Senate Considering Increased Funding for Science, Environment

The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved the fiscal year (FY) 2020 appropriations bills for Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS); Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; and Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies. The CJS bill funds the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), while the Interior-Environment bill funds the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The U.S. House of Representatives passed its CJS, Agriculture, and Interior-Environment appropriations spending plan earlier in July.

If signed into law, the Senate CJS bill would fund NSF at $8.317 billion — or $242 million above the FY 2019 enacted level and $319 million below the House bill. NSF’s Research and Related Activities account, which includes the Biological Sciences Directorate, would receive $6.8 billion, an increase of $249 million above FY 2019 and $1.1 billion more than the President’s request. NOAA would receive $5.3 billion in FY 2020, a decrease of $88 million below FY 2019 and $142 million less than the House bill. The President had proposed slashing the budget for NOAA by 18 percent in 2020. The Senate bill would provide $22.75 billion for NASA, $1.25 billion above the FY 2019 enacted level and $44 million above the House bill, with most of the increase going towards space exploration programs. The measure would provide flat funding ($6.9 billion) for NASA’s Science programs and $1.9 billion for Earth science. NIST would receive $1.04 billion in FY 2020, $53 million above FY 2019.

The Senate Interior-Environment appropriations legislation would provide $13.7 billion overall for the Department of the Interior. The U.S. Geological Survey would be funded at $1.2 billion in FY 2020, an increase of $49 million above the FY 2019 enacted level and $27 million less than the House bill. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) would receive $1.399 billion (+$53 million); the National Park Services would grow by $133 million to $3.36 billion; and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would be funded at $1.63 billion (+$52.7 million).

The bill does not include funding for the proposed Department of the Interior reorganization, including the relocation of BLM’s headquarters to Colorado and more than 400 BLM jobs out West.

EPA’s budget would grow by $161 million to $9.011 billion if the planned authored by the Senate panel becomes law. Funding would be focused on “returning the agency to its core mission of environmental cleanup.” The House of Representatives has approved $9.5 billion for EPA.

Under the Senate’s Agriculture appropriations bill, agricultural research would receive $3.172 billion overall, with $1.73 billion (+$45 million) for the Agriculture Research Service, $1.48 billion (+$13 million) for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), and $425 million (+$10 million) for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. The panel also approved $25 million to help the U.S. Department of Agriculture relocate its two research agencies, NIFA and Economic Research Service, from Washington, DC, to the Kansas City area. This provision is in conflict with the House version of the bill, which has voted to block the move.

The Senate Appropriations panel has also advanced the Defense; Energy and Water Development; Legislative Branch; Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies; Homeland Security; State and Foreign Operations; and Financial Services and General Government appropriations bills.

Senate’s Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations bill has been approved by its subcommittee but must still be approved by the full Appropriations Committee. The bill would provide the National Institutes of Health with a $3 billion increase, bringing the research agency to $42.1 billion in FY 2020. The bill would provide $492 million for the 21st Century Cures Act, which supports the Cancer Moonshot and the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies brain-mapping initiative. The Institute of Museum and Library Services, slated for closure under the President’s budget, would be funded at $244 million (+$2 million).

Meanwhile, the Senate and House have passed a stopgap funding bill to avert a government shutdown by funding the government at FY 2019 levels through November 21, 2019. The President signed the measure on September 27. The continuing resolution will give lawmakers more time to complete all the appropriations bills for FY 2020, which starts on October 1, 2019. The Senate has yet to vote on any of its appropriations bills for FY 2020, while the House has passed 10 out of its 12 spending bills. According to a recent report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, the last three federal government shutdowns cost taxpayers nearly $4 billion.

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Graduate Students Are Not Employees, Proposed Rule Says

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) — the federal agency that enforces U.S. labor laws — has proposed a new rule stating that graduate students are not “employees” with a right to unionize. If implemented, the proposed rule would weaken recent unionization efforts by graduate students at private universities. The NLRB does not have jurisdiction over public universities, where graduate students are allowed to form unions when permitted by state law.

