April 9, 2012

In This Issue


On March 29, the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposed budget resolution for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. The bill passed by a vote of 228-191 with 10 Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against the bill.

The non-binding resolution sets discretionary spending at $1.028 trillion, $19 billion below the $1.047 trillion agreed upon during the compromise enacted under the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25). The budget resolution typically serves as a maximum funding ceiling for congressional appropriators to work from as House and Senate appropriation bills are drafted and marked-up in the spring and summer.

Under the House-passed resolution, H. Con. Res. 112, environmental spending, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies, would take a $4.1 billion hit, sinking to budget authority levels not seen since 2001. The funding cut is nearly double the $2.3 billion reduction proposed by President Obama’s FY 2013 budget request. At the same time, the House budget bill would seek to increase revenue by expanding oil and gas drilling.

The 10 Republicans voting against the budget were Reps. Justin Amash (MI), Joe Barton (TX), John Duncan (TN), Chris Gibson (NY), Tim Huelskamp (KS), Walter Jones (NC), David McKinley (WV), Todd Platts (PA), Denny Rehberg (MT) and Ed Whitfield (KY). The rationale for the opposition varied. Some members supported a more far-reaching resolution offered by the far-right conservative Republican Study Committee that claims it would balance the budget in five years through more severe cuts. Other Republicans objected to the proposed changes to Medicare. Rep. Gibson is in a tough re-election race this year, Rep. Rehberg is running for Senate against incumbent Jon Tester (D-MT) while moderate Rep. Platts is retiring.

The Democratic-controlled Senate is not expected to take up the House-passed measure. Congressional Republicans have continually chastised the Senate for failing to take up an annual budget resolution, which is traditionally (but not always) passed by both chambers. Senate Democratic leaders, however, point out that the Budget Control Act has already set into law funding ceilings for the next 10 years, making passage of a non-binding resolution redundant.

For additional information on Chairman Ryan’s budget, see the March 23 edition of ESA Policy News: https://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2012/0323.php


On March 28, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened to examine the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) weather forecasting methods. The hearing focused on the broad range of technologies available to gather weather and climate data and whether those technologies could improve weather forecasting methods.

In addition to representation from NOAA, the committee heard from several witnesses from the private sector who discussed how they could provide the same weather collection data for less money. Committee Republicans were critical of NOAA for allocating 40 percent of its proposed $5.1 billion Fiscal Year 2013 budget towards its two satellite programs, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-Series (GOES-R), at the expense of cheaper observing systems based closer to Earth’s surface.

“NOAA’s ‘tough choices’ have resulted in placing nearly all of its weather-forecasting eggs in a single basket: satellite systems fraught with a long history of major problems. These decisions are causing trade-offs with other valuable weather measurement systems,” stated Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD). “Rather than relying on the whims of an individual administration or the opinions of subject matter experts divorced from fiscal realities or program managers wedded to certain systems, NOAA needs to undertake comprehensive, objective, and quantitative evaluations of observing systems that incorporate cost.”

Committee Democrats said that there is bipartisan consensus to make NOAA’s satellite programs more cost-effective and efficient that pre-dates the current administration while emphasizing the unique role satellites play in advanced weather forecasting.  “From the deadliest tornado year in more than half a century, to the unprecedented heat wave this month, we are facing severe, life-threatening, and record-breaking weather events across the country.  Good weather data is more important than ever.  Yes, satellites are expensive, but they are essential to protecting life and property, and the costs of inferior systems could be far greater,” stated Subcommittee Ranking Member Brad Miller (D-NC).

According to Mary Kicza, Assistant Administrator of NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, funding the Joint Polar Satellite System program, which plans to launch two satellites in 2017, is a high priority because the satellites provide the bulk of the data that go into weather forecasts. Polar satellites orbiting around the Earth every 90 minutes, 520 miles from the Earth’s surface, provide 84 percent of the data that allows forecasters to issue severe weather warnings two to five days in advance, she said.

Kicza also noted that her agency was already expanding collaboration with the private sector and emphasized the importance of sustaining a “network of networks” that includes working with local and regional observing networks. “NOAA will further expand the public-private partnerships to collect weather related data whenever possible, however, recognizing that a foundational set of observations are a critical national asset required to protect life and property. NOAA will explore and leverage all opportunities, while operating in a cost-effective manner,” she said. 

View the full hearing here:


On March 29, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing that reviewed the issue of public access to research disseminated by scholarly journals.

Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun (R-GA) said that “taxpayers rightfully expect access to research they have funded,” but also noted the issue’s  complexity. “This is no small matter.  There are more than 25,000 peer-reviewed journals, produced by over 2,000 publishers.  These journals publish more than 1.5 million articles a year, and earn revenues between $8 and $10 billion dollars from their subscribers.  This revenue funds over 100,000 jobs worldwide – 30,000 in the U.S. alone.”

Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NY) noted the various interests at play. “On the one hand, the taxpayers who provide support for research through grants provided by federal science agencies have an interest in having the research they fund deliver maximum public benefit. On the other hand, the public is not only interested in quantity, they want quality. The scientific publishing enterprise, working with the research community, academia and the government traditionally has had an important role in ensuring that quality through management of the peer review process.” Tonko noted that there is a growing need for all publications to revamp their current models to accommodate the changing landscape, but cautioned about taking a broad sweeping “legislative approach.”

The committee heard from two representatives from scientific societies, Crispin Taylor of the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) and Frederick Dylla of the American Institute of Physics.  Both of the witnesses expressed concern with various federal efforts to establish an open access mandate.  “Neither of these one-size-fits-all approaches is an appropriate solution for the diverse array of journals published across all the disciplines represented by federally funded research efforts,” stated Dylla.

“In ASPB’s case, the journals generate approximately 80 percent of the Society’s $6 million in annual revenue,” stated Crispin. “A little more than half of the total income derives from 2,000 institutional subscriptions, which we work very hard to sell to universities and corporations around the world, and another 20 percent from charges levied on hundreds of authors. By contrast, ASPB devotes about half of its operating budget to supporting the journals publishing operation, with the remainder devoted to advancing the broader scholarly missions of the society.”

The hearing also touched on the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) open access policy. Eliot Maxwell, Project Director for the Digital Connections Council, Committee on Economic Development asserted that federal agencies should start with the NIH policy and “dial back” to make it fit the respective scientific disciplines agencies support.

Chairman Broun, citing the committee’s history of reviewing the issue of public access asserted that any federal policy concerning public access issue should have the committee’s input. The Science, Space and Technology Committee expects to receive a report in the coming weeks on this issue from the Office of Science and Technology Policy, as directed in the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010.

View the full committee hearing, here:


On March 27, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry met to review U.S. Forest Service (FS) forest management policies in rural America. Committee members agreed that the FS needs to implement a balanced approach towards conservation that accounts for the economic role that forests play in rural communities and for the timber industry.

“The health of our national forests is an issue of vital importance for rural America. Not only are our national forests a source of immense natural beauty, but they provide us with natural resources, recreation opportunities, wildlife habitat and serve as economic engines for local communities,” stated Subcommittee Chairman Glenn Thompson (R-PA).  “We need to make sure the Forest Service and its partners work together to improve forest restoration and conservation while promoting a robust forest industry that supports local stakeholders and results in restored jobs and a vibrant rural economy,” said Subcommittee Ranking Member Tim Holden (D-PA).

Earlier this year, the FS released a report outlining its goals for forest health. In the report, the agency cited increasing annual timber harvests as one of its goals. There has been bipartisan concern from lawmakers that timber harvests remain substantially lower than they were during the late 1980s. Both Chairman Thompson and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) asserted that the FS needs to focus more on the needs of communities that depend on the jobs and revenue brought in from timber harvests.

Reps. Schrader and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) also questioned FS Chief Tom Tidwell on the pine bark beetle infestations in their respective states. Chief Tidwell pointed to the role investment in research plays in improving ways to mitigate the bark beetle infestations as well as those of other insects that plague timber managers, such as the emerald ash borer and gypsy moth.

