Biden transition and 2020 election news:
In the early hours this morning, Congress affirmed Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential race. The vote came after a violent assault on the Capitol building the day before by pro-Trump rioters as legislators met to certify the electoral college votes. As the country now waits two weeks for the president-elect to be sworn in, Biden and his Transition Team continue the work of building the incoming administration.
President-elect Biden announced several cabinet and other key picks throughout December, including for a handful of key climate-focused positions. Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) was selected for secretary of the interior, former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm for secretary of energy, Michael Regan for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Breda Mallory for chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, Gina McCarthy for the first ever national climate advisor, and Ali Zaidi for deputy national climate advisor.
FY21 appropriations and COVID-19 relief update:
The House and Senate both passed a $1.4 trillion omnibus appropriations bill on Dec. 21 as part of a deal that also included a bill to provide an additional $900 billion in targeted COVID-19 relief, the Energy Act of 2020, and a handful of other policy matters, such as a bill to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons. The President finally signed the massive package into law on Dec. 27, narrowly avoiding another government shutdown the following day.
The appropriations package includes a small increase for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to $5.43 billion, restores all proposed cuts to climate research programs in NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, provides almost $8.5 billion for the National Science Foundation (a 2.5% increase), and $2 billion for NASA Earth Sciences missions and research.
In advance of an award decision for the Earth Prediction Innovation Center (EPIC), Congress provided NOAA $13 million for the program, a $5 million increase over FY20. The agreement, unfortunately, did not include the UCAR request for a National Academies-led weather decadal survey, with the omnibus instead directing NOAA's Science Advisory Board to within a year publish a report that can inform decisions on needed investments in weather forecasting, modeling, data assimilation, and supercomputing over the next 10 years.
The new COVID-19 relief package includes a $23 billion Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. Funds will be distributed to universities based on a formula similar to the one in the CARES Act, relying on Pell Grant and general enrollment calculated by both headcount and full-time equivalent enrollment, although schools should have wide discretion on how to award student assistance and on how to spend the money to meet institutional needs.
However, the COVID package did not also include funds to address research disruptions, as proposed by the Research Investment to Secure the Economy (RISE) Act, nor did it include funding for new federal science facilities. However, President-elect Biden has suggested that he will work with like-minded members of Congress to make such funding a priority early in his administration in any additional COVID relief packages.
Key committee leaders for 117th Congress emerging:
A competitive three-way race emerged to replace retiring House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), but in the end House Democrats voted overwhelmingly for Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to serve as the next House Appropriations Committee chair. The House Science Committee will retain its current leadership of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) as chair and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) as ranking member, as will the Senate Commerce Committee with Sens. Wicker (R-MS) and Cantwell (D-WA). For the House Energy and Commerce Committee Rep. Frank Pallone of NJ will remain chair, but Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) will be the new ranking member. The Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee will have some significant shuffling of chairmanships under a new caucus rules change, the details of which will emerge in the coming weeks.
National Weather Service considers limiting NCEP data access:
In November the National Weather Service announced its intention to limit the frequency of users’ access to weather data downloads from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) systems due to internet bandwidth constraints and requested input from the user community. Since they have been unable to secure funding ($1.5 million) to fix the issue, agency officials are considering limiting the number of connections to 60 per minute for non-government entities, such as private companies, academic researchers, and graduate students. During a December online forum hosted by NWS, which UCAR participated in, several academic researchers and private sector weather companies expressed their strong concerns about the potential negative effects of this proposal. While the exact timeline and implementation of the change is unclear, NWS stated that their goal is to start implementing the limits in a gradual manner by next month. The House Science Committee has also expressed some concerns about the impacts to modeling and commercial weather forecasting services from these proposed changes.