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Science Policy Report

Address all comments to the Science Policy Office at:

Note: Due to the 2015 ASA, CSSA, SSSA Annual Meeting there will be no SPR on November 18. The next SPR will be posted on December 2.

Thank you, The Science Policy Office team.

16 January 2013

In This Issue:

International Corner

~ As biofuel demand grows, so do Guatemala’s hunger pangs
~ China’s rising soybean consumption reshaping western agriculture
~ The rise of wheat in Africa
~ FAO Food Price Index down 7 percent in 2012
~ Three European countries donate $180M for forest protection
~ Fire and ice; around the globe, a week of weather extremes

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ 2013 Science, Technology, Engineering
~ NOAA Climate Program Office
~ Feed the Future Food Security Innovation Lab: Research on Sorghum and Millet
~ 1890 Institution Teaching, Research and Extension Capacity Building Grants (CBG)
~ Funding Available for Environmental Technology Demonstrations
~ Climate Science Center Research Funds
~ USNC/IUPAC (Chemistry)'s Young Observer program

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

~ UNL spring semester water seminar series returns for 2013
~ NOAA releases sixth annual Arctic report card
~ Estuary's health is improving but has a long way to go, report
~ USDA webinar invitation
~ Some see signs EPA is girding for overhaul of muddled regulatory system
~ Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education: A Primer
~ U.S. states fare well on global tests, but not at 'advanced' tier
~ Preparing for the third decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment program
~ Warmest year ever recorded in lower 48 states came in 2012
~ International symposium of organic matter management and compost use in horticulture
~ U.S. R&D spending resumes growth in 2010 and 2011 but still lags behind
~ Draft Third National Climate Assessment report now available for download
~ Groups launch agriculture workforce coalition to address labor needs
~ Alternatives for managing the nation's complex contaminated groundwater sites

Congressional/Administration News

~ Fiscal cliff and farm bill update
~ Farm bill extension omits energy title, limits conservation funding
~ Cochran replaces Roberts as Senate panel's ranking member
~ 113th Congress agriculture committee list
~ Senator Barbara Boxer to begin climate change caucus in 113th congress
~ Farm bill's largest conservation program has uncertain future
~ Sequester agreement could raise domestic spending this year
~ 3 new Republican members join Energy and Natural Resources
~ Study says default could begin in late February if congress does not act
~ Update on the final public draft of the Next Generation Science Standards
~ Science Committee splits energy, environment subpanels, selects chairs
~ Dear Colleague Letter: Implementing All Project Reporting in

International Corner

(TOP) ~ As biofuel demand grows, so do Guatemala’s hunger pangs

The increasing use of biofuel in cars, and the laws in the United States and Europe that mandate increasing this use, have far-flung ripple effects, economists say. Land once devoted to growing food for humans is increasingly being converted to growing vehicle fuel. The expansion of the biofuels industry has led to spikes in food prices, and a shortage of land for food-based agriculture in the poor corners of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Guatemala, says Timothy Wise, a development expert at Tufts University, is “getting hit from both sides of the Atlantic.” The country imports nearly half its corn, and, with the U.S. using 40 percent of its own corn crop to make biofuel, the cost of tortillas has doubled in Guatemala. And much of the country’s lush land, which is ideal for producing raw materials for biofuels, is now being used to grow sugar cane and African palm. Read full article

(TOP) ~ China’s rising soybean consumption reshaping western agriculture

Global demand for soybeans has soared in recent decades, with China leading the race. Nearly 60 percent of all soybeans entering international trade today go to China, making it far and away the world’s largest importer. The principal effect of skyrocketing world soybean consumption has been a restructuring of agriculture in the western hemisphere. In the United States there is now more land in soybeans than in wheat. In Brazil, the area in soybeans exceeds that of all grains combined. Argentina’s soybean area is now close to double that of all grains combined, putting the country dangerously close to becoming a soybean monoculture. Together they account for over four fifths of world soybean production. For six decades, the United States was both the leading producer and exporter of soybeans, but in 2011 Brazil’s exports narrowly eclipsed those from the United States. Read full article

