February 3, 2016

In This Issue


On Jan. 16, the president signed an official state of emergency declaration for Flint Michigan in light of the city’s drinking water crisis. The action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts to alleviate or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the region of Genesee County, MI.

Before 2014, Flint drew its water from Lake Huron. However, disagreements over a short-term supply contract with Detroit led city officials to temporary switch the source of Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. Researchers from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University subsequently found that Flint River water is highly corrosive and picks up lead from household pipes and enters the drinking supply.

Despite complaints from residents and multiple cases of sick children, local public officials maintained for months that the community’s drinking water was safe. Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI) switched back to use of Detroit’s water system from Lake Huron in Oct. 2015. Flint residents have brought suit against the city for ignoring evidence that Flint River water was toxic for the 18 months it was used for its drinking water supply.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has also been accused of not implementing corrosion controls for Flint’s drinking water coming from the Flint River.  Several environmental and civil rights groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the American Civil Liberties Union, have also sued city and state officials over their response to the drinking water crisis.

Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Gary Peters (D-MI) are working on an amendment to the Senate energy bill under consideration this week in the Senate that would allocate $400 million in federal aid for water infrastructure improvements in Flint.

In January, House Energy and Commerce Committee members sent a bipartisan letter to US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy requesting a briefing on the water crisis in Flint, MI.

The letter was led by Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Environment and Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL) and Environment and Economy Subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NJ).

“It is our understanding that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established a Safe Drinking Water Task Force to provide assistance to Flint and has announced plans to audit Michigan’s Drinking Water Program. We urgently request a briefing on these matters and EPA’s anticipated role as the situation in Flint continues to unfold,” stated the letter.

The agency subsequently briefed staff members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

On Feb. 3, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee became the first congressional committee to hold a hearing on the Flint water crisis. 

Click here to view the congressional hearing.

Click here to view the White House statement on the emergency declaration.

Click here to view the House letter.


On Feb. 1, leaders of the World Health Organization declared the spread of the Zika virus as a global health emergency and predicted as many as four million cases expected across Central and South America.

The virus, transmitted by mosquitoes, causes mild, dengue fever-like symptoms in healthy adults. It is also linked to birth defects in cases where pregnant women are infected with the virus. In recent years, multiple mosquito-borne illnesses have increasingly either appeared for the first time or reestablished themselves in North and South America. The virus originated in Uganda. Monkeys and humans serve as the primary hosts of the virus.

Human migration, climate change, and urbanization are cited as factors that may contribute to the spread of these diseases. Rising global temperatures and longer periods of warm weather aide both mosquito breeding cycles and the expansion of their geographical range. Human communities provide multiple sources of standing water that serve as breeding grounds for the insects, which include flower pots and drainage ditches.

The Centers for Disease Control has stated that an outbreak in the United States is unlikely, though the Obama administration is monitoring the spread of the virus and is taking precautionary steps in the event of an outbreak.

Click here to view a White House fact sheet on the Zika virus.


On Jan. 19, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) National Science Board released its biennial Science and Engineering Indicators report.

The report highlights United States lead throughout the world in its investment in research and development (R&D), but notes that China, South Korea, and India are rapidly increasing their investments. According to the report, China is now the second-largest performer of R&D, accounting for 20 percent of global R&D. The United States accounts for 27 percent of global R&D.

China leads the United States as the world’s number one producer of undergraduates with degrees in science. China graduates 49 percent of science bachelor’s degrees, compared to 33 percent of bachelor’s science degrees given in the United States.

Among issue areas of public interest, the report indicates 86 percent of respondents were either “very interested” or “somewhat interested” in scientific discovery. Only 9 percent of respondents were “not at all interested” in environmental pollution while 43 percent said they were “very interested” and 46 percent responded as “moderately interested.” New medical discoveries generated the highest interest while space exploration and foreign policy generated the most disinterest.

The report notes that six agencies provide 92 percent of federal funding for academic R&D in science and engineering fields: the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Department of Agriculture.

Click here to view the full report.


ESA turned 100 this year. It was a moment to take stock not only of our past, but of the future of ecology, its relevance to the future of the biosphere, and the role of humans as planetary stewards.

There is a significant change to the ESA 2015 Annual Report this year. We moved to an online format that allows multimedia content and gives readers an option to click through for more details on specific highlights and projects. Our program and focal areas provide a snapshot of activities conducted by the ESA staff and members.


