February 17, 2016

In This Issue



On Feb. 9, President Obama released the eighth and final budget of his administration. The president’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 budget request includes significant increases for federal agencies that conduct scientific research with a focus towards increasing investments in renewable energy. The president’s budget seeks to double funding for clean energy research and development over the next five years.[1] Programs that fund climate change and renewable energy research are the most consistently bolstered in the president’s budget request.

The 13-agency US Global Change Research Program that coordinates federal research is funded at $2.8 billion across the various agency budgets in support of the president’s Climate Action Plan. The bill maintains overall funding for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics at the FY 2016 level of $3 billion. The Budget funds competitive research grants through the Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative at $700 million, double the funding provided in FY 2016.

National Science Foundation

For the National Science Foundation (NSF), the request would provide $7.96 billion a $500.53 million (6.7 percent) increase over the FY 2016 enacted level.

The request provides $790.52 million for the biological sciences, a $46.35 million (6.2 percent) increase over FY 2016. The National Ecological Observatory Network would receive $65 million, a $20.96 million (47.6 percent) increase over FY 2016. The Division of Environmental Biology would receive $145.17 million, a $1.14 million (0.8 percent) increase over FY 2016. NSF programs that fund STEM education would see a 2.5 percent increase over FY 2016.

Click here for an overview of the FY 2017 NSF budget request.

Department of Agriculture

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) would receive $25 billion in discretionary spending, $1 billion less than FY 2016. The funding includes $1.11 billion to support 700 research projects at the Agricultural Research Service, a $22 million increase over the FY 2016 enacted level.

The US Forest Service would receive $4.89 billion, $787 million less than the enacted level.[2] The budget seeks to prioritize forest restoration and to reduce the threats posed by wildfires. The budget request would provide $291.98 million for Forest and Rangeland Research, an increase of $982,000 over FY 2016.

Additional USDA entities of interest to the ecological community include these programs:

Agricultural Research Service: $1.26 billion, a $100 million decrease.

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: $904 million, a $1 million increase.

National Institute of Food and Agriculture: $1.38 billion, a $48 million increase.

Click here for additional information on the USDA budget request.

Department of Energy

The administration requests $32.5 billion for the Department of Energy (DOE) in FY 2017, a $2.9 billion increase over FY 2016. Science, energy and DOE-related programs would receive $12.9 billion, a $2.8 billion increase over FY 2016.

The DOE Office of Science would receive $5.67 billion, a $325 million increase over FY 2016. The Biological and Environmental Research program would receive $662 million, a $53 million increase over FY 2016. DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would receive $2.9 billion, an $829 million increase over FY 2016. Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy would receive $500 million, a $209 million (71 percent) increase.

Click here for additional information on the FY 2017 DOE budget.

Department of Interior

The total budget request for the Department of Interior (DOI) is $13.4 billion, a $61 million increase over FY 2016. The budget funds the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center and its eight regional Climate Science Centers at $30.9 million, an increase of $4.5 million above 2016.

The US Geological Survey, which serves as DOI science arm, would receive $1.2 billion in FY 2017, a $107 million increase over the FY 2016 enacted level. Its natural hazards budget includes a $5.8 million increase for the Coastal and Marine Geology Program to help coastal communities address sea-level rise, severe storms and melting permafrost. The USGS budget for ecosystems would increase by $13.7 million over FY 2016.

The ecosystems budget includes $3.2 million in new funding for the Fisheries Program to develop decision support tools for water ecology, assess Great Lakes fisheries and process offshore samples that could provide an early warning for harmful algal blooms.

Core Science Systems would receive $118.4 million, a $6.8 million increase over FY 2016. Climate and Land-Use Change research would receive $171.4 million, a $31.5 million increase over FY 2016.

Below are funding levels for other entities and programs of interest to the ecological community:

Bureau of Reclamation: $1.1 million, a $159 million decrease.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management: $80 million, a $6 million increase.

Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.57 billion, a $55 million increase.

Land and Water Conservation Fund: $347 million, a $22.8 million increase.

National Park Service: $3.1 billion, a $250 million increase.

Click here for additional information on the FY 2017 DOI budget request.

Environmental Protection Agency

For the US Environmental Protection Agency, the president’s FY 2017 request would provide $8.27 billion in discretionary spending, a $127.31 million increase over FY 2016.

The budget prioritizes programs to help the nation mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The budget includes a $25 million increase in grants to states to help them work and planning related to the Clean Power Plan. The EPA’s Air, Climate and Energy Research Program would receive $101.15 million, a $9.25 million increase. The Climate Protection Program would receive $115.9 million, a $12.4 million increase.

EPA Science and Technology would be funded at $754.18 billion in FY 2017 under the president’s budget request, a $19.54 million increase over FY 2016.

EPA environmental education programs would receive $11.2 million, a $2.5 million increase over FY 2016. Within the increase, $2.3 million would support environmental education grants that support lead poisoning and polychlorinated biphenyl outreach efforts. Environmental justice programs would receive $15.9 million, an $8.6 million increase.

Click here additional information on EPA’s FY 2017 budget request.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would receive $5.85 billion, a $77 million increase over the FY 2016 enacted level. This budget also funds a new Integrated Water Prediction initiative to enhance water prediction and public forecasting and warning capabilities to help communities better prepare for and respond to the increasing frequency of droughts and floods.

Other budget items of interest to the ecological community include these areas:

National Ocean Service: $569.92 million, a $31.93 million decrease.

  • Coastal Science and Assessment: $87.11 million, a $4 million increase. (The increase would expand competitive research grants that address coastal ocean issues, including harmful algal blooms, hypoxia, and coastal ecosystem assessment).

National Marine Fisheries Service: $1.02 billion, a $44.23 million increase

Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research: $519,789 million, a $37.81 million increase.

  • Climate Research: $189.87 million, a $31.87 million increase.
  • National Sea Grant College Program: $68.9 million, a $4.1 million decrease.

National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service: $2.3 billion, a $45.67 million decrease.

National Weather Service: $1.2 billion, a $1 million decrease.

Click here for additional information on the FY 2017 NOAA budget request.

This year’s budget is unique in the sense that President Obama will be in office  only one-third (the first four months) of its implementation. It remains to be seen whether Congress will enact some or all of the budget before he leaves office or pass a continuing resolution (CR) that would allow the next president to enact the appropriations for the remainder of the next fiscal year.

By Dec. 21, 2000, President Clinton had signed all appropriations passed by a Republican Congress for Fiscal Year 2001. The bills were signed eight days after then-Vice President Al Gore had conceded the results of the highly contested 2000 presidential election. In 2008, a Democratic Congress chose to pass a CR that only funded FY 2009 appropriations through March 2009, after Republican President George W. Bush had left office. Concurrently, the results of the 2016 presidential election will likely have an impact on when Congress finalizes FY 2017 appropriations.

Click here for an overview of scientific research in the president’s FY 2017 budget request.



The death of Justice Antonin Scalia this past weekend could significantly impact legal challenges to various Obama administration initiatives, including its Clean Power Plan. Earlier this month, the court ruled 5-4 to stay the plan until US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit completes its review of the plan.

In their lawsuit, the US Chamber of Commerce, 27 state governments and energy companies accused the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of abusing its authority to require states to lower their carbon emissions and move to carbon-free sources of energy.

US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy signaled she would respect the ruling, but encouraged states to continue to implement proposals that reduce carbon emissions. Many states have indicated they will voluntarily continue to work to meet the Clean Power Plan emissions standards.

The stay means that the rule will likely not be implemented until 2017, if at all. If the court of appeals upholds the ruling, it is likely that the Supreme Court will want to consider the case. In order for the high court to hear a case, the votes of only four justices are necessary. 

In Scalia’s absence, the court is equally divided between four Republican-appointed justices and four Democratic-appointed justices. If the seat is filled by a Democratic president, the ideological shift in the court’s composition would bolster the Clean Power Plan’s chances of surviving consideration by the high court. In the meantime, a divided 4-4 ruling on a Supreme Court case would uphold the decisions of lower courts.

President Obama indicated he intends to nominate a successor when the Senate reconvenes next week. Both the House and Senate are in recess for the week-long President’s Day district work period. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) suggested the vacancy should be filled after the next president takes office 11 months from now. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) also stated that Supreme Court nominations should not be voted on during an election year.

“The fact of the matter is that it’s been standard practice over the last nearly 80 years that Supreme Court nominees are not nominated and confirmed during a presidential election year,” said Grassley in a press statement.

Congress failing to confirm a Supreme Court nominee for that long would be near unprecedented in modern history. In the past 30 years, Robert Bjork’s nomination took the longest period to reach a vote. The Senate rejected him on Oct. 23, 1987, by a vote of 58-42, 108 days after his nomination. President Reagan subsequently nominated Anthony Kennedy on Nov. 30, 1987. The Senate confirmed him on Feb. 3, 1988, by a vote of 97-0. Sens. McConnell and Grassley were among the Senators who voted in favor of Kennedy’s confirmation that year.

The longest vacancy since the court went to nine justices in 1869 was 391 days. After Abe Fortas had resigned from the court in May 1969, Richard Nixon’s first two attempts to replace him were narrowly rejected in November of 1969 and April of 1970.



On Feb. 11, the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 3293, the Scientific Research in the National Interest Act. Introduced by House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), the bill would require the National Science Foundation (NSF) to award grants only for research projects that the agency can certify as being in the national interest.

