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President Trump Proposes Budget Cuts And An Executive Branch Reorganization

At COL’s annual Public Policy Forum two weeks ago, Representative Don Young (AK-At Large) emphatically proclaimed, “The president doesn’t write the budget … the United States Congress writes the budget! … It’s up to us to spend the money.” While the legislative branch is responsible for drafting and passing the 12 annual appropriations bills that fund the federal government, the president kicks off the process with his release of the president’s budget request. Last Thursday, President Trump did just that, laying out his blueprint for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 in a 53-page “skinny budget” titled, “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.”

Researchers in Rhode Island and Nebraska will focus on the development of new kinds of solar cells containing crystalline perovskites grown from solutions, such as the one pictured here. Brown University is the lead institution for this project. (Credit: Amy Simmons/Padture Lab, Brown University)

Future STEMs From Education

Twenty percent of all jobs in the U.S. required a high level of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in 2011, a number projected to only increase in the coming decades. Statistics like the one above highlight the importance of last week’s hearing of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which focused on the future of STEM education.

Six new areas have been added to the California Coastal National Monument from Santa Cruz County to Orange County. (Credit: Wikimedia commons)

Once-Hailed Marine National Monuments Now Under Attack

On his last day in office, former President George W. Bush designated the world’s largest protected marine area in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. He attributed his inspiration for what was called the “single-largest act of ocean conservation in history,” to a documentary series by Jean-Michel Cousteau and “a pretty good lecture about life” from marine biologist Sylvia Earle. Not to be outdone in his home state, former President Obama nearly quadrupled the size of the monument and created the Atlantic Ocean’s first Marine National Monuments.

Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas). Researchers continue to learn new things about this endangered turtle's diet, especially during their early life stages (the lost years). In 2015, green turtle nest counts reached a new record high with 27,975 nests laid on the 26 core Index Nesting Beach Survey beaches during the 109-day sea turtle index-nesting season. (Credit: John Starrett/FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute)

Lawmakers Borrow Tech Buzzword, Urge Innovation

“Not long ago, Google and Uber were nouns and verbs yet to be discovered, and Amazon was a rainforest in South America,” declared Chairman John Barrasso (WY) in his opening statement to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. He went on to explain the idea behind the hearing, which was to examine new solutions to control invasive species and to promote wildlife conservation. He stressed that innovation has transformed nearly every sector of the economy and that conservation should be no exception.

For universities, funding from the federal government has declined for four years in a row. (Credit: Pixabay)

Science’s Role In The Rulemaking Process

“I thought Galileo dealt with this,” commented Ranking Member Heidi Heitkamp (ND) at a hearing of the Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, referring to recent attention paid to outlandish celebrity social media posts. She continued, “We can’t be swimming outside the lanes so far that we have a reasonable dialogue about the Earth being flat.” While this flat-Earth claim is obviously false, the separation between fact and opinion has been a major topic in politics this year and in the science policymaking realm in particular.

Hurricane Rita in 2005 was a category 5. (Credit: Wikimedia)

Shelter From The Storm

With a dramatic reversal of environmental concerns on the West Coast from drought to flooding this winter, members of the Housing and Insurance Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee held a timely hearing to discuss flood insurance reform, specifically the reauthorization and reformation of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is due for reauthorization this fall. Flooding is the most frequent and expensive disaster in the U.S., and a delay in reauthorizing NFIP could disrupt property sales in high-risk areas where flood insurance is required.

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure discusses future of marine shipping and inland waterways. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Future Of Water Infrastructure

In the first hearing of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of the 115th Congress, members discussed the role of federal agencies in building water infrastructure. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which implement much of the country’s water regulatory programs and infrastructure projects. The discussion focused mainly on potential cuts to EPA’s budget and how these would impact water infrastructure projects.

A true-color NASA satellite mosaic of Earth. (Credit: NASA)

A Rose By Any Other Name Would Smell As…Thorny?

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.

The future of NASA will focus on space exploration, while climate and Earth science programs are uncertain. (Credit: Grevera / Wikimedia Commons)

NSF: Inspiring Innovation

An English major, inspired by watching astronauts land on the moon, changes her career path. Who is the mystery woman, who recently admitted, “I was the most unlikely person to become a scientist?” None other than Dr. France Córdova who now serves as director of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Votes advance key legislation. (Credit: Defense.gov)

House Action on Defense Appropriations and NASA Bills

Last week, the House passed the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2017 (H.R. 1301) by a large margin of 371-48. The bill now awaits action in the Senate. The House also passed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Transition Authorization Act of 2017 (S. 442).