New & Noteworthy



Archive for the 'News & Updates' Category

13 Aug 2018

Comments Requested on Proposed Revisions to Endangered Species Regulations

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have released a joint proposal to make significant revisions to regulations that implement the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and are inviting comments from the public for a period of 60 days.

ESA was enacted in 1973 with the goal of preventing plants and animals from becoming extinct. The Administration has proposed changes to the enforcement of ESA that would make it harder to provide protections for certain species.

The inter-agency proposal tightens the definition of “foreseeable future” for making crucial ESA decisions. This is in reference to the ESA requirement that USFWS or the National Marine Fisheries Service must determine whether a species is “in danger of extinction, or likely to become so within the foreseeable future” when making a listing decision. Under the new proposal, foreseeable future only extends so far as officials “can reasonably determine that the conditions posing the potential danger of extinction are probable.”

The proposal would also eliminate the “blanket 4(d)” rule, which allows the same broad protections for threatened species that are received by endangered species. This move, which would only cover future listings, would result in narrower protections, made on a case-by-case basis, for threatened species.

The Administration has also proposed removing language that guides officials to ignore economic burdens when determining how species should be protected. “We propose to remove the phrase, ‘without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination,’… to more closely align with the statutory language,” the proposed rule reads. “The act requires the secretary to make determinations based ‘solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data.’”

The proposal makes a key change to the designation of “critical habitats”, which are areas essential for recovery of a species. These areas are sometimes still considered “critical” when it is not occupied by the species in question. The new rules would allow USFWS and NOAA Fisheries to designate unoccupied areas “critical habitat” only when the occupied areas are inadequate for the conservation of the species or if inclusion of unoccupied areas would yield other specified advantages. This could potentially shrink critical habitat.

The proposal has raised concerns in the conservation community. Jamie Rappaport Clark, President and CEO of the Defenders of Wildlife and former Director of USFWS said, “These regulations are the heart of how the Endangered Species Act is implemented. Imperiled species depend on them for their very lives.” Clark expressed concerns that the changes “would undercut the effectiveness of the ESA and put species at risk of extinction.”

“These proposals would slam a wrecking ball into the most crucial protections for our most endangered wildlife,” said Brett Hartl, Government Affairs Director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If these regulations had been in place in the 1970s, the bald eagle and the gray whale would be extinct today.”

The proposal, published in the Federal Register on July 25, 2018, will accept comments until September 24, 2018. Comments can be submitted electronically through the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov.

Links to the Federal Register notices:
https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2018-07-25/html/2018-15811.htm
https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2018-07-25/html/2018-15810.htm
https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2018-07-25/html/2018-15812.htm

13 Aug 2018

Senate Approves Second Appropriations “Minibus”

The Senate has passed a second appropriations package for fiscal year (FY) 2019, including the funding for Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; Financial Services and General Government; Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies; and Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.

This marked the first time since FY 2010 that the Senate debated and approved an Interior and Environment spending bill without considering it as a part of a year-end omnibus spending package. Lawmakers adopted 58 amendments before approving the “minibus” package, including one for expanding federal actions to address lead in drinking water and another for fighting algal blooms. An amendment to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund was not adopted, despite receiving some bipartisan support.

The spending package will now go to conference with the House, which passed its version of the “minibus” earlier in July.

The Senate bill would provide the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other agencies $35.9 billion, about $600 million more than the House bill. EPA would receive flat funding at $8.05 billion under the Senate bill, while the House bill would slash its budget by 100 million. The U.S. Geological Survey will receive flat funding under the Senate bill and a slightly increased budget under the House bill.

Senate appropriators would provide $1.3 billion (+$11 million) for the Bureau of Land Management, $3.2 billion (+13.4 million) for the National Park Service, $1.6 billion (-$19.7 million) for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, $6.29 billion for the U.S. Forest Service, and $1.043 billion (flat) for the Smithsonian Institution. Both bills have largely ignored the deep cuts proposed to the Department of Interior and EPA by the President.

The agriculture spending bill approved by Senate provides $2.73 billion (-10 percent) to agricultural research, including $1.301 billion (-$42 million) for the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), $1.425 billion (+$17 million) for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), and $405 million (+$5 million) for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).

The first “minibus” spending package, which provides funding for Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs was approved by both chambers in June and is expected to be ready for the President’s signature by early September. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) intends to “steer clear” of another year-end omnibus spending package and said that the Senate will be in session for most of August to work on appropriations. Appropriators have indicated that the next spending package they consider could potentially combine spending bills for Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, which account for 75 percent of all discretionary spending.

13 Aug 2018

White House Nominates Science Adviser

President Trump has nominated Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, a meteorologist and Vice President for Research at the University of Oklahoma, to be the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). If confirmed by the Senate, Dr. Droegemeier will serve as the President’s chief science adviser.

The Director of OSTP advises the Administration on issues ranging from funding priorities to opportunities to improve policy coordination across federal departments and agencies. Historically, the head of OSTP has also played important roles in providing timely scientific input on matters related to public health, safety and security.

Droegemeier has expertise in extreme-weather forecasting and has led two National Science Foundation (NSF) funded centers, one focused on predicting storms and the other on adaptive atmospheric sensing. He has served on the National Science Board (NSB)—the governing body for the National Science Foundation—having been nominated by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Droegemeier has been a faculty member at the University of Oklahoma for 33 years. He also serves as the Secretary of Science and Technology for Governor Mary Fallin (R-OK) and has worked on weather and climate issues for former Governor Brad Henry (D-OK). Droegemeier earned his Ph.D. in atmospheric science from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.

In 2013, Droegemeier testified before the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Environment that climate models “can be useful for determining future environments” and the potential for extreme storms. “Our understanding of, and ability to predict, high-impact weather will improve climate model representations of storms, precipitation, the radiation budget and even chemical processes,” he said.

Droegemeier co-authored an op-ed last year along with Daniel Reed, a former Vice President at Microsoft, warning about declining research spending in the United States. “U.S. government investment in basic research is now at a 40-year low as a percentage of [gross domestic product]. This places the ‘miracle machine’ in grave danger.”

The President’s nominee has received support from the scientific community. According to John Holdren, who served as OSTP Director under President Obama, Dr. Droegemeier is a “respected senior scientist and an experienced adviser on science policy to state and national leaders.” He said, “I expect he’ll be energetic in defending the R&D budget and climate change research in particular.”

The position of OSTP Director has been vacant for more than 18 months, a record length of time. During the Trump Administration, the number of OSTP staff has dropped from 135 under President Obama to 35 last year. The number has since grown to 60 under Acting Director Michael Kratsios.

18 Jul 2018

Lawmakers Introduce Legislation Regulating Invasive Species

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY) have introduced bicameral legislation, the Invasive Fish and Wildlife Prevention Act of 2018, that would give the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) greater authority to “regulate nonnative species and prohibit them from being imported or sold in the United States.”

Presently, more than 200 species have been listed as “injurious wildlife,” a designation given by the USFWS to species considered harmful to wildlife and natural resources in the United States. These species cannot be imported into the country or sold without a USFWS permit. However, under the current system, the designation is given only after a species has already been introduced.

The bipartisan legislation would address the invasive species threat before they are imported by establishing a new injurious species listing process based on scientific risk analysis. The bill would also give USFWS the power to make emergency designations for species that pose an “imminent threat.” The bill does not impose restrictions on the import of dead natural history museum specimens or scientific collections as long as the specimen is adequately preserved to minimize the risk of exposure from any harmful pathogens or parasites.

“Whether it’s Asian Carp in our lakes or the Emerald Ash Borer in our forests, invasive species threaten our environment and our economy, and we have to do everything we can to block them from coming into our state,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The Invasive Fish and Wildlife Prevention Act would help better protect our precious natural resources, strengthen our economy, draw tourism to our state, and provide clean drinking water to New Yorkers.”

Asian Carp is a prominent threat to the Great Lakes, which provide drinking water to over 30 million people and support a $7 billion fishing industry and a $15.5 billion boating industry. Ash trees across 31 states have been infested by the Emerald Ash Borer beetle resulting in negative ecological impacts.

Representative Stefanik said, “This important bill will give the Fish and Wildlife Service needed flexibility to regulate and combat invasive pests that threaten our region, and I urge my colleagues in the House to support it.”

25 Jun 2018

Joint Stakeholder Statement on Promoting Sustainable Use and Conservation of Biodiversity Through Open Exchange of Digital Sequence Information

The Natural Science Collections Alliance has joined with more than 50 other leading scientific organizations from around the world to express a shared concern with emerging proposals on the regulation of use of digital sequence information.

The statement was issued in response to “activities pursuant to the decisions at the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CDB) (Decision XIII/16) and the Nagoya Protocol (NP) (Decision NP-2/14) to “consider any potential implications of the use of digital sequence information (DSI) on genetic resources for the first three objectives of the CBD and the objective of the NP”.”

The joint statement reads, in part, “As key stakeholders, the signatory organizations are vigilant about the potentially harmful effect of inappropriate or overly burdensome regulation of genetic resources. They are therefore greatly concerned about proposals to apply ABS obligations to DSI. Such obligations would place additional hurdles on biological research – with potentially negative consequences for the advancement of science and the huge societal value this generates, as well as for achieving the three objectives of the CBD.”

Read the full statement here.

20 Jun 2018

NSC Alliance Members Invited to Inform Science Policy This Summer

The Natural Science Collections Alliance is pleased to announce that your organization, as an Alliance member, is eligible to participate in the 2018 Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event.

This national initiative is an opportunity for scientists across the country to meet with their federal or state elected officials to showcase the people, facilities, and equipment that are required to support and conduct scientific research.

There is a pressing need for the scientific community to engage with policymakers about the value of natural history collections in research and education. As called for in the recent report from the Biodiversity Collections Network, “The community must do a better job of communicating outcomes and benefits of digitization efforts to policymakers, administrators, other scientists, and the public.”

The Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event enables scientists, curators, museum professionals, and graduate students to meet with their elected officials without traveling to Washington, DC. Participants may either invite an elected official to tour their research facility or can meet at the lawmaker’s local office. Meetings will take place mid-July through October, depending on the participant’s schedule.

NSC Alliance members who participate will receive one-on-one support and online training to prepare them for their tour or meeting.

The event is open to all types of natural science collections, including biological, geological, and anthropological collections.

Participation is free for NSC Alliance members, but registration will close on July 19, 2018. To register, visit https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressional_district_visits.html.

07 May 2018

NSC Alliance Provides Testimony in Support of Federal Funding for Science Collections

The NSC Alliance provided testimony to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees regarding funding for certain programs that curate natural history collections. The testimony addressed programs within the Department of the Interior and Smithsonian Institution.

“Scientific collections are critical infrastructure for our nation’s research enterprise. Research specimens connect us to the past, are used to solve current societal problems, and are helping to predict threats to human health, methods for ensuring food security, and the impact of future environmental changes. Sustained investments in scientific collections are in our national interest.”

NSC Alliance urged Congress to make additional investments in the National Museum of Natural History that will allow the museum to undertake critical collections care, make needed technology upgrades, and conduct cutting edge research. The testimony also requested lawmakers to support adequate funding for programs within the Department of the Interior, such as the Biological Survey Unit, that support the preservation and use of scientific collections.

Read the testimony here.

26 Apr 2018

NSC Alliance Urges Congress to Support Federal Funding for NSF

The Natural Science Collections Alliance (NSC Alliance) provided testimony to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, highlighting the importance and role of natural history collections.

“Natural science collections advance research that improves public health, agriculture, natural resource management, biodiversity conservation, and American innovation. Current research involving natural science collections also contributes to the development of new cyberinfrastructure, data visualization tools, and improved data management.”

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is a key federal supporter of scientific collections. NSF supports research that uses existing collections as well as studies that gather new natural history specimens. NSF’s Directorates for Biological Sciences (BIO) and Geosciences (GEO) support research and student training opportunities in natural history collections. NSF also supports biological research infrastructure, such as natural history museums, living stock collections, and field stations.

The testimony called for $8.45 billion for NSF in fiscal year 2019.

Read the NSC Alliance testimony.

23 Mar 2018

Congress Approves FY 2018 Omnibus Appropriations, Rejects President’s Cuts to Science

Congress has passed and the President has signed a bipartisan appropriations bill with $1.3 trillion in federal spending for fiscal year (FY) 2018. The House voted 256-167 and the Senate voted 65-32 to approve the bill that distributes funding for the remainder of FY 2018. The omnibus appropriations legislation provides either increased or level spending for science agencies, ignoring the deep cuts proposed by the President.

