Conservation and Alternative Energy

  • Since March 2017, the Center for Biological Diversity has filed 32 lawsuits against the Trump administration to oppose actions that endanger the environment (Press Release).
  • A lawsuit on behalf of the Colorado River has been filed against the state of Colorado for violating the river’s right to flourish and evolve by polluting and draining it. Although the lawsuit faces an uphill battle, natural entities in other countries have been granted legal status (New York Times).
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released a recovery plan for the endangered Mexican wolf and scientists are criticizing the proposed reintroduction sites. Instead of using two U.S public land sites, the plan identifies two private land sites in Mexico to introduce new populations. Scientists are are skeptical about the population modeling FWS conducted and worry if wolves threaten landowners’ livestock, they may be shot (ScienceMag).
  • Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee of Utah introduced bill S.1863, the “Native Species Protection Act”, which principally aims to strip the protections provided by the Endangered Species Act to species whose ranges do not cross State Borders (Center for Biological Diversity Press Release).
  • In January 2016, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) placed a temporary ban on international trade in salamanders to avoid introducing the deadly salamander chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans to the US (FWS). Now, the fungus has been found on pet trade frogs; scientists recommend expanding the pet trade ban to include frogs (Brill Online).
  • Hawaii’s Board of Land and Natural Resources approved the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea. TMT will be one of the most powerful land-based telescopes in the world, and would benefit from the atmospheric conditions around Mauna Kea (ScienceMag). The proposed construction site is considered sacred ground by many native Hawaiians and has faced strong opposition. Opponents of the telescope are planning to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court (Hawaii News Now)

Congressional Committees

  • The House Science Committee (HCSST) held a hearing on Thursday, September 28 called “The Great American Eclipse: To Totality and Beyond.” Witnesses from NASA, NSF, and the National Solar Observatory described the scientific knowledge gained from the eclipse (HCSST Press Release).
  • Last year, a Commission on Evidence-Based Policy Making was created to study how government could use administrative records to help develop evidence-based policy for government programs without violating privacy. Four members of the commission discussed their report with lawmakers on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, but it was unclear whether the committee members understood the focus on the study because they asked questions that were not related to its focus (ScienceMag).

Higher Education

  • The White House announced an executive action to put at least $200 million in grant funding towards STEM and Computer Science education at the start of the 2018 fiscal year, focusing the funding on underserved groups. Tech executives support and may have influenced this new initiative because of their need to fill high-demand  technology and engineering roles (The Hill).

Federal Agencies

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee was receptive to the concerns of scientists with the Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) program that their management was shortening the length of renewed awards and funding was going to be cut.  Legislators set out requirements for the CTSA program in a report that accompanied the 2018 spending bill it’s committee approved (ScienceMag).
  • The US Navy has awarded the Applied Research Laboratories at The University of Texas at Austin (ARL:UT) more than $1 billion dollars over 10 years to conduct research on developing science and technology in areas that improve the Navy’s national security capabilities. The ARL:UT is a Department of Defense (DOD) affiliated research center (UT News).
  • The US National Parks Service is overloaded with visitors and threatened with further budget cuts on an already limited budget. They are considering the requirement of reservations to better manage park use; a decision is expected to be made in 2018 (New York Times).
  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke claimed that “30 percent of the crew [is] not loyal” within the interior department. He plans to change the agency’s regulatory culture with a major reorganization that will move most of Interior’s leadership outside of Washington, with the goal of speeding up the permitting process for energy extraction (Washington Post).

Public Health

  • A number of recent studies support a link between air pollution and public health issues, including death rates, diabetes, obesity, and brain health (Science News).

Miscellaneous

  • Scientists in Catalonia are caught in a debate about independence from Spain: some say autonomy would allow them to continue to develop their successful research programs while others worry it would make them ineligible for funding opportunities (ScienceMag).
  • Since the 2013 launch of bioRxiv, the practice of posting preprints has significantly increased. Many biologists remain wary, worrying other groups will steal ideas or are unconvinced that there is any real benefit gained. Proponents have seen enhanced collaboration between groups working on similar research questions and argue it can especially help early career researchers build a scholarly track record (ScienceMag).
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