March 8, 2017

Transition Update

Trump addresses Congress and signs two STEM bills

President Trump addressed a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, February 28. (Trump’s first official State of the Union address will be in 2018, but the president’s office called this his “State of the Union address.”) The reviews were generally positive as the president, mainly sticking to the prepared text, outlined the near-term policy agenda and sought to allay concerns on Capitol Hill after his uneven start in office. The president was reported to be pleased by the reaction. But the glow did not last. Continued reports of the president’s various cabinet members and advisors contacting Russian officials in 2016 continue to plague the new administration and distract from his policy agenda.

On the same day as the speech, Feb. 28, President Trump signed two bipartisan bills intended to encourage women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM). The “Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act” (H.R.255) improves federal support for women in STEM by “authoriz[ing] the National Science Foundation to encourage its entrepreneurial programs to recruit and support women to extend their focus beyond the laboratory and into the commercial world.” The other bill, the “Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers Act (INSPIRE)” (H.R.321) directs the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, through mentorship and outreach, to “encourage women and girls to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, pursue careers in aerospace, and further advance the nation’s space science and exploration efforts.” The bills were jointly authored by Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) and Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA).

During the signing ceremony, President Trump said, “It’s not fair, and it’s not even smart,” that fewer than one in four women with a STEM degree work in the field.

Executive Order – Waters of the US

On Tuesday, February 28, President Trump issued an executive order, “Restoring the rule of law, federalism, and economic growth by reviewing the ‘waters of the United States’ Rule.” He directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review and then rescind or revise the 2015 Clean Water Rule: Definition of “Waters of the United States.”

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was present at the announcement and afterward issued the following statement: “EPA intends to immediately implement the Executive Order and submit a Notice to the Office of the Federal Register announcing our intent to review the 2015 Rule, and then to propose a new rule that will rescind or revise that rule. The President’s action today preserves a federal role in protecting water, but it also restores the states’ important role in the regulation of water.”

The “Waters of The U.S.” rule (WOTUS), also known as the Clean Water Rule, is a regulation finalized by the EPA in 2015 attempting to provide clarity on what constitutes “waters of the US” in the Clean Water Act of 1972. The rule outlines bodies of water that are automatically covered by the Clean Water Act and those which need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

WOTUS was intended to help provide some predictability in the application of the Clean Water Act and attempted to minimize impacts on farm and ranch operations. For example, it exempted common bodies of water found on farms such as artificial ponds and irrigation systems that would go dry if inactive. Agricultural interests, however, rejected the rule from the outset and have called for repeal. WOTUS has been subject to judicial appeal since it was announced and is not in effect in the 13 states that are party to a challenge being heard in U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.

President Trump’s executive order on rescinding WOTUS was hailed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, among other agricultural interests. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and other conservation groups expressed disappointment with the order.

ESA and six other scientific organizations—the Society of Wetland Scientists, the American Fisheries Society, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the Phycological Society of America, the Society for Ecological Restoration, and the Society for Freshwater Science, representing more than 200,000 scientists in total—sent a letter to President Trump and congressional leaders opposing the order and expressing support for the Clean Water Rule.

Executive Order – Foreign Travel and Immigration

On Monday, March 6, President Trump issued a revised “Executive Order Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States,” attempting to solve some of the issues with his previous order (Executive Order 13769) on the same subject that has been blocked by the courts. The new order is seen as very similar to the previous order, except that Iraq is no longer on the list of restricted countries, all majority Muslim. It also removes a preference for “persecuted minorities” in the restricted countries decried as unfairly blocking Muslims. The previous order drew wide condemnation from scientific, educational, trade, and industry groups, and the Ecological Society of America and 151 other groups sent a joint letter opposing the order for its negative impact on scientific progress.

Department of the Interior – Zinke takes the reins

Ryan Zinke (R-MT) was confirmed as Interior Secretary by a Senate vote of 68-31 on Wednesday, March 1. The next day, he rode on horseback with National Park Service Police to the Interior building to begin his first day on the job. He was met by approximately 350 Interior employees while a Northern Cheyenne tribal drummer performed a veteran’s honor song.

In an email greeting sent to all 70,000 Interior employees, Zinke reaffirmed his support for federal control of public lands and laid out his three main priorities: first, to address the National Park Service’s $12.5 billion backlog of deferred maintenance; second, to improve employee morale and empowerment; and third, to ensure the rights of American Indian tribal sovereignty.

In his first all-employee address the next day, Zinke touched on an impending reorganization of Interior: “The last time the Department of the Interior had been organized was about 100 years ago,” Zinke said. “So the reorganization is going to be bold and look at, just as Teddy Roosevelt did, look out 100 years from now and make sure that we’re organized to address the challenges of the future. And I need all your help.”

