (a 9 percent increase) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $5.4 billion (an 8 percent increase) Department of Energy R&D: $12.7 billion (an 18 percent increase) National Aeronautics and Space Administration R&D: $11.6 billion (a 2.6 percent increase) US Global Change Research Program: $2.7 billion (a 6 percent increase) Additional information on the White House FY 2014 budget request is available here. Information specific to the White House’s scientific research budget proposals is available here. Information specific to the White House’s proposal for STEM programs is available here. BUDGET: PRESIDENT’S PROPOSAL INCLUDES...

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ESA Policy News: April 5

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: SEQUESTRATION IMPLEMENTATION HAS AGENCIES PLANNING FURLOUGHS With policymakers seemingly adapting to the implementation of the sequester budget cuts as a fact of life for the time being, many federal agencies are now faced with furloughs to compensate for the funding cuts they must implement. The cuts remain in effect until such time as Congress comes up with a deal to reach $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next ten years, an unlikelihood in the immediate future at least. On April 1st, the White House announced that 480 of the 500 Office of Management and Budget (OMB) employees have been notified that they will be furloughed for 10 days for the remainder of the current Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. For each pay period beginning April 21 and through Sept. 7, OMB employees will have to take one unpaid furlough day. In addition, less money is being spent on supply and equipment purchases and many agencies have instituted work-related travel restrictions. In an effort to minimize staff furloughs, the United States Geological Survey has pulled back on a number of its popular educational initiatives. This summer, it will no longer hire 1800 college students it utilizes to help monitor flood forecasting data and earthquake seismic activity. The agency is also ending its tours for school groups and the two-week science summer camps for children ages 8-12 that it has hosted annually since 1996. The next opportunity Congress has to reach a deal on the sequester will be when the temporary suspension of the debt ceiling expires. Under current law, the debt ceiling suspension will expire on May 19. However, the US Department of Treasury has indicated that the implementation of extraordinary measures may extend a government default on debt until late July or early August. The White House plans to introduce its budget proposal for FY 2014 on April 10 to nullify sequester cuts. The proposal is expected to include $1.8 trillion in savings through a mix of entitlement reforms and revenue increases. EPA: OVER HALF US RIVERS, STREAMS IN POOR CONDITION On March 26, the Environmental Protection Agency released a report that finds that 55 percent of US rivers and streams are in poor condition for aquatic life. Among its findings:  27 percent of rivers and streams have high levels of nitrogen and 40 percent of these water bodies have high levels of phosphorous. Excessive amounts of these chemicals causes nutrient pollution that increases oxygen-depleting algae that make waterways uninhabitable for aquatic wildlife. The study also found...

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