Policy News: April 22, 2019

In This Issue:

Member Opportunities
Call for new ESA Rapid Response Team members.
ESA Communications Training in Flagstaff, June 7: travel awards available.
Action Alert.

Senate confirms David Bernhardt as Interior Secretary.

Executive Branch
EPA releases a list of candidates for the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee.

15 Attorneys General oppose proposed Waters of U.S. rule. ESA and sister societies submit comments opposing the rule.

IPBES to hold plenary meeting.

Scientific Community
Over 3,000 scientists publish a letter in support of youth climate protests in Science.

Federal Register Opportunities
Upcoming meetings and other opportunities for public involvement.

ESA In the News
View an up-to-date list of ESA’s media coverage.

Attend ESA Communications Training in Flagstaff, June 7: Travel Awards Available

The ESA Southwest Chapter, the Public Affairs Office, and Northern Arizona University are co-hosting a Communicating Science Workshop for members to address the needs of ecologists to communicate scientific information in a variety of public and professional settings. The workshop will provide participants with skills to effectively communicate with the Congress and the public.
When: Friday, June 7, 2019, 10:00 am- 5 pm
Where: Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ
Cost to attend: None and ESA offers a $200.00 overnight travel award or a $100.00 commuter award to members who attend.

Learn more and apply here. 

Call for New ESA Rapid Response Team Members

We are expanding the Society’s Rapid Response Team (RRT), a diverse group of about 50 ecologists who are subject matter experts and help ESA address policy and media opportunities in a timely and effective manner. ESA invites any member to apply to be a member of the RRT. By applying, you are raising ESA’s ability to connect ecologists with policymakers and to provide information to the media.

One of ESA’s central missions is to share ecological information with policymakers and members of the media. Since the Society opened its Public Affairs Office in 1983, ESA has served as a trusted source of ecological information. The establishment of the RRT in 2005 enhanced our ability to respond to time-sensitive issues, such as 2010’s BP oil spill and to the more recent Hurricanes Irma and Maria. ESA also encourages RRT members to alert the Society to policy issues or other opportunities.

Find more and how to apply here.

Action Alert: Ask your Members of Congress to restore funding for science

Dear ESA Member:

As you may know, President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) budget request sent to Congress would flat-fund or drastically cut scientific research accounts across many federal agencies. At the same time, lawmakers are working on a budget agreement to determine the overall level of federal spending. ESA, along with other organizations in the scientific community, is urging congressional leaders to raise the budgetary caps for FY 2020 to avoid the effects of mandatory across-the-board cuts to agencies (sequestration) and to support funding for scientific research.

We are hearing from Hill staff that they are not receiving funding requests from individual scientist constituents. If you have reached out to your lawmaker: thank you! If you have not: please do.

The ecological community is facing many hurdles to see strong funding for science in FY20. Each of you has an important role as a constituent to let your Members of Congress know how and why strong federal funding for science benefits you, your state, and the nation.

We ask you to contact (email or call) your U.S. Representative and both of your U.S. Senators and request robust funding for FY20 appropriation bills for scientific research – especially for ecological research and to raise the budget caps. Visit GovTrack to identify your Members of Congress.

Thank you for your consideration,

Public Affairs Office

Here are some tips to develop a short, concise message.

Step 1. Start with a High-Level Talking Point

Example: Our nation’s research enterprise is among the most powerful engines for American prosperity. We need robust FY 2020 funding for scientific research and we urge to “raise the budgetary caps” for FY 2020 to support research funding and avoid the affects of mandatory across-the-board cuts to agencies!  One of the consistent areas of bipartisan agreement over the past 70 years has been the importance of the federal government’s role in supporting research and innovation.

Step 2. Share your personal story!

Briefly explain how federal funding has benefited your research and tell how your research contributes to addressing local, state or federal issues of concern. Note that your work is supported by Agency XYZ and Program XYZ.

Highlights of drastic cuts proposed by the administration to key agencies important to you as well as the amounts that ESA has requested, for your reference.

Agency President’s Budget Request ESA Request for FY20
NSF $7.1 billion (a 12% cut) $9 billion
EPA $6.1 billion (a 31% cut) $746 million for Science and Technology
DOE Office of Science $5.4 billion (a 17.3% cut) $7 billion
NOAA $4.5 billion (a 17% cut) $5.7 billion
USDA/ARS $1.253 billion (a 4% cut) $1.821 billion
USDA/NIFA $1.4 billion (a 4.9% cut) $445 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative
USDA/USFS $5.67 billion (a 6.4% cut)

$310 million for Forest Service R&D

$83 million for Forest Inventory and Analysis

$16 million for the Joint Fire Science Program

DOI/USGS $938.5 million (a 16.7% cut) $1.2 billion


Visit ESA’s Federal Agency Budget Tracker for FY 2020 detailed budget information

Step 3. Say Thank You!

Thank your Member of Congress for their support for sustainable funding for our nation’s science and technology agencies and ask them to continue sustainable, predictable funding and urge them to prioritize these investments and reject the administration-proposed cuts to science as they begin to craft the FY 2020 funding bills.


NominationsThe Senate voted to confirm David Bernhardt as Interior secretary. All Senate Republicans, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) voted for Bernhardt’s confirmation. Bernhardt is a former oil, gas and water lobbyist who worked as Interior’s Solicitor General during the Bush administration and served as deputy to former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

On Bernhardt’s second day as Interior Secretary, the Interior Department’s Inspector General told lawmakers and watchdog groups that her office is launching a review of ethical complains against Bernhardt, including an allegation that Bernhardt blocked the release of scientific studies analyzing the impacts of certain pesticides on endangered species.

Legislative updates:

  • President Trump signed H.R. 2030 authorizing the Interior Department and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to implement a drought contingency plan for the Colorado River basin. All states in the Colorado River basin approved the plan in March 2019. Shortly after, California’s Imperial Irrigation District, the largest single water user in the river basin, sued to halt the plan in California state courts, claiming other California water districts violated state environmental laws when they agreed to the terms of the contingency plan.
  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced the Arctic Policy Act (S.1179), which would add two additional indigenous representatives to the U.S. Arctic Research Commission to better incorporate traditional knowledge in arctic science. It also permanently establishes the Arctic Executive Steering Committee and creates two advisory committees, comprised of tribal representatives and representatives of Arctic communities, to the Arctic Executive Steering Committee.
  • Senate Energy and Natural Resource Ranking Member Joe Manchin (D-WV) and four Senate Republicans introduced the Enhancing Fossil Fuel Energy Carbon Technology (EFFECT) Act (S. 1201), which would create carbon capture research programs in the Department of Energy.

Executive Branch

CASAC: The EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board Staff Office released a list of nine candidates for the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC). The EPA is seeking an individual with expertise in ecology. Tim Lewis, a recently retired U.S. Army Corps of Engineers aquatic ecologist, announced earlier this year his intention to resign once a replacement is appointed. The seven-member CASAC provides outside scientific advice to the EPA on the technical bases for the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Comments on the nominees are due April 30, 2019.

On April 11, the CASAC sent EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler a letter recommending that Wheeler reinstate the CASAC particulate matter panel, a subcommittee of 20 scientific experts because the committee lacks the scientific breadth of knowledge needed to adequately review the EPA’s draft Integrated Science Assessment for Particulate Matter. Wheeler disbanded the particulate review panel in October 2018.

EPA: A new legal interpretation states the Clean Water Act only regulates pollution discharges into surface water and does not cover discharges into groundwater, even if the groundwater discharges will reach surface waters. In a fact sheet, the EPA points out that other environmental laws such as the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Resources, Compensation and Liability Act apply to groundwater. The Supreme Court will hear a lawsuit dealing with this issue, County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawai’I Wildlife Fund, later this year. This interpretative statement applies to states outside of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers the west coast, Alaska and Hawaii and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers the east coast from Maryland to South Carolina.

NOAAThe National Marine Fisheries Service listed the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale as an endangered species, starting May 15. Bryde’s whales are the only baleen whales that live in the Gulf of Mexico year-round, and NOAA estimates that there are less than 100 individuals in this population. Oil and gas activities in the Gulf of Mexico, collisions with shipping vessels, anthropogenic noise and entanglement with fishing gear all threaten the population’s survival.

NPS: Acting Director P. Daniel Smith promoted David Vela, Trump’s nominee to lead the Park Service, to the position of the acting deputy director of operations in the agency’s headquarters. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources advanced Vela’s nomination in November 2018, but the full Senate did not confirm Vela in the 115th Congress and the President has not yet re-nominated him in the 116th Congress. Previously, Vela served as the superintendent of Grand Teton National Park. Watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a complaint with the Interior Department Inspector General claiming that this appointment is illegal because only a Senate-confirmed NPS director can appoint a deputy director for operations. NPS has not had a Senate-confirmed director since January 2017.

USFWS: The agency initiated a new status review of the bi-state greater sage grouse distinct population segment to determine whether this population segment should be listed under the Endangered Species Act. USFWS originally proposed listing this population, which is found along the California-Nevada border, as a threatened species in 2013 and withdrew this proposed rule in 2015. In May 2018, a federal judge determined that USFWS acted in “arbitrary and capricious” manner when it decided not to list the bi-state sage grouse. USFWS also re-opened the comment period on the original proposed rule listing the species as a threatened species and is accepting public comments on that rule through June 11, 2019. A final determination will be released by Oct. 1, 2019.

USDA: The Washington Post reports that a 2018 memo from the acting USDA chief scientist requires agency researchers to include a disclaimer that results published in scientific journals are “preliminary.”


WOTUS: Attorneys Generals from 14 states and the District of Columbia submitted public comments opposing the EPA’s proposal to redefine the water of the U.S., claiming that regulatory rollback is contrary to the goals of the Clean Water Act and violates the Administrative Procedures Act. Seventeen other state attorney generals, led by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R), submitted comments in support of the new definition. ESA and 12 other scientific societies jointly commented that the proposed rule “is not based on sound science or the best-available peer-reviewed information.”

Oregon: The state Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) released a draft wolf management plan for the eastern third of the state, after a five-year delay. The most significant change would allow ODFW to issue a permit to a rancher or their designee to kill a wolf if there are two confirmed livestock depredations in the area in the past nine months and ODFW determines that wolves present a significant risk to livestock present in the area. Currently, ODFW can authorize the killing of a wolf that has attacked livestock twice over any time period. This management plan does not apply to wolves in the western parts of the state where gray wolves are still listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will vote on the plan during its June 7 meeting. ODFW will allow public testimony on the plan during the meeting and is accepting written testimony through May 23.


IPBESThe 7th plenary session of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) will be held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris from April 29 to May 4 2019. IPBES is an independent intergovernmental body, established by member states in 2012. It provides policymakers with objective scientific assessments about the state of knowledge regarding the planet’s biodiversity, ecosystems and the benefits they provide to people, as well as the tools and methods to protect and sustainably use these vital natural assets. The IPBES Opening Ceremony will be webcast from this page

IPBES has also recorded a series of webinars presenting the key findings of the Methodological Assessment of Scenarios and Models and the four Regional Assessments of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The webinars are available here.

Scientific Community

Climate: Over 3,000 scientists signed on to a letter published in Science declaring that youth climate protesters’ concerns are “justified and supported by the best available science” and “current measures for protecting the climate and biospheres are deeply inadequate.”

NSFSen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sent a letter to National Science Foundation (NSF) Director France Cordova requesting information about foreign influence that may affect NSF funded research. The letter inquires about how agency vets researchers receiving NSF funds, how NSF identifies and investigates potential fraud and agency policies to prevent the potential theft of research data and findings. Grassley previously sent similar requests to the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense. The Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general indicated that, after Grassley’s letter to NIH in October 2018, the National Institutes of Health referred 12 cases where NIH-funded researchers failed to disclose foreign ties to the inspector general for further review.

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. 

ESA In the News

ESA regularly issues press releases to the media about journal articles and other Society news. Press coverage is kept up-to-date on our “In the News” page. Check out news stories here.

ESA Correspondence to Policymakers

View letters and testimony from ESA here.

ESA’s policy activities work to infuse ecological knowledge into national policy decisions through activities such as policy statements, Capitol Hill briefings, Congressional Visits Days, and coalition involvement. Policy News Updates are bi-monthly summaries of major environmental and science policy news. They are produced by the Public Affairs Office of the Ecological Society of America.

Send questions or comments to  Alison Mize, director of public affairs, gro.asenull@nosilA or Nicole Zimmerman, public affairs manager, gro.asenull@elociN

Visit the ESA website to learn more about our activities and membership.