ESA Policy News November 19: US, China reach emissions agreement, NSF ‘Truthy’ study scrutinized, House committee chairs named for 2015

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

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: US, CHINA REACH AGREEMENT ON CARBON EMISSION REDUCTIONS

On Nov. 12, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced an agreement that aims to set the US and China on a path to dramatically reducing their carbon emissions.

The United States will cut its emissions 26–28 percent below 2005 emission levels by 2025. China agreed to “peak” its emissions by 2030 and will work to meet that goal earlier. China has also set a target to expand use of non-carbon emitting energy sources to 20 percent of its total energy consumption by 2030. The breakthrough is pivotal as China previously resisted calls to cap its emissions.

The Obama administration declared the reduction goals can be met “under existing law,” without approval from Congress. However, Congress could block funding for the effort using the appropriations process. It appears likely that the Republican-controlled Congress will try. This could pose problems for the president’s subsequent pledge of $3 billion (USD) for the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund to address the ramifications of climate change in developing nations.

Click here for additional information on the agreement.

HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE CHAIR QUESTIONS ‘TRUTHY’ NSF STUDY

On Nov. 10, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) sent a letter to National Science Foundation (NSF) Director France Cordova requesting information on the agency’s decision to fund research into the spread through social media of ideas and memes, including political commentary and campaign messaging.

The study in question, entitled “Truthy,” is a multi-year research project by the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing. The name is derived from the term “truthiness,” coined by political comedian, Stephen Colbert for information that feels like truth. The authors apply the term to social media messages from bots [programs] that seem to come from real people and sponsored messages that seem to come from grassroots movements.

According to the University of Indiana project website, one of the goals of the study is to “develop machine learning and visual analytics tools that could aid people in recognizing misinformation such as harmful rumors, smear campaigns, astroturfing, and other social media abuse.”

Chairman Smith contends that the project singles out conservative messaging tactics and threatens free speech.

The day Chairman Smith issued the letter; the Association of American Universities (AAU) released a statement on his committee’s continued inquires into NSF grants.

Click here to view the AAU statement. Click here to view Chairman Smith’s letter. Click here to view the author’s response. Click here to link to the ‘Truthy’ study website.

HOUSE: REPUBLICAN CONFERENCE NAMES NEW COMMITTEE CHAIRS

This week, the House Republican Conference announced its committee chairs for the upcoming 114th Congress, which convenes in January 2015. House Democrats have yet to select their top spots for committee ranking members. Also pending are selections for subcommittee chairs.

Below is a list of new and returning chairs for House committees with jurisdiction over legislation that may be of interest to the ecological community:

Returning

House Appropriations Committee: Rep. Hal Rodgers (R-KY)

House Energy and Commerce Committee: Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI)

House Education and Workforce Committee: Rep. John Kline (R-MN)

House, Science, Space and Technology Committee: Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX)

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee: Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA)

New

House Agriculture Committee: Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX)

House Natural Resources Committee: Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT)

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT)

House Ways and Means Committee: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)

APPROPRIATIONS: SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES URGE LAWMAKERS TO BOOST RESEARCH FUNDING

As lawmakers finalize work on an appropriations agreement to potentially fund the government through the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, scientific societies are requesting adequate federal investment in scientific research and innovation.

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is among 133 research, education, business and health organizations that signed a letter address to all Members of Congress urging passage of a FY 2015 omnibus appropriations bill that increases spending for federal agencies and programs that advance scientific research and higher education. The letter discourages lawmakers from enacting another continuing resolution (CR) that would flat-fund federal agencies at existing spending levels and calls for a commitment that helps close our nation’s “innovation deficit.”

ESA also joined the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) in signing a letter to appropriators supporting $7.4 billion for the National Science Foundation in FY 2015, which was the dollar amount included in the House bill. This would be a three percent increase over FY 2015.

Agreement on a final appropriations bill is expected in December, though the administration’s plan to take action on immigration reform in the near future could complicate matters. The existing CR currently funding the government expires Dec. 11.

Click here to view the innovation deficit letter. Click here to view the CNSF letter.

SENATE: RESEARCH COMMUNITY REQUESTS SPENDING BILL FREE OF CLIMATE ‘RIDERS’

On Nov. 10, the Ecological Society of America joined 19 other scientific research organizations and institutions in sending a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) requesting that they pass a final Fiscal Year 2015 omnibus appropriations bill that supports funding for climate research and is free of any legislatively mandated constraints on such research.

Several appropriations bills taken up by the House included “climate research riders,” legislative language in either the base bill or added through the amendment process that would cut or prohibit funding for programs that advance scientific understanding of issues related to global climate change. Among them are severe cuts to the Department of Energy’s Biological and Ecological Research program and prohibitions on spending to implement the US Global Change Research Program or the fifth assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Click here to view the full letter.

FWS: GUNNISON SAGE GROUSE GARNERS ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT PROTECTIONS

On Nov. 12, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced it will list the Gunnison sage grouse (Centrocercus minimus) as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

According to FWS, there are only about 4,700 Gunnison sage grouse left, occupying only seven to 12 percent of the species’ historical range in Colorado and Utah. Concurrent with the publication of the final rule, FWS is designating 1.4 million acres in Colorado and southeastern Utah as critical habitat for the species. The listing was first proposed by the service in Jan. 2013, citing habitat loss and fragmentation caused by human development. The decision has no direct bearing on FWS’s still pending decision to list the related greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) as endangered under the ESA, which the agency is evaluating independently.

“While many people hoped that the extraordinary conservation efforts by our partners in Colorado and Utah would resolve all the threats faced by the Gunnison sage-grouse, the best available science indicates that the species still requires the Act’s protection,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe in a press statement.

Many agricultural landowners will not be affected by the bird’s new status. Those who have committed to Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances will be in full compliance with the ESA. Participating landowners took steps to improve sage grouse habitat and survival by, for example, removing invasive cheatgrass and putting ramps into stock tanks to help trapped birds escape drowning. Participants in the US Department of Agriculture’s Sage Grouse Initiative, Working Lands for Wildlife and Conservation Reserve Program will also be in compliance.

Click here for additional information.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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