February 26, 2018
* Check ESA’s federal appropriations tracker for updates on the president’s FY 2019 budget request and funding levels for agencies and programs of interest to the ecological community. *
On Feb. 12, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2019 (FY 2019) budget request, “Efficient, Effective, Accountable: An American Budget.” Agencies are still providing budget detail and more information will be made public over the next month.
Similar to the president’s FY 2018 budget, this document originally called for considerable cuts to nondefense discretionary spending, with significant cuts proposed for science, research, and environmental agencies and programs. However, with the budget agreement that Congress passed on Feb. 9, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, spending caps for both defense and nondefense discretionary spending were raised for FY 2018 and FY 2019. In response to the passage of this deal, OMB issued an addendum to the budget, modifying the original request to account for new cap levels. This addendum restores $75 billion to FY 2019 nondefense spending, in some cases restoring or softening proposed cuts to science funding. However, for many agencies and programs, the budget proposes considerable cuts reminiscent of those proposed in the president’s FY 2018 budget.
As in previous years, the president’s budget proposal reflects the administration’s priorities across the federal government for the next fiscal year and serves as a starting point for Congress as it proceeds with appropriations. However, it is largely an aspirational document, and it is Congress that ultimately passes the twelve appropriations bills that fund the government. Congress is still in the process of working on appropriations for FY 2018, with the government operating under short-term continuing resolutions since FY 2018 began in October, but funding bills passed in the House and released in the Senate have signaled that Congress is unwilling to consider the steep cuts to science that the president proposed in his FY 2018 budget. It is likely that Congress will again reject the severe cuts that the president has proposed for FY 2019.
ESA’s Federal Budget Tracker is updated with top-line spending numbers and details from the president’s FY 2019 budget. It will continue to be updated with additional information on relevant agency budgets and appropriations updates.
National Science Foundation
National Science Foundation complete budget detail is expected to be released this week. Currently, only the top-line budget numbers are available.
Compared to other science agencies and programs, the president’s proposed FY2019 budget for NSF is not nearly as severe. While the original budget would have reduced NSF funding by 29 percent, cutting it $2.2 billion from $7.5 to $5.3 billion, the addendum accounting for increased budget caps restored this reduction. As a result, NSF would receive flat funding in FY2019 when compared to FY2017 enacted levels. NSF Research & Related Activities would in fact receive a 2 percent increase. The FY2019 budget for Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction would be cut 55 percent, from $209 million in FY17 to $95 million. However, this decrease for this account is largely due to the support for two new Regional Class Research Vessels.
Department of Energy
Funding is kept nearly flat at $5.4 billion for the DOE Office of Science. Biological & Environmental Research (BER) within the Office of Science, however, would be cut 18 percent, from $612 million to $500 million. The Energy budget would also cut the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by two thirds, reducing it from $2.1 billion to $696 million. It simultaneously increases funding for Fossil Energy R&D by $81 million to $502 million. As it did in FY2018, this year’s president’s budget proposes to eliminate DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
The proposed NOAA budget for FY2019 reflects many of the cuts proposed last year in the president’s FY2018 budget. The overall budget would be cut by 20 percent, from $5.7 to $4.6 billion. Within NOAA, the National Ocean Service would face a 27 percent cut, National Marine Fisheries Service a 5 percent cut to operations, research, and facilities, and the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research a 38 percent reduction. The funding cuts also reduce a number of NOAA programs, including external grant programs and marine observations. The National Sea Grant College Program would be eliminated, a cut that was also proposed in FY18.
The budget would also considerably reduce funding for climate change research and activities, cutting it $59.6 million to $98.6 million. Much of these cuts would come from Regional Climate Data and Information, Climate Competitive Research, Climate Laboratories and Institutes. These reductions would end Arctic research focused on improvements to sea ice modeling. In addition, the budget would terminate modeling of ecosystem and fisheries vulnerabilities.
