February 8, 2017
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President Trump’s Executive Order: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, January 27, stirred many. Letters from medical, research and academic societies decried the Trump immigration order and called for its withdrawal. The Ecological Society of America joined 151 other scientific and engineering societies, national associations, and universities in a January 31 letter urging President Trump to rescind his Executive Order on visas and immigration. The joint letter emphasized the order’s negative impact of international transit of people and ideas essential to scientific progress and competitiveness.
A suit by Minnesota and Washington State won a nation-wide stay of the order on Friday, February 3, by Judge James Robart of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The order sought to indefinitely suspend admission of Syrian refugees and limit the flow of refugees from six other majority-Muslim countries into the United States through what President Trump calls “extreme vetting.” In addition to the Minnesota and Washington suit, Massachusetts, New York and Virginia and tech companies have also sued over the administration’s order.
The Department of Justice has filed an appeal of Judge Robart’s order in the Minnesota and Washington suit is scheduled to be heard by a three judge panel of the 9th Circuit by telephone Tuesday, February 7, at 6 p.m.
President Trump’s nominees continue to progress through confirmation hearings and votes. Nominees for Interior, Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT), and Energy, former governor Rick Perry (R-TX), advanced Tuesday, January 31, were approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s 12 Republicans and a handful of Democrats with votes of 16-6-1 and 16-7 respectively.
Meanwhile, Democrats are responding to increasing calls for unified opposition to President Trump’s nominees. On Tuesday, Senate Democrats and Independents, joined by Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted unanimously against Department of Education nominee Betsy DeVos. The resulting 50-50 deadlock forced Vice President Pence to cast the deciding vote confirming DeVos.
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), is also expected to be approved with little to no Democratic support. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) predicted “If not total unanimity, we’re going to have near Democratic unity in opposing the remaining nominees for President Trump’s Cabinet.” Schumer’s comments came as Senate Democrats launched a 24-hour floor debate prior to the vote on the DeVos nomination. Democrats were unsuccessful in gaining one additional Republican vote against DeVos.
The Senate maintains a web-page listing civilian Executive Nominations confirmed by the Senate during the current Congress. President Trump has won six cabinet nominations and the U.N. Ambassador at the time of this writing, February 7. Appointments for Agriculture, Energy, Interior and Veterans Affairs are little advanced and many others are fully idle.
Some observers are commenting on prospects for delays in Senate cabinet-level confirmations crowding out time in the 60 legislative-day window for repeal of late-term Obama administration regulations under the Congressional Review Act—likely to close by mid-May.
Department of the Interior nominee Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT) and Department of Energy nominee, former governor Rick Perry (R-TX) passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last Tuesday, January 31, advancing to confirmation votes by the full Senate. Republicans are optimistic for a quick Senate approval. Democrats, however, are already applying built-in procedural delays across the board in opposition to all remaining President Trump nominees.
Even with rising Democratic opposition, Zinke won the optimism of some who voted against his nomination. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) indicated her vote against Zinke was more in protest of President Trump.
Zinke’s nomination is suddenly animating the possibility of moving the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) from the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to Interior, among other policy prospects. Senator Ron Wyden (R-OR) abstained from the committee Zinke vote in opposition to the suggested move to Interior.
The proposal to move the Forest Service to Interior is not new. A 2009 Government Accountability Office report was inconclusive on the benefits of the move, noting: “Moving the Forest Service into Interior could potentially improve federal land management by consolidating into one department key agencies with land management missions and increasing the effectiveness of their programs.” The report also suggested, “At the same time, a move would provide few efficiencies in the short term and could diminish the role the Forest Service plays in state and private land management, a mission the agency has in common with USDA but not with Interior.”
Ironically, management of U.S. forest reserves transferred from the Interior to Agriculture with the founding of the Forest Service during the Theodore Roosevelt administration in 1905.
Energy nominee Perry was pressed in his hearing by Senator Cantwell (D-WA) on his willingness to defend people and programs within Energy against possible administration attacks, such as gagging scientists or eliminating current renewables and energy efficiency offices. Other committee members expressed similar concerns about rumored cuts at Energy.
Confirmation is expected for both Zinke and Perry, but slow-walking Democrats may stretch the timeline.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s (R-OK) nomination to the EPA was advanced to the Senate, though he continues to see strong opposition. Facing a complete absence of Democrats for the second day in a row, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) suspended committee rules and approved Pruitt’s nomination without any Democrats attending Thursday, February 2.
Pruitt, as Oklahoma Attorney General, sued the EPA to block implementation of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). President Trump campaigned against the CPP in both the primary and general election. Senate leadership say they have not been consulted by the White House on tactics.
Some transition officials have suggested that the administration might target the 2009 endangerment finding, the result of a 2005 Supreme Court ruling, which is the legal foundation for most regulations aimed at cutting carbon dioxide. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) commented, “I haven’t heard that actually verbalized to me as a strategy. I think it’s a smart strategy.” “My personal opinion is that the endangerment finding should be reopened and should be overturned,” said Myron Ebell, leader of Trump’s transition team at EPA, who argued for undoing the finding as the leader of Trump’s transition team at EPA.
Conservative opponents of climate action believe that undoing the endangerment finding is the only way to permanently prevent future carbon regulations like CPP and to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Eliminating the endangerments finding would implicitly assert that climate change is not real and would likely ripple through diplomatic relations and electoral politics and would precipitate lengthy court fights.
It is thought that the White House will await Pruitt’s confirmation before announcing its strategies for revoking the CPP. Some observers believe that it is unlikely that reversing the endangerment finding would succeed, given the need to overcome scientific, legal and political hurdles and given Pruitt’s disinclination to take it on. In his confirmation hearing, Pruitt remarked that he sees no reason to review the endangerment finding.
Agenda for 115th Congress
Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, announced the “top priorities” for the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology in the two-year 115th Congress. In the announcement, Wednesday, February 1, Smith pointed to five priorities: “The Science Committee plans to create transparent environmental policies based on sound science and focused on innovation rather than regulation. The committee will work to make sure every agency research dollar spent works for the taxpayers who fund them. We’ll work to re-stake America’s leadership in STEM concentrations by crafting critical science education initiatives, and we will conduct rigorous oversight of cybersecurity standards and breaches at federal agencies to ensure all Americans’ private information is secure. Rebalancing NASA’s portfolio and setting course for its future successes will also be a key priority this Congress.”
Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), in an interview with the American Institute of Physics, saw a possibility of Democrats working with Smith but will not support his full agenda: “I’m disappointed, but not surprised that the Chairman’s agenda for this Congress includes pushing anti-science bills designed to interfere with EPA’s mission to protect public health and the environment and cutting investments in clean energy at DOE. That said, I stand ready to work with him and want to seek good bipartisan policy agreements in areas across our jurisdiction.”
Making EPA Great Again
The full House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a hearing Tuesday, February 7, on “Making EPA Great Again.” Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) promotes the hearing as focusing on “. . . the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) process for evaluating and using science during its regulatory decision making activities.” Smith said, “EPA has long been on a path of regulatory overreach, and the committee will use the tools necessary to put EPA back on track.”
A spokeswoman from Chairman Smith’s staff said no bill is planned for introduction, though many see the hearings as a springboard for reintroducing Smith’s “Secret Science Reform Act” (H.R.1030 in the 114th Congress) into the current favorable political environment. The previous effort passed the House, but it failed in the Senate.
In the past, the proposed “Secret Science Reform Act” sought to require the EPA to rely on “transparent or reproducible” science in making new regulations, with the underlying research data posted online. Knowledgeable opponents of the Act fear it would weaken EPA’s issuing of needed regulations.
Witnesses Tuesday included Jeff Holmstead, partner, Bracewell LLP and former EPA air chief in the administration of former President George W. Bush, and Dr. Richard Belzer, independent consultant. Holmstead views the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards as misguided, and Belzer sees EPA advisory committees as subject to politicization. Other witnesses included Dr. Kimberly White, Senior Director, American Chemistry Council and Rush Holt (D-NJ), former Congressman now CEO, American Association for the Advancement of Science. Mr. Holt appeared at the request of committee Democrats and was expected to testify about “protecting science and scientific integrity” according to a spokeswoman for committee ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX).
The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the “Department of Energy Research and Innovation Act” (H.R.589), providing policy direction to the Department of Energy (DOE) on basic science research, nuclear energy research and development, research coordination and priorities, and reforms to streamline national lab management.
Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) touted development of next generation technology and promoting innovation and economic growth. Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) noted, “This bill includes the first comprehensive authorization of the DOE Office of Science, which is the largest supporter of physical sciences research in the country. This is a nearly $6 billion office that manages 10 of our national laboratories, often called the crown jewels of our national research infrastructure.”
On Jan. 27, the president issued an executive order titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” The order halts refugee admissions for 120 days and temporarily bans immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations.
ESA signed onto a letter with over 150 other scientific organizations and universities urging the president to rescind the order given its impact on science and engineering.
National Security Council
On Jan. 28, the president issued a memorandum titled “Organization of the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council.” Among other things, this memo changes the status of the Department of Energy within the National Security Council, removing it from the Principals Committee, a panel that serves as an interagency forum on policies affecting national security.
On Jan. 28, the president issued an executive order titled “Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Appointees.” This order bars administration officials from lobbying agencies that employed them for five years after they leave government.
On Jan. 30, the president issued an executive order titled “Reducing Regulations and Controlling Regulatory Costs.” The order requires that for every new federal regulation, two must be repealed. In addition, any cost associated with new regulations must be offset by existing rules that are rescinded.
House Democrats request hearing on climate science muzzling
Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and Donald McEachin (D-VA) of the House Natural Resources Committee sent a letter on Jan. 30 asking the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee to hold on oversight hearing on the Trump administration’s actions censoring climate science data and silencing federal whistleblowers.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee rosters
During a business meeting on Jan. 31, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources approved the membership rosters of its four subcommittees.
GOP subcommittee rosters and leadership for House Science, Space, and Technology Committee
On Jan. 31, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, announced GOP committee and subcommittee leadership. The press release announcing chairs and vice chairs also included GOP subcommittee membership for the 115th Congress.
Ranking members and membership announced for House Appropriations Subcommittees
On Feb. 1, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, announced ranking members and Democratic membership for the twelve appropriations subcommittees. Rep. José Serrano (D-NY) will serve as the ranking member for the Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee. The ranking members of the Energy & Water (Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-OH) and Interior & Environment (Rep. Betty McCollum, D-MN) Subcommittees are unchanged.
First meetings of House Committees
The House Natural Resources Committee and the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee each held their first meeting of the 115th Congress on Tuesday, Feb. 7. The Science full committee meeting was used to hold a hearing on the EPA.
- H.J.Res.38. This joint resolution, introduced by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH), disapproves the Department of the Interior’s Stream Protection Rule. This joint resolution, which passed the Senate on Feb. 2, is part of Congress’s push to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn Obama-era regulations with simple majorities in both chambers of Congress. Assuming the president agrees, the Stream Protection Rule will be overturned.
Passed the House
- H.J.Res.36. This joint resolution, introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), disapproves the final rule of the Bureau of Land Management relating to “Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation,” a rule that limits methane emissions from oil and gas operations on federal lands. This joint resolution, which passed the House on Feb. 3, is part of Congress’s push to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn Obama-era regulations with simple majorities in both chambers of Congress. The Senate is expected to approve its version, S.J.Res.11, soon.
- H.R.698. Elkhorn Ranch and White River National Forest Conveyance Act of 2017. This bill, introduced by Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO), would require a land conveyance involving the Elkhorn Ranch and the White River National Forest in the state of Colorado. It resolves a land dispute resulting from an administrative error that put private land under Forest Service control. It passed the House on Feb. 6.
Introduced in the House
- H.R.717. Listing Reform Act. Introduced Jan. 27 by Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX), this bill would amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to require review of the economic cost of adding a species to the list of endangered species or threatened species. Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.
- H.R.728. Introduced Jan. 30 by Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), this bill would prohibit the Secretary of the Interior from issuing oil and gas leases on portions of the Outer Continental Shelf located off the coast of New Jersey. Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.
- H.R.731. California Clean Coast Act. Introduced Jan. 30 by Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA), this bill would permanently prohibit oil and gas leasing off the coast of the State of California. Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.
- H.R.825. Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act of 2017. Introduced Feb. 2 by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), this bill would promote the development of renewable energy on public land. Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources and Committee on Agriculture. Companion bill is S.282.
- H.R.827. Introduced Feb. 2 by Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA), this bill would establish certain conservation and recreation areas in the state of California. Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.
- H.Res.85. Introduced Feb. 2 by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), this resolution expresses the commitment of the House of Representatives to continue to support pledges made by the United States in the Paris Agreement. Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
- H.R.845. Introduced Feb. 3 by Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA), this bill would provide for ocean acidification collaborative research grant opportunities. Referred to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
- H.R.857. Introduced Feb. 3 by Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA), this bill would provide for conservation and enhanced recreation activities in the California Desert Conservation Area. Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.
- H.R.861. Introduced Feb. 3 by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), this bill would terminate the Environmental Protection Agency. Referred to the House Committees on Energy and Commerce; Agriculture; Transportation and Infrastructure; and Science, Space, and Technology.
- H.R.865. Introduced Reb. 3 by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), this bill would make a categorical exclusion available to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior to develop and carry out a forest management activity on National Forest system lands derived from the public domain or public lands to address insect or disease infestation declared as an emergency in a state by the governor of such state. Referred to the House Committee on Agriculture and Committee on Natural Resources.
- Joint Resolutions: The House introduced many joint resolutions providing for congressional disapproval of various Obama-era regulations, including: DOI rule on requirements for exploratory drilling on the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf; DOI rule on “Non-Subsistence Take of Wildlife, and Public Participation and Closure Procedures, on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska”; BLM rule on “Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation”; BLM regulation on land use planning (Planning 2.0); USFWS rule on management of non-federal oil and gas rights; NPS rule on management of non-federal oil and gas rights; USFWS rule on “Mitigation Policy”; BLM rule on oil and gas leasing; EPA rule on “Accidental Release Prevention Requirements: Risk Management Programs under the Clean Air Act”; USFWS rule on mitigation under the Endangered Species Act.
Introduced in the Senate
- S.273. Greater Sage Grouse Protection and Recovery Act of 2017. Introduced Feb. 1 by Sen. James Risch (R-ID), this bill would provide for the protection and recovery of the greater sage-grouse by facilitating state recovery plans. Referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Companion bill is H.R.527.
- S.282. Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act of 2017. Introduced Feb. 1 by Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), this bill would promote the development of renewable energy on public land. Referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Companion bill is H.R.825.
- S.286. Introduced Feb. 1 by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), this bill would require a land conveyance involving the Elkhorn Ranch and the White River National Forest in the state of Colorado. Referred to Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Companion bill is H.R.698.
- S.289. Introduced Feb. 1 by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), this bill would adjust the boundary of the Arapaho National Forest, Colorado. Referred to Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
- S.316. Introduced Feb. 6 by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), this bill would amend the Mineral Leasing Act to recognize the authority of States to regulate oil and gas operations and promote American energy security, development, and job creation. Referred to Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
- Joint Resolutions: The Senate introduced several joint resolutions providing for congressional disapproval of various Obama-era regulations, including: BLM rule on “Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation”; BLM rule on resource management planning (Planning 2.0); DOI rule on “Non-Subsistence Take of Wildlife, and Public Participation and Closure Procedures, on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska”; EPA rule on cross-state air pollution.
On Jan. 18, the Department of the Army published a notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement in connection with the Dakota Access Pipeline. The notice opened the public scoping phase and invited interested parties to identify potential issues, concerns, and reasonable alternatives that should be considered in an EIS. Written comments on the scope of the EIS must be sent by Feb. 20.
The National Advisory Committee for Implementation of the National Forest System Land Management Planning Rule will be meeting in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 28, March 1, and March 2.
Changes to EPA website
The Trump administration has begun making changes to Obama-era climate information on EPA’s website. Climate Central reported on changes on Feb. 2.
A new nonprofit political action committee called 314 Action has formed to support scientists in running for office. Founded by members of the STEM community, grassroots supporters, and political activists, 314 Action sees a need for leaders who come from STEM backgrounds. It seeks to push back on attacks on basic scientific understanding, research funding, and climate change while encouraging communicating and innovation in the STEM community, defending scientific integrity, promoting data-driven approaches to public policy, and increasing public engagement with the STEM community.
March for Science
The March for Science will take place on Earth Day, April 22nd. The event, which is being planned for Washington, D.C. and other cities around the world, claims to be a “celebration of science” that champions the need to respect and encourage scientific research.