March 23, 2017

Budget Blueprint Slashes Non-Defense Discretionary Budgets

On Monday, March 13, President Donald Trump signed an executive order titled “Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch” directing the director of the Office of Management and Budget “to propose a plan to reorganize governmental functions and eliminate unnecessary agencies.” That order, combined with the president’s previously announced federal hiring freeze, and reinforced by the president’s budget “blueprint” for fiscal year 2018, “America First: A Budget Blueprint To Make America Great Again,” released Thursday, March 16, hammers home the administration’s aggressive agenda to reduce the size and role of the federal government. The budget is viewed as “dead on arrival” in Congress.

First-year administration budgets are often called a “blueprint” or “skinny budget,” providing an overview of the president’s budget priorities as the new administration assembles its team and gains expertise on the federal budget intricacies. The president’s blueprint focuses only on federal discretionary spending, ignoring the much larger non-discretionary side of the budget which constitutes approximately 70 percent of federal spending. It has also been criticized for lacking baseline figures, failing to disclose economic assumptions, or address the budget deficit. A more detailed budget proposal is expected in May.

The president’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposes an increase in defense spending by $54 billion with corresponding cuts to discretionary spending. It would make considerable cuts to essentially all federal non-defense discretionary spending, with some of the most significant proposed cuts for science agencies and programs. Many of those agencies and programs are prized by Members of Congress and their constituents, such as the Appalachian Regional Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the $73 million national Sea Grant program.

Like all presidential budget proposals, a first-year blueprint is subject to change as it is taken up by Congress, and this one more so than in past years. Representative Don Young (R-AK), senior member of the House Natural Resources Committee, commented, “This budget isn’t going anywhere. The president has an obligation to propose a budget, but it’s Congress’ responsibility to write the budget and set spending.”

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), a leading member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, noted, “We will not balance the budget by cutting discretionary spending, which is only 31 percent of spending and is already under control because of earlier budget acts.”

Predictably, many in Congress have voiced concern about the president’s budget priorities. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Energy and Natural Resources chairman, and Maize Hirono (D-HI) organized a bipartisan letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, signed by the six senators representing Alaska, Maine, and Hawaii, opposing the president’s budget cut to the NOAA Sea Grant program and the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service.

Chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Lamar Smith (R-TX) supports the budget, “Today President Trump took the first step in rebalancing and reprioritizing the federal budget. For far too long, vital programs have fallen by the wayside while climate funding continues to escalate. Hard decisions have to be made to better protect American taxpayers. This new budget continues to fund priority basic research that will enable policy makers to make informed decisions based on sound science.”

Observers have also noted that the president’s budget blueprint shows a lack of influence of the agency secretaries. On arriving at Interior, Secretary Zinke promised to fight against a suggested 10 percent budget cut. The president’s blueprint targets Interior for a 12 percent cut. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt had sought a $7 billion budget, but will get only $5.7 billion if Congress adopts President Trump’s blueprint. In confirmation hearings, Pruitt voiced support for the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Program only to see it targeted for elimination in the blueprint. Zinke is a confirmed advocate for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is facing a cutback from its current $900 million authorization to only $330 million.

ESA has created a Budget Tracker for its members that is monitoring the federal appropriations process for Fiscal Year 2018 with detailed information. Some agencies of particular interest to the ESA community include the EPA, which is facing a 31 percent budget cut, Commerce (16 percent, primarily from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration budget), Interior (12.5 percent), Agriculture (21 percent), and the Department of Energy Office of Science (17 percent).

Details for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among other federal science agencies, are not included in the budget. It does, however, identify a $500 million block grant, carved out of the CDC’s budget, to “increase state flexibility and focus on the leading public health challenges to each state.”

House Science Committee Seeks to Prioritize Basic Physical Sciences Research

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology released its “Views and Estimates” letter for FY 2018 on March 10, 2017.  This official letter is an important piece of the larger federal budget puzzle that is pieced together each year by Congress. The Science Committee oversees agency R&D budgets totaling over $42 billion. While the committee does not appropriate funds, it is very influential in how the appropriators set federal agency spending levels each year because they can only fund what is legislated in authorizing bills. The letter follows the committee’s continued focus on reducing regulatory authority of the federal agencies and promoting scientific research in the national interest while reforming “federal science agency programs to increase the impact of taxpayer-funded research.”