US Geological Survey (USGS)
The president’s budget would cut USGS funding by 21 percent, from $1.1 billion to $860 million. Within USGS, the Ecosystems program would face a 40 percent cut, Land Resources a 31 percent cut, and Water Resources a 23 percent cut. The budget would also decrease funding to programs that prepare the nation for natural disasters by 19 percent. USGS Core Science Systems would be cut by 20 percent to 92 million, and Science Support would be reduced 15 percent to $89 million. The president’s budget would also restructure “Climate and Land Use Change,” creating a renamed “Land Resources” program, a change that was also proposed in FY 2018. The budget would provide no funding for the environmental health mission area.
USGS budget documents explain that the budget “prioritizes funding for critical responsibilities and core mission activities and does not request funding for programs more appropriately funded by USGS partners and those having reached milestones allowing research to continue without further USGS support.”
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The president’s FY19 budget, as in FY18, proposes considerable reductions to EPA funding, in many cases similar in magnitude to those in the president’s FY18 proposal. Overall EPA funding would be cut 24 percent to $6.1 billion, and EPA Science & Technology would be cut by 36 percent. Environmental Programs and Management would be cut by 33 percent to $1.7 billion, down from $2.6 billion. Within this area, geographic programs, including Great Lakes Restoration, are reduced by 91 percent, cutting Geographic Program funding from $397 million to $37 million.
The budget would essentially eliminate climate change programs and research at EPA. It also continues reductions to the EPA workforce, proposing to leave the agency with 12,250 full time employees, down from 14,824 in FY 2017, the lowest number since 1984.
According to agency documents, this budget “provides the direction and resources to return the EPA to its core mission of protecting human health and the environment.” It establishes three new strategic goals related to the core mission, cooperative federalism, and the rule of law and process.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
The president’s budget would provide $19.9 billion to NASA in FY 2019, an increase of 1.3 percent from FY 2017 levels of $19.7 billion. The budget for NASA Science would increase 2 percent to $5.9 billion. Within the Science mission, however, Earth Science would be cut 7 percent, from $1.9 billion to $1.8 billion. The budget also proposes to terminate five earth science satellite programs, in addition to closing NASA’s Office of Education. The budget claims to “refocus existing NASA activities towards exploration.”
The proposed budget does address wildfire funding, providing 100 percent of the 10-year average of wildfire suppression costs and proposing a legislative solution to fund wildfires similar to other natural disasters. This proposal would establish a separate, new annual cap adjustment to fund wildfire suppression, the Wildfire Suppression Operations Fund, to ensure that USDA and DOI have the resources to fight wildland fires.
The president’s budget would also cut funding for programs related to endangered species. Within the Department of the Interior, the budget would reduce Fish and Wildlife Service funding for listing endangered species by nearly half, cutting it to $10.9 million. It would eliminate funding for the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, which is authorized by the Endangered Species Act and distributes funds to states and territories for voluntary species and habitat conservation projects on non-federal land. This fund is currently funded at $53 million. Funding for Farm Bill conservation programs related to endangered species would also be cut by $10 billion over the next ten years. These programs helped to preserve wildlife habitats and areas providing ecological services on privately-owned agricultural land.
Even though the president’s proposed 2019 budget would cut the overall educational budget by 5.3 percent, a sum of $200 million would go to STEM education, $180 million in funding for the Education Innovation and Research program and $20 million in new STEM grants. This would be accompanied by a $300 million contribution from private companies.
UN Climate Dues
In a move seemingly contrary to its previous positions on US involvement in international environmental improvement efforts, the president’s budget set aside funds to pay United Nations climate dues. According to a State Department official, a total of $6.4 million is expected to go towards paying U.S. dues to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Congress is still working on completing FY 2018 appropriations. The government is currently operating under another short-term continuing resolution that provides funding through March 23. Prior to that date, Congress will have to complete passage of the FY 2018 appropriations bills.
Infrastructure Hearings This Week
Congress will be holding hearings this week to make progress towards crafting an infrastructure bill. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy will hold a hearing on the “State of the Nation’s Energy Infrastructure” on Feb. 27. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing examining “The Administration’s Framework for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America” on March 1. President Trump released his infrastructure plan earlier this month.
NSF National Science Board Meeting
NSF’s National Science Board (NSB) held its first meeting of 2018 on Feb. 21-22 at the NSF headquarters in Alexandria, VA. The two-day meeting included several sessions that were open to the public. The entire agenda is available online. James Ulvestad, chief officer for research facilities, co-presented the NSB Opening Plenary with Wanda Ward, senior advisor, about NSF progress in meeting the requirements of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (COMPETES). NSF hired Ulvestad in January 2018 to meet the COMPETES requirement to strengthen oversight and accountability over the full life-cycle of NSF facilities. The NSF budget, merit review, undergraduate education, and the Science and Engineering Indicators annual report were among other topics discussed at the NSB meeting. Full presentations are available on the NSB site for viewing.
NSF Closing International Offices
On Feb. 21, NSF announced that it will be closing its three overseas offices. In closing the offices, located in China, Japan, and Belgium, the agency will move to a “new approach [that] will deploy NSF experts for short-term expeditions to selected areas to explore opportunities for collaboration.” According to the announcement, the closures will take place by this summer.
House Hearing on Sexual Harassment
The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology is holding a hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 27, titled “A Review of Sexual Harassment and Misconduct in Science.” Witnesses include Rhonda Davis, head of NSF’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and Christine McEntee, executive director of the American Geophysical Union.
Climate Advisor Resigns Over Security Clearance
George David Banks, a top climate change advisor for President Trump, resigned on Feb. 14 because he failed to gain permanent security clearance. Banks had been serving as special assistant to the president for international energy and environmental policy since February 2017. He had been operating under an interim security clearance before learning on Feb. 13 that he would not be granted permanent clearance. During his time as an advisor he had advocated for keeping the U.S. in the Paris Climate Agreement but spoke in favor of fossil fuels at the last round of UN climate talks in Bonn, arguing that American economic growth is a more important goal than climate change mitigation.
Scientists Publish Global Migration Study, Zinke Signs Order to Improve Big Game Corridors
The journal Science recently published a study of 57 mammal species across the globe made possible by Movebank. Over 114 researchers contributed data. It found that wildlife move less in landscapes altered by humans and ecosystem functions such as seed dispersal are disrupted when migration patterns are impacted.
On Feb. 9, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed a secretarial order to improve habitat quality and western winter range and migration corridors for big game populations, including antelope, elk, and mule deer. The order aims to promote collaboration between the Bureau of Land Management, states, and private land owners and link science with policy to protect big game populations, improving wildlife management and conservation and expanding opportunities for big game hunting. The order prioritizes improvements in priority habitats within important migration corridors in the West.
How the Trump administration’s energy policies that have opened federal land for mining and oil and gas development sync with Zinke’s new migration order remains to be seen.
USGS Scientists Resigned Over Scientific Data
Murray Hitzman and Larry Meinert of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have stepped down in protest after an alleged improper request for energy information from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Hitzman stated the results of a resource assessment were given to Interior Secretary Zinke well before being made public. The assessment focused on U.S. petroleum reserves in Alaska. Such an early release would be in violation of a USGS integrity policy against revealing “energy and mineral resource assessments and mineral commodity reports that typically have significant economic implications” before official public release, a policy intended to prevent unfair advantages.
Senators Ask GAO for Information on Review of EPA Advisory Board Process
On Feb. 14, Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE), ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) sent a letter asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to provide additional information relevant to GAO’s ongoing review of the EPA’s procedures for nominating and selecting advisory committee members. According to the senators, internal EPA documents show that EPA political appointees are “disregarding normal procedures and advice from career staff” regarding advisory committee candidates by ignoring the recommendations of career staff and concerns over potential conflicts of interests and lack of qualifications. Carper and Whitehouse issued the initial request for a review of EPA’s advisory committee selection process last July.
