November 29, 2016

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ESA Joins with Science Societies and Urge Trump to Name a Science Advisor

ESA joined with the leaders of 28 science organizations and sent a November 23 letter to President-elect Donald Trump urging him to meet with them and to appoint a science advisor quickly. The letter pointed to science and technology as an important driver of U.S. economic growth. It also suggests a new White House position of “Assistant to the President for Science and Technology.”

Trump Administration Takes Shape, Slowly

President-elect Donald Trump has made some top-level appointments in the last two weeks, but many more positions remain unfilled. Following is a discussion of appointments important to the ecological community, beginning with the nominations that have already been announced.

White House senior counselor Steve Bannon was formerly executive chairman of the right-wing Breitbart News and chief executive officer of the Trump presidential campaign. During the Republican National Convention, Bannon bragged that Breitbart News had become the home of the “alt-right,” a name embraced by many white supremacists that mixes reactionary conservatism, racism and populism.

Bannon has condemned climate change as an invention of activists, university researchers and renewable energy industry profiteers-a corrupt swindle that is damaging the economy. Through Breitbart News, he has condemned Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change and the environment, the Paris Climate Agreement, and NOAA and NASA’s climate change research. This is likely to characterize Bannon’s advice to President-elect Trump. Bannon’s climate denial is confounded by his tenure as director of “Biosphere 2,” from 1993-5, an earth systems science research project, which he emphasized as an experiment relating to pollution and global warming.

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, formerly chairman of the Republican National Committee, also embraces hard-core climate denial-“most of it is a bunch of bunk.” A party functionary since 2007, when elected as chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, Priebus is credited with bringing together Tea Party interests with the mainstream Republican Party, building it into a “coast to coast” force. His policy positions include support of the Keystone XL pipeline. As the president’s gate-keeper, Priebus will be the person most responsible for guiding the new administrations agenda through Congress.

White House counsel Don McGhan, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and general counsel to the Trump campaign, is a staunch libertarian. His primary expertise is in government regulation and political law. His brief at the White House will be broad, however, where he will advise the president on all legal issues surrounding the administration-including the legality of executive orders and legislation. He will also be influential in vetting potential administration appointees, including to the Supreme Court. He is thought to be assisting Mr. Trump in navigating anti-nepotism laws to appoint his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to a formal administration position.

Bannon, Priebus and McGhan’s appointments do not require Senate confirmation.

Attorney General nominee, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), is a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works where he is a staunch climate denier and an advocate for increased fossil energy production. His lifetime rating on environmental issues by the League of Conservation Voters is 7%. Most of his voice while serving in Congress has been in opposition to immigration.

As attorney general, the chief law-enforcement officer in the U.S., Sessions will need to pass Senate confirmation of the Judiciary Committee, where he is currently a senior member. He failed before that same committee in a 1986 judicial nomination to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, primarily on civil rights concerns. Those issues are likely to once again be an issue in his upcoming confirmation hearings. However, his approval seems likely this time with few Republican defections expected and a filibuster of Cabinet picks disallowed by a Democratic Senate rules change three years ago.

Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, a Michigan billionaire and conservative activist, is a staunch advocate for school choice and vouchers. She and her children are products of private school education, exclusively. DeVos is a major Republican donor, giving more than $2.75 million in the 2016 election cycle and her family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the Republican Party. However, she has no experience in education or school administration. A religious conservative, she is on the board of the Acton Institute, which merges corporate interest and “dominion theology,” promoting “. . . a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious [Christian] principles.” This combination of school vouchers and Christian advocacy concerns many educational leaders about the pick.

DeVos’ confirmation appears likely. It is supported by Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), calling her “an excellent choice.”

Other rumored cabinet appointments for departments with science and environment implications may include the following picks.


Several names are in play for the USDA top job: Forrest Lucas, founder of Lucas Oil Products and supporter of trophy hunting and puppy mills; Governor Mary Fallin (R-OK), a leading Clean Power Plan opponent who issued an “oilfield prayer day” proclamation in October; Governor Sam Brownback (R-KS); Chuck Connor, CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives; Former governors Dave Heineman (R-NE), Sonny Perdue (R-GA) and Rick Perry (R-TX) (also mentioned for Energy and Defense); Sid Miller, Texas Agriculture Commissioner (R). Agriculture, in part, oversees the farming industry, food safety and Forest Service.


Harold Hamm, chief executive of Continental Resources, continues to be seen as the top pick although Interior is another possibility.

Others mentioned for the job include these names: Robert Grady, Gryphon Investors partner (also mentioned for E.P.A.); James Connaughton, chief executive of Nautilus Data Technologies and former environmental adviser to President George W. Bush; Former Governor Rick Perry (R-TX), a former Trump rival.

It is worth noting that the Energy Department’s primary portfolio is to protect and manage the U.S. nuclear infrastructure and weapons arsenal.

Environmental Protection Agency

Myron Ebell, a director at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a prominent climate change skeptic, is emerging as a leading pick. Others mentioned for the positing may include: Robert Grady; Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R), a leader in the court fight over the Clean Power Plan; Kathleen Hartnett White (R), former chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality; Jeffery Holmstead, a lawyer specializing in environmental and natural resources issues and former E.P.A. administrator in the George W. Bush administration.

