Trump Administration Orders New Restrictions on Environmental Reviews

The Department of the Interior is restricting the length and duration of environmental studies of federal actions to no more than 150 pages and a “target” for completion of a year or less.

“The purpose of NEPA’s [National Environmental Policy Act’s] requirement is not the generation of paperwork, but the adoption of sound decisions based on an informed understanding of environmental consequences,” wrote Interior Deputy Secretary Bernhardt in a recent memo. Studies “should focus on issues that truly matter rather than amassing unnecessary detail.”

Interior employees will need high-level approval to exceed the page limit, which would be capped at 300 pages for “unusually complex projects.”

Environmental groups have objected. “This order undercuts NEPA’s fundamental purposes of ensuring public oversight and informed decision-making, mandating arbitrary timeframes and page limits and setting up another compressed, closed door review,” said Nada Culver, senior director of agency policy for the Wilderness Society in a statement.

The Department of the Interior initiates roughly 350 environmental impact statements a year.

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FY 2018 Funding Bill Advances Through House

The House of Representatives has passed a $1.23 trillion package of eight spending bills to fund federal agencies in fiscal year (FY) 2018. More than 300 amendments were considered during debate on the House floor. The bill ultimately passed 211 to 198.

Funding would be cut for many federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Geological Survey, and intramural agricultural research.

Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), who chairs the House Science Committee, successfully offered a largely symbolic amendment that takes aim at social science and climate change research funding by NSF. The amendment reduces funding for all NSF research by $30.2 million and then increases funding by the same amount. Smith said that the motivation for the amendment was to increase funding for basic biological and physical research. Since NSF funding is not legislatively specified for individual research directorates, the amendment does not actually change the funding level for any research programs.

Another amendment would have restored funding for science and technology at the EPA to 2017 levels. The agency’s science funding would be cut by 15 percent if the House passed bill were enacted. Representatives David Price (D-NC), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), and Jared Polis (D-CO) sponsored the amendment, which was not adopted.

Now that the House has passed all 12 annual appropriations bills, attention turns to the Senate, where the full chamber has considered no bills on the floor. Even though the new fiscal year starts on 1 October, the government is funded through 8 December under a continuing resolution.

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Senate Advances Biomedical Spending Bill

The Senate Appropriations Committee has passed legislation that would increase funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by $2 billion. If approved, the budget for NIH would be on a path to have its budget increase by 20 percent from 2016 through 2018.

The legislation also includes a provision that would prevent the administration from reducing the reimbursement rate for indirect costs for universities and other research grantees. Indirect costs are not directly identifiable with a specific research project, but are required for an organization to do the research. Examples of indirect costs include laboratory occupancy costs, libraries, IT, data transmission and storage, administration, and compliance with federal regulations.

The Trump Administration had proposed capping indirect costs at 10 percent of the value of research grant.

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Chief Agriculture Scientist Nomination Delayed

The Senate Agriculture Committee will not be considering the President’s controversial nomination for the Department of Agriculture’s top science role at an upcoming hearing. Sam Clovis was nominated to be undersecretary for research, education, and economics.

Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is the top ranking Democrat on the committee and urged a delay.

“We have other nominees that are coming forward that are mainstream nominees of the department that I’m urging we take up first,” the Senator said. “It would be my hope that the administration would withdraw his nomination.”

Clovis’ nomination has drawn criticism because he is not a scientist and for comments he made as a conservative radio host about race.

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Register for the AIBS Workshop on Interdisciplinary Science

Reports abound from professional societies, the Academies, government agencies, and researchers calling attention to the fact that science is increasingly an inter-disciplinary, transdisciplinary, inter-institutional, and international endeavor. In short, science has become a “team sport.”

There is a real and present need to better prepare scientists for success in this new collaborative environment. The American Institute of Biological Sciences is responding to this call with a new program for scientists, educators, and individuals who work with or participate in scientific teams.

Team science is increasingly common in 21st century biological, life, and environmental sciences. Collaboration is no longer limited to sharing ideas with the biologist in the lab next door. The questions confronting science often require teams that may include a mix of computer and information scientists, physical and social scientists, mathematicians, ethicists, policy and management experts, as well as community stakeholders and citizen scientists. Adding to this complexity, teams span programs within organizations, cross organization boundaries to form institutional consortia, and often include international partners.

This intensive, two-day, interactive, professional development course was designed by scientists and experts on collaboration and teamwork to provide participants with the knowledge and skills required to become productive and effective members of scientific teams. From its first offering the course has evolved to include a greater focus on team planning and teamwork, and less time allocated to university administration of interdisciplinary teams.

