September 30, 2015

In This Issue

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CONGRESS: POPE CALLS ON LAWMAKERS TO AVERT ‘ENVIRONMENTAL DETERIORATION’

On Sept. 24, Pope Francis spoke before a joint session of the United States Congress, advocating for compassion and equal opportunity for the underprivileged. He also urged Congress to take action to protect the earth and touched on the value of scientific discovery.

While Pope Francis did not explicitly utter the phrase climate change, he stated that protecting the earth should be one of the many ways in which human society works to advance the common good.

“We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all,” said Francis.

“In [my second encyclical] Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity,” he continued. “I am convinced that we can make a difference, and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play.”

Highlighting the value of scientific research, Pope Francis stated “America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead” towards combating poverty and protecting nature.

The previous day, the pope was more specific in his praise of President Obama’s climate action plan in his White House address.

“Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution,” said Pope Francis. “Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our ‘common home,’ we are living at a critical moment of history.”

Click here to read the text of the pope’s speech.

Click here to read the text of the pope’s White House speech.

HOUSE: SPEAKER BOEHNER TO RESIGN IN OCTOBER

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced last week that he will resign from Congress effective Oct. 30.

The announcement came a day after Pope Francis made history as the first pope to speak before a joint session of Congress. Boehner was instrumental in arranging his invitation. It also came amid growing unrest among the House Republican conference with Speaker Boehner. One lawmaker, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), had introduced a resolution in July that called for Boehner’s resignation as speaker.

The party is also strategizing over how to continue funding the government throughout FY 2016. Prior to Boehner’s resignation, far-right conservatives had been pushing party leaders to include language prohibiting funding for Planned Parenthood in any continuing resolution to fund the government beyond tonight’s deadline, when FY 2015 funding expires. The White House released a Statement of Administration Policy declaring the president would veto any legislation to defund Planned Parenthood. The Senate recently passed a clean continuing resolution by a vote of 78-20 that will extend government funding at existing levels through Dec. 11. The House is expected to approve the bill before today’s midnight deadline, allowing the government to remain open.

First elected to the US House of Representatives in 1991, Boehner made a name for himself and climbed the House GOP ranks quickly. He was among several Republicans who helped craft the Republican Contract with America, which helped Newt Gingrich ascend to the speakership in the 1994 midterm election. After Republicans had taken control of the House, Boehner became the House Republican Conference Chairman, the fourth highest position in House majority leadership. He served in that post until the after the 1998 midterm election cycle, which saw a change in much of the House Republican leadership, including the ouster of then-Speaker Gingrich. When the Democrats gained control of the House after the 2006-midterm cycle, Boehner was elected the top GOP leadership post of House Minority Leader. He served in that role until Republicans won back the House following the 2010 midterms, ascending to the role of speaker.

Prior to his return to leadership, Boehner served as Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee (2001-2006). It was during this period that he worked with then-Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Ted Kennedy (D-MA) in crafting the No Child Left Behind Act, landmark education reform legislation signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002.  Coincidentally, Boehner and Kennedy (both Catholic) annually chaired fundraisers to raise money for Catholic schools.

Current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is the leading contender to succeed Boehner. The next speaker will likely be under political pressure to adopt a more confrontational approach to dealing with the White House and Congressional Democrats. The House Republican leadership elections are scheduled for Oct. 8.

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE DELVES INTO NEON DESCOPE PLAN

On Sept. 18, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology, and Subcommittee and Oversight convened for a joint hearing examining the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON).

The Subcommittee heard testimony from NEON Board of Directors Chairman James Collins and NSF Assistant Director for Biological Sciences James Olds about the recent NSF decision to descope the NEON facility due to projected cost overruns.

For the descope plan, NSF convened an panel of experts from NSF staff from the NEON program, NEON Inc., members of the NEON Board of Directors and Science Technology Education Committee and experts from scientific community involved in its original design.

“The panel came up with a plan to reduce NEON Inc. corporate and project management costs, accelerate transition to operations, and reduce the scope of the following items: construction and deployment of portable towers (also known as “relocatables”) and urban sites; instrumentation sensor systems that could be replaced with new technologies during operations; some derived data products that could eventually be up-graded during operations; and the Stream Ecology Observatory Network (STREON) experiments,” according to Olds. “The plan developed at this meeting focused on those scope changes that would still allow the NEON facility to deliver a continental-scale instrument and accomplish the major planned science goals.”

Olds also referenced a letter penned by the current and past Ecological Society of America presidents expressing their confidence in NEON and NSF.

“The ecological community strongly supports the goals and mission of NEON, despite the recent descoping, and looks forward to working with NEON to achieve its potential,” the letter noted. “We believe a successful NEON could generate valuable data to help address problems that currently challenge the very fabric of society and the biosphere that sustains it.  NEON can complement, but not replace, other forms of ecological research, and we are encouraged by NSF’s commitment to support STREON, the aquatic experiment, as an investigator-led activity. We encourage NSF and NEON to re-engage with the ecological community to assure that NEON will yield the scientific results it was designed to address.”

