June 8, 2017

U.S. to Exit Paris Climate Accord


President Trump announced that the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord in a celebratory Rose Garden ceremony on Thursday, June 1. The long-anticipated announcement came after lengthy internal White House debate; it had been expected prior to the G-7 Summit at the end of May.

Ivanka Trump, her husband Jared Kushner, and Secretary of State and former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson advocated remaining in the agreement; none of them attended the ceremony. White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt pushed for U.S. withdrawal. There was a burst of applause when Trump announced that he would pull out and Bannon held his hands up in the air, clapping enthusiastically. Administrator Pruitt was invited by President Trump to offer closing comments. Abandoning the Paris deal fulfills a Trump campaign promise and satisfies opponents of the global climate deal but also isolates the country. World leaders quickly condemned the move. At home, business and congressional leaders voiced opposition to the decision, while most Republican leaders largely praised the move. Many governors and mayors have organized in support of the Paris deal, with some taking action to implement parts of the agreement.

Curiously, after announcing the exit, President Trump immediately suggested reengaging in the Paris accord, saying: “So we’re getting out. But we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.” He later continued, “I’m willing to immediately work with Democratic leaders to either negotiate our way back into Paris, under the terms that are fair to the United States and its workers, or to negotiate a new deal that protects our country and its taxpayers.”

World leaders reject renegotiation.

Other world leaders, however, rejected the notion of renegotiating Paris. French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni, at the 19th Summit between the European Union (EU) and China on June 2, issued a rare joint statement dismissing that possibility. “We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible and we firmly believe that the Paris agreement cannot be renegotiated, since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies,” they wrote. Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement that he “attaches great importance” to the Paris agreement.

Congress also shows little interest in renegotiation.

Both congressional Democrats and Republicans also showed little interest in a Paris renegotiation. “I have no idea what he means when he says renegotiate,” said Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). However, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) suggested that the president could, at some point, advance a Paris treaty for the Senate to ratify.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a June 1 statement, “President Trump has once again put families and jobs ahead of left-wing ideology and should be commended for his action.” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) called the Paris climate agreement “simply a raw deal for America,” in a separate statement.

Democratic leadership dismissed renegotiation outright. “I think that is not realistic, not likely to happen,” said Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), Environment and Public Works committee ranking member. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Congress can continue to show support for the Paris targets, as many state and local governments and businesses have pledged to do since Trump’s withdrawal.

State and local governments organize in support of Paris Agreement.

The U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan group of states founded by California, New York, and Washington and committed to upholding the Paris agreement, gained 10 new members on June 5. The Mayors’ National Climate Action Agenda is also encouraging actions to limit warming and has more than tripled its membership.

A coalition of governors, mayors, and business leaders have pledged “We Are Still In” the Paris agreement. The coalition published an open letter to the international community—signed by more than 1,200 leaders of U.S. states, cities, businesses, and universities—declaring their commitment to the Paris agreement and to continuing to ensure the U.S. remains a global leader in reducing carbon emissions.

Additionally, nineteen state attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, pledged to continue to seek carbon reductions in line with the Paris commitments.

On June 7, Hawaii became the first state to pass a law committing to the goals and limits of the Paris agreement.

China steps forward as climate leader.

U.S. federal withdrawal from climate leadership places sharper focus on China, currently the leading greenhouse gas emitter. Last Friday, at the 19th EU-China Summit, the European Union and China issued a first-ever joint statement on the “imperative” of the Paris agreement, especially in the face of U.S. withdrawal. China continues to step forward on climate change, hosting the Clean Energy Ministerial in Beijing this week.

The business community responds.

Internationally, more than 1,300 cities, regions, businesses, investors, civil society groups, trade unions, and other signatories have joined the Paris Pledge for Action, declaring that “non-party stakeholders are ready to play their part to support the objectives of the Paris agreement.”

Many American business leaders united in support of the Paris agreement, and in opposition to the Trump decision. Walt Disney Co. Chairman and CEO Bob Iger and Tesla Inc. co-founder and CEO Elon Musk quit President Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum, the council of business executives.

IBM’s chief executive, Ginni Rometty, remains on the panel. The company issued a statement saying, “Whether the U.S. participates in the Paris agreement or not, IBM will continue its decades-long work to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions and will continue to help our clients do so as well.”

Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein, in his first-ever tweet, called the decision “a setback for the environment and for the US’s leadership position in the world.”

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, and Google’s Sundar Pichai each came out strongly against the president’s decision.

Citigroup’s head of environmental finance, Mike Eckhart, called for a mechanism to enable private sector participation in the Paris agreement. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres endorsed the idea while appearing at an event, calling it “an excellent idea.” Guterres added, “We need to find all kind of new forms of allowing for the private sector to have a stronger voice in this discussion.”

What is the timetable for withdrawal?

The Trump administration has committed to following the exit procedure described in the rules of the agreement. It specifies a three-year waiting period before a notice of exit can be given followed by a one-year period of deliberation in which the country may remove its request and decide to stay in. This timeline means that the earliest the U.S. can leave is November 4, 2020. In the meantime, parties to the Paris agreement will continue to meet, prospectively including the U.S. which will still technically co-chair a key committee at upcoming implementation discussions this fall in Bonn, Germany. Beginning in Nov. 2018, parties to the agreement will begin meeting every five years to evaluate what further measures might be needed to stay below the goal of less than 2 degrees Celsius of global warming.

A new U.S. president in January 2021 could rejoin the Paris accord by submitting a written notice to the United Nations. The U.S. would then re-enter the agreement 30 days later and submit a new climate change pledge.

Agency Heads Defend Paris Withdrawal, Question Climate Change

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke fielded multiple questions about climate change and the Paris agreement at the Alaska Oil and Gas Association’s annual conference in Anchorage, AK, on June 1. Zinke said, “I have yet to read what the actual Paris agreement is. I’ve seen some different press releases back and forth, so before I make an opinion I want to sit down and read it.” Saying man’s influence on climate is ‘still unsettled,’ he emphasized the role of science in investigating global warming and the importance of “investment in research and development and investing in our science community.” Climate research funding is targeted for heavy cuts in the president’s proposed FY 2018 budget. For example, four of eight U.S. Geological Survey climate adaptation science centers would be eliminated.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a vocal critic of the Paris deal and strong proponent of withdrawal, defended the U.S. exit from the agreement. Speaking at a White House press briefing and appearing on television morning shows, Pruitt avoided answering questions about whether the president believes climate change is real. He told Fox News’s Chris Wallace that the “whole question [of what the president believes] is an effort of trying to get it off the point.” When asked about his own views, he echoed the response he gave during his Senate confirmation hearing, acknowledging that the climate is changing but questioning the extent to which human activity plays a role.

President Trump’s decision to exit the Paris agreement was made with virtually no science advisers on staff. He has announced nominees for only 7 of 46 – 15 percent – of top science positions. Critical posts such as head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy – a position that serves as presidential science adviser – and chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality remain unfilled.

ESA Statement on U.S. Exit from Paris Agreement

ESA president David Lodge strongly condemns the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris accord in a statement published on June 2. He offered encouraging words to ecologists, “Ecologists can take heart that hundreds of U.S. state and local elected officials of both parties, and a rapidly growing group of prominent U.S. business leaders are using our science to make important decisions about products, practices, and policies every day. Instead of ignoring what science reveals, they are redoubling their efforts to slow climate change and increase the resilience of biodiversity, ecosystems, and human society even without federal leadership.”

Quick Reads

ESA Action Alert – FY 2018 Science Funding

ESA sent an action alert to members on June 6 encouraging them to contact their members of Congress and ask them to preserve funding for science and scientific research across federal agencies in FY 2018. Visit ESA’s Federal Budget Tracker for more information about the FY 2018 federal budget.

NSF Discontinues Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants (DDIGs)

NSF issued a “Dear Colleague” letter on June 6 announcing the demise of the fifty-year-old DDIG award for the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) and its Division of Environmental Biology (DEB). An NSF DEBrief blog cites increased staff workload for proposal review and award management as justification for its discontinuation. According to the blog, NSF issued 135 DDIG awards in FY 2015 and 121 in FY 2016 in the amount of $20,000 for each student’s project and institutional overhead costs. There were 510 full proposals reviewed in 2015 and 524 in 2016 that required four review panels composed of nearly eighty panelists. Each DDIG award receives the same oversight and management as any other NSF award. The ecological community is expressing its dismay on social media channels such as Twitter about the program’s demise. ESA sent a letter urging NSF leadership to keep the DDIG program.

House Science Committee Holds Oversight Hearing on NSF Award Indirect Costs

The Research & Technology and Oversight subcommittees of the House Science Committee recently held a hearing about overhead or indirect costs of NSF grants. Several witnesses testified, including John Neumann of the Government Accountability Office who spoke about the GAO NSF Indirect Costs report that is in development. Viewpoints expressed fell along party lines. Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) criticized funds used for indirect costs while Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) supported the use of indirect funds for overhead costs associated with research, mainly at universities.

EPA Delays Ozone Rule

On June 6, the EPA stated in a letter to state governors that the agency is delaying implementation of its 2015 ground-level ozone standards by a year. The delay, announced by Administrator Scott Pruitt, gives states until 2018 to meet the Obama-era ozone regulations.

EPA Halts Obama Rule on Methane

On May 31, the EPA announced a 90-day stay of agency rules related to standards for the oil and natural gas industry. These rules, finalized under the Obama administration, regulated methane pollution at oil and gas drilling wells, as well as standards for equipment and employee certification. This decision aligns with the president’s executive order on “Promoting Energy Independence and Executive Growth,” which directed the EPA to review the oil and gas methane rules. In response to the stay, environmental groups sued the administration, filing a petition seeking review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit and asking the court to vacate the EPA’s stay of the methane rules. The Court of Appeals has asked the EPA to respond to this lawsuit, giving the agency until June 15 to justify its authority to pause the regulation.

DOI Order Moves Forward with Alaska Energy Assessment

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed a secretarial order on May 31 that could lead to expanded oil and gas drilling in areas of the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve. Consistent with the president’s energy executive order, the secretarial order initiates review and assessment of energy resources, which could open new sections of Alaska to drilling. The order also lays the groundwork for assessment of oil and gas resources in parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Zinke Selects FWS Deputy Director

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke appointed Greg Shaheen as deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a newly created position. Shaheen is a state wildlife and natural resource manager who previously served as director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Service. He will serve as acting director of the agency until the president nominates and the Senate approves a director.

Perdue and Zinke Emphasize Interagency Firefighting Cooperation

On June 2, Secretary of the Interior Zinke and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue sent a joint memorandum to the leadership of wildland fire management agencies emphasizing inter-departmental collaboration in managing and fighting fires to protect communities. The memo comes in advance of a 2017 wildfire season that they anticipate to be another “challenging year.”

Get Involved

Review IPBES Assessments

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is seeking experts and scientists to conduct external reviews of regional assessments, a land degradation and restoration assessment, and a global assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem services. The regional assessments cover biodiversity and ecosystem services for Europe and Central Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Asia-Pacific. The review period for the regional and land degradation and restoration assessments is open now. More information on how to participate can be found here. The review period for the global assessment opens on June 15.

Submit Ideas to the White House

The White House is soliciting public input on which agencies should be reformed or eliminated. The administration is also asking for public feedback on management reform and other ideas for reorganizing the federal government. If you have thoughts on agencies to reform, or if you want to express support for agencies that should not be eliminated, comment by June 12.

Comment on Monument Designations

The Department of the Interior released a list of monuments under review under the April 26 executive order and announced a public comment period for the review process. The list of sites under review includes 22 national monuments and 5 marine national monuments. Comments on monument designations must be received by July 10. Submit comments online or by mail.

Recommend Members for NSF Directorate and Office Advisory Committees

The National Science Foundation is requesting recommendations for membership on its scientific and technical federal advisory committees, including the Advisory Committee for Biological Sciences. These external advisory committees provide advice on program management, discuss current issues, and review and provide advice on the impact of policies, programs, and activities of the directorate or office of NSF.

Nominate Members for EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors

The EPA is seeking nominations for technical experts to serve on one of its advisory committees, the Board of Scientific Counselors, after Administrator Pruitt dismissed half of the members of this board earlier this month. The Board provides independent scientific and technical peer review, advice, consultation, and recommendations to EPA’s Office of Research and Development. Nominations must be submitted by June 30.

Congressional Updates

House Agriculture Research Caucus Forms

A new House caucus has been created that is dedicated to agriculture research and innovation, including protecting federal investments in agriculture research. Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) and Congressman Rodney Davis (R-IL) formed the bipartisan Congressional Agriculture Research Caucus to elevate agriculture research ahead of the 2018 Farm Bill. A hearing on “Agricultural Research: Perspectives on Past and Future Successes for the 2018 Farm Bill” will be held in the Senate Agriculture Committee on June 15.

Bipartisan House Letter Urges Support for Climate Science Centers

Nineteen members of the House of Representatives sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee asking for stable and full funding of the USGS National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers in FY 2018. These science centers prepare for and reduce the consequences of extreme climate. The president’s budget request proposes to cut the centers’ funding by nearly $8 million (from $25.3 million in FY 2017) and close four of the eight centers. The bipartisan letter was led by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Rep. Don Young (R-AK).

House Democrats Warn Against Altering Monuments

In response to Interior Secretary Zinke’s ongoing review of 27 national monuments, 86 House Democrats – led by Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva (D-NM) – sent a letter to Zinke warning him against altering monuments. The letter cautions that only Congress has the authority to rescind or substantially reduce the size of national monuments and that any attempt by the executive branch to do so – despite the president’s executive order directing the review – would be a “misuse of [Zinke’s] time and the public’s money.” DOI is accepting public comments on the review of national monuments until July 10. Comments for Bears Ears National Monument were due in May, and Secretary Zinke is scheduled to issue preliminary recommendations for the Bears Ears site this week.

House Natural Resources Hearing on Wildfires and Forest Management

The House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Federal Lands is holding a hearing today, June 8, on “Burdensome Litigation and Federal Bureaucratic Roadblocks to Manage our Nation’s Overgrown, Fire-Prone National Forests.” This is the subcommittee’s second hearing in the past month focusing on wildfires and forest management. Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock (R-CA) is in favor of increased forest thinning, and the June 8 hearing is meant to examine how litigation, compliance, and added requirements impede more active management.

Upcoming Appropriations Hearings

The Appropriations Subcommittees in the House and the Senate began holding hearings on the Fiscal Year 2018 budgets for the agencies under their jurisdiction.

House

  • National Science Foundation budget hearing – Wednesday, June 7
  • Department of the Interior budget hearing – Thursday, June 8
  • Environmental Protection Agency budget hearing – Thursday, June 15

Senate

  • Forest Service budget hearing – Wednesday, June 7
  • Department of Commerce budget hearing – Thursday, June 8

Legislative Updates

Digital Coast Act Passes Senate

The Digital Coast Act (S.110) passed the Senate on May 25. This bill would require the secretary of Commerce, acting through the administrator of NOAA, to establish a constituent-driven program to provide a digital information platform capable of efficiently integrating coastal data with decision-support tools, training, and best practices and to support collection of priority coastal geospatial data to inform and improve local, state, regional, and federal capacities to manage the coastal region. It was introduced by Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), along with Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK). This bipartisan legislation would help shoreline communities along the Great Lakes and ocean coasts better prepare for storms. It was previously introduced in the 114th Congress and passed the Senate last year as well.

Whistleblower Protection Bill Passes Senate

Also on May 25, the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 (S.585) passed the Senate. This bill, introduced by Senators Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), would provide greater whistleblower protections for federal employees, increased awareness of federal whistleblower protections, and increased accountability and required discipline for federal supervisors who retaliate against whistleblowers. The senators previously introduced this legislation in the 114th Congress.

Legislation Introduced

  • Lessening Regulatory Costs and Establishing a Federal Regulatory Budget Act of 2017 (H.R.2623). Introduced May 24 by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), this bill would establish a method by which the economic costs of significant regulatory actions may be offset by the repeal of other regulatory actions.
  • Atlantic Seismic Airgun Protection Act (S.1263). Introduced May 25 by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), this bill would amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to prohibit oil-, gas-, and methane hydrate-related seismic activities in the North Atlantic, Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Straits of Florida planning areas of the outer Continental Shelf. The companion bill, H.R.2158, was introduced in the House in April.
  • STEM Opportunities Act of 2017 (S.1270 and H.R.2653). Introduced May 25 by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) in the Senate and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) in the House, this bill would direct the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to carry out programs and activities to ensure that federal science agencies and institutions of higher education receiving federal research and development funding are fully engaging their entire talent pool.
  • Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act of 2017 (H.R.2709). Introduced May 25 by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), this bill would increase the participation of historically underrepresented demographic groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education and industry.
  • Stopping Trained in America Ph.D.s From Leaving the Economy (STAPLE) Act of 2017 (H.R.2717). Introduced May 25 by Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN), this bill would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to authorize certain aliens who have earned a Ph.D. degree from a United States institution of higher education in a field of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics to be admitted for permanent residence and to be exempted from the numerical limitations on H-1B nonimmigrants.
  • Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act of 2017 (H.R.2719). Introduced May 25 by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), this bill would direct the secretary of Commerce, acting through the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to conduct coastal community vulnerability assessments related to ocean acidification.
  • Save Our Seas (SOS) Act of 2017 (H.R.2748). Introduced May 25 by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), this bill would reauthorize and amend the Marine Debris Act to promote international action to reduce marine debris. The companion bill, S.756, was introduced in the Senate in March.

From the Federal Register

Public Meetings:

Opportunities for Public Comment and Recommendations:

  • NOAA Proposed Incidental Marine Mammal Harassment and Take Authorizations
    NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service is requesting comments on five proposed incidental harassment authorizations to incidentally take marine mammals during geophysical survey activity in the Atlantic Ocean. The proposals come from ocean seismic survey companies seeking authorization to use seismic airguns for oil and gas exploration off the East Coast. Submit comments relevant to affected marine mammal species by July 6.
  • NOAA Washington Coastal Management Program Evaluation
    NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management within the National Ocean Service is soliciting comments on the performance evaluation of the Washington Coastal Management Program and will be holding a public meeting to solicit comments on June 27. Submit written comments by July 7.
  • USFWS Draft Texas Multi-Species Recovery Plan
    The Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking review and public comments on the draft Texas Coastal Bend Shortgrass Prairie Multi-Species Recovery Plan that includes the slender rush-pea and South Texas ambrosia, two species listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Submit comments by July 31.