(TOP) ~ The rise of wheat in Africa

When you think of popular food staples in Africa, wheat doesn't necessarily come to mind first. Maize, green bananas, yams, cassava - sure. But wheat, the main ingredient for bread and pasta?
In fact, the demand for wheat has been steadily rising in African countries, helped by a massive urban migration of people, who need food that’s convenient to buy, cook, and store. This year, according to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, known by its Spanish acronym, CIMMYT, African countries will spend $12 billion on wheat imports. Read full article

(TOP) ~ FAO Food Price Index down 7 percent in 2012

The FAO Food Price Index dropped for the third consecutive month in December 2012, edging down 1.1 percent. The decline in December, when the Index averaged 209 points, was led by drops in the international prices of major cereals and oils and fats. The Index’s previous low in 2012 was in June, at 200 points. For 2012 as a whole, the Index averaged 212, that is, 7.0 percent less than in 2011, with the sharpest falls year-on-year registered by sugar (17.1 percent), dairy products (14.5 percent) and oils (10.7 percent). Price declines were much more modest for cereals (2.4 percent) and meat (1.1 percent). “The result marks a reversal from the situation last July, when sharply rising prices prompted fears of a new food crisis,” said Jomo Sundaram, Assistant Director-General in charge of FAO’s Economic and Social Development Department. “But international coordination, including through the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS), as well as flagging demand in a stagnant international economy, helped ensure the price spike was short-lived and calmed markets so that 2012 prices ended up below the previous year’s levels. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Three European countries donate $180M for forest protection

Finland, Norway and Germany announced $180 million in contributions to a growing international kitty for protecting the world's forests. The Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), administered by the World Bank, aims to help developing countries preserve their forests and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from tree loss. Through its Readiness Fund, FCPF works with 36 countries to design policies and implement strategies for emissions reduction. Its Carbon Fund, which is still in the pilot stage, is designed to provide financial incentives to countries that have demonstrated reduction in carbon emissions while protecting forests. FCPF countries have started to make the transition from getting ready to actually implementing emissions reduction projects, officials said. The facility has decided that the lion's share of the contribution, about $160 million, will go into the Carbon Fund. German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Dirk Niebel said that Germany's commitment to the results-based mechanism is meant to encourage sustainable forest development, including preservation of local livelihoods, conservation of biodiversity and climate mitigation. Doetinchem said that the FCPF, which has a mandate through 2020, has reached its funding target and that the Carbon Fund has sufficient resources to deploy money into countries that have verified emissions reductions. The FCPF expects Costa Rica to take the lead in extracting resources from the Carbon Fund.

(TOP) ~ Fire and ice; around the globe, a week of weather extremes

In the same week that the National Climatic Data Center declared 2012 North America's hottest year on record, inclement conditions have buffeted countries in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Though separated by thousands of miles, the extreme weather events once again have people questioning the climate connection. Australia's Bureau of Meteorology added new colors to its weather forecasting chart to represent record-breaking heat. Snow blanketed much of the Levant last week as the tail of a freezing storm from southwestern Russia descended on the region, pelting Israel, Lebanon and Jordan with sleet that turned to snow. An increase in extreme weather conditions due to climate change could be as harmful to the region as a drop in precipitation. Increased runoff and soil erosion, coupled with a decline in groundwater recharge, are pushing the region toward desertification. That's a far cry from the situation in Australia, where temperatures have climbed above 120 degrees Fahrenheit and are expected to edge even higher. The country has found itself in the grip of its worst heat wave in decades, driving a deadly spate of brush fires and forcing meteorologists to add a new color, violet, to their climate maps to signify temperatures over 122 degrees Fahrenheit. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that there is a 90 percent probability that climate change will contribute to more intense and longer-lasting heat waves in the future. Because the energy in weather systems is primarily derived from heat, that will likely mean more severe storms and forceful winds, the IPCC predicts.

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

(TOP) ~ 2013 Science, Technology, Engineering

The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) seeks proposals under authority of the National Defense Education Act (1959) and under the Pre-Engineering Program (PEP) to stimulate young pupils in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Deadline 31 Jan. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ NOAA Climate Program Office

The NOAA Climate Program Office's (CPO) Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) program supports research teams that conduct innovative, interdisciplinary, user-inspired, and regionally relevant research that informs resource management and public policy. CPO funds eleven different RISA teams across the United States (US) and Pacific Islands, many of which are a model for interdisciplinary science and assessment. The partnership will help make climate information relevant and accessible to people across the US. NOAA seeks to marshal climate assets and partners towards the common goal of assessing regional needs and vulnerabilities and then supporting the development and delivery of timely climate services that aid adaptation and mitigation choices. RISA and CSI activities address the societal challenges identified in NOAA's Next-Generation Strategic Plan (NGSP): i) climate impacts on water resources; ii) coasts and climate resilience; iii) sustainability of marine ecosystems; and iv) changes in the extremes of weather and climate. Deadline to be determined. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Feed the Future Food Security Innovation Lab: Research on Sorghum and Millet

The Leader Award will be for five years, with a maximum USAID funding level of $13,700,000 to be provided incrementally over that five-year period. In addition, the cumulative amount of Associate Awards issued during those five years will not exceed $10,000,000. Deadline 8 Mar. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ 1890 Institution Teaching, Research and Extension Capacity Building Grants (CBG)

The 1890 CBG is intended to strengthen teaching, research and extension programs in the food and agricultural sciences by building the institutional capacities of the 1890 Land-Grant Institutions, and Tuskegee University. The CBG program supports projects that strengthen teaching programs in the food and agricultural sciences in the need areas of curriculum design and materials development, faculty development, and others. CBG supports projects that strengthen research and extension programs in need areas of studies and experimentation, extension program development support systems, and others. The CBG also support integrated project grants. The intent of this initiative is to increase and strengthen food and agriculture sciences at the 1890s through integration of education, research and extension. Applications submitted to CBG must address at least one of the following NIFA strategic goals: sustainable bioenergy; food security; childhood obesity prevention; climate change; or food safety. Deadline 5 Mar. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Funding Available for Environmental Technology Demonstrations

The Department of Defense (DoD), through the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP), supports the demonstration of technologies that address priority DoD environmental requirements.  The goal of ESTCP is to promote the transfer of innovative environmental technologies through demonstrations that collect the data needed for regulatory and DoD end-user acceptance. Projects conduct formal demonstrations at DoD facilities and sites in operational settings to document and validate improved performance and cost savings. ESTCP is seeking proposals for innovative environmental technology demonstrations as candidates for funding beginning in FY2014.  This solicitation requests pre-proposals via Calls for Proposals to Federal organizations and via a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for Private Sector organizations. Deadline 14 Mar. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Climate Science Center Research Funds

The Department of the Interior Climate Science Centers (CSCs) are seeking proposals for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 and/or FY 2014, as appropriate. Each CSC has developed a set of science priorities or needs for this funding opportunity. Only institutions affiliated with a CSC and USGS centers, field stations and laboratories may submit proposals in response to this Funding Opportunity. Each proposal must have a Principal Investigator (PI) from an eligible entity. Deadline 1 Feb. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ USNC/IUPAC (Chemistry)'s Young Observer program

The Young Observer program is intended for individuals interested in learning about what IUPAC does and becoming involved in the work of its Divisions and Committees.  Pending the availability of funds, the program provides up to $2500 in travel support for chemists and chemical engineers under the age of 45 to travel to and participate in the IUPAC General Assembly and World Chemistry Congress.  The next one will be held August 11-16, 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey. Deadline 4 Feb. Read full announcement

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

(TOP) ~ UNL spring semester water seminar series returns for 2013

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln's spring semester water seminar will feature more than a dozen lectures covering a variety of timely water-related topics. The public lectures are free and begin Jan. 16 and continue weekly through April 24, except for March 20, during spring break. The 14 lectures are Wednesdays from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the first floor auditorium of Hardin Hall, at the northeast corner of North 33rd and Holdrege streets on UNL's East Campus. "Weekly topics run the gamut of timely and provocative water and water-related subjects, which broadens the scope of the lecture series and ensures that there are at least one or two lectures that anyone interested in water can relate to and have interest in," says Lorrie Benson, assistant director of the Nebraska Water Center. Computer modeling for water, invasive plant species and the politics of water are just some of the topics. Videos of most lectures, along with speaker PowerPoint presentations, will also be posted at that web address within a few days after the lecture. Get more information

(TOP) ~ NOAA releases sixth annual Arctic report card

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released its sixth annual “Arctic report card.” The “report card” tracks observations throughout the Arctic in the atmosphere, sea ice and ocean, the terrestrial cryosphere, and marine and terrestrial ecosystems. The report finds that even though the Arctic experienced a relatively “unremarkable year” for surface air temperatures, numerous record-breaking melting events occurred. The report notes that record low snow extent occurred in June and record low sea ice extent occurred in September. NOAA reports the longest observed yet duration of melting on the Greenland ice sheet and that a rare, nearly ice sheet-wide melt event occurred in July. Below the tundra, record high permafrost temperatures were measured in northernmost Alaska in 2012. See report card

(TOP) ~ Estuary's health is improving but has a long way to go, report

The Chesapeake Bay's health improved slightly this year but is still far from being considered recovered, according to a report from a top regional environmental group. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's "State of the Bay" report gave the sprawling estuary's health a score of 32 out of 100, with 70 representing a recovered bay. The scoring is based on indicators including levels of phosphorus and nitrogen pollution, abundance of key wildlife, and the health of underwater grasses. That's 1 point higher than the foundation gave the bay in its last report in 2010 and a 4-point improvement over 2008. The report found improvements in all indicators except underwater grasses, which it said declined as a result of higher water temperatures and heavy rains that washed sediment and pollution into local waterways. The incremental improvement comes as a controversial U.S. EPA-led plan to put the bay on a "pollution diet" faces an industry challenge in federal court. The cleanup plan, called a Total Maximum Daily Load, sets numeric limits for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution making its way into the bay. The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Association of Home Builders, which brought the suit, say the federal environmental regulator overstepped its power in setting those limits. But the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which intervened in the suit on behalf of EPA, sees the plan as the bay's best shot for recovery after more than three decades of failed cleanup attempts. Read full report

(TOP) ~ USDA webinar invitation

The Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) Fruit and Vegetable Program invites you to take part in a free, interactive webinar on the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) Trust provision. The PACA Trust provision gives sellers of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables priority status in recovering funds owed by buyers who become insolvent or file for bankruptcy protection.  By following a few simple steps, produce suppliers have received hundreds of millions of dollars that they were owed. Webinar speakers will provide information on three specific areas: statutory foundations and basic steps to protect your business, the PACA Trust from the private practitioner’s viewpoint and share current case law, and an update on the U.S. efforts to gain financial protection for U.S. produce shippers selling into the Canadian market under the Regulatory Cooperation Council. Register for webinar

(TOP) ~ Some see signs EPA is girding for overhaul of muddled regulatory system

Industry and environmental groups see signs in the Obama administration's recently released regulatory agenda that U.S. EPA may be preparing at long last to clarify muddled regulations for wetlands and other water resources. The "Unified Regulatory Agenda and Regulatory Plan”, includes a listing for a proposed rule to establish federal jurisdiction over swamps, marshes, bogs and other wetlands under the Clean Water Act. For more than six years, regulators and industry have found themselves in a legal quagmire created by two muddled Supreme Court decisions that raise questions about the regulation of isolated wetlands under the 1972 law. New rules would determine what wetlands would be protected as filters for pollution, wildlife habitat and storm barriers. The decision would have a significant impact on residential and commercial development, highway construction, agriculture, and oil and gas industries that work in and around wetlands. Industry groups also say a rulemaking is needed to clear up regulatory confusion. The big question now is whether the White House will finalize the guidance as an intermediate step, as green groups have advocated, or scrap the document and move straight to the rulemaking, as Republicans and industry want. See proposed rule

