Science Policy Report


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25 March 2015

In This Issue:

Policy News

~ House and senate to release budget resolutions
~ FY 2016 appropriations update
~ USDA leadership testify before House Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee
~ Congressional letters in support of research funding
~ EPA Secret Science Bill passes in the House
~ Florida bans use of term "climate change"
~ Sen. Durbin Introduces American Innovation Bill
~ In a turnabout, key congressional critic backs NSF peer review

Science News

~ How to increase nitrogen use efficiency on farms
~ Give soils their due
~ Back to basics: Breeding plants for organic agriculture
~ Why soil rocks
~ Supercomputers help solve puzzle-like bond for biofuels
~ SSSAJ special section highlights the past and future of "hydropedology"
~ NSF announces plan for comprehensive public access to research results
~ Reddit prompts citizen scientists to go dig up dirt
~ Annual NSF 2015 SBIR/STTR Phase II Grantees Conference
~ Americans shrug off environmental issues as partisan divide deepens

International Corner

~ Canadian academics offer their own climate policy
~ EU's new GMO law leaves questions unanswered
~ Ukraine joins E.U. research club - at a steep discount
~ U.K. budget includes new money for innovation

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Supplemental and Alternative Crops Competitive Grants Program
~ Hispanic-Serving Institutions Education Grants
~ Special Research Grants Program Potato Breeding Research
~ Hydrologic Sciences
~ Methyl Bromide Transition
~ Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund

Policy News

(TOP) ~ House and senate to release budget resolutions

Both chambers of Congress have released their respective budget resolutions, which set overall spending levels for domestic and defense programs for FY 2016. Even as debate intensifies within the GOP over whether to ease sequestration, the budget resolutions abide by the spending caps in place. The Senate and House budgets are both attempts to balance the budget within ten years, which results in large-scale cuts, the vast majority of which affect programs for low-income people like Medicaid, Obamacare, food stamps, and more. The House budget also calls for a major change in how Medicare operates. The presidential budget, by contrast, tries to reduce but not eliminate the deficit, primarily by raising taxes. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ FY 2016 appropriations update

As budget season moves into full swing, the ASA, CSSA and SSSA Science Policy Office is working hard to advocate for the research funding programs our members are involved in. Last week, ASA, CSSA and SSSA sent funding request letters for fiscal year 2016 to House and Senate appropriations committees that handle funding for the USDA, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, Office of Science. See the letters for USDA, NSF, and DOE. Follow our Budget and Appropriations webpage for updates on the FY16 budget.

(TOP) ~ USDA leadership testify before House Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee

The the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing for the USDA fiscal year 2016 budget request. Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics, Catherine Wotecki, Agriculture Research Service Administrator, Chavonda Jacobs-Young, and National Institute of Food and Agriculture Director, Sonny Ramaswamy, testified before the subcommittee. See the hearing webcast here.

(TOP) ~ Congressional letters in support of research funding

Over the past two weeks several champions for food, agriculture and natural resources research have been making their priorities known as three “Dear Colleague” letters have been circulating in support of federal research programs. "Dear Colleague" letters are often used to encourage others to cosponsor, support, or oppose a bill. For the first time ever, two House members came together to write a letter in support of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). Congressman Rodney Davis, (R, IL-3) and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D, WA-3) sent out a letter asking their fellow House members to show strong support for AFRI in the FY2016 appropriations process. 49 House members signed on to the bipartisan letter. Letters are also circulating in support of NSF and DOE Office of Science funding. 

(TOP) ~ EPA Secret Science Bill passes in the House

On March 18, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Secret Science Reform Act by a vote of 241-175. The bill prohibits EPA from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations unless the science is "publicly available online in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of the research results," among other things. The bill is largely opposed by scientific, public health, and environmental groups, including ASA, CSSA, and SSSA. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Florida bans use of term "climate change"

According to media reports, there is an unwritten policy under Gov. Rick Scott of Florida that the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) not use the terms "climate change" or "global warming" in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, and volunteers interviewed by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.  A spokesman for Scott told the Center, "There's no policy on this." Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Sen. Durbin Introduces American Innovation Bill

With a decline in federal scientific research threatening our standing as a leader in discovery and innovation and our global competitiveness, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) unveiled the American Innovation Act during a speech to the Chicago research community. The American Innovation Act will put funding for basic research on a consistent, steady growth path over the next decade by providing annual budget increases of 5 percent – over and above inflation – for cutting edge research at five important federal research agencies: The National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy Office of Science, the Department of Defense Science and Technology Programs, the National Institute of Standards and Technology Scientific and Technical Research, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Science Directorate. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ In a turnabout, key congressional critic backs NSF peer review

A political dispute involving the National Science Foundation (NSF) that has taken on near-biblical importance within the scientific community may be inching closer to resolution. A new statement from Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), the chair of the science committee in the U.S. House of Representatives that oversees NSF, appears to be a significant softening of his long-standing criticism of NSF’s grantsmaking process. And although a different congressional panel is expected to register the same complaint against the agency at a hearing next week, the shift in the political landscape is good news for U.S. scientists. Read the full article.

Science News

(TOP) ~ How to increase nitrogen use efficiency on farms

A special collection of papers in the Journal of Environmental Quality examines the many technical, economic, and social impediments to ensuring that more nitrogen fertilizer is used by crops and less is lost to the environment. The ability to manufacture synthetic nitrogen fertilizer has been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it greatly improved human nutrition and well-being during the 20th century. On the other hand, it poses major human health risks and environmental challenges in our current century, the 21st. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Give soils their due

We are not paying enough attention to the world's soils, a “nearly forgotten resource” and our “silent ally,” 33% of which are in a state of degradation. We can't breathe, eat, drink, or be healthy without sustainably managing soils. So in recognizing 2015 as the International Year of Soils, the United Nations (UN) is focusing global attention on the increasing pressures on soils and their ripple effect on other global challenges. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Back to basics: Breeding plants for organic agriculture

Thanks to the momentum of the farm-to-fork movement and environmentally aware consumers, the organic food industry is going mainstream. But moving away from conventional agriculture practices is not easy. One of the biggest challenges organic farmers face is simply finding locally adapted plant varieties that will thrive under organic farming conditions. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Why soil rocks

2015 is the UN-designated International Year of Soils – one of the world's most important resources that will help determine the collective future for inhabitants of the Earth. Here we join the celebration of the services provided by this critical resource and set out to prove once and for all that soil does, indeed, rock. Soil is the living, breathing skin of the Earth1. It takes millennia to create and just a few short years to deplete. In every sense, it is essential to human existence – it provides nutrients essential to crop and animal production; it nourishes plant-life that provides shelter and habitat; it yields potent drugs that promote human health; and so much more. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Supercomputers help solve puzzle-like bond for biofuels

One of life's strongest bonds has been discovered by a science team researching biofuels with the help of supercomputers. Their find could boost efforts to develop catalysts for biofuel production from non-food waste plants. Renowned computational biologist Klaus Schulten of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign led the analysis and modeling of the bond, which behaves like a Chinese Finger Trap puzzle. "What's new is that we looked at the system very specifically, with the tools of single molecule force spectroscopy and molecular dynamics, computing it for the first time," Schulten said. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ SSSAJ special section highlights the past and future of "hydropedology"

The Mar.-Apr. 2015 issue of the Soil Science Society of America Journal (SSSAJ) includes a special section titled “Hydropedology Symposium: 10 Years in the Past and 10 Years into the Future.” Hydropedology is an emerging interdisciplinary science that has gained considerable interest in recent years in both the soil science and hydrology communities. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ NSF announces plan for comprehensive public access to research results

Last week, the National Science Foundation (NSF), announced its continued commitment to expand public access to the results of its funded research through the publication of its public access plan, Today's Data, Tomorrow's Discoveries. NSF's public access is intended to accelerate the dissemination of fundamental research results that will advance the frontiers of knowledge and help ensure the nation's future prosperity. NSF will require that articles in peer-reviewed scholarly journals and papers in juried conference proceedings or transactions be deposited in a public access compliant repository and be available for download, reading and analysis within one year of publication. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Reddit prompts citizen scientists to go dig up dirt

