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Public Policy Report for 2 July 2012

House Panel Votes to Slash Environmental Research Funding

Last week the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would cut $1.2 billion from federal natural resource and environmental programs in fiscal year (FY) 2013. The legislation would decrease funding for Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and U.S. Forest Service.

A number of research programs would be negatively impacted if the bill were enacted. The budget for the United States Geological Survey (USGS) would be cut by $101 million relative to the current budget. The proposed 9.5 percent cut would put the agency below its FY 2006 budget. USGS ecosystem and natural hazards programs would be particularly hard hit. The proposed 18 percent reduction for biological sciences would cut research and monitoring of wildlife, fisheries, and ecosystems. Only the invasive species and contaminant biology research programs would be spared budget reductions. Research programs on climate and land use change, energy, and minerals are also targeted for reductions. Funding for administrative costs and enterprise information would be slashed by 25 percent. Conversely, the USGS Water Resources program would receive a modest 2 percent increase.

Other Interior bureaus are targeted for funding reductions. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service would receive 21 percent less funding in FY 2013. The budget for the National Park Service would by cut by 5 percent.

The EPA would be subject to the largest cut: $1.4 billion (-17 percent) below the current level. If enacted, this would bring the agency’s funding below the FY 1998 level. According to committee documents, the bill would cap EPA’s personnel at the lowest number since 1992. EPA’s Science and Technology budget line would be reduced by $55.4 million (-7 percent). The proposed funding level is less than Congress appropriated for EPA science in FY 2004. Funding for watershed restoration projects around the nation would also be reduced collectively by $63.5 million.

Despite an overall increase for the Forest Service, the agency’s Forest and Rangeland Research program would be cut by 16 percent. The bill would fund the program at less than the FY 2003 level.

Funding for government climate change activities would be reduced by $101 million (-29 percent) across the entire bill. The bill also includes a policy rider that prohibits funding for the President Obama’s National Ocean Policy.

The bill was approved with the support of 26 Republicans on the committee, who defended the proposed funding reductions as necessary for addressing the nation’s debt. “This bill addresses threats to our natural resources and wildlife, bolsters public safety, and nurtures economic growth and domestic energy production,” said Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY). “And, this bill wisely places a limit on big-government excess - cutting funding for programs and agencies that stifle economic growth rather than encourage it - including reducing the EPA’s budget by 17%.”

All of the Democrats on the committee — plus one Republican — opposed the bill. Members of the minority party expressed deep concern about the negative impacts of the reduced funding levels on the nation’s economic recovery and ability to protect the environment. Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ) reportedly opposed the measure because it did not cut enough spending.

“The deep funding cuts to important conservation and environmental protection programs would, if enacted, cause serious harm to our environment,” said Representative Jim Moran (D-VA), Ranking Member of the Interior and Environment Subcommittee. “Likewise, this bill again includes a number of riders and funding limitations that I believe do not belong in the bill and whose effect would be to undermine important environmental law. I strongly disagree on the need for these provisions. Protecting the public’s health did not cause the recession, and suspension of these laws will not sustain a recovery.”

Rep. Moran also said that he is “99 percent” sure the bill will not be considered by the entire House of Representatives. Rather, the bill could go straight to conference with the Senate. The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to unveil their version of the legislation.

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Bill to Fund Agricultural Research Passed by House Appropriators

On 19 June 2012, the House Appropriations Committee adopted a bill to fund the Department of Agriculture and related agencies in fiscal year (FY) 2013. HR 5973 would provide $19.4 billion in discretionary funding, $365 million less than the current level.

Agriculture research spending in the bill totals $2.5 billion, $34.5 million less than FY 2012. The Agricultural Research Service—the department’s intramural research program—would receive $1.1 billion, $21 million less than the current funding level and on par with the FY 2002 enacted spending level. The National Institute for Food and Agriculture would receive $1.2 billion, a $27 million reduction. Included is $276.5 million (+$12 million) for the Agricultural Food and Research Initiative.

The White House has threatened to veto the bill, as it does not adhere to the budget allocation Congress agreed to under last summer’s debt limit deal and enacted in the 2011 Budget Control Act.

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Deadline Approaching: Sign Up to Showcase Science to Policymakers

Would you like to help inform the nation’s science policy without trekking to Washington, DC? Do you want to meet with your members of Congress to discuss the importance of federal investments in science?

Register now to participate in the 4th Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event. This national initiative is an opportunity for biologists across the country to meet with their members of Congress to showcase the people, facilities, and equipment that are required to support and conduct scientific research.

The 4th Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event will be held throughout the month of August 2012, when Representatives and Senators spend time in their Congressional districts and home states. This event is an opportunity for scientists, graduate students, representatives of research facilities, and people affiliated with scientific collections to meet with their members of Congress to demonstrate how science is conducted and why a sustained investment in research and education programs must be a national priority. Participating scientists may invite their elected officials to visit their research facility or can meet with them at a local congressional office.

AIBS Public Policy Office staff will provide background materials and a webinar training program to prepare individuals for their meetings. Participants will receive information about federal funding for biological and environmental research, tools for improving their communication skills, and tips for conducting a successful meeting with an elected official. Participating scientists will receive guidance and some assistance with scheduling meetings.

The event is made possible by the American Institute of Biological Sciences, Long-Term Ecological Research Network, Museum of Comparative Zoology-Harvard University, and Natural Science Collections Alliance.

Participation is free, but registration will close on 15 July 2012. For more information and to register, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionaldistrictvisits.html.

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Senate Passes 2012 Farm Bill, Reauthorizes Agricultural Research Programs

Senate passage of the 2012 Farm Bill is evidence enough for some that bipartisanship is not dead in the nation’s capitol, at least according to members of the Senate upon passage of the legislation. The bill, S. 3240, which sets the nation’s policies on crop and livestock production, environmental conservation on agricultural lands, and emergency food assistance, received the bipartisan support of 64 Senators, and was opposed by 30 Republicans and five Democrats.

Overall, the bill would provide $969 billion over the next decade for agricultural programs while reportedly cutting the nation’s deficit by $23 billion. The legislation would consolidate and eliminate programs at the Department of Agriculture (USDA). Conservation programs are among the targets, with 23 existing programs proposed for consolidation into 13 programs.

The bill would also reauthorize several agricultural research programs at the USDA, including grants and fellowships for food and agricultural sciences education, animal health and disease research programs, and grants for international agricultural science and education.

S. 3240 would establish a non-profit Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. The foundation would solicit private funding matched with federal dollars to support agricultural research.

Also included in the bill is a provision that would require the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to assess barriers faced by institutions with limited capacity to successfully apply and compete for research grants.

Seventy amendments to the bill were considered during floor debate. Notably, an amendment by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) would require the White House to produce a report on how the $1.2 trillion in automatic budgets cuts scheduled to take place in January would affect government agencies. One amendment offered unsuccessfully by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) would have granted states the authority to require labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients.

The House Agriculture Committee is expected to consider its version of the Farm Bill in July.

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Rio+20 Summit Wraps Up

Sustainability was the topic of the day at the Rio+20 Earth Summit, which ended 22 June 2012. The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was intended as a forum to promote sustainable development, poverty eradication, and the green economy while addressing current environmental and ecological challenges. Although minor agreements were reached, staunch advocates for social and environmental justice worry that the lack of a detailed, decisive blueprint for future actions will result in a ‘business-as-usual’ approach.

The Rio+20 Summit included discussion of many ideas that could foster a sustainable 21st century. Some notable developments from the summit include:

  • Sustainable Development Goals that complement the Millennium Development Goals are intended to help developed and emerging nations set congruent goals for addressing environmental challenges.
  • The World Congress on Justice, Governance, and Law for Environmental Sustainability pledged to pursue sustainable outcomes using legislation and to press for adherence to environmental treaties.
  • The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will be enhanced by an increased budget and expanded membership.
  • A recommendation that Gross Domestic Product as a narrow indicator of prosperity be replaced by a more inclusive term that accounts for critical ecosystems along with human and produced capital.
  • The Sustainable Public Procurement Initiative was launched to increase public spending on goods and services that “maximize environmental and social benefits,” as a way to support these eco-industries, conserve money and resources, and spur job creation.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) also released a new report, Avoiding Future Famines: Strengthening the Ecological Basis of Food Security through Sustainable Food Systems, during the summit. The report shines a spotlight on the often-overlooked idea of ecosystem health and its importance to food production.

