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March 2015 Issue

Joint Hearing on Problems, Concerns With Weather Satellites
The U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s Subcommittees on Environment and Oversight held a joint hearing to discuss problems and concerns associated with the NOAA weather satellite systems, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Orbiting Environmental Satellite (GOES).

JPSS and GOES acquisitions have been marked by schedule delays, significant cost growth, the repeated downsizing of the array of sensors expected to fly on the satellites, and technical performance concerns. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) added these programs to their “high risk” list in 2013. There are still concerns that the cost may continue to grow, schedule delays could increase the potential for a near-term gap, and that NOAA’s mitigation projects have not been properly prioritized.

The hearing discussed how a data gap will impact the economy, public safety and research, as well as strategies for mitigating the data gap, including extending the life of legacy satellites, improving data assimilation and modeling, and incorporating new sources of data.

House Approves Keystone Again, Obama Vetoes Bill
The Republican-controlled U.S. House approved the Keystone XL pipeline by a vote of 270-152, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported. The U.S. Senate, also Republican-controlled, has already passed pipeline approval, so the bill was sent to President Barack Obama for his consideration.

Keystone is a cross-border pipeline, which gives the State Department authority over it. Obama is skeptical of the bill because it bypasses the State Department’s review process, according to WSJ.

Obama vetoed the legislation the same day it was sent to the White House. The House and Senate would need a two-thirds vote each to override the presidential veto.

The State Department is reviewing whether the Keystone pipeline is in the interest of the U.S. in terms of the economy, the environment and national security.

Supporters of Keystone argue the pipeline will create jobs and bolster U.S. energy security, while critics say it will make the U.S. continue to rely on fossil fuels, cause environmental harm, and create economic benefit mostly for the Canadian oil industry.

Settlement Reached on Chesapeake Sewage, Stormwater Pollution
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposed partial settlement with co-plaintiff Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the City of Harrisburg and Capital Region Water to resolve alleged Clean Water Act violations involving sewer overflows and discharges of polluted stormwater to the Susquehanna River and Paxton Creek.

The settlement addresses problems with Harrisburg’s combined sewer system, which frequently discharges raw sewage, industrial waste and polluted stormwater into Paxton Creek and the Susquehanna River, which are part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Under the proposed agreement, Capital Region Water will take major steps to improve the operation and maintenance of Harrisburg’s wastewater and stormwater collection systems, including construction upgrades at its wastewater treatment plant. The upgrades will significantly reduce discharges of nitrogen pollution from the plant, which is currently the largest point-source of nitrogen pollution to the Susquehanna River. Capital Region Water will conduct a comprehensive assessment of existing conditions within its combined sewer system and develop a long-term control plan to curtail combined sewer overflows.

US House Passes NASA Authorization Act of 2015
The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 810, the NASA Authorization Act of 2015 under suspension of the rules. It authorizes NASA programs and projects for one year and updates NASA funding to be consistent with fiscal year 2015 enacted funding.

The bill is essentially identical to H.R. 4412 that passed the House last year by a vote of 401-2 under suspension of the rules, but no action was taken on the bill by the Senate.

US House Hearing Calls for More R&D Funding to Advance U.S. Interests
The U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held an Energy Subcommittee hearing to discuss the benefits of and challenges to developing the next generation of supercomputers and, more broadly, the need for greater federal investments in research and development.

Witnesses included longtime advisor to the committee Norman Augustine, former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, Maryland). He previously chaired the National Academy of Sciences Committee that produced the “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report in 2005.

“America now ranks 29th among developed nations in the fraction of research that is governmentally funded,” Augustine said. “It is projected that within about five years China will surpass the U.S. in both research funding as a fraction of GDP and absolute funding. This does not portend well for national security, jobs, the economy or the physical health of the citizenry.”

Dr. Jane Lubchenco Becomes First US Science Envoy for the Ocean
Dr. Jane Lubchenco has begun serving as the first U.S. Science Envoy for the Ocean. She is a University Distinguished Professor of Marine Biology at Oregon State University and former administrator of NOAA (2009 to 2013).

Announced by President Barack Obama in June 2009, the U.S. Science Envoy program demonstrates U.S. commitment to science, technology and innovation as tools of diplomacy and economic growth. U.S. Science Envoys are distinguished scientists who engage internationally at the citizen and government levels to develop partnerships, improve collaboration, and forge relationships between other nations and the U.S. to increase scientific cooperation and foster economic prosperity. Science Envoys advise the White House, the Department of State, and the scientific community about potential opportunities for cooperation.

2015:  JAN | FEB | MARCH

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