Policy News: May 6, 2019

Coalition for National Science Funding Congressional Exhibit Highlights the Importance of NSF, Funding for Basic Research

Scientists representing over 40 scientific societies, universities and research organizations shared their NSF-funded science – and the importance of science funding – with members of Congress, their staff and other stakeholders during the Coalition for Nation Science Funding’s 25th evening exhibit. Gary Lovett, a senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, represented ESA and shared research from the Hubbard Brook Long Term Ecological Research site in New Hampshire, a member of the NSF-funded Long Term Ecological Research network. Hubbard Brook’s scientists use long-term observations, large-scale experiments, and computer simulation models to study the ecological impacts of acid rain on forest ecosystems, songbird population trends, ice storms and more.

CNSF is an alliance of around 130 professional organizations, universities, scientific societies and businesses that advocates for funding to the National Science Foundation in Washington. Reception attendees visited the Grand Canyon through virtual reality, monitored plankton using an AI-powered microscope, and learned about topics as varied as segregation in American cities, interdisciplinary natural hazards research, the future of work in health analytics, zero forcing and quantum engineering.

Ecology and ecologists were well represented at the event this year. ESA member Megan Duffy represented the University of Michigan and brought water fleas to the event to explain how her research inspired medical research. The University of Florida featured the iDigBio program and the university’s natural history collections.

White House Releases New Information Quality Act Guidance, Echoes Secret Science Policies

Acting Office of Management and Budget Director (OMB) Russell Vought sent a memo to federal agencies heads restricting and changing standards for scientific information used in agency decision-making. Observers say that the memo is designed to slow the approval of regulations and leaves the door open for industry to challenge agencies use of the underlying data.

The memo requires each agency to create their own definition of “influential” scientific information that is used to craft regulations and should be held to a higher data quality standard. Previously, most agencies relied on OMB guidance which states that “the agency can reasonably determine … [what information] will have or does have a clear and substantial impact on important public policies or important private sector decisions.”

Other guidance in the OMB memo requires agencies to make code used to perform analysis and build computational models to be made publicly available for further analysis. When agencies use non-government information in decision-making, for example, peer-reviewed journal articles, agencies must communicate sufficient information on the data underlying the information so that the public can reproduce the agencies’ conclusions.

The memo criticizes agencies past handling of ‘requests for correction’ wherein a member of the public can submit a complaint if they perceive that data used in policy-making does not meet agency standards. The new guidance requires agencies to respond to these request for correction within 120 days and share their “point-by-point” responses to data quality argument with OMB before sending their final response. Agencies are instructed to not “opine on the requestor’s or the agency’s policy position.”

This guidance echoes previous efforts by congressional Republicans to question and restrict scientific information used in regulations, such as former House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX)’s HONEST Act (H.R. 1430) and Secret Science Act of 2015 (H.R. 2030). Both of these bills passed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in previous Congresses but stalled in the Senate. ESA and other scientific societies and organizations strongly opposed these bills.

In a blog post, Andrew Rosenberg, the director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy, writes that the memo “reads like a re-hashing of some of the worst ideas for restricting the use of science in policy-making from the last five years or so.”

Vought gives federal agencies 90 days, starting on April 24, to update their data quality policies.

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.

Call for Emerging Issues

Do you know about an emerging federal policy issue that would be of interest to the ESA Public Affairs Office? If so, complete this form and provide relevant information. We may contact you for additional details if there is any action to consider taking.

Congress

Senate: Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) and subcommittee Ranking Members Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) started a Senate Environmental Justice Caucus. Its purpose is to highlight environmental and related public health challenges disproportionately affecting low-income communities and communities of color and work with these communities to draft legislation and hold hearings and events.

Climate Research: Over 30 freshmen House Democrats sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee supporting “robust” funding for climate research conducted or funded by NOAA, the EPA, NSF, USGS, the Department of Energy Office of Science and other science agencies.

Ocean AcidificationThe House Science Committee approved a set of bills addressing ocean acidificationRep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Rep. Don Young’s COAST Research Act (H.R. 1237) reauthorizes ocean and coastal research monitoring program and creates an Ocean Acidification Advisory Board. Rep. Chellie Pingree’s (D-ME) Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act of 2019 (H.R. 1716) directs NOAA to study the impact of ocean acidification on coastal communities and similarly, Rep. Bill Posey’s (R-FL) National Estuaries and Acidification Research Act (H.R. 988) directs the National Academies of Science to study the impacts of ocean acidification on estuarine environments. The Ocean Acidification Innovation Act (H.R. 1921), sponsored by Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), Young and Bonamici directs federal agencies to create prize competitions to increase the ability to research, monitor, and manage ocean acidification and its impacts.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: The House Natural Resources Committee approved the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act (H.R. 1146), which would repeal the section of the 2018 tax reform bill that allowed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Oceans, Water and Wildlife Subcommittee Chairman Jared Huffman (D-CA) is the lead sponsor of this bill. The legislation has 139 co-sponsors, all Democrats, except Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) expects the full House to vote on the bill in June.

Legislative updates:

  • The full House passed the Climate Action Now Act (H.R. 9) which would prevent the U.S. from leaving the Paris Climate Agreement and require the administration to create a plan to meet greenhouse gas emission targets. All House Democrats and three Republicans — Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Vern Buchanan (R-FL) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) – voted for the bill. The legislation is unlikely to advance in the Senate.
  • The House Natural Resources Committee approved the SAVE Right Whales Act (H.R. 1568), sponsored by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) which provides grants for right whale conservation and research programs. It also provides funds to NOAA for plankton research.
  • Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) introduced the American Innovation Act (H.R. 2400 & S. 1249) which would require a five percent annual funding increase for the Department of Energy Office of Science, NSF, the Department of Defense’s Science and Technology Programs, NASA’s Science Directorate and the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s research programs.
  • House Democrats include $3.9 million to restart Office of Technology Assessment in their Fiscal Year 2020 spending bill for the Legislative Branch. The Office of Technology Assessment provided advice to Congress on scientific issues from 1972 to 1995, when Congress disbanded the office.

Executive Branch

EPA: Administrator Andrew Wheeler largely rejected the Science Advisory Board’s (SAB) request to review the EPA’s proposed “transparency in science” regulation, which would require the EPA only to use studies where the underlying data is publicly available while crafting environmental regulations. Wheeler asked the SAB to complete a consultation “on existing mechanisms for secure access to confidential business information and personally identifiable information as discussed” in the proposed rule. Wheeler also declined SAB’s request to review the Clean Power Plan and the EPA’s proposed replacement, the Affordable Clean Energy rule.

NSF: The National Science Board is now accepting nominations for the new members to serve a six-year term from 2020 to 2026. Nominations must include a letter of recommendation showing a “demonstrated record of distinguished service” and “demonstrated performance at the highest level in the scientific, technological, engineering, industrial, public sector, and educational communities, as appropriate for the individual” as a sufficient time commitment to perform board duties. For more information and to apply, visit the National Science Board website.

NIFA: The USDA announced that Kansas City, the Research Triangle Park area in North Carolina and Indiana are the top three finalists for the new location of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture headquarters. St. Louis, MO and Madison, WI also remain under consideration as alternative locations. Perdue announced plans to move NIFA headquarters outside of the Washington, DC area in August 2018.

USFWS: Based on a preliminary review of available scientific information, the agency determined that endangered species protections for the Giraffe and the Arizona eryngo, a wildflower, may be warranted. Environmental groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the giraffe in 2017, noting that the giraffe has experienced “severe habitat loss and fragmentation as a result of the expansion of human activities into their habitats.” Giraffe populations have declined 40% in recent decades.

In the same notice, USFWS declined to list the Refugio manzanita, a shrub, and the San Gabriel chestnut snail due to insufficient scientific or commercial information. However, additional information on these species may be submitted to the agency.

USFWS also proposes downgrading the endangered species status of the burying beetle from endangered to threatened, with a 4(d) rule that would allow ‘routine’ activities within the beetle’s range without additional permits if USFWS finalizes this rule. The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America, among other organizations, petitioned USFWS to remove the beetle from the Endangered Species list in 2015. This species is found in parts of Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, the Dakotas and in Block and Nantucket Islands in New England. USFWS is accepting public comments on this rule through July 2, 2019.

Interior: Secretary David Bernhardt told The Wall Street Journal that the agency paused its plan to expand offshore oil and gas drilling across the U.S. after a federal judge ruled against the administration’s plan to expand off-shore drilling in March.

Courts

Wolves: A federal appeals courts revived a lawsuit filed by conservation groups against USDA Wildlife Services, which claims that Wildlife Services did not adequately assess the environmental impacts of its wolf-killing programs. The conservation groups say that Wildlife Services’ 2011 environmental impact statement relied on outdated scientific information. Previously, a lower court determined that the groups did not have the standing to sue Wildlife Services because wolves are managed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game in the state. However, the appeals court determined that the groups have standing because the state of Idaho would likely not be able to kill as many wolves without Wildlife Services’ assistance. A USDA spokeswoman told the Associated Press that the Wildlife Services will complete a new environmental impact statement for the program as a result of the court’s ruling.

States

AFWA: A survey of state fish and wildlife agencies conducted by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies found that the most important sources for climate information and science for state personnel are peer-reviewed journals (75% of respondents reported using this source), academic institutions (74%) and the U.S. Geological Survey (72%). State agencies respondents reported using climate information or tools created by the former USFWS Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (72%), the USGS Climate Adaption Science Centers (62%) and NOAA’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (31%). Respondents said that webinars (73%), online resources (68%) and workshops (61%) were their preferred mechanisms for accessing climate information and tools.

Florida: The state legislature passed a bill providing $3 million a year for six years to the Mote Marine Laboratory to research red tide and harmful algal blooms in partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Governor Ron DeSantis (R) is expected to sign the bill.

Governor DeSantis also announced that he established a Blue-green Algae Task Force, a panel of five scientists that will make recommendations to reduce nutrients in Lake Okeechobee and help identify priority environmental restoration projects.

Nevada: The state legislature passed a bill requiring the states’ electricity providers to generate 50% of their energy from renewable sources by 2030 and source 100% of their energy from renewables by 2050. Previous law required the state’s utility NV Energy to obtain 25% of its energy from renewables by 2025.

Washington: State lawmakers passed similar legislation to Nevada, requiring the state to receive 100% of its energy from ‘clean’ sources by 2045. These sources include “non-emitting electric generation” such as nuclear and natural gas with carbon capture and storage. All electricity sales in the state must be carbon-neutral by 2030 under the law. Utilities can meet 20% of that requirement through renewable energy credits or penalties for carbon emissions.

International

Paris: The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), released a report summary, which was approved at the 7th session of the IPBES Plenary, meeting last week (April 29 – May 4) in Paris.

IPBES reports in a media release that, “Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history – and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely…” IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson explained, “The Report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” he said. “Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably – this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

The IPBES press release states these report findings:

  • Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.
  • More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production.
  • The value of agricultural crop production has increased by about 300% since 1970, raw timber harvest has risen by 45% and approximately 60 billion tons of renewable and nonrenewable resources are now extracted globally every year – having nearly doubled since 1980.
  • Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface, up to US$577 billion in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss and 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection.
  • In 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels; 60% were maximally sustainably fished, with just 7% harvested at levels lower than what can be sustainably fished.
  • Urban areas have more than doubled since 1992.
  • Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters, and fertilizers entering coastal ecosystems have produced more than 400 ocean ‘dead zones’, totalling more than 245,000 km2 (591-595) – a combined area greater than that of the United Kingdom.
  • Negative trends in nature will continue to 2050 and beyond in all of the policy scenarios explored in the Report, except those that include transformative change – due to the projected impacts of increasing land-use change, exploitation of organisms and climate change, although with significant differences between regions.

ESA encourages members to write op-eds or letters to the editor of your local newspaper about the IPBES report. See the ESA Ecologists Guide to Policy, page 53 for tips on how to write an op-ed.

Norway: Scientific publisher Elsevier and a consortium of 46 Norwegian universities and research organizations reached an agreement which allows researchers based at the consortium organization to access 2,800 Elsevier journals and makes around 90% of journal articles by these researchers open-access. Elsevier is currently engaged in similar, lengthy negotiations with universities in Germany, Sweden and Hungary and the University of California system over open-access publishing.

United Kingdom: The House of Commons approved a measure declaring an “environment and climate emergency.” The measure is similar to a resolution in the US Congress, which expresses the opinion of Congress, but does not compel Congress or the federal government to take specific actions.

Scientific Community

Interior: The Department Inspector General is investigating potential ethics violations committed by several top political appointees at the agency. A complaint filed by the Campaign Legal Center alleges staff had ‘improper contact’ with former lobbying clients or employers. For example, Doug Domenech, Interior’s assistant secretary for insular and international affairs, who previously worked for the Texas Public Policy Foundation on a campaign opposing the Clean Power Plan, met with staff from the Texas Public Policy Foundation and discussed a lawsuit where the organization sued the Bureau of Land Management.

NASThe National Academies of Science announced 100 new elected members and 25 foreign associates, including several distinguished members of the ecological science community.

At the same meeting, NAS members approved a by-laws amendment that would allow the Academies to expel members who violate the organization’s new Code of Conduct, which forbids sexual harassment. Now, the full NAS membership must approve the amendment. The results of this vote will be available in mid-June.

NAS will release a report on reproducibility and replicability in science and will host a webinar to review the conclusions and messages of the report May 7.

NOAA: ESA Past President and former NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco writes in the New York Times that the Senate must reject Trump’s nominee to lead NOAA, Barry Lee Myers, given Myers’ lack of scientific credentials, business conflicts of interests and a culture of sexual harassment at AccuWeather under Myers’ leadership.

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.