Lawmakers Race to Replace Retiring Appropriations Committee Chairman

Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, announced that he would retire from Congress at the end of this term. Several lawmakers are already scrambling to replace him, including Representatives Kay Granger (R-TX), Robert Aderholt (R-AL), Mike Simpson (R-ID), and Tom Cole (R-OK).

Aderholt currently leads the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee and would be next in line based on seniority for the top position on the Committee. He supports cutting discretionary funding and his comments also indicate that he may not support a resurrection of earmarks. Granger is the current head of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and is attempting to become the first women to lead the Appropriations Committee. Aderholt and Granger have been in Congress for 11-terms.

Simpson, a ten-term member of the House or Representatives, heads the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee and has regularly supported riders rolling back environmental rules. He previously served as chairman of the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee. Cole, in his eighth term, currently serves as the chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee. He is regarded as a pragmatist and has opposed cutting EPA’s budget by a third as proposed by the Trump Administration.

The House Republican caucus will not select the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee until the next session of Congress convenes in January 2019, assuming the party retains it House majority.

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White House Nominates Retired Astronaut to Lead USGS

The Trump Administration has announced its intent to nominate Dr. James F. Reilly, a former NASA astronaut and exploration geologist, as the next Director of the United States Geological Survey.

Reilly currently serves as a technical adviser and subject matter expert on space operations at the U.S. Air Force’s National Security Space Institute in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He worked at NASA for 13 years where he was first selected as an astronaut candidate in 1994. He flew three Space Shuttle missions, conducted 5 spacewalks, and logged over 856 hours in space, with his work primarily focused on assembling the International Space Station. Before NASA, he worked as an exploration geologist at Enserch Exploration, Inc., an oil-and-gas company based in Dallas, Texas. Reilly has also served as an administrator in academia and held management positions at TAEUS Corporation and PhotoStencil Corporation in Colorado Springs. He earned his Ph.D. in geosciences from the University of Texas at Dallas.

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House Science Committee Announces New Leadership

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) announced on 23 January that Representative Ralph Abraham (R-LA) would take the helm of the Subcommittee on Oversight. The announcement came after Representative Darin LaHood (R-IL) resigned the chairmanship to accept an appointment to the House Ways and Means Committee. Abraham’s background includes work as a physician, veterinarian, and business owner. He previously served as the vice chairman of the Subcommittee on Research and Technology, a position that will now be filled by Representative Roger Marshall (R-KS).

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CDC Director Resigns Amid Reports of Tobacco Stock Trade

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on January 31, 2018, that Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald would resign as the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The statement read, “Dr. Fitzgerald owns certain complex financial interests that have imposed a broad recusal limiting her ability to complete all of her duties as the CDC Director. Due to the nature of these financial interests, Dr. Fitzgerald could not divest from them in a definitive time period.”

The decision came a day after Politico reported that she bought stock in a large tobacco company within a month of starting her job as the head of the CDC, the agency that oversees programs aimed at reducing tobacco use and smoking.
Fitzgerald bought stocks worth tens of thousands of dollars in at least a dozen companies a month after assuming CDC leadership on July 7, 2017, and continued to purchase stocks in later months. One of these companies was Japan Tobacco, which sells tobacco in the U.S. through four of its subsidiaries. She also purchased stocks in Merck & Co., Bayer, health insurance company Humana, and US Food Holding Company. Before accepting her leadership role at the CDC, she held stocks in five other tobacco companies — Reynolds American, British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands, Phillip Morris International, and Altria Group.

According to Politico, Fitzgerald participated in meetings focused on the opioid crisis, hurricane response efforts, cancer, obesity, stroke prevention, polio, Zika, and Ebola, while owning stocks and financial holdings in tobacco, drug, food, and health companies.

Fitzgerald had been under congressional scrutiny for “slow walking divestment” from previous holdings that led her to recuse herself from testifying before lawmakers. She had been instructed to divest of holdings that posed a conflict of interest after a review by the HHS Ethics Office. During the divestment process her financial manager purchased other stocks with potential conflicts that did not change the scope of her recusal obligations.

Fitzgerald had signed an ethics agreement in September 2017 promising to recuse herself from any tasks that could pose a financial conflict. The agreement identified nearly all the companies in which she purchased stocks while serving as CDC Director as conflicts of interest.

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Van Hollen, Beyer Introduce Cap and Dividend Legislation to Address Climate Change

Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Representative Don Beyer (R-VA) have introduced the “Healthy Climate and Family Security Act of 2018” with a cap and dividend approach to address climate change while also increasing the spending power of the middle class. The bill aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cap carbon pollution by auctioning carbon permits to oil, coal, and natural gas sellers in the U.S. market, and return all the proceeds as quarterly dividends to every American in the form of a “Healthy Climate Dividends.”

Van Hollen, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the Senate Climate Task Force said, “This legislation puts a price on carbon pollution and returns the proceeds directly to the American people at the same time it accelerates the growth of good paying jobs in clean technologies. It is a win-win-win, boosting middle class pocketbooks, growing good paying jobs, and reducing our carbon footprint.” The bill would place a gradually declining cap on emissions requiring an 80 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 levels by 2050.

A dividend approach to address carbon pollution has received bipartisan support in the past. Last year, Republicans proposed a similar carbon tax and dividend approach to White House officials. However, none of the Republican members of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus have signed onto the bill. According to Beyer, some Republicans declined his co-sponsorship offer because they do not want primary opponents financed by the fossil fuel industry.

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Bipartisan Coalition to Take on Budget After Ending Shutdown

The bipartisan group of lawmakers that helped end a three-day government shut down are tackling the budget process. The so-called “common-sense coalition” started out with seventeen members and grew to about thirty towards the end of the shutdown. Members of the group include Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

The group is endeavoring to reach a budget deal before the federal government once again runs out of money on February 8th. Senators said that the group also has the ambitious goal of reviving the annual appropriations process. Senators believe that this would require bipartisan efforts and revival of floor debates.

In recent years, the Senate has moved very few spending bills to the floor for debate because both sides of the aisle have blocked them from getting the 60 votes required for consideration by the full Senate. This year, the Senate has not considered a single spending bill. There have not been any significant floor debates recently on the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, and the Department of the Interior. In addition, the appropriations process has involved controversial riders being discussed behind closed doors and several bills being rolled into broad omnibus spending bills.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said that she is open to changing Senate rules with bipartisan support to make the appropriations process easier, rather than invoking the “nuclear option” like Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) did during the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Senator John Boozman (R-AR) mentioned a rule change being discussed by both parties that would send spending bills straight to the floor without a threat of filibuster, allowing at least for debate and amendments before a bill is blocked. “The important thing is getting them on the floor, getting the discussion going, having an open amendment process, letting everyone voice their ideas,” he said.

Manchin said that he would consider rule changes as long as there was broad agreement from both sides. However, Minority leader Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has not indicated his support for any rule changes, but has suggested he is open to other bipartisan ideas from the group.

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EPA Chief Questioned by Democrats at Senate Oversight Hearing

On January 30, 2018, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt testified for the first time since his confirmation hearing last year before the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee. He faced tough questions and criticisms from the Democrats on the panel.

Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) urged Pruitt to come before the committee and meet with lawmakers more often and criticized some of his actions as the EPA chief, such as delaying environmental rules, removing science advisers, and taking down web pages pertaining to climate science.

Carper also asked Pruitt if he would “commit not to take any steps to repeal or replace the so-called endangerment finding,” to which Pruitt responded, “There is no decision or determination on that.” The endangerment finding is the basis of EPA’s climate rules and concludes that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases contribute to climate change and are harmful to human health.

Pruitt defended his actions by emphasizing that his approach to run the agency focused on the rule of law, process, and federalism, through agency partnerships with states. He stated that he was “committed to performing the work that is necessary to meet our mission of protecting human health and the environment.” He also asked senators to support him on his “war on lead,” an effort to remove lead from drinking water.

Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), however, pointed out the Administration’s proposed funding cuts for EPA’s lead reduction program and highlighted Pruitt’s move to revise a rule intended to limit the amount of lead and copper in drinking water. “This does not sound like a war on lead,” she said.

Senators also pressed Pruitt on other issues such as his move to end a Clinton-era policy that targeted industrial air pollution and the timeline on the agency’s substitute for the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule. Pruitt didn’t provide a clear answer to the former and said he expects to propose a replacement WOTUS rule by April or May.

Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) questioned Pruit over the decision to end an EPA grant for the Bay Journal, a newspaper that focuses on the Chesapeake Bay. Van Hollen referenced an Energy & Environment article on the involvement of Trump’s political appointees in ending the grant and said that these funding decisions should be kept away from politics. Pruitt responded, “The decision should not have been made the way it was, so it is already under reconsideration.”

Committee Republicans praised Pruitt’s deregulatory approach and efforts in reversing EPA rules.

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Short Takes

  • The InterAcademy Partnership (IAP), a global network of academies of sciences and medicine, has released a summary of the workshop on "Assessing the Security Implications of Genome Editing Technology" that was held in Germany in October 2017 and convened by the IAP, US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the European Academies Science Advisory Council, and the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. The international workshop brought together global experts in genetic engineering, security studies, and public policy to discuss strategies to mitigate potential security concerns posed by genome editing technologies.

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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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