March 4, 2015

In This Issue


During a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on the president’s FY 2016 budget request, Republicans questioned National Science Foundation (NSF) priorities.

“Why does the administration increase funding for the Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) Science Directorate by over seven percent while proposing an average of less than four percent for the Biology, Computer Science, Engineering and Mathematical and Physical science directorates,” asked Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX).

NSF Director France Córdova defended the importance of social and behavioral science programs by stating that the additional funding was for the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, which participates in compiling the National Science Board’s Indicators report that chronicles US participation in science and engineering education and related fields of work.

Chairman Smith did praise NSF for its efforts to increase transparency and accountability within the agency. Director Córdova contended the new NSF transparency and accountability standards were in line with related language in Chairman Smith’s FIRST Act and agreed to work with the chairman on a “national interest standard” for federally-funded research grants.

Democrats were vocal in supporting the FY 2016 funding request for NSF and criticized efforts by Republicans to cut funding for social and behavioral sciences and their attempts to legislatively determine NSF research priorities.

Click here for additional information on the hearing.


Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), the longest-serving woman in Congress, announced her retirement at the end of 2016 when her current term expires.

Sen. Mikulski serves as the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. She is also ranking member of the Commerce Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee, which funds the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Upon the passing of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) in Dec. 2012, she became the first woman to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee, a role she held until Republicans took control of the Senate after the 2014 mid-term election.

Mikulski was first elected to the House in 1976. She ascended to the Senate in the 1986 midterm election cycle, succeeding retiring Sen. Charles Mathias (R-MD).

Potential candidates vying for the seat on the Democratic side include Maryland Reps. Chris Van Hollen, John Sarbanes, John Delaney, former Gov. Martin O’Malley and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Potential Republican candidates include former Gov. Bob Ehrlich. 

Mikulkski is the second long-serving Democrat to announce her intention to retire after Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

Click here to read her official statement.


The National Science Foundation has released its 2015 “Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering” report. Women, persons with disabilities, and three racial and ethnic groups—blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians or Alaska Natives—are considered underrepresented in science and engineering (S&E). Although Asians are also a minority group, they are considered to be overrepresented among S&E degree recipients and employed scientists and engineers.

Enclosed are key findings of the report:

  • Women have earned 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees and about half of all science and engineering (S&E) bachelor’s degrees since the late 1990s. However, women’s level of participation in S&E fields varies. In most fields, the proportion of degrees awarded to women has risen since 1993. The proportion of women is lowest in engineering, computer sciences, and physics.
  • In 2012, underrepresented minority women earned more than half of the science and engineering S&E degrees awarded in their respective racial and ethnic groups. White and Asian women earned nearly half of the S&E degrees awarded to their respective racial and ethnic groups.
  • Despite considerable progress over the past two decades, the gap in educational attainment separating underrepresented minorities from whites and Asians remains wide. In general, underrepresented minorities are less likely than whites and Asians to graduate from high school, enroll in college, and earn a college degree.
  • Among underrepresented minorities who do graduate from college, the overall degree patterns are similar to those of whites. Asians are more likely than whites and underrepresented minorities to earn a college degree in an S&E field. Although whites’ share of S&E degrees has declined over the past two decades, they continue to earn a majority of degrees in all broad S&E fields.
  • Nearly 30 percent of black (S&E) doctorate recipients from US universities earned a bachelor’s degree from a Historically Black College or University.

Click here for the report.


On Feb. 23, the Ecological Society of America sent a letter to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega to request an open dialogue with scientific experts on the potential environmental ramifications of constructing a canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean through Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America and the second largest tropical lake in the Americas.

“It is estimated that the approximately 500-m-wide and 30-m-deep channel could require the removal of around 1.2 billion tons of sediment from the lake bottom in addition to a great deal of soil removal to complete the terrestrial sections of the canal,” the letter notes. “The dredging and deforestation within the watershed would potentially accelerate ongoing eutrophication of the lake thereby creating degradation of the lake’s healthy aquatic ecosystem. This degradation will negatively affect local fisheries, recreation economies, and drinking water quality.”

Click here to read the full letter.


The Ecological Society of America joined 22 scientific societies in sending a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Ranking Member Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) thanking them for striking spending prohibitions on climate research in the final FY 2015 appropriations spending bill.  The House version  of the appropriations FY 2015 bill had effectively defunded federal climate-related research.

“Your leadership helps to ensure that the US continues to lead the world in understanding our Earth system and that the Department of Defense, other federal agencies, states, resource planners, cities, businesses and local decision makers have access to the latest, best available science for planning and prioritization,” the letter stated.

Click here to view the full letter.


Considered in House

H.R. 1029, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act – Introduced by Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), the bill adds new requirements to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB). It requires SAB to select members that represent a “balanced” view of scientific issues, opening the board up to the prospect of perspectives far outside scientific consensus as well as beliefs not based in science. The bill also requires the advisory board to make publicly available all scientific information used in determining its advisories to EPA. The bill was approved by the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on March 2 and is scheduled to be voted on this week.

H.R. 1030, the Secret Science Reform Act – Introduced Feb. 24 by House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), the bill would prohibit EPA from finalizing regulations based on science that is not “transparent or reproducible.” Opponents of the bill note it could prevent the agency from taking actions based on protected data and that some research is not made publically available in order to protect the privacy of test subjects. The bill was approved by the House Science, Space and Technology Committee March 2 and is scheduled to be voted on this week.

Passed House

H.R. 212, the Drinking Water Protection Act – Introduced by Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH), the bill would require the US Environmental Protection Agency to submit a strategy to Congress within 90 days about how it will manage health risks caused by the presence of algae in water systems used by the public. The bill passed the House Feb. 24 by a vote of 375–37.

H.R. 1020, the STEM Education Act – Introduced by House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), the bill strengthens National Science Foundation efforts to award competitive, merit-reviewed grants that promote Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering (STEM) education programs and activities. The bill passed the House Feb. 25 by a vote of 412–8 with only far-right Republicans voting against the measure.

Introduced in Senate

414 – the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act – Introduced Feb. 9 by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), the bill would provide for conservation, enhanced recreation opportunities, and development of renewable energy in the California Desert Conservation Area. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

 494, the Authorizing Alaska Production Act – Introduced Feb. 12 by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the bill would authorize the exploration, leasing, development, production, and economically-feasible and prudent transportation of oil and gas in and from the Coastal Plain in Alaska. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Sen. Murkowski chairs.

596, the San Francisco Bay Restoration Act – Introduced Feb. 26 by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the bill authorizes $5 million through 2019 for a grant program that supports restoration of the San Francisco Bay. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) has introduced companion legislation (H.R. 1140) in the House.

Vetoed by President

1, the Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act – Introduced by Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), the bill would authorize construction of the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline. The president vetoed the bill on Feb. 24. Neither chamber had passed the bill with the two-thirds necessary to override a presidential veto. Click here to read the White House veto statement:

Sources: American Association for the Advancement of Science, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Interior, US Environmental Protection Agency, the White House, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire