December 18, 2017

Trump Announces National Monuments Review Decisions

President Trump announced proclamations dramatically modifying and reducing the management and size of the Bears Ears (BENM) and Grand Staircase-Escalante (GSENM) national monuments on Monday Dec. 4. The following day, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke released a revised final report summarizing the findings of his broader review of national and marine monuments under the Antiquities Act, as directed by the president’s Executive Order 13792 of April 26. Zinke’s revised report recommends shrinking a total of four national monuments, and changing the management of six other land and marine sites.

In addition to BENM and GSENM, Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou are recommended for reductions that have not yet been specified. The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts in the Atlantic Ocean; Rose Atoll and the Pacific Remote Islands in the Pacific Ocean; New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande Del Norte, and Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters would see revised management plans under the report. Those changes could result in new or reintroduced activities such as motor vehicle use, mining, hydraulic fracturing, grazing, and commercial fishing.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives presidents authority to establish national monuments. Though rare, altering previously established national monuments is not unprecedented. Mount Olympus National Monument, established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909, was reduced by President Wilson to nearly half its original size in 1915. The Grand Canyon, established by President Roosevelt in 1908, was cut by President Franklin Roosevelt under pressure from ranchers. Both, however, were subsequently designated National Parks: the Grand Canyon by Wilson in 1919 and Olympus by FDR in 1938. These national monument reductions, however, were never tested in court. The overwhelming body of legal opinion is that the president does not have the authority, under the Antiquities Act, to downsize or revoke national monuments.

Bears Ears National Monument, established by President Obama in 2016, would be slashed from its current 1.35 million acres into two fragments totaling approximately 230,000 acres. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, established by President Clinton in 1996, would shrink from its current 1.9 million acres to three fragments totaling 1 million acres. President Trump’s proclamations, effective 60 days from their announcement, would allow disposition of these public lands under existing laws as well as mineral and geothermal leasing.

While downplaying the mining potential within Bears Ears, a release by the Utah Department of Natural Resources specifically mentions the prospect of new uranium mining in the White Canyon, Elk Ridge, Deer Flat, Indian Creek, and Fry Canyon districts within the monument. Potash mining in the Paradox Formation found in eastern Utah and western Colorado was also mentioned as a possibility.

Both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante are rich with ancient archaeological and paleontological sites. GSENM, often referred to as the “Science Monument” because of the emphasis on research is renowned for its extensive and high quality fossil record of the late Cretaceous period, when different mammal groups were diverging.  It also includes the rare Tropic Shale formations of southern Utah where numerous plesiosaur skeletons have been discovered—including the first nearly complete individual recovered in 2005. That same Tropic Shale formation is known to have shale gas potential and would possibly be open to lease for extraction by hydraulic fracturing under routine multi-use management by the Bureau of Land Management. Bears Ears, as originally designated, includes fossil sites from the world’s greatest mass extinction of the early Triassic period and the emergence of mammals in the late Triassic.

President Trump’s proclamations were followed closely by lawsuits filed by various tribal, environmental, and conservation groups and scientific societies. The Bears Ears decision is being challenged by three lawsuits:

  • Hopi Tribe et al v. Trump et al (including as co-plaintiffs, the five Southwestern tribes that drove the monument’s formation), arguing that the president does not have sufficient legal authority.
  • Utah Dine Bikeyah et al v. Trump et al (joined by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology and outdoor company Patagonia among others as co-plaintiffs), arguing that the decision threatens historical artifacts and unique recreational areas.
  • Natural Resources Defense Council Inc. et al v. Donald J. Trump et al (joined by Earthjustice, Defenders of Wildlife and others as co-plaintiffs), arguing that the decision would imperil “irreplaceable” archaeological artifacts and damage paleontology sites.

