CONGRESS MOVING SLOWLY ON APPROPRIATIONS BUT HOUSE PASSES INTERIOR APPROPRIATION BILL WITH SMALL INCREASE FOR USGS AND PROTECTION OF FOREST SERVICE FOREST AND RANGELAND RESEARCH - Heading into the 4th of July recess, Congress had made little progress on the 13 annual appropriations bills, but the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 27 passed its appropriations bill for the Department of the Interior (DOI).
U.S. Geological Survey:
The $19.35 billion appropriation is some $179 million more than the FY2002 budget, and $400 million more than the President's request. Under the Senate bill, the U.S. Geological Survey would increase from the FY2002 funding level of $914 million to $926.7 million, which not only reverses the $46.6 million cut proposed by the Administration, but also increases the research agency's budget by $12.7 million (1.3%). The Senate Appropriations Committee also rejected the Administration's request to transfer the USGS Toxics Water Hydrology Program to the National Science Foundation. The House Interior Appropriations subcommittee's bill, passed 25 June, would allot $19.7 billion to DOI, or $800 million more than the President's request and $486 million more than the FY2002 DOI budget. The House bill, would give the USGS $928 million, an increase of $14 million over FY2002. The full House Appropriations subcommittee has not yet scheduled a markup of the Interior bill.
Forest Service Forest and Rangeland Research:
The Senate Appropriations Committee would give the Forest Service Forest and Rangeland Research program $253 million dollars, an increase of $11.7 million over the prior year and $10 million more than requested by the Administration. The increase includes $7,000,000 for the Forest Inventory and Analysis program in order to further the goal of reducing cycle times for completing inventory work and to expand the program to additional States, $1,000,000 for the global climate change initiative as proposed in the budget request, $3,000,000 for uncontrollable costs, and $500,000 to improve research and technology development capacity for the Northeastern Research Station at Morgantown, WV to reduce the impacts to eastern forests from invasive pathogens, parasites, and insects.
The Senate also rejected the proposed redirects that would have caused significant harm to Forest Service research stations and research projects. The Committee report states, "The administration proposed redirections of $35,900,000 of ongoing research in order to fund a number of its new initiatives. The Committee does not concur with this proposal which would have led to the closure of a number of critical research facilities and required the termination or reassignment of 275 employees. Over the past 15 years the research program has lost approximately half of its research scientists and the Committee cannot concur with a proposal to further erode the base research program. Accordingly, funding for activities in the research program shall not be reduced from the enacted level, including funding levels for all prior year congressional projects that were proposed for elimination in fiscal year 2003."
The Senate Appropriations Committee would provide the Smithsonian with $434.7 million, $2 million more than requested by the administration and nearly $14 million more than the previous year. This amount includes $44.98 million for the National Museum of Natural History, representing a $1.8 million increase over the prior year.
Additional information from the House Appropriations subcommittee on Interior will be provided in the next report.
SENATE ALLOCATIONS TO APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEES MAY MEAN UPHILL BATTLE FOR NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION - The portion of the federal budget that is characterized as "discretionary" spending - in contrast to "entitlements" such as Social Security payments - is divided among the 13 appropriations subcommittees in the House and in the Senate. Known as the "302(b)" allocations, these limits on committee spending force each committee to make choices among the different agencies covered by their respective appropriations bills. The allocation to the Senate Appropriations VA-HUD-IA subcommittee, which appropriates for the National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency, is $91.43 billion, some $1.1 billion less than the total of the President's request for all the agencies covered by this appropriation bill, and $407 million less than the corresponding allocation to the House VA-HUD-IA subcommittee. Although there is sure to be some jockeying for additional funds, this portends a difficult battle for the National Science Foundation, for which the administration has requested only a 3.5% increase -absent the transfers of programs from other agencies, which various Congressional committees have all rejected. It had been hoped that appropriators would exceed that request, possibly by a very wide margin. However, the low allocation to this subcommittee will make it difficult to meet even the numbers proposed by the Administration, much less find room for large increases. These numbers suggest that even if the NSF doubling bill passes the Senate, there won't be enough money to begin that process.
ANOTHER ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT BILL CALLING FOR "IMPROVED SCIENCE" DEBUTS - Representative James Hansen (R-NM), chair of the House Resources Committee, has introduced H.R. 4840, the Sound Science for Endangered Species Act Planning Act of 2002. It would amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to require the use of the best scientific and commercial data available as a basis of determinations on a petition to add or remove a species from the endangered species list and directs the Secretary of the Interior to promulgate regulations that establish criteria that must be met for scientific and commercial information to be used as the bases for a listing decision. Specific data required for listing petitions include clear and convincing evidence of the current and historic ranges of the species concerned, of the most recent population estimates and trends for the species, that any alleged change in the population is beyond normal fluctuations, and of the reason that the petitioned action is warranted. The bill also directs the Secretary of the Interior to give greater weight to any scientific or commercial study or other information that is empirical or has been field-tested or peer-reviewed and prohibits the Secretary from determining that a species is endangered or threatened unless collected field data supports the determination.
The bill also addresses recovery plans, requiring the Secretary of the Interior to identify and publish in the Federal Register with notice of a proposed regulation a description of additional scientific and commercial data that would assist in the preparation of a recovery plan.
In addition, the bill requires the Secretary to: (1) appoint an independent review board to review and report on the scientific information and analyses on which a covered action is based before such covered action becomes final; and (2) provide specified participation opportunities to any person who has sought authorization of funding from a Federal agency for an action that is subject to consultation regarding its effects on endangered or threatened species or habitats.
