July 25, 2017

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Member Input Requested: Special Policy Forum at Portland Annual Meeting

***We want to hear from you. Send us questions by the end of this week that you would like the panelists to answer. Email them to gro.asenull@nosila with “Special Policy Forum Question” in the subject line.***


In response to ecologists’ increased motivation to effectively engage in the political scene, ESA’s Annual Meeting this year will feature a new event to examine the current national political landscape from the ecological science perspective. This Special Policy Forum will take place on Monday evening, August 7 at 7:15 pm, at the Society’s 102nd Annual Meeting in Portland, Oregon. The forum will begin with the presentation of ESA’s 2017 Regional Policy Award to Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), who will give brief remarks.

Following the award presentation, a panel of key scientific and policy figures will explore the national political environment and ways for ecologists to constructively engage with the administration and with Congress. Distinguished ESA members will serve on the panel:

  • Frank Davis, Professor, Bren School of Environment, Science and Management, UC Santa Barbara; Director, Long Term Ecological Research Network Communications Office; ESA Vice-president for Public Affairs
  • David M. Lodge, ESA President and Director of the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, Cornell University
  • The Honorable Dr. Jane Lubchenco, University Distinguished Professor and Advisor in Marine Studies, Oregon State University; U.S. Science Envoy for the Ocean, Department of State; Past ESA President
  • Richard Pouyat, National Program Lead for Air and Soil Quality Research for Research & Development at the USDA Forest Service; ESA President-elect

Regional Policy Award and Special Policy Forum ESA Annual Meeting, Monday, August 7, 2017, 7:15 PM – 8:45 PM, Oregon Ballroom, Oregon Convention Center.

Action Alert: Comment on National Marine Sanctuaries and Marine National Monuments by July 26

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is leading a review of Marine National Monuments and National Marine Sanctuaries in accordance with the president’s executive order implementing an America-first offshore energy strategy. Five Marine National Monuments and six National Marine Sanctuaries are being reviewed and could be reduced in size and opened to oil and gas exploration. NOAA is accepting public comments until 11:59 PM ET on July 26. Submit comments online here.

ESA submitted comments on July 24 in support of existing protections for the marine national monuments and national marine sanctuaries listed for review.

Climate Science: Pruitt and Perry Endorse 'Red Team–Blue Team' Review

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt and Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry each have encouraged a “red team–blue team” review of climate science. This approach entails a debate where red team expert climate skeptics would systematically challenge mainstream blue team climate scientists. Administrator Pruitt, in a June 5 interview with Breitbart News, said he favors setting opposing red – blue teams, explaining that “What the American people deserve, I think, is a true, legitimate, peer-reviewed, objective, transparent discussion about CO2.” Both Pruitt and Perry justify the exercise by pointing to an April 2017 Wall Street Journal editorial by physicist Steven Koonin, professor at New York University and former Dept. of Energy undersecretary for science for President Obama, where he suggests that the federal government use a  red team-blue team exercise to debate climate science.

Climate scientists and the broader scientific community are largely rejecting a “red team-blue team” exercise.

Secretary Perry also pointed to Koonin’s editorial when he was questioned by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) during a June 22 Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. Advocating a red – blue team review, Perry said, “[Koonin] said that the science isn’t settled yet . . .  and I’ll ask you, don’t you think it’s OK to have this conversation about the science of climate change? Why don’t we have a red team approach?”

Sen. Franken replied to Perry, “Researchers collect data and make arguments, peer reviewers poke holes in the argument, the researchers respond, and it goes back and forth until consensus is reached. Every peer reviewed climate study goes through that red-team/blue-team treatment. And then thousands of studies are gathered into reports, and those reports themselves go through rigorous red team/blue team. And this is, that’s the scientific process.”

In a June 21 Washington Post op-ed, climate scientists Ben Santer of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard University science historian Naomi Oreskes rejected Koonin’s claims that important uncertainties are being neglected in the climate change debate by noting, “Scientists have spent many decades kicking the tires of climate science, identifying and quantifying key uncertainties, and trying to reduce those uncertainties. Critical examination of models, data and theory is not a fringe activity.” The op-ed’s concluding sentence summarized their viewpoint: “In the case of climate science, we choose to place our trust in peer review and in the scientific community — not in teams appointed by Koonin or Pruitt.”

