February 19, 2019

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ESA Selects Graduate Student Policy Award Winners

ESA is honored to announce this year’s Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA) recipients. This award provides graduate students with the opportunity to receive policy and communication training in Washington, D.C. before they meet lawmakers.

Ten students were selected for this year’s award: Kristina J. Bartowitz (University of Idaho), Vanessa Constant (Oregon State University), Hannah E. Correia (Auburn University), Brett Fredericksen (Ohio University), Sara Gonzalez (University of California, Santa Cruz), Emily Kiehnau (University of Oklahoma), Charlotte R. Levy (Cornell University), Timothy J. Ohlert (University of New Mexico), Christopher Kai Tokita (Princeton University) and Emory H. Wellman (East Carolina University).

Students will travel to D.C. in March to learn about the legislative process and federal science funding, to hear from ecologists working in federal agencies, and to meet with their Members of Congress on Capitol Hill. This Congressional Visit Day, organized and sponsored by ESA, offers GSPA recipients the chance to interact with policymakers and discuss the importance of federal funding for science, in particular the biological and ecological sciences.

Read the press release, with photos of the students, online.

Democrats introduce the Green New Deal in House and Senate

Resolutions “Recognizing the duty of the federal government to create a Green New Deal” were introduced Feb. 7 in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced the House resolution (H.Res.109) with 67 original co-sponsors, all Democrats. Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) introduced the Senate resolution (S.Res.59) by with 11 original co-sponsors, all members of the Democratic caucus. Neither resolution is garnering any bipartisan, Republican support.

The concept of a “Green New Deal” was first popularized by New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman in January 2007 op-ed, “A Warning From the Garden,” and it has seen numerous iterations since. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez argued for a “Select Committee for a Green New Deal” as part of the insurgent campaign for her winning election to Congress in the 2018 midterm elections. The current House and Senate resolutions, building on those earlier ideas, are attracting supporters and skeptics alike.

In summary, the Green New Deal resolutions (GND) declare that the United States is historically the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, contributing to climate change which has precipitated a number of ecological, economic and humanitarian disasters, and national security crises. Further, they declare that in addition to that historic responsibility, the U.S. has the technological capacity to reduce those impacts through economic transformation. It explicitly compares the need to “the Federal Government-led mobilizations during World War II and the New Deal” and predicts similar benefits, tying together issues such as a right to clean water, declining life expectancy and health care, sustainable agriculture, efficient infrastructure and renewable energy.

The GND is a descriptive and visionary organizing document, not a legislative agenda. Though referencing the findings and recommendations of “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 ºC” by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the November 2018 “Fourth National Climate Assessment” by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, it makes no specific prescriptions for action. Rather it ambitiously calls for developing measures through transparent and inclusive partnerships across the whole of American society during a 10-year national mobilization. This lack of specificity in the GND causes “greens” concern, others see it as a strength, comparing it to President Roosevelt’s improvisations in developing the “New Deal” during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Congressional response

Even before the GND was introduced, it was a topic of discussion in Congress. At a Feb. 7 oversight hearing by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on energy innovation, attention repeatedly lurched toward the GND. Ranking member Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), taking a practical tone, asked “what time frame are we going to get there and how much are we going to have to invest and is the rest of the world going to come along with us?” Ernest Moniz, Obama’s energy secretary (2013-2017), replied, “we all know this is going to come into fiscal headwinds going forward.” Moniz, however, noted that the Department of Energy (DOE) hasunused authority of approximately $40-billion in a loan guarantee program and suggested that this could leverage an $80-$100 billion investment in energy infrastructure.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), who is also chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, touted the potential of carbon capture and sequestration and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) advocated for nuclear energy.

Meanwhile, in hearings of the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee on DOE investment in energy innovation, ranking majority member Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) implicitly supported the GND, stating, “we must provide robust, stable federal support for energy R&D at the DOE,” while noting that, “This won’t be easy – we are still facing sequestration with no budget deal in place for the next two years yet.”Ranking member Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), however, urged restraint in climate change mandates.

Notably, on the House Appropriations Interior-Environment subcommittee, 5 of 6 Democrats including Chairwoman Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) are GND co-sponsors. That committee, comprised of 11 total members, is seen as a key path for potential GND legislation.

Following the first in a monthlong series of hearings on climate change held by the House Natural Resources Committee, Chairman Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) came out strongly supporting the GND. In a Feb. 7 statement, Grijalva said “this economy needs to be cleaner and more sustainable if we want a livable future. The Green New Deal is the right framework for the work we need to do, in Congress and across the nation,” adding, “The energy behind the Green New Deal is truly inspiring . . . . . with this resolution as our guide, our emphasis on climate action is only going to get stronger.” The House Natural Resources Committee is also considered an important pathway for potential GND legislation.

Following release of the GND, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) named eight Democrats to the newly reinstated “Select Committee on the Climate Crisis” to be led by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL). The committee has not been given subpoena power, as many had hoped. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez said she had been invited by Speaker Pelosi to join the panel, but she declined due to her other committee commitments and her focus on the Green New Deal resolution. Republican leadership has not yet named members to the select committee.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), the first vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, observed in comments to The Hill, “all of these activities [are] going to create a lot more attention to the issue, which is ultimately a win.” Select committee member Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL), also in comments to The Hill, was more circumspect, saying, “You have to be practical about what you can do right now. There is something radical about being practical in this place.”

In a November 2018 exclusive interview with ThinkProgress, the then newly-elected Casten said, “I don’t care whether or not we use renewables. I justcare that we get the carbon down as quickly as possible.” Casten is a clean energy entrepreneur who made climate action and clean energy his signature issue in his successful campaign to unseat 5-term incumbent Peter Roskam (R-IL), a seat held by the GOP since 1949.

While Democratic support is not unanimous for the GND, Speaker Pelosi gave qualified support at a morning press conference after it was released saying, “I haven’t seen it, but I do know it’s enthusiastic, and I welcome all the enthusiasm.” At a later press conference, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez said, “Nancy Pelosi is a leader on climate, has always been a leader on climate, and I will not allow our caucus to be divided up by silly notions of whatever narrative. We are in this together.”

House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-MA), also a GND co-sponsor, wields significant influence on which bills will be considered and has said, “. . . my guess is it will come to the floor.” The resolution is currently referred to 11 House committees for consideration.

House Republicans were much more pessimistic and even dismissive. Natural Resources Ranking Member Rob Bishop (R-UT) called it “cute.” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), in a press release, called the resolution “a laughable plan to make air travel obsolete, force household electricity rates to skyrocket, and guarantee taxpayer-funded welfare to everyone ‘unwilling to work.'” Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA), a potential Republican pick for the select committee, called the GND “irrational,” in an interview with E&E News, adding, “I understand where they’re coming from, I understand why they did it, but I don’t think that it passes the reality-check test.”

With majority support firming, prospects are promising for the GND in the Democratic-led House; not so in the Republican-led Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced Feb. 12 that he plans to force a vote on the GND resolution the Senate, saying, “I’ve noted with great interest the Green New Deal. And we’re going to be voting on that in the Senate. Give everybody an opportunity to go on record and see how they feel about the Green New Deal.” Though the promised vote is not yet scheduled, GND sponsor Sen. Markey characterized Sen. McConnell’s threat as an effort to “sabotage” the measure, “without committee hearings, expert testimony, or a true national debate.”

Analysts see the threatened Senate vote as a move to force Democratic lawmakers to choose sides on what may be a polarizing issue and risk alienating either moderate or progressive members or their base. However, a December poll, “The Green New Deal has Strong Bipartisan Support,” by Yale and George Mason University researchers found that 81 percent of all registered voters supported a “Green New Deal,” before the resolution was formally announced. Support was 92 percent with registered Democrats, and 64 percent with Republicans. Opposition was 18 percent for Democrats and 35 percent for Republicans.

That same Yale/George Mason poll also pointed to a current weakness for the GND, “Most [82 percent] Americans have heard nothing about the Green New Deal.” Survey research has consistently shown partisan bias when people are told of an initiative’s origin. This knowledge gap provides an opportunity for divisive debates and ridicule to defeat the GND.

States and the Green New Deal

Minnesota, New Mexico, New York and Washington State each are considering legislation to eliminate carbon from their power sectors. New York’s measure, backed by Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) and a solidly Democratic legislature, would require 70 percent of the state’s electricity to be renewably-sourced by 2030, more than tripling offshore wind and doubling solar. By 2040 it would require all of New York State’s power sources to be carbon free.

“The entire goal here is to focus on decarbonization,” said Alicia Barton, president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. “Carbon is really the attribute that we’re solving for.”

With both having a Democratic executive and legislature, both New Mexico and Washington State also have a good chance of passing carbon-focused legislation. New Mexico would set a goal of 80 percent by 2040 and Washington State would seek 100 percent renewable or carbon-free by 2045.

Minnesota is led by Governor Tim Walz (D), though the legislature is dividedwith Republicans controlling the Senate. However, Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy, Inc. (NASDAQ: XEL), a top-5 US energy provider, has committed to “going completely carbon free by 2050,” the first major US utility to do so. Minnesota State Rep. Jamie Long (D) believes Xcel’s commitment improves prospects for a “100 percent clean energy” bill he co-authored and introduced with State Sen. Nick Frentz (D) Jan. 5.

“Twenty-nine states plus the District of Columbia have adopted specific greenhouse gas reduction targets to address climate change,” according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES).

The Green New Deal and 2020

All declared Democratic candidates for president in 2020 from the Senate are co-sponsors of the Green New Deal, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), not yet declared but expected, told reporters, “”I don’t need to co-sponsor every bill that others think they need to co-sponsor to show my progressive politics,” at a Feb.12 breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, adding that he favors, “aggressively addressing climate change.”

In the House, only Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) has announced a 2020 presidential run. Gabbard has not taken a position on the GND resolution though she tweeted support for “a green economy” in January.

The Green New Deal going forward

Surveys find that voters are broadly supportive of the GND, but that party identification and messaging will be critical to its ultimate success. Early missteps by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez are creating opportunities for her opponents. For example, an early draft FAQ for the launch of the GND posted to Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s home page, since removed, read: “A Green New Deal is a massive investment in renewable energy production and would not include creating new nuclear plants. It’s unclear if we will be able to decommission every nuclear plant within 10 years, but the plan is to transition  off of nuclear and all fossil fuels as soon as possible.” That same draft FAQ said “We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.” Indeed cows and agriculture are cited as a source of 30 percent to 40 percent of worldwide methane emissions. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas estimated to have a global warming potential 56 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

While the farting cows mention was rightly dismissed as sarcasm by Ocasio-Cortez’s staff and GND supporters, it provided an opening for powerful messaging by GND opponents. Similarly, nuclear power is regarded as a zero-carbon energy source, albeit with other attending issues. Many climate activists consider it a viable and even necessary part of a zero-carbon future, notably including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (currently D, though formerly also R and I), a possible 2020 presidential contender, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) who came to be a GND co-sponsor.

Playful and poorly considered messaging by an inexperienced US House Representative and her staff could jeopardize the success of the Green New Deal. It has already been used in ads sponsored by the Congressional Leadership Fund, a House GOP super PAC, targeting Reps. Antonio Delgado (D-NY) [YouTube link] and Colin Allred (D-TX) [YouTube link] though neither is an active proponent of the GND.

While more experienced leaders are adopting the Green New Deal as their own, Ocasio-Cortez is clearly intent on remaining out-front. With nearly all Democratic contenders for 2020 also embracing it, the Green New Deal is likely to be increasingly prominent in political debate.

Climate and the border wall

In a breaking development mid-morning Friday, President Trump proclaimed a state of emergency at the southern border, seeking $8-billion in funds for his long-promised wall, circumventing Congress. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) responded almost immediately, circulating a Dear Colleague letter, seeking support for a Sense of Congress resolution declaring climate change a “real national emergency.” Blumenauer continued, “If Donald Trump wants to start declaring national emergencies for fake crises, Congress should start to address the real ones, starting with climate change.”

Trump announced the emergency measure hours before finally signing a shutdown-averting budget agreement late Friday afternoon. The president’s budget brinksmanship, to no apparent gain, and emergency declaration, prompted swift rebukes from congressional Democrats and Republicans alike.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), echoed Blumenauer, tweeting, said that the focus should be on “actual emergencies that plague our nation-like climate change or health care access.”

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), a conservative member of the Judiciary and Armed Services committees, condemned the emergency declaration in a Friday afternoon statement, warning, “A President Bernie Sanders declaring a national emergency to implement the radical Green New Deal,” and arguing, “It would likely get tied up in litigation.” Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) and Judiciary chairman Lindsay Graham (R-SC) lined-up firmly with the emergency proclamation, with leaders of the House Freedom Caucus sent President Trump a letter Wednesday encouraging the action. Notably, however, all 9 of the representatives from border districts, including Reps. Will Hurd (R-TX) and Steve Pearce (R-NM), did not support increased border funding during the shutdown fights.

Regardless of the fate of Rep. Blumenauer’s proposed climate emergency resolution, it is nearly certain that there will be a resolution of disapproval passed by the House where Democrats hold the majority with a comfortable margin (235 to 199). Republicans hold the Senate majority with a 53-47 split (including two Independents who caucus with Democrats).

By law, the Senate will be obliged to consider and vote on a House-passed resolution of disapproval, quickly and without filibuster. A defection of only four Republican senators will see the resolution pass the Senate. Indeed, 4 Republican senators have come out against Trump’s emergency declaration since Friday afternoon-Sens. Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), John Cornyn (R-TX) Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Marco Rubio (R-FL)-enough to ensure passage by a simple majority. Sen. Tillis has not committed as of yet but his comments have been strongly against Trump’s declaration on principle. 

Additionally, Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Martha McSally (R-AZ) are considered possible Republican votes against Trump. Each of those additional four senators face reelection in 2020 will have a difficult political calculus as they consider whether to disapprove Trump’s declaration.

It seems plausible that a resolution of disapproval will carry both the House and Senate. However, it will then be subject to a presidential veto. It seems unlikely that a veto-proof 2/3rds supermajority in the House and even less likely in the Senate. In this scenario, Trump’s emergency declaration would likely survive the expected legislative challenge.

But then there’s litigation. California Governor Gavin Newsom’s (D) statement said, succinctly, “California will see you in court,” a sentiment shared by congressional Democrats and likely other southern-border governors.

House leadership has not yet committed to a resolution against Trump’s emergency, but it seems certain. Public advocacy groups and 16 states have already filed legal challenges to the emergency declaration. The fight over the declaration is unlikely to be decided quickly and it is likely to drag the Green New Deal into the 2020 election cycle.

Congress Passes Bills Funding Federal Science Agencies, Averting Shutdown

Congress released and passed legislation funding federal agencies through the end of September 2019 and averted another government shutdown. The bill largely includes modest budget increases for agencies of interest to ESA members and more funding than requested in President Trump’s fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget:

  • The National Science Foundation receives $8.1 billion, an increase of $307.6 million from FY 2018 levels and $369 million above the president’s budget request. This includes $6.5 billion for research and related activities, a $186 million increase.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey receives $1.16 billion, $12 million above FY 2018 levels and $301 million about the president’s request.
  • The National Park Service receives $3.22 billion, an increase of $20 million above FY 2018 levels and $521 million above the president’s request.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service receives $1.58 billion. This amount is $17 million below FY 2018 levels, but $352 million above the president’s request.
  • The Bureau of Land Management receives $1.31 billion, a $14 million dollar increase over FY 2018 levels and $323 million above the president’s request.
  • The U.S. Forest Service receives $3.08 billion for nonfire programs, an increase of $28 million above FY 2018 levels and $684 million above the president’s request. The Forest Service receives $3 billion for wildland fire management.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency receives $8.8 billion, a $25 million increase above FY 2018 levels and $2.66 billion above the president’s request.
  • The Agriculture and Research Initiative receives $415 million, an increase of $15 million over FY 2018 levels and $35 million over the president’s request.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) receives $5.4 billion – $500 million less than in FY 2018. NOAA’s climate research program receives $159 million, $1 million more than in FY 2018.

The bill carries over policy riders from previous appropriations bills that prohibit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the greater sage-grouse as an endangered species and require the EPA to treat emissions from forest biomass as carbon neutral. Appropriators express concerns with the USDA’s plans to move the National Institute of Food and Agriculture outside of the DC area and direct USDA officials to provide cost estimates for the move and a cost/benefit analysis of the move in its 2020 budget justification.

ESA is working to update the Federal Budget Tracker page with more details.

House Committees Hold First Meaningful Climate Hearings in Years

On Feb. 6, with Democrats now firmly in control in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Natural Resources Committee and the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change simultaneously held their first full committee hearings, focusing on climate change. Both were held the day before the introduction of the Green New Deal in the House and the Senate.

The Energy and Commerce hearing, entitled “Time for Action: Addressing the Environmental & Economic Effects of Climate Change,” was the first Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on climate change since 2013 when Republicans held a hearing critical of the Climate Action Plan. The witness panel included six climate change advocates; there were no minority witnesses. No subsequent Energy and Commerce climate hearings are currently scheduled.

The Natural Resources hearing was entitled “Climate Change: Impacts and the Need to Act.” Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) said in his opening remarks, “Today we turn the page on this Committee from climate denial to climate action.” The hearing is the first in a monthlong schedule of hearings for five subcommittees. At the opening of the full-committee hearing, majority witnesses included Governors Roy Cooper (D-NC) and Charlie Baker (R-MA) as well as Kim Cobb, a Georgia Insitute of Technology climate scientist, and four representatives climate advocacy groups. Minority witnesses included Derrick Hollie, president of Reaching America; and Judith Curry, president of Climate Forecast Applications Network. Four of the subcommittee hearings have concluded with Oversight and Investigations scheduled for Feb. 26. In the concluded hearings, there were few minority witnesses. Ranking Member Rob Bishop (R-UT) thanked Grijalva for holding the climate hearings in February, quipping, “I appreciate the fact that you picked the shortest month of the year to do that.”

On Feb. 13, Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) presided over the first full Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing entitled, “The State of Climate Science and Why it Matters.” The witness panel included: Kristie Ebi, director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the University of Washington; Jennifer Francis, an atmospheric scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center; Robert Kopp, director of Rutgers University’s Institute of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences; Natalie Mahowald, faculty director of the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future at Cornell University; and Joseph Majkut, director of climate policy at the Niskanen Center. No further Science Committee hearings on climate are currently scheduled.

Republicans response to the climate change hearings ranged from skepticism to acceptance. In the Science committee hearing, for example, minority witness Joseph Majkut, director of climate policy at the Niskanen Center, said, “At present, far too many tons of CO2 are emitted here, and abroad, without sufficient regard to the damages they will cause future generations,” concluding, “science can help us understand the scope of the problem and the effectiveness of proposed responses.” Science Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) also observed, “Global industrial activity has played a role in this phenomenon.”

Nevertheless, minority member comments at the Science climate hearings reverted to form with Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) asking the witness panel, “Have you ever noticed that on the hottest day of the year the windmills aren’t turning, and that’s why it’s the hottest day of the year?” And Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) asking, “Are you familiar with the Norse settlements in Iceland and Greenland around the year 1000, and that there was farming and animal husbandry in Greenland for nearly 300 years?”

Freshman minority Science Committee members Reps. Michael Waltz (R-FL) and Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) recognized climate change in their comments, but took shots at the Green New Deal resolution with Waltz saying, “we need to be very careful about crossing the line from aspirational to outlandish.” Gonzalez was somewhat more conciliatory, however, saying that Congress needs to, “make alternative energy as affordable and reliable as the traditional sources we use today.”

In hallway comments to Climatewire, freshman Sean Casten (D-IL), a renewable energy entrepreneur remarked that Republicans were, “still trying to figure out who they’re going to be when they grow up.”

Senate Passes Bipartisian Public Lands Package

The Senate overwhelmingly passed an omnibus package of natural resources and public lands bills (S. 47). The package combines over 100 individual bills – many of which previously passed either the House or Senate – and is 662 pages long. In total, the legislation designates 1.3 million acres of federal land as wilderness and withdraws 370,000 acres of land from mining claims. The legislation permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund that transfers revenue from offshore oil and gas leases to land management agencies and local governments. Funds are then used to acquire lands adjacent to public lands and to create recreational facilities like athletic fields and trails.


The bill reauthorizes the Neotropical Bird Conservation Act, allowing appropriators to provide up to $6.5 million each year through 2024 for migratory bird conservation, education and research programs. It also reauthorizes the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, a partnership between state governments, the federal government, the U.S. Geological Survey and universities that provides funds for the production of geologic maps, through 2023.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE)’s Wildlife Innovation and Longevity Driver (WILD) Act (S. 268) is included in the bill. The WILD Act reauthorizes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program which provides assistance for voluntary, private lands conservation projects. The legislation reauthorizes international conservation grants programs for projects benefiting rhinos, tigers, great apes, elephants and marine turtles. It also requires federal land management agencies to develop strategic plans for invasive species management. Another provision creates “Theodore Roosevelt Genius Prizes” for innovative projects addressing wildlife trafficking, invasive species and wildlife conservation.

A section of the bill directs the Secretary of the Interior to create a desert tortoise conservation center along the California-Nevada border to support desert tortoise research and conservation.

House Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Ranking Member Rob Bishop (R-UT) predict that the legislation will easily pass the House of Representatives.


Wheeler Nomination: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved Acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s nomination to lead the agency permanently. All Republicans on the committee voted to approve Wheeler’s nomination and all Democrats on the committee voted against Wheeler. The full Senate will vote on Wheeler’s nomination in late February. 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.

Climate Change Committee: Democratic leadership announced the members of the new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis: Reps Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Julia Brownley (D-CA), Sean Casten (D-IL), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Mike Levin (D-CA), Don McEachin (D-VA) and Joe Neguse (D-CO). Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) will serve as the committee’s chair. Levin and Casten are both new members of the House. Bonamici received ESA’s Regional Policy Award during ESA’s 2017 Annual Meeting in Portland, OR.

House Science Committee: Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) announcedthe Republican membership of the committee Feb. 6. One highlight of the roster is that freshman Rep. Jim Baird (R-IN) will serve as the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Research and Technology. This subcommittee oversees the National Science Foundation and university research policy. Baird has a Ph.D. in animal science and worked for Purdue University’s Cooperative Extension Service in the 1970s and 1980s.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Reps. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduced the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plan Protection Act (H.R. 1146) that seeks to stop oil and gas drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Trump Administration released its draft environmental impact statement for oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in December 2019 (see ESA Policy News, Feb. 7, 2019). The bill has 100 additional co-sponsors – 99 of these co-sponsors are Democrats.

Separately, the Interior Department announced that it will not conduct seismic testing to explore oil and gas reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge this winter. Instead, SAExploration will start testing in December 2019.

Deforestation: Eight Democratic Senators, led by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), sent letters to 11 investment firms asking about for more information about the role of each concerning tropical deforestation and palm oil production. The letters assert that the investment firms have a fiduciary responsibility to address risks from deforestation and gives a deadline of March 1 to explain their environmental, social and governance and deforestation policies.

Offshore Drilling: Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) requested meeting with officials from the Departments of Commerce and the Interior on the Trump administration’s plans to open the federal waters off the coast of North Carolina to oil and gas drilling. In his letter, Tillis expresses concerns about the economic and ecological impacts of drilling. Tillis previously supported offshore drilling.

Paris Agreement: Sixty-one Democratic Members of the House and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduced a resolution (H.Con.Res 15) affirming Congress’ support for the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and expressing that the U.S. should not withdraw from the agreement.

Legislative Updates:

  • Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) reintroduced the Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies (USE IT) Act (S. 383). This bill directs the EPA to conduct carbon capture and sequestration research and streamlines permitting requirements for carbon capture and sequestration and carbon dioxide projects. Barrasso and Whitehouse introduced this legislation in the 115th Congress.
  • Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) introduced legislation (H.R. 1023) reauthorizing the activities of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Great Lakes Science Center.
  • Rep. Debra Haaland (D-NM) and 80 other House Democrats introduced the America’s Natural Treasures of Immeasurable Quality Unite, Inspire, and Together Improve the Economies of States (ANTIQUITIES) Act of 2019 (H.R. 1050). This bill clarifies that only Congress can modify a national monument designation.

Executive Branch

OSTP: Kelvin Droegmeier gave his first public speech as the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy at the annual meeting of American Association for the Advancement of Science Feb. 15. Droegmeier “emphasized the growing importance of private companies in basic research and downplayed the importance of the government’s investment in science.” See the livestream and transcript of Dr. Droegmeier’s AAAS session here and the Washington Post’s article about the speech.

NSF: Joanne Tornow has been named the head of NSF’s Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO). Tornow has served as the acting BIO head since Jan. 2018 and has worked for NSF since 1999.

Interior: President Trump announced on Twitter that he will nominate Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to lead the department permanently. Bernhardt is a former oil, gas and water lobbyist who worked in the Interior Department during the George W. Bush administration. All Senate Republicans and five Senate Democrats voted to confirm Bernhardt as deputy secretary of the Interior in July 2017. Trump has not yet formally nominated Bernhardt. ESA will update the Federal Agency Nomination Tracker as relevant details are announced.

EPA and Army Corps of Engineers: The agencies posted their new proposed definition of “Waters of the U.S.” under the Clean Water Act on the Federal Register, opening a 60-day public comment period ending April 15, 2019. The EPA and the Army Corps announced the new rule Dec. 11 – but the government shutdown delayed the formal release of the rule. ESA released a statement voicing concerns about the rule that same day (see ESA Policy News Dec. 17, 2018 and ESA statement). The agencies will hold public hearing sessions on the proposed rule Feb. 27 and 28 in Kansas City, KS.

DOE: A new Department of Energy memo restricts agency employees, contractors, grantees and all others receiving funding from DOE or its national laboratories from participating in foreign talent recruitment programs run by ‘sensitive’ countries. Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette says that this policy is necessary to protect U.S. national security interests, scientific integrity and taxpayer money. Although the memo does not name specific countries, it will likely impact Chinese government programs. An earlier memo from December 2018 also prohibits researchers receiving DOE funding working on certain “emerging research areas and technologies” from collaborating with researchers from ‘sensitive countries.’ A March 2018 document from the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, a DOE national laboratory, lists 30 “sensitive countries” for travel.

Department of Homeland Security: The Trump administration waived the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws to expedite repairs to a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego, CA. This is the sixth time that the administration has used a 2005 law that allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to bypass environment reviews in cases of national security.


“Two-for-One” Rule: A federal judge revived a legal challenge from Public Citizen, the Nature Resource Defense Council and the Communications Workers of America to President Trump’s 2017 executive order that directs federal agencies to eliminate two regulations for every new regulation they implement. Judge Randolph Moss of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia reversed a previous decision that said that the plaintiffs did not have legal standing to challenge the order. The plaintiffs say that the two-for-one rule is arbitrary and could prevent agencies from implementing laws passed by Congress. Now, the judge writes that the groups must prove that the regulation has caused a decline in regulatory activity and that they have suffered as a result of the regulation.

EPA Advisory Committees: The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed a lawsuit challenging former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision to bar individuals receiving EPA grants from serving on the agency’s scientific advisory committees. The judge determined that Pruitt had the legal authority to make this policy change.


Midwest: Wisconsin and Michigan are the 20th and 21st states to join the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group of states that have committed to meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. New Mexico and Illinois also joined the alliance in recent months.
New York: The state’s Legislature voted to ban offshore oil and gas drilling along the state’s coast Feb. 7. Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) will sign the legislation. The bill also prohibits companies from building pipelines and other oil and gas infrastructure in state waters to connect drilling operations in federal waters to land.

The state’s Legislature also voted to ban purse seining in state waters. The commercial fishing industry uses purse seining to harvest menhaden, an important forage fish for larger fish, seals, sharks, whales and dolphins. In 2017, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) committed to taking an “ecosystem approach” to setting harvest limits for menhaden that considers the impacts of menhaden harvests on other species. ASMFC also voted to lower catch limits for menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay. Whale watching and conservation organizations in New York expressed concerns about the impacts of increased menhaden harvests on other species as the East Coast’s only commercial menhaden harvester, Omega Protein, increases its fishing efforts in waters off the coast of New York.



EPA Advisory Committees: The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed a lawsuit challenging former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision to bar individuals receiving EPA grants from serving on the agency’s scientific advisory committees. The judge determined that Pruitt had the legal authority to make this policy change.

Australia: The New South Wales Land and Environment upheld the provincial government’s decision to deny a permit for a new coal mine. The court’s chief justice cited the potential climate impacts of the mine in the ruling and said that the proposed mine would be in “the wrong place at the wrong time.” This is the first time that an Australian court has denied a mine permit for climate reasons.

Canada: Fisheries and Oceans Canada revised its regulations intended to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales. Between April and November, the government will impose mandatory speed limits for vessels 20 meters or longer in the western Gulf of Lawrence. The boundaries of the areas where the speed limits apply will be adjusted based on past data on right whale sightings. Additionally, the government has reduced the total area impacted by a temporary fisheries closure.

Iran: The Center for Human Rights in Iran reports that another conservationist, Pourya Sepahvand, employed by the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation has been arrested by the Iranian government. Eight conservation scientists are currently facing trial for charges of “corruption on earth,” a crime with a maximum sentence of the death penalty. The Iranian government claims that the group used it research activities – such as camera traps intended to monitor the country’s Asiatic cheetahs – as a pretext to spy on military activities. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and over 350 scientists and conservationists have condemned the charges.

Scientific Community

NAS: Marcia McNutt, the president of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, and colleagues published a comment in Nature arguing for the creation of a U.S. advisory board for research integrity. As a first step towards forming a national board for research integrity, NAS will hold a plenary session on the trustworthiness of science at its annual meeting in April.

The Polar Research Board is seeking nominations for new members. This board serves as the U.S. National Committee to the Scientific Committee on Antarctic and the International Arctic Science Committee. Nominations are due Feb. 28.

Federal Register Opportunities

Public Meetings, many of which are live-streamed: 

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.