ESA Policy News June 1: House energy bill restricts climate research, FY 2017 Interior bill cuts conservation funding, science committee convenes Zika hearing

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


On May 25, the House passed S. 2012, the Energy Policy Modernization Act. The bill passed by a vote of 241-178. Eight Democrats joined all but six Republicans in supporting the measure.

S. 2012 passed the Senate April 20, 2016 by a strong bipartisan vote of 85-12. The House used “an amendment in the nature of a substitute” to replace the Senate-passed text with the language of a more partisan House energy bill, H.R. 8, the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015. The White House released a statement threatening to veto H.R. 8 in Nov. 2015, stating it would undercut efforts to increase the nation’s energy efficiency.

The House language includes a number of restrictions on scientific research, particularly related to the Department of Energy Office of Science’s Biological and Environment Research (BER) program. The House legislation would authorize funding for BER 9.7 percent ($59 million) below the FY 2016 appropriated level. The legislation would also prevent BER from carrying out climate science research that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) identifies as “overlapping or duplicative.” Further, the legislation would also require BER to “prioritize fundamental research on biological systems and genomics science” over “climate and environmental research.”


ESA submitted a letter to the leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee requesting that the cuts and restrictions to scientific research included in the House bill not be included in legislation negotiated between the two chambers.

Click here to read the White House Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 8.


On May 24, the House Appropriations Committee unveiled its Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. As in recent years, the bill includes several provisions that would prohibit funding for Obama administration environmental regulatory initiatives.

The bill funds wildland firefighting and prevention programs at $3.9 billion – fully funding the 10-year average for federal agency wildland fire suppression costs. The committee report outlining funding for wildfire specific accounts between the Department of Interior and US Forest Service has yet to be released. Of the $5.3 billion appropriated for the US Forest Service, $2.9 billion is targeted towards wildland fire suppression and prevention activities.

EPA would receive $7.98 billion, $164 million less than the FY 2016 enacted level. Policy riders to prohibit the agency from implementing new regulations for greenhouse gas emissions, methane, mining and navigable waters, among others, were also included in the bill. Traditionally, many of these provisions have been removed during the conference process between the House and Senate.

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

US Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.5 billion, a $17 million decrease.

US Geological Survey:  $1.1 billion, an $18 million increase.

Office of Surface Mining: $236 million, level with existing funding.

Bureau of Land Management: $1.2 billion, a $10 million decrease.

National Park Service: $2.9 billion, s $71 million increase. The increase is targeted toward reducing the park maintenance backlog and priorities related to its centennial anniversary.

Smithsonian Institution: $863 million, a $23 million increase.

Land and Water Conservation Fund: $322 million, a $128 million decrease.

The Ecological Society of America provided testimony to the Interior appropriations subcommittee requesting support for the Joint Fire Science Program.


On May 25, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing entitled “Science of Zika: The DNA of an Epidemic.”

During the hearing there was bipartisan consensus that more support is needed for further research and monitoring of the Zika virus. As summer nears, the terrain with weather favorable to mosquitoes in the continental United States will expand.

Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) felt the Zika threat warrants the Obama administration raising travel alert threat protocols. He called on the administration to raise the travel alert to level three for Brazil, Colombia and other countries with high rates of Zika infections. The level three warning acknowledges high risk to travelers and recommends avoiding all non-essential travel. Smith cited the Olympics in Brazil as factoring into the administration’s decision not to raise the travel alert level.

Questions predominantly centered on improving monitoring and public awareness, understanding the molecular biology of the virus, how it interacts with the human body and the difficulties of pesticide use in light of the fact that the mosquito species that spreads the virus is common on the private property of Americans’ backyards.


Witnesses testifying included Kacey Ernst, Associate Professor, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Arizona; Daniel Neafsey, Associate Director, Genomic Center for Infectious Disease, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard; Steven Presley, Professor, Department of Environmental Toxicology, Texas Tech University; and Hadyn Parry, Chief Executive Officer, Oxitec.

Click here to view the hearing.


On May 26, the US Department of Education announced proposed regulations to carry out the recently enacted Every Student Succeeds Act, which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The regulatory reform include these key topics:

  • Refining definitions and measurements for academic achievement and success for schools.
  • Providing targeted specialized support for struggling schools
  • Ensuring parents and communities have data that helps them productively engage and in their educational systems.
  • Streamlining state education plans to eliminate duplication.

Click here for additional information.