December 15, 2016

ESA 2017 Graduate Student Policy Award

ESA invites you to apply for the 2017 Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA). Awardees receive first-hand engagement at the interface of science and public policy. The event will occur April 24-26, 2017.

Participants receive:

  • Travel to Washington, DC, to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition Congressional Visits Day, an annual event that brings scientists to the nation’s capital to speak-up for federal investment in the sciences, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation. Domestic travel, hotel, and meal expenses will be paid by ESA.
  • Policy and communications training, including information on the legislative process and trends in federal science funding.
  • An opportunity to hear first-hand from ecologists currently working in federal agencies about their policy careers.
  • Meetings with congressional policymakers on Capitol Hill to discuss the importance of federal investments in the biological sciences.
  • The opportunity to be interviewed for ESA’s podcast, The Ecologist Goes to Washington and blog
    The deadline to apply is January 10, 2017. We looking forward to viewing your application. Thank you in advance for representing your society on Capitol Hill!

President-elect Transition Update

Interior Pick

Trump transition insiders tout freshman Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT) as the pick for Secretary of the Interior. Just Friday, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the fourth most senior member of the House leadership, had been leading in the bet for Interior’s top job.

McMorris Rodgers has been dogged by an ongoing ethics probe, referred to the House Ethics Committee in December 2013, alleging improper use of congressional resources, including staff, in campaign activity from 2010 to 2012. She has faced charges of retribution in connection with those complaints also. These ethics complications are thought to have impeded her possible nomination.

Trump spokesman Jason Miller noted that “Congressman Zinke is a strong advocate for American energy independence. And he supports an all-encompassing energy policy that includes renewable, fossil fuels and alternative energy. Additionally, Congressman Zinke believes we need to find a way to cut through bureaucracy to ensure our nation’s parks, forests, and other public areas are properly maintained and used effectively.” Lola Zinke, the apparent nominee’s wife, is serving on the Trump transition’s Veteran Affairs landing team.

Zinke, a life-long hunter and angler, defends public access to federal lands and, unlike McMorris Rodgers, rejects proposals to sell public lands to state or local entities. He has, however, advocated for state control of energy development on federal lands.

On climate change, Zinke is a realist, commenting to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle in 2015, “You know, if you go up to Glacier Park and you have your lunch on one of the glaciers, you will see the glacier recede while you eat lunch. So you know I have seen the change in my lifetime.” He continued, “So something’s going on, and so I think you need to be prudent. It doesn’t mean I think you need to be destructive on fossil fuels, but I think you need to be prudent and you need to invest in ‘all-the-above energy.’”

As a junior member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Zinke has advanced a number of bills related to American Indian water rights and habitat protections. In 2015 he was the only Republican to join Democrats in proposing to permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The League of Conservation Voters, however, rates him at 3 percent voting score. The average score for House members in 2015 was 41 percent.

Zinke is reported to have hit it off with Donald Trump Jr., the president-elect’s eldest child who is also an avid hunter, and met with the president-elect on Monday in New York. He has also earned praise from Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Teddy Roosevelt Conservancy Partnership, Friends of the East Rosebud and the Outdoor Industry Association. Others, such as the National Parks Conservation Association, the Center for Biological Diversity, The Wilderness Society and Greenpeace, voiced concern.

Zinke has been seen as a leading contender to challenge Montana Senate Democrat Jon Tester who is thought to be vulnerable in a tough 2018 reelection fight. As Interior Secretary, Zinke would likely not be a factor.

State Pick

President-elect Donald J. Trump named Rex W. Tillerson, the chief executive of Exxon Mobil, as his choice for Secretary of State. Tillerson’s nomination drew bipartisan concern about his close personal relationship with Russia’s President Valdimir Putin. Mr. Tillerson’s dealings with Russia extend over two decades. In 2013 he was awarded Russia’s “Order of Friendship.”

Tillerson’s is also expected to face vigorous questioning about Exxon Mobil’s billions of dollars of contracts in Russia that are currently stalled due to US sanctions against Russia resulting from its annexation of the Crimea, formerly part of Ukraine. Mr. Tillerson has publicly spoken out against the sanctions in the past.

President Obama and European leaders recently agreed to extend Russian sanctions until Mr. Putin agrees to a cease-fire and removes heavy weapons from eastern Ukraine.

Regarding climate change, Mr. Tillerson might be a moderating influence on Trump administration policies. As CEO of Exxon Mobil, Tillerson has moved the corporation away from its former strident climate skepticism, while defending the corporation against climate-related investigations by several state attorneys general. He is seen as accepting climate science and has supported a carbon tax and research on carbon capture, sequestration and biofuels. However, his viewpoint is in direct contradiction to Exxon’s basic fossil fuel business. Importantly, the Secretary of State is the nation’s top diplomat that negotiates the Paris Agreement and other international collaborations such as Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer treaty.

Energy Pick

Former Texas governor Rick Perry, a presidential candidate in 2012 and 2016, is the nominee for Secretary of Energy. Perry famously, in a November 2011 presidential debate, wanted to eliminate the Department of Energy, along with Commerce and Education, but could not remember its name.
Perry serves on the board of Energy Transfer Partners LP, the company the company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, which is supported by Mr. Trump. He has a degree in Animal Science from Texas A&M University.

In addition to being a former Trump opponent, Mr. Perry is also experienced in reality television, having appeared in the 2016 version of “Dancing With The Stars.” Perry and his partner were eliminated on September 26, the same night as the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Perry later remarked, “You know, I was probably more helpful to Donald last night being here than sitting in the audience at the debate.”

Perry’s pick is in stark contrast to the current Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz, who previously headed MIT’s physics department and former Energy Secretary Steve Chu, a Nobel Laureate physicist. Perry’s pick is worrisome because of his lack understanding of the basic Energy mission. One of the primary responsibilities for the Energy secretary is to manage the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal. When former Secretary Chu was asked by Congress if the nuclear arsenal would be better managed by the Defense Department, he replied, “It’s better to leave this in the hands of the scientists.” Whether Rick Perry understands the role that science plays managing the nation’s nuclear and other energy assets is uncertain. He is a free market proponent for fossil fuels, but there is no free market for nuclear materials (enriched plutonium) used in weapons or in nuclear reactors. Additionally, spent nuclear fuel material tracking is Energy’s responsibility and a national security issue. It remains to be seen how Perry will lead Energy if confirmed as secretary.

In a related note, the Trump landing team submitted a 77-page questionnaire to Energy officials asking intrusive questions about employees and contractors who worked on climate science and policy among other topics. Energy declined to “name names.” The story and questionnaire was was leaked to the first reported in the Washington Post.

EPA Pick

Oklahoma attorney general, Scott Pruitt has been nominated at director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt has spent much of his tenure as attorney general fighting EPA regulations and was praised by the Trump transition team as “an expert in Constitutional law” who “brings a deep understanding of the impact of regulations on both the environment and the economy.” Pruitt’s own website calls him “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”

Pruitt’s nomination for EPA raises troubling questions about legal conflicts of interest. In five years as Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt has filed or joined at least 13 lawsuits against the EPA; eight are still pending. These include: challenges to “haze reduction” rules; ethanol fuel mandates, the Clean Power Plan; regulation of greenhouse gasses; Clean Water Act rules; regulations on methane emissions at oil and natural gas sites; and suits to compel Freedom of Information Act requests for communications records between federal agencies and nonprofit environmental groups.

With his picks of Perry for Energy, Ben Carson for Housing and Urban Development, Scott Pruitt for EPA, and Betsy DeVoss for Education, president-elect Trump has selected nominees who fundamentally oppose the basic missions of the agencies they would lead.

COMPETES Reauthorization (Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act)

In early morning voting December 10, the Senate passed S.3084, its version of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act with unanimous consent, signifying broad bipartisan support. Procedural objections by one senator, however, prevented the bill being returned to the House in time for consideration. Members hope the legislation will provide guidance for quick action in the new congress.

The COMPETES Act, first enacted in 2007 and last reauthorized in 2010, provides for various programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and activities at the Office of Science and Technology Policy, including federal science, development, and STEM programs. It expired three years ago and subject to continuation since. House and Senate reauthorization bills had been pending since early summer with the House passing its version in late May.

The Senate bill, which took the form of an amendment in the nature of a substitute, strongly endorsed NSF’s two existing criteria for evaluating grant applications—the “intellectual merit” of the idea, and the “broader impacts” of the research on society. House Science chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) had insisted on “national interest” categories also and these were included in the resulting Senate-passed bill, but as examples of benefits rather than primary goals of research. Removed were spending targets which had called for a 4% increase in NSF and NIST funding in 2018 that were in previous Senate versions. House leadership has banned statements of funding levels in authorization bills, reflecting the desire to reduce federal spending.

Legislative Update

Continuing Resolution Passes

Late on Friday December 9, the Senate beat an impending government shutdown when it passed H.R.2028, a continuing resolution, by a vote of 63 to 36, with less than an hour to go. The continuing resolution keeps the federal government funded through April 28, 2017.

The continuing resolution as passed largely maintains spending at existing levels, as expected. However, it includes new funding for the recently enacted 21st Century Cures Act, water infrastructure aid related to the Flint Michigan lead crisis as well as flooding relief in Louisiana and reimbursing New York City for expenses associated with security for President-elect Trump, and increases in Defense spending. It also fast-tracks consideration of retired Marine General James Mattis for Secretary of Defense, a provision added by the House December 6.

The measure needed 60 votes to clear a procedural hurdle before final consideration which it narrowly passed, 61 to 38. Much of the drama centered proposals to extend health benefits for 16,500 retired coal miners, championed by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), which lost. Manchin sought funding for a full year rather than the resulting four months.

In the end, the legislation was must-pass to avoid a government shutdown. Further adjustments were precluded by the House having passed its version of the bill Thursday, December 8, and left town for the holidays.

Both the House and Senate will maintain pro-forma, non-legislative, schedules up until the beginning of the 115th Congress January 3, largely to prevent President Obama from making recess appointments.

Senate Passes Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act

Early Saturday morning, December 10, the Senate passed the compromise Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, S.612, in one of its last acts of the 114th Congress. WIIN encompasses much of the previously passed Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2016 including compromise language authorizing states to create permitting programs for coal ash disposal; improvements to harbors, dams and other water-related public works; provisions for the Flint Michigan lead-contaminated drinking water crisis; and California drought relief. Most of those provisions follow language in the previous WRDA, S.2848, passed in the Senate on September 15 by a 95 to 3 vote.

The California drought relief provision threatened to derail passage as Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) spoke for hours against it. The provision allows for pumping of water from the San Francisco Bay watershed to agricultural areas in time of drought. Boxer argued that it would endanger salmon fisheries in violation of the Endangered Species Act. Five of six West Coast senators, all Democrats, joined Boxer in opposition to the bill.

Overwhelming support for the bill, however, convinced Boxer to withdraw her objections and it passed 78 to 21. Speaking outside the Senate chamber before the vote, Boxer commented “I think the House vote [360 to 61] was an indication that the bill is so popular. I wrote the darn thing. It’s too good. It’s so good, it’s so good for my state.” The bill passed with 26 projects for California.

In addition to provisions from the Water Resources Development Act, WIIN included the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act, the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians Water Rights Settlement Act, and the Water and Waste Act of 2016.

The White House has indicated support for the Act and is expected to sign it.

Executive Order - Safeguarding the Nation from the Impacts of Invasive Species

On December 5, President Obama signed an Executive Order amending Executive Order 13112 of February 3, 1999 which called upon executive departments to take steps to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species and to support efforts to eradicate and control invasive species that are already established. The 1999 order also established the Invasive Species Council to oversee implementation of that order and improve Federal response to invasive species.

President Obama’s new order directs continued, coordinated Federal action to prevent and control invasive species. It maintains the National Invasive Species Council and the Invasive Species Advisory Committee. It expands the membership of the Council, clarifies its operations and incorporates considerations of human and environmental health, climate change, technological innovation, and other emerging priorities into Federal efforts to address invasive species.

It also directs the National Invasive Species Council to undertake a National Invasive Species Assessment, in coordination with the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s periodic national assessment, that evaluates the impact of invasive species on major U.S. assets, including food security, water resources, infrastructure, the environment, human, animal, and plant health, natural resources, cultural identity and resources, and military readiness, from ecological, social, and economic perspectives. Further, it directs advancing national incident response, data collection, and rapid reporting capacities that build on existing frameworks and programs and strengthen early detection of and rapid response to invasive species, including those that are vectors, reservoirs, or causative agents of disease.

By December 31, 2019, the Council shall publish a National Invasive Species Council Management Plan (Management Plan), which shall, among other priorities identified by the Council, include actions to further the implementation of the duties of the National Invasive Species Council. The Council will subsequently evaluate and update the Management Plan every three years and provide a public annual report of its achievements.

This new executive order reinforces the previous order, strengthens interagency coordination, and incorporates consideration of climate change and cost-efficient actions.

While largely consistent with the previous order, President Obama’s new order is subject to provisions of the Congressional Review Act which provides a period of 60 “session days” (days when Congress is in session) during which Congress can simply pass a resolution of disapproval to overturn an executive action or regulation. Those motions of disapproval are not subject to filibuster in the Senate, though they could still be vetoed by the president if passed.

Due to the possibility of a presidential veto, the Congressional Review Act (CRA) has only once been successfully implemented, against a November 2000 Clinton Administration regulation requiring employers to take measures to curb ergonomic injuries in the workplace. In March 2001, still under the 60 day provision, the Republican Congress passed a resolution of disapproval and newly-elected President George W. Bush quickly signed the disapproval. Because the CRA forbids the agency from creating similar regulations, ergonomic injuries in the workplace have continued to be unregulated.

House Republicans, in the just concluded Congress, unsuccessfully attempted to expand the scope of the CRA with the Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2016, H.R.5982, which would have allowed an “en bloc” resolution to disapprove multiple regulations rather than one at a time under the current CRA.