Congressional leaders announced an agreement late on 21 March after several weeks of negotiations and six months into FY 2018. A majority of environmental riders were dropped from the final bill.

The bill funds the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $7.8 billion, $295 million above the FY 2017 enacted level, with the Research and Related Activities (RRA) accounts funded at $6.3 billion (+$301 million). The RRA line includes funding for the various research directorates, including the biological sciences directorate. Details are not yet available for how these funds would be allocated. The bill states “this strong investment in basic research reflects the Congress’ growing concern that China and other competitors are outpacing the United States in terms of research spending.”

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will receive $37 billion, a boost of $3 billion, rejecting the President’s proposed 22 percent cut to the agency. The bill includes $1.8 billion (+$414 million) for Alzheimer’s research.

The omnibus provides funding increases for many agencies and programs at the Department of the Interior (DOI). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is funded at $1.6 billion (+$75 million) with the legislation prioritizing funding for addressing the endangered species delisting backlog, combating invasive species, preventing illegal wildlife trafficking, and preventing closure of fish hatcheries.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), slated for a 15 percent cut under the President’s request, will be funded at $1.1 billion, an increase of $63 million over FY 2017 levels. Funding will be targeted to critical infrastructure investments in natural hazards programs, stream gages, the groundwater monitoring network, and mapping activities. The legislation provides $23 million for early earthquake early warning systems and $26 million for funding the development of “Landsat 9” – a satellite program that provides land use measurements important for agriculture, forestry, energy and water resource decisions. The agency’s eight climate science centers will remain functional. The White House had proposed eliminating half of them.

The President’s FY 2018 request called for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget to be cut by 30 percent. The appropriations bill, however, provides level funding to the agency at $8.1 billion. EPA’s regulatory programs will be cut by $23.5 million. Funding for cleanup of Superfund sites will get a $66 million boost. The bill also includes $2.9 billion for Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan funds and $63 million for Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act to support for water infrastructure projects. The bill emphasizes the Administration’s goal to “rein in outdated, unnecessary and potentially harmful regulations at the EPA” and includes riders prohibiting the agency from regulating lead content of ammunition. EPA’s science and technology programs will be supported at a flat budget of $116 million, rejecting the administration’s proposed $30.8 million cut to the program.

A report that accompanies the bill indicates that the legislation “does not include any requested funds for workforce reshaping” at the EPA. President Trump’s proposal would have allowed EPA to extract about $68 million from various programs for the reshaping effort, to be implemented through buyouts. The bill also limits the agency’s reorganization and restructuring efforts to $1 million.

The Energy and Water portion of the spending bill, which funds the Department of Energy (DOE) and Army Corps of Engineers, received $43.2 billion, an increase of $4.7 billion. DOE will receive across the board funding increases, including for research efforts and energy efficiency programs. DOE’s Office of Science will see a 16 percent or $800 million funding boost to a record $6.26 billion. An increase of $163 million is targeted for advanced scientific computing research, a priority of the President. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program, slated for elimination in the President’s budget, will receive a record level funding of $353 million (+$47 million).

Agricultural research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), will receive $3.03 billion, an increase of $138 million over FY 2017. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) is funded at $400 million. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is funded at $6 billion, with $2.8 billion targeted at wildfire prevention and suppression. The USFS received $6.07 billion in FY 2017.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will receive $5.9 billion, a slight increase of $234 million above FY 2017 level, with the funding prioritized for National Weather Service ($1 billion), fisheries operations ($883 million), weather research, and ocean exploration.

The Smithsonian Institution will receive $1 billion in funding, an increase of $178 million, allowing all on-going operations to continue.

05 Mar 2018

NSC Alliance Requests Senate Appropriators to Restore Biodiversity Research Programs at USGS

The President of the National Science Collections Alliance sent a letter to the Senate Committee on Appropriations asking the lawmakers to reject the proposed termination of the Biological Survey Unit and restore other on-going research initiatives at the U. S. Geological Survey.

Read the letter here.

« Prev - Next »