Terrorists. Cyberthreats. Nuclear weapons. Sea level rise. Crumbling laboratories? When tasked with defending the entire country from threats, the last thing military agencies want to worry about is the deterioration of their 67 science and engineering labs. The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities held a hearing that reflected the sentiment that languishing laboratories cannot support the workforce and infrastructure to run at their optimal level, which hinders the development of new innovations and technologies that support military operations.
When the House passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA) (H.R. 5303) 399-25 last week, it got on track to returning the bill to a two-year authorization cycle (there was a seven-year gap between the previous two bills). WRDA authorizes mostly non-controversial water resources development projects that have already been vetted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) having to do with ecosystem restoration, flood mitigation, commercial navigation, potable water, and stormwater projects.
If you were to ask a graduate student what she expects to spend 42 percent of her time on as a science professor, her response might be research, teaching, or grant writing. It probably wouldn’t be administrative activities, such as documenting personnel expenses, formatting grant proposals, and drafting biographical sketches. This burden, which is a necessity to receive federal funding, was the subject of a recent House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology hearing.
Had you been in the halls of the Capitol building at 10:00 p.m. last Wednesday night, you might have been surprised to see all the lights still on. That’s because Congress was scrambling to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded, and they succeeded — just in the nick of time. President Obama signed the House- and Senate-passed stopgap funding measure just two days before the start of the new fiscal year, averting a government shutdown. CRs fund federal agencies at the previous year’s level, which means no new programs can be created. This short-term bill will keep the lights on at federal agencies through December 9 and has a special provision to provide $500 million in aid for Louisiana and other states devastated by recent flooding.
If you’ve ever spent a quiet afternoon fishing on a lake or kayaking past the greenery of a salt marsh, you’ve likely encountered programs and projects that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) oversees. FWS protects and manages our nation’s numerous fish and wildlife resources and uses conservation practices to give everyone in our nation the opportunity to enjoy those resources. FWS first introduced their Mitigation Policy in 1981, which was comprised of “recommendations on mitigating the adverse impacts of land and water developments on fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats.” The need for revisions to the decades-old policy stems from climate change, new conservation science, and the increasing loss of habitats for many organisms protected by the FWS. The draft policy was available for public comment from March to May 2016, and since then, the agency has been making revisions to their policy. A hearing on September 22 by the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife reviewed the proposed changes.
In school, most students learn to measure acidity or pH with a litmus test. Unfortunately, monitoring the acidity of the ocean is not as simple as dunking a small piece of paper in liquid and waiting for the color to change, and the impacts of acidity changes to marine life are more complex than a simple change in color. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean, which makes it difficult for marine calcifiers (a group comprised of many different organisms, such as molluscs, crustaceans, and corals) to make their own shells and skeletons. Ocean acidification doesn’t just harm these creatures. It threatens our nation’s economic stability, from our $7.3 billion seafood industry to our $101.1 billion recreation and tourism sector. But it doesn’t stop there – it also affects our homeland security.
For residents of Maryland and Virginia, the Chesapeake Bay is a hallmark of family vacations, weekend getaways, adventures in crabbing or clamming, or even part of their backyard. The bay is the largest estuary in the U.S., with a watershed spanning over 64,000 miles into which 150 rivers and streams flow. In the expanse of the bay’s watershed, agriculture reigns dominant with over 80,000 farms bringing in billions of dollars in sales every year. However, the agriculture industry can have a profound impact on the estuary by releasing runoff, sediments, and nutrients into water.
Students in Alaska take a field trip to a local salmon stream. An artificial reef is built off the coast of Florida. A duck hunter cleans his gear in Wisconsin. A lifeguard in Delaware explains rip currents to a family on their beach vacation. Even though these differing coastal activities take place over the entire continental U.S., they all have the National Sea Grant College Program (Sea Grant), in common. Sea Grant is comprised of a network of 33 programs along the nation’s coasts that support “research, education, outreach, and extension activities that provide communities with the tools to increase their resiliency capacities.” Sea Grant and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a briefing on the necessity of economic resiliency in coastal communities in the U.S. and featured three speakers who attested to the importance of resiliency and of Sea Grant’s support.
When you hear the words ‘climate change,’ images of the proverbial greenhouse, global thermometer, or clouds of air pollution may come to mind, but they may not be accompanied by thoughts of various federal agencies. However, the actions of the federal government can have widespread effects on a host of environmental issues. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 was signed into law to hold federal agencies accountable for those effects by requiring them to assess the environmental impacts their actions may have before they are carried out and to consider alternative options.
“Merit review is the lifeblood of NSF. It is how we identify the best science to fund. It is the core of promoting the progress of science and the reason taxpayers give the NSF and the research community so much independence,” said John Anderson, Chair of the National Science Board’s Committee on Audit and Oversight.