The Grand Staircase decision is being challenged by two suits:

Each of the pending lawsuits is seeking injunctive relief that would reverse Trump’s proclamations and restore the monuments to their original geographic and administrative configurations. Additional lawsuits as well as congressional backlash are anticipated. Congress, however, is currently preoccupied with impending tax reform. Asked for comment on the monuments decisions, a Democratic staffer on the House Natural Resource Committee observed, “this is just Zinke doing what he promised to do, by and large, and elections have consequences – but we certainly oppose them.”

The Ecological Society of America joined with the American Association for the Advancement of Science in July to submit joint comments to the Department of the Interior in support of existing protections for national monuments and marine national monuments under review. ESA also submitted comments to the Department of Commerce in support of existing protections for National Marine Sanctuaries and Marine National Monuments.

David Polly, president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP), in commenting on the Utah Dine Bikeyah Bears Ears suit observed in an SVP press release,

“Paleontology literally uncovers the history of life on Earth, a heritage that belongs to us all.  Bears Ears protects fascinating episodes in that history.  Some of the first vertebrates to walk on land have been found in the Valley of the Gods region, and packrat middens that reveal the climatic history of the west are scattered across the entire Monument. Many of these irreplaceable sites have been looted in recent years. By slashing boundaries, Zinke and Trump have failed their charge to preserve and protect.”

EPA Administrator Pruitt Appears Before House Energy and Commerce Committee

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday, Dec. 7, which was the one-year anniversary of his nomination to that post by President Trump. It was his first appearance at an oversight hearing since taking office, and his first visit to the Hill since his appropriations testimony in June. Pruitt’s next scheduled oversight hearing will be before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Jan. 31, 2018.

The House hearing was conducted in two parts because Pruitt was expected at a recently organized meeting at the White House during the hearing’s scheduled time. The majority Republicans were uniformly friendly and encouraging in their remarks and questions of Administrator Pruitt. Minority Democrats’ remarks were more pointed. Questioning on policy matters included focus on the “endangerment finding” underlying regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, fine particulate air pollution (soot), and lead in drinking water.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) asked Pruitt about his intentions regarding the endangerment finding, mischaracterizing it as resulting from a process initiated under the Obama administration. Administrator Pruitt, a former litigant against the Clean Power Plan that grew out of the finding, mildly corrected Rep. Barton on its timeline.

Administrator Pruitt continued on to elaborate on the “breech of process” in using findings of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but he failed to mention that other reports found many of the same results as the IPCC: the U.S. Global Change Research Program, U.S. Climate Change Science Program, National Research Council, and other independent research groups.  A similar criticism to the one made by Pruitt was rejected in a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2012, which characterized it as “little more than a semantic trick.” Asked about the prospect of a “red team/blue team” examination of greenhouse gas regulation, Administrator Pruitt suggested that a schedule would be announced in January.

Questioned on the health risks of fine particulate pollution, also known as PM 2.5, by Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA), a physician who is the immigrant son of farmworkers, Pruitt agreed with Rep. Ruiz that PM 2.5 is a “non-threshold pollutant,” potentially harmful at any level of exposure, and that it should be regulated under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Lead in drinking water was a point of concern also. In response to questioning from Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), Pruitt called lead in drinking water, “one of the greatest environmental threats, I think, we face as a country.” He pointed to President Trump’s anticipated infrastructure spending program which could replace lead water service lines. He also committed to developing a 10-year plan, in consultation with the Committee, to “to eradicate these concerns.”

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) praised Pruitt for his focus on lead, but challenged him on administration 2018 budget plans that would have eliminated grants to remove lead paint and for staffing issues that impede agency capacity for review and regulation.

Dingell’s concerns about EPA staffing levels and buy-outs were shared by others on the Committee, principally the minority Democrats. Other administrative issues raised included Pruitt’s travel to Oklahoma, his installation of a $25,000 “secret phone booth” in his office, the lack of public information available about his schedule, the prohibition of EPA grantees from also serving on agency science advisory boards, and failure of EPA to appear before and provide documents requested by Congress.