To view the hearing and find more information, click here:


On March 27, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the first-ever proposed Clean Air Act standard for carbon pollution from new power plants. The regulations are intended to reduce the amount of fossil fuels emissions.

The proposed standard would only apply to power plants built in the future. The regulations would require new power plants that burn fossil fuels to release no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt‐hour. According to EPA, new natural-gas plants will be able to meet the standard without supplemental technology while new coal plants will need new technology like carbon capture and storage, in which carbon dioxide emissions are collected and sequestered in the ground rather than released into the atmosphere.

The agency said new natural-gas plants will be able to meet the standard without adding any additional technology. However, new coal plants would need to add new technology like carbon capture and storage (CCS), in which carbon dioxide emissions are collected and sequestered in the ground rather than released into the atmosphere. EPA reports that the rules give new coal-fired power plants flexibility to meet the standard by allowing those that implement CCS to use a 30-year average of their carbon dioxide emissions as opposed to meeting the standard on an annual basis.

The reaction on Capitol Hill, as with many EPA regulations, was heavily partisan. “This rule is part of the Obama administration’s aggressive plan to change America’s energy portfolio and eliminate coal as a source of affordable, reliable electricity generation,” stated House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI). “EPA continues to overstep its authority and ram through a series of overreaching regulations in its attack on America’s power sector.”

House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) differed: “The proposal is a breakthrough. It sets achievable limits on dangerous carbon pollution, spurs investments in new clean energy technologies, and provides certainty for industry. And it shows the president is listening to scientists, not extremists who deny the existence of climate change. Today’s action will reduce pollution, make families healthier, promote innovation, and help us compete with China and other countries that are investing in clean energy.”

The agency is seeking additional comment and information, including public hearings. EPA will also convene public hearings in addition to public comment period, which will be open for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register. 

For additional information on the standard, click here:


On March 29, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) announced its “Big Data Research and Development Initiative.” The multi-agency endeavor seeks to improve federal methods of organizing research findings from large quantities of digital data.

The Big Data Research and Development Initiative intends to meet the following goals:

  • Advance state-of-the-art core technologies needed to collect, store, preserve, manage, analyze, and share huge quantities of data.
  • Harness these technologies to accelerate the pace of discovery in science and engineering, strengthen our national security, and transform teaching and learning.
  • Expand the workforce needed to develop and use Big Data technologies.

Participating agencies include the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy and the United States Geological Survey. NSF and NIH have released a solicitation, “Core Techniques and Technologies for Advancing Big Data Science & Engineering,” or “Big Data.”  This program aims to extract and use knowledge from collections of large data sets in order to improve data collection and management of science and engineering research.

The initiative comes in response to recommendations by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, which last year concluded that the federal government is under-investing in technologies related to Big Data. In response, OSTP launched a Senior Steering Group on Big Data to coordinate and expand federal investments in this area.

Additional information, including a fact sheet, on the initiative can be found here:


On March 29, House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) and House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Edward Markey (D-MA) announced the release of a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that evaluates the oil industries’ oil spill containment capabilities in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident.

“Interior Has Strengthened Its Oversight of Subsea Well Containment, but Should Improve Its Documentation,” provides information on the status of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement’s (BOEMRE) efforts to oversee the oil industry’s subsea well containment capabilities in the Gulf of Mexico. While GAO found that industry had improved its response and containment capabilities, it concluded that the agency still needs to fully document its internal oversight processes as well as outline its plan for incorporating its containment response tests into its unplanned oil spill drills for private companies.

“Interior has not tested most operators’ ability to respond to a subsea blowout, and has not established a time frame to incorporate these tests,” the report says. “Until Interior sets a time frame for incorporating well containment scenarios into unannounced spill drills, there is limited assurance that operators are prepared to respond to a subsea blowout.” A senior Interior official reportedly concurred with GAO that response scenarios should be a regular part of annual plans for future drills.