(TOP) ~ Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education: A Primer

The Congressional Research Service has prepared a report for Congress that focuses on STEM education. Federal policymakers have an active and enduring interest in STEM education and the topic is frequently raised in federal science, education, workforce, national security, and immigration policy debates. The report is intended to serve as a primer for outlining existing STEM education policy issues and programs. It includes assessments of the federal STEM education effort and the condition of STEM education in the United States, as well as an analysis of several of the policy issues central to the contemporary federal conversation about STEM education. Appendix A contains frequently cited data and sources and Appendix B includes a selection of major STEM-related acts. Read full report

(TOP) ~ U.S. states fare well on global tests, but not at 'advanced' tier

International test results in reading, math, and science show individual U.S. states performed relatively well, but they had a very small share of top-flight students compared with those of high-performing countries. In this year's reports from the “Progress in International Reading Literacy” study and the “Trends in International Mathematics and Science” study, states were broken out as individual "education systems" that can be compared with other international results, although not all of the same states had their performances broken out on all the tests. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Preparing for the third decade of the National Water-Quality Assessment program

The report from the National Research Council summarizes major findings from a 2-year review that was requested by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to provide an outside and independent perspective on past accomplishments and to get advice on the current and future design and scope of the program. This review of NAWQA, the sixth completed by the NRC since 1985, is especially timely given the uncertain fiscal climate for the USGS and other governmental agencies.  Overall, the report is very positive and supportive. See full report

(TOP) ~ Warmest year ever recorded in lower 48 states came in 2012

It's official: 2012 was the warmest year ever recorded in the contiguous United States, reports the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The average temperature in the lower 48 states reached 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit, shattering the previous record set in 1998 by a full degree. The government's temperature records for the contiguous United States go back to 1895. What's remarkable, said NOAA climate scientist Jake Crouch, is that the other 117 years in that temperature record fell within a 4.2-degree range, or envelope. No other year has approached the heat 2012 brought to the lower 48 states. "Climate change has had a role in this," he told reporters, cautioning that it is still hard for scientists to tease out how much of this year's searing heat was caused by natural variability and how much was sparked by man-made climate change. The contiguous United States endured a record-warm spring, its second-warmest summer and fourth-warmest winter, and a warmer-than-average autumn. Every state there recorded unusually warm temperatures last year. But overall, scientists said, it is the unusually warm years that will become more common as man-made climate change intensifies. "Big heat and big rain are the types of extreme events that we are seeing most often, and those, not coincidentally, are the extremes where climate science has made the most confident connections on how they are going to evolve in a warming world," said Deke Arndt, chief of the climate monitoring branch at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center.

(TOP) ~ International symposium of organic matter management and compost use in horticulture

The International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS) and Universidad Técnica Federico Santa Maria invite you to attend the International Symposium on Organic Matter Management & Compost Use in Horticulture to be held in Santiago, Chile on October 21-24, 2013. Get more information

(TOP) ~ U.S. R&D spending resumes growth in 2010 and 2011 but still lags behind

Research and development performed in the United States totaled $406.7 billion (current dollars) in 2010, $2.9 billion above the 2009 level of $403.8 billion. The preliminary estimate for U.S. total R&D in 2011 is $414.0 billion, a further increase of $7.3 billion. This growth in U.S. R&D expenditures in 2010 and 2011 follows a $1.8 billion decline in 2009. R&D performance resumed growth in 2010-11; however, there are indications the expansion is weak. Get more information

(TOP) ~ Draft Third National Climate Assessment report now available for download

The National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee (NCADAC), the federal advisory committee for the National Climate Assessment, have approved their draft of the Third National Climate Assessment Report for release for public comment. The public comment period for the report will run January 14 - April 12, 2013. All comments must be submitted via the online comment tool that will be available from beginning on January 14. The draft will be undergoing review by the National Research Council at the same time. The authors of the report will use the comments received during the public comment period to revise the report before submitting it to the government for consideration. See full report