Republican committee members largely praised Pruitt’s work, pointing to his meetings with state and local officials, as well as with workers impacted by EPA regulations. Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) referred specifically to Pruitt’s meeting with coal workers in his state in anticipation of the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan (CPP). On Thursday, Dec. 14, the White House Office of Management and Budget approved EPA’s plan to replace CPP within 10 months.

Quick Reads

First Shutdown Averted, Next Funding Deadline Approaching

Prior to Dec. 8, the government had been operating under a continuing resolution that provided short-term funding for Fiscal Year 2018. This measure—and, as a result, government funding—was set to expire on Dec. 8; however, after passing a stopgap spending measure on Dec. 7, Congress averted this first potential shutdown. The current continuing resolution funds the government through Dec. 22, so Congress now must pass another short-term spending measure to keep federal agencies from shutting down on Friday. Lawmakers have proposed spending legislation that would combine increased FY 2018 funding for the Pentagon with a continuing resolution, which keeps funding flat, for all other agencies. This continuing resolution would provide funding through Jan. 19. The House Rules Committee will meet on Dec. 19 to send this latest measure to the House floor, and the House is expected to pass the legislation. The Senate, however, will likely reject the House plan, with Senate Democrats and some Republicans unwilling to increase military and defense funding without non-defense increases.

Administration Releases Unified Agenda, Plans Continued Regulatory Rollbacks

On Dec. 14, President Trump released his administration’s Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, a semi-annual report on actions administrative agencies plan to issue in the short and long term. For the Trump administration, this document, released by the Office of Management and Budget, represents a continued focus on reducing and rolling back regulations. At a White House ceremony, Trump touted the “most far-reaching regulatory reform,” with the withdrawal or delay of 1,579 planned regulatory actions in 2017 and the elimination of 22 regulations for every new one added. As part of the Unified Agenda, the administration included a timeline for its review of climate regulations, including the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. According to the report, the EPA had planned to release an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking for reviewing—and likely repealing—the rule in November, a release that is now behind schedule. A notice of proposed rulemaking is expected by June 2018, with a final rule slated for next October.

OMB Instructs CDC to Avoid the Use of “Science-Based”

A Washington Post article is reporting that the Office of Management and Budget has prohibited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is part of Health and Human Services, from using these words in its 2019 budget documents: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based,” and “science-based.” This is a developing story. ESA and other scientific societies are in the process of formulating a response.

Final Tax Bill Released, Passage Expected Soon

Congressional Republicans released the final version of the tax bill on Dec. 15. The final bill does not include the provisions that increased the financial burden on graduate student by eliminating deductions for student-loan interest and a waiver for graduate tuition. Texas Rep. Pete Sessions led congressional Republican resistance to the grad student tuition tax provision included in the initial House version of the tax bill. Sessions, along with 30 of his colleagues, sent a letter on Dec. 7 to Republican congressional leadership urging them to keep the income exclusion for graduate tuition waivers in the tax reform package. ESA and other scientific societies also sent a letter to House leadership opposing the provisions. The final tax bill does include a controversial provision that opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. Congress will be voting on the legislation this week. It is expected to pass.

DOE Reorganizes

On Dec. 15, the Department of Energy announced a reorganization of its management structure. The current office of Under Secretary for Science and Energy (established in 2013 during Secretary Moniz’s tenure) will be separated into two Under Secretary positions so that there will once again be three Under Secretaries: the Under Secretary of Energy; the Under Secretary for Science; and the Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and NNSA Administrator. The Under Secretary for Science, Paul Dabbar, adds DOE’s environmental cleanup efforts to his areas of responsibility along with the Office of Science.

Interior Report Finds Harassment is Widespread and Underreported

The Interior Department has released a long-awaited new employee survey that details that 35 percent of Interior workers had experienced harassment in the year before the survey. The Obama administration commissioned the survey. All bureau and office leaders have been tasked by Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to create and submit a formal action plan within 45 days to address the results of the survey. The Workplace Environment Study Reports are detailed by each agency or office within Interior and available online.

NOAA’s Annual Arctic Report Card Highlights Climate Change Impacts

According to NOAA’s annual Arctic Report Card, released Dec. 12, the Arctic experienced its second warmest year in 2017, while the amount of winter sea ice was the lowest ever observed. The report was peer-reviewed and contains the work of 85 scientists from 12 nations. The agency said the average air temperature was the second warmest since 1900 and the amount of sea ice continues to thin every year. In fact, Arctic temperatures continue to rise at twice the rate of global temperature increase. Timothy Gallaudet, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and acting NOAA administrator—and one of the few Trump appointees who does not reject or question climate science—framed the report as significant to Trump’s policy goals regarding national security and the economy.

Senate Confirms EPA, Interior Nominees

On Dec. 7, the Senate confirmed Susan Bodine to be the EPA assistant administrator of enforcement and compliance assurance, the agency’s head enforcer. In a statement, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, cited increased responsiveness from the EPA as a reason for Bodine’s confirmation. Carper had withheld support for EPA nominees pending the agency’s response to oversight requests. Bodine was confirmed by a voice vote.

The Senate also confirmed Joe Balash, the nominee for assistant secretary for land and minerals management for the Department of the Interior. This position oversees the management of federal lands and waters and their associated mineral and non-mineral resources, as well as the regulation of surface coal mining. Balash formerly served as the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and most recently worked as the chief of staff to Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan (R). Balash was confirmed 61 to 38.

Administration Nominees Approved

On Dec. 12, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources advanced Tim Petty to be assistant secretary of the Interior for water and science and Linda Capuano to be administrator of the Energy Information Administration (EIA). The Committee held a hearing to examine the two nominees on Dec. 5. Petty holds a Ph.D. from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, an M.S. from University of Maryland University College, and a B.S. from Purdue University. He previously worked as a geologist and a hydrogeologist, and in his Dec. 5 confirmation hearing stated that climate change is real. He was advanced unanimously by the Committee. The approval of Capuano, a former vice president of technology at Marathon Oil Corp, was opposed by three panel Democrats. Capuano would not take a position on climate change during her confirmation hearing.

On Dec. 13, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved Barry Myers to be undersecretary of Commerce for oceans and atmosphere, the position that serves as administrator of NOAA. In his confirmation hearing on Nov. 29, Myers agreed that humans are the main cause of climate change. However, Committee Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL) raised concerns over whether Myers, currently CEO of AccuWeather, could avoid conflicts of interest due to his close ties to the weather-information business. In advancing Myers, the panel split along party lines, 14 to 13.

Administration Nominees, Including EPA Chemical Pick, Withdraw

Michael Dourson, the nominee to be the EPA’s assistant administrator for toxic substances, withdrew from consideration on Dec. 13 amid bipartisan concerns about his background, conflicts of interest, and ties to the chemical industry. Dourson’s nomination for the top toxic chemical regulator position was advanced by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in October. His prospects for confirmation by the full Senate were uncertain given opposition by all 48 Senate Democrats, as well as North Carolina’s two Republican senators. Dourson withdrew from consideration in the face of this likely Senate rejection.

In addition to Dourson, the nominations of two other controversial picks have been withdrawn. Brett Talley, a judicial nominee for a lifetime appointment to the U.S. District Court for Alabama, faced criticism for his lack of experience. Talley has never argued a case in court and received a rare, unanimous rating of “not qualified” by the American Bar Association. Talley had been approved by the Judiciary Committee on Nov. 9 but recently faced criticism from Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who called on the White House to withdraw his nomination. Jeff Mateer, a second judicial nominee, for a Texas District Court post, faced criticism for extreme statements on transgender children. At the urging of Sen. Grassley, the White House dropped Mateer’s nomination.

President Signs Military Spending Bill with Climate Language

On Dec. 12, the president signed legislation establishing spending levels for military efforts that also included a provision on climate change. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets funding for defense, includes language that calls climate change a “direct threat to the national security of the United States,” an acknowledgment that contradicts many of the public statements of the administration and its appointees. The president did not address the climate provision during the signing.                                                                

Great Lakes Lawmakers Emphasize Need to Stay on Track with Asian Carp Plan

On Dec. 7, 26 lawmakers from the Great Lakes region sent a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers to urge them to stay on track with a plan, known as the Brandon Road Study, to keep Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes. The letter reads, “The timely completion of the Brandon Road Study is an essential next step in a process initiated to safeguard the economic viability of our region’s $7 billion sport fishing market, $16 billion boating industry, and $18 billion hunting and wildlife observation market.” The Army Corps of Engineers released a plan in August for preventing Asian carp from migrating into the Great Lakes. This issue has been extremely prevalent since an Asian carp was found past protective barriers only 9 miles from Lake Michigan in June.

House Democrats Urge Removal of Endangered Species Act Provisions in Spending Bill

Led by Reps. Don Beyer (VA), Debbie Dingell (MI), and Raúl Grijalva (AZ), over one hundred House Democrats sent a letter to House leadership urging them to preserve the Endangered Species Act by removing harmful provisions included in the Interior and Environment appropriations bill for FY 2018. According to the letter, the riders “would undermine endangered species conservation and threaten one of our country’s most important wildlife conservation laws.” The provisions identified would prevent the Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the sage-grouse, block protections for wolves in the Midwest and reaffirm a decision delisting wolves in Wyoming, defund gray wolf recovery measures, and block spending on Mexican gray wolf recovery efforts. The Interior and Environment appropriations bill passed out of the Appropriations Committee. The letter asks House leadership not to include the provisions in the final spending legislation.

DOE Withheld Millions from ARPA-E

E&E News reported on Dec. 12 that, according to an audit by the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Energy illegally withheld $91 million from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), a program that had been targeted for elimination in the president’s budget. Under the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act, agencies are required to release appropriated funds unless specifically authorized by the president. DOE officials claimed they withheld the money in anticipation of Congress following through on the president’s plan. Following the release of the audit, DOE released the funds for ARPA-E the following day.

Pruitt Says Scientists Can Freely Discuss Work

Following the EPA’s cancellation of speaking appearances of three agency scientists at the release of the 2017 State of Narragansett Bay and Its Watershed summary and technical report on Oct. 23 in Providence, Rhode Island, several New England members of Congress demanded an explanation from Administrator Pruitt. In response to their request, Pruitt sent a letter assuring the lawmakers that scientists will be free to publicly discuss their work. He wrote that “procedures have been put in place to prevent such an occurrence in the future” and claimed that he is committed to upholding EPA’s Scientific Integrity Policy. ESA issued a statement on Oct. 23 on the cancellation by the EPA.

USGS Library Update

The USGS Library, one of the world’s largest Earth and natural science libraries, provides services, collections, and expertise that are essential to the USGS mission and the global geoscience community. In addition to access to scholarly journals and research support services, the Library also preserves unique physical collections. The USGS Library has been working to streamline and modernize access, create efficiencies, and maximize value while managing increasing operational costs within a flat budget. Read updates on changes to the Library and proposals to reduce the footprint and holdings in the future in the November USGS Library Update.

UK Allowing EU Scientists to Stay After Brexit

The United Kingdom announced on Dec. 8 that EU citizens living in the country can stay after Brexit happens in 2019, a decision greeted favorably by the scientific community. Furthermore, UK scientists can continue participation in the EU research funding program Horizon 2020 until it ends in 2020. However, there are still concerns about the details of the UK’s announcement. For example, a provision stating that EU citizens can only leave the UK for 5 years before losing their right to return would limit the ability of researchers to complete longer postdocs abroad. As the Brexit process advances, researchers emphasize the importance of keeping the flow of scientific talent unimpeded.

Trump Disbands Climate Preparation Panel

According to Bloomberg News, the Trump administration has disbanded a cross-agency Community Resilience Panel for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems, a group created in 2015 to help local officials protect their residents against extreme weather and natural disasters. The group advised local officials on making buildings, communications, energy systems, transportation, and water more able to withstand severe weather and climate change. The panel is the latest in a series of federal climate-related bodies to be altered or terminated. However, the panel Chairman Jesse Keenan believes the termination of the panel was simply collateral damage, not a decision made specifically because of the group’s association with climate change.

NSF Appoints First Chief Officer for Research Facilities

James S. Ulvestad will serve as the NSF’s Chief Officer for Research Facilities (CORF). He will report to and advise the NSF director on all aspects of the agency’s support for major and mid-scale research facilities throughout their lifecycle. This new oversight position was called for by Congress in the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (AICA), enacted in 2017, which requires NSF to “appoint a senior agency official whose responsibility is oversight of the development, construction, and operations of major multiuser research facilities across the Foundation.”

Get Involved

Provide Input on National Climate Assessment

On Nov. 3, the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) released volume one of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), as well as drafts of volume two and the State of the Carbon Cycle Report. The congressionally mandated climate science report assesses the science of climate change and its impacts. Volume two is a technical, scientific assessment of climate change impacts, risks, and adaptation across the US. The carbon cycle report assesses the state of the carbon cycle across North America. USGCRP is seeking public comments for both drafts. Comments on volume 2 of the NCA4 are due by Jan. 31, and comments on the carbon cycle report are due Jan. 8. All comments must be submitted via the USGCRP Review and Comment System.

Review and Comment on Draft Habitat-Based Recovery Criteria for Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a draft Supplement to the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan that establishes habitat-based recovery criteria for the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE). The draft recovery criteria were developed in part through comments received at a habitat-based recovery criteria workshop held in 2016, as well as the public comment period. The Service is holding a second habitat-based recovery criteria workshop in order to allow scientists and the public to submit comments. The workshop will be on Jan. 3 in Missoula, Montana. Comments can be delivered at this public workshop or by mail or online before Jan. 26.

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.

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

House “Science Day” Sees Votes on STEM Bills

House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) named Dec. 18 “Science Day” in Congress in light of the chamber’s consideration of five STEM education bills. The bipartisan pieces of legislation being considered on the House floor include the STEM Research and Education Effectiveness and Transparency Act (H.R. 4375), introduced by Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) and cosponsored by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), the Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act (H.R.4323), and the Women in Aerospace Education Act (H.R.4254). These bills, with the others being considered, advance STEM education and careers in STEM fields. H.R.4375 aims at broadening participation in STEM and requires more data on federal research grant application evaluations and outcomes.

In his statement designating Dec. 18 as “Science Day,” Chairman Smith said, “I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join me in celebrating Science Day and recognizing the importance of research and discovery today and every day.”

Committee Approves Fisheries, Land Bills

On Dec. 13, the House Natural Resources Committee held a markup and approved 15 bills related to lands, fisheries, natural resources, endangered species, and geologic mapping. Among the legislation considered was the “Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act,” which would modify the landmark Magnuson-Stevens Act regulating fishing in federal waters and aims to provide greater flexibility for fishermen. Opponents fear the bill could lead to overfishing and reduce the quality of science used in management decisions. Another bill, the “RED SNAPPER Act,” would give Gulf Coast states more control in managing the fish. View the list of bills approved during the markup here. The next step is consideration by the full House.

Other Legislation Introduced

  • Shash Jaa National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument Act (H.R.4532). Introduced Dec. 4 by Rep. John Curtis (R-UT), this bill would create the first tribally managed national monument. It would codify elements of the president’s announcement on Bears Ears by creating two national monuments from the Bears Ears site.
  • Grand Staircase Escalante Enhancement Act (H.R.4558). Introduced Dec. 6 by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), this bill’s language says that it would provide greater conservation, recreation, economic development, and local management of federal lands in Garfield and Kane Counties, Utah. It would create a new national park in Utah, the Escalante Canyons Park and Reserve, and codify the new monument boundaries proposed by the president.
  • Protect Public Use of Public Land Act (S.2206). Introduced Dec. 7 by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), this bill would release certain wilderness study areas in the state of Montana. It targets nearly 450,000 acres of wilderness study areas.
  • Geoengineering Research Evaluation Act of 2017 (H.R.4586). Introduced Dec. 7 by Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA), this bill would provide for the National Academies to study and report on a research agenda to advance the understanding of albedo modification strategies.
  • Cooperative Research and Development Fund Authorization Act of 2017 (H.R.4596). Introduced Dec. 7 by Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), this bill would make funds available to the Department of Energy National Laboratories for the federal share of cooperative research and development agreements that support maturing Laboratory technology and transferring it to the private sector.
  • H.Res.660. Introduced Dec. 12 by Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), this resolution would recognizing the 2nd anniversary of the adoption of the international Paris Agreement on climate change.
  • S.2229. Introduced Dec. 14 by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), 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.
  • Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R.4647). Introduced Dec. 14 by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), this bill would amend the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act to make supplemental funds available for management of fish and wildlife species of greatest conservation need as determined by state fish and wildlife agencies.

Opportunities from the Federal Register

Public Meetings:

Opportunities for Public Comment and Nominations:

  • NPS – National Park System Advisory Board Nominations
    The National Park Service is seeking nominations for individuals to be appointed to the National Park System Advisory Board. The Board advises the Secretary of the Interior and NPS Director on matters relating to the NPS, the National Park System, and programs administered by the agency. NPS is seeking to appoint 3 members to the Board and is soliciting nominations in fields including ecology and biology. Nominations are due Dec. 18.
  • NMFS – Nominations for SEDAR Pool
    NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service is soliciting nominations for the “SEDAR Pool,” also known as the Advisory Panel for Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) Workshops. SEDAR Pool members may be selected to consider data and advise NMFS on the scientific information used in stock assessments for oceanic sharks in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean. Nominations for a 5-year appointment are due by Jan. 2.
  • EPA – National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology Nominations
    The EPA is requesting nominations for the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEPT), a federal advisory committee that provides advice to the EPA administrator on environmental policy, management, and technology issues. EPA is inviting nominations from qualified candidates from a range of sectors, including academia. Nomination deadline is Jan. 3.
  • USFWS – Effects of Court Decision on Grizzly Bear Recovery
    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking public comment on a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that may impact the June 30, 2017 final rule delisting the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear Distinct Population Segment. The decision found that the agency had not properly evaluated the status of wolf populations in light of recent actions, which may potentially impact the grizzly bear decision. The agency is accepting comments on the potential implications on the grizzly bear final rule. Find more information here and submit comments by Jan. 8.
  • NSF  – Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee, Principles for Conduct of Research in Arctic
    The Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC) is seeking public comments on how to revise and strengthen the Principles for the Conduct of Research in the Arctic, originally adopted in 1990. The Principles address the need to promote mutual respect and communication between scientists and northern residents. The update will focus on community engagement, the contributions of Indigenous knowledge, and dissemination and implementation of the Principles. Comments are due by Jan. 16.
  • NMFS – Initiation of Review for Endangered Western DPS of Steller Sea Lion
    The National Marine Fisheries Service is conducting a 5-year review for the endangered western distinct population segment (DPS) of Steller sea lion under the Endangered Species Act. The review will ensure that the listing classification is accurate. NMFS is requesting scientific and commercial data on the status, threats, and recovery of the species that has become available since 1997. Submit information by Feb. 6 to inform the review.