House Science Subcommittee Holds Hearing on STEM Education and Careers
On Feb. 15, the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology held a hearing on “Mentoring, Training, and Apprenticeships for STEM Education and Careers.” The subcommittee focused particularly on workforce development, including increasing access to mentoring, training, and apprenticeship programs. Several witnesses testified on how such programs could have a highly positive impact on technical jobs that do not necessarily require a four-year degree. The subcommittee was generally supportive of the proposed initiatives, and Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Comstock (R-VA) expressed support saying such programs would aid in inspiring children to pursue STEM careers.
Science Debate Questions for 2018 Candidates
Science Debate, a nonpartisan organization that asks candidates, elected officials, the public, and the media to focus more on science policy issues, is hoping all state Senate, House, and gubernatorial candidates for 2018 will answer ten questions about their stances on science policy prior to election day. View already submitted answers to the questions by selecting your state on the website. Science Debate encourages you to find your candidates that have not yet answered and ask them to respond to the questions. It also provides a Science Debate Toolkit that scientists can use to help organize Science Debate events to connect with candidates.
Report Identifies “Public Lands Enemies”
The Center for Biological Diversity has released a report that reviews “Congress’s assault on public lands” during the first year of the Trump administration and labels six Republican lawmakers as “Public Lands Enemies.” This label, which identifies Rep. Don Young of Alaska as “public lands enemy No. 1,” originates from the lawmakers’ history of sponsoring bills that privatize or weaken protections for federal acreage. The report focuses on 120 land bills filed in 2017 that would “eliminate or weaken environmental laws and regulations on public lands” and in some cases “take federal lands out of the public’s hands.”
BLM Methane Rule Review, Court Reverses Suspension
The Bureau of Land Management has proposed the revision of the Obama administration 2016 Methane Guidance rule placing restrictions on gas venting, flaring, and leakage from energy operations on public lands. The revision, currently open for public comment, is intended to align with President Trump’s goals of “reducing the costs of regulatory compliance.” In August, the BLM unveiled plans to suspend the methane rule until 2019, preventing it from taking effect while it is under review and revision. However, on Feb. 23, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that the Bureau of Land Management’s suspension of the methane rule was not justified. This ruling, a victory for supporters of the rule, is the second time a court has blocked administration efforts to scale back the rule.
National Invasive Species Awareness Week
This week, the week of Feb. 26, is National Invasive Species Awareness Week. Events to raise awareness and develop solutions to invasive species issues will be held all across the country. Find out more here.
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.
Attend NSF Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education Meeting
The National Science Foundation’s Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education (AC-ERE) will hold an open meeting in Alexandria, VA on April 18-19. The purpose of AC-ERE is to provide advice, recommendations, and oversight concerning support for NSF’s environmental research and education portfolio, be a base of contact with the scientific community, serve as a forum for consideration of environmental topics, provide input into plans and partnerships, and perform oversight of program management and performance. The meeting agenda will include updates on agency support for environmental research and education activities, discussions with the NSF director and assistant directors, and planning for future advisory committee activities. The agenda can be found here once available.
Review EPA Draft Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2016
The EPA’s Draft Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2016 is available for public review. EPA is requesting recommendations for improving the quality of the inventory report to be finalized in April 2018. Submit comments by March 9, via mail and email, or online. Comments received after this date will be considered for the next edition.
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.
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.
STEM Bill Passes House
The Building Blocks of STEM Act (H.R.3397) passed the House on Feb. 13. Introduced by Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and cosponsored by Rep. Steve Knight (R-CA), H.R.3397 aims to redistribute grants awarded by the National Science Foundation more equitably by age in their Discovery Research PreK-12 program, with a particular focus on early STEM education. The bill would help improve STEM education and help encourage passion for STEM fields in young people. H.R.3397 unanimously passed the House combined with provisions from another bipartisan STEM bill introduced by Rep. Rosen, the Code Like a Girl Act (H.R.3316). This legislation would create two NSF grant programs to encourage young girls to pursue computer science.
Senate to Examine Fisheries Bills
Senate committees are examining fisheries bills in a markup and hearing this week. On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will vote on the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act (S.1520), which would roll back federal protections of fisheries to give recreational anglers more access to federal waters. Also on Wednesday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power will hold a hearing on the Endangered Fish Recovery Programs Extension Act of 2017 (S.2166), among other bills. This legislation would maintain funding for the Upper Colorado and San Juan fish recovery programs through 2023.
- Preserving Recreation, Oceans, Tourism, Environment, and Coastal Towns (PROTECT) in Florida Act (H.R.5014). Introduced Feb. 14 by Rep. John Rutherford (R-FL), this bill would provide for a moratorium on oil and gas leasing and exploration on the outer Continental Shelf off the coast of Florida until 2029.
- Saving America’s Pollinators Act of 2018 (H.R.5015). Introduced Feb. 14 by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), this bill would direct the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to take certain actions related to pesticides that may affect pollinators.
- American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2018 (S.2448). Introduced Feb. 15 by Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), this bill would provide for the issuance of a rule to advance next-generation technologies to provide alternatives to hydrofluorocarbons.
- Challenges & Prizes for Climate Act of 2018 (H.R.5031). Introduced Feb. 15 by Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), this bill would direct the secretary of Energy to provide for prize competitions relating to climate and energy.
- State Assistance for Tropical Floriculture Research Act of 2018 (H.R.5066). Introduced Feb. 16 by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), this bill would direct the secretary of Agriculture to establish a grant program to make grants to state departments of agriculture for the research and development of disease resistant varieties of tropical flowers.
- DOI- Invasive Species Advisory Committee Public Meeting (Feb. 27-March 1)
- EPA – National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology (Feb. 28)
- USGS – Scientific Earthquake Studies Advisory Committee Meeting (March 5-6)
- NMFS – Fisheries of the Gulf of Mexico Public Meeting (March 6)
- NOAA – National Sea Grant Advisory Board Meeting (March 6-7)
- NOAA – Meeting of the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Advisory Panel (March 7-9)
- EPA – National Environmental Justice Advisory Council Public Teleconference (March 8)
- NMFS – Pacific Fishery Management Council Meetings (March 8-14)
- NIST – Advisory Committee on Earthquake Hazards Reduction Meeting (March 12-13)
- NASA – Earth Science Advisory Committee Meeting (March 14-15)
- USACE – Board on Coastal Engineering Research (March 14-15)
- DOE – Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee Meeting (March 22-23)
Opportunities for Public Comment and Nominations:
NMFS – Draft 2017 Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Report
The National Marine Fisheries Service reviewed the Alaska, Atlantic, and Pacific regional marine mammal stock assessment reports (SARs) and revised them according to new information. NMFS is soliciting public comments on the draft 2017 SARs, available here. Submit comments online or by mail by March 19.
FWS – Initiation of 5-Year Status Reviews for 18 Endangered and Threatened Species
The Fish and Wildlife Service is initiating 5-year status reviews for 18 species in Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Canada under the Endangered Species Act. To inform this review, the agency is requesting submission of new scientific and commercial data that has become available on these species. Submit information via mail or email (addresses in Federal Register notice) by March 23.
FWS – Amendments to Appendices I and II of CITES
The U.S. has proposed to amend Appendices I and II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) at the upcoming meeting of the Conference of the Parties. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking recommendations for animal and plant species to be considered as candidates for removal, addition or transfer to another appendix. Recommendations must be submitted by March 26 via online portal or mail.
NOAA – Amendment 4 to HMS FMP Submitted
The Pacific Fishery Management Council has submitted Amendment 4 to the Fishery Management Plan for U.S. West Coast Fisheries for Highly Migratory Species (HMS FMP) Amendment 4 ensures descriptions of the management of highly migratory species fisheries and of the Council’s role in providing the status of fish stocks are up to date. It also changes the Council’s meeting and report schedule. Comments on Amendment 4 must be submitted by March 26 via online portal or mail.
OMNS – Advisory Council Openings
The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve Advisory Council are soliciting applications to fill seats on their councils. Available positions are advertised on several websites, deadlines vary. More information here.
Visit this page on ESA’s blog for updates on opportunities from the Federal Register, including upcoming meetings and regulations open for public comment.