Policy News: July 29, 2019

In This Issue:

104th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America convenes in Louisville, KY
Meeting plenaries and symposia explore the meeting theme “Bridging Communities and Ecosystems: Inclusion as an Ecological Imperative.”

Honeybees in the Crosshairs
EPA affirms the use of the pesticides chlorpyrifos and sulfoxaflor.

White House, Congressional leaders reach an agreement to boost nondefense discretionary spending by 4.5%, end sequestration.

Executive Branch
Interior Department moves Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Colorado, most National Institute of Food and Agriculture employees refuse relocation to Kansas City.

University of Alaska declares financial exigency following a severe reduction in state funding.

IUCN updates its Red List.

Scientific Community
NSF BIO announces its intent to compete the contract for the management of the National Ecological Observatory Network.

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.

Member Opportunities
Apply to join the Rapid Response Team.

104th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America convenes in Louisville, KY

Environmental scientists, educators, and policymakers will gather at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville, KY, Aug. 11-16, for the 104th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America. Ecologists from around the world attend the five-day conference. Registration is open online, and walk-in registration will also be available. Meeting plenaries and symposia explore the meeting theme “Bridging Communities and Ecosystems: Inclusion as an Ecological Imperative.”

Karen Warkentin, Professor in the Biology Department and the Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program at Boston University, is opening the meeting Sunday, August 11th at 5:00 pm. Her plenary lecture, “All the variations matter: bridging disciplines and communities to study diversity in life history and sexual behavior,” will discuss how the discovery of widespread and diverse expressions of same-sex sexual behavior in animals calls into question research based solely on the reproductive function of sexuality. Both inclusive biology, which integrates perspectives from diverse human lives, and interdisciplinary perspectives from fields such as gender studies and queer theory, can increase the variation we notice, inform the questions we ask, and broaden our understanding of nature.

In addition to her role at BU, Warkentin is a research associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. She is an integrative biologist whose research combines ecology, evolution, development, behavior, and physiology to understand variation in life histories. Warkentin is also interested in reproductive diversity and evolved and plastic variation in sexual traits.

Also during the Opening Plenary, the 12th annual Regional Policy Award will be presented to Congressman John Yarmuth, chairman of the House Budget Committee and representative for Kentucky’s 3rd District, for his leadership in environmental policy. The ESA award recognizes an elected or appointed local policymaker who has an outstanding record of informing policy decisions with ecological science. The event is free and open to the general public. A recording of the opening plenary will be available online after the plenary.

Meeting field trips will explore the meeting’s theme outside the convention center. Local ESA members will lead visiting colleagues to the Thomas More University Biology Field Station for fish and algae sampling on the Ohio River. On a walking tour of Louisville’s urban waterways, participants will view sites where ecological restoration is enhancing water quality near former landfills. Other field trips present the opportunity for participants to learn about sustainable and organic agriculture on research farms, about management efforts to protect 400-year-old forests, and about how the socioeconomic gradient across the city relates to urban biodiversity.

special session led by Engineers and Scientists Acting Locally will feature STEM professionals who have made substantive contributions to their communities through state and local government engagement, including Wyoming State Representative Chris Rothfuss, PhD (D-Albany County). For a full list of Policy Section sessions, see the Policy Section website.

Visit the Annual Meeting website.

Honeybees in the Crosshairs

The Environmental Protection Agency affirmed the use of the pesticides chlorpyrifos and sulfoxaflor, despite ecological and human health risks and honey bee colony losses associated with their use. The agency declined a petition from environmental groups and seven states to cancel all registrations for chlorpyrifos and approved the expanded use of sulfoxaflor, reversing earlier restrictions on the pesticide’s use. The EPA released new tolerances for sulfoxaflor July 24.

The EPA has called sulfoxaflor “very highly toxic” to bees. In 2015, a federal judge sided with beekeeper groups and vacated the EPA’s 2013 approval of sulfoxaflor. Later, the EPA restricted sulfoxaflor’s use to crops that do not attract pollinators.

Chlorpyrifos, which is sold as Lorsban by Corteva Agriscience, is widely considered dangerous for childrens brain development and can poison bees and other nontarget insects for up to 24 hours after application. In 2015, the Obama administration announced that it would ban chlorpyrifos, but former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed that decision in 2017. The New York Times reported in March that now-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt killed a study by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists concluding that chlorpyrifos jeopardizes the survival of 1,399 endangered species.

These developments come at the same time as the USDA has stopped collecting honey bee and pollinator data and beekeepers report“unprecedented losses.” The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service said in July that it will not collect quarterly data for its Honey Bee Colonies report, citing “available fiscal and program resources.” The Bee Informed Partnership, a nonprofit affiliated with the University of Maryland, reported that beekeepers experienced their highest winter loss since the organization began collecting honey bee data 13 years ago. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an associate professor of entomology and the president of the Bee Informed Partnership, added that the impact of last winter’s high losses is compounded by the fact that the industry has already suffered a decade of high winter losses.


Appropriations: President Trump and congressional leaders reached a budget deal to raise the debt ceiling and boost discretionary spending for two years which permanently ends mandatory, across the board cuts required by the Budget Control Act of 2011, known as sequestration. The agreement raises defense spending by 3% and nondefense discretionary spending, which includes funding for most science agencies, by 4.5%, in fiscal year (FY) 2020. Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) said that with this deal, the Senate will begin its FY 2020 appropriations process after the August recess. The Senate has been waiting for a budget agreement to start its appropriations process. The House passed 10 out of 12 required appropriations bills in June, including increases for most ecological science agencies (see Policy News, July 1, 2019 and ESA Budget Tracker), using a budget agreement that increased nondefense discretionary spending by 6% and increased defense spending by 2%. This agreement means that final spending levels for non-defense discretionary programs will likely be lower than the amounts specified in the House bills, but the House bills will serve as a starting point for negotiations with Senate appropriators.
The agreement also prohibits the use of policy riders in appropriations bills for the next two years, if both parties and the administration do not support the riders. This provision will likely stop riders in the FY 2020 House appropriations bills aimed at stopping offshore drilling, the Pebble Mine project and the relocation of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
The full House approved the budget deal July 25, the Senate is expected to vote on the deal the week of July 29.

Harassment in ScienceThe full House approved the Combatting Sexual Harassment in Science Act (H.R. 36). This legislation, sponsored by House Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Science Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK), 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. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the Senate version of this bill (S. 1067) in April. The Senate has not acted on this bill.

Espionage in Science: Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) introduced the Secure American Research Act (S. 2133) July 16. This bill is largely similar to Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ)’s Securing American Science and Technology Act (SASTA, H.R. 3038), which is included in the House version of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. It requires directs the White House Office of Science and Technology to create an interagency working group tasked with developed a policy framework to address the security needs of agencies and federal grant recipients. Both the House and Senate bills call for a National Academies of Science roundtable designed to increase dialogue to balance security measures with the benefits of openness in science. Cornyn and Rosen’s bill includes additional provisions to require the working group to develop policies for sharing records about scientists determined to be “knowingly fraudulent in disclosure of foreign interests, investments, or involvement relating to federal research.” The Senators also require the working group to develop cybersecurity guidelines for protecting research from theft or espionage.

In June, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced the Protect Our Universities Act (S. 1879), which takes a more aggressive approach than SASTA or Cornyn and Rosen’s bill. Hawley’s bill subjects students from Iran, Russia and China to background checks before they can participate in “sensitive research projects,” as determined by a Department of Homeland Security-led interagency taskforce.

Similarly, Republicans on the House Science Committee, led by Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), introduced a bill (H.R. 3611) creating a pilot program for a network of secure computing enclaves for use by federally funded researchers. Babin and his co-sponsors cite the threats of foreign espionage as motivating this bill.

These developments come amid increasing scrutiny from lawmakers and federal agencies about foreign espionage in science (see ESA Policy News, July 15) and push back from prominent members of the scientific community. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, the president of the Royal Society – the U.K’s national academy of science, writes in Nature that reports of unfair treatment of Chinese scientists are “extremely concerning” and “morally objectionable.” Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan that concerns about international students and scholars are “driving anxiety and fear on our campuses and undermining the impact of our critical work.”

Scientific Integrity: The House Science Committee held a hearing to review scientific integrity in federal agencies and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY)’s Scientific Integrity Act (H.R. 1709). Tonko’s legislation codifies a 2010 memorandum on scientific integrity issued by former Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren. John Neumann of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) presented the results of a federal agencies scientific integrity GAO study. This report found that all of the agencies included in their review have scientific integrity policies and most have taken steps to achieve the goals of their scientific integrity policies, but five of the nine agencies, including NOAA and USGS have not monitored and evaluated the implementation of their scientific integrity policies. Michael Halpern of the Union of Concerned Scientists and Joel Clement, a former Interior Department official who resigned in protest of the administration’s climate policies, testified in support of the bill. Science-policy expert Roger Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado, Boulder said that the legislation was a good start and offered suggestions to improve the bill.

The vast majority of House Democrats — 208 members — are co-sponsors of the bill. The bill has no Republican co-sponsors – several Republican committee members expressed support for scientific integrity in general and Tonko said that he looks forward to Republicans joining the bill.

Separately, the House Natural Resources Committee held another hearing on scientific integrity in the Interior Department with testimony from Clement, Andrew Rosenberg of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Daren Bakst of the conservative Heritage Foundation and Maria Caffrey, a former University of Colorado, Boulder scientist whose report on sea level rise was censored by the National Park Service.

Botany Bill: A House Natural Resources subcommittee held a hearing to consider Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL)’s Botanical Sciences and Native Plant Materials Research, Restoration and Promotion Act (H.R. 1572), also known as the Botany Bill. The bill aims to promote native plants by creating grant programs for botanical research and rare plant conservation in the Department of Interior and codifying policies that 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. A representative of the U.S. Forest Service said that the bill is duplicative of existing programs and efforts. Wayne Padgett, a retired vegetation ecologist, who worked for the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, testified in support of the bill.

Office of Science and Technology Policy: Director Kelvin Droegmeier made his first appearance on Capitol Hill in his current role, appearing before the House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee. Droegmeier confirmed that he agrees with the scientific consensus on climate change and said that plans to form a White House committee to critically review climate science have not materialized. He also told Rep. Ed Case (D-HI) that he is happy to work with Congress on scientific integrity issues, including the Scientific Integrity Act.

Climate: House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and committee members Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) announced that the committee plans to adopt a target of carbon neutrality by 2050. This target will be followed by supporting legislation, which will be introduced by the end of 2019.

Carbon Tax: Lawmakers introduced two new carbon tax measures. In the House, a measure introduced by Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) would impose a $30 tax per metric ton of carbon emitted with a target of a 42% reduction in carbon emissions from the energy sector by 2030. The legislation (H.R. 4058) would prevent additional regulations on power plants as long as the electricity sector meets this target. In the Senate, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced another bill (S. 2284) that would impose a fee on oil, gas and coal and aims to reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 55% by 2030 and 100% by 2050.

Legislative updates:

  • House Science Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) introduced a bill reauthorizing the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) (H.R. 3915). The bill would gradually increase the agency’s funding levels, ultimately allowing appropriators to provide $500 million in FY2024. ARPA-E received $366 million in FY 2019. The Trump administration has proposed eliminating the agency in its President’s budget requests.
  • House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced that the full House will vote on bills blocking offshore drilling and oil and gas production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in September after Congress’ August recess.
  • The House Natural Resources Committee advanced bills withdrawing federal lands around Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico from future oil and gas leasing (H.R. 2181) and withdrawing lands near the Grand Canyon from mineral leasing, including uranium mining (H.R. 1373).
  • Members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, including Chairman John Barasso (R-WY) and Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE), introduced a bill (S. 2194) that would create a “Theodore Roosevelt Genius Prize” for innovative, nonlethal technologies that reduce human-wildlife conflict.

See ESA’s Legislative Tracker for more updates on legislation relevant to the ecological community.

Executive Branch

Nominations: President Trump formally renominated Aurelia Skipwith to be the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Trump originally nominated Skipwith in October 2018 – the Senate did not approve her nomination before the end of the 115th Congress in January. Skipwith has served as the deputy undersecretary for fish, wildlife and parks in the Interior Department since 2017. Previously, she worked for Monsanto for six years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not had a Senate-confirmed director since the beginning of the Trump administration.

Transparency: A bipartisan group of Senators introduced a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) bill July 23 to directly challenge an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) policy implemented earlier designed to restrict the release of information to the public. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler introduced the agency’s new FOIA policy in late June without a public comment period which gives political appointees the authority

to “issue final determinations whether to release or withhold” document requests. The Hill reported that Senate Judiciary Committee members Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), John Cornyn (R-TX) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said the Open and Responsive Government Act of 2019 (S. 2220) is intended “to reverse recent developments that undermine the public’s right to access information and hold government accountable.”

During the government shutdown in December, the Interior Department proposed a new FOIA policy that would allow political officials to review documents related to them before being released to the public and withhold public documents from being released. Interior’s Inspector General is investigating the process.

Agency relocations: The Interior Department announced that around 250 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employees currently based in Washington, DC will be reassigned to locations around the western U.S by 2020. Twenty-seven positions will go to Grand Junction, CO, which will be the agency’s new headquarters. A total of 85 jobs will go to Colorado and another 175 jobs will go to other western states. Around 60 positions will remain in DC. This announcement is part of former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s larger plan to reorganize the department and is intended to bring agency decision-makers closer to the public lands that they manage. The BLM has 9,454 full-time employees total and 99% of BLM lands are in the western U.S.

Meanwhile, the USDA reports that most National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and Economic Research Service employees slated to move to the Kansas City metropolitan area have not accepted the agency’s offer to relocation. Seventy-three NIFA employees said that they plan to relocate, 151 employees either declined to relocate or did not tell the agency their intentions.

NOAA: Under a provision of the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2017, the agency is looking for public comments on how it should define a harmful algal bloom event of national significance. A declaration of a harmful algal bloom of national significance would allow NOAA to transfer funds to state and local governments for response. Comments are due Sept. 9, 2019. Under the law, NOAA is responsible for harmful algal blooms in marine and coastal areas while the EPA handles harmful algal blooms in freshwater.

USDA: Politico reports that the agency ‘buried’ a 2017 climate resilience plan and did not release the plan publicly, as originally intended. The plan was intended to update a 2010 climate change science plan and identify science needs over the next five to eight years.


Alaska: The University of Alaska Board of Regents voted to declare a financial exigency after Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) cut state funding for the university system by 41% in early July. The Board of Regents’ vote allows university administrators to potentially cut academic programs and lay off tenured faculty. John Walsh, the chief scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ International Arctic Research Center, said that the cuts might lead to a “death spiral” for climate research at the university.
Missouri: The University of Missouri received funding to create a Missouri Science and Technology Policy Fellows program. This program will bring Ph.D. scientists to the state Legislature to inform evidence-based policy decisions in Missouri. The program will be similar to California’s science and technology policy fellowship.


IUCNInternational Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List added an additional 9,000 species bringing the list to 105,732 species in total with 28,338 species threatened with extinction. New species added to the Red List include the Scaly-foot snail, a deep-sea hydrothermal vent mollusk threatened by potential deep-sea mining in its habitat. The IUCN also highlights the decline of freshwater fish species and primates threatened by hunting for bushmeat and habitat loss. For this update, no species had a significant enough improvement to upgrade its threat category.

ArgentinaThe country’s Supreme Court is considering designating South American jaguars as ‘nonhuman persons.’ Authorities estimate that less than 250 jaguars remain in the country. The species’ decline is attributed to widespread habitat loss.

Scientific Community

NEON: The National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Biological Sciences issued a Dear Colleague letter notifying the scientific community of its intent to compete the contract for the operation and maintenance of the National Ecological Conservatory Network (NEON). Batelle Memorial Institute’s current contract to operate NEON expires in October 2020.  NSF will issue a formal solicitation for proposals in the last quarter of calendar year 2019.

Law:  Federal prosecutors in Louisiana dropped a case against two Tulane University coastal scientists, Ehab Meselhe and Kelin Hu. Both scientists worked at a nonprofit, the Water Institute of the Gulf, which alleged that Meselhe and Hu took a copy of a proprietary computer model of the Mississippi River basin illegally when they left the organization. Meselhe argued that the model is in the public domain because it was developed under contract with a state agency, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

US-Mexico Border: Scientists and conservationists working on the US-Mexico border tell Public Radio International that increased security at the border combined with racial profiling, restrictions on travel to Mexico and difficulties transporting samples has hampered their work in borderland ecosystems.

Knauss Fellowship: The National Sea Grant College Program announced the 2020 finalists for the John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship. The fellows will be placed in congressional or executive branch offices this fall and start their fellowships in February 2020.

NASEM: The National Science Foundation and the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine are looking for community input for the first decadal assessment on the future of biological physics research. NASEM is currently accepting nominations of individuals with relevant scientific and technical expertise to serve on the decadal committee and will begin consideration of nominations Aug. 6, 2019.

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.

Call for New ESA Rapid Response Team Membersmemberopportunities

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.

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.