Geoscience Policy Monthly Review
january 2017

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January marks the beginning of the 115th Congress

January 3, 2017

The 115th Congress was sworn in on January 3. After the inauguration of the 115th Congress, the Republican Party maintains majority over the House and Senate. Senate Democrats, at 46 members, have acquired 2 new seats; Senate Republicans still hold the majority at 52 members. There are 2 Independents in the Senate.

Mike Pence is now Senate President and Orrin Hatch is President pro tempore. Mitch McConnell is Majority Leader for the Republican Party, and Chuck Schumer is Minority Leader for the Democratic Party.

As of January 24, there are two vacancies in the House of Representatives. The House now consists of 187 Democrats and 246 Republicans, the Democratic Party have gained 5 seats.

Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI-01) was reelected as Speaker of the House, and Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-12) remains minority leader.


American Innovation and Competitiveness Act becomes law

January 6, 2017

On January 6, President Obama signed the “American Innovation and Competitiveness Act” (AICA), (S.3084), into law. The bill was passed by the 114th Congress in December 2016. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) introduced the bill, which replaces the America COMPETES Acts of 2007 and 2010. This bill creates a framework for future research at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and various other federal research agencies and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs.

The AICA reforms research processes and modifies how the NSF evaluates grant proposals. Proposal review criteria now explicitly reference the U.S. “national interest.” Under this law, NSF-funded abstracts must be understandable by accessible to both technical and non-technical audiences. In instances of research misconduct, the law requires the NSF to notify federal science agencies of the wrongdoing. It also mandates the National Academies of Science to assess the status of federally-funded interdisciplinary research data replication issues.

The AICA contains no recommended funding levels for research agencies, and it strengthens NSF facility management practices. Other components of this major update outline actionsfor research agencies and expand current NSF research policies.


House passes Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act

January 9, 2017

The House passed the “Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act” (H.R.353), on January 9. The bill directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to increase weather-related research, forecasting, and communication. Spurred on by the deadly tornadoes that impact Oklahoma, Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK-3) introduced this bill to address extreme weather events and prevent the loss of lives and property through NOAA research measures.

The bill calls for increased research, communication, and partnership creation with industry and academia. The bill also directs NOAA to enhance the agency’s basic weather research by focusing on weather-related observational systems, computing, and modeling capabilities.

H.R.353 prioritizes dissemination and public understanding of weather data and will increase NOAA’s internal communication and collaboration. The bill directs NOAA and the National Weather Service to exchange more information. This bill also requires NOAA to use commercial weather data for weather modeling, and to release NOAA computing infrastructure and prediction systems.

The Senate passed an amended version of H.R.353 on March 29 with unanimous consent. The House is currently resolving the difference caused by the Senate amendment. 


Last updated: 4/5/2017

House passes two bills promoting integration of women in the sciences

January 10, 2017

On January 10, the House passed two bipartisan bills to increase the number of women in the science workforce. Women compose less than 25 percent of America’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce. The bills, which encourage more women to pursue careers in science, are entitled the Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers (INSPIRE) Women Act (H.R. 321), introduced by Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA-10), and the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act (H.R. 255), introduced by Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT-5).

The INSPIRE Women Act directs NASA to encourage women and girls to study STEM fields. The act calls on NASA to encourage women in space science and exploration by supporting the NASA GIRLS and NASA BOYS, Aspire to Inspire, and the Summer Institute in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Research programs. These programs encourage female middle and high school students to work in science through education, mentoring, and exposure to exceptional women scientists.

The Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act directs the National Science Foundation (NSF) to use existing entrepreneurial programs to increase its focus on supporting and encouraging women scientists to market and commercialize their work.

Both bills passed the Senate Committee on Commerce Science and Technology without alteration. The Senate voted to pass these bills on February 14. 

President Trump signed the bills into law on February 28.

Sources: U.S. Congress,, NASA, U.S. Government Publishing Office

Last updated: 3/6/2017

Proposed bill calls for assessment of potential oil spills in Great Lakes

January 11, 2017

Representatives David Trott (R-MI-11), Debbie Dingell (D-MI-12), and Jack Bergman (R-MI-1) introduced the “Preserve Our Lakes and Keep Our Environment Safe Act” (H.R. 458) on January 11. This bill calls on the Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct a study assessing potential economic and environmental risks of spills or oil leaks from pipelines in the Great Lakes within a year of the bill’s passage.  The study will consist of an environmental impact statement, a description of potential spill impacts, and an assessment of possible spill responses.

