June 14, 2013
In this Issue
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.
The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 required the National Science and Technology Council to establish a Committee on STEM (CoSTEM) to develop a five-year strategic plan to improve coordination of STEM education programs. Chairman Smith expressed concern that the reorganization proposal was released as part of the budget request before the strategic plan was completed. When asked by Chairman Smith whether the budget proposal influenced the CoSTEM strategic plan, NSF Assistant Director Joan Ferrini-Mundy responded that the plan’s development was “an ongoing process” that was being worked on “during the time of the budget and beyond.”
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.
Ranking Member Johnson also noted that the SI has no federal research facilities, no external grant making power and lacks the stakeholder networks of other agencies. Holdren asserted that SI is working with CoSTEM on how to best implement the reorganization effort and that CoSTEM will be the focal point for its implementation.
Additionally, there was concern that DOE may not currently have the staff capacity to implement its new responsibilities and the reorganizational effort overall may hamper the administration’s ability to adequately carry out its STEM education initiatives. Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-MD), who described herself as a “skeptic” of the proposal, had the following words of advice for OSTP Director Holdren and the other witnesses: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix that.”
View the full hearing here:
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 20 percent of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 if left unaddressed. The participating nations would work collectively through the Montreal Protocol, established in 1987 to facilitate a global approach to combat ozone layer depletion.
For the past four years, the North American nations of the United States, Canada, and Mexico have proposed an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase down the production and consumption of HFCs, but China and India had held out due to concern the burden would fall more heavily on developing nations. The new agreement would require developed countries like the United States and those in the European Union to move first to replace harmful HFCs with alternative chemicals, and then would call upon developing countries like China and India to do the same after a negotiated grace period. The developed world would provide financial assistance to the developing world in meeting the agreement. India is expected to formally join the agreement as early as this year.
The four co-chairs of the Congressional Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, which include Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), sent a letter to President Obama earlier this month to urge China’s president to support reduction of HFCs. In a press statement on behalf of the task force, Waxman iterated “The United States and China working together to tackle climate change is a major breakthrough. A global phase-down of HFCs would eliminate more heat-trapping gases by 2050 than the United States emits in an entire decade.”
For the full announcement, click here:
The Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change letter is available here:
On June 7, the National Science Foundation (NSF) published a new guidance memorandum regarding provision of a recently enacted law that restricts political science research funding through its social and behavioral sciences directorate.
“The Political Science Program in the Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) will continue to engage panels to review grant proposals, using the two National Science Board approved merit review criteria (Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts),” states the memorandum. “Panels will also be asked to provide input on whether proposals meet one or both of the additional criteria required for exceptions under P.L. 113-6, i.e., promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States.” The memorandum notes that due to the new law, funding approval for NSF projects related to political science “may be delayed.”
Enacted through the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 (P.L. 113-6) through language sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), existing law requires NSF to now restrict the issuance of political science grants solely to research projects that contribute to economic or national security interests. To view the guidance memo, click here: http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2013/nsf13101/nsf13101.pdf?utm_source=NEWScience+Policy+%3A%3A+Week+in+Review&utm_campaign=65fb8e0d1b-Week+in+Review+Email&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6375e1e0ef-65fb8e0d1b-416493685
On June 11, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard heard from witnesses on the importance of ocean research. The witness list included renowned Oscar-winning film director and environmentalist James Cameron.
After commenting on the length of the line outside the hearing room and praising the star witness, Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee Chairman Mark Begich (D-AK) noted that Cameron is one of only three humans to descend 6.8 miles into the Mariana Trench, the deepest known part of the Earth’s oceans while, in contrast, 500 people have traveled into outer space. He added that only 20-25 percent of the marine life in existence has been identified and 90 percent of the ocean floor remains uncharted. “Whether it’s ocean acidification, sea level rise, warming water temperatures or shifting fish populations, our oceans are changing,” said Begich. “If we are to prepare for these changes, we have to be better and more understanding of the oceans.” Both Chairman Begich and Subcommittee Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-MS) noted the importance of ocean research to their states and emphasized strengthening public-private partnerships in advancing ocean research, particularly in light of current fiscal constraints.
Cameron compared the ocean floor to an unexplored “dark continent,” noting that ocean trenches’ total area is larger than the entire continent of North America. He also noted his dives found new life forms never before recorded by science. He talked about the “Deep Sea Challenger,” a privately constructed submersible, which served as his vehicle of exploration into the ocean depths. His scientific team discovered 68 new species, which were presented at the December 2012 meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
Cameron said that additional funding for ocean research is needed to help understand changes associated with global warming. “The ocean is an engine that drives weather, including the higher precipitation and extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy, the severe droughts and so on that are associated with climate change,” said Cameron. “To understand weather and climate, we must understand the ocean. And to do so, we can’t just sense them from satellites. They’re a vast three dimensional volume that is opaque from above. We need instruments and vehicles down there in the water column.” He also called for more investment in Science, Technology and Mathematics Engineering education.
Other witnesses included Susan Avery, Director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, who urged the Senate to reauthorize the Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System Act of 2009 as well as the America COMPETES Act to further ocean research. Ed Paige, Executive Director of the Alaska Marine Exchange, noted how ocean observation systems provided through public-private partnerships among universities, government agencies and private companies have aided response to extreme weather events and environmental hazards. Jan Newton, Senior Principle Oceanographer with the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington discussed the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems, NANOOS, which is part of the United States Integrated Ocean Observing System Program. Both Newton and Page called for reauthorization of the Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observing System (ICOOS) Act of 2009 to sustain and enhance ocean observation systems.
View the full hearing here:
On June 12, House Space, Science and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT) issued a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe requesting the scientific data the agency uses to make determinations on the health benefits of its air quality rules.
The letter criticizes EPA for still not providing the data as well as for not following up on a similar letter sent to Gina McCarthy, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation in March. McCarthy is also President Obama’s nominee to succeed departed EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. “EPA officials should justify their agenda through an open and transparent process that is based on good science, if they can,” states the June letter. “EPA has projected that its upcoming ozone standard will be the most costly environmental regulation in U.S. history. Working families will bear these costs. They have a right to know what scientific data supports EPA’s claims.”
The letter comes on the heels of a House Space, Science and Technology Subcommittee hearing earlier that day on EPA’s plans to review its National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone. The Clean Air Act directs EPA to review its ozone standards every five years. During the last review in 2008, the ozone standard was set at 75 parts per billion (ppb). While EPA has not yet announced a further reduction, Republican committee members are concerned the agency may lower the limit to 70 ppb. They also argued that EPA underestimates the role of background ozone which comes from natural sources such as wildfires or lightening as well as ozone from other countries outside US regulation.
“Failure to acknowledge these uncontrollable concentrations could lead to EPA setting a new ozone standard next year that is at or near background levels, with catastrophic economic impacts for large swaths of the country,” said Environmental Subcommittee Chairman Stewart.
Committee Democrats contended that investment in scientific research at EPA is necessary to implement effective ozone standards that preserve the public health. “I am cognizant of the argument that local conditions in the Intermountain West may require some new forms of flexibility by EPA in enforcing ozone standards, and I encourage EPA to work with the states to develop such flexibility,” said Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR). “Despite that call for flexibility, the science on ozone and health is sound. The need for more science on background levels of ozone must not deter or prevent the EPA from setting an ozone standard that is fully protective of human health.”
Bonamici added, “This country has proven time and time again that a cleaner environment improves worker productivity, increases agricultural yield, reduces mortality and illness, and achieves other economic and public health benefits that outweigh the costs of compliance.”
View the full hearing here:
View the Smith/Stewart letter, here:
On June 5, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittees on Research and Technology held a joint subcommittee hearing examining federal research into damage from tornadoes in the United States and legislation to reauthorize the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program, which coordinates windstorm mitigation activities between the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
“Every year the federal government funds not only disaster relief but also emergency supplemental appropriations when states are hit particularly hard by unexpected disasters. I believe that we need to be more responsible about planning how to deal with natural disasters and minimize the need for disaster supplemental funding,” asserted Research Subcommittee Chairman Larry Buschon (R-IN). He called for increased coordination at the federal level that also reduces agency duplication of responsibilities.
Research Subcommittee Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) sought to highlight the important role social science research plays in disaster mitigation. “In order for these efforts to be effective they cannot leave out the most critical component – people. Understanding how people – such as state and local officials, business owners, and individuals – make decisions and respond to storm warnings is essential to designing effective strategies to prepare for, respond to and recover from a disaster.”
The hearing also examined H.R. 1786, the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act Reauthorization of 2013, which would reauthorize the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act with $21.4 million a year for the next three years. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), who also sits on the science committee. Committee Democrats asserted that the bill would cut the authorization for the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program (NWIRP) by 14 percent. “We don’t have any reason to believe the agencies need any less money to carry out the responsibilities we assigned them the last time we reauthorized this program,” asserted Technology Subcommittee Ranking Member Frederica Wilson (D-FL). “And when we consider the devastating losses that have plagued the United States recently, this course of action seems irresponsible.”
Instead they urged support for H.R. 2132, the Natural Hazards Risk Reduction Act of 2013, sponsored by Rep. Wilson. The bill would reauthorize both NWIRP and the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. Their bill authorizes $30 million for windstorm research funding per year. Similar legislation sponsored by former science committee member David Wu (D-OR) passed the House three years ago in the 111th Congress by a wide 335-50 margin, but was not taken up by the Senate.
All witnesses present affirmed that windstorm researchers have been underfunded in recent years. Debra Ballen, Senior Vice President for Public Policy at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, asserted that federal funding for testing how well buildings stand up to wind hazards has been underfunded for decades. Ballen recommended that reauthorization legislation include increases to ensure NWIRP can finish what they start as well as adequately fund new projects that are indentified in the early years of the reauthorization.
David Prevatt, Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering at the University of Florida, contrasted the limited funding for windstorm research to the multiple billions of dollars spent after tornadoes have struck places such as Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Moore, Oklahoma. He stated wind engineers have received less than $1 million a year in federal research funding over the past ten years, contrasting it with $70 million the government has spent on earthquake research since 2002.
He also noted there has been “attrition” in wind engineering and structural engineering faculty who study how to make houses sturdier due to the lack of adequate and sustained funding. This was seconded by Ernst Kiesling, a research faculty member of the National Wind Institute at Texas Tech University, who noted that young wind engineers will be more likely to pursue careers in other fields that have more readily available funding.
View the full hearing here:
On June 5, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published its plans for removing federal protections for gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act.
The proposal would remove remaining federal protections for grey wolves in the lower 48 states, save for the Mexican wolf subspecies inhabiting parts of New Mexico and Arizona, whose status would be upgraded to “endangered.” A minimum of 75 Mexican wolves have been reported in the region as of 2012. The delisting places monitoring of the wolves primarily in the hands of state wildlife agencies.
Prior to the rule, gray wolf populations in certain parts of the country had already been delisted. In 2002, the Northern Rockies area gray wolves exceeded minimum recovery goals of 300 for a third straight year and were delisted. A year prior, the Great Lakes population of wolves was delisted. FWS estimates that there are at least 6,100 gray wolves in the continental United States, 4,432 in the Western Great Lakes and 1,674 in the Northern Rockies. These populations exceed targets by as much as 300 percent, according to the agency.
Conservation groups have expressed disappointment, stating that the rule does not ensure that wolves fully recover to inhabit their historic range. Defenders of Wildlife released the following press statement by their Southwest Program Director Eva Sargent: “With only about 75 wild Mexican gray wolves in the entire world, it’s good to see that protections will continue in the Southwest. However, proposing to prematurely strip federal protection under the Endangered Species Act for gray wolves throughout the rest of the country is bad news for wolves nationwide and could make it unlikely that any wolves will be able to naturally reestablish a presence in the Southern Rockies, a region with excellent suitable habitat where wolves were once found.”
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) released the following statement: “The Service’s decision today to delist gray wolves only makes sense, and is long overdue. This untangles the ridiculous situation in Washington, Oregon, and Utah, where wolves had been listed one side of a highway, and not on the other. Private landowners, local governments and states should not be subjected to federal wolf listings when wolf populations are thriving, up as much as 300 percent in some areas, and will be managed much more effectively at the state level.”
A final determination on the proposal is expected for 2014. Public comments on the rule will be received through Sept. 11, 2013. For additional information on how to comment, click here:
For additional information, click here:
On June 11, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced it is proposing adding captive chimpanzees for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The rule was prompted in part by a 2010 legal petition from a coalition of conservation associations, including the Jane Goodall Institute, to list both wild and captive chimpanzees as endangered. Currently, while wild chimpanzees are listed as ‘endangered,’ captive ones are listed as ‘threatened.’ The proposed rule finds that threats to wild chimpanzees have substantially increased since they were first listed in 1990. These threats include rising deforestation, poaching, capture for the pet trade and disease outbreaks.
The listing for captive chimps could have repercussions for animal research. An institution seeking to perform surgery or draw blood from the animals would first require a permit from the FWS. According to the agency, roughly half of the 2,000 chimps in the US are used for medical research purposes. The permit would require that researchers demonstrate that their work will benefit the overall conservation of wild chimpanzees. The change is listing would also have consequences for their use in the pet trade and the entertainment industry.
Comments on the proposal must be received by August 12, 2013. Additional information on the rule is available here:
Considered by House Committee
On June 13, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the following bills:
H.R. 553, to designate the exclusive economic zone of the United States as the “Ronald Wilson Reagan Exclusive Economic Zone of the United States” – Introduced by Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), the bill would rename the exclusive economic zone, which includes certain coastal waters extending three to 200 miles offshore, after former President Ronald Reagan.
H.R. 1308, the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act – Introduced by Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill would allow the Commerce secretary to issue one-year permits to kill sea lions, which prey on salmon along a portion of the Columbia River. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) contends there is no scientific evidence that sea lions are putting the salmon at a survival risk and that the legislation would relax certain Marine Mammal Protection Act requirements.
H.R. 1399, the Hydrographic Services Improvement Amendments Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the bill would reauthorize the Hydrographic Services Improvement Act to authorize the acquisition of hydrographic data, provide hydrographic services and improve mitigation of coastal change in the Arctic.
H.R. 1425, the Marine Debris Emergency Act – Introduced by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), the bill would accelerate the 11-month review process used to give local communities federal funding for debris removal. The bill would require NOAA to approve or deny a grant application within 60 days of receiving it. NOAA contends that the 60-day timeline would hinder the environmental compliance reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act that are necessary for successful grant proposals. The bill’s 22 bipartisan cosponsors include several members from West Coast states, including Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Don Young (R-AK), and David Reichert (R-WA).
H.R. 1491, the Tsunami Debris Cleanup Reimbursement Act – Introduced by Rep. Bonamici, the bill would authorize NOAA to use $5 million donated by the Japanese government for tsunami debris cleanup.
H.R. 2219, to reauthorize the Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System Act of 2009 – Introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the bill would reauthorize the National Integrated Ocean Observing System.
H.R. 126, the Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act – Introduced by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), the bill directs the Secretary of the Interior to enter into an agreement with the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, Currituck County, and the state of North Carolina to add wild horses to the list of species managed at the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge. The bill passed June 3 by voice vote.
H.R. 885, the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park Boundary Expansion Act of 2013 – Introduced by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), the bill would expand the boundary of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park to include 137 acres of additional land. The bill passed June 3 by voice vote.
H.R. 1206, the Permanent Electronic Duck Stamp Act – Introduced by Rep. Robert Wittman (R-VA) – the bill grants the Secretary of Interior permanent authority to issue electronic duck stamps, which are required to hunt waterfowl. The bill passed June 3 by a vote of 401-0.
H.R. 251, the South Utah Valley Electric Conveyance Act – Introduced by Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the bill would transfer certain electrical distribution duties from the Department of Interior to a local utility. The bill passed June 11 by a vote of 404-0.
H.R. 723, the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Protection Act – Introduced by Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), the bill would designate a study to include specified segments of the Beaver, Chipuxet, Queen, Wood, and Pawcatuck Rivers in Rhode Island and Connecticut into the federally protected national wild and scenic rivers system. The bill passed June 11 by voice vote.
H.R. 993, the Fruit Heights Land Conveyance Act – Introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), the bill would transfer 100 acres of forest land from the Department of Agriculture to the city of Fruit Heights, UT. The bill passed June 11 by voice vote.
H.R. 1157, the Rattlesnake Mountain Public Access Act – Introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the bill would allow public access to Rattlesnake Mountain in the state of Washington. The bill passed June 11 by a vote of 409-0.
H.R. 1158, the North Cascades National Park Service Complex Fish Stocking Act – Introduced by Chairman Hastings, the bill would authorize the stocking of fish in lakes in the North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area in the state of Washington. The bill passed June 11 by voice vote.
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 Senate passed the bill June 10, by a vote of 66-27, which included the support of Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS) and 17 additional Republicans. In a sign of progress compared to last Congress, the House plans to take up its version of the farm bill to the floor for a vote before the end of June. House majority leadership is aiming to have a conference report with the Senate finalized before the month-long August recess.
Sources: AAAS, ClimateWire, Defenders of Wildlife, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, the National Science Foundation, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, US Fish and Wildlife Service