Referencing Royal Dutch Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic this summer, the report also cites drilling in that region as particularly problematic because its cold and icy conditions could adversely impact response capability,. “Even with Shell’s plans to have dedicated capping stack and well containment capabilities in the region to provide rapid response in the event of a blowout, these dedicated capabilities do not completely mitigate some of the environmental and logistical risks associated with the remoteness and environment of the region,” states the GAO report. Shell must still acquire a federal permit before drilling in the Arctic can commence.

View the full report here:


The Lenfest Ocean Program recently released a report that finds small fish are roughly three times as valuable in the sea where they become food for commercially valuable larger species as opposed to when they are caught for livestock feed or dietary supplements.

According to the report, forage fish contribute an estimated total of $16.9 billion to global fisheries annually. In contrast, the report estimates that direct catch value is “approximately one-third of that total.” The small fish were found to play a vital in virtually every ocean ecosystem and are vulnerable to localized depletion due to overfishing. The report urges fishery managers to drastically reduce the worldwide catch for forage fish, which include anchovies, sardines and herrings.

“We understand that every ecosystem is unique and would benefit from tailor-made solutions that account for individual characteristics, management structure, and research capacity of each system,” the report notes. “However, we believe that the guidance provided herein will prove widely useful in holistic management of forage fish fisheries because it is flexible enough to be applied in data-rich situations as well as low-information scenarios.”

The report was developed by the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force, a team of scientists which includes Ecological Society of America (ESA) members Marc Mangel (University of California – Santa Cruz), Tim Essington (University of Washington), Robert Steneck (University of Maine) and Dee Boersma (University of Washington) who also serves on ESA’s Rapid Response Team. The task force was chaired by Ellen K. Pikitch, Director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, who is also an ESA member.

“The benefits of implementing our recommended approach include a greater chance of maintaining fully functioning ecosystems and the ecological roles and support services provided by forage fish,” the report states. “A further benefit will be increased catches of dependent commercially valuable predators, which should more than compensate for economic losses due to lower forage fish catches.”

The Lenfest Ocean Program is a grant-making program that funds scientific research on policy-relevant topics concerning the world’s oceans, communicating its findings to policymakers and other interested parties. The program was established in 2004 by the Lenfest Foundation and is managed by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

View the full report here:


On March 29, the Ecological Society of America’s 2012 Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA) recipients joined over twenty other biologists to encourage lawmakers in the House and Senate to continue to invest in in science.

As in years past, the 2012 GSPA winners Sara Kuebbing (University of Tennessee), Adam Rosenblatt (Florida International University) and Matthew Schuler (University of Washington – St. Louis) along with ESA President Steward Pickett (Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies) spoke with Capitol Hill lawmakers and staff to support the president’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 budget request for the National Science Foundation. During the two-day event, participants were also briefed by federal officials, including representatives from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and NSF and took part in a policy orientation session.

The annual Congressional Visits Day is sponsored by the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC), jointly spearheaded by the Ecological Society of America (ESA) and the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). Six BESC “teams” comprised of biological scientists from across the U.S. met with nearly 50 offices in the House and Senate. The scientists underscored their message with personal stories regarding the research they are doing in the local communities the lawmakers represent.

The individual congressional visits constituted a plethora of diversity, both regionally and ideologically. The overwhelming majority of offices were receptive to the message that investment in science has multifaceted benefits to society that include advancing educational opportunities and job creation.   Several offices encouraged the scientists to reach beyond their own communities and take the time to talk with other Americans about the benefits of federal investment in research and science education.

There were also offices that, while expressing general support for science, noted that the current fiscal climate made them wary of supporting funding increases for any federal agency. Some cautioned that because NSF is funded through an appropriations subcommittee that also funds the Departments of Commerce and Justice, their support will likely depend upon other aspects of the overall bill. 

While the bill is sometimes passed as a standalone measure, it is often merged with other agency appropriations bills late in the year during the conference process and passed as an omnibus bill, particularly in recent years. The recently enacted FY 2012 Commerce Justice Science appropriations bill, for example, was included in a mini-omnibus measure that also includes appropriations bills that funded the Departments of Agriculture, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development.

Sources: Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, House Agriculture Committee, House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, LenFest Ocean Program, the National Science Foundation, Science Magazine, the White House