The proposed regulation would establish that “students who perform any services for compensation, including, but not limited to, teaching or research, at a private college or university in connection with their studies are not ‘employees’ within the meaning of Section 2(3) of the [National Labor Relations Act (Act)].” According to the NLRB, this proposed standard is “consistent with the purposes and policies of the Act, which contemplates jurisdiction over economic relationships, not those that are primarily educational in nature.”

Science Insider reported that NLRB previously made decisions about graduate student unions on a case-by-case basis. In 2016, the NLRB ruled that graduate students conducting research and teaching at Columbia University could be considered employees with a right to unionize, after deciding in 2004 that students at Brown University did not have the right to unionize. In 2000, they had ruled that graduate students at New York University could unionize. The proposed rulemaking is intended to “bring stability to an area of federal labor law in which the Board, through adjudication, has reversed its approach three times since 2000,” according to the September 23, 2019 Federal Register notice. The NLRB is accepting public comments on the proposed rule for 60 days, until November 22, 2019.

William Herbert, Executive Director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College, City University of New York, notes that it is unusual for the NLRB to propose such a rulemaking when Congress has the authority to designate who is considered an employee under U.S. labor law. “This rule seems to be usurping that congressional prerogative,” Herbert told Science Insider. “Inevitably there will be litigation.”

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OSTP: Collections and Bioeconomy Are Priorities

In an August 30, 2019 memorandum from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), federal agencies have been directed to prioritize national security, industrial leadership, energy and environmental leadership, health and bioeconomic innovation, and space exploration and commercialization in their fiscal year (FY) 2021 budget request for research and development (R&D).

The Administration’s memo on R&D budget priorities for FY 2021 provides guidance on a national strategy “to advance bold, transformational leaps in [science and technology], build a diverse workforce of the future, solve previously intractable grand challenges, and ensure America remains the global S&T leader for generations to come.”

The Administration stresses prioritizing the bioeconomy, defined as “the infrastructure, innovation, products, technology, and data derived from biologically-related processes and science that drive economic growth, promote health, and increase public benefit.” To enable bioeconomic opportunities, agencies have been directed to focus on areas such as biotechnology, scientific collections, biosecurity, omics, and data analytics, and prioritize “evidence-based standards and research to rapidly establish microorganism, plant, and animal safety and efficacy for products developed using gene editing.” In regards to public health, the memo directs agencies to prioritize research on the opioid crisis, infectious diseases, anti-microbial resistance, gene therapy, neuroscience, and HIV/ AIDS, among others.

The Administration’s energy and environmental priorities include early-stage research on nuclear, renewable, and fossil energy; efforts to map, explore, and characterize the natural resources of the exclusive economic zone; research to understand and respond to changes in the ocean system; and efforts to quantify “predictability” of Earth systems across time and space. “Knowing the extent to which components of the Earth system are practicably predictable - from individual thunderstorms to long-term global change- is vitally important for physical understanding of the Earth system, assessing the value of prediction results, guiding Federal investments, developing effective policy, and improving predictive skill,” the memo explains.

The memo also details five cross-cutting actions that spread across the R&D budgetary priorities and require departments and agencies to collaborate with each other and with the other stakeholders. These include building a diverse and highly skilled STEM workforce; creating and supporting research environments that reflect the “American values of free inquiry, competition, openness, and fairness”; supporting transformative high risk-high reward research; leveraging the “power of data” by improving data accessibility and security and building a data-skilled workforce; and expanding partnerships between agencies, academic institutions, businesses, nonprofit institutions, and other S&T sectors to build the nation’s innovation capacity.

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UN Climate Report Warns About Unprecedented Sea-Level Rise

The United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a new report on September 25, 2019 warning about the dire repercussions of climate change. The Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate calls for urgent and coordinated action to deal with “unprecedented and enduring changes” in the ocean and cryosphere, defined as the frozen parts of the planet.

