April 29, 2015
In This Issue
On April 22, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee passed Chairman Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) bill to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act. The bill passed by a party-line vote of 19-16.
H.R. 1806, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act, would reauthorize funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science. Collectively, this bill authorizes a five percent increase for these agencies through Fiscal Year 2017. However, a large number of controversial provisions in the bill drew critique from committee Democrats and the scientific community, which opposed the bill.
The bill boosts funding for DOE fusion and the NSF directorates with jurisdiction over the biological sciences, mathematics, physical sciences, computer science and engineering at the cost of sharp cuts to NSF geosciences, social and behavioral directorates and DOE renewable energy and environmental research. DOE Office of Science is flat-funded as are DOE high energy and nuclear physics, DOE advanced computing and DOE basic energy sciences.
While the bill somewhat softens transparency and accountability requirement language from past bills, it expands oversight and legislative authority in others. Foremost of concern was that the bill authorizes funding for the National Science Foundation by directorate, which Congress hasn’t done since Fiscal Year 1999, when the agency’s pot of money was significantly smaller and in a period where the agency was arguably under less contentious political scrutiny.
The bill did not include any language related to public access policies.
Several Democratic amendments sought to rescind funding cuts to specific directorates and climate change research. Other amendments sought to strike language revising the National Science Foundation’s merit review process and broaden participation among women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields. The overwhelming majority of Democratic amendments failed by party-line votes. A common refrain from the Republican majority was that the amendments did not include offsets and violated spending limits set by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) also offered her Democratic-alternative America COMPETES Act as an amendment in the nature of a substitute, though it also failed along party-lines. Johnson’s bill, H.R. 1898, would authorize five percent “year over year” increases for NSF, NIST and DOE Science from FY 2016 through 2020. The alternative bill does not authorize NSF spending by directorate.
The Ecological Society of America was among professional organizations in the scientific, education and conservation community writing in opposition to the bill. ESA also signed onto a joint letter from the Coalition for National Science Funding opposing the bill.
Chairman Smith issued a joint statement in support of the bill with Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD). Chairman Thune’s committee holds responsibility for advancing an America COMPETES in the Senate, though it is unclear whether the House bill could secure the bipartisan 60 votes necessary to advance in that chamber, if it were to pass the House.
Click here to view the mark-up:
Click here to view the statement from Chairman Smith and Chairman Thune:
Click here to view the ESA letter:
Click here to view the CNSF letter:
Click here to view Democratic amendments and additional letters from professional organizations opposing H.R. 1806:
Click here for a summary of H.R. 1898, the Democratic alternative America COMPETES Reauthorization Act:
On April 22, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water passed its spending bill for the upcoming Fiscal Year (FY) 2016.
The bill (H.R. 2028) includes $35.4 billion in funding for the US Department of Energy (DOE), the US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Department of Interior’s (DOI) major water office, and the Bureau of Reclamation. Overall the measure provides the agencies under its jurisdiction with $1.2 billion more than FY 2015, though $633 million less than the president’s FY 2016 budget request.
The bill also includes a number of policy riders that have been introduced in past years, including language prohibiting the US Army Corps of Engineers from using funding to implement the Obama administration’s rule clarifying federal jurisdiction over US waterways. Another rider included in the bill would prohibit use of federal funds to implement the Obama administration’s National Oceans Policy.
Enclosed are FY 2016 funding levels for specific federal agencies and programs compared to the FY 2015 enacted level:
US Army Corps of Engineers: $5.6 billion;a $142 million increase.
Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science: $5.1 billion; a $29 million increase.
DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy: $1.7 billion; a $226.2 million decrease.
Bureau of Reclamation: $1.1 billion; a $35 million decrease.
The policy riders restricting Obama administration regulatory efforts, if maintained by the Republican-controlled Senate, increase the likelihood that extended continuing resolutions will be needed to prevent a federal government shutdown on Sept. 30, 2015, when the current fiscal year ends.
The bill will be considered on the House floor this week.
Click here for additional information on the bill:
Click here for the White House Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 2028:
On April 21, the Ecological Society of America joined over 80 scientific, medical and education organizations by signing a letter from the American Association for the Advancement of Science expressing concern with regulatory and legislative efforts that would hinder federal agency employees’ ability to participate and scientific conferences.
“The formal and informal interactions that take place at scientific and technical conferences are a crucial part of the innovation process and help to maximize the return on taxpayer investment in scientific research,” the letter notes. “Whether providing rapid pathways for bringing scientific advances to bear on societal needs, spurring new collaborations that promote exciting interdisciplinary investigations, or simply providing cost-effective venues for scientific program management and oversight, scientific conferences are crucial to the efficient functioning of our innovation ecosystem and maximizing the return on federal investments in science.”
