September 28, 2018

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Reception Honors USGS Congressional Champions

After a summer of wildfires and volcano eruptions – and science to understand these natural hazards – congressional staff and policymakers gathered on Capitol Hill for an event recognizing USGS’ important work and honoring two members of Congress for their support of the agency.

Rep. Vincente Gonzalez (D-TX) received a USGS Leadership Award for sponsoring the Improvement of Mapping, Addresses, Geography, Elevation, and Structures or IMAGES Act (H.R. 4905) and for his interest in responsibly addressing the country’s national resources in the pursuit of energy development. The IMAGES Act aims to strengthen the USGS National Streamflow Information Program and benefit flood risk mapping and assessment. These efforts are especially important in areas like Gonzales’ district in South Texas, which was affected by Hurricane Harvey and experienced ‘historic’ flooding in July 2018.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) also received a USGS Leadership Award for his work in seeking to reauthorize the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program (NCGMP) by introducing the National Geologic Mapping Act Reauthorization Act (H.R. 4033) and for his Natural Resources Committee work. The National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program is a partnership between state governments, the federal government, the USGS, and universities that provides funds for the production of geologic maps. The program also provides, shares, and stores maps in the National Geologic Map Database. NCGMP was most recently authorized in 2009 for 10 years.

From the administration side, Tim Petty, the assistant secretary for water and science in the Department of the Interior and USGS Director James Reilly also joined the reception and highlighted the importance of USGS science for understanding natural resources and natural hazards.


The National Science Foundation released its final sexual harassment policy. Starting October 2018, universities must report to NSF if a PI receiving NSF funds is found guilty of harassment of any kind or is suspended by the university or institution for any reason. The university would not lose NSF funding if another faculty member can serve as the PI for the grant. NSF only requires reports of harassment after an investigation is completed – universities do not have to tell NSF when a complaint has been filed or an investigation begins. The final policy is posted in the Federal Register.

Separately, House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), the Chairwoman of the committee’s Subcommittee on Research Technology, sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office reiterating the committee’s request that the GAO investigate federal agencies’ handling of sexual misconduct in the sciences. The letter recommends that other science funding agencies enact policies similar to NSF’s new policy. Smith and Comstock write that, based on the Science Committee’s findings on this issue, the GAO should investigate procedures for sexual harassment training, the current advisor model for scientific training and education, and consequences for sexual misconduct.


Appropriations: The president signed a minibus package of three appropiations bills, including a bill funding the Department of Energy Office of Science. The final bill includes $6.5 billion for the Office of Science – a 5.2 percent increase – and $705 million for Biological and Environmental Research, a 4.8 percent increase. The bill also increases funding for the Bioenergy Research Centers by 11 percent to $100 million.

The bill directs DOE to set aside $40 million for the Terrestrial Ecosystems Science program. The budget report specifies that of this amount, $10 million goes to the Next Generation Ecosystem Experiments (NGEE) – Arctic, $5.8 million to NGEE-Tropics, $8.3 million goes to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Spruce and Peatland Responses under Changing Environments (SPRUCE) project, $6.8 million for the Watershed Function Science Focus Area, and $5.7 million is for Ameriflux Long-Term Earth Systems Observations. The Subsurface Biogeochemical Research program receives $22 million and Earth and Environmental Systems modeling receives $97 million.

Congress approved a continuing resolution to fund other agencies of interest to ESA members at 2018 levels through the beginning of December.

ESA continues to track the appropriations process on the Federal Budget Tracker.

Department of Energy Legislation: The House voted to approve the Department of Energy Research and Innovation Act (H.R. 689). This bill authorizes the programs of all six components of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The Senate previously passed this legislation, and the bill will become law once the president signs it.

Climate Risk Disclosure Bill: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has introduced legislation that would require publicly traded companies to disclose information to investors and the public about the climate-related risks the company faces and how the company contributes to climate change. The legislation, called the Climate Risk Disclose Bill, is co-sponsored by seven other Senate Democrats including other likely presidential candidates Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

Galveston Sea Turtle Facility: House Natural Resources Ranking Member Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) sent a  letter to the head of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service expressing concerns over plans to shut the Galveston Sea Turtle Research Center. According to Grijalva, NOAA plans to close the facility to save $600,000 to $800,000 a year. NOAA describes the facility as the “only facility of its kind and class in the world.”

Congressional Research Service (CRS): Many of the reports prepared by the CRS’ nonpartisan subject matter experts are now publicly available online at A provision in the Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations bill required this change.

Legislative Updates:

  • The House passed the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (S. 3021). The bill outlines U.S. policy for water infrastructure and includes approval for ecological restoration projects, including authorization to remove a dam on the Green River in Kentucky and for a study of potential habitat restoration projects on the lower Mississippi River basin.
  • The House passed the Innovations in Mentoring, Training, and Apprenticeships Act (H.R. 5509). The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), authorizes NSF’s Education and Human Resources Directorate to use funds for grants to community colleges to develop or improve programs in STEM fields with “significant workforce demand” and authorizes grants to universities that offer work based learning opportunities to students.
  • The House Natural Resources Committee approved the Manage Our Wolves Act (H.R. 6784) from Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI). The bill removes gray wolves in the continental U.S. from the endangered species list by the end of 2019. The bill specifies that this decision will not be subject to judicial review and does not apply to Mexican gray wolf.
  • The House Natural Resources Committee voted to approve the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act (H.R. 6510). This bill, introduced by House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Ranking Member Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), allocates revenue from energy development on federal lands into a fund for infrastructure improvements in national parks, national wildlife refuges, Bureau of Land Management public lands and to Bureau of Indian Education schools.
  • The House Natural Resources Committee also passed a bill to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (H.R. 502). The Land and Water Conservation Fund allocates revenues from offshore oil in public lands to grants for federal, state, and local governments to purchase lands for conservation and recreation opportunities. The program is currently set to expire Sept. 30, 2018.
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted to approve the Migratory Birds of the Americas Conservation Act (S. 1537), sponsored by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD). This bill reauthorizes the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act through 2023.

Executive Branch

Methane Rule: The Interior Department moved Sept. 18 to effectively rescind a rule aimed at reducing methane emissions from drilling activities on federal public lands and tribal lands. The Obama administration finalized this rule in late 2016. The attorney generals of New Mexico and California have sued the Interior Department over this regulatory rollback. In a separate but related move, the Environmental Protection Agency also weakened requirements for oil and gas companies to monitor and repair methane leaks.

Forest Service: The Forest Service  released two new notices of proposed rulemaking announcing the agency’s intention to streamline the permitting process to extract oil, gas, and minerals from National Forest System lands. The oil and gas notice states that changes to the permitting process could “decrease the burden on industry” and ultimately promote domestic energy productions. The notices — Locatable Minerals and Oil and Gas Resources — are open for comment on the Federal Register through Oct. 15, 2018.

Regional Haze: Acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler sent a memo to staff outlining a roadmap for reforming the agency’s regional haze program, which – as part of the Clean Air Act – seeks to increase visibility and air quality in national parks. Wheeler’s roadmap emphasizes giving the states a large role in the program and “leveraging emissions reductions” from other Clean Air Act programs.

EPA Advisory Panels: Reporting by E&E News found that the EPA has unevenly enforced former Administrator Scott Pruitt’s directive to forbid scientists receiving funding from the EPA from participating on the agency’s advisory panels. E&E News contacted members of a dozen panels and members of nine committees said that they were not aware of efforts to apply the directive to their committee. Only members of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act Scientific Advisory Panel; the National Advisory Committee; and the Environmental Financial Advisory Board said that the agency made efforts to see if members were EPA grant recipients. Three academic scientists have sued the EPA after they were removed from the Scientific Advisory Board due to the policy change.

National Park Service: A report by the Center for Investigative Reporting found that National Park Service officials removed references to climate change and climate change-related threats in a 50-page report about the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park in Massachusetts. An email from a staff person in the Park Service’s Northeast Regional Office to the park superintendent states that the document was reviewed for “sensitive language that may raise eyebrows” and that the park should avoid “any speculative language” about climate change.

Interior Department: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke sent a memo to Interior Department agency heads affirming state agencies as “first-line authorities for management.” In line with this declaration, Zinke’s memo instructs Interior agencies to review when and where federal fish and wildlife regulations are stricter than state regulations. Once the agencies complete their review, the memo instructs agencies to provide recommendations to Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt that better align federal agency policy with state policy. Bernhardt will then consult with state agencies to develop an implementation plan and streamline state and federal policies.


Grizzly Bears: A district court judge in Montana ruled to return the Yellowstone population of grizzly bears to the federal endangered species list. The judge agreed with conservation and Native American groups who argued that this population is still vulnerable because it is genetically isolated from other grizzly bear populations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the grizzly bear from the endangered species list earlier in 2018, and the states of Wyoming and Idaho had planned to allow grizzly bear hunts. This week, in response to the recent court ruling, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) introduced a bill, the Grizzly Bear Management Act (H.R. 6877), directing the Department of the Interior to remove the grizzly bear from the endangered species list and blocking judicial review of this decision.

AquacultureA federal judge halted NOAA’s plans to permit aquaculture operations in the Gulf of Mexico. The judge said that NOAA lacked the authority to regulate aquaculture or issue rules in federal waters. A coalition of food safety and fishing interests had challenged NOAA’s plans, arguing that aquaculture could hurt native fish and ocean health. NOAA had planned to issue similar rules for aquaculture near Hawaii and in the Atlantic Ocean. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) introduced a bill earlier this year to give NOAA the authority to regulate aquaculture.


California: In days leading up to and during the Global Action Climate Summit in San Francisco, Governor Jerry Brown signed several bills to reduce the state’s carbon footprint and to improve understanding of climate change. One bill commits the state to getting 100 percent of its electricity from carbon-neutral sources by 2045; another bill requires ride-sharing companies to reduce their emissions and use cleaner cars. Brown also signed an executive order committing the state to becoming completely  carbon neutral by 2045 and announced the state’s plan to launch a satellite to monitor heat-trapping emissions.

Florida: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission will hold a summit for natural resource managers, researchers and conservationists on controlling the invasive lionfish in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico Oct. 2-4 in Cocoa Beach, FL.

Washington: The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife authorized agency staff to kill wolves twice in recent months – once in late August and once in mid-September. In both cases, the agency approved lethal action after the wolves killed livestock grazing on public lands in Ferry County in northeastern Washington.

In other Washington State news, Gov. Jay Inslee’s taskforce on orca recovery  released a draft report of recommendations to avert the extinction of southern resident killer whales. The report identifies the threats to orcas and suggests 114 potential recommendations from removing hydropower dams to increased funding for habitat acquisition and restoration. The taskforce is collecting public comments on the draft report through Oct. 7. The taskforce will send their final recommendations to the governor by Nov. 16.


United Kingdom: The UK government is considering changes to the subsidies given to farmers who participate in agriculture and conservation programs. Currently, under the EU’s common agricultural policy, farmers receive subsidies based on the amount of land they use – a system that favors large farms. The new scheme will phase out this system and will require farmers to detail how they will protect environmental quality before they receive funding.

Canada:report in Canadian publication The Narwal finds that despite promises from the Trudeau government to reverse former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s policy to stifle scientists from speaking publicly and to the media, it is still difficult to impossible for members of the media to speak with Parks Canada scientists about their work. As a result of Parks Canada’s policies, journalists have been unable to visit field sites and cover ecological issues facing Canada’s national parks.

Scientific Community

AAAS: The governing body of the American Association for the Advancement of Science voted Sept. 15 to adopt a new policy that would allow an elected AAAS fellow’s lifetime honor to be rescinded for “proven scientific misconduct or serious breaches of professional ethics,” such as harassment. Three AAAS fellows have resigned or been removed from their positions in 2018 after their universities found them guilty of sexual harassment.

NAS: The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine will host an event on “developing and implementing policies, procedures, and practices to prevent sexual harassment in academia,” building on an NAS report on sexual harassment released summer 2018. The event will be held Nov. 9 in Washington, DC with the morning plenary sessions webcast. Registration is online here.

Federal Register Opportunities

Public Meetings, many of which are live-streamed: 

Opportunities for Public Comment and Nominations: