AIBS Asks Congress to Restore Proposed Cuts to USGS

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has sent letters to members of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees encouraging them to reject the Administration’s proposed fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget cuts to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

President Trump’s budget request would provide $922 million to the USGS in FY 2018, a 15 percent cut from FY 2017 levels. The Ecosystems mission area, which includes biological sciences research within the agency, would be funded at $132 million in FY 2018, a decrease of $28 million (17 percent) from the 2017 enacted level. The Ecosystems activity underpins the agency’s other science mission areas by conducting the research required to understand the impacts of water use, energy exploration and production, and natural hazards on natural systems.

Congress is currently working on appropriations that will fund the government for the duration of FY 2018. The AIBS letters request congressional appropriators to oppose all proposed cuts to the USGS and fund the agency at $1.2 billion for FY 2018, with at least $174 million for the Ecosystems mission area.

Read the letters sent to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations.

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Action Alert: Ask your Members of Congress to Restore USGS Funding

Please show your support for the United States Geological Survey (USGS) by asking your members of Congress to restore the Administration’s proposed cuts to the agency’s FY 2018 budget.

The proposed cuts for USGS will have a long-term and negative impact on our nation’s ability to conduct the scientific research required to make informed decisions about our natural resources, public lands, and to combat the invasive species that pose significant threats to our economy and public well-being. The Ecosystems mission area within the USGS is facing deep cuts that would devastate current ongoing efforts in fish and wildlife management, combating invasive species, water filtration, pollution control, ecosystem services, soil and water quality, and reducing the impacts of natural hazards such as wildfires.

It is important that members of Congress hear from scientists. Please take a moment to write to your Representative and Senators to reject the Administration’s FY 2018 budget request for USGS.

Take action today!

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EPA Administrator Wants to Restrict Use of Science in Rulemaking

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to launch plans to restrict the use of science in rulemakings at the agency, according to recent news reports. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt shared his intentions for science reform at the agency with a group of conservatives during a closed-door meeting at the Heritage Foundation last week.

According to Steve Milloy, who was on the EPA transition team and attended the meeting, the plan could come “sooner rather than later” and might be implemented through a directive. EPA has not commented on the plan or its specifics yet, but the plan will likely resemble an earlier effort by Republican members of Congress, most notably House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). Smith has argued that EPA has been writing regulations based on “secret science” to advance its regulatory agenda.

Smith has introduced several bills in the past that would require EPA to publicize the data used by the agency in drafting regulations, but his efforts have so far failed. The House passed a bill named the “Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment (HONEST) Act” in March 2017 that would require the EPA to only use scientific data that is publicly available and reproducible when formulating rules. The measure did not move forward after being referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

The scientific community views the effort as an attempt to obstruct the agency from issuing rules because many studies rely on scientific data that cannot be made public for reasons such as patient privacy or industry confidentiality. Betsy Southerland, a former senior EPA official who worked on the analysis of the HONEST Act, said that publishing raw data opens scientists up to attacks from industry, which can contort data to advance a deregulatory agenda. She added that the effort is meant to “paralyze rulemaking” and is not about transparency but about benching peer-reviewed science that supports the regulation of pollution.

The data transparency requirement would also cost hundreds of millions of dollars to execute because it would require EPA staff to track down data from authors, create an online system to manage, store and present data, and spend time redacting sensitive personal information.

This would be the second major effort by Pruitt to reshape the role of science at the agency through a directive. Last year, he took aim at science advisory panels by prohibiting researchers who receive government funding to participate.

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White House Science Accomplishments Report Receives Skeptical Response

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which still lacks a director, released a report on March 7, 2018 on the Trump administration’s science and technology progress in its first year.

The report provides “a selection of the tremendous science and technology achievements” of the administration and highlights activities ranging from “energy dominance” to scientific discovery. The document states that, “The Trump Administration is committed to advancing technological development and conducting research and development (R&D) to ensure national security, grow the economy, create well-paying jobs, and improve the lives of Americans across this great nation.” OSTP’s analysis highlights activities such as an executive order establishing the American Technology Council and updating federal polices for automated vehicles. The document does not mention climate change but touts the eight National Science Foundation (NSF)-supported scientists who won Nobel Prizes.

Other highlights include the White House’s plan to create a new Science and Technology Enterprise Committee as a part of the restructuring of the National Science and Technology Council in order to better align the priorities of the council with the administration. According to E&E News, the committee will be co-chaired by the Department of Energy’s science undersecretary and the directors of NSF and National Institute for Standards and Technology. Internal documents note that the committee will help to address issues such as “expanding technology transfer, strengthening contributions of federal scientific collections to priority areas of national interest like infectious diseases, biosecurity, and food security, reducing administrative burdens on federally funded researchers, and modernizing research infrastructure to support our national innovation base.”

The report also claims that the President’s fiscal year 2018 budget request increased federal funding for R&D but is silent on proposed cuts to climate programs and research efforts at the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, and other agencies. This silence spurred criticism from segments of the scientific community.

A former OSTP staffer under President Obama, Kumar Garg, called the report “deeply misleading” and said that the proposed cuts would hinder American scientific progress and competitiveness. He explained that the administration used an altered definition of research and development in its estimates, therefore not accurately representing the proposed funding decreases in the report. The report has also received criticism from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Union of Concerned Scientists for its inaccuracies.

President Trump has yet to name a science adviser and OSTP currently has about 50 staff members, roughly one-third of the number at the end of the Obama administration.

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NSF Requests Comments on New Sexual Harassment Reporting Policy

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is seeking public comments on the agency’s proposed implementation of new reporting requirements for sexual harassment.

The new reporting requirements, detailed in a notice released by NSF on February 8, 2018, state that the agency “does not tolerate sexual harassment, or any kind of harassment, within the agency, at grantee organizations, field sites, or anywhere NSF-funded science and education are conducted.” Under the new requirements, the two-thousand colleges, universities and other institutions funded by NSF would be responsible for “promptly and appropriately” investigating complaints of harassment or assault and complying with federal non-discrimination law.

For more information on the new reporting requirements and how to submit comments, go to: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/03/05/2018-04374/reporting-requirements-regarding-findings-of-sexual-harassment-other-forms-of-harassment-or-sexual. The deadline for submitting comments is May 4, 2018.

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Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman to Resign

Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) has announced his resignation from Congress because of health reasons. Cochran, a seven-term Senator, will end a four-decade long congressional career on April 1, 2018.

Cochran stated that he planned his departure based on the conclusion of work on the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending package that has a March 23 deadline to pass. Governor Phil Bryant (R-MS), will name an interim replacement to take Cochran’s place until the November elections.

The next most senior Republican member on the spending panel, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), is expected to replace Cochran as the chairman. The final decision will be approved by a vote of the full Senate GOP conference.

Shelby, a sixth-term lawmaker, currently leads the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee and has tried to direct more funding towards the National Aeronautics and Space Administration facilities in his state. In the past, he has avoided ideological debates over federal spending on climate change-related issues. Shelby is widely considered a dealmaker with a record of using his position on the Appropriations Committee to direct federal dollars to his home state.

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Short Takes

  • A bipartisan congressional caucus to address climate change through market-based solutions now has 72 members. The Climate Solutions Caucus added Delegates Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR). Founded in 2016, the caucus dubbed “Noah’s Ark” admits Democratic and Republican members in pairs. Members of the caucus recently introduced “feasible” legislation in line with the Trump administration’s priorities to spur innovation in climate and energy through a prize competition. The bill would direct the Energy Secretary to create a program called “Climate Solutions Challenge”, which would organize competitions on subjects such as carbon capture, energy efficiency, and climate resilience.

  • Two pairs of bills being considered in the Florida legislature that would have undermined the integrity of science education in the state have died. House Bill 827 and Senate Bill 1644 would have let residents suggest which instructional materials be used in classrooms in their school district. These bills, that build on a previous law enacted in 2017 allowing any Florida resident to challenge educational materials in schools as being biased, would have gone a step further by enabling residents to review education materials and recommend alternatives. House Bill 825 and Senate Bill 966 would have required “controversial theories and concepts…[to] be taught in a factual, objective, and balanced manner” and allowed local school districts to use either state science standards or alternatives. Although approved by the education committees of both state chambers, the bills fell out of commission when the state legislature was adjourned on March 11.

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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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