March 6, 2020

Submitted to:
House Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
and
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 Smithsonian Institution, United States Geological Survey (USGS), United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for fiscal year (FY) 2021. We encourage Congress to provide new funding to the Smithsonian Institution and at least $55 million to support scientific and curatorial work within the National Museum of Natural History in FY 2021. We urge Congress to provide the USGS with $1.35 billion in FY 2021, with at least $260 million for its Ecosystems mission area. We further request the restoration of funding for Science Support in USFWS to the FY 2020 enacted level of $17.3 million. Lastly, we request that Congress provide EPA Science and Technology with at least $760 million in FY 2021.

The loss of biological diversity and the concomitant negative implications for human health and well-being are of significant concern. As human population grows and people increasingly come into contact with new environments and species migrating into new habitats, the risk of new diseases, such as zoonotic pandemics, is of growing concern. Biological diversity offers a buffer against the spread of pathogens. Biological diversity contributes to environmental sustainability and increases our resilience to natural disasters. Robust federal investments in scientific research and monitoring that improves our understanding of biological diversity and ecosystem function must be a priority. The agencies funded by this appropriations bill are centrally involved in conducting, supporting, and using this scientific research for public benefit.

AIBS is a scientific association advancing the biological sciences to promote an increased understanding of all life. Our mission is to promote the use of scientific information to inform decision making and advance biology for the benefit of science and society.

Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) is a valuable federal contributor to our research enterprise. Through its the curation and research on scientific specimens, scientists at the NMNH care for 146 million specimens and ensure the strategic growth of this internationally recognized scientific research institution. To increase the availability of these scientific resources to researchers, educators, other federal agencies, and the public, NMNH is working on a multi-year effort to digitize its collections. That effort will substantially increase the use of these collections by the public, particularly researchers, educators and students, and policymakers. NMNH is working to strengthen curatorial and research staffing and to backfill positions left open by retirements and budget constraints. The current staffing level is insufficient to provide optimal care for the collections. Future curatorial and collections management staffing levels may be further jeopardized given the proposed funding cuts at science agencies, such as the USGS, that have historically supported staff positions at NMNH.

The budget for NMNH has remained flat over the past two years. The President has proposed a $52 million budget, or a 4.6 percent increase, for NMNH in FY 2021. We urge Congress to provide NMNH with at least $55 million in FY 2021 to allow the museum to undertake critical collections care, make needed technology upgrades, and conduct cutting edge research.

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 enabling more effective management of water and biological 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.

The Ecosystems activity within USGS is integral to the agency's other science mission areas. It conducts research required to understand the impacts of such things as water use and natural hazards on environmental systems. The USGS conducts research on and monitors fish, wildlife, and vegetation--data that informs management decisions by other Interior bureaus. Biological science programs within the Ecosystems program area, collect and analyze long-term data not available from other agencies, universities, or the private sector. The knowledge generated by USGS are used by federal and state natural resource managers to maintain healthy and diverse ecosystems while balancing the needs of public use.

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 wildfire fuel reduction projects.
  • Development and evaluation of control measures and other management interventions for invasive species, such as Asian carp and sea lamprey that cause billions of dollars in economic losses to fisheries, hydropower, recreation, and many other industries.
  • Development of the scientific understanding needed to combat the spread of avian flu, white-nose syndrome, and other diseases spread by wildlife in North America, including diseases that can jump from wild populations to livestock, agricultural systems, and humans.

