December 14, 2012

In this Issue


On Dec. 7, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) joined a host of other scientific societies, universities and business leaders in sending a letter, spearheaded by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), urging President Obama and Congressional leadership to reach a compromise deal that averts the “fiscal cliff” while preserving federal investment in scientific research. ESA had sent the White House and Congress a similar letter late last month.

The fiscal cliff includes a series of automatic discretionary spending cuts (sequestration) set to occur in January, if the Congress does not come up with an alternative plan to lower the deficit by $1.2 trillion before then either through spending cuts or revenue increases. Defense discretionary spending programs would be cut by 9.4 percent while non-defense discretionary spending programs would be cut by 8.2 percent under the automatic cuts. The fiscal cliff also includes expiring tax cuts and unemployment benefits that, if left unaddressed, collectively threaten to plunge the economy into another recession. The letter encourages the president and congressional leaders to come up with a balanced approach to deficit reduction, noting the important role of science and technological investment.

“It is important to recognize that federal research and development (R&D) investments are not driving our national deficits,” the letter notes. “These investments account for less than one-fifth of the current discretionary budget, but discretionary spending is the only place where deep cuts will be made. Placing a significant burden on these crucial areas, as sequestration would do, is nothing less than a threat to national competitiveness. We recognize that the United States faces severe fiscal challenges, and we urge you to begin to address them through a balanced approach that includes tax and entitlement reform.”

Both sides have put forward general plans that propose increased revenues and cuts to entitlement programs. However, despite several face-to-face meetings between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in the weeks since the election, Congressional Republicans and Democrats remain deadlocked over the particulars of a compromise proposal. Speaker Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are opposed to the White House plan for tax increases on the highest income earners, though both sides have indicated they are somewhat flexible as to the specific revenue amount. The White House, however, asserts that the $800 trillion in revenue proposed by the GOP cannot be achieved by merely closing loopholes and deductions without unduly burdening the middle-class.

Meanwhile the president and Congressional Democrats are opposed to the level of discretionary spending cuts proposed by Republicans, which some advocacy groups contend are nearly as high as the automatic non-defense discretionary cuts would be under sequestration. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has declared that raising the Medicare eligibility age is off the table. Democrats are also calling for the package to include an increase in the debt limit, which Republicans oppose unless it is offset with spending cuts.

With the holidays fast approaching, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has repeatedly asserted that the House will not adjourn until issues related to the fiscal cliff are resolved. The White House Office of Management and Budget has already begun directing federal agencies to begin planning for the sequester.

To view the joint society letter, click here:

To view the ESA letter, click here:


On Dec. 12, Senate appropriators released a bill to provide emergency funding to states affected by Hurricane Sandy. The bill’s total amount of $60.4 billion matches the White House funding request, sent at the end of last week.

Like the White House request, the bulk of the bill is dedicated to transportation and infrastructure investment. The bill allocates $11.5 billion to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for disaster response and recovery efforts. The measure includes $17 billion in community development block grants for housing needs and $11 billion for transit repairs, which includes funding for the Federal Transit Administration (receiving the bulk of the funding), the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration.

The US Army Corps of Engineers would receive $3.4 million to repair coastal projects. The bill also includes $810 million intended to address concerns about clean water programs and $1 billion for flood control and coastal emergency programs. The Senate bill also includes $810 million for Environmental Protection Agency Clean Water State Revolving Programs, $482 million for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, $348 million for the National Park Service, $125 million for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, $78 million for the Fish and Wildlife Service, $58 million for the Emergency Forest Restoration Program and $25 million for the Emergency Conservation Program.

Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the primary proponents of the relief funding, would like to add tax relief for individuals affected by the storm. They maintain that doing so would mirror actions taken on behalf of Hurricane Katrina victims in 2005. Nonetheless, Congressional Republicans have suggested that the funding be offset by cuts to other areas of discretionary spending. Democrats counter by pointing out offsets were not sought when the Republican-controlled House, Senate and White House enacted emergency funding assistance during Katrina.

The Senate intends to take up the bill next week, using a House-passed military construction and veterans appropriations bill as a vehicle. House Republicans, meanwhile, are researching whether specific requests for billions in aid are necessary. House appropriators would like to break the bill into parts, one addressing immediate needs and another supplemental addressing other projects.

Congress’s preoccupation with “fiscal cliff” matters in the closing days of the current session brings the notion of House consideration and enactment of the legislation before the end of the year into question. Nonetheless, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) signaled late last month the possibility that the House might take up a Sandy relief bill and potentially also legislation to reauthorize the farm bill, if enough Republican votes are secured to guarantee passage.

For additional information on the bill, click here:


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Jane Lubchenco announced this week that she will exit NOAA at the end of Feb. 2013 after four years of service in one of the Obama administration’s key science agencies.

During her tenure as NOAA administrator, she worked to implement NOAA’s National Ocean Policy, further the agency’s scientific research into climate change and was among the major players in coordinating the federal response to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster of 2010. While the National Ocean Policy was successfully implemented, the agency’s attempt to coordinate a national climate service was stifled legislatively by House Republicans, namely outgoing House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX), a vocal climate science skeptic.

A former president of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Lubchenco was among a team of scientists selected by President Obama to head agencies with significant science policy roles, including Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren, Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu, National Science Foundation Director Subra Suresh and United States Geological Survey Director Marsha McNutt. Lubchenco spoke at this year’s ESA Annual Meeting in Portland, Oregon and encouraged scientists to engage with policymakers and even consider public service in policy themselves.

Lubchenco’s departure could be the proverbial tip of the iceberg as presidential administrations elected to a second term often witness a mass exodus of key cabinet officials and bureau chiefs during the transition to a second term. DOE Secretary Chu and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, repeatedly sought after by House Republicans to testify before Congress, are among those on the watch-list for potential departures.

Lubchenco received her Ph.D. in ecology from Harvard University. She taught at Harvard and Oregon State University before being tapped by Obama in Dec. 2008 to head NOAA. A successor has yet to be named.


On Dec. 7, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report requesting that the government increase investment in agricultural research in order to cope with a number of environmental changes that affect agriculture in the United States.

The report concludes that the current state of agriculture research remains ill-equipped to address many challenges facing the United States in the 21st Century. The report cites seven major priorities including the “need to manage new pests, pathogens, and invasive plants; increase the efficiency of water use; reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture; adapt to a changing climate; and accommodate demands for bioenergy-all while continuing to produce safe and nutritious food at home and for those in need abroad.”

According to PCAST, the economy has gained at least $10 in benefits for every $1 invested in agricultural research. The report recommends increasing investment in agricultural research by $700 million a year by expanding competitive programs within the Department of Agriculture. It also calls for an increase in the National Science Foundation’s budget for agriculture research and increasing the number of graduate and post-doctoral fellowships awarded to agricultural researchers.

To view the White House press release, click here:

View the full report here:


On Dec. 14, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released new air quality standards for fine particles that come from auto tailpipes, power plants, drilling operations and boilers.

The new fine particle standards lower the limit from 15 micrograms per cubic meter averaged over a year to 12 micrograms. According to EPA, less than 10 counties in the nation will need to consider any local actions to reduce fine particle pollution in order to meet the new standard by 2020, as required by the Clean Air Act. The remainder can rely on air quality improvements from existing federal rules to meet the new standard.

EPA’s existing soot standards were set in 1997. EPA’s science advisers had requested new standards in 2006 during the Bush administration, but the agency elected to let the existing standard remain in effect. After continuous court litigation, spearheaded by the American Lung Association, the National Parks Conservation Association and others, EPA tightened its standards in accordance with a court-ordered deadline.

A number of industry groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute, oppose the new rules, asserting that they will hinder economic growth, restricting counties’ abilities to issue permits for new facilities. Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), James Inhofe (R-OK), Rob Portman (R-OH), Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Mike Lee (R-UT) recently sent a letter to EPA urging the agency to maintain the existing standards.

For additional information on the new standard, click here:


On Dec. 6, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it was awarding $1.2 million in environmental justice grants for projects intended to address environmental issues faced by minority and low-income communities.

This year’s grants were awarded to 50 non-profit and tribal organizations in 26 states and Puerto Rico. Projects receiving funding this year include efforts to educate low-income individuals of the dangers of gardening in contaminated soil, improve air quality/ventilation in older homes, promote the use of safe pesticides in low-income housing and promote environmental stewardship in diverse communities. Environmental justice programs seek to bring parity to environmental policy decision-making that includes all races and income levels.

Additional information on EPA’s Environmental Justice Small Grants, including how to apply for the 2013 grants is available here (applications due Jan. 7):

The full list of 2012 grant recipients is available here:


Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron, who collaborated on the first two installments in the Terminator film franchise, are teaming up again – this time in an effort to save the world from the detrimental impacts of climate change.

The two have reunited to produce a documentary series on Showtime in 2013 that will focus on how humans are impacting Earth’s climate. The series, entitled “Years of Living Dangerously” will explore the issue in six to eight one-hour episodes.

Schwarzenegger, signed the nation’s first cap on greenhouse gas emissions during his term as California Governor. He has urged Republicans and Democrats to seek bipartisan solutions to address climate change and continues to promote efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and invest in green jobs through his own non-profit organization, the R20 Regions of Climate Action.

Cameron has been active in several conservation causes and has stated that his recent film “Avatar” was in part a message for humanity to stop damaging the environment. Cameron had also met with Environmental Protection Agency and BP leaders during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The spill was eventually stopped using techniques similar to what Cameron recommended.

No word on whether Linda Hamilton, who starred with Schwarzenegger in the aforementioned films (and is also Cameron’s ex-wife), will cameo in the documentary.


Dates are now set for the Congressional visits events in which recipients of the Ecological Society of America (ESA)’s 2013 Graduate Student Policy Awardees will participate. This annual award, offered to up to three ESA graduate students, provides hands-on science policy experience including interacting with congressional decision-makers, federal agency officials, and others engaged in science and public policy.

GSPA winners participate in the annual Congressional Visits Day, a two-day event that will be held on April 10 and 11, 2013. ESA covers travel and lodging expenses associated with this event for all GSPA recipients. ESA is co-organizer of Congressional Visits Day, sponsored by the Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition to promote federal investment in the biological sciences, particularly through the National Science Foundation.

The application deadline is January 7, 2013. For more information, click here:


Passed Senate

S. 3294, the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2013 – the annual bill reauthorizes Department of Defense (DOD) programs. Among its provisions, it authorizes $150 million in energy conservation projects and includes various reforms to DOD energy and environmental policies. The Senate-passed bill includes provisions to allow the military to invest in alternative energy sources and build commercial-scale biofuel refineries (provisions absent in the House version of the legislation). It passed the Senate Dec. 4 by a vote of 98-0. It is currently in the conference with the House. The House and Senate must pass conference report legislation before it can be sent to the president and signed into law.

Cleared for White House

H.R. 6582, the American Energy Manufacturing Technical Corrections Act – the bill includes several pieces of legislation proposed this Congress to ease federal regulations on the manufacture of freezers, air-conditioners, water heaters and other appliances. According to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the bill’s changes to the Department of Energy appliance efficiency program will reduce national electricity demand 12 percent by 2030. The bill also requires research into how to further deploy energy efficient technologies in the industrial sector. The bill passed the House Dec. 4 by a vote of 398-2 and subsequently passed the Senate by voice vote. The president is expected to sign the measure.

Sources: American Association for the Advancement of Science, Christian Science Monitor, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Protection Agency, Greenwire, the Hill, POLITICO, Senate Appropriations Committee, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the White House