The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), who has sponsored a similar bill - H.R. 2829,which is called the Sound Science for Endangered Species Planning Act - and Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA), whose Sound Science Saves Species bill (H.R. 3705) also calls for independent reviews. The Hansen bill, like the others, requires that greater weight be given to empirical data or data that has been field-tested or peer-reviewed.
In some regards, the statutory language reflects the current ESA decision-making process The ESA already requires that determinations of endangered or threatened status required be made "solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data." The requirement that more weight be given to peer-reviewed or field-tested data would likely serve to hinder the use of models, gray literature (which includes most survey data), and to prohibit the listing of a species where there is uncertainty in the field data.
The standard "clear and convincing evidence" would seem to preclude the use of the precautionary principle. The guiding principle urged by these bills could be summarized as, "when in doubt, leave it out."
The bill authorizes no additional funding for the independent review boards. Given that ESA implementation funding is already stretched to the limits, it is unlikely that the USFWS would be able to convene independent review boards, unless large numbers of scientists are willing to contribute their time and expertise free of charge.
The net result is likely a narrower and slower application of the ESA.
These bills are supported by the National Endangered Species Act Reform Coalition, which describes itself as, "a broad based coalition of roughly 150 member organizations, representing millions of individuals across the United States, that is dedicated to bringing balance back to the Endangered Species Act. Our membership includes rural irrigators, municipalities, farmers, electric utilities and many other individuals and organizations that are directly affected by the ESA." Opposition has come from conservation groups and scientific organizations, including the Ecological Society of America, which said, "Adding independent peer review or other administrative processes to the listing process would unnecessarily lengthen the time to make a listing decision without providing any substantial benefits. The major problem with the listing process has been its slowness, not inadequacy of the quality of the listing decisions."
OHIO SCIENCE STANDARDS BATTLE HEATS UP WITH NEW CHALLENGES TO AGE OF EARTH AND EVOLUTION - With the final draft of the Ohio Science Standards due to be delivered to the Ohio State Board of Education by the end of July, the battle to undermine the teaching of evolution has heated up with proposed new language that shaves three billion years off the age of biological life on earth and that omits any discussion of the origins of life. Proponents of the teaching of intelligent design disavowed any responsibility for the new attacks, which followed a meeting of a subset of the writing team, but supported the proposed changes because they favor the teaching of criticisms of evolutionary theory. Specifics of the proposed language were not immediately available, but it has been reported that the changes imply that life on earth appeared 1 billion years ago, rather than the 3.5 to 4 billion years that is widely accepted by scientists. The word "origins" has reportedly been deleted from the draft, prompting Ohio Academy of Sciences executive director Lynn Elfner to say, "We're reinventing the history of life on Earth, and for us that's a deal breaker." Ironically, proponents of the teaching of intelligent design, who disavowed any responsibility for the new attacks, are equally unhappy with the proposed changes, because there is no provision for the teaching of alternatives to evolution. Robert Lattimer, a chemist on the writing team and spokesman for the group known as Science Excellence for All Ohioans, continues to try to persuade the Ohio State Board of Education that "public opinion is strongly on our side," and vows to pursue the fight into the legislature and the courts. However, under Ohio law, the State Board of Education is not required to adopt standards, but can defer to local control. In fact, the State Board of Education did just that with the health standards, when battles about sex education broke out.
AIBS has e-mailed Ohio biology faculty members throughout the state, with sample letters and contact info for all members of the Ohio State Board of Education; we've already sent letters to the Ohio Department of Education pertaining to the second draft of the science standards with regard to the evolution issue. This past week, AIBS President Gene Likens wrote to the Ohio State Board of Education, urging them to uphold the highest science standards. AIBS Education Representative Cathy Lundmark has arranged to have Randy Moore, Editor of the National Association of Biology Teachers' journal, American Biology Teacher, lead a formal review of the final draft standards that are expected to go to the Ohio State Board of Education later this summer.
HOUSE SCIENCE COMMITTEE CONSIDERS ROLE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY IN PROPOSED DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY - Members of the House Science Committee on June 27 peppered Administration witnesses with questions on the structure, function, and make-up of the President's newly proposed Department of Homeland Security. Committee members expressed concern over a lack of research and development coordination across the new agency and what effect the transfer of programs might have on other critical areas of the nation's scientific portfolio. Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) said, "Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that the bill the Administration has sent us simply does not give R&D a high enough profile to enable the Department of Homeland Security to accomplish its goals. The bill does not even explicitly mention R&D in some critical areas, such as cyber security and transportation security; it creates no slot for an official whose primary concern would be R&D, and it does not follow any successful model of R&D coordination." Boehlert added that the bill the Committee considers will contain an Undersecretary for Research and Development, "with a broad but clear mission and the tools he or she will need to carry it out."
"Science and technology will cut across all of the divisions of the new Department of Homeland Security and the department will need a dedicated office to coordinate the efforts and advise the new Secretary," said Rep. Constance Morella (R-MD). "Research and development strategy should not be handled piecemeal by the various division heads. Their must be a high-level, dedicated office charged with overseeing and guiding the science portfolio at DHS."
Other pending legislation to create a Department of Homeland Security treats science and technology more directly. For instance, both the Senate bill (S. 2542) introduced by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and the House bill (H.R. 4660) introduced by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) propose creation of an Office of Science and Technology (OST) within the new department to advise the Secretary on research and development issues - providing a department-wide mechanism for directing R&D that is absent from the President's proposal. Their legislation would also establish an Acceleration Fund for Research and Development of Homeland Security Technologies to support homeland security research and accelerate the development of critical homeland security technologies, thus providing a department-wide mechanism for funding research and technology development-another function absent from the President's proposal. The Senate's Committee on Governmental Affairs plans to report out a revised version of the Lieberman bill next month. That product will be considered by the Senate later in July.
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