May 3, 2013

In this Issue


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.”

During recent remarks commemorating the 150th anniversary of the National Academy of Sciences, President Obama highlighted the importance of maintaining existing scientific merit peer review standards. “And what’s true of all sciences is that in order for us to maintain our edge, we’ve got to protect our rigorous peer review system and ensure that we only fund proposals that promise the biggest bang for taxpayer dollars.  And I will keep working to make sure that our scientific research does not fall victim to political maneuvers or agendas that in some ways would impact on the integrity of the scientific process,” said the president. “That’s what’s going to maintain our standards of scientific excellence for years to come.”

Recently, the Coalition for National Science Funding, in partnership with the House Research Caucus, sponsored a briefing that emphasized the importance of sustained investment in social and behavioral scientific research focusing on victims of natural and human-made disasters. For additional information on the briefing, click here: 

To view Chairman Smith’s letter, click here:

To view Ranking Member Johnson’s rebuttal letter, click here:

To view President Obama’s full remarks before the National Academy of Sciences, click here:


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.

Committee Democrats expressed concern over proposed cuts to clean water and brownfield programs while Republicans, specifically Sens. Roy Blunt (MO) Mike Johanns (NE), took issue with agency surveillance programs. EPA Acting Director Bob Perciasepe testified that the aerial surveillance is used to monitor Clean Water Act violations and is not used to obtain information on law-biding citizens.

“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 and drinking water state revolving funds, beach cleanup, brownfields clean up, and environmental education programs as troubling proposed cuts that would endanger public health and stifle economic and infrastructure productivity. While acknowledging that more funding is needed for water infrastructure overall, Perciasepe noted that past investment, including funding through the Recovery Act, has helped sustain funds. EPA will continue to work with states and local agencies to make better use of the funds, given current fiscal concerns, said Perciasepe.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) expressed concern with certain EPA rulemakings and asserted that she hears more complaints from Alaskans about the agency than about any other federal agency. She asked about the status of Alaska’s Bristol Bay Watershed assessment, which seeks to identify the impacts of large scale mining on the Bay. Murkowski specifically inquired when the agency would be able to provide the committee with the overall cost of the assessment. Her concerns about getting the overall assessment completed in a timely fashion were echoed by Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK). Perciasepe said that a cost assessment should be available sometime in May.

View the full hearing here:

Additional information on the Bristol Bay assessment is available here:


On April 25, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Environment convened for a hearing entitled “Policy Relevant Climate Issues in Context.” The hearing was the first of the subcommittee to focus on climate science for the 113th Congress.

Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT) re-emphasized the contention among some congressional Republicans that there is debate as to the degree to which the planet is warming and the factors at play. “The number and complexity of factors influencing climate—from land and oceans to the sun and clouds—make precise long-term temperature predictions an extremely difficult challenge.  Contrary to the predictions of almost all modeling, over the past 16 years there has been a complete absence of global warming,” said Stewart. “When we encounter those who claim to know precisely what our future climate will look like, and then attack any who may disagree with them, we have stepped out of the arena of science and into the arena of politics and ideology.”

House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) was slightly more reserved in his skepticism in his opening statement. “Climate change is an issue that needs to be discussed thoughtfully and objectively. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes surrounded by claims that conceal the facts and hinder the proper weighing of policy options,” he asserted. “I believe in the integrity of science. And I find it unfortunate that those who question certain scientific views on climate have their motives impugned. Challenging accepted beliefs through open debate and critical thinking is a primary part of the scientific process. To make a rational decision on climate change, we need to examine the relevant scientific issues along with the costs and benefits and better understand the uncertainties that surround both.”

Full Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), while not present at the opening of the hearing, released a statement for the record criticizing global warming skeptics.  “The science surrounding this issue reached a consensus a long time ago, and that consensus is that the world is warming and most of that warming is being caused by humans…Unfortunately, many of my colleagues in the majority don’t seem to have gotten the memo.  Many openly dispute the science or allude to some unspecified but supposedly vast scientific conspiracy.  Others, while less conspiratorial, insist that nothing can be done about the problem.  This is a failure of leadership of the highest order.”

The majority of witnesses testifying during the hearing said that existing federal efforts to address climate change were harmful to the economy and of marginal benefit. Bjørn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, criticized the Kyoto treaty and carbon tax proposals and stated that the US should fund research for new carbon capture technologies that would be less expensive than conventional fossil fuels. Judith Curry, Professor of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology, echoed concerns that there is inadequate understanding of the cause and nature of climate change to assess the costs and benefits of taking policy action.

The lone witness invited by committee Democrats was William Chameides, Dean at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, who argued that uncertainty should not be used as a roadblock against taking action. “We, as individuals and as a society, often act in the face of uncertainty.  And often we choose to take a conservative path, and rightly so,” he argued. “I, for example, cannot predict if, let alone when, there will be a fire in my house, but I pay for fire insurance.  Similarly, in the face of uncertain but substantial risks from climate change, a prudent course of action is to develop and implement a risk-based and flexible response to the climate change challenge.”

Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamci (D-OR) illustrated various examples, peppered with a local perspective, of how climate change is affecting the economy. She noted the role of wine grapes in Oregon’s economy and how even minor temperature changes can adversely impact production of pinot noir wine grapes. She also pointed to the negative impacts of increased ocean acidification, caused by climate change, on the Pacific Northwest shellfish industry.

“As a nation, we are becoming too familiar with the consequences of waiting until the eleventh hour to develop solutions to the problems we face,” stated Bonamici. “Let’s not make that mistake with something as serious as climate change. And even though we may have differences of opinion about what is causing climate change, but we can still discuss the economic gains we can make by investing in a clean energy economy, modernizing our infrastructure, and seeking energy independence.”

View the full hearing, here:


On May 2, President Obama announced Chicago billionaire Penny Pritzker as his pick to lead the US Department of Commerce. Pritzker, a longtime fundraiser for Obama, is also the daughter of the founder of the Hyatt Hotel chain. If confirmed, Pritzker would be the wealthiest secretary in Obama’s cabinet, with a net worth of $1.85 billion.

Pritzker currently serves as Chief Executive of PSP Capital Partners and its affiliate, Pritzker Realty Group. She has previously served as a member of the president’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness and also worked on the administration’s Skills for America’s Future initiative, an effort to improve industry partnerships with community colleges to develop job skills for students. Pritzker attended Harvard University and received law and business degrees from Stanford.

As Commerce Secretary, Pritzker would oversee the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, one of the federal government’s key science agencies and the single largest federal bureau under the department’s jurisdiction. Several key positions have remained vacant at NOAA in the time between the final year of the administration’s first term and the onset of his second-term. Foremost among them is the position of NOAA administrator, left vacant by the departure of Jane Lubchenco, a former president of the Ecological Society of America.

Both industry and environmental advocates expressed optimism about the nomination. “Manufacturers welcome the nomination of Penny Pritzker to lead the Department of Commerce,” said National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) President and CEO Jay Timmons in a press statement. “Penny brings to the table an extensive business background and understands what it takes for businesses to create jobs. She comes from a family with a rich history in manufacturing as her uncle, Bob Pritzker, served as chairman of the NAM.”

“The direction and vision set by the Commerce Department are crucial to managing our nation’s fisheries,” stated John Mimikakis, Associate Vice President of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Oceans Program. “EDF looks forward to Ms. Pritzker’s leadership as secretary and will continue to work with fishermen, regional councils and NOAA to develop solutions that will end overfishing while protecting the business and sport of fishing for future generations.”


The US Fish and Wildlife Service recently began efforts to remove the gray wolf from protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Federal protections would be removed for most wolves across the continental United States. Protection would remain in place, however, for a subspecies of Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico. The removal would be the culmination of a series of regional and state efforts that have been enacted in recent years. Members of Congress from western states that represent hunters and ranchers have also frequently pushed delisting efforts over recent years. 

Environmental groups have expressed dismay regarding FWS’s intention. In a press statement, Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark accused the Obama administration of “giving up on gray wolf recovery before the job is done.” Defenders of Wildlife contends the move is premature given that recovery efforts in the Pacific Northwest are just beginning and the fact that there are no wolves in the states of Colorado and Utah. “Gray wolves once ranged in a continuous population from Canada all the way down to Mexico, and we shouldn’t give up on this vision until they are restored,” contended Clark.

Federal protections for the gray wolf are expected to be lifted this year. Once delisted, wolf management efforts are predominantly provided by individual state governments. Federal agencies will continue to monitor the status of the species and have the capability to reinstate federal protection if numbers dwindle to a point that scientists consider dangerously low.

To view the Defenders of Wildlife press release, click here:

For additional information on FWS gray wolf recovery and monitoring efforts, click here:


The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded the Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) “Diverse People for a Diverse Science” project with a $183,158 grant.

The ESA initiative seeks to increase diversity participation in the field of ecology. In addition to funding existing program components such as research fellowships, the grant will also support an independent evaluation of ESA’s Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) program.

The professional evaluation will assess SEEDS program activities between 2002-2012, documenting outcomes, effectiveness of program components and identifying opportunities to strengthen the program. The evaluation will determine to what degree program participants’ knowledge of ecology as increased, how it has buttressed career opportunities and influenced ESA members who have served as mentors during its existence.

Formative Evaluation Research Associates (FERA) is conducting the SEEDS program evaluation. FERA is a woman-owned firm with experience evaluating NSF-supported and other science education programs focused on engaging underrepresented groups. 


On May 3, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its five year research and development (R&D) plan.

 The plan provides a roadmap for research implementation at NOAA from 2013-2017 in support of goals related to monitoring the status of climate, weather, oceans and coastal areas. The plan will help NOAA and partnering organizations understand how to adapt and respond to change, provide a common understanding between NOAA and its various stakeholders of the purpose of NOAA R&D as well as develop a framework for making mission-oriented decisions and setting targets on how to measure progress and the degree of stakeholder engagement.

 For additional information on the plan, click here:

 To provide comments go here:


On April 24, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it was considering adding new amphibians in the Sierra Nevada region for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The Yosemite toad and the mountain yellow-legged frog would be listed as “threatened” under the proposed rule. The distinct population segment of the Sierra Nevada yellow frog would be included in this listing. FWS cites these three species as being threatened by “habitat degradation, predation, climate change, and inadequate regulatory protection.” The proposal would also designate a combined two million acres of critical habitat for the animals, largely across California and 16 counties in the Sierra Nevada.

Public comments will be accepted through June 24, 2013. Comments can be submitted via email at using docket number FWS–R8–ES–2012–0100 for the listing and docket number FWS–R8–ES–2012–0074 for the critical habitat rule.  Comments can also be mailed to the following address:

 Public Comments Processing

Attn:  FWS–R8–ES–2012–0100 or FWS–R8–ES–2012–0074
Division of Policy and Directives Management
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM
Arlington, VA 22203                            

For additional information, click here:


Considered by House Committee/Subcommittee

On April 25, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Insular Affairs held a hearing on the following bills:

H.R. 638, the National Wildlife Refuge Review Act – Introduced by Fisheries, Wildlife and Insular Affairs Subcommittee Chairman John Fleming (R-LA), the bill would require congressional approval of any expansion of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

H.R. 1300, to reauthorize the volunteer programs and community partnerships for the benefit of national wildlife refuges – Introduced by Rep. Jon Runyan (R-NJ), the bill reauthorizes community partnerships and volunteer programs for the National Wildlife Refuge System. The bill is cosponsored by Subcommittee Ranking Member Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-Northern Mariana Islands).

H.R. 1384, the Wildlife Refuge System Conservation Semipostal Stamp Act of 2013 – Introduced by Subcommittee Ranking Member Sablan, the bill would provide for the issuance of a Wildlife Refuge System Conservation Semipostal Stamp. 

Approved by House Committee

On April 24, the House Natural Resources Committee approved the following bill:

H.R. 3, the Northern Route Approval Act – Introduced by Rep. Terry Lee (R-NE) – the bill would remove the  requirement of a presidential permit for approval of the XL Keystone pipeline. The bill would deem the environmental impact statement issued by the Secretary of State on August 26, 2011, coupled with a final evaluation report, sufficient to satisfy all requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and of the National Historic Preservation Act. The bill was approved in committee by a vote of 24-17.

Considered by Senate Committee

On April 23, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks considered several bills, including the following:

S. 155, to designate a mountain in the State of Alaska as Denali – Introduced by Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the bill would rename a mountain named for President McKinley as Denali, the name it is referred to by Alaskan residents.

S. 156, Huna Tlingit Traditional Gull Egg Use Act – Introduced by Ranking Member Murkowksi, the bill would allow for the harvest of gull eggs by the Huna Tlingit people within Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park. Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) has cosponsored the bill.

S. 219, Susquehanna Gateway National Heritage Area Act – Introduced by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) the bill would establish the Susquehanna Gateway National Heritage Area in Pennsylvania.

S. 225,  Buffalo Soldiers in the National Parks Study Act – Introduced by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), the bill would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a study of alternatives for commemorating and interpreting the role of the Buffalo Soldiers in the early years of the national parks.       

S. 349, Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Protection Act  –  Introduced by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), the bill would designate a segment of the Beaver, Chipuxet, Queen, Wood, and Pawcatuck Rivers in the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island for study for potential addition to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

S. 486, Preserving Public Access to Cape Hatteras Beaches Act – the bill bars imposition of any additional restrictions on pedestrian or motorized vehicular access to any part of the Recreation Area for species protection beyond those outlined in an interim management strategy issued by the National Park Service in 2007.  The bill comes in response to a National Park Service plan issued in Feb. 2012 that bans off-highway vehicle use in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina for the purpose of protecting nesting sea turtles and birds.

For a full listing of bills considered during the hearing, click here:

On April 25, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the following bills:

S. 340, the Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act – Introduced by Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the bill would transfer 70,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest to Sealaska Corp. Among its concerns with the bill, the Obama administration claims the legislation could imperil wildlife in the region, including wolves and goshawks.

S. 27, the Hill Creek Cultural Preservation and Energy Development Act – Introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the bill would authorize a land swap intended to protect the cultural rights of the Ute Tribe in eastern Utah while allowing expanded access for oil and gas drilling.

S. 28, the Y Mountain Access Enhancement Act – Introduced by Sen. Hatch, the bill would provide for the conveyance of a small parcel of National Forest System land in the Uintah-Wasatch-Cache National Forest in Utah to Brigham Young University.

S. 159, the  Lyon County Economic Development and Conservation Act – Introduced by Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), the bill would designate the Wovoka Wilderness as a component of the National Wilderness Preservation System and provide for certain land conveyances in Lyon County, NV to facilitate construction of a copper mine.

S. 241, the Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act – Introduced by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), the bill would establish the Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area in New Mexico.

S. 255, North Fork Watershed Protection Act of 2013 – Introduced by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), the bill would protect the North Folk of the Flathead River in Montana from future mineral claims and oil and gas development.

S. 312, the Carson National Forest Boundary Adjustment Act of 2013 – Introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), the bill would adjust the boundary of the Carson National Forest in New Mexico to incorporate 4,990 acres of land identified as the Miranda Canyon Boundary.

S. 341, San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act – Introduced by Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), the bill would designate certain lands in San Miguel, Ouray and San Juan counties in Colorado as wilderness.

S. 342, the Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act of 2013 – Introduced by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), the bill would designate the Pine Forest Range Wilderness area in Humboldt County, NV as a component of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

S. 353, Oregon Treasures Act of 2013 – Introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the bill would designate certain land in Oregon as wilderness and make additional wild and scenic river designations in Oregon.

For additional information on bills considered during the hearing, click here:

 Sources: ClimateWire, Defenders of Wildlife, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Environmental Defense Fund, Greenwire, the Hill, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, LA Times, National Association of Manufacturers, Senate Appropriations Committee, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Washington Post, the White House