Immigration Impasse Leads to Government Shutdown

At midnight on Friday, January 19, 2018, the federal government ran out of funding to operate, essentially shuttering the federal government with the exception of “essential services.” These essential services, such as the military and law enforcement, will continue to function, but personnel will not be compensated while the government is closed. The lack of funding is a result of Congress and the White House failing to pass and sign appropriations legislation to fund government operations and programs through the balance of the fiscal year.

Efforts to pass yet another stop gap spending plan, which would have funded the government for another month, broke down over whether or how to debate immigration policy and when or how to resolve the current uncertainty around Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (i.e. the Dream Act or Dreamers).

Some members of Congress, from both sides of the aisle, are expressing growing frustration with Congress’ inability to pass actual appropriations legislation, and not as is increasingly the case, a series of short-term, continuing resolutions to fund government operations.

Over the weekend, reports began to emerge that a bipartisan cluster of more moderate Senators were huddling to find a compromise proposal for short-term funding of the government and a plan to address immigration and DACA issues. Early Monday, indications were that the Senate might consider and vote on such a proposal by midday Monday, January 22, 2018.

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State Department Invites Experts to Review IPCC Special Report on Global Warming

The United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State, is soliciting expert review of a draft of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 Degrees Celsius Above Preindustrial Levels and Related Global Greenhouse Gas Emission Pathways in the Context of Strengthening the Global Response to the Threat of Climate Change, Sustainable Development and Efforts to Eradicate Poverty (Special Report on Global Warming).

The outline for this report was approved by the IPCC during the 44th session of the Panel at Bangkok, Thailand in 2016. IPCC reports undergo two rounds of reviews; experts review the first-order draft and both governments and experts review the second-order draft. The second-order draft of the Special Report on Global Warming, which also includes a summary for policymakers, is now available for Expert and Government review.

The U.S. Government Review started on January 8, 2018, and will continue through February 8, 2018. Experts interested in contributing to the U.S. Government Review are invited to register, access the report, and submit comments via the USGCRP Review and Comment System at: https://review.globalchange.gov/

Experts interested in providing comments directly through the IPCC’s Expert Review process can register until February 18, 2018, at: https://www.ipcc.ch/apps/comments/sr15/sod/register.php

The Expert and Government Review of the Special Report on Global Warming will end on February 25, 2018.

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New Tool Launched to Track Politicization of Science

The Sabin Center for Climate Change Law and the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund have announced a new joint initiative: Silencing Science Tracker (SST, http://columbiaclimatelaw.com/resources/silencing-science-tracker/). According to the groups, the project is intended to record reports of government attempts to silence science. At present, the SST includes actions taken by Federal agencies. The initiative plans to track state level actions in the future. Per the SST website, “silencing science” is defined as any action that has the effect of restricting or prohibiting scientific research, education or discussion, or the publication or use of scientific information.

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Interior Department Issues Guidelines to Put Grants Through Political Review

A December 28, 2017, missive from the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) establishes a new political screening process for discretionary grants and cooperative agreements to ensure that they “better align” with the Trump administration’s priorities. The three-page memo, which was obtained by the Washington Post, directs bureaus to report within two weeks on all Interior financial assistance programs, indicating if they are discretionary and therefore subject to the new review process.

Under the new screening process, Steve Howke, a senior adviser at DOI, will review grants that include awards of at least $50,000 for nonprofits that can legally engage in advocacy, institutions of higher education, and land acquisitions.

The directive includes a list of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s “Top Ten Priorities” that would be used to screen financial assistance programs. Some of the priorities listed include, “Creating a conservation stewardship legacy second only to Teddy Roosevelt”, “Utilizing our natural resources”, and “Striking a regulatory balance”. Zinke also prioritizes “actively supporting efforts to secure southern border”, ensuring “American energy is available to meet our security and economic needs”, and “providing greater public access to public lands over restrictions to access”.

Previous Interior secretaries have directed federal money to support their priorities, but the new approval process is a first. According to the directive, “Grants and cooperative agreements of any type in any amount may be subject to an after-the-fact review process to ascertain whether the funds were appropriately expended and whether the anticipated benefits were produced”. The memo warns that, “Instances circumventing the secretarial priorities or the review process will cause greater scrutiny and will result in slowing down the approval process for all awards”.

Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement, “I’m reviewing this new grant approval regime, but I’m immediately skeptical given the administration’s track record. This grant approval process looks like a backdoor way to stop funds going to legitimate scientific and environmental projects.”

To put the impact of this new approval process into perspective, in FY 2016, Interior provided $806 million in project grants and $763 million in cooperative agreements, with more than 18,000 individual cooperative agreements and grants being provided.

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Majority of National Park System Advisory Board Resign Due to Secretarial Apathy

As recently reported by the Washington Post, the majority of members (10 or 12) of the National Park System Advisory Board have resigned out of frustration with a disinterested and non-responsive Secretary of the Interior.

As reported by the Post, a resignation letter penned by Tony Knowles, a former governor of Alaska and the board chairman, was signed by eight other resigning members. Knowles noted that the board had “stood by waiting to meet and continue the partnership…as prescribed by law”. The Knowles letter further expressed frustration that the board’s requests to engage have been ignored. In a separate letter of resignation, board member Carolyn Hessler Radelet, the chief executive officer of Project Concern International, noted that based on the events of the past year she has a “profound concern that the mission of stewardship, protection, and advancement of our National Parks has been set aside.”

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EPA Overhauls Public Website for Tracking Chemical Safety Review

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website appears to no longer publish preliminary assessments of potentially hazardous new chemicals, thereby not allowing the public to access information on any initial concerns that the agency may have regarding new chemicals or novel uses for existing chemicals.

EPA’s chemical review tracking website was updated on January 5, 2018 with the interim status for more than 120 reviews initiated since September 2017 now showing up as “focus meeting occurred”, indicating only that the staff has had preliminary discussions.

Under the Obama administration, EPA would designate an interim status to new chemicals, such as “not likely to present an unreasonable risk” to health or the environment; under “standard review”; unable to be reviewed because of “insufficient information”; or possibly presenting “unreasonable risk of injury”. A final verdict would be delivered after review by the agency within 90 days of receiving relevant documentation from companies.

Under the Trump administration, EPA has decided to cut back public access to information about chemical safety. According to a presentation published on the EPA website in December 2017, the agency believed that “previous terminology used for interim statutes created confusion,” and decided to stop updating the online database that was used by the public to track the status of chemical reviews.

Jahan Wilcox, a spokesman for the agency, said, “EPA is committed to an open and transparent review of new chemicals, in accordance with the bipartisan Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act”, but has not responded to any questions regarding the website change.

According to some former EPA officials and experts, the agency is bypassing important steps that are in place to protect the public from potentially harmful chemicals. “EPA is explicitly disavowing and downplaying a tool that’s really been a cornerstone of new chemical regulation,” said Bob Sussman, a former EPA attorney under President Obama and counsel for the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition. “We believe EPA is taking a big step backward in the protection of health and the environment without an offsetting benefit”, he added.

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Participate in the 2018 AIBS Congressional Visits Day

Join the American Institute of Biological Sciences for our annual Congressional Visits Day in Washington, DC.

This event is an opportunity for scientists to meet with their members of Congress about the importance of federal support for biological research and education. Event participants advocate for federal funding for biological, life, and environmental sciences research. This event builds support federal research funding agencies, including the National Science Foundation.

This year’s event will be held on April 17-18, 2018 in Washington, DC. During the afternoon of April 17, individuals will participate in an advocacy-training program that provides the information required to effectively advocate for their science. On April 18, scientists participate in AIBS organized meetings with their Representative and Senators.

Supplemental training program: In addition to the core event, AIBS is offering a one-day short course version of the popular AIBS Communications Boot Camp for Scientists. This eight-hour professional development program will train scientists to translate scientific information for non-technical audiences and to engage with the news media. The course includes formal instruction as well as hands-on and interactive exercises. This professional development training will begin on the afternoon of April 16 and be completed during the morning of April 17. We are pleased to announce that participants in the Congressional Visits Day event may register for this training program at the reduced rate of $150.

Scientists and graduate students interested in communicating the importance of federal investments in scientific research and education to lawmakers are encouraged to participate in this important event.

Registration will close on March 4, 2018. Register at https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionalvisitsday.html.

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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.

The Legislative Action Center is a one-stop shop for learning about and influencing science policy. Through the website, users can contact elected officials and sign-up to interact with lawmakers.

The website offers tools and resources to inform researchers about recent policy developments. The site also announces opportunities to serve on federal advisory boards and to comment on federal regulations.

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

AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become policy advocates today. Simply go to policy.aibs.org to get started.

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