May 2, 2014
In This Issue
On April 30, the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee released its funding bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015.
In total, the bill includes $51.2 billion in discretionary spending for FY 2015, $398 million less than FY 2014. The bill includes funding for the Department of Justice, Department of Commerce and several key federal science agencies for the coming fiscal year that starts October 1, 2014.
The bill includes $7.4 billion for the National Science Foundation; a $237 million increase over the FY 2014 enacted funding level and $150 million above the president’s request for FY 2015.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would receive $5.3 billion in FY 2015; level with its FY 2014 enacted funding level. The bill also fully funds NOAA’s two satellite programs—the Joint Polar Satellite System and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite.
The National Aeronautic and Space Administration would receive $17.9 billion in FY 2015, a $250 million increase over FY 2014. Science programs at the agency would increase by $42 million.
Additional information on the bill is available by following this link:
On April 29, the Senate Appropriations Committee held a hearing entitled, “Driving Innovation through Federal Investments.” The hearing focused on the important role that federal funding plays in supporting scientific research.
“It’s not an understatement to argue that federal investment in research is an investment in America’s future,” stated Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). “This realization has led me, and many of my colleagues, to consider some difficult questions.”
“I agree reducing the budget deficit is important, but are we being so austere that we are limiting our future growth? And as one of the greatest countries in the world, are we so preoccupied with making budget cuts that we’re heading towards an innovation deficit as well?”
Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) noted the important role federal investment in R&D plays in furthering advancements in biomedical research and life-saving military technologies. He also called upon the committee to consider a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found “wasteful spending” in certain defense, healthcare and energy R&D programs.
“In general, I hope this committee will consider the GAO’s input and the work it has done on overlap and duplication in government,” stated Ranking Member Shelby. “Such oversight will ensure that federal research dollars go to the programs that hold the most promise. In addition, I encourage federal agencies to look for ways to promote public-private partnerships, many of which stretch taxpayer dollars further by tapping into the expertise of innovators in the private sector.”
Federal agency witnesses testifying before the committee included Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren. He noted that while the share of funding for US research and development supported by the federal government has dropped from as much as two-thirds in the 1960s to one-third today, the federal government remains “the largest funder of the basic research that produces the seed-corn from which all applied advances in innovation grow.”
Holdren noted that the National Science Foundation (NSF) is currently viewed around the world as “the gold standard” in its peer review grant-making process and argued that the agency’s existing grant-making process be maintained. “To try to fix what is not broken at NSF would risk eroding the cornerstone of American scientific and engineering excellence,” said Holdren who also noted that countries such as China are set to surpass the US in R&D investment if existing trends continue.
Holdren also touted that the administration’s $56 billion Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative contains $5.3 billion for R&D. According to Holdren, investment in research and development would increase by 5.2 percent above the current Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 level, if the initiative were enacted. Holdren emphasized that the initiative would be paid for by spending reforms and closing tax loopholes. Tax reform measures perceived as net revenue increases are unlikely to gain bipartisan traction during the course of this election year. Consequently, it is unlikely major elements of the Opportunity Growth and Security initiative will be approved this Congress.
NSF Director France Córdova highlighted how the internet, magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs), touch screens for iPads, smartphones, advanced weather forecasting, municipal water systems and cybersecurity were all developed in part through NSF fundamental research funding.
“As this committee knows so well, NSF’s research and education investments have been vital to our country’s prosperity and will be even more important to our future,” she said. “They will continue to be a critical factor in maintaining the nations’ technological leadership through the 21st Century and will broadly impact [the] long-term economic health and vitality of our nation and the world.”
Additional witnesses included Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins and the Defense Advanced Research and Projects Agency Director Arati Prabakhar.
View the full hearing by clicking this link:
On April 30, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Environment held a hearing examining the proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
While expressing support for the overall NOAA budget request, Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) was critical of the amount of funding dedicated towards climate change research.
“Almost $190 million is requested for climate research, more than twice the amount dedicated to weather research,” stated Chairman Smith. “There are 13 other agencies that are involved in climate change research, and according to the Congressional Research Service, they have spent $77 billion between 2008 and 2013.” Smith was also critical of NOAA’s climate.gov website, which he contended included “non-peer reviewed” information “promoting climate alarmism for children.”
Committee Democrats cited existing ramifications of climate change as evidence of the need for continuing federal investment in NOAA’s climate change research.
“Our coastal communities face pressing challenges presented by rising sea-levels, to say nothing of the enormous threat posed by more severe hurricanes,” stated Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “One of the agencies the American people turn to is NOAA for critical information before, during, and after these severe events. Whether it is providing forecasts and warnings of pending storms, working with state or local decision makers to develop effective response strategies, or conducting research that improves our understanding of severe weather to enhance the resiliency of our communities, it is essential that we maintain our commitment to the science done at NOAA.”
Testifying, NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, clarified the importance of climate research by noting that while weather services help us predict events and trends over a two week period, climate research helps us understand atmospheric changes over longer time scales. As an example, she stated that climate research will provide important information about the future drought outlook for water managers and ranchers.
“The range of information needs that American citizens and businesses have is across a huge range of time scales,” stated Sullivan. “And if we aspire, as NOAA is chartered to do, to respond to those demands, to those really urgent needs across that whole range of scales, we have to be able to investigate and study and understand the many different timescales that are natural to this planet,” she continued. “To use a metaphor, we have to be able to play the whole keyboard if we’re going to play the symphony that our communities are really asking us to play.”
During the hearing, committee members also reviewed the status of weather forecasting and response data, NOAA’s satellite programs and long-term staffing needs for the agency. To view the full hearing, click on the link: http://science.house.gov/hearing/environment-subcommittee-hearing-overview-national-oceanic-and-atmospheric-administration
On April 29, the US Supreme Court upheld a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that allows the agency to regulate air pollution that drifts across state lines.
“EPA’s cost-effective allocation of emission reductions among upwind States, we hold, is a permissible, workable, and equitable interpretation of the Good Neighbor provision,” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the 6-2 ruling decision. Ginsburg referenced an earlier Supreme Court case, Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, which held that if a statute’s language is ambiguous, courts must defer to an agency’s interpretation. A federal appellate court had previously held that the EPA’s authority superseded the state’s by implementing federal plans for cutting air pollution before states were allowed to draft their own.
The Obama administration praised the ruling, asserting that the EPA rule will “prevent up to 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks, 19,000 cases of acute bronchitis, 400,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and 1.8 million sick days a year—achieving up to $280 billion in annual health benefits.”
Ginsburg was joined in her opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Anthony Kennedy and Sonia Sotomayor. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas filed a dissenting opinionwhile Justice Samuel Alito recused himself.
For additional information on the ruling, clicking this link:
Additional information on the EPA rule can be found by clicking this link:
On April 24, the National Science Board (NSB), the Governing Board for the National Science Foundation, released a statement criticizing legislation that would reauthorize funding for the National Science Foundation, the Frontiers in Innovation Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act.
The NSB rarely releases public statements on legislation. At the same time, it is highly unusual and unprecedented for Congress to write legislation, as it does in the FIRST ACT, stipulating how NSF would conduct its grant-making process.
A major contention NSB cited in its statement is language in the bill that would allow Congress to authorize funding levels for individual NSF Directorates, much the way they do for NIH. This however, limits the agency’s discretion in allocating funding for specific NIH priorities. NSF officials fear the legislation would ultimately lead to the same constraints.
“Some elements of the bill would also impose significant new burdens on scientists that would not be offset by gains to the nation,” the NSB press statement notes. “Our greatest concern is that the bill’s specification of budget allocations to each NSF Directorate would significantly impede NSF’s flexibility to deploy its funds to support the best ideas in fulfillment of its mission.”
While NSF has traditionally garnered strong bipartisan support, in recent years, the Republican majority in the US House of Representatives has been increasingly critical of social science investment and certain grants whose titles, on first glance, could be interpreted by laymen as wasteful research projects. Some policymakers argue that existing fiscal constraints on the overall federal budget necessitate these extreme measures to prevent funding “frivolous” research projects.
The FIRST Act includes provisions requiring NSF to specify how individual projects serve in the economic and defense interests of the United States. NSB contends such legislative requirements would be inflexible and assert that the agency is currently implementing processes that promote transparency and accountability within its grant-making system.
The NSB statement also referenced the need for the US to maintain its global competitiveness. “We are concerned that the proposed new legislative requirements might discourage visionary proposals or transformative science at a time when advancing the decades-long U.S. leadership in science and technology is a top priority.” A recent NSB report noted that the US is at imminent risk of falling behind countries such as China with regard to our nation’s contribution of R&D investment.
View the full NSB press release by clicking this link:
The Obama administration’s recent move to postpone its decision on whether it will approve the Keystone XL pipeline has political implications for a bipartisan energy bill moving through the Senate.
On April 18, the US State Department announced that it would delay reaching a decision on the pipeline until after a court challenge to its proposed route through Nebraska is resolved. Prior to the announcement, there was an expectation that the administration could reach a decision as early as this month, when the public comment period ended. It is now expected that a final decision may not be reached until the end of the year.
A court ruling that invalidates the route as planned could necessitate the need for an alternative route. Therefore, a decision by the administration to approve the pipeline could be subject to further litigation. When viewed through a political lens, this also benefits the Obama administration by punting a contentious decision until after the 2014 mid-term elections. Consequently, pipeline proponents have begun to refocus on legislative efforts to expedite its approval.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) plans to take up a bipartisan energy efficiency bill sponsored by Senators Jeanne Sheehan (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) beginning May 5th. Currently, Republican leaders in the Congress and the Senate who support the pipeline have indicated they may propose an amendment to the energy bill to help fast-track its approval.
“The Keystone Pipeline is clearly in our national interest and vital to position North America as an energy powerhouse. I will press hard for a vote in the coming weeks to build this pipeline,” said Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (D-LA) in an April 28th press statement. “Significant investments in our energy infrastructure that connects producers, refiners and consumers creates thousands of high-paying jobs, pushes our economy forward and signals to the world that America intends to step up to the competition and become an energy superpower.”
Landrieu, up for re-election, will likely face political pressure to take action that supports expedited approval of the pipeline. Several other Senate Democrats in tight re-election races this year, including Mark Pryor (AR), Mark Begich (AK) and Kay Hagan (NC), are expected to aid in legislative efforts to approve the pipeline.
While a Keystone amendment to the Sheehan-Portman energy efficiency bill would likely garner bipartisan support, it is unclear whether it could secure the 60 votes necessary to move the legislation forward in the Senate.
On May 1, the US Department of Agriculture announced it was accepting applications for two new conservation programs authorized by the Agricultural Act of 2014, which reauthorizes farm bill programs.
The Agricultural Conservation Easements Program (ACEP) and the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) will provide up to $386 million for outdoor recreational activities, wetland restoration and protection assistance for agricultural lands.
ACEP consolidates three former easement programs—the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program, the Grassland Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program—into a single program to strengthen land and water conservation efforts. VPA-HIP is a competitive grant program that enables state and Tribal governments to increase opportunities for owners and managers of private lands who want to make their land available for public recreation.
Applications for ACEP funding are due June 6, 2014. Additional information can be found through this link: www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted
Applications for the VPA-HIP are due June 16, 2014. Addition information can be found through this link: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/programs/farmbill/?cid=stelprdb1242739
H.R. 627, the National Park Service 100th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act – Introduced by Rep. Erik Paulsen (D-MN), the bill would direct the Secretary of the Treasury to mint and issue gold, silver, and half-dollar coins in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the National Park Service. The bill passed the House April 29th by a vote of 403-13 and has been referred to the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.
Huna Tlingit Traditional Gull Egg Use Act – The bill would allow the harvest of gull eggs by the Huna Tlingit people of Alaska for the purpose of preserving a cultural tradition. The bill passed the House on April 28th by a voice vote.
H.R. 4032, the North Texas Invasive Species Barrier Act of 2014 – Introduced by Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), the bill would authorize the North Texas Municipal Water District and the Greater Texoma Utility Authority to transfer water out of a Lake Texoma along the Oklahoma-Texas border, even if it contains invasive species.
The Obama administration has expressed concerns that the bill would set a bad precedent, but has not issued an official veto threat. House Democrats shared the administration’s concerns, but ultimately found the legislation permissible in this instance. The Greater Texoma Utility Authority stated it will build a pipeline that would transfer water out of the lake to a treatment facility in order to remove any zebra mussels. The bill passed the House April 28th by a voice vote and has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Cleared for White House
S. 994, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act – Introduced by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the bill seeks to improve disclosure of federal-agency-spending information by establishing government-wide standards for expenditures related to federal contracts, loans and grants. The bill passed the House April 28th by a voice vote after passing the Senate earlier in that month. President Obama is expected to sign the measure.
Sources: Department of Energy, Department of Interior, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, House Natural Resources Committee, House Space, Science and Technology Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the White House