(TOP) ~ Groups launch agriculture workforce coalition to address labor needs

Organizations representing a broad cross-section of agricultural employers announced the formation of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC). As the unified voice of agriculture, the AWC’s goal is to seek legislation that ensures America’s farms, ranches and other agricultural operations have access to a stable and skilled workforce. In particular, the Coalition, recognizing that existing programs and previous proposals have proved unworkable, is putting forward a framework that includes both an earned adjustment in status for current experienced farm workers and a program to ensure that producers continue to have access to a workforce as current agricultural employees move on to other jobs. A key to the framework will be ensuring that it meets the needs of all of agriculture, both those employers with seasonal labor needs and those who provide year-round employment opportunities. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Alternatives for managing the nation's complex contaminated groundwater sites

Across the United States, thousands of hazardous waste sites are contaminated with chemicals that prevent the underlying groundwater from meeting drinking water standards. These include Superfund sites and other facilities that handle and dispose of hazardous waste, active and inactive dry cleaners, and leaking underground storage tanks; many are at federal facilities such as military installations. This report estimates that at least 126,000 sites across the U.S. still have contaminated groundwater, and their closure is expected to cost at least $110 billion to $127 billion. At a webinar held in December 2012, Michael Kavanaugh, chair of the report-authoring committee, presented the report’s findings and, along with other committee members, answered questions from the public. Access the report findings

Congressional/Administration News

(TOP) ~ Fiscal cliff and farm bill update

John Boehner imageLate on Tuesday Jan. 1, the House and Senate passed legislation to prevent income tax hikes for 98% of Americans. The deal permanently extends the Bush-era tax cuts for individuals making less than $400,000 and couples earning less than $450,000. Top earners will also face higher tax rates on capital gains, dividends and estates. However, most taxpayers will see a slight reduction in their paycheck due to the expiration of the 2% payroll tax cut, enacted during the economic slowdown. The measure also delays the $110 billion across-the-board spending cuts (sequestration) scheduled to take affect January 2 by two months. This coincides with the next battle to raise the $16.4 trillion debt limit, setting up another showdown early this year. The current fiscal year 2013 continuing resolution (CR) that funds government programs also expires in March. It’s unclear if or how the looming debt ceiling/sequestration debate will impact FY 2013 appropriations, but it is clear that cutting discretionary funding will continue to be on the table in future negotiations. Included in the last minute deal was an extension of the 2008 farm bill through the end of fiscal year 2013. However, mandatory programs that had already expired were not funded. Instead they are authorized to receive discretionary funding through the annual appropriations process. In other words, they will not receive automatic funding in FY 2013. Since NIFA, AFRI, formula funds and extension are discretionary and require annual appropriations the real battle will continue to be the annual appropriations process. Signaling the split among Republicans, Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio (pictured left) and House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin both backed the measure, while other GOP leaders, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. voted against it.

(TOP) ~ Farm bill extension omits energy title, limits conservation funding

The "fiscal cliff" package includes a partial extension of the farm bill that averts a crisis in milk prices but fails to provide mandatory energy funding and several other programs. The deal negotiated between Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) came after a one-year extension agreement reached between congressional agriculture leaders failed to gain any momentum on the House floor. It caps months of uncertainty over the nation's farm policy but falls far short of the five-year bill that the agriculture community had been seeking. In a floor speech, Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) slammed the nine-month farm bill extension, expressing concern that it fails to include several programs and was written without consultation from Senate and House Agriculture leaders. The fiscal package's nine-month extension includes provisions to ensure that the price of milk will not spike at the beginning of this year, as would have happened without a new farm bill. The extension also continues direct payments to farmers for commodity crops, a subsidy estimated to cost $5 billion this year that would have been eliminated under the full five-year farm bill. But the extension doesn't include disaster assistance that livestock producers have been seeking after last summer's drought, nor does it provide mandatory funding for energy programs. It also fails to fully extend the conservation title or support research on organic crops, according to Stabenow.

