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AIBS Submits Testimony to the Senate in Support of FY 2013 Funding for USGS, EPA, USFS

April 24, 2012

Testimony in Support of FY 2013 Funding for the
United States Geological Survey, United States Forest Service, and Environmental Protection Agency

Submitted by:
Julie Palakovich Carr
Senior Public Policy Associate
and
Richard O'Grady, Ph.D.
Executive Director

American Institute of Biological Sciences
1444 I Street, NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20005
Phone: 202-628-1500

Submitted to:
Senate Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) appreciates the opportunity to provide testimony in support of appropriations for the United States Geological Survey (USGS), United States Forest Service (USFS), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for fiscal year (FY) 2013. AIBS encourages Congress to provide the USGS with at least $1.2 billion in FY 2013, with at least $177.9 million for the Ecosystems activity. We further request that Congress provide the USFS Forest and Rangeland Research program with at least $295.3 million, and EPA's Office of Research and Development with at least $600 million.

The AIBS is a nonprofit scientific association dedicated to advancing biological research and education for the welfare of society. AIBS works to ensure that the public, legislators, funders, and the community of biologists have access to and use information that will guide them in making informed decisions about matters that require biological knowledge. Founded in 1947 as a part of the National Academy of Sciences, AIBS became an independent, member-governed organization in the 1950s. Today, AIBS has nearly 160 member organizations and is headquartered in Reston, Virginia, with a Public Policy Office in Washington, DC.

U.S. Geological Survey

The USGS provides unbiased, independent research, data, and assessments that are needed by public and private sector decision-makers. Data generated by the USGS save taxpayers money by reducing economic losses from natural disasters, allowing more effective management of water and natural resources, and providing essential geospatial information that is needed for commercial activity and natural resource management. The data collected by the USGS are not available from other sources and our nation cannot afford to sacrifice this information.

The Ecosystems activity within USGS underpins the agency's other science mission areas by providing information needed for understanding the impacts of water use, energy exploration and production, and natural hazards on natural systems. The USGS conducts research on and monitoring of fish, wildlife, and vegetation - data that informs management decisions by other Interior bureaus regarding protected species and land use. USGS science is also used to control invasive species and wildlife diseases that can cause billions of dollars in economic losses. Collectively, the knowledge generated by these USGS programs is used by federal and state natural resource managers to maintain healthy and diverse ecosystems while balancing the needs of public use.

Other examples of successful USGS Ecosystem initiatives include:

  • Development of comprehensive geospatial data products that characterize the risk of wildfires on all lands in the United States. These products are used to allocate firefighting resources and to plan fuel reduction projects.
  • Identification of white-nose syndrome, a fungus that is devastating U.S. bat populations and could jeopardize the multi-billion dollar pest control services provided by bats.
  • Identification and evaluation of control measures for Asian carp, sea lamprey, Burmese pythons, and other invasive species.
  • Study of the impacts of solar energy and other next generation energy sources on wildlife and endangered species.

Through the Cooperative Research Units, the USGS and their partners address pressing issues facing natural resource managers at the local, state, and federal levels. Examples of recent research initiatives include studying the effects of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill on wildlife and fisheries, and improving management of elk and waterfowl. In addition to providing research expertise, these partnerships at 40 universities in 38 states serve as important training centers for America's next generation of scientists and resource managers. More than 500 graduate students each year receive training by USGS scientists at Cooperative Research Units. The program is also an efficient use of resources: each federal dollar invested in the program is leveraged more than three-fold.

The National Streamflow Information Program within the Water Resources mission area provides needed information for resource managers and scientists. Its national network of streamgages records changes in streamflow due to alterations in precipitation, land use, and water use. This information is vital to state and local governments, utilities, and resource managers who make decisions about water use.

The requested FY 2013 budget would support several science priorities. The proposed budget would enable the USGS to develop methodologies to better prevent, detect, and control Asian carp and other invasive species. USGS would also be able to provide enhanced surveillance and diagnostic tools, and to develop management tools for white-nose syndrome and other ecologically and economically costly wildlife diseases. Additionally, USGS would be able to study and better inform decisions about new energy sources. Importantly, the proposed budget would increase support for USGS research on high priority conservation and land use issues faced by other Interior bureaus, which lack intramural scientific resources to study these issues.

