Policy News: October 7, 2019

In This Issue:

Senate Spending Bills Include Modest Increase for NSF, Interior Agencies
NSF receives 3% increase.

States Challenge New Endangered Species Act Regulations in Courts
House Natural Resources Committee pushes a bill to reverse regulations; Congressional Western Caucus releases draft legislation to codify the new rules.

Newest IPCC Report Highlights ‘Unprecedented and Enduring Changes in the Ocean and Cryosphere’
U.N. report finds the rate of ocean warming has double since 1993.

The full House passes STEM Opportunities Act.

Executive Branch
NOAA advisory committee eliminated.

California groundwater restrictions to start in January 2020.

Financial commitments, pledges to achieve net-zero emissions announced during U.N. climate summit.

Scientific Community
AAAS, PMF and NSF GRFP fellowships applications open.

Opportunities to Get Involved
Federal Register opportunities.

ESA In the News
View an up-to-date list of ESA’s media coverage.

Senate Spending Bills Include Modest Increases for NSF, Interior Agencies

The Senate Appropriations committee released spending bills funding the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Interior Department, the EPA, the U.S. Forest Service and more. The government is currently funded through a continuing resolution, which keeps the government open through Nov. 21.

The full Senate has not voted on any fiscal year (FY) 2020 bills. The full House passed 10 out of 12 required spending bills during summer 2019.

Details of the appropriations bills passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee are found below.

National Science Foundation

Senate appropriators allocated $8.317 billion for NSF, a 3% increase. This amount includes $6.732 billion, a 3.7% increase for NSF’s Research and Related Activities account, which funds most NSF grants. Congress does not determine funding levels for the individual NSF’s directorates.

In total, Senate appropriators provide around $105 million for midscale research infrastructure, including $75 million for research infrastructure that costs between $20 million and $70 million. Funding midscale research infrastructure is one of NSF’s 10 big ideas.

Senate appropriators reject NSF’s proposal to decrease the number of Graduate Research Fellowships to 1,600 fellowships in FY 2020 and provide level funding for the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), relative to FY 2019 levels. The GRFP typically provides around 2,000 awards a year.

Interior Department

Overall, the Senate Appropriations bill provides $1.209 billion for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), a 4.22% increase. Senators approve USGS’s plan to restructure its mission areas. In this reorganization, the agency’s Climate Adaption Science Centers and the agency’s environmental health research programs are moved to the Ecosystems Mission Area. The Climate Adaption Science Centers and the Cooperative Research Units receive flat funding at FY 2019 levels. The appropriations committee report instructs that this funding should be used to keep all Climate Science Adaptation Centers open. USGS proposed closing the cooperative research units and consolidating the eight regional Climate Adaption Science Centers into three regional hubs in its 2020 budget request.

The National Park Service receives $3.36 billion, a 4.26% increase.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service receives $1.63 billion, a 3.3% increase.

The Bureau of Land Management receives $1.4 billion, a nearly 4% increase. The bill does not include funding for the BLM’s plan to relocate its headquarters to Grand Junction, CO and move hundreds of jobs to locations across the West.

U.S. Forest Service

The Senate Appropriations bill for the Forest Service includes $3.56 billion for Forest Service nonfire programs, a $474.575 million increase over FY 2019 levels.

Senate appropriators mirror the House’s proposal to create a new budget pool for Forest Service operational costs, such as utilities and information technology. Forest Service Research and Development receives $257.64 million, approximately a $6 million increase when taking into account the new operational costs pool.

Appropriators direct 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.


Overall, the Environmental Protection Agency receives $9 billion and the agency’s science and technology programs are funded at $713 million, around a 1% increase. Again, appropriators reject a proposal from the administration to cut the agency’s regional cleanup programs by 90%. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative receives $301 million, a 1% increase and the Chesapeake Bay Program receives $76 million, a $3 million increase.


In total, the Senate proposes a 1.62% cut for NOAA, bringing the agency’s overall budget to $5.337 billion. Within this amount, NOAA’s research division receives a 1.17% increase and the National Sea Grant College Program’s funding is increased by $7 million from $68 million to $75 million.


NASA’s Earth Science Division receives less than a 1% increase.

States Challenge New Endangered Species Act Regulations in the Courts

Attorneys General representing 17 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s changes to the Endangered Species Act regulations that were finalized in August 2019. Among other changes, the new rule allows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to incorporate economic considerations into listing decisions and reverse a long-standing rule that automatically gives threatened species similar protections as endangered species (see ESA Policy News, Sept. 9, 2019).

Mirroring a similar lawsuit filed by environmental groups in August, the states’ Attorneys General argue that the changes are ‘arbitrary and capricious’ under the Administrative Procedures Act and the administration failed to analyze the environmental impacts of the rule, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The Attorneys General also claim that the new rules violate the Endangered Species Act itself.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill remain interested in legislative changes to the Endangered Species Act. The House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife considered a bill from full Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) to repeal the changes to the Endangered Species Act regulations during a subcommittee hearing.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Western Caucus released a draft package of bills to overhaul the Endangered Species Act, including bills that would codify the new regulations into law. Other bills in the package would require data used in endangered species listing decisions to be made publicly available, limit the Interior Department’s ability to designate private lands as critical habitat for endangered species and stop USFWS from listing species not found in the U.S. The Congressional Western Caucus is a bicameral group of legislators from 32 states, all but two of its 72 members are Republicans. The caucus introduced a similar package in 2018. Caucus Chairman Paul Gosar (R-AZ) said that the lawmakers will finalize and formally introduce the bills in a few months.

Newest IPCC Report Highlights ‘Unprecedented and Enduring Changes in the Ocean and Cryosphere

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report concludes that climate change has led to widespread losses of glaciers, snow cover and sea ice extent and the rate of ocean warming has more than doubled since 1993. These changes have serious economic and ecological consequences – altering species’ ranges and abundance, accelerating sea-level rise and increasing CO2 levels in the oceans, leading to ocean acidification. Looking ahead, the report finds that 100-year flood events could occur annually by 2050 in major coastal cities, such as Miami and Los Angeles and the world could see 3.6 feet of sea-level rise by 2100.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) introduced resolutions (S.Res.342 & H.Res.589) to Congress recognizing the IPCC report and calling for “ocean-centric solutions to the climate crisis” and an immediate reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to protect the oceans and cryosphere.

The report is the last of three IPCC special reports commissioned for the IPCC’s sixth assessment cycle. It follows the Special Report on 1.5 Degrees of Warming and the Special Report on Climate Change and Land, as well as the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services Global Assessment report.


Nominations: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee advanced the nomination of Aurelia Skipwith to be the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service along a party-line vote. Committee Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) criticized Skipwith for not adequately responding to his questions about her previous work experience in agribusiness, particularly at Monsanto, and potential conflicts of interests in her current work in the Interior Department.

After the committee vote, the Guardian published an investigation questioning Skipwith’s ties to her fiancé’s lobbying firm, which has worked on behalf of groups that oppose Endangered Species Act protections.

Diversity in STEM: The full House approved the STEM Opportunities Act (H.R. 2528) that requires federal agencies to collect demographic data on grant recipients and STEM faculty; take other steps to implement evidence-based policies to increase the number of women, minorities and other groups underrepresented in STEM; and support these groups’ success. Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) introduced similar legislation in previous sessions of Congress, but this is the first time that the bill has passed the House with bipartisan support. Science Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) is an original co-sponsor of the bill.

The same week, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) introduced a Senate version of the STEM Opportunities Act (S. 2579 – Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) with the support of nine fellow Senate Democrats. Hirono and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) also introduced the Woman and Minorities in STEM Booster Act (S. 2578 – Health, Education, Labor and Pensions & H.R. 4528 – Science Committee) that provides grants to programs dedicated to increasing women and minorities participation in STEM.

Federal Advisory Committees: Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL), Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Rep. Mike Quiqley (D-IL) introduced the Preserve Science in Policymaking Act (H.R. 4557). This bill comes in response to a June 2019 executive order that directs federal agencies to eliminate one-third of their advisory committees. The legislation aims to prevent the President or agency heads from terminating advisory committees — if passed, the bill would only allow these committees to be eliminated if agencies receive legal authorization to do so from Congress or the agency’s chief data officer, chief evaluation officer and chief information officer unanimously approve the committee’s termination.

House Natural Resources Committee: The full committee advanced a set of bills addressing coastal management, climate adaption and aquatic conservation Sept. 25.

  • The Coastal State Climate Preparedness Act (H.R. 3541), sponsored by Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA), establishes a NOAA coastal climate adaption preparedness and response program.
  • The Living Shorelines Act (H.R. 3115), sponsored by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), creates a NOAA grant program to assist states, localities and NGOs in constructing living shorelines.
  • A bill (H.R. 925), sponsored by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), reauthorizes the National Wetlands Conservation Act through FY 2024. This program provides grants for wetland conservation programs to improve habitat for wetland birds.
  • A bill from Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA) (H.R. 1747) codifies the National Fish Habitat Partnerships program – an existing voluntary fish habitat conservation program that brings together state and federal agencies and the private sector to identify and implement habitat restoration projects.

Other legislative updates

  • The full House passed Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL)’s South Florida Clean Coastal Waters Act (H.R. 335) which requires the Interagency Task Force on Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia to develop an action plan to address harmful algal blooms in South Florida.

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

Executive Branch

Nominations: President Trump nominated Katharine MacGregor to serve as deputy secretary of the Interior – the position that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt vacated when he became secretary in April 2019. The deputy secretary is typically responsible for day-to-day management at the department. MacGregor has been a political appointee in the Interior Department since 2017 and previously worked as a Republican staffer for the House Natural Resources Committee.

Interior Department: David Vela replaced P. Daniel Smith as the National Park Service’s acting director. The Park Service has not had a Senate-confirmed director since the end of the Obama administration. President Trump nominated Vela to serve as Park Service director in 2018. His nomination failed when the 115th Congress ended in January 2019. Trump has yet to renominate Vela in the 116th Congress. Vela is a career Park Service employee – he was the superintendent of Grand Teton National Park and most recently, he has been working as the agency’s acting deputy director for operations in Washington, DC.

Bernhardt extended Acting Bureau of Land Management Director William Perry Pendley’s appointment through January 2020. Pendley first joined the Interior Department in July 2019 and already has sparked controversy among lawmakers. Sen. Michael Bennett (D-CO) and 11 other Senate Democrats asked Bernhardt to rescind Pendley’s appointment, citing his advocacy for the widespread sale of public lands.

EPA: The National Center for Environmental Assessment released an external review draft of an integrated science assessment for ozone. The 1,400 page document, prepared by dozens of EPA scientists and others, reviews the health and ecological impacts of ozone pollution to inform air quality regulations, updating the 2013 assessment. Its findings link ozone to respiratory and metabolic health effects (for example, diabetes) and cites newer evidence supporting “a role for ozone in tree mortality and shifts in community composition of forest tree and grassland species.” Now, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee will meet to review the document in December 2019; however, a meeting date has not yet been announced. Outside review comments on the document must be received by Dec. 2, 2019.

Advisory Committees: The Commerce Department eliminated the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee, which advised NOAA and the Interior Department on strengthening the nation’s system of marine protected areas. The committee members included scientists and representatives of tribes, recreational fishing and conservation organizations. A Commerce Department representative told the Hill that the cut is part of a June 2019 executive order requiring federal agencies to cut one-third of their advisory committees.

The full list of advisory committees impacted by the June executive order is not yet available. However, a separate executive order issued Sept. 27 renewed the charters for 30 advisory committees, including the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and advisory committees for the Bears Ears, Gold Butte and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, through September 2021.

NSF: The National Science Board released the third installment of its Science and Engineering Indicators 2020 report, examining the U.S. science and engineering workforce. Report findings include significant increases in the number of women and minorities in science and engineering fields or with science degrees since the 1990s. The number of Ph.D.s employed as full-time faculty has declined, while the number of Ph.D.s in other academic positions such as research associates, adjunct appointments, and administrative positions rose over time.

Other 2020 reports cover trends in K-12 student achievement in mathematics and science and science and engineering higher education.

NIFAOnly around 30 percent of agency employees ordered to relocate to the Kansas City area accepted their new assignments, leaving the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture severely understaffed and unable to deliver funds to colleges and universities. Meanwhile, NIFA announced the appointment of six new ‘National Science Liaisons’ who will continue to represent the agency’s programs in Washington, DC.


Rusty Patched Bumblebee: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed in a settlement to designate critical habitat for the rusty patched bumble bee by the end of July 2021. Environmental groups sued USFWS after it listed the species as endangered in January 2017, but did not designate critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act. The bee was the first native bee species added to the endangered species list in the continental US. Rusty patched bumblebee populations have declined an estimated 87% and the species’ range has shrunk. Historically, the bee could be found in much of the Midwest and the northeastern US. Today, it is only found in Wisconsin, Minnesota and parts of Ontario.

Neonicotinoids: The Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety are challenging the Trump administration’s 2018 decision to allow the use of neonicotinoids in national wildlife refuges in court. The lawsuit claims that the decision violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act.

Tongass National Forest: A federal judge in Alaska moved to temporarily block a plan to log 42,500 acres of the Tongass National Forest. Around half of the proposed logging area is old-growth forest. Earthjustice and other environmental groups argued that the Forest Service did not adequately analyze the local environmental impacts of the timber sales, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The court will issue a final decision in the case by March 31, 2019.

National Monuments: A U.S. District Court judge rejected the federal government’s attempt to dismiss lawsuits challenging President Trump’s 2017 order shrinking the size of Bear Ears National Monument in Utah. This decision allows lawsuits filed by Native American tribes and environment, business and scientific groups challenging President Trump’s order to proceed in the courts. The groups argue that the president does not have the legal authority to reduce the size of national monuments designated by other presidents under the Antiquities Act.


U.N. Climate Summit: A few key takeaways and commitments emerged from the United Nations’ “Climate Action Summit” in late September:

  • More than 20 corporations signed on to pacts agreeing to purchase 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2030 and/or use 100 percent electric vehicles by 2030.
  • UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced $1.23 billion in funding for new renewable energy and emissions reduction technologies and $271 million for international biodiversity conservation.
  • Sixteen countries made new financial commitments to the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund, which invests in climate mitigation and adaption in developing counties. Germany, the UK, France and Norway doubled their contributions.
  • Fifteen small countries, led by the Marshall Islands, committed to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

ImmigrationHouse Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) introduced the Keep STEM Talent Act, which would exempt certain students who have received advanced degrees in STEM fields from American institutions from caps on the total number of individuals who can receive lawful permanent resident status in the U.S. This bill is the companion bill to a Senate bill (S. 1744) introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) earlier this year. 


California: State legislation limiting the amount of groundwater that farmers can withdraw from their wells will take effect in January 2020. The law, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, will gradually increase groundwater restrictions over the next 20 years with the overall goal of bringing groundwater aquifers to sustainability – meaning that withdraws will no longer cause “chronic lowering of groundwater levels.” The California State Assembly passed this bill in 2014.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) vetoed a state bill intended to counter the Trump administration’s regulatory rollbacks, by adopting federal Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act regulations as they existed in January 2017 into state law.

Scientific Community

PMF: Applications for the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program are open through Oct. 17. See the PMF website for details on how to apply. Students who will graduate with any advanced degree by August 2020 are eligible to apply as well as anyone who has graduated with an advanced degree in the last two years. PMFs serve two-year appointments in the federal executive branch with opportunities to noncompetitively convert to a permanent federal position.

AAAS: Applications for the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship program are open through Nov. 1. AAAS fellows serve in all three branches of the federal government for one year. The fellowship is open to Ph.D. scientists at all career stages. See the AAAS Fellowship website to apply.

NSF: Applications are now open for the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), which provides three years of funding for masters and Ph.D. students in STEM fields. Students who intend to enter a graduate program and current graduate students are eligible to apply. The application deadline for students in the life sciences and geosciences is Oct. 21. Deadlines for other fields are later in the same week. See the program website for more information.

Awards: Ecologist and past ESA president Terry Chapin will accept the Volvo Environmental Prize in Stockholm in Nov. 2019. This prize honors indivduals who have made “outstanding scientific discoveries within the area of the environment and sustainable development.” The award announcement commends Chapin’s work creating the concept of earth stewardship and his climate change research in the boreal forests of Alaska and Siberia. Chapin is an emeritus professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Labor: A proposed rule from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) declares that graduate students at private universities, including those who work as teaching and/or research assistants, are not employees and therefore, not eligible to unionize. In 2016, the NLRB ruled that graduate students at Columbia University could unionize, paving the way for graduate students at 12 universities to vote to unionize. The rule only applies to private universities — graduate students at public universities in states with collective bargaining for state employees are generally allowed to unionize. The public comment period for the proposed rule closes Nov. 22.

Research Management: Science funder The Wellcome Trust, technology company Digital Science, the University of Sheffield and Leiden University launched the Research on Research Institute (RoRI) Sept. 30. The new consortium will conduct meta-research (research on research) and develop new meta-research tools, indicators and frameworks with the overall goal of advancing more strategic, open and inclusive research. RoRI’s press release announcing the launch notes that public funding agencies from eight countries and the African Academy of Science have expressed interest in joint the RoRI consortium.

With the launch, RoRI released its first two working papers – “The 21st century Ph.D.” and “Supporting priority setting in science using research funding landscapes.”

UCS: Former members of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) Particulate Matter Review Panel will meet in Washington, DC Oct. 10-11. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler disbanded the panel, which was tasked with providing outside scientific advice on particulate matter to inform air quality regulations, in October 2018. The scientists will review two draft documents that they would have reviewed as CASAC advisers — the Integrated Science Assessment for Particulate Matter and the Policy Assessment for the Review of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter. The Union of Concerned Scientists is supporting the scientists’ travel costs and hosting the meeting, but the former science advisers are not paid for this work. The event will be live-streamed and there is an opportunity to submit written or oral in-person comments during the meeting. See the meeting website for more details.

Law: The Brennan Center for Justice’s National Task Force on Rule of Law & Democracy – a bipartisan group led by former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and former EPA Administrator and former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman – released its new report responding to executive branch abuses in two critical areas: (1) scientific research in government and (2) the filling of senior administration positions with qualified people.

The proposals in the new report include requiring agencies to create and adhere to scientific integrity standards; prohibiting politically motivated manipulation and suppression of research; fixing the Federal Vacancies Reform Act to prevent the president from cutting the Senate out of the appointments process; and adopting additional statutory qualifications for some senior executive branch positions.

Opportunities to get involved

Public Meetings, many of which are live-streamed: 

Opportunities for Public Comment and Nominations:

. Comments must be received on or before Oct. 24, 2019.

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

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