Policy News: July 1, 2019

In This Issue:

Member Opportunities
Action Alert: Ask your Members of Congress to raise the caps and restore funding for science.

Apply to join the Rapid Response Team.

House Bill Would Increase Funding for Ecological Science, Block Offshore Drilling
NSF receives a 7% increase.

House Science Committee Advances Harassment, Diversity Bills
Bill would create an interagency working group to develop a “uniform set of policy guidelines” for addressing harassment.

House Natural Resources Committee approves offshore drilling legislation.

Executive Branch
EPA finalizes Clean Power Plan replacement rule.

New York commits to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Belize approves wildlife corridor.

Scientific Community
NEON plans user summit in October, applications due July 22, 2019.

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.

Action Alert: Ask your Members of Congress to raise the caps and restore funding for science

Dear ESA Member:

As you may know, 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. The House is currently completing appropriations using a budget resolution that boosts overall nondefense spending by 6% and increases funding for many important ecological science programs. However, if the House and Senate do not reach an agreement to “raise the caps,” these programs will likely see budget cuts instead.

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 ask them to raise the budget caps and provide robust funding for FY20 appropriation bills for scientific research – especially for ecological research. 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 effects 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.

Here are the amounts that ESA has requested for FY 2020, for your reference.

ESA Request for FY2020

  • NSF: $9 billion
  • EPA: $746 million for Science and Technology
  • DOE Office of Science: $7 billion
  • NOAA: $5.7 billion
  • USDA/ARS: $1.821 billion
  • USDA/NIFA: $445 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative
  • USDA/USFS: $310 million for Forest Service R&D, $83 million for Forest Inventory and Analysis, $16 million for the Joint Fire Science Program
  • DOI/USGS: $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 FY 2020 funding bills.

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.

House Boosts Funding for Ecological Science, Blocks Offshore Drilling, Pebble Mine 

The House advanced two “minibus” bills providing funding for the Departments of Interior, Agriculture, Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, NOAA, NSF and other agencies for fiscal year (FY) 2020 that begins Oct. 1, 2019. The National Science Foundation receives $8.64 billion, a 7% increase over FY 2019 levels. The House is currently completing appropriations using a budget resolution that boosts overall nondefense spending by 6% and increases defense spending by 2%.

The Senate has not yet proposed its overall top-line spending levels for FY2020 appropriations, but it is likely that they will propose smaller increases for nondefense spending and larger increases for defense spending. Appropriators are still waiting for a bipartisan agreement to raise the budget caps and avoid mandatory, across the board budget cuts or sequestration before starting the appropriations process. Most recently, White House officials have suggested a one-year continuing resolution (CR), or a stopgap measure, that would keep spending at FY 2019 levels. Across the board budget cuts to all federal agencies are scheduled to go into effect unless Congress and the administration agree to “raise the budget caps,”  which calls into play whether a CR would be legal.

Heading into the Fourth of July break, the House has passed 10 of the 12 required spending bills funding the federal government for Fiscal Year 2020 – including bills that fund most science programs. After the holiday, House leaders plan to take up spending bills funding Congressional operations and the Department of Homeland Security. The Senate appropriations process remains unclear. ESA will continue to update the federal budget tracker.

Details of the appropriations bills passed by the House are found below.

Interior Department

House lawmakers approved two amendments in the minibus that blocks offshore drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Other amendments restrict drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Florida and would prevent the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management from issuing permits for oil and gas exploration.

An amendment approved by the full House from Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL) prevents the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) from limiting the use of climate modeling tools. In May, The New York Times reported that USGS Director James Reilly ordered agency scientists only to use climate models that predict the impacts of climate change through 2040. Reilly denied this report and said that he was misquoted.

Another amendment, sponsored by Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA) and Rep. Gil Cisneros (D-CA), increases funding for the Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) to total funding to around $7 million. The JSFP is jointly run by the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service.

Overall, the House bill provides modest funding increases for Interior agencies:

  • The National Park Service receives $3.39 billion, a 5% increase.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service receives $1.66 billion, a 5% increase.
  • The Bureau of Land Management receives $1.4 billion, a 4% increase.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey receives $1.26 billion, a 4.7% increase, including $168 million for the Ecosystems Directorate.

Army Corps of Engineers

The full House narrowly approved an amendment from Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) blocking funding to the Army Corps of Engineers to complete an environmental impact statement for the controversial Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

At this point, the Army Corps of Engineers anticipates releasing a final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the open-pit gold-copper mine in early 2020. If this amendment is included in a final appropriations bill, it will stop the Army Corps of Engineers from finishing the Pebble Mine EIS and issuing a permit to the mining company, Pebble Limited Partnership, to begin construction of the mine. At the same time, federal agencies are currently continuing work to allow the Pebble Mine project to proceed — on June 26, the EPA announced that it is reconsidering 2014 restrictions on mining waste discharge in the Bristol Bay watershed.