However, exactly how much of the Science Committee’s plans will actually go into effect in the FY 2018 federal budget is uncertain, and  the FY 2018 budget process is just beginning. The president released his FY 2018 skinny budget, which Congress has labeled “dead on arrival” due to its extreme budget cuts for agencies.  The Senate will release its version of the 12 appropriations bills, as will the House. The bills will be worked out during the conference process. Once the bills are finalized and move out of conference, it is up to the president to sign the appropriations bills into law.

The letter says the committee expects this year to reauthorize the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research data, and weather programs, among others. The committee also states that it seeks “to increase support for basic research in the physical sciences.”

If the committee is successful in advancing its legislative agenda to authorize the agencies, NSF research funding would be appropriated at the directorate level with 70 percent of the research funding allocated to Biological Directorate, Mathematical and Physical Science Directorate, the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate, and the Engineering Directorate. Starkly missing from the list are the Geosciences Directorate and the Social and Behavioral Science Directorate. The letter also seeks to ensure that federally-funded research conducted through NSF is in the national interest.

ESA and the larger scientific community strongly oppose funding by directorate. NSF’s research plan is informed by decadal studies and input from the scientific community. Efforts to fund by directorate would politicize NSF’s research. In previous years, the committee has unsuccessfully sought to fund NSF by directorate. However, with a new administration and Congress, the odds of Congress successfully funding NSF by directorate increase.

In the letter, the Department of Energy Office of Science would allocate funding for national labs by basic research programs with an offset of reduced funding for the Biological and Environmental Sciences, and it would prioritize Basic Energy Sciences, Advanced Computing Sciences, and Fusion Energy Sciences. Authorized funding for NOAA would be slated for weather research and observation by reducing NOAA climate change programs and satellite systems.

NASA, NSF, NOAA, NIST, DOE, EPA, and Interior’s USGS all contribute to the $2 billion of spending for the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP).  After a full assessment of a government-wide review of climate change research, the Science Committee would only authorize funds for the USGCRP if the new administration found the research useful or non-duplicative of other federally-funded research.

Climate Solutions Caucus Alive and Well

The Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group in the House of Representatives that aims to address the challenges, causes, and impacts of the changing climate, is showing renewed vigor in the 115th Congress. Founded in the 114th Congress by Florida Representatives Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL), the caucus has seen an influx of new members, bringing their number to 30, evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.  It is sometimes called the “Noah’s Ark” caucus as it adds members in bipartisan pairs.

Republican Representative Daryl Issa (R-CA), formerly identified as a prominent “climate denier,” joined on March 1, along with his Democratic Southern California colleague Representative Juan Vargas (D-CA). In a statement announcing his caucus membership, Issa said, “Fiscal responsibility and good stewardship of our natural resources don’t have to be mutually exclusive.” He added, “I’m pleased to join the Climate Solutions Caucus as a bipartisan opportunity for collaboration and also for its focus on economically viable solutions.”

Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY) joined the caucus on January 23 and on March 13 introduced H.Res.195, “Expressing the commitment of the House of Representatives to conservative environmental stewardship,” leading a group of 16 Republican cosponsors. The resolution emphasizes that “it is a conservative principle to protect, conserve, and be good stewards of our environment.” Stefanik was an original cosponsor of an identical resolution, H.Res.424, introduced by Representative Christopher Gibson (R-NY) in the 114th Congress.

In floor remarks on the introduction of the resolution, Stefanik noted, “Clean energy innovation is key to addressing the serious issue of climate change. This resolution brings together the priority of addressing the risks of climate change with the importance of protecting and creating American jobs. Innovation and clean energy are key to solving both. New York’s 21st district is the proud home of the Adirondacks and we understand that protecting our environment plays an important role in promoting economic growth and opportunity. No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, we all have a significant responsibility to protect our environment from avoidable damage.”

The resolution specifically refers to the “2014 Quadrennial Defense Review,” which states that the effects of a changing climate are “threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions.”

Meanwhile, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS), on March 14 released its “Review of the Draft Climate Science Special Report.” The NAS review praised the Climate Science Special Report (CSSR) authors “for producing an impressive, timely, and generally well-written draft report” and was “impressed with the breadth, accuracy, and rigor of the draft CSSR.”  The CSSR was released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) on December 22, 2016, but it has now been removed from the program’s website.

Thomas Lovejoy, of George Mason University and a leading conservation biologist, commented, “The National Academy of Science’s review of the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Special Report not surprisingly reaffirms the basic science of climate change. Indeed every national academy in the world has concluded climate change is real and a serious threat to human well-being.”

