Policy News: May 28, 2019

In This Issue:

House Appropriations Bills Propose Funding Increases for Ecological Science
NSF receives a seven percent increase. Senate appropriations process remains stalled.

Member Opportunities
Apply to join the Rapid Response Team.
Attend ESA communications training in Flagstaff, AZ.
Call for emerging policy issues.

House Natural Resources Committee holds hearing on IPBES Global Assessment Report.

Executive Branch
White House releases a preview of upcoming regulatory actions; the EPA cancelled the registrations of 12 neonicotincoid pesticides. National Science Board discusses the National Ecological Observatory Network.

Louisiana announces adaption plan.

IPBES announces co-chairs of invasive alien species assessment.

Scientific Community
Experts from scientific societies, academic institutions and industry discussed diversity in STEM during a congressional hearing.

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.

House Appropriations Bills Propose Funding Increases for Ecological Science

House appropriators released spending bills, including increases for most agencies that fund, conduct and use ecological science for fiscal year (FY) 2020. These bills are now moving through the Appropriations Committee and, eventually, onto the House floor.

House Appropriations Bills:

The National Science Foundation receives $8.64 billion, a seven percent increase over FY 2019. The agency’s Research and Related Activities account, which funds the bulk of NSF grants, receives $7.1 billion, an 8.9% increase.

The Department of Energy Office of Science receives $6.87 billion, a 4.3% increase. Biological Systems Science receives $381 million, including $100 million for the Bioenergy Research Centers. The DOE’s terrestrial-aquatic interfaces pilot project receives $20 million and cloud-aerosol research receives $15 million.

The U.S. Geological Survey receives $1.235 billion, a 4.64% increase. The committee rejected the agency’s request to restructure its divisions, stating that the proposed changes “reduce program and funding transparency.” The bill increases funding for the Cooperative Research Units from $18.3 million in FY2019 to $24 million. The Trump administration proposed eliminating these units in previous budget requests. The House also increases funding for another program targeted for significant reductions in the president’s budget request – the USGS Climate Adaption Centers receive a $13 million increase, including $4 million to establish a Midwest Climate Adaption Science Center.

The Bureau of Land Management receives $1.4 billion, a 4% increase, including $72 million for sage grouse conservation – a $5 million increase and $28 million more than requested in the president’s budget. The committee report states that the committee is “extremely concerned” about the Trump administration’s efforts to reverse the 2015 sage grouse conservation agreement and plans. Other report language blocks new oil and gas development within a ten-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a sacred area for Native American tribes in the southwest.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service receives $1.7 billion, a $79 million increase, including a 14% increase for Ecological Services to administer the Endangered Species Act. Citing the USFWS’ proposal to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list as an example, report language directs USFWS to analyze proposed state management plans to ensure adequacy when delisting species. The Landscape Conservation Cooperative Units (LCCs) receive $12.5 million and the House instructs USFWS to reestablish any LCCs that are not operating.

The National Park Service receives $3.39 billion, a 5.2% increase.

Appropriators direct the Department of the Interior to provide at least $1.2 million for the National Invasive Species Council (NISC), which would keep NISC at similar funding levels as FY2019. The White House proposed cutting NISC’s budget by 50%.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) receives $9.52 billion, a $672 million increase. The EPA’s science and technology programs receive $727.63 million, a $10 million increase. Geographic Programs, which funds the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay Program and other regional clean-up programs receive a $20 million increase to $476 million. The president’s budget requests have routinely proposed eliminated or severely cutting these programs, although President Trump requested restoration of funding to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative after an event in Michigan. Report language requires the EPA consult with the agency’s scientific advisory board and the National Academies of Science before implementing its proposed transparency in science rule, which would limit the EPA’s use of peer-reviewed studies in decision-making where the underlying data are not publicly available.

Within the Agriculture Department, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Agricultural Research Service receive a combined $3.257 billion, roughly a $100 million increase. Appropriators block the USDA from moving the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to a location outside of the Washington, DC area.

Appropriators provide $3.368 billion to U.S. Forest Service for non-fire programs. The bill creates a new account for Forest Service operational costs such as utilities and information technology management. With these changes, Forest Service Research and Development receives $277 million, a five percent increase over FY2019 levels.

Appropriators do not include dedicated funding for the Joint Fire Science Program within the Forest Service’s appropriations and, instead, the bill’s language directs the Forest Service to provide $3 million to the Joint Fire Science program from the research and development account. The Interior Department receives $3 million in dedicated funding for the Joint Fire Science Program.

NOAA receives $5.48 million, a one percent increase over FY 2019 levels. The National Marine Fisheries Service receives a 4% increase. Defying the administration request for a 40% cut, the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric research receives a 13% increase, including a 17% increase for climate research. Appropriators provide $3 million for the next National Climate Assessment.

NASA receives $22.32 billion in total, including $7.16 billion for the agency’s Science Directorate, a 3.7% increase. Appropriators increase the Earth Science program’s funding by nearly five percent, to $2.031 billion.

Appropriators in the Senate will likely call for smaller spending increases and ultimately, the final spending bills will have to pass both chambers of Congress and be signed by the president.

The Senate appropriations process is currently in limbo as the House and Senate budget committees have yet to reach an agreement setting the overall level of federal spending. It remains to be seen whether the Senate appropriations will be as robust as the House appropriations. Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) called the appropriations process, at this point, ‘discouraging’ and said that her subcommittee has not “been able to start in earnest.”

For the latest updates on the appropriations process, check the ESA budget tracker.

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.


IPBES: The House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife held a subcommittee hearing on the findings of the Global Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) which concluded that “nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history.” Subcommittee Chairman Jared Huffman (D-CA) linked the reports’ findings with the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken the Endangered Species Act, saying that weakening the law is “the worst thing to do we could do at the worst possible time.” Subcommittee Ranking Member Tom McClintock (R-CA) criticized the IPBES report, its authors, and the hearing as premature and alarmist, comparing the report to Chicken Little and the Emperor’s New Clothes. IPBES authors Sir Robert Watson, Dr. Yunne Shin and Dr. Eduardo S. Brondizio presented the IPBES Global Assessment findings to the subcommittee.

House Natural Resources Committee: Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Ranking Member Rob Bishop (R-UT) asked the Government Accountability Office to review potential human rights violations by anti-poaching units and if U.S. government funds provided to combat wildlife trafficking supported activities where reported alleged human rights violations occurred.

Legislative updates:
Note: Click on the bill number to see the full text of the bill, latest status and bill co-sponsors on Congress.gov. Click on the committee name to see the list of committee members. ESA’s legislative tracker provides updates on legislation relevant to the ecological community.

  • Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) introduced the Roadless Area Conservation Act (H.R. 2491 – Natural Resources and Agriculture & S. 1311 – Energy and Natural Resources) which permanently codifies the U.S. Forest Service’s 2001 Roadless Rule, effectively prohibiting logging in 60 million acres of environmentally important areas of the National Forest System. Cantwell introduced similar legislation in 2018 during the 115th Congress.
  • Citing the IPBES Global Assessment report, Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Rep. Donald Beyer (D-VA) reintroduced the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act (S. 1499 – Environment and Public Works & H.R. 2795– Natural ResourcesAgricultureArmed Services, and Transportation and Infrastructure). The legislation would give authority to federal agencies to designate National Wildlife Corridors on federal lands to create a comprehensive corridor network. It also creates a wildlife movement grant program to fund conservation efforts on state, tribal and private lands.
  • Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the Safeguarding America’s Future and Environment (SAFE) Act (H.R. 2748 – Natural Resources and S. 1482 – Environment and Public Works) which requires federal natural resources agencies to create and implement a national climate change adaption strategy and encourages the development of state-specific adaption plans.
  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) introduced the Finding Orphan-disease Remedies with Antifungal Research and Development (FORWARD) Act (S. 1567 – Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and H.R 2858 – Energy and Commerce). This bill supports and prioritizes basic research on valley fever and other fungal diseases and promotes and incentivizes the development of a valley fever vaccine.

Executive Branch


White House: The Office of Management and Budget released its biannual Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, providing a preview of planned upcoming regulatory changes. Here are a few highlights of the plan:

  • The EPA will issue a new regulation clarifying state certification procedures under section 404 of the Clean Water Act. President Trump and Senate Republicans accuse blue states of using this section to block pipelines and other energy infrastructure. The EPA plans to start this process by issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking in August 2019 and aims to finalize a rule by May 2020.
  • The EPA will finalize its revised definition of the Waters of the U.S. in December 2019.
  • The EPA will issue a final version of its transparency in science rule in December 2019.
  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service will consider reclassifying the status of around three dozen plants and animals under the Endangered Species Act and issue a rule revising its definition of the phrase “significant portion of its range” from the Endangered Species Act in September 2019.
  • The BLM will issue a proposed rule revising how the agency updates its land management plans in November 2019. Congress overturned the BLM’s Planning 2.0 rule which attempted to update the agency’s land management planning process in 2017.

BLM: Interior Secretary David Bernhardt named Casey Hammond, Interior’s principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, acting Bureau of Land Management director. Hammond is a former Republican staffer for the House Natural Resources Committee. The BLM has not had a permanent, Senate-confirmed director since President Trump took office in January 2017. Former Acting BLM Director Brian Steed left the agency to lead the Utah Department of Natural Resources in April.

The BLM renewed two mineral leases May 15, advancing a proposed copper-nickel mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota. In 2016, the Obama administration proposed a permanent mineral withdrawal for the area, citing the environmental risks of mining near the popular recreation area. Minnesota state environmental regulators still must approve the project.

The report for the House appropriations bill directs USFWS and BLM to allocate a combined $1 million to the National Academies of Science to commission a study of the “impacts on ecosystem services of the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness resulting from a Twin Metals sulfide-ore copper mine located in the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.” House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) strongly opposes the proposed mining project.

EPA: The New York Times reports that the agency is working to change the way that it models the health impacts of air pollution, allowing the EPA to lower its previous estimate that the proposed replacement to the Clean Power Plan will cause 1,400 additional premature deaths each year. This modeling method has not been peer-reviewed and “is not scientifically sound.”

Separately, the EPA cancelled the registrations of 12 neonicotincoid pesticides. This announcement comes after three major pesticide manufacturers agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by environmentalists and beekeepers.

The EPA’s Science Advisory Board will meet June 5 and 6 for the first time in 2019. The meeting agenda shows that the SAB will discuss the EPA’s proposed transparency in science rule, the EPA de-regulatory agenda, the Per- and Polyflouroalkyl (PFAS) substances action plan and the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule. SAB members will also discuss a SAB-initiated project to review scientific issues underlying the EPA’s use of co-benefits in clean air regulations. The SAB’s proposal defines co-benefits as “side benefits or ancillary benefits that were not necessarily intended by the statutory scheme.” Last month, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler largely rejected the SAB’s request to review several proposals, including the transparency in science rule and the Clean Power Plan’s replacement, the Affordable Clean Energy rule.

The SAB is accepting nominations for new members for the board and its standing committees through June 24, 2019.

NSF: Biological Sciences Directorate Assistant Director Joanne Tornow and National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) Program Manager Roland Roberts provided an update to the National Science Board on the status of the NEON program, which shifted from construction to operations in early 2019. Since NEON became fully operational, the number of downloads of NEON data increased from around 1,500 in last quarter of 2018 to 4,000 in the first quarter of 2019 and Roberts relayed that the number of downloads is rapidly increasing. NEON sites are currently gearing up for their field season and 195 field staff are receiving training on NEON protocols. NEON continues outreach to the scientific community through efforts like workshops at the ESA and American Geophysical Union conferences and webinars hosted by ESA.

National Science Board members expressed their ‘delight’ in seeing NEON fully operational and asked about the potential to expand NEON through collaboration with similar networks in Canada and/or central America and integration of NEON with the Geosciences Directorate’s Ocean Observatories Initiative. The NSB committee remained interested in seeing proof of NEON’s success through ‘seminal’ papers that would not be possible without NEON.

In a subsequent meeting, the BIO Advisory Committee met in a teleconference May 24. A Subcommittee on NEON User Engagement Update  was provided by Dr. Jeannine Cavender-Bares, University of Minnesota; BIO-AC Liaison. The NEON User Engagement report is not currently available to the public, but NSF will release it publicly at a later date. Its major recommendation is that NSF form an independent advisory committee for NEON user engagement that reports directly to NSF. On May 23, nine of the 20-members of the NEON Science, Technology & Education Advisory Committee (STEAC), which reports directly to Battelle, resigned citing its lack of independence and its inability to communicate directly to NSF. ESA staff attended the meeting and will be writing a forthcoming article about the meeting discussions that will also include the subcommittee findings.

USDA: Acting Chief Scientist Chavonda Jacobs-Young rescinded a July 2018 memo that required agency scientists to label peer-reviewed research papers as ‘preliminary’ after the Washington Post publicized the policy in April 2019. A new policy requires scientists to include a modified disclaimer on ‘outside’ publications, such as peer-reviewed journal articles: “The findings and conclusions in this [publication/presentation/blog/report] are those of the author(s) and should not be construed to represent any official USDA or U.S. Government determination or policy.” William Trenkle, the USDA’s scientific integrity officer, told the Washington Post that this policy does not apply to several major USDA research agencies, including the Agricultural Research Service and the Forest Service, that have “agency-specific policies.”

USFWS: Two freshwater species native to North Carolina, the Carolina madtom, a fish, and the Neuse River waterdog, an aquatic salamander, will receive Endangered Species Act protection under a new proposed rule. USFWS proposes listing the Carolina madtom as an endangered species, and the Neuse River waterdog as a threatened species, with a 4(d) rule that would allow incidental take of the salamander during certain restoration and conservation activities.

The agency extended the comment period for a proposed rule removing endangered species protections for gray wolves by 60 days to July 15, 2019. Over 100 scientists, including some ESA members and ecologists, signed on to a letter publicized by the Center for Biological Diversity urging the US Fish and Wildlife Service to rescind this proposal, and stating that the proposal “does not represent the best-available science pertaining to wolf conservation.” Sixty-eight Members of Congress, led by Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) sent a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt opposing delisting the gray wolves.


LouisianaThe state Office of Community Development and the Foundation for Louisiana released a regional adaption strategy to guide the state as it faces increased flooding and land loss. The strategy identifies high, moderate and low-risk areas for flood and identifies strategies to help people living in high-risk areas migrate and prepare communities to receive migrants.

Massachusetts: The environmental reporter for the Boston Globe writes that Governor Charlie Baker (R)’s administration blocked him from interviewing state agency scientists, such as the state ornithologist.


IPBES: Dr. Helen Roy (United Kingdom), Dr. Anibal Pauchard (Chile) and Dr. Peter Stoett (Canada) were announced as the co-chairs of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services assessment of alien invasive species.

Botswana: The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism overturned a 2014 ban on elephant hunting, citing increased human-elephant conflict. About 130,000 elephants live in Botswana, the largest elephant population in the world.

Scientific Comunity

Science Committee: Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) reintroduced the STEM Opportunities Act (H.R. 2528), which requires federal agencies to collect demographic data on grant recipients and STEM faculty and take other steps to implement evidence-based policies to increase the number women, minorities and other groups underrepresented in STEM and support these groups’ success. Johnson introduced similar legislation in previous Congresses, but those bills did not gain bipartisan support. Since the bill’s introduction, 11 Democratic members, many of which are members of the Science Committee, and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) became additional co-sponsors of the bill.

A panel of experts from scientific societies, academic institutions and industry, including Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman astronaut, supported the legislation at a May 9 hearing. Jemison called STEM diversity “a necessity, not a nicety” and criticized gatekeepers and organizational cultures from keeping women and underrepresented minorities from achieving promotions and leadership positions.

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 more 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.