(TOP) ~ Cochran replaces Roberts as Senate panel's ranking member

Sen. Thad Cochran has been named the new ranking member on the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, a move that could change panel dynamics as work begins anew on the farm bill. The Mississippi Republican replaces Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who has served as ranking member since 2010 and will remain on the committee. Cochran's ascension to ranking member could throw a wrench into negotiations over the farm bill, which funds rural conservation and energy programs, commodity subsidies, and food stamps. Cochran voted against the bill written by Roberts and Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) last year in committee and again on the Senate floor. Cochran was among several Southern senators who opposed the measure on grounds that its proposed changes to the commodity subsidy title put rice and peanuts (two major Southern crops) at a disadvantage. The Senate farm bill had proposed replacing traditional price supports and direct payments for farm commodities with a new revenue insurance program, a plan backed by Roberts. With the 112th Congress failing to pass the five-year measure (the bill was instead partially extended for nine months in the "fiscal cliff" legislation) work on the farm bill will begin anew in the 113th Congress.

(TOP) ~ 113th Congress agriculture committee list

A newly compiled list of the House and Senate agriculture committees has been released, with new members listed in italics. There are a particularly large number of new committee members in the House, but there are still a few vacancies to be filled so the list is not yet final. In addition to the change in ranking member in the Senate from Senator Roberts (R-KS) to Senator Cochran(R-MS), it should be noted that Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) will no longer be chairing the House Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee. Rep. Aderholt (R-AL) will be the new subcommittee chair. See full list

(TOP) ~ Senator Barbara Boxer to begin climate change caucus in 113th congress

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) announced on December 11, 2012 that she intended to create a congressional caucus to address climate change. Senator Boxer is the chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and has been a longtime advocate for action on climate change. In 2009, Boxer and Senator John Kerry (D-MA) introduced the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (S. 1733) that would create a cap and trade system to address greenhouse gas emissions, but the bill did not pass the Senate.

(TOP) ~ Farm bill's largest conservation program has uncertain future

The largest rural conservation program, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which rewards farmers for making environmental improvements on their land, was left between a rock and a hard place with the nine-month farm bill extension. The CSP will not be able to enroll even close to the number of acres it is authorized to under the 2008 farm bill. The problems, however, began with the continuing resolution (CR) that was signed into law this past fall. The CR, by basing its numbers for the program on 2012 levels, effectively shut down enrollment for all but 1 million acres in 2013. Since the program is oversubscribed, as it is, the CR made it unlikely the program would open a general sign-up for this year. Conservation groups had hoped the farm bill would fix the problem, but while it reauthorized it, it does not provide additional funding. The CSP is, therefore, in the same boat it was in before the extension. Another CR is expected to pass in March, and conservation groups hope the CSP will receive enough funding to enroll new members, although it will likely be too late in the planting season to put the program into place this year.

(TOP) ~ Sequester agreement could raise domestic spending this year

Domestic spending in fiscal 2013 could be bumped up slightly under new budget caps for discretionary spending as part of the fiscal-cliff deal. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 replaces prior defense and non-defense spending caps with security and non-security caps, a shift that creates greater flexibility for spreading the reductions across federal programs. Because the non-security cap is about $3 billion higher than what is contemplated to be spent on domestic programs in the current stopgap spending bill, appropriators may put more into domestic spending while making some cuts to defense and international programs. Any increases to domestic spending would depend on lawmakers finding a way to prevent or replace the $109 billion sequester, which the new law delays until March 1. CBO said non-security spending in the stopgap totals $356 billion. The new non-security cap in the fiscal cliff agreement is $3 billion higher, at $359 billion. Lawmakers would have to trim security programs, which include defense, homeland security, veterans and intelligence, by more than $6 billion to meet the new security cap limit. In addition to delaying the sequester, the new law will delay a separate, smaller action that would have reduced defense spending by $11 billion to enforce discretionary spending caps. If Congress is unable to come up with a replacement for the original $109 billion sequester by March 1, it would take place, but it would cut about $85 billion in spending instead of $109 billion.

(TOP) ~ 3 new Republican members join Energy and Natural Resources

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will add three Republican members this year, including two conservative freshmen. Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Tim Scott (R-SC), two of the GOP’s more conservative members, will join the panel, while Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) will return to the committee after a stint on Environment and Public Works, which he is leaving. They will be taking over for Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Daniel Coats (R-IN). Flake and Scott consistently supported GOP efforts to expand domestic oil and gas production and curtail environmental regulations during their time in the House. In the previous Congress, Flake also was an outspoken critic of the Obama administration's efforts to bar uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, while Scott launched a bipartisan caucus aimed at reviewing a variety of regulations. Alexander's return to Energy and Natural Resources will place him in a key role this Congress as he will remain the top Republican on the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee. Republicans on the Environment and Public Works Committee also will welcome two new members in the 113th Congress: Sens. Roger Wicker (Miss.) and Deb Fischer (Neb.), a freshman. Alexander and Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) are leaving the environment panel.

(TOP) ~ Study says default could begin in late February if congress does not act

As lawmakers dig in over the fight to again raise the debt ceiling, the Bipartisan Policy Center unveiled a report projecting that the federal government would exhaust its borrowing authority by the end of next month, if not sooner, with grave consequences if Congress does not prevent a default. The Washington think tank predicted that the government will begin defaulting on some of its obligations sometime between Feb. 15 and March 1, according to its latest study of how much money is expected to flow in and out of the U.S. Treasury in the coming weeks. The United States reached its debt limit on Dec. 31, but Treasury is taking what it calls “extraordinary measures,” including suspending certain investments in federal retirement funds, to prevent a default. After those steps are exhausted, the government would be forced to pay bills solely out of incoming cash flows, which would not cover all government spending. Several wild cards could change the ultimate deadline for congressional action, including the Internal Revenue Service delaying its distribution of tax refunds, a strengthening or weakening economy changing how much revenue is going into government coffers, and there could be fluctuations in government spending and revenue, depending on congressional action. Congressional Republicans are demanding large spending cuts or changes to entitlement programs in exchange for lifting the debt ceiling, something President Barack Obama has rejected.

(TOP) ~ Update on the final public draft of the Next Generation Science Standards

The second and final public draft of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) has now been released. All interested parties are encouraged to review the draft as individuals or in groups and provide feedback to the Lead States and writers. The NGSS will be completed in March of 2013.  Since the May draft release, the Lead States and the writers evaluated all feedback and worked on revising the standards.  As a result, over 90% of the standards have been revised.  In addition, the lead states charged the NGSS team with finalizing the definition for college and career readiness in science.  The NGSS then went through a second round of revision to ensure the standards supported this definition. See second draft

(TOP) ~ Science Committee splits energy, environment subpanels, selects chairs

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee is splitting oversight responsibilities for energy and environmental issues between two subcommittees that will be helmed by defenders of the fossil fuel industry who have been critical of the Obama administration's regulatory agenda. Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) will chair a new subpanel focused on energy development, while Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) will chair an environment subcommittee. In the previous Congress, Harris chaired the Energy and Environment Subcommittee, but new Science Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) believes the issues are important enough to warrant two subcommittees. Lummis says she wants to use her new perch to explore issues important to her state, which features substantial reserves of coal, oil and natural gas and produces about 13 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, primarily wind. Freshman Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) will be vice chairman of the panel. More details on the subcommittees' agendas will be released once the committee officially organizes in the coming weeks. "In the new Congress, the Science Committee will promote policies that support our nation's space program, encourage energy independence, expand scientific education, fund basic research, and enhance the development of new technologies," Smith said in a statement today.

(TOP) ~ Dear Colleague Letter: Implementing All Project Reporting in

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is currently planning to implement a significant change in the way Principal Investigators report on their NSF-funded projects. Beginning on March 18, 2013, PIs will be required to submit their annual, final and interim project reports in, NSF’s modernization of FastLane. This change is result of the Foundation's implementation of the Research Performance Progress Report (RPPR). The RPPR is the product of the Research Business Models (RBM) Subcommittee of the Committee on Science, a committee of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). One of the goals of the subcommittee was to create greater consistency in the administration of federal research awards through streamlining and standardization of forms and reporting formats. Read full letter

Sources: American Agriculturalist; American Geosciences Institute; Climatewire; Congressional Quarterly; Congressional Research Service; Education Week; Energy & Environment Daily; Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; Greenwire; International Food Policy Research Institute; Meridian Institute; National Research Council; National Science Foundation; National Wildlife Federation; New York Times

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