The full House approved an amendment from Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC) and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) providing $1.5 million to NOAA for North Atlantic right whale research and monitoring and rejected an amendment from Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME) stopping NOAA from using a North Atlantic right whale risk reduction decision support tool. The Maine Congressional delegation has expressed concerns that efforts to conserve and protect North Atlantic right whales will negatively impact lobster fisheries.

The final House bill also directs $2 million to NOAA for harmful algal bloom research.

In total, NOAA receives $5.49 billion, a 1% increase.


Lawmakers approved an amendment setting aside another $5 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, bringing its total House funding to $465 million for FY 2020, a 12% increase.

The Agricultural Research (ARS) receives $1.394 billion, a 17% decrease.Within this amount, ARS’ salaries and expenses account receives a 3% increase.

Forest Service Research and Development receives $277 million, a 5% increase over FY2019 levels when taking into account House Appropriators’ plan to create a cost pool for Forest Service operational costs, such as utilities and information technology management.

Environmental Protection Agency

The Environmental Protection Agency receives $9.53 billion, an 18% increase of FY 2019 levels.

Department of Energy

The Energy-Water bill provides $6.87 billion for the Department of Energy Office of Science, an increase of $285 million above fiscal year (FY) 2019 levels. The final House bill includes an amendment from Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) and Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) preventing funds from being used to reject any grant applications because of the use of the terms “global warming” or “climate change.”

House Science Committee Advances Harassment, Diversity Bills

Following the leadership of Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK), House Science Committee members approved two bills addressing STEM workforce issues – the Combatting Harassment in the Sciences Act (H.R. 36) and the STEM Opportunities Act (H.R. 2528).

The Combatting Harassment in the Sciences Act would establish an interagency working group to coordinate federal science agency efforts to reduce the prevalence of sexual harassment involving grant personnel and develop a “uniform set of policy guidelines” for addressing harassment. It would also authorize a new NSF grant program for research into the factors contributing to, and consequences of, sexual harassment and examine interventions to stop and prevent harassment and direct the National Academies of Science to update its guide to responsible conduct in research. Committee members approved an amendment from Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX) that requires science agencies and grantee organizations to have mechanisms for the reintegration of individuals who left science due to harassment into the scientific workforce. On the day of the committee hearing, the American Association of Universities, which represents large research universities, sent a letter to Johnson and Lucas thanking the members of Congress for their work on this bill.

The STEM Opportunities Act 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 sessions of Congress – but this is the first time that the bill has gained bipartisan support. Lucas is the original co-sponsor of the bill and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Science Committee members Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR) and Michael Waltz (R-FL) joined the bill as additional co-sponsors.

In the Senate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced companion legislation for the Combatting Harassment in the Science Act (S. 1067) in April. It is unclear if the Senate will vote on the legislation. Harris’ legislation falls under the jurisdiction of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which is currently considering revisions to the Higher Education Act, including changes to harassment and Title IX policies.


Nominations: The full Senate approved Robert Wallace to serve as the assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks in the Interior Department and Lane Genatowski to be the director of the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Wallace’s position oversees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. This position has been vacant since 2011. Wallace led government relations for General Electric’s energy division and worked for the National Park Service during the Reagan administration. Genatowski is an investment banker and attorney who has worked in the energy industry.

House Natural Resources Committee: Lawmakers advanced two pieces of legislation aimed at stopping offshore oil and gas production out of committee. The Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act (H.R. 205), introduced by Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) and Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), permanently extends a moratorium on drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The Coastal and Marine Economies Protection Act (H.R. 1941), sponsored by Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC), prevents the Interior Department from including the Atlantic and Pacific coasts in offshore leasing plans.

Legislative updates:

  • The House Natural Resources Committee approved legislation (H.R. 1305) which would allow the U.S. to join the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, an international treaty that protects migratory seabirds.
  • The Senate included the Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies (USE IT Act, S. 383) in the National Defense Reauthorization Act, which passed the full Senate June 27. This bill directs the EPA to conduct carbon capture and sequestration research and streamlines permitting requirements for carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration facilities and carbon dioxide pipelines.

Executive Branch

White House: The Council on Environmental Quality released draft guidance instructing agencies on how to incorporate climate impacts in National Environmental Policy Act analysis. The new guidance allows agencies to forgo assessing the climate impacts of federal agency actions if staff determine and justify that such analysis would be “overly speculative.” It also states that agencies should not weigh the effects of greenhouse gas emissions more heavily than other environmental effects. Council on Environmental Quality Chair Mary Neumayr that the new guidance would help expedite infrastructure permitting.

EPA: The agency finalized the Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE), the Trump administration’s replacement for the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. The rule does not set emissions caps and largely allows states to determine how much they will reduce emissions. The rule will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 11 million short tons, 0.7 to 1.5% less than 2005 levels. The Clean Power Plan aimed to reduce carbon emissions by 32% by 2005. When the EPA first proposed the Affordable Clean Energy rule in August 2018, it estimated the rule would lead to at least 1,400 premature deaths. A coalition of 16 State Attorneys General plan to challenge the rule in court.

A week after the EPA released the ACE rule, Bill Wehrum, the EPA’s top air policy official, announced that he would leave the agency. The House Energy and Commerce Committee is currently investigating Wehrum for potential ethics violations. Wehrum is widely considered the lead architect of the ACE rule and other efforts to roll back pollution regulations.

NOAA: The National Marine Fisheries Service declined to list alewife and blueback herring as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, citing improved fisheries management practices and habitat improvement projects.

USDA: Politico reports that the Agricultural Research Service avoided publicizing agency climate research and discouraged university partners from issuing press releases for climate science journal articles with ARS co-authors. Several Congressional Democrats condemned ARS’ actions — Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) asked the USDA Inspector General to investigate the matter.

USFWS: The agency is revising recovery plans for 85 threatened and endangered species to add quantitative goals and criteria for when species can be removed from the endangered species list. An agency press release says that, in total, the Fish and Wildlife Service plans to revise up to 182 recovery plans for 305 species. More information, including the list of species, are available in two Federal Register notices.


New York: The state Legislature approved the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which requires the state to become achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The bill requires the state to reduce its emissions, relative to 2050 levels, by 85%. The state will make up the remaining 15% through carbon offsets.

Michigan: Governor Gretchen Witmer (D) signed an executive directive instructing state agencies to take action to reduce phosphorous loads in the western Lake Erie basin by 40% by 2025 to improve the lake ecosystem’s health.

Oregon: Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) announced June 25 that a carbon cap-and-trade bill does not have sufficient votes to pass the legislature. The announcement came after state Senate Republicans fled to Idaho to prevent a vote on the bill.

Utah: A provision in the state’s appropriations bill provides $200,000 to the University of Utah for an “air quality and climate research study.” Members of the legislature told the Salt Lake Tribune that they hope the study will build support for future climate legislation in the state and inform policymaking. Climate change remains “hotly contested and highly divisive” in state politics.


Belize: Officials approved a plan to connect two protected areas, the Manatee Forest Reserve and the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Areas to create a wildlife corridor for jaguars, spider monkeys, tapirs and other species.

Scientific Community

Espionage in Science: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced a bill, the Protect Our Universities Act (S. 1879), to require students from Iran, China and Russia to undergo background screening before participating in “sensitive research projects.” A Department of Homeland Security-led interagency taskforce would determine what constitutes a sensitive research project.

In late May, House Science Committee member Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) introduced the Securing American Science and Technology Act (or SASTA, H.R. 3038), which creates a working group, led by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, to develop a policy framework to address the security needs of agencies and federal grant recipients. It also convenes a National Academies of Science roundtable to address and discuss tensions between science and national security. Language from SASTA is included the House’s version of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2500), an annual must pass bill which sets U.S. defense policy. ESA joined over 70 scientific societies, universities and higher education organizations in signing a letter of support for SASTA.

SEEC: ESA member and University of California, Berkeley associate adjunct professor Patrick Gonzalez presented his research on the disproportionate exposure of U.S. national parks to hotter and drier conditions and the increased wildfire, melting glaciers, and shifts of biomes and wildlife driven by human-caused climate change to the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC), a group of over 60 House Democrats that aims to advance policies to promote clean energy and arrest global warming. Dr. Gonzalez presented this work to the House Natural Resources Committee in February and told ESA about this experience. Members of Congress asked Gonzalez questions on how to integrate these scientific findings into specific legislation and policy.

Alda Center: ScienceCounts and the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University released the results of a survey of over 4,000 scientists in academia, industry and nonprofits aimed at understanding scientists’ willingness to engage in science communication.

NAS: The presidents of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine affirmed the scientific evidence of climate change and that this body of work “should be recognized, built upon, and most importantly acted upon for the benefit of society.”

NAS released the workshop proceedings from an October 2018 titled “Fostering the Culture of Convergence in Research” that explored how to promote cultures of convergence-base approaches to research. “Convergence” refers to the combination of divergent areas of expertise to form otherwise inaccessible conclusions. NAS will also hold a webinar on this topic July 25.

NEON: The University of Colorado, Boulder’s Earth Lab will host the first National Ecological Network (NEON) Science Submit for NEON data users in October 2019. The workshop will be structured in an “unconference” format. Applications to attend are due July 22, 2019, and travel awards and remote participation are available.

Science Diplomacy: The University of Arizona’s Science, Health and Engineering and Policy Diplomacy Initiative will host a second conference in October 2019. The conference will cover general science policy and diplomacy topics and sustainable development for the Americas and global sustainability challenges. For more information and deadlines, see the meeting website.

Federal Register Opportunities

Public Meetings, many of which are live-streamed: 

Opportunities for Public Comment and Nominations:

Visit this page on ESA’s website 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.