Nothing teaches collaboration like practicing collaboration. This is not a course that asks you to learn in isolation. It is a microcosm of scientific collaboration, with extensive hands-on learning as part of a scientific team, with scientific case studies and examples.

This course is designed for anyone involved in collaborative scientific endeavors. Team leaders will find the course especially helpful. Because participants will work on “real-world” team science concerns, we encourage multiple members of a team to attend together. We can also customize the course and bring it to your university, department, lab, or research team. This course provides the right foundation from which your team can successfully accomplish your goals.

Learn more at https://www.aibs.org/events/teamscienceevent.html.

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Expand Your Broader Impact Skills: AIBS Communications Boot Camp for Scientists

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is offering a professional development program designed to enhance the communication skills of scientists, particularly those interested in communicating with decision-makers and the news media. The program is an excellent way to develop new communication skills and identify effective methods for broadening the impact of research and education programs.

The AIBS Communications Training Boot Camp for Scientists expands on AIBS’ highly successful media and science policy training workshops. The Boot Camp meets the needs of everyone from graduate students to senior researchers and program administrators to newly elected professional society leaders.

The Boot Camp is an intensive, two-day, hands-on training program that will be held in Washington, DC on 9-10 October 2017.

Participants will learn:

  • How to translate scientific findings for non-technical audiences
  • How to tell a resonant story that informs decision-makers
  • How to prepare for and participate in a news interview
  • How to prepare for and engage in a meeting with a decision-maker
  • How to protect your scientific reputation
  • How to identify and define the audience you need to reach
  • What decision-makers want to hear from a scientist
  • What reporters are looking for in an interview
  • How to leverage social media
  • How the nation’s science policy is developed and implemented

Participants will also have the opportunity for formal and informal discussions with science policy and communications experts working in Washington, DC. A course outline is available here.

AIBS Individual Members and individuals nominated to participate by an AIBS Member Society/Organization receive a $55 discount on registration.

Learn more about the program and register now at https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/communicationsbootcamp.html.

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Deadline Approaching: Enter the 2017 Faces of Biology Photo Contest

Enter the Faces of Biology Photo Contest for your chance to win $250 and to have your photo appear on the cover of the journal BioScience.

The competition, sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), recognizes scientists who use imagery to communicate aspects of biological research to the public and policymakers.

The theme of the contest is “Faces of Biology.” Photographs entered into the competition must depict a person, such as a scientist, technician, or student, engaging in biological research. The research may occur outside, in a lab, at a natural history collection, at a field station, on a computer, in a classroom, or anywhere else research is done.

The First Place Winner will have his/her winning photo featured on the cover of BioScience, and will receive $250 and a one year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience. The Second and Third Place Winners will have his/her winning photo printed inside the journal, and will receive a one year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience.

The winning photo from the 2016 contest was featured on the cover of the April 2017 issue of BioScience.

Submissions must be received by 11:59:59 p.m. Eastern Time on 1 October 2017.

For more information or to enter the contest, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-programs/photocontest.html.

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Short Takes

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking feedback regarding 132 candidates who have applied to serve on its Science Advisory Board. Public feedback must be received by 28 September. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt makes the final decisions about the appointments.

  • The U.S. Senate voted to reauthorize the National Sea Grant College Program on 14 September 2017. S. 129 passed by voice vote. President Trump had proposed to cut the program's budget in half in fiscal year 2018, but the Senate bill would thwart that plan. Sea Grant provides extension, education, and research resources to coastal states.

  • With the rapid expansion of the urban landscape, successfully managing ecosystems in built areas has never been more important. However, our understanding of urban ecology is far from complete, and the data at hand are often patchy, leaving stakeholders without the tools they need to successfully manage human-affected ecosystems. Recent BioScience author Chris Lepczyk, a biologist working at Auburn University, was interviewed for the newest episode of BioScience Talks to discuss the future of urban biodiversity, highlighting trends and raising questions whose answers will be crucial for successful "green" management and healthy urban ecosystems. Listen at http://bioscienceaibs.libsyn.com/the-benefits-and-pitfalls-of-urban-green-spaces.

  • The Ecological Society of America will host a webinar on 21 September 2017 about the National Science Foundation MacroSystems Biology and Early NEON Science: Research on Biological Systems at Regional to Continental Scales program. The webinar will provide information and answer questions about the grant program, how to develop successful proposals, as well as what data products and resources are available from the NEON project that you can leverage for your research. Learn more at http://www.neonscience.org/opportunities/events/webinar-whats-available-neon-your-nsf-macrosystems-proposal.

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