Conservation

  • A little out of date, but House Bill 1794, passed in 2015 (link) sets a hard cap on payouts to counties that sue corporations for polluting waterways and/or air, as well as a 5 year statute of limitations. (Excellent opinion piece here)
  • Save Our Springs is moving forward with filing a new lawsuit in January over Texas 45 Southwest Construction on the grounds that it is in violation of the Endangered Species Act. This lawsuit will not prevent land clearing already underway but could delay future construction. (Austin American-Statesman)
  • Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Montana) is set to be the next Secretary of the Department of the Interior. Although he opposes the sale of public lands, he has prioritized the development of oil, gas, and other resources over the protection of clean air and water, and wildlife. Mr. Zinke has advocated for state control of energy development on federal lands, a move that threatens our national parks. (Washington Post, NY Times).

Committee(s) on Science, Space, and Technology

  • A guide published by former congressional staffers with specific ways to make national change beginning at the local level; the techniques described are being/have been used by the Tea Party and enabled them to dramatically shift the national political conversation since 2008.
  • Congress passed the REINS act (HR 26), that would subject all rules made by agencies such as the EPA to congressional review, failing which those regulations would be rendered invalid (REINS summary).
  • The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), in collaboration with Federal agencies and private-sector stakeholders, have announced new steps to work towards the long-term health and sustainable use of U.S. soils. A Federal framework has been developed with input from academia, industry, non-profit organizations, and the agricultural community. (Whitehouse Press)
  • Rep. Lamar Smith (TX), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, has announced the 115th Congress committee members. List of Members

Higher Education

  • The confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary will take place January 17th, after a one-week delay. She has been accused of being anti-public education (The Atlantic).

Funding

  • President Obama signed the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, here’s a good breakdown of it from last month (Science).

Public Health 

  • Anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., is asked by Trump to “chair a commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity” (The Atlantic).
  • Overview essay summarizing the current state and roles of different agencies in the US’ biosurveillance capability. Challenges to conducting effective biosurveillance include political instability and lack of infrastructure in developing countries, determining the appropriate data streams to monitor, and the dangers of scientific research on high-consequence pathogens.  

City of Austin Development

  • ATX environmental commission meets this week (Wednesday 6-9pm) (meeting agenda, watch online).
  • Have a park or trail in your neighborhood that needs a little TLC? Austin Park’s Foundation It’s My Park Day is on March 4th. This massive, city-wide volunteer event works to improve parks and greenbelts throughout Austin. Action: Register your project here.

Climate Change 

  • Good article synthesizing the current climate change issue, focusing on the collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet as an example, papers for the facts in this article can be found here.
  • Statements about science and climate change from the hearings of Trump’s cabinet nominees for Director of CIA (Mike Pompeo), Department of Defense (Mattis), Secretary of State (Rex Tillerson) and Attorney General (Jeff Sessions). Pompeo tries to avoid the topic. Mattis acknowledges the role it plays in our national security. Tillerson wants the US to remain at the table, won’t retaliate against Department of State staffers who worked on climate issues, but avoids discussing Exxon’s role. Sessions says the theory of climate change is plausible but questions what the reaction should be.  (Science)
  • U.S. National Academies of  Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) has released a report with recommended updates for estimating the social cost of carbon (SCC), a metric used by federal agencies to inform regulators about economic consequences. Trump’s transition team has vowed to scrutinize how the SCC is calculated (Science).

Outreach / Professional Development

  • A workshop on public engagement in STEM will be held at UT on February 20th. See here for more details.
  • Central Texas Water Conservation Symposium: Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017 (8am-3:30pm) in Austin. Register here.
  • Union of Concerned Scientists Webinar on “Making Science Matter in a ‘Post-Truth’ World”: Wednesday, Feb 1., 2017 (2-3 EST). Register here.

Science Communication / Miscellaneous

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