A waiting letter to Zinke from Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, renewed seven outstanding document and record requests submitted to Interior Department officials between October 2015 and December 2016. The materials are related to issues such as the designation of national monuments and complaints against Bureau of Land Management activities.

Later that first day, Zinke signed two secretarial orders. The first immediately rescinded an order from former Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe directing the phase-out of lead ammo and tackle in national wildlife refuges. Ashe issued the order on his last day in office, surprising many conservation and sporting groups on both sides of the issue. In revoking the order, Zinke said that Ashe’s directive was “not mandated by any existing statutory or regulatory requirement and was issued without significant communication, consultation, or coordination with affected stakeholders.” The second order, “Conservation Stewardship and Outdoor Recreation,” seeks to expand access to public lands and increase hunting, fishing, and recreation opportunities.

Department of Energy – Perry confirmed and sworn in as Secretary

Rick Perry (R-TX) was confirmed as Energy Secretary by a Senate vote of 62-37, Thursday, March 2. Ten Democrats and independent Angus King (I-ME) joined all Republicans in support of Perry. This was the last cabinet nominee to be confirmed under a schedule announced by Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) prior to the President’s Day holiday break. Unlike the prior Zinke confirmation vote, however, Senate Democrats chose not to use the 30 hours of post-cloture debate allowed by Senate rules, preventing a delay of the vote.

Perry’s confirmation was met with both compliments and concerns. In a floor speech following the previous cloture vote, Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) noted “Under Gov. Perry’s leadership, we have seen Texas lead the nation in producing more wind energy than all but five other countries.” Meanwhile, ranking Natural Resources member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) reinforced the Department of Energy’s critical research role, “. . . laboratories that are overseen by the department drive our leadership in a global economy, based on innovation, and it plays a vital role in and across the nation on people who rely on affordable, efficient energy to balance households.” The Department of Energy is the nation’s largest science agency with an annual budget of more than $12 billion.

Federal budget

President Trump sent budget “blueprints” to government agencies on Monday, February 27. Reportedly hewing closely to the Heritage Foundation’s “Blueprint for Balance“, the spending plan would increase defense spending by $54 billion to $603 billion and decrease non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending to $462 billion, previously about $585 billion. The administration has released no official public agency-related documents. However, some administration budget documents have been leaked to the press and are reporting cuts to the EPA, Energy, Interior, and NOAA. The cuts are expected to fall broadly on all non-defense agencies. While the reported leaks of severe budget cuts are worrisome, it is worth noting that congressional members are the appropriators for the federal budget. An official top-line budget is expected to publicly released in the next few weeks.

Sequestration is back for FY 2018

Non-defense discretionary spending (NDD) comprises all domestic and international programs that Congress funds annually, in contrast to entitlement programs such as Social Security or Medicare where spending is determined by eligibility. The 2011 Budget Control Act was a deficit control measure setting limits on federal spending, with automatic spending cuts (sequestration) totaling more than $1 trillion, for most programs through 2021. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (commonly known as the Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014) temporarily suspended automatic sequestration for two years. The current cap on NDD spending for FY 2017 is 13.4 percent below 2010 levels adjusted for inflation. With sequestration set to resume with the new FY 2018 federal budget, there are concerns about the impact on essential NDD spending.

ESA joined with NDD United, composed of 2,000 national, state and local organizations, and sent a letter on March 1 to Congress appealing for relief from automatic sequestration. The letter calls for a more balanced, considered approach to deficit reduction, including revenue increases as well as spending cuts. Since 2010, the overwhelming amount of deficit reduction has come from spending cuts.

Quick Reads

NSF announces two new Long-Term Ecological Research sites
NSF grants will support new LTER sites along the Northeast U.S. continental shelf and in the northern Gulf of Alaska.

Interior to hold lease sale for 73 million acres
On March 6, the Secretary Zinke announced that 73 million offshore acres will be offered for oil and gas exploration and development in a lease sale scheduled for August. This sale will include all available federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

Congressional Estuary Caucus forms
House lawmakers have created a bipartisan Congressional Estuary Caucus to protect wetlands. Reps. Bill Posey (R-FL), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) and Rick Larsen (D-WA) serve as co-chairs.

Over 10,000 petition Trump to pick a science advisor
The American Geophysical Union delivered a letter to the White House, signed by more than 10,000 people, urging him to appoint a qualified science advisor.

BLM begins environmental review of proposed road through Alaska wilderness
On Feb. 28, the Bureau of Land Management opened a 90-day public scoping period on a proposed industrial access road in the Ambler Mining District in Kobuk Valley, Alaska. The road would pass through Gates of the Arctic National Preserve, including wilderness areas.

Administration delays plan for keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes
The Army Corps of Engineers has delayed indefinitely a plan to block Asian carp from Lake Michigan. The agency had been scheduled to release draft results of a study that began in 2015 looking into structural or technological barriers to block the fish.

Reestablishment of the NSF Advisory Committee for Polar Programs
The National Science Foundation is reestablishing the Advisory Committee for Polar Programs to provide advice and recommendations on polar research, education, infrastructure, and logistics.

National Academies seeking nominations for executive committee of new study on food and agriculture
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has announced a new study, Science Breakthroughs 2030: A Strategy for Food and Agricultural Research. Nominations are being sought for individuals across scientific disciplines to serve on the executive committee overseeing the research. Nominations due by March 22.

Congressional Updates

House Science Committee hearing on NSF oversight
On Thursday, March 9, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology will hold a hearing on National Science Foundation “overview and oversight.” Witnesses include France Córdova, director of NSF, and Allison Lerner, NSF inspector general. Committee Republicans are expected to renew scrutiny of NSF research priorities, grants process, and accountability and transparency.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing on agency use of science
Also on March 9, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing in the Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management Subcommittee titled “Agency Use of Science in the Rulemaking Process: Proposals for Improving Transparency and Accountability.” Lawmakers are expected to examine draft legislation that will address the role of science in rulemaking and will debate the manner and extent of the role that science should play.

House Science Committee to hold markup of scientific review bills
On Thursday, March 9, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a markup of two draft bills from committee members. Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) is reintroducing his bill on EPA “secret science,” the “Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment (HONEST) Act,” and Vice Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) is sponsoring a measure to change the membership requirements for EPA’s Science Advisory Panel.

Climate Solutions Caucus adds new members
Two new members have joined the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, whose membership is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. The new members are Rep. Darrell Issa (R) and Rep. Jean Vargas (D), both of California. Total caucus membership is now at 26 members.

Full Environment and Public Works roster set
On March 3, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) and Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) released the full subcommittee rosters for the 115th Congress. The rosters list the members of the committee’s four subcommittees: Transportation and Infrastructure; Clean Air and Nuclear Safety; Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife; and Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight.

House Democrats ask inspectors general to protect science
In a March 3 letter, ranking members of four House Committees expressed concern about possible threats to scientific integrity and urged inspectors general at energy and environment agencies to protect scientific research from interference. The letter was addressed to the inspectors general at EPA, NASA, NSF, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Departments of Energy, the Interior, Commerce, and Health and Human Services.

Legislative Updates

Enacted (See above for more information)

Passed Congress: Congressional Review Act Resolution

H.J.Res.44, introduced by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), disapproves the Bureau of Land Management’s Planning 2.0 rule, the rule establishing procedures and updating regulations governing revisions to BLM’s resource management plans for federal land under its jurisdiction. The rule would have increased public participation in the planning process, which some believed would have created too much room for uncertainty and unfairly tipped land management decisions away from fossil fuel extraction. The BLM had developed the rule to create a more efficient and updated revision process. This joint resolution, which passed the Senate on March 7, 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, Planning 2.0 will be overturned.

Passed the House: regulatory reform bills

In the first week of March, the House passed three bills designed to overhaul regulatory reform. The Searching for and Cutting Regulations that Are Unnecessarily Burdensome (SCRUB) Act (H.R. 998) creates a process for the review of federal rules, establishing a temporary commission of people picked by the president and confirmed by the Senate that would review federal rules that may be outdated or unnecessary and could be repealed. The second bill, the Regulatory Integrity Act of 2017 (H.R. 1004), requires agencies to publish information and actions about pending rules. The third, the OIRA Insight, Reform, and Accountability Act (H.R. 1009), requires the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, an agency within the White House Office of Management and Budget, to review regulations and places it under congressional oversight. While some members of Congress view these measures as important steps to address the regulatory process, others see them as imposing hurdles that will make it harder for federal agencies to pass critical regulations and basic protections

Scientific Integrity Act introduced in House

House Democrats have introduced the Scientific Integrity Act, H.R. 1358, to protect scientific integrity in federal research and policymaking. Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), House Science, Space, and Technology ranking member, introduced the bill as the companion to Senator Nelson’s (D-FL) Senate version introduced last month (S. 338).

ESA sent letters supporting scientific integrity to President Trump and congressional leaders in January.

