ESA Policy News Feb. 17: President’s final budget prioritizes climate, energy research, Court vacancy could impact climate plan, House passes ‘National interest’ bill

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. 


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. Programs that fund climate change and renewable energy research are the most consistently bolstered in the president’s budget request.

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. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.



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. 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.