January 22, 2018

National Park System Advisory Board Resigned en masse

Earlier this month, nine of twelve members of the National Park System Advisory Board resigned en masse. Board members are citizen advisors and not necessarily scientists. The board was chartered by Congress in 1935 “to help the National Park Service care for special places saved by the American people so that all may experience our heritage.” Members of the bipartisan board are unpaid volunteers. All those resigning were appointed by President Obama and serving terms expiring in May. The advisory boards most recently were mandated by Congress in the “Federal Advisory Committee Act,” which is a 1972 law that ensures that advice by various federal advisory committees is objective and accessible to the public.

Board Chair Tony Knowles (D-AK), former governor of Alaska, wrote in a Jan. 15 letter to Interior Secretary Zinke that he and the other resigning members were leaving out of frustration, “For the last year we have stood by waiting for the chance to meet and continue the partnership between the NPSAB and the DOI and prescribed by law.”

During an interview with Knowles by Alaska Public Radio, he said, “The department showed no interest in learning about or continuing to use the forward-thinking agenda of science.”

Other resigning board members, and co-signers of Knowles’ letter, include Gretchen Long, Paul Bardacke, Carolyn Finney, Judy Burke, Stephen Pitti, Milton Chen, Belinda Faustinos and Margaret Wheatley. Two of the three remaining board members have terms that expire in July and one in 2021.

The resignations leave the advisory board without a quorum and unable to fulfill its statutory obligations. New historic and natural landmarks, for example, cannot be designated by the Interior secretary without the board’s approval and none have been declared since the Obama administration.

The board is required to meet twice a year, but has not met with Zinke during his term at Interior. In May 2017, Zinke suspended outside committees pending a review of the “charter and charge” of the department’s nearly 200 advisory panels and disbanded two–the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council and the Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science.

NSF Releases 2018 Indicators Report

Last week, the National Science Board released its Science & Engineering Indicators 2018, the 23rd biennial, nonpartisan report on trends in science and engineering in the United States. The 2018 report added a new chapter on Invention, Knowledge Transfer, and Innovation to in depth analysis of academic and commercial competitiveness, education, public attitudes towards science and technology and funding.

In a press briefing, National Science Board member [chemist and National Medal of Science recipient] Geraldine Richmond drew attention to China’s R&D spending, which has grown at an average annual rate of 18 percent, accounting for almost one-third of the global increase in R&D expenditures from 2000 to 2015. Although by many measures, the US continues to lead the world in R&D, China for the first time passed the European Union in dollars (equivalent) invested.

“It is clear that other countries have observed the success we have had and are emulating it,” Richmond said, though she was quick to point out that progress in science is not a zero sum game. In China’s rise, report authors point out opportunities to collaborate and innovate in the US. The question is, Richmond said, “Where do we want to lead and where are we content to participate?”

The board is concerned about stagnant funding from the US federal government, which drives basic research, and the potential erosion of US competitiveness as a result.

“It is not inconceivable that we could be overtaken in time,” said National Science Foundation Director France Córdova. “To stay competitive, we need to broaden participation in STEM.”

Córdova noted a decline over the last year in graduate students coming to the US from other countries to undertake higher education and stay on as part of the science and engineering workforce.

“We hope this does not continue,” Córdova said.

Deal to Reopen the Government Likely After Shutdown

The Senate voted today, Jan. 22, on a continuing resolution that would fund the government through Feb. 8. Senate Democrats joined with Republicans to approve the bill, and House leaders signaled that they would also pass it, with President Trump expected to quickly sign it. In exchange for reopening the government, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised Democrats debate on immigration legislation.

The continuing resolution that was funding the federal government since Dec. 21 expired at midnight on Jan. 19. While the House passed another stopgap spending bill that would have extended funding until Feb. 16, the Senate rejected this bill, with most Democrats and some Republicans voting against it. After Congress failed to come to an agreement, the government shut down for the first time since 2013. Attempts to reach a deal over the weekend failed, and the shutdown extended into the workweek, increasing the impact on federal agencies and potentially hundreds of thousands of federal employees.

