July 9, 2018

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Appropriations: The full Senate voted to approve its first Fiscal Year 2019 appropriations bill June 25. The “minibus” package includes spending for the Department of Energy. The Senate bill marks $6.65 billion for the DOE Office of Science, a 5 percent increase; and $715 million for Biological and Environmental Research, a six percent increase. The House previously passed its first minibus earlier in June.

Federal Government Reorganization: The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on the Trump Administration’s proposed government reorganization. Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management at the White House Office of Management and Budget. testified that it would take “three to five years” to bring the plan to fruition. Lawmakers largely opposed the plan and Congress would have to approve many of the proposed changes. The reorganization plan suggests moving NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and moving the Army Corps of Engineers’ flood control and river-and-harbors responsibilities to the Department of the Interior. The White House also suggests consolidating the administration of government graduate fellowships within NSF. 

Endangered Species Act: Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced draft legislation to overhaul the Endangered Species Act July 2. The bill focuses on strengthening the role of state and local governments in implementing the Endangered Species Act. Under the legislation, species recovery teams overseeing the species’ recovery plan may not have more federal representatives than state and local representatives. Recovery teams would also be required to give heavier weight to scientific information provided by state, local or tribal governments. States would also be given opportunities to implement conservation programs before a species is listed.

Farm bill: The Senate passed its version of Farm Bill by a bipartisan 81-11 vote June 28. The bill largely retains crop insurance subsidies and maintains funding for conservation programs. Lawmakers also raised the enrollment cap for Conservation Reserve Program from 24 million acres to 25 million acres and allowed additional states to the join the “sodsaver” program, which reduces crop subsidies for farmers who convert native grassland to crop production. The Senate passed an amendment to require a report on the budget needs of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and rejected an amendment to curtail the Waters of the U.S. rule. The House Farm Bill passed earlier in June along party lines – and lawmakers in both chambers will now work to resolve the differences between the bills in a conference committee.

Energy Bills: The House passed three bills related to the Department of Energy’s programs. The Department of Energy Science Act and Innovation Act of 2018 (H.R. 5905) authorizes the Office of Science’s activities for FY 2018 and 2019 and allows the Biological and Environmental Research program to model climate change impacts. The ARPA-E Act of 2018 (H.R. 5906) expands ARPA-E’s mission to cover cleanup of nuclear waste sites. The National Innovation Modernization by Laboratory Empowerment Act(NIMBLE Act, H.R. 5907) gives directors of national laboratories the authority to agreements to approve public-private partnerships of less than $1 million.

Oceans Bills: House members introduced several bills related to coastal resiliency and ocean conservation. The Creating Opportunity and Sustainability through Science Act (COAST Act, H.R. 6288), sponsored by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) directs NOAA to create a competitive grant program for coastal resilience and sustainability programs and creates an advisory panel of scientists and local representatives to oversee federal ocean research and coastal resiliency programs. H.R. 6267, introduced by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Rep. Don Young (R-AK), creates an Ocean Acidification Advisory Board to expand and support research on ocean acidification. Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) introduced another bill, H.R. 6270, to direct the National Academies of Science to study the impact of ocean acidification on estuaries. Finally, Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) introduced that National Ocean Policy Act of 2018(H.R. 6300). This bill aims to restore President Obama’s Executive Order 13547, including ocean policies focused on biodiversity, science-based decision making, climate change and sea level rise. President Trump revoked Executive Order 13547 in June 2018.

House Bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus: New members have joined the caucus, bringing the total number of members up to 84: Republicans Bill Posey of Florida, retiring Lynn Jenkins of Kansas, Brett Guthrie of Kentucky as well as Democrats Bobby Scott of Virginia, Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, and John Yarmuth of Kentucky. Composed of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, the caucus uses a “Noah’s Ark” approach for new members: one Democrat and one Republican must join at the same time to assure a bipartisan caucus. Although it has stopped anti-climate legislation, the coalition has not written its own bills.