Currently, global ecosystems that support agriculture and fishing are approaching collapse due to various threats, including climate change, scarcity and diminishing quality of water, loss of biodiversity and habitat, and overfishing. However, if sustainable practices that maintain ecosystems or allow them to recover were put in place, environments would not be as stressed. The report proffers that ecosystem stewardship incentives and other economic strategies may encourage the incorporation of sustainable practices (e.g. soil and nutrient management, fishing quota adherence) into food systems. Additional changes that could stave off ecosystem degradation are dietary changes, reducing pollution, and minimizing food waste.

The notion of food security is not new to UNEP, but previous attempts to address it have focused on steady food availability and access. This report acknowledges that ecology and the environment “prop up the whole food system” and should be preserved as the ultimate basis for food security. UNEP Chief Scientist Joseph Alcamo asserts, “We won’t have enough food…unless we find out a way to produce it sustainably without destroying its ecological foundation.”

On 19 June 2012, the UNEP Finance Initiative released the Principles for Sustainable Insurance. Supported by twenty-seven founding insurance companies from fifteen countries, the Principles aim to address environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues in risk management and decision-making.

Operating under the belief that ESG challenges will only intensify in the future, the industry acknowledges it must adopt an innovative, long-term approach to account for and cope with problems such as climate change, food security, and emerging pandemics. The Principles are a set of guidelines that will allow insurance companies to anticipate these hazards, and work to minimize them in the future.

To achieve this, the Principles describe four strategies that insurers can use to incentivize the transition to a sustainable world. These strategies are: represent ESG issues in decision-making; raise awareness among clients; work with stakeholders such as governments and regulators; and disclose progress annually.

The UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, sums up the potential of the Principles as such: “The UN Environment Programme’s Finance Initiative has been exploring the possibility of establishing sustainability principles for the global insurance industry that can catalyze and amplify transformational change…. We need to green our economies, build resilient communities, deliver wider ranging social outcomes, and better conserve our forests, freshwaters and other critical ecosystems. The Principles for Sustainable Insurance are a foundation upon which the insurance industry and society as a whole can build a stronger relationship—one that puts sustainability at the heart of risk management in pursuit of a more forward-looking and better managed world.”

Once again, Senator Inhofe (R-OK) seized on the media opportunity created by the Summit to mock President Obama and the United Nations. An event held by the conservative Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow aired a video of Senator Inhofe (R-OK) accusing President Obama of playing both sides during the election year: trying to support fossil fuel development domestically to win re-election, while secretly embracing a “radical” climate change agenda.

Although Obama was notably absent from the international conference, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended. One aide to Obama argued that his absence should not undermine how much the U.S. is focused on sustainable global development.

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Short Takes

  • The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) broke ground in June on its first two sites, marking the official start of observatory construction. Construction stated at Harvard Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts and Ordway-Swisher Biological Station in Melrose, Florida. The project is funded by the National Science Foundation.
  • The National Science Foundation has announced new funding opportunities to support research on how organisms function, adapt, and evolve to their changing environments. Learn more about the new opportunities for mid-career supplements and training workshops at http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2012/nsf12093/nsf12093.jsp?WT.mc_id=USNSF_25&WT.mc_ev=click.
  • Computing research can and should have a significant role in advancing the nation's and the world's sustainability goals, according to a new report by the National Research Council. Read about some of the opportunities for information technology innovation and computer science research to impact sustainability at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13415.

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Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center today!

The AIBS Legislative Action Center is an online resource that allows biologists and science educators to quickly and effectively influence policy and public opinion. Each day lawmakers must make tough decisions about science policy. For example, what investments to make in federal research programs, how to conserve biodiversity, how to mitigate climate change, or under what circumstances to permit stem cell research. Scientists now have the opportunity to help elected officials understand these issues. This exciting new advocacy tool allows individuals to quickly and easily communicate with members of Congress, executive branch officials, and selected media outlets.

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the Society for the Study of Evolution, American Society for Limnology and Oceanography, and the Botanical Society of America.

AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become a policy advocate today. Simply go to http://capwiz.com/aibs/home/ to send a prepared letter or to sign up to receive periodic Action Alerts.

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