More than 100 scientists from 36 countries contributed to this report. They assessed the physical science basis and impacts of climate change on ocean, coastal, polar and mountain ecosystems, and the human communities that depend on them. They also evaluated the vulnerabilities and adaptation capacities of these ecosystems.

“The world’s ocean and cryosphere have been ‘taking the heat’ from climate change for decades, and consequences for nature and humanity are sweeping and severe,” said Ko Barrett, Vice-Chair of the IPCC. “The rapid changes to the ocean and the frozen parts of our planet are forcing people from coastal cities to remote Arctic communities to fundamentally alter their ways of life,” she added. “By understanding the causes of these changes and the resulting impacts, and by evaluating options that are available, we can strengthen our ability to adapt.”

According to the report, if greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, global sea level would likely rise by one meter by the year 2100. “There’s no scenario that stops sea level rise in this century. We’ve got to deal with this indefinitely,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton University and author on the report, according to Science Insider. Oceans have served as a buffer against global warming by absorbing carbon emissions and excess heat, but the report warns that warming ocean temperatures could disrupt that capacity. “For decades the ocean has been acting like a sponge, absorbing carbon dioxide and heat to regulate the global temperature, but it can’t keep up,” Barrett said. Rising sea levels and warming ocean temperatures will also lead to more severe and frequent storms. Small islands and many low-lying cities, including coastal cities in the U.S., will experience 100-year floods annually by 2050. Additionally, warming and changes in ocean chemistry will disrupt marine ecosystems and communities that depend on them. “Marine heat waves,” which have doubled in frequency since 1982, will further increase in frequency, extent, and intensity if global emissions continue to increase.

The report was released on the heels of a U.N. climate summit held in New York, NY on September 23, where U.N. Secretary General António Guterres insisted that countries make concrete promises, such as reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, cutting fossil fuel subsidies, and ceasing construction of coal-fired power plants. Days before the summit, millions of young people, including school children, participated in a global protest urging aggressive action to address climate change.

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National Fossil Day is October 16

National Fossil Day, an annual celebration organized by the National Park Service (NPS), will take place on October 16, 2019. National Fossil Day is a nationwide celebration that will include paleontology activities planned by partner organizations across the United States. AIBS has once again partnered with the National Park Service to promote the event.

NPS and National Fossil Day partners are sponsoring an art contest as a part of the celebration. The contest theme is “Extinct Giants and Survivors of the Last Ice Age.” For details about participating, go to:

The participation of local museums, universities, and other scientific organizations is central to National Fossil Day. Help your local community learn about local paleontological and natural resources by participating in the event. To join NPS as a partner, visit

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Register Now: 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’s 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 October 7-8, 2019.

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.

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

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Last Day to Submit Entries to the 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, researcher, technician, collections curator, or student, engaging in biological research. The research may occur outside, in a lab, with 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 along with 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 2018 contest was featured on the cover of the May 2019 issue of BioScience.

Submissions must be received by 11:59:59 p.m. Eastern Time on September 30, 2019.

For more information or to enter the contest, visit

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Short Takes

  • House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) has introduced legislation to repeal the Trump administration's recent changes to Endangered Species Act (ESA) rules. Concurrently, the Congressional Western Caucus, which consists of Republican lawmakers from Western states and led by Chairman Paul Gosar (R-AZ), has unveiled a draft legislative package that would overhaul the Endangered Species Act of 1973. According to E&E News, the package would modify the delisting designation process, tighten the petition process to reduce the current backlog, cap attorneys' fees at $125 per hour for ESA lawsuits, and increase the role of state and local governments in the petition and listing processes. It would also call for making the scientific data used in listing and delisting decisions available to the public. The caucus will be introducing the bills, which are still being finalized, in a few months.

  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler revealed during a September 19 congressional hearing held by the House Science, Space and Technology Committee that the agency is dropping plans to issue the final "secret science" rule this year. EPA will instead issue a supplemental proposal next year that would only apply to future rulemakings. The contentious proposed rule, officially titled "Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science," to bar the use of scientific studies in drafting new regulations unless the underlying data "are publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent validation" was introduced last year.

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