Other legislative updates of interest:

  • The House passed the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Act (H.R. 2083). Introduced by Rep. Jaimie Herrera Beutler (R-WA), the bill allows representatives of the states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington to euthanize up to 920 sea lions a year to protect endangered salmon species. Currently, states can euthanize up to 92 sea lions a year under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
  • The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the Save our Seas Act (S. 756). This bill reauthorizes the Marine Debris Act through 2022 with up to $12 billion per year, requiring NOAA to remove marine debris and reduce the impacts of marine debris on oceans, navigation and the economy. The bill’s original sponsor is Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and the lead sponsor in the House is Rep. Don Young (R-AK).
  • Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) introduced a bill to allow aquaculture operations in federal waters and create an Office of Marine Aquaculture in NOAA to regulate and permit aquaculture in federal waters. The bill is titled the Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture (AQUAA) Act (S. 3138) and is co-sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).
  • Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced a bill, the Restore our Parks Act (S.3172) that provides for $6.5 billion for maintenance projects in national parks by diverting funds from royalties from energy development. The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Sen. Angus King (I-ME).

Executive Branch

Nominations and Cabinet Changes: After months of scandals, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned July 5. Pruitt’s Deputy Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, assumed the responsibilities of the acting EPA administrator starting July 9. The Senate confirmed Wheeler’s deputy administrator appointment in April. Wheeler formerly served as an aide to former Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and has lobbied on behalf of coal and uranium companies. Wheeler is a likely candidate to fill Pruitt’s position on a permanent basis, although he has told the press that he is not interested in the position. Another possible candidate is Donald van der Vaart, a former environmental regulator from North Carolina. Whomever is selected by President Trump as the new administrator will face a contentious Senate confirmation process.

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a confirmation hearing for several Department of Energy nominees, including Christopher Fall, the nominee to head DOE’s Office of Science. Fall is a neuroscientist by training who has worked for the Office of Naval Research and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and currently works as the acting head of DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). When asked about his proposed priorities, Fall named Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s priorities – “exascale computing, engineering biology and artificial intelligence.”

The Senate voted to approve the nomination of Tara Sweeney to be assistant secretary for Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior. Sweeney is the first Alaska Native woman to hold a Senate-confirmed position. She most recently worked for the Alaska Slope Regional Corporation and had lobbied for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

David Vela, the current superintendent of Grand Teton National Park, is reported by E&E News to be President Trump’s pick for the next director of the National Park Service. Vela is a career Park Service employee who has worked in the agency’s Washington headquarters and as the director of the Southeast Region. Vela would be the first Hispanic director of the agency.

ESA continues to track nominations for Cabinet positions and Senate-confirmed positions on the Federal Agency Transition Tracker.

Red wolves: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a proposal to effectively end its 30-year effort to establish a red wolf population in eastern North Carolina that would also allow landowners to kill red wolves on their properties. Instead, USFWS will focus its efforts on maintaining a population of 10 to 15 individuals on the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and locating a new home for this population. Local landowners and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission have stridently opposed the wolves’ presence. USFWS is accepting public comments on this proposal through July 30, and the agency will hold a public meeting July 10.

EPA: Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt instructed staff before he resigned to create an agency rule that would limit the agency’s ability to stop projects that it believes will pollute waterways. The agency has previously used this authority to stop projects like the Pebble mine in Alaska. Pruitt’s memo gives staff six months to draft a rule, which then would be sent to the Office of Management and Budget for review and then opened for public comment on the Federal Register.

Scientific Advisory Board: The EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) sent a letter to now former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt urging the EPA not to finalize the agency’s proposed ‘Strengthening Transparency in Science’ rule before the SAB can provide comments on the rule. This rule effectively prevents the EPA from using scientific studies to design new regulations if the underlying data from the study is not publicly available. The letter notes that the rule was designed without a process to solicit input from the scientific community. 

Gulf of Mexico Corals: The Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council voted to designate a 480 square mile area of the Gulf of Mexico as a ‘Habitat Area of Particular Concern’ to protect deep-sea corals. NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service will now review the designation and initiate a public comment period. The designation will ban the use of certain fishing gear – like trawls – that damage the corals.


USDA APHIS Wildlife Services: A federal judge ruled that the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Wildlife Services division acted “in an arbitrary and capricious manner” and failed to adequately account for the ecosystem impacts killing thousands of ‘nuisance’ animals such as bears, wolves, beavers, mountain lions and blackbirds in Idaho. The court ordered Wildlife Services staff to work with the plaintiffs – a coalition of environmental groups including the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians – to develop a method to determine the environmental impacts of its animal control activities.

Climate: The state of Rhode Island sued several oil companies for their role in climate change, which has caused damages to coastal infrastructure and communities in the state. Rhode Island is the first state a lawsuit of this kind.

In a similar case, a federal judge in California dismissed a lawsuit from the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, CA that sued oil companies for their role in climate change. The judge wrote that a ruling, in this case, would be a judicial overreach and the issue of who should be held liable for climate change should be addressed by the legislative and executive branch and international organizations.


Alaska: Governor Bill Walker (I) and Lieutenant Governor Bryon Malloy sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opposing the Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay and urging the agency to stop its environmental review of the project due to the site’s “unique characteristics” and its value in supporting the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery. Walker and Malloy wrote in the letter that the mine should be held to “an extrodinary high standard” due its potential environmental impact and that Pebble Limited Partnership “has yet to demonstrate… that they have proposed a feasible and realistic project.” Walker, who is running for relection, had not previously taken a public stance on the Pebble Mine. ESA Policy News previously reported on plans for the Pebble Mine.

Hawaii: Governor David Ige (D) signed a bill banning the sale and distribution of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate in the state due to these chemical’s impacts on marine ecosystems and coral reefs. Hawaii is the first state to ban these products and the bill will take effect in January 2021.

Michigan: Governor Rick Snyder (R) vetoed a bill passed by the state’s legislature to loosen the state’s regulations for ballast water in cargo ships, citing concerns that weakening these regulations would allow aquatic invasive species to spread. On the same day, Snyder also signed a bill that creates a committee to oversee rulemaking at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. More than half of this committees’ seats are dedicated to representatives of the oil and gas, agriculture and manufacturing industries.

Washington State: Citizens in Washington state will likely vote in November on a ballot initiative to charge industrial polluters a fee for carbon pollution. A coalition of environmental and community groups have delivered a petition with 375,000 signatures for the ballot initiative to state’s secretary of state, who will need to certify that the groups have provided 260,000 valid signatures. This petition comes two years after a carbon tax measure failed in the state in 2016. Revenue from the carbon fee would be used on projects to protect natural resources and help communities adapt to climate change.

Scientific Community

Gulf of Mexico Report: The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a consensus report on the future of the Gulf Coast communities and ecosystems. The report identifies three long-term areas for long-term research 1) How coastal ecosystem and landforms will respond to rapidly changing conditions and accelerating sea level rise? 2) How will human settlement and economic activity in the area respond to rapidly changing conditions? 3) How can an improved understanding of the evolution of the natural-human system of the Gulf Coast be used to guide decision-making? This report was commissioned by the National Academies’ Gulf Coast Research Program which was created as part of the settlement from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.


Canada: In his first days as the leader of Ontario, Premier Doug Ford moved to end the province’s plan to implement a cap-and-trade plan by the end of 2018 and fired Ontario’s chief scientist, Molly Shoichet. Dr. Shoichet, a biomedical engineer and a professor at the University of Toronto, was appointed by former Premier Kathleen Wynne in November 2017 and was the first person to hold this position. A representative of the Ford government said that they would work to find a replacement for Shoichet.

Federal Register Opportunities

Public Meetings, many of which are live-streamed: 

Opportunities for Public Comment and Nominations: