March 30, 2016
In This Issue
On March 22, a House Science, Space and Technology Research Subcommittee hearing examined the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) FY 2017 budget.
During the committee hearing, both Subcommittee Chair Barbara Comstock (R-VA) and Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) expressed general support for the work of the National Science Foundation. The questions from Comstock and House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) largely centered around investment in computer science and enforcement of the STEM Education Act of 2015 (P.L. 114-59), authored by Chairman Smith. The law adds computer science to the definition of STEM fields used by the United States federal government in determining grants and education funding.
In her remarks, NSF Director France Córdova noted that since 2010, research funding for the agency in constant dollars has declined, which affects the number of NSF grants awarded.
“The result is that the fraction of proposals that we can fund has decreased significantly. The funding rate was 30 percent in FY 2000 and is just over 20 percent now,” said Córdova. “Of great concern to us is that the situation is more challenging for people who haven’t previously received an NSF award, including young investigators. For them, the funding rate has gone from 21 percent in FY 2000 to 16 percent today.”
Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) voiced skepticism about new mandatory spending outlined in the agency’s budget request, but he remained hopeful that colleagues could support another bipartisan increase for NSF. He expressed support for continuing to give NSF discretion in how it prioritizes directorate funding, citing similar views recently iterated by House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Culberson (R-TX).
“Finally, I anticipate that there will be some discussion today about prioritizing some fields of science over others. So let me conclude by quoting from our colleague Mr. Culberson, Chairman of the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) Subcommittee on Appropriations. Following his own hearing last week with Dr. Córdova, in which he stated clearly that he does not want to appropriate by directorate at NSF, he said, ‘I think that we should let NSF pick the most promising areas and give the agency the flexibility to pursue them.’ I strongly agree with Mr. Culberson on those points.”
During the hearing, CJS Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Mike Honda (D-CA) questioned Córdova on how congressional funding by directorate would impact NSF. Cordova noted that congressional elections and changes in committee make-up would politicize the budget process. Additionally, it would bring instability and uncertainty to the existing scientific process used to determine funding, noting the scientific community opposes congressional funding by NSF directorate.
During the appropriations subcommittee hearing, Rep. David Jolly (R-FL) expressed support for keeping directorate-level funding at NSF from being politicized. He asked whether the agency preferred discretion to prioritize its funding because of differing political interests between Congress and the president or whether it’s because the agency wants the discretion to allocate funding where the latest breakthroughs are being made. Cordova responded that “it’s the latter for sure” and clarified that NSF priorities are decided by the potential for breakthroughs as well as the needs of scientific communities.
Click here to view the Research and Technology Subcommittee NSF hearing.
Click here to view the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee hearing.
On March 16, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on the Environment convened for a hearing examining the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s FY 2017 budget request.
Environment Subcommittee Chairman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) and Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) touched on how NOAA funding affects their congressional districts. Chairman Bridenstine praised the NOAA FY 2017 budget request for continuing the Commercial Weather Data Pilot program authorized by H.R. 1561, the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act, noting that Oklahoma is regularly hit with severe weather. Bonamici expressed general support for NOAA’s budget request, but expressed concern with a proposed reduction of education and awareness grants through the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program.
Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) accused the budget request of prioritizing climate research over weather forecasting.
“Instead of hyping a climate change agenda, NOAA should focus its efforts on producing sound science and improving methods of data collection. Unfortunately, climate alarmism often takes priority at NOAA,” said Smith. “This was demonstrated by the agency’s decision to prematurely publish the 2015 study that attempted to make the two-decade halt in global warming disappear.”
Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) used her opening statement to emphasize the importance of NOAA’s climate change research and how monitoring rising temperatures and changes in ocean chemistry and ecosystems helps us better manage our fisheries, coasts, and improves the resiliency of our nation’s coastal communities. She also took the opportunity to address Chairman Smith’s investigation into NOAA’s climate science research.
“Before I yield back I’d like to address the majority’s ongoing investigation of NOAA’s climate scientists. It is clear to me that this investigation is unfounded and that it is being driven by ideology and other agendas,” Johnson countered. “The majority has asserted, without offering any credible evidence, that NOAA and the climate science community, at-large, are part of some grand conspiracy to falsify data in support of the significant role humans play in climate change. However, the overwhelming body of scientific evidence, across many different fields has shown that this is not the case.”
Click here to view the full hearing.
On March 22, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands held a hearing examining the US Forest Service’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget request.
For most of the hearing, Republican committee members criticized US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell for failing to invest in states’ timber sales. The committee hearing also focused on the growing cost of wildfire suppression activities.
According to Tidwell, fire suppression activities, which take up roughly half of the Forest Service’s budget, will grow to 67 percent of the agency’s budget by 2025. Tidwell maintained that the agency’s budget constraints have led to the agency prioritizing funds for fire suppression at the cost of maintaining forests. He called for Congress to enact a new mechanism for funding wildfire suppression that eliminates the need to transfer funding from other agency accounts.
Federal Lands Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock (R-CA) argued that increasing logging and timber sales would make forests less vulnerable to wildfires and generate revenue for the government.
“The fact is fire expenses will grow every year until we restore sound forest management practices to our national forests and that in turn will require very different policies than those presented by the Forest Service today,” stated McClintock.
McClintock said that H.R. 2647, the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015, would improve federal management of US forests and address growing wildfire expenses. The bill, which passed the House along largely partisan lines in July 2015, would shorten National Environmental Policy Act reviews and expedite logging sales on federal lands. It would similarly limit environmental lawsuits that slow restoration projects. The Obama administration has threatened to veto the bill, stating it “falls short of fixing the fire budget problem and contains other provisions that will undermine collaborative forest restoration, environmental safeguards, and public participation across the National Forest System and public lands.”
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), who stood in as ranking member in place of Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA), called for Congress to reform the wildfire budget in a “permanent and sustainable” manner.
“Warmer average temperatures and prolonged periods of drought brought on by global climate change mean that longer more intense wildfire seasons are the new normal,” said Dingell. “The fact that last year’s omnibus spending bill appropriated enough money to fund this year’s anticipated wildfire costs is extremely encouraging, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that the wildfire budget needs a permanent fix.”
Click here to view the hearing.
In March, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) sent correspondence in the form of testimony to various appropriations committees in support of science funding.
In testimony submitted to the House and Senate Commerce Justice and Science appropriations subcommittees, ESA requested $8 billion in funding for NSF in FY 2017. The testimony highlights the critical role NSF funding plays in funding ecological research and furthering careers in science in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. It also encourages Congress to permit NSF to continue choosing funding levels for individual directorates.
ESA relatedly issued testimony to the House and Senate Interior and Environment appropriations subcommittees requesting restoration of funding for the Joint Fire Science Program. The program is funded by the Department of Interior and the US Forest Service. While the Interior portion of its funding was sustained in the FY 2017 budget request, its Forest Service funding was cut.
“Research in fire science is crucial to anticipating how ecosystems and landscapes may change in the future, how fire should be managed in both wildlands and developed areas, and where mitigation or adaptation strategies are most appropriate,” states the ESA testimony. “Reductions in support for JFSP are inconsistent with high-priority national research needs.”
ESA joined several organizational in statements sent to the Hill. The USGS Coalition, of which ESA is a member, sent testimony to the Hill in support of the Obama administration’s request of $1.2 billion for the US Geological Survey. ESA joined a Coalition for National Science Funding statement that supports $8 billion for the National Science Foundation in FY 2017. ESA also cosigned a letter from science education and conservation organizations supporting funding for environmental literacy grants at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Click here to view the ESA letters.
The US Department of Commerce unveiled a new website for the business community that provides resources and information for incorporating natural capital into their planning and operations.
The agency defines natural capital as “the Earth’s stock of natural resources – air, water, soil, and living resources – that provide a range of goods and services on which the global economy depends.” The website is an interagency effort between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Economics and Statistics Administration. The website includes analyses of direct and indirect drivers of change and trends in ecosystem services along with how this data can be useful to the business community.
The initiative is in line with a “Final Ecosystems Goods and Services Classification System” report from the Environmental Protection Agency, geared towards businesses and communities to aid in quantifying the value of ecosystem services. Other classification systems include The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, and the Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services.
Click here for additional information.
In a unanimous ruling, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of an Alaskan moose hunter, John Sturgeon, who challenged a National Park Service (NPS) ban on the use of hovercrafts in national parks. Sturgeon sued because a lower court ruling blocked him from riding a hovercraft in a national preserve. His position received unanimous support among the Alaskan congressional delegation and business entities.
The 8-0 decision overturns a ruling from the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals that held NPS has authority to enforce its hovercraft regulations on navigable waters in Alaska that run through state lands. In its ruling, the Court cited the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which requires certain accommodations for fishing and recreational activities specific to Alaskan lands that are not applicable to federal lands in the contiguous United States.
“ANILCA repeatedly recognizes that Alaska is different -from its ‘unrivaled scenic and geological values,’ to the ‘unique’ situation of its ‘rural residents dependent on subsistence uses,’ to ‘the need for development and use of Arctic resources with appropriate recognition and consideration given to the unique nature of the Arctic environment,'” Chief Justice Roberts wrote.
Bureau of Land Management
Notice: Nominations due March 18, 2016
Environmental Protection Agency
Notice: Public comment period ends April 8, 2016
Request for Nominations of Experts To Augment the Science Advisory Board Chemical Assessment Advisory Committee for the Review of the EPA’s Draft Toxicological Review of Hexahydro-1,3,5-trinitro-1,3,5-triazine (RDX)
Notice: Public comment period ends April 15, 2016
Proposed Rule: Public comment period ends April 25, 2016
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Proposed Rule: Public comments due April 18, 2016
US Fish and Wildlife Service
Notice: Public comments due April 25, 2016
US State Department
Notice: Public comment period ends April 25, 2016
Introduced in House
H.R. 4751, the Local Enforcement for Federal Lands Act – Introduced March 16 by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the bill would terminate the law enforcement functions of the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to give states block grants that pay local law enforcement to patrol federal lands. The bill has been referred to the House Agriculture Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee.
H.R. 4776, the National Landslide Loss Reduction Act – Introduced Mar. 17 by Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA), the bill would authorize the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Director of the United States Geological Survey, to establish a national program to identify landslide hazards and reduce losses from landslides. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
H.R. 4803, the Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act – Introduced March 17 by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), the bill would authorize the National Science Foundation to award grants that fund online workshops, mentoring programs, undergraduate and graduate internships and other community outreach efforts that increase the participation of historically underrepresented demographic groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. The bill has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
H.R. 4811, the Coral Reef Sustainability Through Innovation Act of 2016 – Introduced March 17 by Rep. Mark Takai (D-HI), the bill would authorize federal agencies to establish prize competitions for innovation or adaptation management development relating to coral reef ecosystems. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. Companion legislation (S. 2705) has been introduced by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI).
H.R.4827, the Coal Ash Landfill Safety Act – Introduced March 22 by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), the bill would require the US Environmental Protection Agency within six months to review municipal solid waste landfills used for coal ash disposal to determine whether their regulations meet health and environmental protection standards set by the agency’s coal ash disposal rule. The bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
H.R. 4857, the HBCU Innovation Fund Act – Introduced March 23 by Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC), the bill would establish a program at the US Department of Education to make grants to promote innovations at historically black colleges and universities. Among its provisions, the bill will award grants that support the development of programs and initiatives that enhance undergraduate and graduate participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. The bill has been referred to the House Education and Workforce Committee.
H.R. 4742, the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act – Introduced by Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), the bill authorizes the National Science Foundation to support entrepreneurial programs for women. The bill has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Research and Technology Subcommittee Chair Barbara Comstock (R-VA) are lead cosponsors of the bill. The bill passed the House March 22 by a vote of 383-4. The four representatives who opposed the bill were Justin Amash (R-MI), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Glenn Grothman (R-KY), and Thomas Massie (R-KY).
H.R.4755, the Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers (INSPIRE) Women Act – Introduced by House Science, Space and Technology Research and Technology Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Comstock (R-VA), the bill authorizes the NASA Administrator to encourage women and girls to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and to pursue careers that will further advance America’s space science and exploration efforts. The bill passed the House March 22 by a vote of 380-3. The three representatives who opposed the bill were Justin Amash (R-MI), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), and Thomas Massie (R-KY).
Sources: 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