October 10, 2017

Infrastructure Spending Must Address Coastal Resilience

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, each making U.S. landfall as Category 4 storms, break modern records for a single U.S. hurricane season. Hurricane Nate, a Category 1 storm, made landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi this weekend. It is now making its way along the Appalachian Mountains and will soak the entire East Coast, driving home the point that this is a hurricane season like few others.

On Aug. 15, President Trump issued an executive order overturning the Obama-era order, “Federal Flood Risk Management Standard,” just 10 days before Hurricane Harvey first made U.S. landfall in Texas. Trump’s executive order, Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure, rolls floodplain policy planning guidance back to President Carter’s 1977 executive order on floodplain management, predating significant awareness of climate change.

The Obama flood risk order required federal agencies to consider climate change and sea-level rise when building infrastructure. Importantly, it also included guidance encouraging the use of living shorelines such as reefs, mangroves, and saltmarshes to mitigate sea-level rise and other climate change impacts. Living shorelines can serve as a buffer and sponge against storm surge and flooding as well as provide unique and valuable ecosystem services and habitats. The new Trump order eliminates consideration of climate change and sea-level rise.

Some see the Aug. 15 environmental infrastructure executive order as a launch pad for developing an infrastructure bill, which is one of Trump’s leading agenda items that he believes will garner bipartisan support. In a statement following the order, House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) observed, “It’s encouraging to have a president who understands that regulatory reform is a precondition for any successful infrastructure policy.”

In response to a climate change question in a Sept. 7 CNN interview, as Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt argued, “To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm; versus helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced.” Others disagree, seeing the rapid, vicious assault of three historic hurricanes only half-way into this year’s season as a call to climate change action.

In Houston, golf courses have been reconfigured in recent years to provide flood management benefits, a strategy tested by Harvey which dumped as much as 51 inches of water in some areas. Though still too early for definitive evaluation, early reviews are that these courses helped save some communities from the worst of the flooding. Many of those courses also appear to have recovered more quickly than others. Some progressive civic leaders are noting successes and calling for more and smarter flood-designed green spaces.

South Florida’s mangrove forests helped spare many communities from the worst of Hurricane Irma’s brutal landfall. Though assessments are only preliminary, wide beaches and high dunes are reported to have held damages to nearby properties to a minimum. The Everglades ecosystem, meanwhile, continues to suffer from rising sea levels and salt water intrusion, among other climate change impacts.

In March 2016, the notoriously conservative Alabama legislature unanimously passed a joint resolution for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to issue nationwide permits for living shorelines. Alabama has already employed a regional permit from USACE with great success. In a mid-December 2016 decision, USACE did recommend “nationwide permits” for construction and maintenance of living shorelines for coastal areas and the Great Lakes. Under the proposed USACE guidance, living shoreline permits could be approved in as little as 45 days. However, today, the USACE website notes flood management is now guided to reflect Trump’s recent executive order. It follows President Carter’s 1977 order with no further development or implementation of the Obama-era recommendations.

Floods affect more people worldwide than any other type of natural hazard. Somewhat more than half of Americans live in a coastal or Great Lakes state. Living shorelines are a proven, cost-effective strategy for mitigating storm surge and coastal flooding associated with climate change.

On Sept. 12, Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) introduced the Federal Flood Management Act of 2017 (S.1798). The bill seeks to update federal flood infrastructure policy to include a focus on the “natural and beneficial values served by floodplains.”

Senator Tammy Baldwin’s (D-WI) bipartisan “Digital Coast Act” (S.110), introduced with Senators Murkowski (R-AK), Sullivan (R-AK), and Booker (D-NJ), seeks to strengthen and expand a program providing online data, tools, training, and best practices to address coastal management issues. It passed the Senate, unamended and with unanimous consent on May 25. However, there is no companion bill in the House. Other bills, many addressing flood insurance, may present opportunities to include floodplain management in infrastructure policy.

A $29 billion request from Trump to assist communities affected by recent hurricanes and wildfires was sent to the Hill last week. Additionally, $1.4 billion in additional funds is being requested by Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. Congress provided $15 billion for Harvey relief in September. These bills could include funding to rebuild and restore living shorelines and other soft infrastructure to protect against impacts of future storms.

President Trump’s environmental infrastructure executive order set federal flood management policies back 40 years. The administration’s legislative push for an infrastructure spending bill kicked off on the heels of his Aug. 15 announcement. In the face of this year’s hurricane season, administration and agency insiders alike are already exploring alternative federal flood management and coastal resilience policies. Trump has already shown he is willing to make deals with Democrats as well as Republicans to move his agenda. Coastal resilience has bipartisan support. Special opportunities to advance living shorelines could emerge, with bipartisan support, as part of a larger infrastructure spending bill.

Quick Reads

EPA Seeks to Roll Back Clean Power Plan

Today, Oct. 10, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt signed a proposed rule to rescind the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which sought to cut the nation’s electricity sector carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2030 when compared to 2005 levels. The CPP is currently stayed in the courts due to 28 states and others suing against its implementation. This latest move by the EPA promises to continue longer and more drawn-out court battles since environmental groups will undoubtedly sue the EPA about today’s decision to rescind the CPP.

New Fiscal Year Begins

The new fiscal year, FY 2018, began on Oct. 1. Since Congress has not yet agreed to a budget for FY 2018, the government is now operating under the continuing resolution (CR) that Congress passed and the president signed on Sept. 8. Under the CR, funding for federal agencies remains at similar levels to what was enacted for FY 2017. The Office of Management and Budget issued a guidance bulletin on Sept. 28 providing agencies with instructions on apportioning the CR. While operations continue as normal, agencies for the most part cannot start new projects under a CR.

The House passed its FY 2018 spending package on Sept. 14. This package, the Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act, provides all discretionary funding, $1.2 trillion in total, for the federal government for the next fiscal year. The bill cuts funding for many science, research, and environmental agencies. However, the House and the Senate must come to an agreement on both FY 2018 spending and statutory budget caps, which adds additional uncertainties to the outlook for this fiscal year.

EPA Draft Strategic Plan for Review and Comment

The EPA released its draft Strategic Plan for FY 2018-2022. This long-term plan, drafted to advance Administrator Pruitt’s priorities, identifies three strategic goals that include core mission, cooperative federalism, and rule of law and process. The document does not reference climate change. It emphasizes a need to streamline environmental permitting, rebalance the distribution of power between Washington and the states, and downsize the agency with the aim of creating a leaner, more efficient organization. EPA is accepting public feedback on the draft plan until Oct. 31. Submit comments here.

House Subcommittee to Hold Hearing Affecting Hydropower, Salmon, and Marine Life

The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power, and Oceans is holding a hearing on two bills. H.R. 3144 would bar any action against generation at a hydroelectric dam or to limit navigation on the Snake River in Washington, Oregon, or Idaho unless it is “specifically and expressly authorized by an act of Congress.” At issue is a ruling by a federal judge in Portland, Ore., who ruled federal dam operators must increase water releases on the Columbia and Snake rivers to increase the juvenile salmon survival rates, beginning in 2018. The subcommittee will also review the “Federally Integrated Species Health Act,” H.R. 3916, to amend the Endangered Species Act. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) introduced the bill, which would transfer ESA decisions involving anadromous and catadromous fish to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Climate Solutions Caucus Membership Reaches 60

The House Climate Solutions Caucus continues to add new members, reaching 60 members this month. Most recently, Reps. Stephanie Murphy (R-FL), Jack Bergman (R-MI), Mimi Walters (R-CA), and Pete Aguilar (D-CA) joined the bipartisan caucus. The group, which adds members in bipartisan pairs, is dedicated to exploring economically viable ways to address climate risks and to approach climate adaptation and mitigation.

EPA to Merge or Relocate Labs

Reuters is reporting that the Environmental Protection Agency is planning to merge or relocate at least five labs, a move to consolidate research and cut costs. While there are not many details available, the labs that could be moved include a facility in Houston, TX. Other facilities being considered for moves are in Chelmsford, MA, Richmond, CA, Athens, GA, and the Office of Research and Development in Las Vegas, NV. Leases for these sites are not being renewed.

Executive Order Revives Science Council

On Sept. 29, the president signed an executive order re-chartering several federal advisory committees, including the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Administrations since the 1930s have traditionally set up some sort of science advisory board. The PCAST in its current form was established in 2001. Under the Obama administration, the PCAST was re-chartered and served an active role in advising and making policy recommendations. The council has been vacant under the Trump administration. While this order revives and re-charters it, it is unclear when it will be staffed or how it will be funded. According to a White House official, it will be up to the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to reassemble the PCAST. However, a nominee for director for OSTP has yet to be announced.

Report Recommends Reforms to NSF Indirect Cost Rates

In a report published Sept. 28, the Government Accountability Office recommends changes to the National Science Foundation to help it improve its guidance for setting indirect cost rates. NSF reimburses awardees for a portion of indirect costs, such as rent and utilities, according to internal guidance for setting indirect cost rates. However, the report found that NSF does not consistently implement this guidance and has not included certain details and procedures. GAO recommends three actions to improve the guidance, which NSF plans to address.

Senate Approves NOAA Deputy Administrator

On Oct. 5, the Senate approved Timothy Gallaudet to be assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, the second-in-command at NOAA. Gallaudet, a retired Rear Admiral in the Navy, served as a Navy oceanographer and commander of the Navy Meteorology and Oceanography Command. A scientist by training, he holds a bachelor’s degree in oceanography from the Naval Academy and master’s and doctoral degrees, also in oceanography, from Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Trump Signs Memo on STEM Education

On Sept. 25, President Trump signed a memorandum to expand access to STEM and computer science education for K-12 students, directing the Department of Education to invest $200 million every year to promote STEM education in classrooms. The memo notes the “growing role of technology in driving the American economy” and states that “it is critical that we educate and train our future workforce to compete and excel in lucrative and important STEM fields.” It does not specify where the funding for expanded STEM education will come from.

NSF Implementing Changes to BIO Program Solicitations

Effective in 2018, NSF’s Directorate of Biological Sciences will implement a “no-deadline,” full-proposal mechanism for receiving and reviewing proposals submitted to core programs. NSF anticipates that the elimination of deadlines will reduce the burden on institutions and the community by expanding the submission period over the course of the year, rather than the previous fixed yearly deadlines. For this change to take effect, the core programs in the Division of Environmental Biology and the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems will not be issuing a call for preliminary proposals in January 2018. Read the Dear Colleague Letter announcing the change.

Senate Approves Two USDA Nominees

The Senate approved two administration nominees for positions at the Department of Agriculture on Oct. 3. Stephen Censky was confirmed for deputy secretary of agriculture, and Ted McKinney was confirmed for undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs. As the second-in-command at USDA, Censky will be in charge of much of the department’s day-to-day operations. The nominees had broad support from agriculture organizations and were approved quickly by the Senate Agriculture Committee on Oct. 2.

Golden Goose Awards Celebrate Six Scientists

On Sept. 27, three teams of researchers received Golden Goose Awards honoring their work in seemingly obscure or odd fundamental research that has led to significant, unintended impacts on society. This year’s sixth annual Golden Goose Award ceremony featured bipartisan congressional speakers who joined in celebrating the researchers and their federally funded scientific breakthroughs.

Budget Plans Take Steps Toward Arctic Drilling

The Senate FY 2018 budget resolution released on Sept. 29 and approved by the Senate Budget Committee on Oct. 5 would pave the way for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), a protected area that includes much of the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd. The budget plan directs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to find $1 billion in savings over the next ten years, which Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is expected to achieve through revenue from ANWR drilling.

On Oct. 5, the House approved its own FY 2018 budget plan that also includes language that could lead to ANWR drilling. The House plan directs the Natural Resources Committee to come up with $5 billion in savings over the next decade as part of tax reform, some of which could come from ANWR drilling revenue.

Hearing Held for EPA Nominees

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing on Oct. 4 to consider the nominations of five administration nominees, including four people nominated to be assistant administrators of the EPA. The EPA nominees are Michael Dorson for assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, Matthew Leopold for assistant administrator for the Office of General Counsel, David Ross for assistant administrator for the Office of Water, and William Wehrum for assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Regulation. The hearing included a contentious exchange between Wehrum and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who questioned Wehrum about the extent to which he believes human activity is driving climate change. Wehrum, while acknowledging that human activity contributes to climate change, stated that it remains an open question whether it is the major driver.

Democrats on the committee used the hearing as an opportunity to focus on the unanswered inquiries and requests for information that have been sent to the EPA. Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) claims that EPA Administrator Pruitt has failed to adequately respond to the majority of the Democratic members’ oversight letters. Carper reaffirmed a commitment that committee Democrats will oppose all EPA nominees until they receive satisfactory responses from Pruitt.

Additional NOAA Nominee Announced

The president announced additional nominees for administration posts on Sept. 30, including for the position of Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Environmental Observation and Prediction, at NOAA. The nominee for this role is Neil Jacobs, the chief atmospheric scientist at Panasonic Avionics Corporation and chair of the American Meteorological Society’s Forecast Improvement Group.

Meeting of Committee on Sexual Harassment in Academia

The National Academies Committee on the Impacts of Sexual Harassment in Academia held its fourth meeting on Oct. 4. This half-day meeting gathered scholars, educators, researchers, and students to discuss the prevalence, nature, and impacts of sexual harassment and the policies, strategies, and practices for addressing sexual harassment in academia. The committee meeting helped advance the conversation around a study on the impact of sexual harassment in academia on the career advancement of women in scientific, technical, and medical workforce that the National Academies is undertaking.

Alaska Takes Climate Action

The state of Alaska is taking its first step toward the development of an independent climate plan while the Trump administration eliminates climate change policies at the federal level according to an E&E News report.  This step includes the appointment of Nikoosh Carlo to the new position of state senior climate change advisor.  Alaska was motivated to take such action because the state is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the nation. This warming has caused flooding, erosion, increased vulnerability to storm surges, destruction of infrastructure, and food shortages.

New York Commits to Paris Agreement

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has introduced a three year plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in compliance with the standards identified by the Paris Climate Agreement.  The state aims to prevent warming greater than 1.5⁰ Celsius by tackling issues such as energy, transportation, development, and waste management. The emissions reduction should be equivalent to removing 2 million cars from the road by 2030.  Concurrently, democratic lawmakers are urging congress to codify that climate change is both real and anthropogenic.

Get Involved

NSF Seeking White Papers on Science, Engineering, STEM Education for Collaboration

The National Science Foundation Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE) is inviting white papers from the U.S. research community on topics in science, engineering, and/or STEM education that are ripe for international network-to-network collaboration. Topics should hold the potential to accelerate discovery and advance research outcomes. OISE will use the white papers to inform planning. Read the Sept. 14 Dear Colleague letter inviting white papers here. The deadline for submissions is Nov. 30.

EU Launches Next Phase of Horizon 2020 Research Initiative

The US launch of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Work Programme will be Oct. 27. Horizon 2020 is the EU’s Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, a €77 billion research intitiative to support scientific research, innovation, and technological development through collaborative research projects. The 2018-2020 work program is open to the world. Learn more about the program at the Oct. 27 launch, which will be webcast.

USGCRP Seeking Nominations for IPCC Sixth Assessment Report

The State Department and US Global Change Research Program are accepting nominations for scientists to serve as Coordinating Lead Authors, Lead Authors, or Review Editors on the Working Group I, II, and III contributions to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report. More information can be found here. Submit nominations for scientists with relevant expertise online by Oct. 17.

National Invasive Species Council Call for Papers

The National Invasive Species Council (NISC) is undertaking a National Invasive Species Assessment for the United States. This assessment will evaluate the impact of invasive species on major U.S. assets from ecological, social, and economic perspectives. The NISC Secretariat is seeking contributions from topic area experts for a special issue of Biological Invasions that will serve as the first version of the assessment. Paper/author team proposals are due by Oct. 20. Find more information here.

Provide Information on Research Infrastructure Projects

The National Science Foundation is requesting information on existing and future needs for mid-scale research infrastructure projects from the US-based NSF science and engineering community. The input will be used to assess the needs for mid-scale research infrastructure and to develop a strategy to address these needs. Submissions must be received by Dec. 8.

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.

DOE Office of Science Graduate Student Research Program Accepting Applications

The Department of Energy Office of Science is accepting applications for the Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) program. The program prepares graduate students for STEM careers critically important to the DOE Office of Science mission by providing graduate thesis research opportunities at DOE laboratories. Applicants must be pursuing graduate research in an area that is aligned with one or more of the priority research areas of the Office of Science’s six research program offices (including Biological and Environmental Research). Applications are due Nov. 16.

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.

Legislative Updates

Algal Bloom Funding Bill Passes Senate

On Sept. 26, the Senate passed S.1057, the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2017. This legislation would reauthorize a program that researches the causes and behavior of algal blooms and serves as a response framework. The bill, which was introduced by Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Gary Peters (D-MI), would provide $22 million to the program per year for FY 2019 through FY 2023. In addition, it adds the Army Corps of Engineers to the Federal Task Force on Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia, and it requires a scientific assessment report be submitted on marine and freshwater harmful algal blooms. Sens. Portman and Nelson had previously worked together for the reauthorization of the program in 2014, incorporating language that specifically prioritized freshwater bodies. The bill now goes to the House.

House Panel Approves Endangered Species Act Legislation

At an Oct. 4 markup, the House Natural Resources Committee approved five pieces of legislation that would modify the Endangered Species Act. The five bills approved are H.R.717 (Listing Reform Act), H.R.3131 (Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act), H.R.1274 (State, Tribal, and Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act), H.R.2603 (Saving America’s Endangered Species Act), and H.R.424 (Gray Wolf State Management Act of 2017). The individual bills are short and focus on specific topics. However, minority members of the committee expressed concern that, taken together, the package would lead to changes that would make it harder to protect endangered species.

Other Legislation Introduced

  • Native Species Protection Act (S.1863). Introduced Sept. 26 by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), this bill would clarify that noncommercial species found entirely within the borders of a single state are not in interstate commerce or subject to regulation under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 or any other provision of law enacted as an exercise of the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce.
  • Tribal Heritage and Grizzly Bear Protection Act (H.R.3894). Introduced Oct. 2 by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), this bill would protect grizzly bear populations.
  • H.Res.549. Introduced Oct. 2 by Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), this resolution supports the understanding that climate change is real.
  • Federally Integrated Species Health (FISH) Act. (H.R.3916). Introduced Oct. 3 by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), this bill would amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to vest in the Secretary of the Interior functions under that Act with respect to species of fish that spawn in fresh or estuarine waters and migrate to ocean waters, and species of fish that spawn in ocean waters and migrate to fresh waters.
  • American Prairie Conservation Act (S.1913 and H.R.3939). Introduced Oct. 4 by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) in the Senate and Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SC) in the House, this bill would amend the Federal Crop Insurance Act and the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 to make the native sod provisions applicable to the United States and to modify those provisions.
  • S.1920. Introduced Oct. 4 by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), this bill would amend title 40, United States Code, to direct the administrator of General Services to incorporate bird-safe building materials and design features into public buildings.
  • H.Res.555. Introduced Oct. 4 by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), this resolution of inquiry would request the president and would direct the Secretary of the Interior to transmit, respectively, certain documents and other information to the House of Representatives relating to the executive order on the review of designations under the Antiquities Act. This resolution is an attempt to force the administration to release the details of the ongoing review of national monuments and the recommendations Zinke submitted to Trump.
  • Pollution Transparency Act (S.1930). Introduced Oct. 5 by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), this bill would establish a cost of greenhouse gases for carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide to be used by federal agencies.

From the Federal Register

Public Meetings:

Opportunities for Public Comment and Nominations:

  • Forest Service – Nominations for Forestry Research Advisory Council
    The USDA Forest Service is seeking nominations for members of the Forestry Research Advisory Council (FRAC). The FRAC includes members from federal and state agencies, forest industry, academics, and voluntary organizations. Nominations must be received by Oct. 16.
  • Fish and Wildlife Service – Extension of Comment Period on Louisiana Pinesnake Status
    The Fish and Wildlife Service is extending the deadline for the final determination on whether to list the Louisiana pinesnake as a threatened species. Along with a six-month extension, the agency is reopening the comment period on the proposed rule to list the species for an additional 30 days. Comments must be received by Nov. 6.
  • NIFA – Stakeholder Listening Opportunity for Priorities
    The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture is holding stakeholder listening sessions to collect stakeholder input on NIFA’s science priorities to inform the research, extension, and education priorities of the agency. NIFA has the mission of investing in and advancing agricultural research, education, and extension to solve societal challenges. (Listening Session dates are above; first is Oct. 19). In addition to the listening sessions, NIFA is accepting stakeholder input online to inform the science priority-setting process. Online input is due by Dec. 1.
  • Fish and Wildlife Service – Proposal to List Species of Darters as Threatened
    The Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to list two species of darters as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. After a 12-month review of scientific and commercial information, the agency is proposing to list the trispot darter and the candy darter as threatened. Public comments on the separate findings and proposed rules for the two species are being accepted until Dec. 4.
  • Fish and Wildlife Service – 12-Month Findings on 25 Species
    The Fish and Wildlife Service announced 12-month findings on petitions to list 25 species as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, finding that none of the species warrant listing. Species reviewed include the Pacific walrus, populations of black-backed woodpecker, springsnail species, and others. FWS is asking the public to submit, at any time, new information that becomes available concerning the stressors of the 25 species or their habitats.