Policy News: September 9, 2019
In This Issue:
Multi-society Letter on Foreign Influence
Sixty scientific societies respond to increased scrutiny of foreign influence and espionage in science.
Administration Finalizes Endangered Species Act Regulations, Environmental Groups Challenge Changes in Courts
Changes would allow agencies incorporate economic considerations into listing decisions and reverse a rule that automatically gives threatened species similar protections as endangered species.
House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis requests stakeholder input.
Office of Science and Technology Policy memo instructs agencies to prioritize “earth systems predictability research.”
Beekeepers challenge the EPA’s approval of the expanded use of sulfoxador.
22 State Attorneys General challenge the Trump administration’s replacement for the Clean Power Plan.
IPBES seeks experts to assist with scoping for two upcoming thematic assessments.
NEON is recruiting new members for its technical working groups and the Science, Technology and Education Advisory Committee for 2020.
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.
Apply to join the Rapid Response Team.
Amid increased scrutiny of foreign influence and espionage in science, ESA and 59 other scientific societies and organizations sent a letter to the heads of U.S. federal science agencies urging that “while we must be vigilant to safeguard research, we must also ensure that the U.S. remains a desirable and welcoming destination for researchers from around the world.”
Administration Finalizes Endangered Species Act Regulations, Environmental Groups Challenge Changes in Courts
The Trump administration finalized a set of changes to the Endangered Species Act regulations weakening protections for listed species. Changes would allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA NMFS) incorporate economic considerations into listing decisions and reverse a long-standing rule that automatically gives threatened species similar protections as endangered species, known as the blanket 4(d) rule. Another change codifies the definition of “foreseeable future” as the timeframe in which predictions about the future are “more likely than not” and “reliable.” This change could impact how federal agencies incorporate climate change impacts into species protections.
An analysis of the regulations by the Environmental Policy Innovation Center found that, of the 33 changes – five changes will harm conservation, six changes’ impact on conservation will depend on agency implementation, 17 changes will have a negligible impact on conservation and five changes will help conservation. All of the changes that help conservation are minor changes – these include changes that will streamline how USFWS and NOAA NMFS consult with other federal agencies on endangered species protections and collaborate on species conservation.
Eight environmental groups filed a lawsuit challenging the regulations, claiming the federal government did not analyze the environmental impacts of the changes as required by the National Environmental Policy Act and inserted new provisions into the final regulations without holding a required public comment period.
A top Interior lawyer, Karen Budd-Falen, said that the changes are just the first of a series of revisions to the Endangered Species Act regulations. Other upcoming changes will include a definition of habitat under the Endangered Species Act and revisions to a provision that allows the Interior Department to consider economic costs when designating critical habitat for species. The White House Office of Management and Budget’s Unified Agenda, which provides a preview of upcoming regulations, notes that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service plan to release a proposed rule revising the agencies’ interpretation of the phrase “significant portion of range” in the ESA.
The Congressional Western Caucus also plans a legislative package addressing the Endangered Species Act this fall. A similar package of bills from the caucus failed to advance during the previous Congress. Separately, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) continues work on another legislative proposal to “modernize” the ESA.
House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis: The committee issued a request for information, seeking stakeholder input on how Congress and the U.S. government should respond to the climate crisis and “lead an ambitious transition to clean energy and resilience that puts Americans to work, builds a just economy, unleashes American ingenuity, and prepares communities for the impacts of climate change.” The document asks for policy recommendations detailing how Congress can help communities become more climate resilient and how to increase carbon storage in agriculture, forests, oceans and federal lands and decrease greenhouse gas emissions from these sectors.
BLM Relocation: As Congress returns from its’ summer recess, the House Natural Resources Committee plans a Sept. 10 oversight hearing for the Interior Department’s plan to move the Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Grand Junction, CO.
Senate Interior Appropriations Ranking Member Tom Udall (D-NM) and House Interior Appropriations Chair Betty McCollum (D-MN) indicated that they will try to stop the move. Udall and McCollum sent a letter to the Interior Department expressing their concerns that the plan is “designed to reduce the Bureau’s effectiveness and relevance” and urging the agency to immediately suspend the move.
White House: President Trump asked Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to exempt the Tongass National Forest in Alaska from the Forest Service’s roadless rule, effectively opening up more half of the 16.7 million-acre forest to logging and other extractive activities.
White House/OSTP: Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought and Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Kelvin Droegmeier sent a memo to agency heads detailing the administration’s budget priorities for research and development, as agencies start to prepare their budgets for fiscal year 2021. For the first time during the Trump administration, the memo names ocean exploration and research and development “that improves understanding of and supports effective responses to changes in the ocean system” as a priority. Another new priority is “earth system predictability,” which Vought and Droegmeier describe as understanding the extent to which components of the earth system can be predicted – from individual storms to long-term global change. The memo instructs agencies to “prioritize R&D that helps quantify Earth system predictability across multiple phenomena, time and space scales.”
The recently established Joint Committee on Research Environments (JCORE) memo includes priorities such as addressing sexual harassment, reducing administrative burdens on researchers, and protecting research assets from espionage and foreign interference.
NSF: A webinar for individuals, teams and organizations interested in applying to manage and operate the National Ecological Observatory Network will be held Sept. 11 at 2 p.m. Eastern time. NSF announced in July 2019 that it will recompete the award to manage NEON in a Dear Colleague letter. Battelle Memorial Institute is tasked with managing NEON through 2021. The webinar will cover the timeline for executing the competition, key decision points by NSF, critical dates for activities related to the competition, and information on the post-award oversight requirements for awards managed through cooperative agreements. Register online here.
The Directorate for Biological Sciences plans a series of virtual town hall meetings the week of Sept. 16, 2019, about reintegrating and unifying biology across disciplines. Information and registration is available at reintergratingbiology.org.
NSB: The first two parts of the 2020 Science and Engineering Indicators reports are now available. The reports cover national U.S. trends in national trends in K-12 student achievement in science and mathematics and higher education trends in science and engineering. The National Science Board plans to release further, thematic reports on the state of science and engineering in the U.S. throughout 2020.
NOAA: The agency reiterated President Trump’s claim that Hurricane Dorian would impact Alabama and disavowed a tweet from the National Weather Service’s Birmingham, AL office refuting Trump’s claim. The American Meteorological Society defended the Birmingham office, calling the pushback to the tweet “unwarranted” and said that the office’s staff “should have been commended for their quick action based on science in clearly communicating the lack of threat to the citizens of Alabama.” NOAA’s acting chief scientist told agency staff that he is investigating whether the statement defending President Trump violates the agency’s scientific integrity policy.
A regional official in the National Marine Fisheries Service blocked the release of an over thousand-page scientific report analyzing how the Trump administration’s water management plan will harm federally threatened and endangered Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead and Southern Resident killer whales. The water management plan aims to increase the quantity of water available for agriculture. The Los Angeles Times posted the leaked report online.
EPA: The agency released a proposed water quality certification rule limiting the states’ ability to block projects under section 401 of the Clean Water Act designed to expedite natural gas pipelines and other energy-related infrastructure. Coastal states, such as Washington state and New York, have used their authority under section 401 to block fossil fuel export facilities and pipelines in their states, citing air quality and climate concerns. The proposed rule would prevent states from considering concerns other than water quality during the certification process and aims to accelerate the process, giving states one year to complete their analysis after they have received a “certification request.” Currently, some states will take more that year to complete the certification, dependent on when the state receives a permit application from a developer. The proposed rule comes in response to an April 2019 Executive Order promoting energy infrastructure development. The proposal is open for public comment on the Federal Register through Oct. 21, 2019.
Another new proposed rule stops the EPA from directly regulating methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. Methane accounts for almost 10% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Instead, if the rule is finalized, the EPA will only regulate volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which could also reduce methane emissions. The EPA argues that efforts to regulate both VOCs and methane are redundant. The proposed rule would also stop the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas industry’s storage and transmission sector.
Pipelines: A federal appeals courts ruled in favor of opponents to a Nexus natural gas pipeline, requiring the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to rejustify its approval of the project. The pipeline would carry natural gas through Ohio and Michigan for export to Canada and would require the use of eminent domain. The pipeline opponents argued that a provision in the Natural Gas Act allowing for the use of eminent domain does not apply to international pipelines.
Pollinators: The Pollinator Stewardship Council, the American Beekeeping Federation and Beekeeper Jeffery S. Anderson are challenging the EPA’s decision to expand the use of the pesticide sulfoxador in the courts. The EPA has called sufoxaflor “very highly toxic” to bees (see ESA Policy News, July 29, 2019). The beekeepers, represented by Earthjustice, say that the agency violated the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act when it did not open hold a public comment period before making its final decision.
National Monuments: A federal district judge rejected a lawsuit filed by two Oregon timber companies that argued that President Obama exceeded his legal authority under the Antiquities Act when he added 48,000 acres to the Cascade-Siskiyou national monument in 2017. The timber companies contested that about 40,000 acres of the addition were already designated under the Oregon and California Revested Lands Act to be managed for commercial forest production. The court decision notes that the Bureau of Land Management had already removed the majority of the area from timber production. This decision affirms a magistrate judge’s recommendation, which was released in April 2019.
Sonoran Desert Tortoise: Two environmental groups, Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guards, filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2015 decision to not list the Sonoran Desert Tortoise under the Endangered Species Act. The groups argue that the decision ignored the best available science about the threats to the tortoise, including climate change and livestock grazing.
Alaska: Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) and University of Alaska Board of Regents Chairman John Davies reached an agreement to reduce budgets cuts to the university system. The compact would cut state funding by $25 million this state fiscal year, and would reduce university funding by $25 million next year and $20 million in 2021. In late June 2019, Dunleavy issued a veto that would have reduced state funding for university by $135 million which led to threats of lay-offs for tenured faculty and severe impacts to climate research, biological collections and more. Davies and University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen warned that this budget reduction will still likely lead to lay-offs and cuts to programs.
North Carolina: Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality released a draft clean energy plan intended to reduce the state’s power sector greenhouse gas emissions by 60% to 70% by 2030 and bring the state to carbon-neutrality by 2050. The plan would require actions by the Republican-controlled state legislature to be fully implemented, but Cooper can still act on some items in the plan without the legislature.
Separately, the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission is reconsidering a provision that prohibits its science advisers from predicting the impacts of sea level rise more than 30 years in the future.
Clean Power Plan: The Attorneys General of 22 states, the District of Columbia and six cities filed a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Clean Energy rule, the Trump administration’s replacement to the Clean Power Plan. The lawsuit claims that the rule violates the EPA’s legal responsibility to address carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. The Clean Power Plan, which aimed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, was never fully implemented. The Supreme Court blocked the Clean Power Plan after Republican-led states challenged the rule in the courts.
IPBES: The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is currently seeking experts in natural science, social science, policy, and/or indigenous and local knowledge systems to assist with the scoping of two new thematic assessments; one on the interlinkages among biodiversity, water, food and health (initial scoping document can be found here), and a second on the underlying causes of biodiversity loss and the determinants of transformative change and options for achieving the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity (initial scoping document can be found here). Interested experts in the U.S. can email their CV and a short paragraph (400 words maximum) about their interest in the opportunity and what they hope to contribute to Sarah Weiskopf at vog.sgsunull@fpoksiews by Oct. 4, 2019.
IPBES opened its draft sustainable use assessment for external review and comment. See the announcement to apply to be an external reviewer.
IPCC: A United Nations report on climate change and land change finds that agriculture, forestry and other land uses account for 23% of the world’s carbon emissions and 70% of the world’s ice-free land surface is already being used by humans. Reducing carbon emissions from land would require major changes to the world’s food system and efforts to plant trees to reduce CO2 levels could increase food shortages and prices.
CITES: Delegates at the Convention on International in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) agreed to protect 130 species for the first time under the agreement and increased protections for nine species at a summit in Sri Lanka. Species protected include giraffes, mako sharks, wedgefishes and guitarfishes.
NEON: The National Ecological Observatory Network is recruiting new members for its Technical Working Groups and the Science, Technology and Education Advisory Committee (STEAC) for 2020. See the NEON website for more information on the Technical Working Groups and the STEAC and how to apply to join.
NSF Fellowships: Analysis of National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) recipients by Science Magazine and ecologist Matthew Cover of California State University, Stanislaus finds that GRFP awards primarily go to students at the same universities. Thirty-one percent of awards went to the top 10 schools and 14% of awards went to three universities — the University of California, Berkley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University. The vast majority of awards – 86% — went to R1 universities in 2017.
Sustaining Biological Infrastructure: The deadline to sign up for ESA’s Strategies for Success course Oct. 15-17 in Fort Collins, CO has been extended until Sept. 13! Come spend three days honing your strategic planning, communication, and fundraising skills while you develop a sustainability plan to futureproof your project. Register now, and find out more about the colleague discount program!
- BLM – Las Cruces District Resource Advisory Council Meeting (Sept. 11)
- BLM – Southwest Colorado Resource Advisory Council Meeting (Sept. 25)
- BLM – Public Meetings of the San Juan Islands National Monument Advisory Committee (Sept. 24)
- BLM – Southeast Oregon Resource Advisory Council Meeting (Oct. 10)
- EPA – Environmental Laboratory Advisory Board Meeting (2019 teleconferences – Sept. 18.)
- EPA – Conference on Air Quality Modeling (Oct. 2-3)
- Forest Service – Black Hills National Forest Advisory Board Meeting (Sept. 18)
- Forest Service – Saguache-Upper Rio Grande Resource Advisory Committee (CO) Meeting (Sept. 16, Sept. 18)
- Forest Service – Flathead Resource Advisory Committee Meeting (Sept. 20, Oct. 1, Oct. 3, Oct. 7, Oct. 8, Oct. 10)
- NOAA – 42nd Meeting of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force (Sept. 12)
- NOAA – Evaluation of Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve Meeting (Sept. 25, comments due Oct. 4)
- NOAA NMFS – Pacific Fishery Management Council Meetings (Sept. 11-18)
- NOAA NMFS – Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council Ecosystem and Ocean Planning Committee Meeting (Sept. 19-20)
- NPS – Wekiva River System Advisory Management Committee Meetings (Sept. 18)
- NPS – Alaska Region Subsistence Resource Commission Meetings (Lake Clark National Park – Oct. 2, Cape Krusentern National Monument – Oct. 1 & 2, Kobuk Valley National Park – Oct. 3 & 4, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park – Oct. 7 and 8)
- USGS – National Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council Federal Advisory Committee Meeting (Sept. 30)
- USDA APHIS – Recognition of Freedom From Citrus Longhorned Beetle and Asian Longhorned Beetle in Certain European Union Countries. APHIS will consider all comments that we receive on or before Sept. 16, 2019.
- USDA APHIS – Environmental Assessment for the Release of Sericothrips staphylinus for Biological Control of Gorse. APHIS is making the environmental assessment available to the public for review and comment and will consider all comments received on or before Sept. 19, 2019.
- BLM – Draft Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Comments can be submitted through Sept. 20, 2019.
- EPA – Request for comments – Nominations to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act Scientific Advisory Panel. Comments must be received by Sept. 11, 2019.
- EPA – Request for Nominations of Ad Hoc Expert Reviewers to assist the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP). Nominations should be provided on or before Sept. 12, 2019. Public comments requests for oral comments be submitted on or before Oct. 4, 2019.
- NOAA NMFS – Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan Modifications To Reduce Serious Injury and Mortality of Large Whales in Commercial Trap/Pot Fisheries Along the U.S. East Coast. Written or electronic scoping comments must be received at the appropriate address or email mail to (vog.aaonnull@9102TRTWLA.rag.sfmn) by Sept. 16, 2019.
- NOAA NMFS – Nominations to the Marine Mammal Scientific Review Groups. Nominations must be received by Sept. 18, 2019.
- NOAA NMFS – Pelagic Longline Fishery Management for Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Fisheries. Written comments must be received by Sept. 30, 2019.
- NOAA NMFS – Shrimp Fishery of the Gulf of Mexico – Amendment 18. Written comments must be received on or before Sept. 30, 2019.
- NOAA NMFS – Amendments 50A-F – State Management of Recreational Harvest of Red Snapper. Written comments must be received on or before Oct. 7, 2019.
- NPS – Request for Nominations for the Gateway National Recreation Area Fort Hancock 21st Century Advisory Committee. Written nominations must be received by Oct. 4, 2019.
- USFWS – Draft Recovery Plan for Short’s Bladderpod. In order to be considered, comments on the draft recovery plan must be received on or before Sept. 16, 2019.
- USFWS – Incidental Take Permit Application and Proposed Habitat Conservation Plan for the Sand Skink and Blue-Tailed Mole Skink (Polk County, FL). USFWS must receive your written comments by Sept. 16, 2019.
- USFWS – Proposed Habitat Conservation Plan for the Sand Skink and Blue-Tailed Mole Skink, Osceola County, FL. USFWS must receive written comments on or before Sept. 23, 2019.
- USFWS – Initiation of 5-Year Status Reviews of 58 Species in California, Nevada, and the Klamath Basin of Oregon. To ensure consideration, USFWS is requesting submission of new information no later than Sept. 24, 2019.
- USFWS – Incidental Take Permit Application and Proposed Habitat Conservation Plan for the San Bernardino Kangaroo Rat, City of Highland, San Bernardino County, CA. USFWS must receive written comments on or before Oct. 3, 2019.
- USFWS – Initiation of 5-Year Reviews of Seven Northeastern Species. To ensure consideration, please submit written information by Oct. 4, 2019.
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
- ESC – Statement of Support of ARPA-E Reauthorization Act of 2019 (Aug. 1, 2019)
- Energy Sciences Coalition – Statement on DOE Office of Science Federal Advisory Committees (July 25, 2019)
- ESC – Statement on DOE Office of Science and Research Infrastructure (July 22, 2019)
- Multi-organization Letter on Appropriations for the National Microbiome Data Collective (July 10, 2019)
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.
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.
Visit the ESA website to learn more about our activities and membership.