The Climate Science Special Report is intended to help support the USGCRP’s quadrennial development of the National Climate Assessment, legislatively mandated by the Global Change Research Act of 1990. The last National Climate Assessment was published in 2014 with a new assessment, currently under development, due in 2018.

Quick Reads

ESA News:

ESA endorses the March for Science
ESA has joined over 28 organizations and scientific societies in supporting the mission of the March for Science to publicly communicate science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. The March rally will be held in Washington, D.C., 22 April on the National Mall with satellite activities scheduled at hundreds of locations throughout the United States and the world over. Read ESA’s announcement, and RSVP if you plan on participating in the March for Science in Washington, D.C. or in another city.

Scientists visit lawmakers to discuss our changing climate
Jeff Dukes, director, Purdue Climate Change Research Center and Blecher Chair for Environmental Sustainability professor, represented ESA for Climate Science Day 2017. Dukes met with Indiana lawmakers to discuss the impacts of a changing climate and what it means for Indiana citizens. This annual event is a partnership of over ten scientific societies and serves as an outreach event to Congress, bringing over 25 scientists to DC for over sixty meetings with lawmakers.


Other News:

House Science, Space and Technology Committee holds hearings

On March 9, NSF Director France Córdova testified before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology at the first of two hearings on NSF. The focus of the first hearing was overview and oversight. NSF Inspector General Allison Lerner also testified. The second hearing, “National Science Foundation Part II: Future Opportunities and Challenges for Science,” was held on March 21. Witnesses included Dr. Joan Ferrini-Mundy, NSF acting chief operating officer, and Dr. Maria Zuber, chair, National Science Board, among others.

Two upcoming full committee hearings are scheduled for next week: Prioritizing Basic Research at the Department of Energy on March 28 and Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications, and the Scientific Method on March 29.

Nomination hearing for Agriculture secretary March 23
The hearing for Sonny Perdue, secretary of Agriculture nominee, began March 23 at 10am in the Senate Agriculture Committee.

FWS lists rusty patched bumble bee on endangered species list
After a delay of the effective date as a result of the January memorandum from the new administration, the final rule listing the rusty patched bumble bee as endangered is effective as of March 21.

EPA delays effective dates of 5 rules
The EPA is delaying the effective dates of five regulations beyond the delay ordered by the presidential memorandum. The rules, which would have taken effect on March 21, are now delayed until May 22.

Federal dollars no longer fund the majority of US basic research
For the first time since World War II, federal funding no longer funds the majority of basic research in the US – data show 44% in 2015.

National Park Service visitation sets record
For the third year in a row, 2016 visitation to National Parks set a new record. NPS units recorded almost 331 million recreation visits, exceeding 2015 visitation by 23.7 million visits.

Congressional Updates

Senate Environment and Public Works hearing on invasive species
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, led by Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY), held a hearing on March 15 titled “Examining Innovative Solutions to Control Invasive Species and Promote Wildlife Conservation.” Witnesses included individuals from the Department of the Interior, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

House Natural Resources Committee hearing on marine monuments
On March 15, the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power, and Oceans held a hearing titled “Examining the Creation and Management of Marine Monuments and Sanctuaries.” Majority witnesses commented on the perceived overreach of the Obama administration’s designation of marine monuments, and minority witness testimony discussed the many ecosystem benefits and benefits to people that come with marine reserves.

Senator urges Pruitt to continue climate work
On March 13, Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt urging him to not to repeal critical science-based regulations and standards aimed at addressing climate change. In the letter, Carper also calls on Pruitt to not ignore the reality of climate change or the science supporting it.

Legislative Updates

More Congressional Review Act resolutions pass Congress

Congress has passed two more joint resolutions to overturn Obama-era regulations with a simple majority using the Congressional Review Act. H.J.Res.57, passed on March 9, provides for congressional disapproval of a Department of Education rule relating to accountability and State plans under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. This rule addressed accountability ratings such as school ratings and indicators of school quality besides test scores. H.J.Res.69, passed on March 21, provides for congressional disapproval of a Fish and Wildlife Service rule on the take of wildlife on national wildlife refuges in Alaska. This rule limited how certain predatory animals could be killed and gave the government more control over managing animal populations. The joint resolutions now go to the president. Once signed, they will undo these two rules.

Regulatory reform bills introduced in Senate

Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) introduced a package of four regulatory reform bills on March 8. These bills address various aspects of the federal rulemaking process and seek to improve transparency and accountability.

 

Additional legislation introduced in the Senate

  • Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act (S.569). Introduced March 8 by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), this bill would amend title 54, US Code, to provide consistent and reliable authority for, and funding of, the Land and Water Conservation Fund to maximize the effectiveness of the fund for future generations. Referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
  • Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017 (S.570). Introduced March 8 by Sen. John Thune (R-SD), this bill would improve NOAA’s weather research through a focused program of investment on affordable and attainable advances in observational, computing, and modeling capabilities to support substantial improvement in weather forecasting and prediction of high impact weather events, and to expand commercial opportunities for the provision of weather data. Referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Companion bill is H.R.353.
  • S.572. Introduced March 8 by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), this bill would require the Secretary of Commerce to study the coverage gaps of the Next Generation Weather Radar of the National Weather Service and to develop a plan for improving radar coverage and hazardous weather detection and forecasting. Referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Companion bill is H.R.1427.
  • Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 (S.585). Introduced March 8 by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), this bill would provide greater whistleblower protections for federal employees, increased awareness of federal whistleblower protections, and increased accountability and required discipline for federal supervisors who retaliate against whistleblowers. Referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
  • Litigation Relief for Forest Management Projects Act (S.605). Introduced March 9 by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), this bill would amend the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 to discourage litigation against the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management relating to land management projects. Referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Companion bill is H.R.1483.
  • S.J.Res.38. Introduced March 13 by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), this joint resolution, like the House version (H.J.Res.87), provides for congressional disapproval under the Congressional Review Act of an EPA rule on air quality implementation plans. This joint resolution is part of the push to overturn Obama-era regulations.
  • American Innovation Act (S.641). Introduced March 15 by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), this bill would prioritize funding for an expanded and sustained national investment in basic science research. Referred to the Senate Budget Committee. Companion bill is H.R.1569.

Legislation introduced in the House

  • H.R.1397. Introduced March 7 by Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), this bill would authorize, direct, facilitate, and expedite the transfer of administrative jurisdiction of certain federal land. Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources and Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
  • H.R.1427. Introduced March 8 by Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC), this bill would require the Secretary of Commerce to study the coverage gaps of the Next Generation Weather Radar of the National Weather Service and to develop a plan for improving radar coverage and hazardous weather detection and forecasting. Referred to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Companion bill is S.572.
  • Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment (HONEST) Act (H.R.1430). Introduced March 8 by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), this bill would prohibit the EPA from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible. Referred to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. This bill was marked up and approved by the committee on March 9.
  • EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2017 (H.R.1431). Introduced March 8 by Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), this bill would amend the Environmental Research, Development, and Demonstration Authorization Act of 1978 to provide for Scientific Advisory Board member qualifications and public participation. Referred to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. This bill was marked up and approved by the committee on March 9.
  • Regulatory Fingerprints Act of 2017 (H.R.1460). Introduced March 9 by Rep. David Young (R-IA), this bill would require the identification of certain persons who participated in a rule-making in publications related to the rule-making. Referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology Surviving Unprecedented Climate Change Effects with Standard Setting (NIST SUCCESS) Act of 2017 (H.R.1464). Introduced March 9 by Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA), this bill would direct the National Institute of Standards and Technology to convene an effort to make available to standard-developing organizations a consistent, authoritative set of climate information. Referred to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
  • Litigation Relief for Forest Management Projects Act (H.R.1483). Introduced March 9 by Rep. Michael Simpson (R-ID), this bill would amend the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 to discourage litigation against the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management relating to land management projects. Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources and Committee on Agriculture. Companion bill is S. 605.
  • Marine Access and State Transparency (MAST) Act (H.R.1489). Introduced March 9 by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), this bill would amend title 54, US Code, to provide for congressional approval of national monuments and restrictions on the use of national monuments and to establish requirements for declaration of marine national monuments. Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.
  • H.J.Res.87. Introduced March 10 by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), this joint resolution, like the Senate version (S.J.Res.38), provides for congressional disapproval under the Congressional Review Act of an EPA rule on air quality implementation plans. This joint resolution is part of the push to overturn Obama-era regulations.
  • American Innovation Act (H.R.1569). Introduced March 16 by Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL), this bill would prioritize funding for an expanded and sustained national investment in basic science research. Referred to the House Committees on the Budget, Science, Space, and Technology, and Armed Services. Companion bill is S.641.
  • H.R.1580. Introduced March 16 by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), this bill would authorize the Director of the United States Geological Survey to conduct monitoring, assessment, science, and research, in support of the binational fisheries within the Great Lakes Basin. Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.

From the Federal Register