November 5, 2014

In This Issue


On Nov. 4, Republicans decisively gained control of the US Senate for the first time in eight years. The party managed to hold onto all their incumbents while picking up seats in Arkansas (Tom Cotton), Colorado (Cory Gardner), Iowa (Joni Ernst), North Carolina (Thom Tillis), Montana (Steven Daines), West Virginia (Shelley Moore Capito) and South Dakota (Michael Rounds).

Among races too close to call, Republican candidate Dan Sullivan is leading Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in Alaska, while current Democratic Sen. Mark Warner holds a very small edge over Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia. As anticipated, Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu was forced into a run-off in her race against Republican Bill Cassidy when neither candidate obtained a majority of the vote according to state rules. Senate Republicans could hold between 53–55 Senate seats next Congress after the dust finally settles at the conclusion of the Dec. 6 Louisiana run-off.

For the 113th current congress, the Democratic Party holds the chair position on committees. This will change in January when the Republican Party holds the Senate majority in the 114th congress beginning in January. Committee chairs are elected by their party, but, in practice, seniority is rarely bypassed. The current committee chair (majority party) and ranking member (minority party) roles for committees and subcommittees usually exchange roles when there is a new majority party. While a Senator is allowed to serve as chair or ranking member on more than one subcommittee, they generally only serve as chair or ranking member on one full committee. The 2014 election results, as well as retirements, will mean new leadership for a handful of Senate committees with jurisdiction over issues that affect the ecological community.

Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) is the Ranking Member and is in line to become chair under a Republican-controlled Senate. Current Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is expected to serve as the ranking member.


Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the senior Republican is expected to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee in the Republican Senate majority. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) would continue as Ranking Member under the new leadership. Mikulski and Shelby also hold the top spots for their parties on the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, which has funding jurisdiction over the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Commerce, Science and Transportation

Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is retiring at the close of the current 113th Congress. Ranking Member John Thune (R-SD) is expected to chair the committee next year. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Cantwell are the next most senior Democrats that could serve as ranking member in January. Sen. Boxer would need to cede her top spot position on the Environment and Public Works Committee and is not expected to do so.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is the ranking member of the Science and Space Subcommittee and may take control of the subcommittee in the Republican Senate. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) currently chairs the subcommittee and could serve as ranking member.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is the senior Republican on the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee. Sen. Begich, who is currently trailing in his reelection race, would serve as the subcommittee ranking member. Sens. Nelson, Cantwell and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) are the next most senior Democrats who might serve as ranking member in the new Senate if Begich loses.

The next Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chair will have to decide on how to move forward with legislation to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act, which outlines funding priorities for NSF and other federal agency science programs and initiatives.

Environment and Public Works

The current senior Ranking Member on the Environment and Public Works Committee is David Vitter (R-LA), but Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), a former chair, is expected to pursue the chair for the 114th Congress. Sen. Inhofe is a vocal skeptic of climate science. The Senate committee has primary jurisdiction over US Environmental Protection Agency rules that would seek to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Sen. Boxer is expected to continue as ranking member.

Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) is the subcommittee ranking member of the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee, who could serve as chair next year. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) is the current chair who could serve as ranking member. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over legislation related to the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and National Wildlife Refugees.

Energy and Natural Resources

Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is expected to lead the committee in a Republican Senate. Current Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Mary Landrieu is set to enter a run-off with David Cassidy. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Al Franken (D-MN) are in line to succeed Landrieu as ranking member if she loses her race in the Dec. 6 run-off election. Wyden, Cantwell, and Stabenow currently are positioned to hold ranking member slots on other committees they would have to give up to take this committee’s ranking member slot.

Current Natural Parks Subcommittee Chairman Mark Udall (D-CO) lost his seat to Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO). Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are next in line to succeed Udall as the subcommittee ranking member. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) is the current subcommittee ranking member that could lead the committee in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

Health Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) will retire at the close of the 113th Congress. Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is expected to lead the committee in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The future chair will decide the role of STEM education programs in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act when it is considered for reauthorization.


As expected, the US House of Representatives added to its Republican majority in the wake of the 2014 midterm elections. The overall ideological make-up of the chamber is not expected to change significantly in the 114th Congress. However, the Republican Senate takeover may impact the Fiscal Year 2015 appropriations bills.

When the 113th Congress returns on Nov. 12 for its lame-duck session, it has just under a month to take up either a short-term or long-term Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund government programs for the remainder of FY 2015. Congress passed a short-term CR in September to fund federal agencies through Dec. 11. Fiscal Year 2015 began Oct. 1, 2014 and will end Sept. 30, 2015.

There will also be a change in the House Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee chair that sets funding levels for the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  Current Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) is retiring at the end of 2014. He has been a steadfast proponent of increased funding for science agencies.

If Congress fails to reach a spending deal for the remainder of FY 2015 before his retirement, it will fall to Wolf’s successor to negotiate investments in science for the remainder of FY 2015. Reps. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and John Culberson (R-TX) are viewed as potential candidates to succeed Wolf as the CJS Appropriations Subcommittee chair next year.