In addition to assessing spill risks, the bill requires the DOT to assess the condition and integrity of current pipelines in the Great Lakes region within one year of its issuance.  The bill calls for the closure of any infrastructure this study identifies as a significant risk.

The act is currently being reviewed by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Committee on Energy and Commerce.


Committee on Appropriations announce Republican subcommittee members

January 11, 2017

House Committee on Appropriations Republicans announced subcommittee chairs on January 11. Rep. John Culberson (R-TX-7) remains the chair of the Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee. Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX-12) chairs the Defense Subcommittee. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL-4) is now the chairman of the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID-2) is the chair on the Energy and Water Subcommittee; and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA-42) is chairs the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee.

Sources: House Appropriations Committee

House subcommittees announces Democratic members

January 11-13, 24, 2017

This January, House Democrats released the names of new chairs and ranking members on the House Committee on Natural Resources and House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Democrats on the House Committee on Natural Resources elected ranking members on January 24. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ-3) is the ranking member on the House Committee on Natural Resources. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI-1) is the ranking member on the Subcommittee on Federal Lands. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA-2) is now ranking member on the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans. Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA-47) is the ranking member on the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA-35) is now ranking member on the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs; and Donald McEachin (D-VA-4) is now ranking member on the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

House Committee on Energy and Commerce Democrats announced their subcommittee ranking members on January 12. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ-6) is now ranking member on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA-14) is the ranking member on the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL-1) is the ranking member on the Subcommittee on Energy. Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY-20) is now ranking member on the Subcommittee on Environment; and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO-1) is the ranking member on the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

Sources: House Natural Resources Committee, House Energy and Commerce Committee

Digital Coast Act introduced in the Senate

January 12, 2017

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced the Digital Coast Act (S.110) on January 12. This act directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to promote planning with geospatial information in coastal regions.

The Digital Coast Act calls for NOAA develop geospatial data tools and guidance.  S.110 directs NOAA to improve upon its current digital coast website and other digital platforms. This data will assist coastal planners at national, state, and local levels in local zoning and permitting, ecosystem assessment, and flood control.

The bill was reported favorably by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and is currently awaiting a Senate vote.


House passes DOE Research and Development legislation

January 24, 2017

On January 24 the House passed H.R. 589, the “Department of Energy Research and Innovation Act." Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX-21) introduced this bill to promote U.S. technology transfer and commercialization and to establish and reform DOE science and energy research policies and development programs. If this bill becomes law, the Department of Energy (DOE) research policies may potentially be overhauled.

This bill aims to increase commercialization of new technologies, promote the development of advanced nuclear reactors, and create research initiatives on solar fuels and electricity storage. The proposed DOE restructuring will remove redundant research areas, ease departmental coordination and communication, and increase academia and private sector research contracts.

H.R. 589 prioritizes technology transfer by establishing more innovation hubs and authorizing funds for new projects.  It would also create an all-encompassing DOE database outlining grants, energy research contracts, and cooperative agreements.


Congress moves to repeal environmental regulations

January 30, 2017

On January 30, the House passed Joint Resolutions H.J.Res.38 and H.J.Res.36, expressing disapproval of the Stream Protection Rule and a rule regulating natural gas leaks. These Department of Interior (DOI) regulations are subject to termination under the Congressional Review Act.

The Congressional Review Act enables Congress to remove a rule within 60 days of its issuance. If a rule receives a majority disapproval vote, it can be eliminated. The Congressional Review Act prohibits agencies from reissuing withdrawn rules, removing the possibility of similar rules in the future.

The DOI Stream Protection Rule came into effect on December 19, 2016. This rule establishes new water monitoring standards for streams and groundwater near coal mines. It is the first major update to these standards in 30 years. Some members of Congress believe this rule threatens coal surface mining practices and wish to remove it.

The Bureau of Land Management’s rule to reduce methane emissions from oil and natural gas leaks, vents, and flares on public lands has received similar criticism. Congress members cite the cost of the rule to industry. The rule requires oil and gas companies operating on public land to identify and eliminate methane emissions.

The joint resolution for the Stream Protection Rule passed the House on February 1. On February 2 the Senate voted to repeal this rule. On February 6 President Trump signed the resolution into law. 

On February 3 the House has voted to revoke the natural gas leak rule. The Senate received the joint resolution on February 3.  As of March 6 the Senate has not voted on it.

Sources: U.S. Congress, Federal Register,

Last updated: 3/6/2017