The Environmental Protection Agency has taken the unusual step of putting a political operative in charge of vetting the hundreds of millions of dollars in grants the EPA distributes annually, assigning final funding decisions to a former Trump campaign aide with little environmental policy experience. In this role, John Konkus reviews every award the agency gives out, along with every grant solicitation before it is issued. According to both career and political employees, Konkus has told staff that he is on the lookout for “the double C-word” — climate change — and repeatedly has instructed grant officers to eliminate references to the subject in solicitations.
On Thursday, the House passed an appropriations “minibus” (H.R. 3219) in a mostly-partisan 235-192 vote. The minibus combines the Department of Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, Energy and Water, and Legislative Branch appropriations bills; Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11) said the package “ensure[s] the safety of the homeland and the American people.” An effort from several Democrats, led by Representative Chellie Pingree (ME-1), to reverse the National Ocean Policy implementation funding prohibition was rejected 192-235.
Prior to the Chesapeake Bay Program, the largest bay in the country was so polluted and disease-ridden that oysters, seagrass beds, and blue crabs declined in alarming numbers, threatening the economy of the region and wreaking havoc on ecosystems. Since the creation of the program in 1983, the conditions in the bay have been slowly, but surely, improving. The HELP for Wildlife Act (S. 1514), which passed out of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public by a vote of 14-7, is a comprehensive (though controversial) recreational hunting and conservation bill that reauthorizes the Chesapeake Bay Program.
On Thursday, the Senate Committee on Appropriations passed the $53.4 billion Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2018 (S.1662) bill in a 30-1 vote. “The committee has made difficult but responsible decisions to produce a bill that strikes a financial balance between the competing priorities of law enforcement, national security, scientific advancement, and economic development,” declared Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Richard Shelby (AL). In the Senate bill, the National Science Foundation (NSF) would be funded at $7.31 billion, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at $5.59 billion, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at $19.5 billion, representing cuts from FY 2017 of 2.2 percent, 1.5 percent, and 0.6 percent, respectively. The total reductions in the bill amount to $3.2 billion below the FY 2017 enacted level, but overall funding remains $4.4 billion above the president’s budget request.
When most people enter a hiking trail with several days’ worth of food, they’re at the start of a camping adventure. For residents of Big Sur, California, they’re making one of many weekly trips back from the grocery store. Four months ago, a mudslide collapsed a bridge, making the small hiking path the only access to the outside world for much of Big Sur.
When the Environmental Protection Agency finalized the Clean Power Plan in 2015, the agency posted online (as per their norm) hundreds of pages of technical documents, including underlying data, calculations, analyses, and memorandums. Their documentation, such as the Regulatory Impact Analysis, includes review of peer-reviewed literature, and the rule itself (which also used peer-reviewed science to underpin it) received unprecedented input through a number of outreach efforts, including 4.3 million public comments submitted during the six-month public comment period. For an agency so committed to transparency and the use of science for the public good, it should seem surprising that there are efforts by some in Congress to increase this transparency, public participation, and use of good science – but at the expense of allowing EPA to effectively do its job.
It’s hard to keep up with the overabundance of news coming out of D.C., so it would be easy to miss last week’s organizational meeting of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. During this time, the committee approved their Authorization and Oversight Plan (which broadly lays out their framework for the 115th Congress) and committee rules.
Multiple Senate confirmation hearings overlapped last week, forcing members to scurry to and from simultaneous committee meetings. A confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for Representative Ryan Zinke, nominee for Secretary of the Department of Interior (which includes the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Park Service), was one of the more contentious ones. Rep. Zinke vowed not to sell nor lease public lands and emphasized support for allowing for extraction activities within them. He acknowledged the changing climate while stepping back from an earlier, stronger stance that called it a ‘threat multiplier’ in respect to national security and committed to maintaining science funding levels with particular interest in more research into “clean coal.”
What does the Department of Commerce, most often regarded for its responsibility in creating conditions for economic growth and opportunity, have to do with the ocean? Within the department lies the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), placed there by an irate President Richard Nixon to keep it out of the control of the Secretary of the Interior (with whom he was feuding). The result is a commerce department with a wide-ranging spectrum of duties that include monitoring weather, enforcing international trade agreements, and regulating exports. On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a confirmation hearing for Wilbur Ross, President Donald Trump’s Department of Commerce secretary nominee. Mr. Ross is a billionaire investor and a political newcomer with a long history in the steel, textile, automotive, and coal industries.
The recent U.S. presidential election loomed large last week at the world’s largest annual gathering of Earth and space scientists, the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Fall Meeting in San Francisco, Calif. When Eos asked some of the more than 20,000 scientists at the meeting what they thought the election’s outcome means for the Earth and space sciences, we heard a wide range of responses, from dismissal of the election’s importance to deep concern.
While students around the country were recalling organic chemistry processes and physics formulas during their end-of-semester exams last Friday, Congress was also at work. Following in the Senate’s footsteps, the House passed the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (S. 3084), a reauthorization of the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology Education and Science Act of 2007, or America COMPETES, which was last reauthorized in 2010. The 2016 bill outlines policies for the National Science Foundation (NSF); the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST); and other federal science and innovation programs, including science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education programs.
What do that MRI you had after damaging your knee while running, knowing whether to bring an umbrella to work, and antifreeze in Antarctic fish have in common?MRIs, the Doppler radar, and the identification of “antifreeze” glycoproteins in Antarctic fish were made possible through research funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). In addition to its 66-year history of promoting scientific progress, the NSF funds 24 percent of federally-supported research at colleges and universities across the nation. The 24-member National Science Board (NSB) leads NSF and meets five times per year, most recently on November 8 and 9. NSF Director Dr. France Córdova opened the meeting by touting some of the agency’s monumental successes in 2016, including six NSF-supported scientists winning Nobel Prizes and 213 teachers being awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.