June 29, 2016

In This Issue

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Senate: NSF authorizing bill introduced

Senate

The highly anticipated American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which is the Senate’s successor of the 2010 America COMPETES Act that expired in 2013, was introduced by the Senate Commerce and Science Committee on June 23. The bill garnered bipartisan sponsors: Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.)

The bill would reauthorize programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Office of Science, Technology and Policy (OSTP), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and update science policies spanning the federal government.

Although the bill does not appropriate funding, it does authorize funding levels for NSF, NIST, and OSTP and steers the annual appropriation funding levels. The Senate bill’s tone closely mirrors the viewpoint of the scientific community, differing significantly from the House COMPETES bill that states the peer-review process needs updating. The Senate bill reaffirms the  value of NSF’s merit-based, peer-review process for evaluating proposals.

The bill outlines some other notable highlights. Guidelines for greater transparency, accountability, and oversight of major research facilities for NSF are spelled out in the Senate bill. It also would establish an interagency working group on research regulation aimed at reducing the administrative burden on federally-funded researchers. STEM education opportunities are expanded in the bill, especially for women and underrepresented minorities. Manufacturing and commercialization are promoted in the bill. Leveraging the private sector through crowdsourcing and use of citizen science received an acknowledgment by allowing federal agencies to conduct citizen science and crowdsourcing activities through public-private partnerships. Scientific and technical collaboration is authorized in the bill and would require the White House Office of Management and Budget to revise policies for approving federal researcher attendance at scientific and technical conferences.

Because the authorizing COMPETES bill has expired, an amendment in the nature of a substitute will authorize funding for the next two years. For FY2017, the bill authorizes $7.5 billion for NSF, which is the same level of funding included in the Senate’s FY2017 Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill. For FY2018, the bill authorizes a four percent increase in funding for NSF.

The Commerce and Science Committee will hold a markup of the bill today, June 29 at 10:00 am.

Appropriations: Senate FY 2017 Interior bill reported

The Senate Appropriations Committee unveiled and reported its Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016.

In total, the Senate report provides $32.7 billion for the US Department of Interior, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the US Forest Service, $163 million below the fiscal year 2016 enacted level. The bill report provides a total of $4.4 billion for wildland fire programs for the Forest Service and Department of the Interior, including a total amount of $2.3 billion for wildland fire suppression activities of which $661 million is provided with an emergency designation for additional suppression resources.

The House recently released the committee report for its counterpart bill. Both the House and the Senate reported bills restore US Forest Service funding for the Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) at $6.914 million, level with the FY 2016 enacted level. The Ecological Society of America provided testimony  (PDF) testimony to the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee requesting full federal funding for the JFSP.

Like the House bill, the Senate appropriations bill would prohibit the EPA from implementing several regulations, including clarifying federal jurisdiction of US waterways.

Following are the proposed FY 2017 funding levels for agencies and programs of interest to the ecological community compared to the FY 2016 enacted level:

  • EPA: $8.1 billion, a $31.2 million decrease.
  • Council on Environmental Quality: $3 million, the existing level.
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.49 billion, an $11.9 million decrease.
  • US Geological Survey: $1.06 billion, a $6 million increase.
  • Bureau of Land Management: $1.24 billion, a $6 million increase.
  • National Park Service: $2.91 billion, a $62 million increase targeted toward reducing the park maintenance backlog and priorities related to its centennial anniversary.
  • Smithsonian Institution: $860.2 million, a $20 million increase.
  • Land and Water Conservation Fund: $400 million, a $50 million decrease.

Each House and Senate and Interior and Environment bill will now head to the House and Senate floor, respectively, for consideration. Following the floor votes, both bills will be combined through the conferencing process.

Climate Science ESA and leading scientific societies send letter to the Hill

In a consensus letter to U.S. policymakers, ESA in a partnership with 30 leading nonpartisan scientific societies reaffirmed the reality of human-caused climate change, noting that greenhouse gas emissions “must be substantially reduced” to minimize negative impacts on the global economy, natural resources, and human health. A joint-society  press release  accompanied the letter.

ESA President Monica Turner commented, “The environmental, social, and economic challenges posed by climate change are among the most important issues of our time. Comprehensive solutions grounded in understanding of ecological systems–our lands, waters, oceans, and atmosphere–and society are urgently needed. A sustainable future remains possible if we work together and act now.”

The June 28th letter is an updated version of a 2009 letter signed by 18 leading scientific organizations. The new letter is being released by the larger consortium of societies to reassert the scientific consensus on climate change, and to provide objective, authoritative information to policymakers who must work toward solutions.

Senate Water Resources bill

On June 20, the Senate Environment and Public Works reported the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (S.2848), with amendments, to the Senate Legislative Calendar. The bill would authorize 25 Army Corp projects in 17 states and would cost $10.6 billion over ten years (Congressional Budget Office estimate). It includes prioritization of deepening ports, community water quality problems, and $220 million targeted for the Flint, MI water crisis.

The Senate bill includes nearly $5 billion for water quality, waste water, lead in drinking water and drought affecting communities nationwide. The pending House version (H.R.5303) does not include any drinking water provisions as the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which reported the bill, does not have that jurisdiction while the Senate committee does.

Current law includes specific congressional authority over allocation of the water resources of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River (ACF) Basin and Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) system, affecting Alabama, Georgia and Florida, absent those states’ agreement on a compact. The Georgia delegation in both bodies feels that congressional intervention in the decades-long dispute would derail prospects for an equitable agreement. The House bill strikes that existing authority. Meanwhile, report language on the FY 2017 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Bill, inserted by Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), specifically requests a Dept. of Justice report on a pending Army Corps ACF-ACT water allocation plan, further inflaming the feud.

Amendments in the reported Senate bill include provisions allowing non-federal interests to participate in the funding, maintenance and operation of water resources projects and recreation sites and facilities. Additionally, a directed study of shellfish aquaculture industry in the Chesapeake Bay, Gulf and California and Washington coasts, would be expanded from solely the oyster industry.

A coalition of 93 transportation, business, and municipal groups sent a letter late last week to Senate Majority and Minority Leaders Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid urging prompt action on the Senate bill. A similar letter was sent the previous week by a coalition of 16 water industry and local government interests.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) believes prioritization of appropriations measures will limit Senate action on the bill, other observers note the inclusion of the drinking water provisions and an overall lack of urgency.

House NSF facilities reform bill passes with bipartisan support.

On June 14, the US House of Representatives, by a vote of 412-9, passed the NSF Major Research Facility Reform Act of 2016 (H.R. 5049). Its broad bipartisan support included both House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Ranking Member Eddie Bernie Johnson (D-TX). The nine votes against the bill were all Republican.

The bill is intended to reform National Science Foundation (NSF) management practices for its major research facilities. Prior to the bill’s passage, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology held multiple hearings investigating the management of the National Ecological Observatory Network. The bill reforms federal oversight over NSF’s Large Facilities Office and initiates new cost analyses and audits for project construction activities. The bill also increases NSF control over dispensed funds and codifies NSF regulations.

Ensuring Sound Science at EPA hearing held

A hearing held by the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology saw congressional critics of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) question EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for nearly three hours. Committee members challenged McCarthy on a wide range of topics such as climate change, water regulations, glyphosate carcinogenicity, and race cars. Sparse Democratic attendance at the hearing was driven by many committee members sitting-in on the House floor to demand votes on gun control.

Many topics in last week’s hearing were previously addressed at a similar Science Committee hearing in July 2015. For example, Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX21) led statements and questions about the Clean Power Plan (CPP). Relying on a US Chamber of Commerce report, developed from data in a US Energy Information Administration (EIA) report, Smith charged that the Plan, over the next 15 years, would destroy nearly 400,00 jobs, increase energy costs and impede economic growth. Meanwhile, EIA’s analyses finds that under CPP, energy costs would increase 3 percent through the late 2020s before declining back to normal by 2040. Further, EIA suggests that CPP, while driving reductions in CO2 emissions, would accelerate growth of renewable electric generation at an annual average rate of 4.7 percent through 2030. In addition to CPP regulation, it attributes that growth to cost reductions and declining demand.

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX30) rebuked Chairman Smith’s tactics, “Since the beginning of the current Congress alone, this Committee has sent some 28 oversight requests to EPA and has launched 12 separate EPA-related investigations. EPA has already delivered more than 15 thousand documents-consisting of almost 139,000 pages to the Science Committee.” She continued, “We are imposing an incredible burden on the hard-working men and women of EPA, and spending a lot of taxpayer dollars in the process, and to what end?” Johnson concluded with the suggestion that the Committee’s ‘oversight,’ “…Can be measured more in press releases than in any concrete findings.”

Additional “oversight” requests remain pending and the Committee continues to press Administrator McCarthy for “answers.”

Awards NSF: Seeking nominations for the NSB Awards

The National Science Board is accepting nominations for two awards. 

The Public Service Award recognizes people and groups that have increased the public understanding of science or engineering. The Vannevar Bush Award recognizes an individual who, through public service activities in science and technology, has made an outstanding “contribution toward the welfare of mankind and the Nation.”

Nominations are due Sept. 3, 2016. 

Legislation

Enacted into Law

S. 2276, the Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act
Introduced November 11 by Sen. Debbie Fischer (R-NE), the bill reauthorizes the federal pipeline safety program within the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) through fiscal year 2019. The bill also directs PHMSA to finalize regulations Congress directed it to write in its 2011 reauthorization. The bill passed the House June 8 by voice vote and passed the Senate by unanimous consent June 13. It was signed by President Obama on June 22 and became law.


Introduced in House

H.R. 5451, the Improving Access to Farm Conservation Act of 2016
Introduced June 10 by Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH), the bill would exempt small farm producers that receive $450,000 or less annually in conservation assistance through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, as well as Indian tribes, from certain reporting requirements. The bill has been referred to the House Agriculture Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

H.R. 5489, the Agriculture Environmental Stewardship Act of 2016
Introduced June 15 by Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI), the bill would make qualified biogas and manure resource recovery properties for federal energy tax credits. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.


Introduced in Senate

S. 3074, a bill to authorize the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to establish a Climate Change Education Program

Introduced June 16 by Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) with eight co-sponsors, the bill, for all age levels, would authorize up to $20 million a year from fiscal 2017 through 2021 for the program. The bill has been referred to Committee on Commerce, Science, and Related Agencies.

S. 3039, the Strengthening Mosquito Abatement for Safety and Health (SMASH) Act
Introduced June 9 by Sens. Angus King (I-ME), Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Richard Burr (R-NC), the bill would authorize an additional $130 million per year in grant funding to local mosquito-control boards working to eliminate the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes responsible for spreading the Zika virus. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Companion House legislation (H.R. 5492) has been subsequently introduced by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL).

Federal Register Opportunities

Request for Information

White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) 
Responses must be received by 11:59 p.m. (EST), July 1, 2016.

OSTP requests input from all interested parties regarding recommendations for the development of the 2017 National Plan for Civil Earth Observations. Link

Proposed Rules

US Fish and Wildlife Service
Comment period ends on 07/28/2016

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removing Eastern Puma (=Cougar) From the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announces the reopening of the comment period on the June 17, 2015, proposed rule to remove the eastern puma (=cougar) (Puma (=Felis) concolor couguar) from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. Link

US Fish and Wildlife Service
Comment period ends on 08/22/2016. 

The Service, proposes to designate critical habitat for the elfin-woods warbler (Setophaga angelae) under the Endangered Species Act.

In total, approximately 10,977 hectares (ha) (27,125 in Puerto Rico fall within the boundaries of the proposed critical habitat designation. Link

US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Comment period ends on 08/29/2016
Request for Public Comment on the Joint U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service Habitat Conservation Planning Handbook
 

The Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), issue Endangered Species Act incidental take permits and help applicants develop conservation plans as a prerequisite to obtaining those permits. They are announcing the availability of and request public comment on a draft revision of their joint Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) Handbook, which describes requirements, procedures, and guidance for permit issuance and conservation-plan development. Link

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Comment Period Ends on 09/01/2016

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposes to designate critical habitat for the endangered Carolina distinct population segment of the Atlantic sturgeon (Carolina DPS of Atlantic sturgeon) and the endangered South Atlantic distinct population segment of the Atlantic sturgeon (South Atlantic DPS of Atlantic sturgeon) pursuant to section 4 of the Endangered Species Act. Link

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Comment Period Ends on 09/01/2016

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), proposes to designate critical habitat for the Gulf of Maine, New York Bight, and Chesapeake Bay Distinct Population Segments (DPSs) of Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus). Link

Sources: Senate Appropriations Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, the White House, E&E News PM,Energy and Environment Daily,  ClimateWire, Greenwire, the Hill