This article was written at 3 pm on Jan. 22 and is a developing story.

Quick Reads

Zinke Plans Interior Reorganization

E&E News reported on Jan. 10 on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s plan for a massive reorganization of the Department of the Interior. Presented to agency employees at a Jan. 10-11 leadership summit, Zinke’s vision for reshaping the department would divide the U.S. into 13 multistate regions roughly along boundaries of watersheds and basins. This reorganization would divide management of the millions of acres of federal land under the jurisdiction of Interior into these separate administrative regions, each with a separate director. Final details of the reorganization are expected in President Trump’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2019, which is expected in February.

NASA Advisory Committee Agenda Includes Earth Science Decadal Survey

NASA’s Earth Science Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet this week on Wednesday and Thursday, Jan. 24 and 25. The meeting is being held to solicit scientific and technical information relevant to program planning from the scientific community and others. On the agenda is a discussion of the Earth Science Decadal Survey. The National Academies Decadal Survey on Earth Science and Applications from Space will help shape science priorities and guide agency investments over the next decade. A final report of the 2017 Decadal Survey was released on Jan. 5 assessing progress from 2007 and developing a list of science and application objectives through 2027. The Advisory Committee meeting is open to the public and available via phone and WebEx.

Silencing Science Tracker Launched

On Jan. 19, Columbia University and the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund launched an online tracker of the Trump administration’s attack on science called the “Silencing Science Tracker.” Since November 2016, it has accumulated 96 examples from media reports of federal restrictions or prohibitions on climate science. The database is searchable by agency, date, and type of action. Many of the entries deal with censorship, targeted personnel changes, and budget cuts.

Climate Solutions Caucus Adds Four New Members

The bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, focused on developing market-based solutions to climate change, has added four new members. The caucus, which adds new members in bipartisan pairs, now has a membership of 66. The new representatives are David Cicilline (D-RI), Mark Sanford (R-SC), Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) and Daniel Donovan (R-NY). The caucus is currently used primarily as an educational tool for members regarding climate change. Membership in the caucus has been growing since its creation in 2016, largely due to the threat posed by recent devastating weather events.

EPA Schedules Clean Power Plan Listening Sessions

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has scheduled three listening sessions on Clean Power Plan repeal in San Francisco, CA, Kansas City, MO, and Gillette, WY. Registration to speak at these sessions will open in the coming weeks. The sessions will focus on the EPA’s proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan, an initiative to reduce carbon emissions, and increase the use of renewable energy sources. The EPA is accepting public comments on CPP repeal until April 26 via email, mail, fax, or online. In addition to repealing the Obama-era rule, the EPA has initiated the process of developing a replacement rule. A Dec. 18 advance notice of proposed rulemaking asks for public comment on what a replacement should look like. The EPA is accepting comments on a replacement rule through Feb. 26.

Attorneys General Ask Pruitt to Recuse Himself from CPP

Democratic attorneys general of 12 states, led by Xavier Becerra of California, say EPA administrator Scott Pruitt needs to recuse himself from all matters related to the repeal of the Obama administration’s climate change rule for power plants. The attorneys general claim that Pruitt’s criticism of the Clean Power Plan and his attacks on it as Oklahoma’s attorney general make him irreparably biased against it. Becerra led his colleagues and the top law enforcement officials of five cities, one county, and the District of Columbia in submitting a formal request to the EPA outlining their objections.

Senate Committee Approves NASA, NOAA Nominees

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has advanced Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to head NASA and AccuWeather Inc. CEO Barry Myers to lead NOAA. The nominees were approved narrowly: 14-13. In 2013, Bridenstine stated that there was no concrete scientific evidence linking greenhouse gas concentrations and climate change; however, he reversed this statement late in 2017. He has also been criticized for his lack of scientific experience, having formerly been a naval aviator and the head of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum. Myers was similarly criticized for having no scientific background, and there are concerns that his family-owned AccuWeather business could pose a conflict of interest. Their nominations will next be considered by the full Senate.

Bipartisan Letter Urges President to Recognize National Security Threat of Climate Change

Reps. Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) sent a letter to Trump on Jan. 11 urging him to recognize climate change as a national security threat. The letter was signed by 104 lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle and was sent in response to Trump’s National Security Strategy, which omitted climate change completely. In contrast to this report, the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, signed by Trump last month, included a provision authored by Langevin that explicitly recognizes the threat of climate change. Many defense experts, including Secretary of Defense Mattis, recognize the threat as well.

Florida Senator Blocks Interior Nominees over Interior Drilling Plan

On Jan. 17, in response to Interior Secretary Zinke’s new offshore drilling plan, Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson placed a hold on three of Trump’s key Interior Department nominees: Susan Combs, Ryan Nelson, and Steven Gardner. Nelson plans to maintain the hold until Zinke answers his questions regarding the offshore drilling plan. The plan would open up more than 90% of the Outer Continental Shelf to drilling, but Zinke claimed he was withdrawing federal waters off the coast of Florida from the plan following a conversation with Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R). Nelson has questioned whether this decision violates administrative law, and some believe the move was political in nature and was meant to aid Gov. Scott, who may run for Nelson’s Senate seat. However, maps shown at the first public meeting still showed waters off the coast of Florida in the drilling plan. Nelson is still waiting for clarification from Zinke and has called on him to publish a new plan in the Federal Register. Nominees on hold are blocked from being approved without a vote.

House Panel Reviews Interior Efforts to “Eliminate Energy Burdens”

On Jan. 18, a House panel reviewed efforts by the Trump administration to ease restrictions on energy extraction on public lands, particularly for oil, gas, and coal producers. The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing to examine actions taken by the Department of the Interior to eliminate onshore energy burdens. President Trump signed an executive order in March requiring all federal agencies to review any rule that “unnecessarily encumbers” U.S. energy production. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke released a report in October detailing his agency’s recommendations for eliminating what he called “burdensome regulations” on the industry.

Proposed Environmental R&D Cuts Analyzed

Novim, a nonprofit founded a decade ago at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, UC Santa Barbara, California, released a comprehensive report, “Warning Signs: Effects of Proposed Federal Funding Cuts to Environmental and Climate Research and Development Programs.” It outlines the proposed budget cuts agency-by-agency in the president’s fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget. The report states that $2 billion or 21 percent would be cut from the previous year with devastating impacts for science, especially in long-term data observations. It was written by Jack Fellows, David Blockstein, Tamara Dickinson, Michael Holland, Kei Koizumi, Kathie L. Olsen, Robert M. Simon, and Joel Widder. While Congress has yet to pass the FY 2018 budget, the administration has signaled its intent to release a similar budget for FY 2019. Visit Novim’s website to access the comprehensive report.

Get Involved

Call for Expert Reviewers: IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C

The U.S. Department of State, U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) seeks expert comment on the second-order draft of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on “Impacts of Global Warming of 1.5°C Above Pre-Industrial Levels and Related Global Greenhouse Gas Emission Pathways, in the Context of Strengthening the Global Response to the Threat of Climate Change, Sustainable Development, and Efforts to Eradicate Poverty” (aka the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C). Comments may be made to the USGCRP (due Feb. 8) or directly to the IPCC (due Feb. 25).

Comment on Proposed Expansion of Offshore Drilling

On Jan. 4, Interior announced a plan to open nearly all of the Outer Continental Shelf to oil and gas leasing. The five-year plan, a response to President Trump’s April executive order promoting an “America-First” offshore energy strategy, proposes to auction drilling rights in vast new areas in the Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic, and off the coast of Alaska, opening more than 90 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to leasing. Currently, 94 percent of the OCS is off limits. Interior is accepting public input on the proposal, holding public meetings around the country to receive comments and to inform a draft Environmental Impact Statement. Specific dates, times, and venues will be posted on BOEM’s website. The plan and a notice of intent are available for public comment until March 9.

Nominations for Invasive Species Advisory Council

On behalf of the interdepartmental National Invasive Species Council (NISC), the Department of the Interior is requesting nominations for new members to appoint to the Invasive Species Advisory Committee (ISAC). ISAC advises NISC, which provides the federal government with coordination, planning, and leadership on the prevention, eradication, and control of invasive species. ISAC is a multi-stakeholder advisory committee that is intended to play a role in recommending plans and actions to achieve the goals of the National Invasive Species Council Management Plan. Nominations must be postmarked no later than Feb. 26.

Forest Service Revising NEPA Procedures

The Forest Service is looking for ways to modify its environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in order to expedite approval of forest restoration and thinning projects. A Jan. 3 Federal Register document provides notice of the proposed rulemaking to revise NEPA procedures and asks for public comments on ways to increase efficiency of environmental analysis. Comments can be submitted until Feb. 2.

Comment on Clean Power Plan Repeal and Replacement

On Dec. 18, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signed an advance notice of proposed rulemaking initiating the first step toward replacing the Obama-era Clean Power Plan (CPP). The document asks for public comment on what a replacement rule should look like. The Clean Power Plan sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, cutting them 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. In a separate but related action, the EPA had previously proposed to repeal the rule. The agency held one public hearing in November on CPP repeal and announced three additional public listening sessions in San Francisco, CA, Kansas City, MO, and Gillette, WY. The EPA is accepting public comments on CPP repeal until April 26 and comments on a replacement rule through Feb. 26.

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. Comments on volume 2 of the NCA4 are due by Jan. 31. 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. On Jan. 3, the Service held a second habitat-based recovery criteria workshop in order to allow scientists and the public to submit comments. Comments can still be delivered by mail or online before Jan. 26.

National Academies Advisory Committee for the Climate Communications Initiative

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have appointed a new Advisory Committee for the Climate Communications Initiative (CCI), an effort to coordinate efforts across the institution and more effectively enable its work on climate science, impacts, and response options to inform the public and policymakers. The Advisory Committee will help develop a strategic plan and provide guidance in implementing it. It will hold its first meeting March 6-7 in Washington, DC. Public sessions will be webcast.

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

Legislation Introduced

  • Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act of 2018 (S.2290). Introduced Jan. 10 by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), this bill would improve wildfire management operations and the safety of firefighters and communities with the best available technology.
  • Florida Coastal Protection Act (S.2292). Introduced Jan. 10 by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), this bill would amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to prohibit oil and gas preleasing, leasing, and related activities in certain areas of the Outer Continental Shelf off the coast of Florida. The companion bill is H.R.2002.
  • Guidance Out Of Darkness (GOOD) Act (S.2296 and H.R.4809). Introduced Jan. 11 in the Senate by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Jan. 16 in the House by Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), this bill would increase access to agency guidance documents.
  • New England Coastal Protection Act (S.2298 and H.R.4774). Introduced Jan. 11 by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) in the Senate and Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) in the House, this bill would prohibit oil and gas leasing on the Outer Continental Shelf off the coast of New England.
  • Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act of 2018 (H.R.4770). Introduced Jan. 11 by Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL), this bill would amend the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 to permanently extend the moratorium on leasing in certain areas of the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Opportunities for the Nation and States to Harness Onshore Resources for Energy (ONSHORE) Act (S.2319). Introduced Jan. 18 by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), this bill would empower states to manage the development and production of oil and gas on available federal land.
  • Defending Economic Livelihoods and Threatened Animals (DELTA) Act (H.R.4819). Introduced Jan. 18 by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), this bill would promote inclusive economic growth through conservation and biodiversity programs that facilitate transboundary cooperation, improve natural resource management, and build local capacity to protect and preserve threatened wildlife species in the greater Okavango River Basin of southern Africa.

Opportunities from the Federal Register

Public Meetings:

Opportunities for Public Comment and Nominations:

Visit this page on ESA’s blog for updates on opportunities from the Federal Register, including upcoming meetings and regulations open for public comment.