Legislation Introduced in the Senate

  • S. 452. Ozone Regulatory Delay and Extension of Assessment Length (ORDEAL) Act of 2017. Introduced Feb. 27 by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), this bill would to amend the Clean Air Act to delay the enforcement and implementation of the 2015 national ambient air quality standards for ozone. Referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
  • S. 453. Agency PAYGO for Greenhouse Gases Act. Introduced Feb. 27 by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), this bill would require the administrator of the EPA to include in any proposed rule that limits greenhouse gas emissions and imposes increased costs on other federal agencies an offset from funds available to the administrator for all projected increased costs that the proposed rule would impose on other federal agencies. Referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
  • S. 478. Introduced March 1 by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), this bill would amend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to prohibit baiting exemptions on certain land. Referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
  • S. 481. Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act of 2017. Introduced March 1 by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), this bill would provide for the withdrawal and protection of certain federal land in the state of Colorado. Referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
  • S. 483. Introduced March 1 by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), this bill would designate and expand wilderness areas in Olympic National Forest in the state of Washington and designate certain rivers in Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park as wild and scenic rivers. Referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Companion bill is H.R. 1285.
  • S. 507. Introduced March 2 by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), this bill would sustain economic development and recreational use of National Forest System land in the state of Montana, add certain land to the National Wilderness Preservation System, and designate new areas for recreation. Referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
  • S. 509. Federal Land Invasive Species Control, Prevention, and Management Act. Introduced March 1 by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), this bill would improve the control and management of invasive species that threaten and harm federal land under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior. Referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Companion bill is H.R. 1330.
  • Joint Resolutions: The Senate introduced several more joint resolutions providing for congressional disapproval of various Obama-era regulations: Department of Education rule on state accountability under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act; EPA rule on accidental release prevention requirements of risk management programs under the Clean Air Act; DOI’s Office of Natural Resources rule on consolidated federal oil and gas and coal valuation.

Legislation Introduced in the House

  • H.Res. 152. Introduced Feb. 27 by Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), this resolution expresses the sense of the House of Representatives that clean water is a national priority, and that the June 29, 2015, Waters of the United States Rule should be withdrawn or vacated. Referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
  • H.R. 1261. Federal Regulatory Certainty for Water Act. Introduced Feb. 28 by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), this bill would clarify the definition of navigable waters. Referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
  • H.R. 1273. 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Act. Introduced March 1 by Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA), this bill would amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to require publication of the basis for determinations that species are endangered species or threatened species. Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources. Companion bill is S. 376.
  • H.R. 1274. State, Tribal, and Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act. Introduced March 1 by Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA), this bill would amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to require making available to states affected by determinations that species are endangered species or threatened species all data that is the basis of such determinations. Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.
  • H.R. 1285. Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River Act of 2017. Introduced March 1 by Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), this bill would designate and expand wilderness areas in Olympic National Forest in the state of Washington and designate certain rivers in Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park as wild and scenic rivers. Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources. Companion bill is S. 483.
  • H.R. 1288. Early STEM Achievement Act. Introduced March 1 by Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH), this bill would direct the Secretary of Education to carry out a grant program for early childhood STEM activities. Referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
  • H.R. 1330. Introduced March 2 by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), this bill would improve the control and management of invasive species that threaten and harm federal land under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior. Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Committee on Agriculture. Companion bill is S. 509.
  • H.R. 1349. Introduced March 2 by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), this bill would amend the Wilderness Act to ensure that the use of bicycles, wheelchairs, strollers, and game carts is not prohibited in Wilderness areas. Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.
  • H.R. 1355. Introduced March 2 by Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ), this bill would amend the Clean Air Act to give states the option of monitoring covered criteria air pollutants in designated areas by greatly increasing the number of air quality sensors in exchange for greater regulatory flexibility in the methods of monitoring. Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
  • H.R. 1357. Introduced March 2 by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), this bill would provide for the issuance of a semipostal to benefit programs that combat invasive species. Referred to the House Committees on Oversight and Government Reform, Natural Resources, and Agriculture.
  • H.R. 1358. Scientific Integrity Act. Introduced March 2 by Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY), this bill would protect scientific integrity in federal research and policymaking. Referred to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Companion bill is S. 338.
  • H.Res. 170. Introduced March 2 by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), this bill expresses the commitment of the House of Representatives to work to combat the nationwide problem of invasive species threatening native ecosystems. Referred to the House Committees on Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Transportation and Infrastructure.

From the Federal Register

Public Meetings:

NOAA National Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee (March 20-22)

USGS National Geospatial Advisory Committee (March 21-22)

NSF Advisory Committee for Geosciences (April 12-13)

Opportunities for Public Comment:

USDA Forest Service – Southwestern Crown of the Continent Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Project
Proposed new information collection and request for comments from interested individuals and organizations by May 2.

Fish and Wildlife Service – Technical/Agency Draft Recovery Plan for the Yellowcheek Darter
Notice of availability of the draft recovery plan for the endangered yellowcheek darter and request for comments by May 5.