Department of Interior

Governor Mary Fallin (R-OK) is emerging as a possible top pick, having recently met with President-elect Trump to discuss the possibility. Others mentioned include: Frank Lucas, Harold Hamm, Robert Grady, as well as former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ), and Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY). Former Governor Sarah Palin is mentioned by some, but is increasingly seen as an unlikely choice. Hamm and Grady also have been mentioned as top Energy picks while Lucas is a contender for Agriculture. Through its various bureaus and offices, including the USGS, Interior controls coal, oil and gas development on public lands.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Former Representative Bob Walker (R-PA), Representative Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) and Mark Albrecht are considered possibilities. Walker and Albrecht are leading the NASA transition team. Walker formerly chaired the House Science Committee and the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry. Albrecht is currently chairman of the board of U.S. Space LLC and was a principal space advisor to President George H.W. Bush. Bridenstine, a former Navy pilot, is a Freedom Caucus member and has been active on a wide variety of space issues. In April, he introduced the American Space Renaissance Act, H.R.4945 , a comprehensive policy bill addressing issues of national security and civil and commercial space.

The other cabinet picks, named or very likely are wide ranging: Representative Tom Price (R-GA), a leading voice against the Affordable Care Act as head of Health and Human Services; Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS), Tea Party activist and member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, for Central Intelligence Agency; Dr. Ben Carson, retired neurosurgeon and former Trump rival, for Housing and Urban Development; Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC), seen as a “pragmatist” on climate change, for U.N. Ambassador; Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor, for Commerce; former Senator Scott Brown (R-MA), a retired Army National Guard colonel, for Veterans Affairs; Dan DiMicco, former chief executive of Nucor Corporation, a steel company, and critic of Chinese trade practices, for U.S. Trade Representative; Representative Lou Barletta (R-PA), a member of the House Transportation Committee, for Transportation.

Trump Transition Team Continues to Evolve

The November 11 dismissal of Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) as chairman of President-elect Trump’s transition team upset the process he had been leading since May 9. Though quickly replaced by Vice President-elect Mike Pence, formal and organization issues delayed key parts of the work. After purging many Christie loyalists, key positions remain unfilled.

In the weeks since Christie’s dismissal, the Trump team has slowly named new transition team members and “landing teams” for various agencies. Peter Theil, a billionaire Silicon Valley venture capitalist was placed on the transition team and may be a key advisor in Trump’s science policy development. Prior to the election, Theil called for more federal investment in science and technology. Most recent landing team announcements for the Department of Defense include Trae Stephens, who is a principal of Theil’s Founder Fund. Kelly Mitchell, renewable energy advocate and sales account manager at Multi Automatic Tool and Supply Co., is the second name announced for Energy team, whose leader is Tom Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research.

Landing teams work with outgoing administration officials to smooth the transfer of power, but will not necessarily be hired for full-time jobs. The Trump team has been naming the landing teams in “waves,” with the first to be assigned was for national security matters, followed by teams for economic issues, domestic policy and independent agencies.

The State Department team has already outlined a strategy to exit the Paris Agreement. The Defense team is likely to recommend revoking an Obama directive requiring Pentagon agencies to account for climate change in planning and procedures. The team at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is expected to favor of space exploration over earth science research. Meanwhile, some government scientists are considering avoiding the phrase “climate change” with the onset of the new administration.

Congressional Update


House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in a November 17 meeting told House Republicans that President-elect Donald Trump wants a short-term continuing resolution (CR) to extend government funding through March. This scenario would upend previous plans to pass as many appropriations bills as possible in the current lame duck session. Senate GOP leaders fear that Trump’s plan could derail the first months of his presidency as spending bills could crowd out other matters, such as confirming administration nominees, healthcare reform and infrastructure spending.

House Appropriations Chair Harold Rogers (R-KY) is working on a resolution to keep the government open through March 31, noting “The Trump administration had a desire to have an impact in what was in the spending bill when they take office.”

Members of the conservative Freedom Caucus were particularly pleased with the Trump CR plan. It is expected that they will seek to link new spending hikes to the concerns about federal debt limit, which is currently suspended through March 16. Previous increases in the debt limit have often led to brinksmanship and even government closure in the fall of 2013.

Other Legislation

Appropriations and a continuing resolution will dominate the 114th Congress lame duck session; however, water and energy bills might move.

The Water Resources Development Act of 2016, S.2848 in the Senate and H.R.5303 in the House, made significant progress before recess for the elections. Each body passed separate versions that are now subject to conference negotiations. Representative Bob Gibbs (R-OH), chairman of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, expressed doubt that a conference bill would reach the president’s desk. Funding for the lead contamination crisis in Flint, MI was the subject of a late deal breaking a stalemate in late September. It appears that the issue could once again derail passage.

The North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2016, S.2012 in the Senate and H.R.8 in the House, are already in conference with counter-proposals being exchanged. The surprise election of Donald Trump, however, appears to have derailed negotiations with House Republicans sensing an advantage in the new Congress and administration. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), after meeting with his House and Senate counterparts last week, suggested that only relatively minor areas have been agreed to in conference.

The Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2016, H.R.5982, would amend the Congressional Review Act of 1996 (CRA) to allow Congress to consider a joint resolution to disapprove multiple regulations that federal agencies have submitted for congressional review within the last 60 legislative days of a session of Congress during the final year of a president’s term. The current CRA allows Congress to overturn any executive branch rule, one rule at a time, within 60 days of its finalization in the Federal Register. The House passed H.R.5982 without amendment on November 17, forwarding it for consideration by the Senate. It seems unlikely to pass in this Congress, but could come up again in the next Congress. However, Democrats minority in the Senate has narrowed to only three seats, from ten, and a possible filibuster might be sustained.