In a June 28, 2015 letter, the Ecological Society of America and thirty other major science advocacy organizations reaffirmed the consensus view that climate change is occurring and that human activities are the primary driver (Societies Reaffirm Climate Position).

Kelly Levin, senior associate on climate change at World Resources Institute, in a June 20 article, argues that “giving equal, 50-50 weight to both the red and blue teams in the exercise would mislead the public into thinking there is a debate when there isn’t one.” PBS Newshour host Hari Sreenivasan pointed out that a truly proportionate “red team/blue team” approach, reflecting scientific consensus, would be “red team: three, and blue team: 97.”

Before Americans “consume” a red-blue team review, members of Congress have questions.

Democrats on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, including Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), directly challenged Pruitt’s climate change assumptions, purpose, and sanity in a joint July 21 letter, saying he is “divorced from reality and reason” in light of the “overwhelming agreement on the basic fact of human-caused climate change.” The letter continues, “This only reinforces our skepticism of [Pruitt’s] motives in engaging in a clearly unnecessary, and quite possibly unscientific, red team-blue team exercise to review climate science.” They closed by pressing Pruitt with an August 11 deadline for providing basic information on the review’s prospective format and procedure, timetable, purpose, selection criteria, end-products, and outcomes.

Reexamining EPA’s “endangerment finding”

Some have suggested the red-blue team review as a proxy for reexamining EPA’s 2009 “endangerment finding,” which provides the foundation for virtually all federal regulation of greenhouse gases. The endangerment finding came in response to a 2007 Supreme Court decision in a state-led lawsuit compelling EPA regulation of CO2 and other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Energy executives, such as Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy Corp, in a June 30 interview with E&E News, said that Pruitt assured him “they’re going to start addressing it later this year.” Adding, “They’re going to start getting a lot of scientific people in to give both sides of the issue.”

EPA’s endangerment finding identifies greenhouse gases as a threat to public health and welfare and is considered a very well-established examination of the science and law relevant to greenhouse gas emissions. It has been repeatedly reviewed by the EPA, most recently in 2015, and upheld in two different U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

Revoking the endangerment finding would be a heavy lift, both on the merits and procedurally, but central to overturning federal regulation of greenhouse gases. Myron Ebell, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and leader of President Trump’s EPA transition team, has long advocated a direct attack on the endangerment finding.

Administrator Pruitt has continually denied that he plans to move against endangerment, consistent with his comments during his confirmation hearings and elsewhere. Nonetheless, many climate deniers see a red-blue review as an ideal opportunity to test attacks and rebuttals of mainstream climate science with an eye toward upending the finding. However, most lawyers and policy analysts see the upending of the endangerment finding as unlikely and suggest that revisiting the policy and federal regulation of greenhouse gases would yield new, stronger standards based on maturing climate science and new, better technologies that reduce emissions.

Budget Update: Appropriations Progress in the House and Senate

Congress is making progress on appropriations for FY 2018, advancing spending bills in both the House and the Senate.

Congress is tasked with developing and passing the 12 appropriations bills that fund the government. After holding hearings on the budgets of the agencies under their jurisdiction, subcommittees draft the appropriations bills that are then marked up and reported to the full committee. Normally, prior to the release of these appropriations bills, Congress agrees on a budget resolution that sets total new budget authority and outlay levels and allocates federal spending. This year, the House has yet to pass a spending plan for FY 2018. However, last week the House Budget Committee agreed to and passed a budget resolution, or spending blueprint, for FY 2018. The budget proposal next needs to be passed by the full House. Appropriators have been working with topline numbers capping nondefense spending at $511 billion.

In the House, after subcommittee markups, the full Appropriations Committee has approved all twelve of the funding bills. Below are highlights from the bills.

House spending bills:


  • Largely rejects the deep cuts proposed in the president’s budget.
  • Reduces funding for agriculture by about 5 percent to $144.9 billion.
  • Rejects the president’s budget proposal to close 17 USDA research centers.
  • $2.8 billion for agricultural research through the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
  • Provides $904 million for conservation programs to help farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners conserve and protect their land.

Commerce, Justice, and Science

  • Provides $54 billion total.
  • NSF funding cut by $133 million to $7.3 billion – this reduction is for Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (research vessel), not a cut to research or education funds.
  • NSF Research and Related Activities funded at the current level of $6 billion, rejecting the steep cuts proposed by the president’s budget.
  • Provides $4.97 billion for NOAA, $710 million below FY 2017.
  • NOAA funding prioritizes weather programs and fisheries management over climate research – climate research cut by 19 percent.
  • Rejected the administration’s proposal to cut certain NOAA programs, including Sea Grant and Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund.
  • Amendment prohibits funds from being used to designate Chesapeake Bay watershed as critical Atlantic sturgeon habitat.
  • Cuts NASA’s Earth Science program by $217 million.

Energy and Water

  • Provides flat funding for DOE Office of Science ($5.4 billion), rejecting the steep $900 million cut proposed in the president’s budget.
  • Biological and Environmental Research within the Office of Science cut by 4.9 percent.
  • Cuts DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by $1 billion, while increasing funding for fossil fuel research and development.
  • Eliminates DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), which had been targeted for elimination in the president’s budget.
  • Includes a rider authorizing the EPA administrator to withdraw the Waters of the U.S. rule.

Interior and Environment

  • Provides $31.4 billion for Interior and Environment, $800 million below FY 2017.
  • Cuts EPA by over $500 million; this 7 percent cut is much less than the administration’s proposed 31 percent reduction.
  • Reduces DOI funding from $12.3 billion to $11.9 billion.
  • USGS cut by $46 million, or 4.3 percent.
  • Bill includes many environmental riders:
    • Language delaying Endangered Species Act rulemakings for sage-grouse;
    • Provision prohibiting federal protections for gray wolves;
    • Rider directing DOI to reissue final rules removing wolves from the endangered species list in Wyoming and the Great Lakes region;
    • Language extending the authorization of the Chesapeake Bay Initiative.

In the Senate, subcommittees have begun marking up their spending bills and have advanced several. Below are highlights from the bills that have been advanced.

Senate spending bills:

Agriculture (approved by full committee)

  • Like the House version, largely rejects the president’s proposed cuts to agriculture.
  • Provides $145.4 billion total to agriculture.
  • Provides $500 million more in discretionary spending than the House version ($20.5 billion as opposed to $20 billion).
  • Rejects the president’s budget proposal to close 17 USDA research centers.
  • Like the House bill, provides $2.8 billion for agriculture research, including $1.18 billion for ARS and $1.4 billion for NIFA.
  • Flat funding for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (at $375 million).

Energy and Water (approved by full committee)

  • Rejects the steep cuts proposed in the president’s budget, as well as many of the cuts in the House version.
  • Provides $38.4 billion total energy and water spending, an increase of $629 million over FY 2017.
  • Provides $5.55 billion for DOE Office of Science, an increase over FY 2017 and the House version ($5.4 billion).
  • Funds ARPA-E at a record high of $330 million (House version would eliminate ARPA-E).
  • DOE energy efficiency and renewable energy programs funded at $1.9 billion.

In the House, the spending bills now need to be approved by the full House. In the Senate, subcommittees, followed by the full Appropriations Committee, will continue marking up and advancing spending bills.

View ESA testimony on FY 2018 appropriations for relevant federal agencies on the ESA Correspondence to Policymakers page.

Quick Reads

Trump Selects Climate Change Skeptic for Top USDA Science Post

On July 19, President Trump announced his nomination of Sam Clovis to be USDA’s undersecretary for research, education, and economics, a position that also serves as USDA’s top scientist. Clovis has been serving as a senior adviser at USDA since soon after the inauguration. He has a bachelor degree in political science, an MBA, and a doctorate in public administration. The undersecretary position has traditionally been held by people with advanced science or medical degrees. Clovis, whose nomination to this position was expected, has expressed skepticism about climate change, claiming that “a lot of the science is junk science. It’s not proven.” This position requires Senate confirmation.

Former Interior Office of Policy Analysis Director Files Whistleblower Complaint

On July 19, an Interior employee filed a whistleblower complaint, claiming that he was reassigned in retaliation for speaking out publicly about the dangers of climate change to Alaska Native communities. Joel Clement, a scientist who has been at Interior for almost seven years, was the director of the Office of Policy Analysis until he was reassigned in June to the Office of Natural Resources Revenue, which collects royalty fees from fossil fuel companies. In a Washington Post op-ed, Clement explains his belief that the reassignment was done in retaliation and with the intent to prompt him to leave Interior.

Zinke Removes Three National Monuments from Review

On July 13, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that two national monuments—Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho and Hanford Reach National Monument in Washington—are no longer under review. In making the announcement, Zinke also recommended that no changes be made to either of the monuments. On July 21, he removed one other monument—Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients—from review and recommended no modifications. The other 24 national monuments and marine national monuments are still under review by the Department of the Interior. A report summarizing Interior’s findings from the review, in which Zinke could recommend reversing or reducing certain monuments, is due to the president on August 24. Read the ESA and AAAS comments to DOI on the review of national monuments.

GAO Will Examine EPA Science Advisory Panel Selection Process

In response to a request from several Senate Democrats, led by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Tom Carper (D-DE), the Government Accountability Office has agreed to review the EPA’s process for selecting members for its federal advisory committees.

No Additional Asian Carp Discovered Past Electric Barriers

In late June, an invasive Asian carp was found in the Calumet River, only nine miles from Lake Michigan and past electric barriers intended to stop invasive species from entering the Great Lakes. Following this discovery, officials conducted intensive sampling to determine whether the fish are reproducing closer to Lake Michigan. After two weeks of searching, they have found no additional Asian carp and no evidence that more made it past the barriers.

Get Involved

NOAA Seeking Editors for 4th National Climate Assessment

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is currently requesting public nominations for review editors for the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) report on behalf of the U.S. Global Change Research Program. The deadline to apply is Sept. 8.

EPA Seeking Scientific Experts

The EPA is seeking nominations for scientific experts to serve on the agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), the Science Advisory Board (SAB), and six SAB committees, including the Ecological Processes and Effects Committee. The CASAC provides advice and recommendations to the EPA on the scientific and technical aspects of air quality criteria and National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The SAB provides independent scientific and technical peer review, advice, consultation, and recommendations on the scientific bases for EPA’s actions and programs. Nominations must be submitted by July 27. While the SAB has been the subject of recent controversy, it is still important for ecologists to serve.

Nominate Experts for Report on Biotechnology to Address Forest Health

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have announced a new study on the potential for biotechnology to address forest health. The director of the study is seeking nominations for experts to serve on the committee that will write a report in response to the study’s statement of task. Read the full statement of task and nominate experts here. Nominations are being accepted through July.

Input Requested from the Land Imaging Community

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is requesting information from the land imaging community for user requirements for future Landsat systems. To respond to the RFI, go to www.fedconnect.net, click on “Search Public Opportunities Only”, then choose search by “Reference Number” which is G17PS00634. Click on the right side of the screen to view RFI document.

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 opened on June 15 and lasts until August 15. Read more here.

NSF Accepting Nominations for Honorary Awards

The National Science Foundation is accepting nominations for its 2018 Vannevar Bush and Public Service awards recognizing remarkable contributions in public service in science and engineering. Nominations are being accepted through Oct. 1. Eligibility and selection criteria and nomination guidelines are available on the Vannevar Bush Award website.

Comment on BLM Land-Use Planning

Since the Bureau of Land Management’s land-use planning rule known as Planning 2.0 was overturned with the Congressional Review Act earlier this year, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has directed the agency to begin the process for a possible new rulemaking. In accordance with this direction, the BLM is asking for public input on land-use planning and environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act. Submit feedback through the “BLM Streamlining Planning & NEPA – Input Form.”

Provide Input on DOI Regulations

The Department of the Interior is seeking public comments on regulations for repeal, replacement, or modification. The president’s February executive order on reducing regulatory burdens directed federal agencies to address outdated or unnecessary policies. DOI is seeking input from the public on policies of Interior agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Geological Survey. Submit comments online or by mail.

Apply for an OSTP Internship

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is accepting applications for the OSTP Internship Program. OSTP offers both policy internships and legal internships. Read more on the White House website.

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.

Congressional Updates


House Climate Change Roundtables

Minority members of House committees have held multiple roundtables in recent weeks to examine the impacts of climate change. On July 12, Democrats of the Science Committee, led by Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), held a roundtable to examine the national security implications of climate change. The panel of former military and government officials discussed the direct and indirect threats that the Department of Defense is dealing with as a result of climate change. On July 13, Democrats of the Natural Resources Committee, led by Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), held a hearing titled “The New Sea Around Us.” With a panel of scientific experts and stakeholders, they discussed the impacts of climate change on oceans and coasts.

Climate Solutions Caucus Adds Two New Members

Reps. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) and Leonard Lance (R-NJ) recently joined the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, which uses the “Noah’s Ark” model for new members who must join in pairs composed of one Democrat and one Republican. There are now 48 members of the Climate Solutions Caucus.

Legislative Updates


House Rejects Amendment to Block Climate Change Study

On July 13, the House voted to keep language in the National Defense Authorization Act that requires the Department of Defense to study the impacts of climate change on national security. An amendment from Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) would have removed language from the authorization bill that directed a long-term study of the threats of climate change and a report on efforts to mitigate the impacts. The House voted 185-234 to strike the amendment and keep the language in the bill.

Senate Hearing Examines Bipartisan Conservation Bill

On July 19, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a legislative hearing to consider S.1514, the Hunting Heritage and Environmental Legacy Preservation (HELP) for Wildlife Act. This bill was introduced on June 29 by a bipartisan group of senators led by Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY).

This legislation includes a package of measures that would reauthorize or establish several federal wildlife conservation programs, including the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the Chesapeake Bay Program, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Act, the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, and others. However, it would also prohibit judicial review of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s de-listing of the gray wolf in Wyoming and would mandate the reissuance of the final rule de-listing the wolf in the western Great Lakes region, while also prohibiting judicial review. These provisions, along with others, are meant as protections for sportsmen to provide regulatory clarity for hunting on public lands.

The bill’s provision on gray wolves was the subject of criticism at the hearing, with several Democrats raising concerns about its implications for both wolves and the Endangered Species Act.

Controversial Water Bill Passes House

On July 12, the House passed H.R.23, the Gaining Responsibility on Water Act of 2017. This bill, introduced Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), aims to provide drought relief in California. Cosponsored by twelve other California Republicans and one Democrat, this legislation would reduce the cost of water delivery contracts and amend the Central Valley Project Improvement Act to give users more authority over how restoration funds are spent.

The bill is controversial because several California Democrats argue that it would interfere with the state’s right to manage its water and would harm fisheries by eliminating existing biological opinions required under the Endangered Species Act and preventing state environmental protections for fish in the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.

In a joint statement opposing the bill, California Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris stated, “Science should be at the center of all decisions affecting California’s water supply…Congressman Valadao’s bill would set back the progress made to find a balanced solution to California’s drought.”

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Other Legislation Introduced

  • Carbon Pollution Transparency Act (H.R.3287). Introduced July 18 by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), this bill would require the director of the Congressional Budget Office to calculate a carbon score for each bill or resolution.
  • S.1586. Introduced July 19 by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), this bill would require the undersecretary for oceans and atmosphere to update periodically the environmental sensitivity index products of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for each coastal area of the Great Lakes.
  • H.R.3314. Introduced July 19 by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), this bill would transition away from fossil fuel sources of energy to 100 percent clean and renewable energy by 2050.
  • H.R.3316. Introduced July 19 by Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), this bill would direct the National Science Foundation to award grants to encourage young girls to participate in computer science and other STEM activities.
  • H.R.3344. Introduced July 20 by Rep. James Langevin (D-RI), this bill would amend the STEM Education Act of 2015 to require the National Science Foundation to promote the integration of art and design in STEM education.

From the Federal Register

Public Meetings:

Opportunities for Public Comment:

  • 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 under the Endangered Species Act. Submit comments by July 31.
  • NOAA NMFS Five-Year Review for North Pacific Right Whale
    The National Marine Fisheries Service is initiating a 5-year review of the North Pacific right whale, listed under the Endangered Species Act. The review takes into account the best scientific and commercial data available. NMFS is requesting information on the whales that has become available since 2012 by July 31.
  • USFWS Five-Year Reviews of 23 Species under the Endangered Species Act
    The Fish and Wildlife Service is initiating five-year status reviews of 23 threatened or endangered species of southeastern wildlife and plants (list in Federal Register notice). The agency is requesting information that has become available in the last five years by August 29.
  • USFWS Mexican Wolf Draft Recovery Plan, First Revision
    The Fish and Wildlife Service released proposed updates to its recovery plan for the endangered Mexican wolf. This revision updates a recovery plan that was completed in 1982 and includes specific recovery criteria to be met in order to remove the species from the endangered list. The agency is requesting public comments on the revised plan by August 29 and is also accepting any new information on the Mexican wolf’s status to inform finalization of the recovery plan.