The Ecological Society of America selected the 2016 recipients of its annual Graduate Student Policy Award: Brian Kastl (University of California), Kristen Lear (University of Georgia), Matthew Pintar (University of Mississippi), Timothy Treuer (Princeton University), Jessica Nicole Welch (University of Tennessee), and Samantha Lynn Werner (University of New Hampshire).

Kastl’s PhD research on ecosystem services aims to inform the design of policies that support sustainable watershed management.

As a PhD student in the University of Georgia’s Integrative Conservation program, Lear has worked with a Mexican non-governmental organization to develop science-based conservation policies for the Mexican Long-nosed bat.

Pintar interned with the Prince William Forest Park and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. As an undergrad, he studied the effects of acidification on ovenbird territory size within the Bear Brook Watershed in Maine.

Treuer’s NSF-funded research has led to the development of a technique of using arrays of microphones synced by GPS partition to investigate how acoustically active species partition interact and coexist in their environment.

While pursuing her PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Welch is involved with a diverse array of public outreach and volunteer work promoting science education. She also served as a SEEDS mentor during ESA’s 2015 centennial meeting.

Werner’s undergraduate climate change research was also funded by NSF. Through her Master’s degree in environmental economics, she hopes to help policymakers better understand the link between agro-ecological sustainability and economic vitality.

The six students will travel to Washington, DC to participate in policy training sessions as well as meetings with their US Representative and Senators on April 27-28, 2016. On Capitol Hill, they will team with other scientists to discuss with lawmakers the importance of federal funding for the biological sciences, particularly the National Science Foundation.


Ecological Society of America Past-President Simon Levin (1990-1991) is among eight recipients of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) National Medal of Science award.

Levin is also a recipient of the MacArthur Award, the Distinguished Service Citation and ESA’s Eminent Ecologist Award.

Created by statute in 1959, the National Medal of Science was and is administered for the White House by NSF. Awarded annually, the medal recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to science and engineering. The president receives nominations from a committee of presidential appointees based on their extraordinary knowledge in and contributions to the sciences.

Click here to view the recipients.



Council on Environmental Quality

Notice: Co-sponsorship applications due Feb. 12, 2016.

Opportunity for Sponsorship of the GreenGov Symposium



US Fish and Wildlife Service

Proposed Rule: Public comments due Feb. 22, 2016

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Proposed Removal of the Scarlet-Chested Parakeet and Turquoise Parakeet From the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife


Notice: Public comments due Feb. 16, 2016

Draft Methodology for Prioritizing Status Reviews and Accompanying 12-Month Findings on Petitions for Listing Under the Endangered Species Act



US Geological Survey

Notice: Nominations due by Feb. 22, 2016

Reopening of Nomination Period for State Government Members of the Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science




Considered by House Committee

On Feb. 3, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans held a hearing on the follow bills:

H.R. 4245, to exempt importation and exportation of sea urchins and sea cucumbers from licensing requirements under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 – Introduced by Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Bruce Poliquin (R-ME), the bill would exempt sea urchins and sea cucumbers from federal inspection when they are imported or exported from the United States.

H.R. 3070, the EEZ Clarification Act – Introduced by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), the bill would modify federal boundaries between areas south of Montauk, New York, and Point Judith, Rhode Island,  so that sport fishermen and charter boats can catch striped bass in Block Island Sound. 

Introduced in Senate

S. 2466, the Improving Notification for Clean and Safe Drinking Water Act – Introduced by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), the bill would authorize the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to notify the public if a state agency and public water system are not taking action to address a public health risk associated with drinking water requirements. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Approved by Senate Committee

On Jan. 20, the Environment and Public Works Committee approved the following bills:

S. 659, the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015 – Introduced by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), the bill would increase public land access for sportsmen. The bill includes language that would ban EPA from regulating lead ammunition and contaminants in fishing gear under the Toxic Substances Control Act. The bill would also reauthorize the North American Wetlands Conservation Act though Fiscal Year 2020.

S. 1024, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2015 – Introduced by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), the bill would reauthorize EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative through fiscal 2020.

S. 1674, the Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Act – Introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), the bill would reauthorize restoration efforts for the Long Island Sound estuary.

S. 1724, the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act of 2015 – Introduced by Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), the bill would Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), the bill would provide for environmental restoration activities and forest management activities in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Sources: Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation, the White House, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, ClimateWire, Greenwire, the Hill, Roll Call