May 17, 2013
In this Issue
On May 8, six former officials who headed the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Science Board during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations sent a letter to the leadership of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee expressing concern with the High Quality Research Act. The draft bill would require the NSF Director to provide Congress with information certifying research projects meet certain national interest requirements before they can be funded, which has been interpreted as negating NSF’s existing scientific peer-review process for funding research.
“We believe that this draft legislation would replace the current merit-based system used to evaluate research and education proposals with a cumbersome and unrealistic certification process that rather than improving the quality of research would do just the opposite,” the letter states. “The history of science and technology has shown that truly basic research often yields breakthroughs – including new technologies, markets and jobs – but that it is impossible to predict which projects (and which fields) will do that.”
The High Quality Research Act, proposed by House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), has yet to be introduced and there is no indication yet whether or when the committee will move on the bill. The draft legislation has already met strong opposition from scientific societies and universities as well as Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) who asserted that the bill would “undermine NSF’s core mission as a basic research agency.”
View the directors’ letter here:
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently reported that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have peaked above 400 parts per million (ppm), the first time since measurements began in 1958.
According to NOAA, the global carbon dioxide average was 280 ppm in the 19th century preceding the industrial revolution and has fluctuated between 180-280 ppm over the past 800,000 years. The agency asserts that a concentration this great has not been seen in at least three million years. The news got very little reaction from key leaders on Capitol Hill, on either side of the aisle in both the House and Senate. The exceptions were Democratic leaders on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
“We know that the Earth is warming, sea ice is disappearing, the glaciers are receding, the oceans are acidifying, and sea levels are rising. We know all of this from climate science research and monitoring,” stated House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “And, we now know that we have reached this carbon dioxide milestone of 400 parts per million thanks to a NOAA observatory on top of the volcano Mauna Loa in Hawaii that has been continuously monitoring and collecting data related to atmospheric change since the 1950s. The research being done at NASA, NOAA and other agencies is providing the crucial data that will enable us to assess, adapt to, and move forward on this critical issue. We must continue investing in this work.”
“The United States, as the biggest historical producer and second largest current producer of greenhouse gases, bears a great responsibility to the rest of the world to ensure that we promote policies that will reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we continue to place in the Earth’s atmosphere,” asserted Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR). “As Dr. Pieter Tans of NOAA said of this latest finding, ‘It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem.’ We have to do better than this.”
View the full NOAA release here:
On May 9, Republican members of the House Natural Resources Committee announced the formation of a working group to review potential changes to the Endangered Species Act.
Since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives after the 2010 mid-term elections, the House Natural Resources Committee has held numerous hearings that question the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act, raising questions about whether the law is transparent, economically burdensome or overly regulatory as well as whether new species should continue to be listed under its protection.
The new working group is founded by Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA). In addition to Chairman Hastings, group members include Republican Reps. Cynthia Lummis (WY), Mark Amodei (NV), Rob Bishop (UT), Doug Collins (GA), Andy Harris (MD), Bill Huizenga (MI), James Lankford (OK), Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO), Randy Neugebauer (TX), Steve Southerland (FL), Glenn Thompson (PA) and David Valadao (CA).
For additional information click here: http://naturalresources.house.gov/esaworkinggroup/
On May 7, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittees on Energy and Environment held a joint hearing weighing potential economic and environmental impacts of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Republican majority members emphasized the amount of time the administration has spent studying the proposal and touted its potential for job creation. Ultimately, there are two major concerns in this debate: 1) whether we have the ability to construct and operate the pipeline safely, and 2) whether the pipeline’s construction will contribute significantly to climate change. On both of these questions, extensive analysis undertaken by the State Department has affirmed the safety and environmental soundness of the project,” iterated Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) in his opening statement. “The Keystone Pipeline creates jobs and enhances our energy independence with minimal impact to the environment. This project, which has been thoroughly evaluated, should be approved immediately.”
Energy Subcommittee Chairwoman Cynthia Lumis (R-WY) said: “That the Administration would slow-walk a project that supports fossil fuels is perhaps no surprise to some of us. However, what I cannot understand is how the President can rhetorically claim to be committed to job creation and economic growth, and in practice obstruct a project that would support both,” she said.
“Although it has taken four years to look at this project, it could take only a matter of seconds to cause devastating consequences to our environment, our earth and people around the pipeline,” contended Energy Subcommittee Ranking Member Eric Swalwell (D-CA). “I think it is worth making sure that we get it right.”
A majority of witnesses sought to highlight potential benefits of the pipeline. Lynn Helms, Director of the Department of Mineral Resources for the North Dakota Industrial Commission highlighted the safety benefits for transportation. He testified that the pipelines operation would cut down on accidents and reduce the potential for oil spills from truck transportation. Paul “Chip” Knappenberger, Assistant Director, Center for the Study of Science, Cato Institute argued that the increased carbon omissions do not directly correlate to a measurement of climate change and regardless, the carbon dioxide produced by the pipeline will still not significantly influence climate change.
Committee Democrats contended that the job creation level posed by the Republicans is exaggerated. They argued that the pipeline would only create several thousand temporary jobs and only 35 permanent jobs, based on the findings of the US State Department’s Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. Anthony Swift, testifying on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council, was the lone witness allotted by committee Democrats. He argued that the amount of jobs the pipeline would endanger is not worth the potential number of jobs it would create. “In exchange for 35 permanent jobs, Keystone XL would pose a permanent risk to American communities, sensitive water resources and agricultural industry,” he said.
“Short-term benefits to our economy should not be overlooked, but they should be considered alongside the substantial environmental and safety challenges presented by the pipeline, including the potentially disastrous impact on the local economy if a spill were to occur,” asserted Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR). “That’s why Congress requested that the National Academy of Sciences study this type of oil, and it is my hope that we will soon know more about what differences exist between oil sands and conventional crudes.”
On May 9, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittees on Space and Research convened for a joint hearing to discuss exoplanet research, the continued discovery of earth-like planets.
There was bipartisan support for continued investment in exoplanet research among the committee leadership. “Scientists are discovering new kinds of solar systems in our own galaxy that we never knew existed,” noted Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “In the universe, is there another place like home? Because of NASA’s Kepler mission, we know the likely answer is yes. Imagine how the discovery of life outside our solar system would alter our priorities for space exploration and how we view our place in the universe.”
“Since humanity first began looking to the heavens, we have been fascinated by the possibility that we may not be alone in the universe,” stated Research Subcommittee Chairman Larry Buschon (R-IN). “As the number of confirmed and cataloged heavenly bodies has swelled in the past twenty one years, we have sought to learn more about the conditions on these planets: the temperatures, the atmospheres, their core composition, how they orbit their respective stars, and ultimately, whether any are capable of sustaining life.” In his opening remarks, Buschon highlighted two life science space researchers affiliated with Purdue University in Indiana: France Cordova and Marshall Porterfield.
“The search for habitable planets outside of our own solar system was identified as a scientific priority in the 2010 National Academies Decadal Survey of Astronomy and Astrophysics,” noted Research Subcommittee Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL). “And no wonder. This is exactly the type of scientific pursuit that expands our understanding of the world, or worlds, around us and grips the imagination of scientists and the public at large, even though we have no idea what we will find.”
Exoplanet research is conducted through a collaboration of National Science Foundation ground-based telescopes as well as National Aeronautics and Space Administration telescopes in outer space. Witnesses from both agencies outlined their progress in exoplanet research, which included the recent discovery of three “super-earth” sized planets that appear to have characteristics to support life.
When Space Subcommittee Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-MD) inquired about the impacts of sequestration on exoplanet research in fiscal year 2014, NASA Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld asserted his agency would likely have to turn off operating observatories or cut off funding for new missions and projects. James Ulvestad, Director of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Astronomical Sciences stated that research grants to operate newer more expensive observatories would be at risk and exoplanetary research would be conducted increasingly by international partners as opposed to US researchers, post-docs, and graduate students.
To view the full hearing, click here:
On May 16, the US Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management released a new draft rule for hydraulic fracturing.
BLM maintains that current regulations governing hydraulic fracturing operations on public lands are more than 30 years old and do not adequately address modern fracturing activities. The rule would require disclosure of chemicals injected underground on roughly 700 million acres of federal mineral estate, including about 60 million acres underlying private lands. The rule would allow states to propose their own standards for the controversial oil and gas production technique if they can prove their regulations are as strong as federal rules. The new rule would not require companies to disclose fracking chemicals until after the technique has been performed.
The move generated criticism from Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, which has become typical related to hydraulic fracturing issues. “The Obama administration is once again choosing costly red tape at the expense of American jobs and American energy production,” stated House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA). It is charging forward with new regulations on hydraulic fracturing on federal and tribal lands that are burdensome, restrictive, unnecessary, and directly duplicate what states have been doing efficiently and effectively for over sixty years.”
On the other hand, Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-MA) criticized the rule as “extremely disappointing” for not going far enough in ensuring environmental safety protections. Among his criticisms of the rule, Markey noted the rule’s deference to internet-based disclosure of chemicals through a website not run by the government. He also noted that rule does not mandate closed system containment of wastewater in favor of open pit storage. Conservation groups assert open pit storage increases risks for spills that contaminate soil and surface water.
For additional information on the rule, including how to comment, click here:
A report recently made public from the General Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that “infrastructure such as roads and bridges, wastewater systems, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) centers are vulnerable to changes in the climate” and calls upon the federal government to work with local governments to mitigate the impacts of these changes.
The report notes that the federal government spends billions of dollars annually on infrastructure, which is affected by climate change. The report notes that sea-level rise and increased extreme weather events put this infrastructure at greater risk. It identifies several federal efforts underway to help improve adaptive decision-making at the local level, yet asserts that this effort is presently uncoordinated.
GAO recommends the president designate a federal entity to work with federal agencies to help local decision makers indentify the best available climate information for infrastructure planning.
View the full report, here:
Approved by House Committee
H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act – Introduced by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Colin Peterson (D-MN), the comprehensive $940 billion farm bill would reauthorize agricultural programs though Fiscal Year 2018. Overall the bill cuts $40 billion over the next decade, largely from mandatory and nutritional programs. These cuts also include $6.9 billion from conservation programs. The bill also consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13. The bill was approved May 15 by a bipartisan vote of 36-10. Additional information on the bill is available here:
Approved by Senate Committee
S. 954, the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 – Introduced by Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the $950 billion farm bill would reauthorize agricultural programs through Fiscal Year 2018. Overall, the bill includes $23 billion in spending cuts, achieved through eliminating excess subsidies, reducing programs perceived as duplicative and consolidating other programs. Like the House version, the bill consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13. Unlike the House version, the Senate bill would require conservation compliance in order to receive crop insurance subsidies for highly erodible land and wetlands. The bill was approved May 14 by a bipartisan vote of 15-5, which included the support of Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS). Additional information on the bill is available here: http://www.ag.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/senate-agriculture-committee-approves-farm-bill
Passed by Senate
S. 601, the Water Resources Development Act – Introduced by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA), the comprehensive $12.2 billion bill, reauthorizes funding for Army Corps of Engineers programs related to environmental restoration, flood control, bridges and other water infrastructure. The Senate approved the bill May 15 by a vote of 83-14. Additional information on the bill is available here:
Sources: ClimateWire, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Government Accountability Office, Greenwire, the Hill, House Agriculture Committee, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Science Magazine