Conservation and Alternative Energy

  • Oil and mining companies are no longer required to disclose their payments to foreign governments. This rule was part of the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010, enforced last year by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and repealed by H.J.Res.41 under the Congressional Review Act on the basis that it would reduce competitiveness because of compliance costs (USA Today).
  • High levels of pollutants including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were found in animals inhabiting the Mariana Trench, one of the deepest parts of the ocean (The Guardian, Nature).
  • Crude oil is being extracted from Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and one of the world’s most biodiverse hotspot (bioGraphic)
  • Stemming from a 2011 dispute over Rio Grande water rights, Texas filed a lawsuit against New Mexico that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court (Hill Country Alliance).

Congressional Committees

  • Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo) lead a meeting of the Environment and Public Works Committee about the Endangered Species Act, which he accused of preventing people from doing business and making a living (Washington Post). Sen. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) stated: “It’s been used to control the land. We’ve missed the entire purpose of the Endangered Species Act. It has been hijacked.”

Higher Education

  • The Texas State Board of Education ignored advice from their expert panel and kept confusing language in the science standards (Austin Science Advocates).
  • AIBS and others advocate for a more streamlined permitting process around paleontological sample extraction from federal lands (AIBS).

Federal Agencies

  • Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) announced that she will vote no on the confirmation of Scott Pruitt for the head of the EPA, stating that she doubted Mr. Pruitt’s goals included protecting human health and that she did not support “pitting the environment against the economy… because the economy and the environment at inextricably linked” (Collins Press Release).
  • Before thousands of emails between Pruitt and oil companies during his term as attorney general of Oklahoma could be released (Washington Post), and even though Collins did vote against his confirmation, Pruitt was confirmed (Washington Post).
  • An indefinite federal hiring freeze has been implemented across the federal government to incite attrition and put an end to the “glut” of federal hiring. Military and public safety positions are exempt. For the record, federal jobs have grown from 2.78 million in 2008 to 2.8 million today (AIBS).
  • Think you know what happened with the federal gag order? You may be surprised. Here’s a summary to date (AIBS).

Public Health

  • Alternative health care plans are being drawn-up to replace the ACA. In one of them, tax credits are given on an age basis, regardless of income, and there is increased emphasis on tax-free Health Savings Accounts that are mostly beneficial to richer individuals, who can gain from additional tax credits (NYT).

City of Austin

  • Barton Springs Pool is closed until February 20 for the Eliza Springs Daylight project. The purpose of this project is to remove previously placed pipes and return the spring to a more natural state and enhance salamander habitat (KXAN).
  • The Austin Environmental Commission (ATC EC) moved to support the Austin Independent School District accession of the Warehouse tract of land in South Austin near Ben White Blvd as a new park, Blunn Headwaters Park (ATX EC). This park contains the headwaters of a stream that flows through Travis Heights to Ladybird Lake.

Outreach / Professional Development

  • Action: Apply to participate in AIBS congressional visits day in DC before March, 1 (AIBS).
  • 314 Action is supporting scientists who want to run for office at the local, state, or federal level (The Atlantic).

Science Communication / Miscellaneous

  • A ruling by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office means that a patent will likely be issued to UC Berkeley for CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology (Berkeley News).
  • Three doctors explain why they oppose the Non-GMO Project. Few foods can be GMO (“alfalfa, canola, corn (field and sweet, but not popcorn), cotton, papaya, potatoes, soybeans (but not tofu or edamame varieties), sugar beet, and squash”), so labeling anything else non-GMO is misleading. “Non-GMO” does not imply better for the environment, pesticide-free, or healthier (Medium).
  • During the AAAS meeting this week in Boston, scientists marched on Copley Square (The Guardian, Scientific American). Search hashtags #AAAS2017 and #AAASmtg on twitter for more.
  • Private funding of scientific research may be on the rise; it was reportedly at least $2.6 billion in 2016 (Inside Philanthropy).
  • AIBS alongside 150 other science organizations wrote a letter in opposition to the travel ban. (AIBS)
  • Do you need some practical curriculum solutions on climate change to engage your students or the public? Action: Register for a webinar on climate change curricula, March 1. (AIBS)
  • You can watch a recording of the Feb 18 Union of Concerned Scientists panel, Standing up for Science, from the AAAS meeting in Boston (UCS).
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