Energy, Environment, and Conservation
- At the Texas/New Mexico border, Texans are able to pump water from shared aquifers without limits, and then sell them to fracking companies in New Mexico, where water use is more restricted. New Mexicans feel it’s unfair, while Texans are profiting amid the drought (Texas Tribune).
- The Houston Arboretum & Nature Center opened 15 acres of the planned 155 acre urban reserve in the city. The reserve has been restored with all native species to help residents understand what the area looked like before development (Houston Chronicle).
- The Texas Supreme Court struck down Laredo’s plastic bag ban, determining that state law overrides city ordinances (Texas Tribune).
- Thanks to government action to prohibit oil exploration of the Belize Barrier Reef, the reef has been removed from the United Nations list of endangered World Heritage Sites. However, the protections do not address the threat of ocean warming, which has caused coral bleaching (New York Times).
- Chair of the House Science Committee Lamar Smith (R-TX) requested a report from the Government Accountability Office on total government spending on climate change and specifically asked for spending that was unnecessary or redundant. The report found the federal government has spent $154 billion on climate change since 1993, $13.2 billion in 2017, and found minimal program overlap (GAO).
- Ted Cruz (R-TX) held a hearing for the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness to discuss the future of the International Space Station (ISS), as US funding for the ISS is set to expire in 2025. Cruz wants to continue utilizing and supporting the ISS (Cruz Press Release).
- The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held hearings for the Trump administration’s nominees for various positions within the Department of Energy, including Director of the Office of Science and the Inspector General (Science Mag).
- A bipartisan group of Senators have introduced a bill, supported by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, to address the National Park Service’s (NPS) maintenance backlog by using revenue from energy production on federal lands (The Hill).
Higher Education and Academia
- A new €100-billion-euro funding program in Europe called Horizon Europe, which will run from 2021-2027, will be available to any country for a fee. The program will support research and innovation, as well as research missions that address societal-challenges (Nature).
- The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a new report on graduate education in the 21st century. They suggest increasing rewards for effective teaching, diversity and inclusivity, and mental health resources (NASEM).
- The NASEM released a report on gender disparity and harassment in academia based on surveys conducted in the UT system. It reports that sexual hostility in the form of jokes or demeaning comments is pervasive, and can cause women to abandon leadership positions, institutions, or science altogether (Science).
- The EPA’s Science Advisory Board has voted, in a rare move, to review the agencies proposed secret science rule as well as five of the most controversial climate change policy changes, including repealing the Clean Power Plan (Nature).
- The National Science Board (NSB) the governing board for NSF released a report on facilities spending of NSF. It found that building and maintaining facilities is not the major driver of low grant funding success rates, instead, low funding success is due to the mismatch between the budget for NSF which has only grown 1.1% per year (18% since 2002), while the applications have grown by 40% since 2002 (NSF).
- NASA spent $100 million on a moon rover before the mission was abruptly cancelled. The mission had planned to launch the rover to the moon in 2022 or 2023, but the Trump administration now wants to prioritize sending humans around the moon by that time (Houston Chronicle).
- NASA announced two major discoveries from Mars Curiosity rover: organic compounds from a rock in an ancient lake bed and a seasonal production of methane, both of which might indicate past or current subsurface life on Mars (Houston Chronicle; Science).
- Over one hundred members of Congress have urged Scott Pruitt not to move forward with implementation of his proposed “transparency rule”, claiming that the rule decreases transparency in EPA decision-making, while also limiting scientific resources available to researchers in the EPA (The Hill).
- GOP donor Donald Deason and other members of an ultra-conservative think tank, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, helped Scott Pruitt choose top EPA advisors. TPPF receives funding from oil and gas companies, and members like Deason have been critical of the EPA in the past (Politico, My Statesman).
- In an effort to reduce maternal mortality in Texas, 168 out of 242 hospitals in the state are participating in TexasAIM, a program which standardizes maternal care and creates strict checklists and routines that doctors need to follow with every patient (KUT).
- Travis county is listed as one of the national hotspots for non-medical vaccine exemptions in a new report (Washington Post).
- In an unprecedented move, the Trump administration is preparing a plan to order grid operators around the country to purchase electricity from financially failing coal and nuclear power plants. The administration is citing national security, but critics say cheap natural gas and renewables are outcompeting the coal industry which should be allowed to fail in the free market (Bloomberg News).
- Alaska, a deeply red state, is developing a plan for combating climate change including a carbon fee and dividend and cutting emissions. Policymakers say they have to balance being an energy producer with the daily realities that Alaskans face due to climate change (New York Times).
- A federal judge dismissed lawsuits from San Francisco and Oakland against five major oil companies for making and selling products that create a public nuisance. In the judge’s decision, he acknowledged that while the order accepted the science behind global warming and the legitimacy of the complaint, that regulation of the global climate change problem was a political, not judicial, issue (Science Mag).
Science Communication / Miscellaneous
- Scientific American has started a new program, the National Science Policy Network, that works to connect and support science policy groups across the country (Scientific American).