The President's FY 2021 budget request restructures the Ecosystems mission area to include programs formerly under Land Resources and Environmental Health mission areas, specifically the National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers, significant portions of Land Change Science, Toxic Substance Hydrology, and Contaminant Biology. The budget does not merely reposition these programs, it proposes deep cuts (nearly 50 percent) to this crucial work. These cuts will harm USGS scientific research. Among the proposed cuts are:

  • Cooperative Research Units (CRUs). CRUs are located on 40 university campuses in 38 states. These research centers are a cost-effective way for USGS to leverage research and technical expertise affiliated with these universities to conduct actionable research, provide technical assistance, and develop scientific workforces through graduate education and mentoring programs.
  • Environmental Health Research. The Toxic Substances Hydrology and Contaminant Biology Programs work collaboratively with other USGS Mission Areas, and with many external collaborators to study environmental contaminants and pathogens in the environment and provide the critical science needed to help Federal, State, and local government agencies, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholder groups protect our health.
  • Research on diseases. USGS is the leading Federal agency conducting research on wildlife and fish diseases that can contribute to improved human health. Zoonoses - diseases that spread from wild populations to humans - can pose serious threats to human health and cause significant disruptions to the economy. The deep cuts proposed to this research would crush the agency's ability to provide other agencies with critical information, and technical assistance needed to economically and effectively control and limit disease spread and risk.
  • Wildlife and fisheries research. The proposal includes reductions for species-specific research. Without these research programs, USFWS, the National Park Service, and other Interior bureaus will lack the data required to fulfill agency missions to manage wildlife, as these agencies do not have scientific research capacities. Moreover, the USGS is a non-regulatory agency, which means that its research is independent of the entities responsible for developing and implementing rules and regulations.
  • Research on ecosystems of concern. This research is a critical component of efforts to restore important national resources, such as the Everglades and the Chesapeake Bay. The Arctic ecosystem research and monitoring program addresses the needs of Native communities, and also promotes public health throughout the US by monitoring avian influenza, which can spread to humans.

The President has proposed irresponsible cuts to climate research. The National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers are responsible for developing the science and tools to address the effects of climate change on land, water, wildlife, fish, ecosystems, and communities. These centers play a vital role in addressing the impacts of unique weather patterns on ecosystem health in different areas across the country. The President has proposed to consolidate these centers into a single Climate Adaptation Science Center and cut overall funding by 64 percent.

The USGS supports critical science to manage the threat of invasive species. In the proposed restructure, the Invasive Species Program would be positioned under Biological Threats Research along with research on fish and wildlife diseases. Overall, Biological Threats Research is slated for a 22 percent budget cut with reduced funding for research on Asian Carp, White Nose Syndrome, Chronic Wasting Disease, and Greater Everglades Invasive Species.

We urge Congress to reject the deep cuts to the Ecosystems mission area. We understand USGS's efforts to realign programs to improve operational efficiency, but the devastating budget cuts proposed will hamper long-term data collection initiatives, lead to critical data loss, and undermine the nation's ability to address national challenges.

We request Congress fund USGS at $1.35 billion in FY 2021, with at least $260 million for the Ecosystems mission area and restore funding for the CRUs, the Environmental Health program, and ecosystems and climate research.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The President's budget request once again eliminates the Science Support program within USFWS. In FY 2020, Congress allocated $17.3 million for the program. This program provides scientific information needed by USFWS, such as research on conservation of priority species prior to Endangered Species Act listing, the impacts of energy production on wildlife, and best management practices for combating invasive species, and needs to be restored.

Environmental Protection Agency

Funding for EPA Science and Technology supports valuable research that identifies and mitigates environmental problems. EPA 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. This program provides the scientific basis upon which EPA monitoring and enforcement programs are built.

Despite the important role of EPA Science and Technology, the proposed funding level for FY 2021 is 32 percent below the FY 2020 enacted level. We are concerned to see the proposed eliminations of the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Research Grants and the Global Change Research program, which develops scientific information that allows policy makers, stakeholders, and society to respond to climate change. The proposal also eliminates the National Estuary program, which is critical for restoring estuaries and coastal ecosystems and Water Quality Research and Support Grants, a congressionally directed competitive grant program to support water quality research. These programs are important parts of the federal government's ability to ensure that people have clean air and water.

Please provide at least $760 million in FY 2021 to support scientific research at the EPA.

Conclusion

We urge Congress to reject the Administration's budget request for FY 2021 and sustain its bipartisan support for science by investing in our nation's scientific capacity. Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of this request.

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