Although the proposed budget supports many USGS priorities, the requested funding level would result in cuts to other programs that support agency core missions. For instance, USGS would have to diminish efforts to assess the nation's water quality and reduce studies on the impacts of environmental contaminants. Given the agency's critical role in informing the environmental and economic health of the nation, more support is justified. We urge Congress to fully fund the USGS by restoring Administration-proposed reductions to core science programs and operations costs while maintaining the proposed increases for other areas.

In summary, the USGS is uniquely positioned to provide a scientific context for many of the nation's biological and environmental challenges, including water quality and use, energy independence, and conservation of biological diversity. Biological science programs within the USGS gather long-term data not available from other sources. These data have contributed fundamentally to our understanding of the status and dynamics of biological populations and have improved our understanding of how ecosystems function, all of which is necessary for predicting the impacts of land management practices and other human activities on the natural environment. This array of research expertise not only serves the core missions of the Department of the Interior, but also contributes to management decisions made by other agencies and private sector organizations. USGS science is also cost-effective, as the agency's activities help to identify the most effective management actions. In short, increased investments in these important research activities will yield dividends.

U.S. Forest Service

United States Forest Service research provides scientific information and new technologies to support sustainable management of the nation's forests and rangelands. These products and services increase the basic biological and physical knowledge of the composition, structure, and function of forest, rangeland, and aquatic ecosystems.

The FY 2013 budget request would cut funding for the Forest and Rangeland Research by $2.5 million. If enacted, the budget would reduce the Forest Service's capacity to conduct research relevant to wildfires, control of invasive species, and management of wildlife and fish. Given the importance of this scientific work to the management of public and private lands, we urge Congress to fund the program at the FY 2012 enacted level.

Environmental Protection Agency

The Office of Research and Development (ORD) supports valuable extramural and intramural research that is used to identify and mitigate environmental problems facing our nation. ORD research informs decisions made by public health and safety managers, natural resource managers, businesses, and other stakeholders concerned about air and water pollution, human health, and land management and restoration. In short, ORD provides the scientific basis upon which EPA monitoring and enforcement programs are built.

Despite the important role played by ORD, its funding has declined by 11 percent since FY 2004, when it peaked at $646.5 million. At $575.6 million, the budget request for FY 2013 falls far short of addressing past and current shortfalls. We ask that Congress restore funding for ORD to at least the FY 2010 level.

The Ecosystem Services Research program within ORD is responsible for enhancing, protecting, and restoring ecosystem services, such as clean air and water, rich soil for crop production, pollination, and flood control. The program has been chronically underfunded, according to the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB). Indeed, the current level of funding "provides inadequate funding for research that supports multiple EPA regulatory programs and that the SAB has characterized as transdisciplinary with the 'potential to be transformative for environmental decision making'...," according to an SAB analysis of the FY 2012 budget request. The FY 2013 request fails to correct this problem, instead proposing a reduction of $600,000. Moreover, funding for EPA ecosystem research has been cut nearly in half since 2004. We ask that Congress address the chronic underfunding of the program.

The Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program supports valuable research on human health and the environment through competitively awarded research grants. The program enables EPA to fill information gaps that are not addressed by intramural EPA research programs or by other agencies. A report by the National Academy of Sciences found that the "STAR program is an important part of the overall EPA research program." That same report recommends that funding for the STAR program should be at 15 to 20 percent of the overall ORD budget, "even in budget-constrained times." Despite a proposed increase for the program, the FY 2013 request would fund STAR at less than 15 percent of the overall ORD budget. We urge Congress to fund STAR at the recommended level.

The STAR Graduate Fellowship contributes to the training of the next generation of scientists by supporting graduate students pursuing an advanced degree in environmental science. The National Academy of Sciences called the fellowship "a valuable mechanism for enabling a continuing supply of graduate students in environmental sciences and engineering." Since its inception in 1995, this successful program has supported the education and training of 1,500 fellows who have gone on to pursue careers as scientists and educators. The agency's request would flat fund the program. Given the fellowship's valuable role in preparing environmental scientists and engineers, we ask for the program's funding to be increased accordingly.

ORD's Safe and Sustainable Water Resources program supports research that underpins safe and sustainable water. In addition to helping to ensure safe drinking water for society, the program's research focuses on better understanding resiliency of watersheds to stressors and factors that affect watershed restoration. The budget request would allow the program to pursue research that will inform decisions about water safety and to ensure the sustainability of our coastal watersheds and estuaries.

In conclusion, we urge Congress to restore funding for the ORD to the FY 2010 enacted level. These appropriation levels would allow ORD to address a backlog of research needs.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of this request.

Read more AIBS Position Statements

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