January 22, 2019

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Federal Government Shutdown Continues, Impacts to Science Deepen

**ESA is collecting updates and publishing them on the “Shutdown Stories” blogpost about how the federal government shutdown is affecting the ecological and biological sciences. We request that you send us short posts.  ESA can publish your contribution anonymously or give you attribution. Please consider whether using your personal or work email account is appropriate when contacting ESA at gro.asenull@nosila. ESA is collecting and sharing offers of assistance on the Ecotone blog.**

The current federal government shutdown is now the longest in U.S. history. The impacts of the shutdown on science continue  are becoming more severe. Thousands of federal scientists are unable to work and are not receiving paychecks. Beyond that, scientists who collaborate with federal scientists or receive funding from agencies like the National Science Foundation are also affected. Congress passed legislation guaranteeing back-pay for federal employees, but that will only go into effect once the shutdown ends.

Federal contractors, who make-up approximately 40 percent of the federal workforce, are at risk of being laid-off because the private company employers are not guaranteed reimbursement for work conducted during a shutdown. In regard to the operating status of the National Ecological Observatory, Battelle told ESA, “We project that we have enough funding in place to maintain operations through mid-February. Of course, that is subject to all current conditions remaining the same. There are other factors that could impact our estimate. We have contingency plans in place should the partial shutdown continue for a prolonged period.”

The shutdown is disrupting data collection for long-term ecological studies. The Washington Post reports that ecologists studying predator-prey interactions between wolves and moose on Isle Royal National Park in Michigan will likely be unable to collect data this year because of the shutdown, leaving a blank spot in the study’s 60-year observation record.

NSF cancelled 33 panel review meetings scheduled in January, which will delay grant decisions and could impact scientific careers. It is also unclear how the shutdown will impact NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship program. These grants are typically announced at the beginning of April and NSF does not have a contingency plan if the review process is delayed. 

Another impact as the shutdown continues is that scientists are unable to plan their field seasons and apply necessary permits, such as import permits for plant and soil samples and research permits to conduct studies on federal lands.

Phil Burton, the co-editor of the Canadian Journal of Forest Research, wrote ESA about the impacts of the shutdown on forestry research and in Canada. Burton notes that the absence of U.S. Forest Service scientists is slowing the review and publication of forestry research. U.S. Forest Service researchers also may be unable to attend and contribute to the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations meeting – which happens every five years – because the abstract submission deadline was Jan. 10.

ESA is facilitating scientist-to-scientist sharing by collecting offers of assistance and resources in this form to share with those affected on an Ecotone virtual bulletin board. ESA members have offered lab and office space, help with collecting samples and invited furloughed scientists to have coffee and to join journal club meetings.

About 15 ESA members, most who are furloughed workers, attended a networking lunch held in ESA’s Washington DC office Jan. 16. Conversation stemmed from impacts of the shutdown to how people are filling their days. Ecologists expressed an interest in volunteering for projects during the shutdown. Sarah Anderson, ESA member, former Policy Section officer, and Forest Service Presidential Management Fellow, left the ESA lunch early to volunteer at celebrity Chef José Andrés’ pop-up kitchen that offers free meals to the the federal employees in DC affected by shutdown. 

Scientists and all constituents are encouraged to contact their Members of Congress and share with them how the shutdown is affecting their district or state. Contact information for all Members of Congress can be found on the House and Senate websites.

Trump Nominates Andrew Wheeler to lead the EPA, Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing

Scientists and all constituents are encouraged to contact their Members of Congress and share with them how the shutdown is affecting their district or state. Contact information for all Members of Congress can be found on the House and Senate websites.

After months of hinting, President Trump formally nominated Acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler to be permanent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Jan. 9. Wheeler is a former aide to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and a former coal lobbyist. He has served as acting EPA administrator since former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned in July 2018.

The on-going government shutdown and the timing of the hearing dominated the conversation during Wheeler’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Jan. 16. Prior to the hearing, several Democrats on the committee sent a letter asking Wheeler for more information about which EPA staff were preparing remarks for Wheeler’s confirmation and how their work meets the requirements of the EPA’s shutdown contingency plan. Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) said in his opening statement that reopening the EPA should be a higher priority than approving Wheeler’s nomination. 

Committee Democrats also used the hearing to press Wheeler about climate change and the EPA’s deregulatory actions, including a new proposed definition of “waters of the U.S.” rule that would remove protections for ephemeral streams and many wetlands (see ESA Policy News, Dec. 18, 2018). Wheeler defended these actions, saying that “the Trump administration has proven that burdensome federal regulations are not necessary to drive environmental progress.” He declined to call climate change a ‘hoax’ and said climate change is not “the greatest crisis facing our planet,” but it is “a huge issue that has to be addressed globally.”

The National Climate Assessment (NCA) report, released in late November 2018 (see ESA Policy News, Dec. 3, 2018), also figured heavily in the hearing. Wheeler said that he has not fully familiarized himself with the contents of the NCA report and that a second staff briefing for him about the report is postponed until the government reopens. Carper entered the full NCA report into the hearing’s record.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) agreed to delay the committee’s vote on Wheeler’s confirmation until early February. The committee and the full Senate will likely vote to confirm Wheeler. The Senate voted to confirm Wheeler as EPA deputy administrator by 53-45 vote in April 2018. All Senate Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) voted for Wheeler’s confirmation.


Appropriations: House Democrats introduced six appropriations bills which would fund and reopen most federal agencies through September 2019. The bills are largely based on bills approved by the House and Senate in 2018. The bill includes $8.1 billion for the National Science Foundation, an increase of $186 million over fiscal year 2018 levels. The bills are unlikely to pass the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said that the Senate will not vote on any appropriations bills until President Trump agrees.

House Energy and Commerce Committee: Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) announced that the Environment Subcommittee is now renamed the Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee. Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) will chair the Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee and Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) will be its ranking member.

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee:  Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) is the committee’s chairman for the 116th Congress. Former Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-SD) left this position to serve as the majority whip. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) replaced Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) as the committee’s ranking member after Nelson lost re-election. Wicker reconfigured the committee’s subcommittees. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) will chair the Subcommittee on Science, Oceans, Fisheries and Weather, which will have jurisdiction over the National Science Foundation. The Subcommittee on Aviation and Space is replacing the Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness.

House Appropriations Committee: Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Ranking Member Kay Granger (R-TX) announced the committee’s leadership for the 116th Congress.

  • Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) is the new chair of the Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee, which oversees funding for the National Science Foundation, NASA and NOAA. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) is now the ranking member.
  • Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) is chair of the Energy and Water Subcommittee. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), who served as the chairman in the previous two congresses, is be the ranking member.
  • Rep. Betty McCollum is named as the chair of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee. Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) is now the ranking member. This committee oversees funding for the Department of the Interior, the EPA and the Forest Service.
  • Rep Sanford Bishop (D-GA) is chair of the Agriculture Subcommittee and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) is the ranking member.

Offshore Drilling: Members of Congress introduced eight bills aimed at preventing offshore oil and gas drilling in federal waters. Some bills ban drilling in specific regions – for example, New England or the mid-Atlantic. Others target larger areas – the Clean Ocean and Safe Tourism Anti-Drilling Act (H.R. 341), introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), prohibits drilling along the entire U.S. Atlantic coast and the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The bills also vary in length – the West Coast Ocean Protection Act (H.R. 310), introduced by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), permanently bans offshore oil and gas drilling off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington. The Coastal Economies Protection Act (H.R. 291), from Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC) and Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL), places a 10-year moratorium on drilling in the Atlantic Ocean and the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Sexual Harassment Bill: Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) introduced the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act of 2019 (H.R. 363) The legislation, if enacted into law, would establish an inter-agency working group to coordinate federal science agency efforts to reduce the prevalence of sexual harassment involving grant personnel to be chaired by the Director of the Office of Science and Technology (OSTP). This bill is identical to a bill that Johnson introduced late in the 115th Congress (See ESA Policy News Oct. 10, 2018). 

Legislative updates:

  • Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) introduced the Climate Solutions Act (H.R. 330), which would require 100 percent of energy sold in the U.S. be sourced from renewable energy by 2035 and calls for a 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, relative to 1990 levels, by 2050. Lieu introduced similar legislation in the 114th and 115th Congresses, but calls this bill his most “aggressive” yet.
  • Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) re-introduced the Federally Integrated Species Health Act (H.R 548). This bill shifts responsibility for managing fish that live in freshwater and the ocean during points of their lifecycle under the Endangered Species Act to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Currently, USFWS and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service share responsibility for managing these fish.


Florida: Governor Ron DeSantis (R) issued an executive order pledging $2.5 billion for water restoration efforts including increased water quality monitoring and projects to address algae in Lake Okeechobee and red tide in coastal areas. The executive order also creates an Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection to prepare and respond to the impacts of sea level rise and an Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency to coordinate environmental research across the state. The Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency office is led by Florida’s Chief Science Officer – a new position.

Officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission announced Jan. 15 that the Florida Keys population of ospreys has been removed from the state’s list of Species of Conservation Concern. The population plummeted after a massive seagrass die off in the 1980s and 1990s. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission also removed the harlequin darter, the Homosassa shrew and the Southern fox squirrel from the list of Species of Conservation Concern.

Louisiana: The state Office of Community Development purchased 515 acres for $11.7 million to relocate the mostly Native American community of Isle de Jean Charles, whose land is rapidly sinking into the Gulf of Mexico. The land is expected to be ready for residents by 2020.

Montana: State House Majority Leader Brad Tschida (R-Lolo) introduced a bill (H.B. 161) that would prohibit the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks from using social science, human dimensions, or any public input in management decision-making. The bill requires the agency to only use “facts and science,” but seems to be cherry picking what counts as science. 

Pennsylvania: Governor Tom Wolfe (D) signed an executive order committing the state to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050. These goals correspond with those of the Paris Climate agreement.

Oregon: The state Court of Appeals ruled that the state is not required by the public trust doctrine to protect natural resources from the impacts of climate change. The ruling concludes that Oregon’s public trust doctrine only applies to submerged or submersible lands. The court also declined to determine if other natural resources – such as shorelines, fish and wildlife – are subject to the public trust doctrine. The plaintiffs – two youth represented by Our Children’s Trust – said that they plan to appeal the decision.

West coast: Governors Gavin Newsom (D-CA), Kate Brown (D-OR) and Jay Inslee (D-WA) sent a letter to President Trump asking him to double funding federal forest management in their respective states to protect their residents from wildfires.


Brazil: The head of Brazil’s environmental protection agency, Suely Araujo, stepped down Jan. 7 under pressure from far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, after Bolsonaro criticized the amount the agency has spent on renting vehicles. Araujo’s resignation left many concerned for the fate of the Amazon rainforest. An anonymous agency official told Reuters that Bolsonaro’s attacks on Araujo are part of his larger agenda to reduce environmental enforcement.

CITES: In an attempt to save the African elephant from poaching, Israel proposed giving the extinct wooly mammoth protected species status. Elephant and mammoth ivory are almost identical, and elephant tusk is often illegally traded as a legal mammoth tusk. The proposal needs the support of two-thirds of the parties at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which will take place in Sri Lanka in May, before it can be ratified. If passed, this would be the first instance of an extinct species being granted protected species status.

Scientific Community

NEON: Battelle reinstated the National Ecological Observatory Network’s (NEON) Science Technology, Education Advisory Committee (STEAC) after it briefly dissolved the committee the week of Jan. 7 directly following the resignation of its chief scientist and observatory director, Sharon Collinge, who worked at NEON just short of one year. Collinge, a professor at University of Colorado (CU) Boulder, was director of the Environmental Studies Program and left CU to manage NEON for two years. Mike Kuhlman, Battelle’s Chief Scientist, said that he had erroneously assumed that “advisory bodies were reconstituted at the change of leadership of NSF large facilities.” Collinge’s resignation came shortly after Battelle, without her knowledge, fired two senior NEON managers: Wendy Gram, an ecologist who served as NEON’s education director, and Richard Leonard, its vice-president for research infrastructure. Battelle cited that Collinge, as a contractor rather than a Battelle employee, did not have the authority to make personnel or financial decisions. Battelle brought back Eugene Kelly to replace Collinge as NEON’s acting chief scientist. Kelly previously spent a year as NEON’s top scientist during the management transition from NEON, Inc. to Battelle.

STEAC report issued in September 2018 stated the need for clarity about NEON’s organizational structure roles and decision making as one of five topic areas included in the report. The STEAC reports directly to Battelle rather than the National Science Foundation (NSF). Most NSF employees are furloughed due to the federal government shutdown and NSF has not commented on Battelle’s recent actions or the resignation of Collinge.    

Biodiversity Collections: The Biodiversity Collections Network convened a workshop and issued a report on “Extending U.S. Biodiversity Collections to Address National Challenges.” The group is requesting public comments on the report. The comment period is open until Feb. 1, 2019.

ELI: The Environmental Law Institute launched the People Places Planet podcast, which will expand on and explain the thinking behind ELI papers and reports.

TNC: The Nature Conservancy’s Firewood Outreach Coordinating Initiative will hold three webinars on national firewood and forest pest policy and topics in January and February. For information on the other webinars, click here.

Federal Register Opportunities


Public Meetings, many of which are live-streamed: 

Note: meetings may be impacted by the federal government shutdown.

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.