ESA Policy News May 18: Senate considers COMPETES reauthorization, House CJS bill would reduce NSF funding

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


On May 11, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee convened a hearing entitled “Leveraging the US Science and Technology Enterprise.” The hearing is part of the committee’s ongoing efforts to solicit input from the scientific community as it drafts legislation to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act.

In his opening statement, Chairman John Thune (R-SD) praised the work of committee members Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Gary Peters (D-MI) in their bipartisan efforts to solicit input from and convene roundtables allowing members of the scientific community to weigh in on the Senate’s efforts to reauthorize the bill.

“Common themes arising from the roundtables included support for continued investment by the federal government in basic research, as well as encouragement of wider participation in STEM subjects; stronger partnerships among government, the private sector, and academia that could better leverage discoveries emerging from our research universities to drive innovation; and the importance of minimizing barriers and improving incentives for universities and the private sector to better maximize the scientific and economic return on limited federal research resources,” said Thune.

Witnesses testifying included  Kelvin Droegemeier, vice chairman, National Science Board; Jeannette Wing, corporate vice president for research, Microsoft Corp.; Robert Atkinson, president, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation; and David Munson, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of engineering, University of Michigan College of Engineering.

Click here to view the hearing.


On May 17, the House Appropriations Committee released its Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) and Related Agencies Fiscal Year 2017 spending bill. In total, the bill includes $56 billion in discretionary spending, a $279 million increase over the FY 2016 enacted level.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) would receive $7.4 billion in FY 2017, a $57 million decrease over FY 2016. Research and Related Activities is increased by $46 million targeted to programs that foster innovation and US economic competitiveness, including funding for research on advanced manufacturing, physics, mathematics, cybersecurity, neuroscience and STEM education. Reductions are made in equipment and construction costs. Unlike the Senate CJS appropriations bill, there is no increased funding allocated towards the construction of Regional Class Research Vessels, setting up a potential showdown if the two chambers negotiate a final bill this fall.

Below are funding levels for other science agencies in the bill, compared to the FY 2016 enacted level:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $5.6 billion, a $185 million decrease

National Aeronautics and Space Administration:$19.5 billion, a $223 million increase

National Institute of Standards and Technology: $865 million, a $99 million decrease

Click here for additional information on the House CJS bill.

Click here to view ESA testimony in support of FY 2017 funding for NSF.


On May 12, the Senate passed its version of the Energy and Water Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 by a vote of 90-8.

The House also passed its FY 2017 energy and water spending bill (H.R. 2028) earlier this month by a vote of 240-177. The Senate took up the House version of the bill and added an amendment in the nature of a substitute, replacing the House-passed language with the text of the Senate bill (S. 2804). The Senate bill provides $37.5 billion for FY 2017, $100 million more than the House bill.

The White House released a Statement of Administration Policy that objects to many of the funding levels in the Senate bill, but it stopped short of declaring the president would veto it.

Click here to view the statement.


On May 17, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its FY 2017 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017.

The legislation provides $2.54 billion to support agricultural research conducted by the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.  This amount includes $375 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, a $25 million increase above the FY2016 enacted level.

Below are funding levels for additional USDA entities of interest to the ecological community compared to FY 2016 enacted levels:

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: $939.3 million, a $44.9 million increase.

Natural Resources Conservation Service:  $864.5 million, a $4.1 million increase.

Click here to view for additional information on the bill.


The second annual United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-2) will convene in Nairobi, Kenya from May 23-27 under the overarching theme of Delivering on the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SD) UNEA-2 will reflect the latest global, regional and national developments related to the environment. It will also provide the first global platform for reviewing progress on the SDGs, particularly their environmental dimensions.  The UNEA is the world’s highest level decision-making body for environmental issues.

In advance of UNEA-2, ESA penned a letter to to Dr. Oyun, president, United Nations Environment Assembly, asking for her support for a proposal to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly to recognize 2020 as an “International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists.” Nearly half of the Earth’s land surface is classified as rangeland and grassland, and the health and productivity of these lands are critical to the livelihoods of an estimated 500 million people around the world. Rangeland and grassland habitats provide a multitude of ecosystems services.

Others groups that are in support of an “International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists” are the Society for Range Management & The Rangelands Partnership, ILRI/International Land Coalition, International Rangelands Congress, and International Grasslands Congress.

Click here to view the ESA letter.

Click here for additionalUNEA-2 information.


On May 2, the National Science Foundation released a nine-point plan for its vision for the future of fundamental research.

Six of the goals concern research ideas:

  • Accelerating future discovery by providing the fundamental techniques, tools, research cyberinfrastructure, and educational foundations to harness the data revolution.
  • Understanding how technologies affect human behavior and testing new learning environments inside and outside schools.
  • Developing our capacity to predict the phenotype of a cell or organism.
  • Identifying and supporting research that answers deep questions about quantum behavior and develops the means of accessing and manipulating quantum systems.
  • Establishing an observing network of mobile and fixed platforms and tools across the Arctic to document ongoing rapid biological, physical, chemical and social changes.
  • Examining the universe’s beginnings and seek to improve understanding of some of the universe’s most exotic properties.

Three of the goals concern concept ideas:

  • Focusing on convergent multi-disciplinary research among the physical sciences, biological sciences, computing, engineering, and the social and behavioral sciences
  • Increasing support for midscale research infrastructure.
  • Identifying bold, long-term foundational research questions to set the stage for breakthrough science and engineering all the way to NSF’s Centennial in 2050.

The plan is supported by the National Science Board, but would require funding support from Congress and the next administration for its implementation.

Click here to view the plan.


On May 13, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced its National Microbiome Initiative. The new initiative seeks to expand our knowledge of microbiomes to “aid in the development of useful applications in areas such as health care, food production, and environmental restoration.”

The federal agencies will collectively invest $121 million, while institutions, businesses, and other stakeholders will invest an additional $400 million towards the effort.

Click here for additional information.


Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA issued for the first time regulations that will reduce methane emissions from oil and gas production.

Methane is a key constituent of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential more than 25 times greater than that of carbon dioxide. The regulations are part of the administration’s Climate Action Plan to reduce methane emissions, and stay on course to achieve its goal of cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. The regulations received praise from environmental groups, while industry criticized them.

Click here for more information.


On May 9, President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act into law (P.L. 114-152). The new law designates the bison as the national mammal.

The original legislation (H.R. 2908) was sponsored in the House by Reps. William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Kristi Noem (R-SD) and José Serrano (D-NY). Sens. John Hoeven (R-ND) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) subsequently introduced companion legislation (S. 2032) in the Senate. H.R. 2908 passed the House April 26 by voice vote and passed the Senate April 28 by unanimous consent.

The Vote Bison Coalition, which is led by steering committee members from the Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council, National Bison Association, and Wildlife Conservation Society, championed the legislation.