FY 2015 funding for agencies that fall under the CJS subcommittee is expected to be included in either a comprehensive omnibus legislation that  funds most or all government agencies— or a “minibus” that could include a few of the less contentious appropriations bills, such as those that fund Veterans’ Affairs and Department of Agriculture programs.

Bipartisan and bicameral consensus has been fairly easy to reach on the CJS, Agriculture and Veterans Affairs appropriations committees. Negotiations that fund the bills for Interior and Environmental Protection Agency programs are more difficult due to partisan differences over spending levels and certain Obama administration priorities.

Click here for a full list of results for House and Senate races.


A new synthesis report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that, absent a dramatic international effort on the part of nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the earth is on course to undergo “irreversible” detrimental impacts from global climate change. To avoid the worst effects of global warming, the report says, the world must cut emissions by as much as 70 percent by 2050 and stop emitting altogether by the end of the century.

“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts,” the report stated.

The report noted that some consequences of climate change will continue for centuries, even if all fossil fuel emissions stopped immediately. Consequences outlined include food shortages, refugee crises, flooding of major cities and island nations, mass species extinction and summer temperatures too hot for outside work or recreation.

In typical fashion, the report was embraced on Capitol Hill by Democrats while being criticized by Republicans.

“The world’s top scientists are telling Members of Congress and policy makers around the globe that we cannot just try to adapt to climate change,” said Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in a committee statement. “Instead, we must act now to reduce dangerous carbon pollution or it will it lead to irreversible impacts for human health, food and water supplies, and vital infrastructure.”

In a similar statement, House Science, Space and Technology Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) asserted “the U.N. is once more attempting to provide cover for costly new regulations and energy rationing.” He added “America cannot afford to drive its economy over a cliff with the hopes that the rest of the world will make the same mistake.”

Click here to visit the IPCC web portal.


On Oct. 22, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced a call for educational institutions, non-profit organizations, scientific societies and the business community to submit information on efforts to advance climate education and literacy at K-12 classrooms, colleges, universities, parks and museums nationwide.

Submissions can be directed to vog.ptsonull@dEetamilC by Nov. 7, 2014.

Click here for additional information.


On Oct. 29, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced $4 million in funding for Midwest farmers to improve the health of honeybees that play an important role in crop production. The funding will be primarily used to provide diverse and safe food resources for honeybees. It will be provided by USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

According to USDA, honeybees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops. The Midwest encompasses 65 percent of the commercially managed honeybees in the United States. The funding is directed to Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

The effort is part of the Obama administration’s larger strategy to protect pollinators. Click here to view the full strategy.


The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched a new “climate hubs” website. The portal provides information and tools for farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to understand and adapt to the effects of a changing climate. Users will find resources related to drought, fire risks, pests and diseases, climate variability, heat stress and links to USDA resources.

Click here for additional information.


The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is partnering with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to provide $40 million in total grant funding for ecosystem restoration in the Gulf Coast region.

USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and NFWF will each provide $20 million for projects in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to conserve wetlands and improve farming practices. The NRCS funding comes from existing programs authorized by the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Public Law 113-79), which reauthorizes farm bill programs through 2018.

Click here for more information on the partnership.

To learn more about NRCS Gulf restoration efforts, visit here.


On Oct. 28, the National Science Board released an interactive Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education online resource website. The portal includes charts and other information related to national trends related to education and employment in STEM fields.

Click here for additional information.


On Oct. 28, the Ecological Society of America sent a letter to the Texas State Board of Education requesting that K-12 student textbooks accurately depict current understanding of scientific research related to climate change and its causes.

“Policy implications of climate change are far-reaching and impact both public and private sector decisions related to agriculture, energy, water, forests, human health, transportation and infrastructure,” the letter states. “Misrepresenting the level of scientific consensus stands to diminish our capacity to understand, mitigate and adapt to the real long-term threats to human society posed by these environmental changes.”

Click here to view the full letter.


On Oct. 28, the Ecological Society of America sent a letter to House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), expressing appreciation for her continued opposition to Chair Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) continued politicization of the National Science Foundation (NSF) merit review process for research grants.

“While it is typical for elected officials to set priorities for investments in research, there has been a longstanding tradition of bipartisan discretion given to NSF’s nonpartisan merit-review system to prevent the peer-review process from becoming tainted by political motivations,” the letter states. “Compromising the integrity of the existing merit-review system would hinder the ability of scientists to pursue research that benefits our society.”

Click here to view the full letter.


The Environmental Protection Agency and the US Army Corps of Engineers
Proposed Rule: Public Comment period closes Nov. 14

A proposed rule defining the scope of waters protected under the Clean Water Act!documentDetail;D=EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880-0001

National Agricultural Statistics Service, US Department of Agriculture

Notice and Request for Comments closes Dec. 29

Pollinator Surveys: Intent to seek approval to conduct a new information collection for a period of three years on honeybees!documentDetail;D=NASS_FRDOC_0001-0125

Fish and Wildlife Service

Proposed Rule: Public Comment period closes Dec. 29

Notice of intent to amend CITES Appendix III: International endangered species protections for four turtle species!documentDetail;D=FWS-HQ-ES-2013-0052-0001

Sources:  Federal Register, National Science Foundation, US Department of Agriculture, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, Roll Call, the Washington Post