Click here to view the hearing and access testimony.

Click here to view the ESA presidents’ letter.

WHITE HOUSE: CITIZEN SCIENCE AND CROWDSOURCING MEMO RELEASED

Today, the White House affirmed the potential for citizen science to engage the public directly in scientific discovery and the monitoring and management of our natural resources.  In a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy John Holdren mandated that all federal agencies build capacity for citizen science and crowdsourcing, while also facilitating cooperation across agencies and with outside organizations. Agencies are directed to identify an internal coordinator and catalog agency-specific citizen science and crowdsourcing projects in a government-wide database to be developed for public and agency use. 

To help guide program managers in deciding if citizen science is right for their organizations and how best to design citizen science projects to meet their organization’s goals, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) released a report today summarizing how “Investing in Citizen Science can improve natural resource management and environmental protection.” The report is number 19 in ESA’s series Issues in Ecology and is included as a resource in the Federal Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing Toolkit, released this morning in conjunction with Holdren’s policy memo and a Citizen Science Forum webcast live from the White House.

“If you ask a dozen practitioners about citizen science, you’ll get a dozen different definitions, and a dozen reasons for why they are doing it—all of which are valid! But it can be confusing,” said Duncan McKinley, a research ecologist with the USDA Forest Service and a lead coordinator of the scientific team behind the report. “We wanted to zoom out to the big picture, the 30,000-ft view of citizen science, and capture the shared values of the field, within the specific context of ecology and the environment.”

Twenty-one experienced practitioners hailing from non-profit, government, and academic institutions set out to tame the exuberant diversity of the citizen science frontier into shared core principals. The Issues report explores the strengths and limitations of citizen science, illustrating the breadth of existing applications through case studies. The authors identify hallmarks of research questions ripe for volunteer involvement as well as those that might not be appropriate for a citizen science approach.

To read the White House Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing memo, follow this link.

To access the Federal Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing Toolkit, follow this link.

To access the Issues in Ecology report, follow this link.

HOUSE: SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES APPLAUD REPUBLICAN-SPONSORED CLIMATE RESOLUTION

The Ecological Society of America was among 13 scientific societies that signed a letter expressing their appreciation for the introduction of H.Res. 424, a non-binding resolution that affirms humans are contributing to climate change. The resolution also calls upon the US House of Representatives to take steps to mitigate climate change’s environmental impacts.

The resolution is sponsored by Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY) and has ten original cosponsors, all Republicans.

Click here to view the letter.

EDUCATION: ORGANIZATIONS EXPRESS SUPPORT FOR COMMUNITY LEARNING CENTERS

On Sept. 22, the Ecological Society of America cosigned a letter requesting that the Elementary Secondary and Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization maintains the 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) initiative as a separate federal funding stream.

“More than a decade of research has shown that 21st CCLC has resulted in wide-ranging positive impacts for students and families by leveraging school and community partnerships to help millions of low-income children become successful in school and in life,” the letter states. “The bipartisan language supported unanimously by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee reauthorizes the 21st CCLC program while also strengthening it to reflect what has been learned over the past decade in providing high-quality programming.”

Both the House and Senate have passed legislation to reauthorize ESEA, but the two chambers have not yet negotiated a conference report agreement that could be sent to the president.

Click here to view the entire letter.

RESEARCH: SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES, PUBLISHERS EXPRESS CONCERN WITH PUBLIC ACCESS BILL

On Sept. 16, the Ecological Society of America joined with a number of non-profit scientific societies as well as publishers in cosigning a letter expressing concern with S. 779, the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act, which would place mandates on the release of federally-funded research into law.

“The undersigned include non-profit scientific societies that use the proceeds from their journal operations to serve the public and the scholarly enterprise; small businesses that support researchers and their local communities; and others devoted to creating, disseminating, and preserving scholarship,” the letter notes. “All make significant investments in support of science and the use of research to improve lives that would be undermined by S. 779.”

The ESA letter expresses support for an Office of Science and Technology Policy memorandum that provides federal agencies with more flexibility in carrying out public access policies.

Click here to view the letter.

FWS: SAGE GROUSE DOES NOT WARRANT ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT PROTECTION

On Sept. 22, the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the greater sage-grouse does not need federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

“Because of an unprecedented effort by dozens of partners across 11 Western states, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the greater sage-grouse does not require protection under the Endangered Species Act,” stated Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in a video announcement of the determination.

A 2011 court settlement required the agency to make a determination by Sept. 30, 2015. The announcement came after a new strategy was developed by federal agencies, state officials and private landowners to conserve the sagebrush habitat the where they are found. The plan aims to stem habitat loss across 67 million federal acres that represents most of their prime breeding grounds.

Click here for additional information.

Click here to watch the video from Sec. Jewell.

POLLINATORS: NFWF ALLOCATES FUNDS TO PRESERVE MONARCH BUTTERFLY

On Sept. 28, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announced it is allocation $3.3 million in 22 grants towards efforts to save the monarch butterfly. The funding will be matched with $6.7 million of donor contributions and will come from the non-profit organization’s Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund, launched in Feb. 2015. The US Fish and Wildlife Service was the first federal agency to commit funding towards the effort.

The North American monarch butterfly population has been reduced by about 90 percent in the past 20 years, from a high of around one billion in the mid-1990s to less than 60 million, largely due to habitat loss. Conservation efforts by the fund focus on planting monarch-friendly plants along the butterfly’s migration path and improving coordination between federal agencies and the private sector on habitat preservation and restoration.

For additional information, click here.

NSF: NOMINATIONS OPEN FOR NATIONAL SCIENCE BOARD

The National Science Foundation is accepting nominees to fill eight positions with the National Science Board (NSB) that will expire May 10, 2016.

Every two years, the Board solicits recommendations for new members from leading scientific, engineering, and educational organizations, as well as the public, and submits them to the White House for consideration. Members are formally appointed by the President and serve a six-year term.

The Call for Nominations web portal is open and accepting submissions for the NSB class of 2016-2022 from now until October 30, 2015. Click here for additional information:

https://www.nsf.gov/nsb/members/nominations.jsp 

FEDERAL REGISTER PUBLIC COMMENTS

Bureau of Land Management

Notice: Public comments due Oct. 29, 2015

Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Greater Phoenix Mine Project, Lander County, NV

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-24432

Notice: Public comments due Dec. 23, 2015

Notice of Proposed Withdrawal; Sagebrush Focal Areas; Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming and Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-24212

Environmental Protection Agency

Notice: Public comments due Oct. 10, 2015

Extension of Request for Scientific Views on the Draft Aquatic Life Ambient Water Quality Criterion for Selenium-Freshwater 2015

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-24310

Department of Homeland Security

Notice: Submissions due Nov. 30, 2015

Ideation Prize Competition (“National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility Think and Do Challenge”)

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-24586

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Proposed Rule: Public comment ends Nov. 23, 2015

Proposed Threatened Status for Island Grouper (Mycteroperca fusca) and Endangered Status for Gulf Grouper (Mycteroperca jordani) Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-23502

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice: Public comment period ends Oct. 29, 2015

Draft Restoration Plan and Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Restoration Resulting From the Kalamazoo River Natural Resource Damage Assessment

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-23016

Draft Environmental Assessment and Draft Habitat Conservation Plan; Paso Robles Phase II; Hays County, Texas

Notice: Public comment period ends Nov. 16, 2015

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-23242

Notice: Public comment period ends Nov. 23, 2015

Proposed Information Collection; Bald Eagle Post-Delisting Monitoring

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-23969

Proposed Rule: Public comment period ends Nov. 30, 2015

Endangered Species Status for four south Florida plants: Chamaecrista lineata var. keyensis (Big Pine Partridge Pea), Chamaesyce deltoidea ssp. serpyllum (Wedge Spurge), and Linum arenicola (Sand Flax), and Threatened Species Status for Argythamnia blodgettii (Blodgett’s Silverbush)

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-24291

US Forest Service

Notice: Public comment period ends Oct. 15, 2015

Shasta-Trinity National Forest; California; Highway 89 Safety Enhancement and Forest Ecosystem Restoration Project

https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-23157

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in House

H.R. 3556, the National Park Service Centennial Act – Introduced Sept. 17 by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), the bill would provide funding and management authority for NPS to help the agency celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2016. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

Passed House

H.R. 348, the Responsibly and Professionally Invigorating Development (RAPID) Act – Introduced by Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) would amend the National Environmental Policy Act to impose tighter environmental review deadlines for energy and infrastructure projects. The bill passed the House Sept. 25 by a vote of 233-170 with seven Democrats joining all Republicans in supporting the bill.

The White House released a Statement of Administration Policy declaring the president would veto the bill, stating the legislation would “increase litigation, regulatory delays, and potentially force agencies to approve a project if the review and analysis cannot be completed before the proposed arbitrary deadlines.” Click here to read the full statement.

Introduced in Senate

S. 2056, the National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring Act – Introduced Sept. 17 by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the bill would instruct the Department of Interior secretary to establish within the United States Geological Survey a “National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System,” to monitor and provide safeguards against undue and avoidable harm from volcanic activity. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

S. 2076, the Super Pollutants Act of 2015 – Introduced Sept. 24 by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME), the bill would establish a task force to review policies and measures that promote the reduction of short-lived carbon pollutants (SLCPs), non-carbon dioxide emissions that stay in the atmosphere for a short-time that increasingly contribute to climate change. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee


Sources: House Science, Space and Technology Committee, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the White House, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill