October 4, 2014

In This Issue


On Sept. 25, President Obama signed a proclamation designating the largest marine reserve in the world off-limits to commercial resource extraction including fishing.

The proclamation expands the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to an area 490,000 square miles, six times its current size and fully protects its deep coral reefs, seamounts, and marine ecosystems which are vulnerable to climate change impacts. The move is in line with the administration’s broader National Ocean Policy and its Climate Action Plan.

The area was originally designated a monument by President George W. Bush in early 2009 and will continue to be managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Click here for additional information.


House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) continues to single out National Science Foundation (NSF) peer-reviewed research projects viewed as frivolous or wasteful.

Through press releases and direct meetings with NSF officials, the chairman has sought to bring attention to dozens of grants he views as a misuse of taxpayer money. Chairman Smith has also used the legislative process to advance the issue. His bill, H.R. 4186, the Frontiers in Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act, includes language requiring the agency to specify how grants funded by the agency serve national economic and security interests.

The effort has stirred partisan tensions among members of the traditionally bipartisan committee.  On Sept. 30, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), issued a letter outlining the unprecedented nature of Chairman Smith’s efforts. The letter is only the most recent instance of written correspondence between the two senior members of the committee over NSF’s merit review process.

“Of 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 peer-reviewed grants simply because the chairman simply does not believe them to be of high value,” stated the Johnson letter.

To date, the chairman’s legislative efforts to change NSF’s peer-review process have not reached the House floor for a vote, due in part to continued opposition from the research and education communities. It is unknown whether the House has the necessary votes to take up the bill during the lame-duck session when Congress reconvenes Nov. 11.

Though the bill is unlikely to be taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate before the end of the year, its prospects in 2015 will largely depend on the make-up of Congress following the Nov. 2014 midterm elections as well as continued engagement by the scientific community at large.

Click here to read the Ranking Member Johnson letter.


The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is extending its public comment period until Nov. 14 for its proposed rule clarifying federal jurisdiction of US waterways. This is the second time EPA has extended the rule’s comment period.

Recent US Supreme Court decisions, including Rapanos v. United States, have called into question the term “navigable waterway” as defined under the Clean Water Act. The proposed EPA rule would clarify that narrower water bodies such as streams, wetlands and smaller rivers, are under the law’s jurisdiction.

The comment period extension caters to the request of a number of stakeholders, including industry groups that believe the proposed rule would be expensive and burdensome. Last month, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would prohibit EPA from implementing the rule. The legislation could advance in the Senate next year if Republicans win control of the chamber.

Click this link for additional information on the proposed Clean Water rule.


The House cafeteria elected to stop serving food in polystyrene food containers following a letter from House Democrats urging a ban on the containers. The National Research Council affirmed the listing of styrene, the monomer used to create polystyrene packaging, as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

Polystyrene was banned during the four-year period Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) served as Speaker of the House. Its use was reinstituted when republicans gained the House majority after the Nov. 2010-midterm elections.

The Longworth building cafeteria is now using paper packaging and the remaining House cafeterias are expected to follow suit. Earlier this year, the District of Columbia government enacted a law phasing out use of polystyrene products although Congress is not subject to this law.

Click here to view the House Democrats’ letter.


The US Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing listing the black pinesnake (Pituophis melanoleucus lodingi) and the fisher (Pekania pennanti) as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

The black pinesnake found in Mississippi and Alabama suffers from population loss caused by habitat degradation, fire suppression activities, road kills and intentional killing by humans. The West Coast population of the fisher, commonly known as a type of weasel, is threatened from habitat loss, rodent-killing pesticides and wildfires.

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned listing both species.

Comments for the pinesnake listing are due by Dec. 8, 2014. Comments of the fisher listing are due by Jan. 5, 2015.

Click here to view the Federal Register notice for the black pinesnake.

Click here to view the Federal Register notice for the West Coast fisher population.

Sources: Department of Interior, US Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, the Washington Post