Thousands of citizen scientists around the country are getting their hands dirty collecting soil samples after the Internet bestowed a recent burst of attention on a soil sampling project. The crowdsourced project, which aims to find new drugs by cultivating fungi from soil samples, drew only moderate interest since it began in 2010. But it caught a lucky break on social media and has now exploded, surpassing researchers' wildest dreams in just a few days. When a reddit user posted a link to the website of the Citizen Science Soil Collection Program, run by the Natural Products Discovery Group at the University of Oklahoma, the group has received more than 4000 requests for soil collection kits. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Annual NSF 2015 SBIR/STTR Phase II Grantees Conference

This conference provides opportunities for small businesses that have received NSF SBIR/STTR Phase II awards are able to showcase their technology under development and network with small businesses, potential investors and strategic partners.  Grantees will also have an opportunity to attend a variety of educational and information sessions appropriate for early stage companies focused on partnerships, fundraising, business development, intellectual property, and other meaningful topics. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Americans shrug off environmental issues as partisan divide deepens

Republicans and Democrats have become increasingly polarized when it comes to environmental  issues, according to a new poll. A Gallup poll released recently shows that Americans overall are less worried about environmental issues — pollution in drinking water, pollution to bodies of water, air pollution, extinction of plant and animal species, loss of tropical rain forests and global warming or climate change — than they were this time last year. Overall, concerns over all six environmental issues mentioned have lessened since 2000. Read the full article.

International Corner

(TOP) ~ Canadian academics offer their own climate policy

Under the conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada has become a tough and frustrating political environment for researchers trying to advance evidence-based policies to reduce emissions. The country has withdrawn from international climate pacts, muzzled government climate researchers, and put new regulatory efforts on the back burner. Now, one group of prominent Canadian academics is trying to change the dynamic by releasing its own set of climate policy recommendations for the nation. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ EU's new GMO law leaves questions unanswered

A new directive on cultivation of GMOs in Europe breaks an old deadlock between the European Commission, member states, and producers. Under the proposal, EU member states will be able to ban or restrict cultivation of GMOs on their territory, but they will not be able to block the authorization process at EU-level. But NGOs and GMO critics are skeptical about the new law, saying member states opposed to GM crops still don’t have all the guarantees they need. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Ukraine joins E.U. research club - at a steep discount

Ukraine has earned privileged access to competitive research funds from the European Union, bringing its science closer to the Western bloc. Under a deal signed in Kiev on 20 March with the European Commission, Ukraine becomes an “associated country” to Horizon 2020, the European Union's €80 billion, 7-year research program. That means researchers and businesses in Ukraine may apply for any Horizon 2020 grant. The commission has given Ukraine a sweet deal: It receives a 95% rebate on its association fee and a 1-year deferment to pay the first year's installment. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ U.K. budget includes new money for innovation

One of the old traditions when the annual government budget is released in the United Kingdom is for the chancellor of the exchequer to carry his speech to the House of Commons in a red briefcase. This year’s budget contained few surprises for researchers—the core science budget is planned over 5 years—but did yield more than £240 million of additional funding and some details about previously announced commitments. The new money will be spent mostly on technology-related research. Read the full article.

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

(TOP) ~ Supplemental and Alternative Crops Competitive Grants Program

The Supplemental and Alternative Crops Competitive (SACC) Grants Program will support the development of canola as a viable supplemental and alternative crop in the United States. The goal of the SACC program is to significantly increase crop production and/or acreage by developing and testing of superior germplasm, improving methods of planting, cultivation, and harvesting, and transferring new knowledge to producers (via Extension) as soon as practicable. Extension, education, and communication activities related to the research areas above must be addressed in the proposal. Deadline, April 17. Read the full announcement.

(TOP) ~ Hispanic-Serving Institutions Education Grants

This competitive grants program is intended to promote and strengthen the ability of Hispanic-Serving Institutions to carry out higher education programs in the food and agricultural sciences. Programs aim to attract outstanding students and produce graduates capable of enhancing the Nation's food and agricultural scientific and professional work force. Deadline, April 21 or 23, see announcement for full details. Read the full announcement.

(TOP) ~ Special Research Grants Program Potato Breeding Research

The purpose of this grant program is to support potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) research programs that focus on varietal development and testing and potato varieties for commercial production. As used herein, varietal development and testing is research using conventional breeding and/or biotechnological genetics to develop improved potato varieties. Aspects of evaluation, screening and testing must support variety development. Deadline, April 22. Read the full announcement.

(TOP) ~ Hydrologic Sciences

The Hydrologic Sciences Program focuses on the fluxes of water in the environment that constitute the water cycle as well as the mass and energy transport function of the water cycle. The Program supports the study of processes from rainfall to runoff to infiltration and streamflow; evaporation and transpiration; the flow of water in soils and aquifers; and the transport of suspended, dissolved, and colloidal components. The Hydrologic Sciences Program retains a strong focus on linking fluxes of water and the components carried by water across boundaries between various interacting facets of the terrestrial system and the mechanisms by which these fluxes co-organize over a variety of timescales and/or alter fundamentals of water cycle interactions within the terrestrial system. The Program is also interested in how water interacts with the landscape and the ecosystem as well as how the water cycle and its coupled processes are altered by land use and climate. Studies may address physical, chemical, and biological processes that are coupled directly to water transport. Projects submitted to Hydrologic Sciences commonly involve expertise from basic sciences, engineering and mathematics; and proposals may require joint review with related programs. The Hydrologic Sciences Program will also consider synthesis projects. Proposals Accepted Anytime. Read the full announcement.

(TOP) ~ Methyl Bromide Transition

The methyl bromide transition program addresses the immediate needs and the costs of transition that have resulted from the scheduled phase-out of the pesticide methyl bromide. Methyl bromide has been a pest and disease control tactic critical to pest management systems for decades for soilborne and postharvest pests. The program focuses on integrated commercial-scale research on methyl bromide alternatives and associated extension activity that will foster the adoption of these solutions. Projects should cover a broad range of new methodologies, technologies, systems, and strategies for controlling economically important pests for which methyl bromide has been the only effective pest control option. Research projects must address commodities with critical issues and include a focused economic analysis of the cost of implementing the transition on a commercial scale. Deadline, May 4. Read the full announcement.

(TOP) ~ Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund

NFWF, in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is soliciting proposals to restore the habitats and water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributary rivers and streams. The Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund (CBSF) will award approximately $10 - $12 million in grants in partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Program. Major funding for the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund comes from the EPA. Other important contributions are provided by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Forest Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Altria Group, and CSX. The CBSF will award grants in two categories: Small Watershed Grants and Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Grants. SWGs will be awarded for projects that promote community-based efforts to protect and restore the diverse natural resources of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributary rivers and streams. INSRGs will be awarded to projects that dramatically accelerate quantifiable nutrient and sediment reductions through innovative, sustainable, and cost-effective approaches, methods, and new technologies. Deadline, May 14. Read the full announcement.

Sources: USDA; NSF; FWS; AAAS; ScienceInsider; Vox; EU Observer; Florida Center for Investigative Reporting; The White House blog; TACC News; Science; Politico

Vision: The Societies Washington, DC Science Policy Office (SPO) will advocate the importance and value of the agronomic, crop and soil sciences in developing national science policy and ensuring the necessary public-sector investment in the continued health of the environment for the well being of humanity. The SPO will assimilate, interpret, and disseminate in a timely manner to Society members information about relevant agricultural, natural resources and environmental legislation, rules and regulations under consideration by Congress and the Administration.

This page of the ASA-CSSA-SSSA web site will highlight current news items relevant to Science Policy. It is not an endorsement of any position.