The bill passed the House largely along partisan lines by a vote of 236-178. House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) opposed the bill. Four Republicans joined most Democrats in opposition to the bill. Research and Technology Subcommittee Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) was among seven Democrats who voted for the bill. Opponents of the measure argued the bill unnecessarily duplicates NSF existing processes for providing transparency and accountability for grant awards.

“Far from adding anything useful to the NSF’s review process, H.R. 3293 would add more bureaucracy and paperwork,” said Ranking Member Johnson. “But my biggest concern about these new requirements is they will push NSF reviewers to fund less high-risk research, which, by its very nature entails the pursuit of scientific understanding without necessarily any particular or known benefit.”

The Obama administration released a Statement of Administration Policy stating that the president would veto the bill.

“Contrary to its stated purpose, H.R. 3293 would add nothing to accountability in Federal funding for scientific research, while needlessly adding to bureaucratic burdens and overhead at the NSF,” read the statement. “And, far from promoting the progress of science in the United States, it would replace the clarity of the National Science Foundation Act of 1950 with confusing language that could cast a shadow over the value of basic research which, by its nature, will have outcomes with contributions to national interests other than the progress of science which cannot be predicted in advance.”

Click here to read the full statement.



On Feb. 5, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) finalized a series of revisions to the Endangered Species Act, which will change the way that federal wildlife managers determine how much habitat to provide for federally protected species of animals and plants.

Part of the revisions include a new rule that redefines what constitutes “destruction or adverse modification” of critical habitat. The previous regulatory definition was invalidated by court order in 2004. The final revised rule affirms existing agency practices to allow for some destruction of protected habitat if it keeps the larger conservation value of the area intact.

The second rule calls for economic analyses of critical habitats to be completed and made available for public comment at the time that the habitats are proposed for protection. The revisions also will require such analyses to focus on the “incremental effects resulting from the designation of critical habitat.”

Some conservation groups, including the Society for Conservation Biology and Defenders of Wildlife, have called for stronger rules that prevent the destruction of critical habitat in the project permitting process.

FWS and NMFS maintain the revisions will “provide a clearer, more consistent and predictable process for designating critical habitat.”

Click here for additional information.


Department of Interior

Notice: Nominations due Feb. 18

Call for nominations for Invasive Species Advisory Committee


Environmental Protection Agency

Notice: Nominations due March 4, 2016

Request for Nominations to the National and Governmental Advisory Committees to the US Representative to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation


US Fish and Wildlife Service

Proposed Rule: Public comment period ends April 18, 2016.

Removing the San Miguel Island Fox, Santa Rosa Island Fox, and Santa Cruz Island Fox From the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, and Reclassifying the Santa Catalina Island Fox From Endangered to Threatened



Introduced in House

H.R. 4483, the Gold King Mine Spill Accountability Act of 2016 – Introduced Feb. 4 by Rep. Steven Pearce (R-NM), the bill would commission a special investigation into potential Environmental Protection Agency wrongdoing in the wake of the Gold King mine spill, which discharged three million gallons of mining wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

The bill has been referred to the House Committees on Transportation and Infrastructure, Judiciary, Rules, Energy and Commerce, and Agriculture.

H.R. 4545, the Tennessee Wilderness Act – Introduced Feb. 11 by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), the bill would designate specified federal lands in Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee as wilderness and as additions to existing components of the National Wilderness Preservation System. The bill has been referred to the House Agriculture Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee.

H.R.4568, the Cooperative Research and Development Fund Authorization Act of 2016 – Introduced Feb. 12 by Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), the bill would make funds available to the Department of Energy National Laboratories for the Federal share of cooperative research and development agreements that support maturing Laboratory technology and transferring it to the private sector. The bill has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Passed House

H.R. 4470, the Safe Drinking Water Improved Compliance Act – Introduced Feb. 4 by Reps. Daniel Kildee (D-MI) and Fred Upton (R-MI), the bill would strengthen requirements to have the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notify the public when concentrations of lead in drinking water exceed actionable levels. It requires the EPA to create a strategic plan for handling and improving information flow between water utilities, the states, the EPA, and affected consumers. The bill passed the House Feb. 10 by a vote of 416-2.

Introduced in Senate

S.2481, the Everglades for the Next Generation Act – Introduced Feb. 2 by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the bill would provide for expedited project implementation relating to the comprehensive Everglades restoration plan. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

S. 2532, to authorize appropriations for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund – Introduced by Feb. 10 Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the bill would triple authorization levels for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, raising them to 2009 funding levels that included increases from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.  The legislation intends to help communities contend with water infrastructure tainted by lead and other pollutants. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. 

Sources: Department of Agriculture, Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, US Forest Service, the White House, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, ClimateWire, Greenwire, the Hill, NPR