S. 1347, the Conference Accountability Act, was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee during the 113th Congress, but never reached the Senate floor for a vote. The bill, which included stringent conference attendance requirements for federal employees, was introduced by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who retired last year. Similar legislation has not yet been introduced in the current 114th Congress.
Click here to view the full letter:
As congressional appropriators begin unveiling their Fiscal Year 2016 funding bills, the Ecological Society of America joined 10 other scientific societies in sending a letter to key appropriators and other congressional leaders requesting these funding bills omit language prohibiting federal agencies from conducting or accessing global climate change research.
“Allowing federal agencies to access all the available science is critical to ensuring the optimal policy outcome for the United States,” the letter states. “To forbid such access would be a disservice to the American people. Full access to scientific research is especially critical for climate change because there is strong evidence that ongoing climate change is and will continue to broadly affect society—including our economy, security, health, agriculture, and environment.”
Click here to read the full letter.
On April 23, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) released a report linking increased seismic activity in the US to industrial disposal of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing activities.
The report outlines a preliminary set of models that seek to calculate how frequently earthquakes are expected to occur in the next year and how hard the ground will shake as a result. The agency reviewed 17 areas in eight states that reported significant increases in seismic activity since 2009. The states monitored included Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas.
USGS maintains that “the actual hydraulic fracturing process is only occasionally the direct cause of felt earthquakes.”
Click here for additional information:
US Environmental Protection Agency
Notice: Nominations due May 27, 2015
Request for Nominations of Candidates to the EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB)
US Fish and Wildlife Service
Notice: Comments due June 23, 2015
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Draft Recovery Plan for the Santa Barbara County Distinct Population Segment of the California Tiger Salamander.
Introduced in House
H.R. 1924, the Hispanic Opportunity Program in Education and Science Act – Introduced April 21 by Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), the bill would provide for the establishment of a program by the National Science Foundation to support undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education at Hispanic-serving institutions. The bill has been referred to the House, Science, Space and Technology Committee.
H.R. 1967, the Ocean Acidification Innovation Act – Introduced April 22 by Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Jamie Herrera Butler (R-WA) the bill would allow federal agencies to use existing funds to design prize competitions in order to increase our ability to manage, research, and monitor ocean acidification and its impacts. The bill has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
Approved by Senate Committee
On April 28, the Environment and Public Works Committee approved the following bills:
S. 544, the Secret Science Reform Act of 2015 – Introduced by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the bill prohibits the US Environmental Protection Agency from finalizing rules based on science that is not “transparent of reproducible” and requires the agency to make publicly available all research data used to develop its rulemakings. Opponents of the bill state it would restrict the EPA’s ability to formulate rules based on private health information.
The House companion (H.R. 1030) was passed by the House on March 18 by a vote of 241-175. The White House has threatened to veto the bill. Click here to read the White House Statement of Administration Policy on the Secret Science Reform Act.
S. 611, the Grassroots Rural and Small Community Water Systems Assistance Act – Introduced by Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), the bill would reauthorize the Safe Drinking Water Act’s assistance and training provision for six years to provide competitive grants to help rural and small communities comply with federal drinking water regulations.
S. 653, the Water Resources Research Amendments Act – Introduced by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and John Boozman (R-AR), the bill would reauthorize federal grant funding for water resources research institutes in the United States and its territories.
S. 697, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st CenturyAct – Introduced by Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and David Vitter (R-LA), the bill makes it easier for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove chemicals from the marketplace. Specifically, it mandates that EPA to consider only the health and safety impacts of a chemical – never the cost or burden to manufacturers – when assessing chemicals for safety.
Addressing concerns of Senate Democrats, the bill was modified with provisions preempting state regulatory efforts. The bill now specifies that the rules would not affect states’ air and water laws and clarifies that states would not be barred at any point from requiring chemical disclosure laws. It also lets states keep existing chemical bans put in place before Aug. 1, 2015, rather than Jan. 1, 2015, allowing state governments to enact new chemical bans this year that would not be affected by changes in federal law. It also removed a provision that would have made it more difficult for EPA to restrict imports of harmful chemicals.
Cleared for White House
535, the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act – Introduced by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the bill would 1) establish a voluntary, market-driven approach to aligning the interests of commercial building owners and their tenants to reduce energy consumption 2) exempt certain electric resistance water heaters used for demand response from pending Department of Energy regulation and 3) require that federally-leased buildings without Energy Star labels benchmark and disclose their energy usage data, where practical.
The bill passed the Senate March 27 by unanimous consent and passed the House April 21 by voice vote. It was presented to the president April 23.
Sources: House Appropriations Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, United States Geological Survey, the White House, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill