March 18, 2019

President's Budget Releases; Proposes Deep Cuts to Science and Environmental Programs

The White House Office of Management and Budget released the first details about the President’s budget for fiscal year (FY) 2020 March 11, which proposes reducing FY 2020 non-defense discretionary (NDD) funding by $54 billion (9 percent) below the FY 2019 level. OMB will release more details later, and agencies are posting budget request information on their websites as well. As in past years, the president’s budget and the budget priorities of Congress are in conflict.

The president’s budget is usually released in February, but it was delayed by the government shutdown in December and January. The president’s budget proposal reflects the administration’s priorities across the federal government for the next fiscal year and serves as a starting point for Congress as it proceeds in appropriations. However, it is largely an aspirational document, and it is Congress that ultimately passes the twelve appropriations bills that fund the government. In a statement, House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) called Trump’s request “untethered from reality” and said that the budget has “no chance of garnering the necessary bipartisan support to become law.” Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) said that his committee will”carefully review the President’s proposal.”

It is likely that Congress will again reject the severe cuts that the president has proposed for FY 2020, but there is a sticking point to overcome first. The Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) applies to the FY 2020 budget, which requires a $1 trillion appropriations spending cut through a “sequester,” sometime known as the “budget cap.” In previous years, Congress passed legislation to provide sequestration relief that allowed agency spending increases, and it will need to act again this year. Budget caps would apply to to the Department of Defense, except for its Overseas Contingency Account, and the other agency discretionary budgets including the National Science Foundation, the Departments of Energy, Interior, and Agriculture. Most current Members of Congress were not in office in 2011 when the BCA passed, so its future is uncertain, but it is very relevant to the ecological community. ESA is a member of NDD United, an alliance of hundreds of national, state, and local organizations working to “Raise the Caps” and protect agency budgets. Additionally, ESA is submitting testimony to the relevant appropriation committees in the Senate and House to protect federal investment in the ecological sciences.

National Science Foundation

Trump’s budget provides $7.1 billion for the National Science Foundation, a 12 percent cut. Currently, only the top line number for NSF is available. Congress provides top level NSF funding and the agency sets the budget for each Directorate based on research priorities and input from the scientific community. The Coalition for National Science Funding, of which ESA is a member, is requesting that Congress provide $9 billion for NSF in FY 2020. 

Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA receives a 31 percent cut, bringing the agency’s total budget to $6.1 billion. Science and Technology programs would receive a 35 percent cut. The budget proposes cutting almost every EPA program and would cut hundreds of jobs from the agency. An EPA Budget-in-Brief document sets a cap of 12,415 full-time employees. The agency’s current full-time employee ceiling is 14,376.

The budget proposal highlights and prioritizes the agency’s regulatory rollbacks, including the Affordable Clean Energy rule, the Trump administration’s replacement for the Clean Power Plan and the proposed redefinition of the Waters of the U.S.

As in past years, funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Chesapeake Bay Program is cut by 90 percent. Other geographic clean-up programs, including programs targeting the Puget Sound, the San Francisco Bay and the Gulf of Mexico are eliminated.

The final fiscal year 2018 and 2019 ($8.1 billion) budgets largely kept EPA funding flat and retained funding for regional programs.

ESA submitted testimony supporting $746 million for Science and Technology programs with the EPA.

Department of Energy

The Office of Science would receive $5.5 billion, a 16 percent cut from FY 2019 ($5.4 billion) levels. The budget eliminates Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E).In recent years, lawmakers have provided record funding for the Office of Science and ARPA-E. ESA signed on to an Energy Sciences Coalition letter urging appropriators to provide $7 billion for FY 2020.

Interior Department: US Geological Survey, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service

As a whole, the U.S. Geological Survey receives $983.5 million, a 16.7 percent cut from FY 2019 levels. USGS’ Ecosystems mission area receives $141 million, a 10 percent cut. There are significant changes proposed that would consolidate five existing Ecosystem Programs into three programs: status and trends, fisheries, wildlife, environments and invasive species are rearranged into three new program areas titled species management research, land management research, and biological threats research. It also consolidates research from two Land Resource programs into the Climate Adaptation Science Center line item within Ecosystems. The Cooperative Research Unit program is zeroed out, but it is uncertain whether it is consolidated into the new program structure or eliminated. The National Land Imaging sub activity including operation and development of Landsat satellites and ground systems is moved over to the Core Science System mission area. Other details are scant and more information is needed to determine the scope of the proposed Ecosystem restructuring. Congress could try to prevent the administration from restructuring the Ecosystems mission area; at the very least, it will require more information and details before the restricting is implemented.

The USGS Coalition, of which ESA is a member, submitted testimony urging appropriators to provide $1.2 billion to USGS in FY 2020. ESA also submitted testimony requesting that Congress fully examine the proposed Ecosystem mission reorganization for unintended consequences.  

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service receives $1.272 billion in appropriated funds, a 20 percent cut. Ecological Services, which administers the Endangered Species Act, receives a 4.6 percent cut. Fish and Aquatic Conservation receives a 7 percent cut. The National Wildlife Refuge System receives a 4.35 percent increase.

The Bureau of Land Management receives a 20 percent cut and the National Park Service receives a 16 percent cut.

The budget also requests $28 million to continue work on Interior’s reorganization.

NOAA

As in previous years, the president’s budget proposes eliminating several “lower priority” programs, including Sea Grant, Coastal Zone Management Grants, and the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund. Further budget information for NOAA is not available.  

USDA

The president’s budget requests an $85 million dollar increase for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the USDA’s competitive research grants program administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). AFRI received $415 million in FY 2019.

As a whole, NIFA receives $1.4 billion, a 6 percent cut. The request also includes $25 million to relocate NIFA and the Economic Research Service to a location outside the Washington, D.C. area. The Agricultural Research Service receives $1.253 billion, a 4 percent cut.

The Forest Service’s FY 2020 Budget Request or the agency’s top line number is not yet available.

NASA

The Earth Science Directorate receives $1.730 billion, an 8 percent cut. As in past years, the budget proposes eliminating the Office of STEM Engagement and the PACE and CLARREO Pathfinder earth science missions.

ESA Goes to the Hill for Climate Science Day

The Earth Science Directorate receives $1.730 billion, an 8 percent cut. As in past years, the budget proposes eliminating the Office of STEM Engagement and the PACE and CLARREO Pathfinder earth science missions.

On March 12 and 13, the Climate Science Working Group (CSWG) held its 9th annual Climate Science Day (CSD), an annual event that brings scientists to Washington, DC to meet with their Members of Congress to discuss climate science. As a member of the CSWG, ESA worked with other scientific societies to plan and execute the two-day event, which serves as a non-partisan opportunity for scientists to educate and build relationships with congressional staff.

Climate policy is a renewed focus on Capitol Hill. The House has held 15 climate-related hearings this year and it formed a Climate Select Committee, while the  Senate’s climate work is slower, its interest in the subject is growing. Many new Members of Congress are focused on the climate issue and the new House Democratic majority is changing the conversation, because it now controls the subject matter of committee hearings.

ESA member Matthew Hurteau of the University of New Mexico joined nearly twenty other scientists whose work relates to various aspects of climate science to participate in CSD this year. A half-day workshop on March 12 prepared participants for the next day of congressional visits and featured keynote speaker Ruth Greenspan Bell, a senior public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center.

On March 13, Hurteau and the other scientists divided into teams based on geographic region and conducted nearly seventy visits with congressional office staff and committee staff. The primary request, known as an “ask,” in these meetings was for the Member of Congress to publicly acknowledge (if they do not already) that climate change is occurring, poses serious risks,  is predominantly caused by humans and to use climate science in their decision-making. Scientists were encouraged to develop ongoing relationships with congressional staff and serve as a resource to them.

Congress

House Science Committee: National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine President Marsha McNutt warned that U.S. leadership in science and technology is in a “precarious position” during a House Science Committee hearing, citing a drop in the number of international students enrolled in STEM graduate programs in the U.S. McNutt urged lawmakers to provide stable funding for scientific research.

Scientific Integrity Legislation: Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced the Scientific Integrity Act that would amend the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 1709 and S.775). The bill seeks to standardize scientific integrity policies across federal agencies and prevent political influence in scientific data and reports.

Right Whales: The House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife held a hearing about the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale and the threats to right whales. Freshman Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC), who campaigned on stopping offshore drilling near his coastal district and has a background in ocean engineering, fired an air hornto prove that seismic testing will disrupt marine mammals. Joe Oliver, the assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, repeatedly testified that seismic testing activities will not kill or “seriously injure” right whales.

Dr. Scott Kraus, the vice president and senior science advisor in the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium testifiedthat right whale mortalities have accelerated since 2010, while calving rates have fallen. Kraus said that NOAA Fisheries’ Biological Opinion permitting seismic testing was flawed and did not adequately consider the cumulative impacts of seismic testing or the impacts of seismic noise on calves and calving. Dr. Chris Clark, the founding director of the Cornell Bioacoustics Research program, testified that NOAA’s seismic testing authorization is “incredibly irresponsible and has a legitimate likelihood of causing significant impacts on right whale acoustic behavior.”

Before the hearing, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Subcommittee Chairman Jared Huffman (D-CA) reintroduced the SAVE Right Whales Act (H.R. 1568), which provides grants for collaborative projects between states, nonprofits, and the fishing and shipping industries to reduce the impacts of human activities on North Atlantic right whales.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee: The committee held its first climate-focused hearing since 2012 to “examine the electricity sector in a changing climate.” Committee leaders said that the hearing is the first in a series of hearing about energy policy and climate. In a statement released after the hearing, Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said that, while the committee has “limited jurisdiction” over climate change, it will work to craft “reasonable policies” to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change. Conversely, the new House of Representatives Democratic majority has held 15 climate related hearings so far this year.

Murkowski and Committee Ranking Member Joe Manchin (D-WV) penned an op-ed in the Washington Post echoing similar points and iterating the Senators’ commitment to “bipartisan solutions to help address climate change.”

Legislative updates 

  • The full House approved the Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments (H.R. 1608), which requires a public comment period before individuals nominated to serve on a federal advisory committee are appointed, such as for the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board. The bill aims to prevent agencies from interfering in the committee’s activities. The House has passed versions of this legislation in previous congressional sessions, but it has not advanced the Senate.
  • Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced a resolution (S.Res 97) creating a Senate Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, a Senate version of the House climate committee.
  • Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) reintroduced the Botanical Sciences and Native Plant Materials Research, Restoration and Promotion Act (H.R. 1572). This bill aims to promote native plants by creating grant programs for botanical research and conservation of rare plants in the Department of Interior and directing the federal government to provide preference to native plants in land management programs. It also authorizes the Department of the Interior to hire additional personnel with botanical expertise and creates a student loan repayment program for botanists. Quigley introduced similar legislation in February 2017 during the 115th Congress, and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) introduced a Senate version in July 2018. The bill has 22 co-sponsors, including two Republicans.
  • Sen. Lisa Murskowski (A-AK) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) introduced the Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act (H.R. 1716and S. 778) which requires NOAA to complete assessments of how ocean acidification is affecting coastal communities.

Executive Branch

White House: President Trump signed S. 47, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation Management and Recreation Act. The omnibus package includes a reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation funds as well as over 100 public lands, recreation, and conservation bills.

Nominations: President Trump formally nominated Acting Secretary David Bernhardt to lead the Interior Department permanently March 8, after announcing his intention to do so February 4. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee has scheduled a confirmation hearing for Bernhardt March 28.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee advanced the nominations of Chris Fall to lead the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and Lane Genatowski to lead the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Fall is currently the principal deputy director of ARPA-E and previously worked in the Office of Naval Research and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Fall holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience. ESA signed on to an Energy Sciences Coalition letter of support for Fall’s nomination. It is unclear when the full Senate will vote on Fall’s and Genatowski’s nominations. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) indicated that she will place a hold on all Department of Energy nominees until the agency sets a date to remove plutonium secretly shipped from South Carolina to Nevada.

Interior: Acting Secretary David Bernhardt announced March 6 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will remove endangered species protections for gray wolves in the contiguous United States. The Obama administration removed protections for gray wolves in 2013, but court decisions returned gray wolves to the endangered species list. Conservation groups will likely file similar court challenges this time. USFWS published a proposed rule in the Federal Register March 15. Public comments on this rule can be submitted through May 14, 2019. Protections for Mexican wolves and red wolves will not be affected by this proposed rule.

BLM: The agency issued new records of decision amending 2015 land-use plans intended to conserve greater sage-grouse. The new decisions weaken protections on 75 percent of the area covered by the 2015 plans and allow oil and gas development on public lands previously designated off-limits.

EPA: The agency’s Office of Research and Development will consolidate its 13 current offices into eight offices. The Office of the Science Advisor will combine with the Office of Science Policy and parts of the National Center for Environmental Assessment to form the Office of Science Advisor, Policy, and Engagement. No staff will lose their job or be required to move to a new geographic location because of the reorganization. The EPA hopes to implement this reorganization by the beginning of fiscal year 2020 (i.e. fall 2019).

States

California: Emails obtained by KQED show that the Trump administration is pressuring USFWS and NOAA biologists to speed up their analysis of a plan to send water from northern California to farms in California’s Central Valley, despite messages from federal officials that the agencies do not have sufficient resources to complete the analysis. USFWS and NOAA must review this plan and issue a biological opinion because it will affect federal endangered Chinook salmon and threatened steelhead and green sturgeon. Unlike past plans, the draft biological opinion will not be available for public comment.

Minnesota: Governor Tim Walz (D) introduced a bill committing the state to receive 100 percent of its energy from carbon-free sources by 2050. State Sen. Nick Frentz (D), who has championed similar legislation, said that the governor’s bill will include nuclear and landfill burning as potential energy sources. The state’s two largest utilities Xcel Energy and Minnesota power are supportive of the plan.

Nevada: Governor Steve Sisolak (D) announced that Nevada is joining the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group of states committed to meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Nevada is the fifth state to join the group in 2019 and the 23rd state in the group.

International

UN: The United Nation’s Environment Program (UNEP) released its sixth Global Environmental Outlook. The report finds that the world is not on track to meet the UN sustainable development goals and if the world does not “drastically scale up environmental protections,” Asia, the Middle East and Africa could see millions of premature deaths by 2050.

Another UNEP report released March 13 warns that, even if the world meets the goals of the Paris Agreement, Arctic winter temperatures will increase three to five degrees Celsius by 2050.

Brazil: President Jair Bolsonaro put a “gag order” the country’s environmental enforcement agency, Ibama. A message from Ibama’s press office instructs press to send all requests to the Ministry of the Environment.

Scientific Community

Climate Science Legal Defense Fund: A new pocket guide advises scientists on advocacy and political engagement and pertinent U.S. anti-lobbying laws and requirements for scientists.

Center for Climate and Security: Fifty-eight former national security officials, including former Secretary of State John Kerry and former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, sent a letter to President Trump condemning the White House plan to create a taskforce questioning whether climate change poses a threat to national security. The officials warn that subjecting government scientific reports such as the National Climate Assessment to political tests will “force a blind spot on to national security assessments” that depend on these scientific reports and “erode our national security.”

Democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee members, led by Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-NJ), introduced legislation (S. 745) to require the State Department to establish a “Climate Science Envoy” responsible for integrating climate science information in national security operations in response to former national security officials’ letter. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) also introduced a bill (S. 729) that would prohibit federal agencies from spending funds on an “adversarial” review of climate science reports.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility: The watchdog group alleges that memos identifying research gaps needed to inform the environmental impact statement (EIS) for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge were excluded from the draft EIS. PEER has posted the memos online.

European Space Agency: The Citizen Science Earth Observation Lab (CESOL) is a new initiative funded by the European Space Agency to help transform great ideas into great projects. The agency’s first Call for Ideas is open until May 5, and it is offering support with project development and implementation, together with funding (between €15,000 and €70,000) to implement four pilot projects between September 2019 and December 2020. Everything you need to know about the competition is here.

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.