June 25, 2018

ESA and USGS Hold a Capitol Hill Roundtable on Science in the Chesapeake Bay

On June 19, 2018, ESA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) held a Capitol Hill roundtable discussion hosted by Congressmen Rob Wittman (R-VA) and John Sarbanes (D-MD) highlighting science used to inform Chesapeake Bay restoration and management. Bipartisan staffers and policymakers crowded into a conference room on Capitol Hill to hear scientists talk about the USGS’s role in providing and coordinating science in Chesapeake Bay watershed ecosystem. Nicole Zimmerman, public affairs officer, penned a blog about the event that was published in the Ecotone blog.

Senate Appropriations Committee Introduces Bills to Fund Interior Agencies, NSF and others

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed Interior and Environment and Commerce, Justice and Science spending bills the week of June 11. This is the beginning of the lengthy congressional appropriations process to pass the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 bills that fund the federal government from Oct. 1, 2018-Sept. 30, 2019. The appropriations bills will likely change before they pass the full House and Senate and become law, but they are important because they signal the intent of Congress.

Interior, EPA and Forest Service

Senate appropriation bill funding levels for the Interior Department agencies largely remain flat and contain similar spending levels as the House appropriations bill. The Interior receives 13.1 billion in total. The U.S. Geological Survey’s budget remains flat at $1.148 billion. The National Park Service receives a $13.4 million increase over FY 2018 levels, bringing the agency’s budget to $3.21 billion. Similarly, the Bureau of Land Management receives $1.34 billion, an increase of $11 million over FY 2018 levels. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service receives a $19.7 million cut, bringing the USFWS’ budget to $1.57 billion. The Senate bill also includes $14 million for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s proposed Interior reorganization.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also receives flat funding of $8.058 billion.

The U.S. Forest Service receives $6.29 billion, including $349 million in increased funding for wildland fire management. Without the wildland fire management account, the agency receives a $14.48 million increase. The Forest Service’s Research and Development program receives $300 million, a $3 million increase over FY 2018 levels.

The Senate bill does not include any new policy riders, but it does includes policy riders from previous appropriations bills, including a ban on listing the greater-sage grouse as an endangered species.

NSF, NOAA, NASA

The National Science Foundation receives $8.1 billion, $301 million above the FY 2018 level. This includes $6.485 for NSF’s research and related activities account – a 4 percent increase, this include the Biological Science Directorate. The bill also provides $95 million to update research facilities at McMurdo Station in Antarctica and and $89.2 million for three Regional Class Research Vessels.

NASA receives $21.3 billion total, an increase of $587 million. The agency’s science program receive an increase of $179 million to $6.4 billion and funding for the Earth Science division remains flat at $1.9 billion. The bill also includes $10 million for NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System, which the Trump administration attempted to cancel earlier this year. The Senate bill also explicitly funds several Earth Science programs that the Trump administration has proposed eliminating in its budget requests – these programs include the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud Ocean Ecosystem mission (PACE), the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 instrument (OCO-3) and earth-facing instruments on the Deep Space Climate Observatory.

NOAA receives $5.48 billion, a $426 billion decrease from FY 2018. The agency receives $508 million for climate, weather and ocean research. NOAA cuts largely come from a decrease in spending for weather satellite procurement and the completion of the acquisition of a Hurricane Hunter aircraft.

Trump Oceans Policy Upends Eight Years of Sound Stewardship

On Tuesday June 19, President Trump revoked the National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan, which was set into place after the environmental devastation resulting from the 87-day Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The new policy essentially overturns every goal of the old: marine conservation, climate change, and stewardship are replaced with supporting ocean industries, oil exploration, and more economically productive uses.

The Policy Enacted Due to Deepwater

The opening sentences of Obama’s July 2010 order said, “The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and resulting environmental crisis is a stark reminder of how vulnerable our marine environments are, and how much communities and the nation rely on healthy and resilient ocean and coastal ecosystems.”

As stated by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the former administration’s policy outlined, “The National Ocean Policy sets forth a vision of an America whose stewardship ensures that the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes are healthy and resilient, safe and productive, and understood and treasured so as to promote the well-being, prosperity, and security of present and future generations.” The plan addressed the ocean’s contribution to the economy; its safety and security; the importance of local choices, applicable science and information; and a framework for effective planning and management.

The new Trump policy drops those ideas. It opts for calling for federal agencies to coordinate on providing “economic, security, and environmental benefits for present and future generations of Americans,” and then highlights the need to “promote the lawful use of the ocean by agencies, including [the] United States Armed Forces.” It also prioritizes economic growth of coastal communities, promotes ocean industries, advances ocean science and technology in order to “enhance America’s energy security.” Obama’s overarching approach of “stewardship” towards the ocean is also eliminated in the new Trump policy – the word does not appear in the 1,500-word order.

As reported by The Hill, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, stated, “Today’s announcement of President Trump repealing and replacing the bureaucratic, overreaching policy created under the previous administration puts our country’s ocean policy back on the right track.”

However, conservation groups decried the move. “With the action today eliminating the National Ocean Policy, President Trump is trying to wash his hands of responsibility for the real and urgent threats facing America’s coastal communities – namely, the impacts of climate change,” said Christy Goldfuss, senior vice president for energy and environment at the Center for American Progress. The Natural Resources Defense Council offered a more blunt perspective, calling Trump’s order “an irresponsible move.” NRDC’s policy analyst Alison Chase, elaborated that under the old framework, “States from Maine to Virginia crafted plans over several years, together with regional fisheries managers, tribes and federal agencies – with extensive industry and public involvement,” Chase said. “There is no longer a requirement to work with states to provide for coordinated ocean protection, and there is no longer a national policy to promote healthy ocean ecosystems.”

Administration Takes Aim at NEPA: Significant Changes, Little Time to Object

The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) submitted an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to the Federal Register June 20. NEPA reviews are used to determine the environmental impact of major infrastructure projects including oil and gas pipelines. This notice seeks public comments “on potential revisions to update the regulations and ensure a more efficient, timely, and effective NEPA process consistent with the national environmental policy stated in NEPA.” CEQ regulations carry great weight and influence all of the government’s agencies approach to administering NEPA.

The deadline to submit comments is July 20, 2018, leaving scant time for public input. NEPA was signed into law by President Richard Nixon Jan. 1, 1970, and has served as a foundational bedrock for the environment since its passage. Its impact is global with more than 100 nations around the world using NEPA to design their national environmental policies. NEPA serves to promote informed decision-making by federal agencies by providing “detailed information concerning significant environmental impacts” available to the public and agency leaders.

This latest ANPR is consistent with the administration’s push to ‘streamline’ the NEPA process, driven by President Trump’s August 2017 Executive Order 13807. That EO seeks to “enhance and modernize” the environmental review and permitting process for infrastructure. It is the most recent action taken by the administration to weaken the NEPA law throughout the federal government.

To comply with EO 13807, CEQ issued a joint memorandum of understanding (MOU) in April 2018 with the White House Office of Management and Budget to expedite federal review and permitting of the projects. Twelve agencies signed the MOU to coordinate their environmental review of projects including the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, Commerce, Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This MOU calls for agencies to follow permitting timetables designed to complete such reviews within two years. It states there will be one federal agency as part of the MOU’s “One Federal Decision” framework to act as the lead agency for an infrastructure project throughout the whole federal environmental review and permitting process for projects requiring a NEPA review.

In a related measure to weaken NEPA, lawmakers considered H.R. 6106, “the Common Sense Permitting Act.” Members passed it out of the House Natural Resources Committee on a 22-18 vote along party lines June 20. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) introduced the bill, but its progress in the House is uncertain. This resolution is latest of 60 bills introduced by Congress this year to weaken NEPA.

Broad Questions with a Narrow Timeline for Comment

CEQ seeks comments on 20 specific questions that fall broadly into three categories: (1) NEPA Process, (2) Scope of NEPA Review, and (3) General. The notice further invites commenters to provide “specific recommendations on additions, deletions, and modifications to the text of CEQ’s NEPA regulations,” including their justifications, to update and clarify the regulations. For example, many of the questions presented revolve around legal terms, which have been litigated for decades to define their scope. For example, CEQ is suggesting terms such as, “major federal action,” “scope,” “cumulative impact,” and “significantly,” should be redefined.

Although the CEQ rule-making proposal lays out sweeping questions about the scope of NEPA, it allows only 30 days for comment. As reported by E&E News, environmentalists are already saying a monthlong comment period is too short. “There’s no question that this is causing outrage,” said Raul Garcia, legislative counsel at Earthjustice. “The fact that it’s only a 30-day public comment period really shows that they’re not taking it seriously.” He went on to say, “The administration just wants to go fast, even if it means driving off a cliff.”

Comments about the ANPR for NEPA can be submitted via the Federal Register, and the deadline for commenting is July 20, 2018.

Quick Reads

WOTUS: The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers announced June 15 that they have sent a revised version of the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for its review. The agencies did not provide further details on the WOTUS rule and said that the proposal would be available for public review and comment once OMB has completed its review.

In the courts, a federal judge in Georgia blocked the implementation of the WOTUS rule in 13 states – Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia and Kentucky. With this ruling, the WOTUS rule has been halted in 24 states. The judge, Lisa Godbey Wood, ruled that that allowing WOTUS to take effect would irreparably hurt states; sovereignty and that the rule was inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s 2006 Rapanos v. United States case, which ruled that federal agencies have jurisdiction over waters with a ‘significant nexus’ to navigable rivers and seas.

USGS: Internal documents obtained by The Washington Post show that U.S. Geological Survey employees now must provide their presentation titles and identify how their research relates to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s priorities when applying for approval to attend the annual meetings of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and the Geological Society of America. Last year, only 178 USGS employees – about half of the usual amount – were able to attend AGU’s 2017 annual meeting. In a similar vein, a separate report from the Los Angeles Times reports that USGS scientists now must get permission from the Department of Interior press office before speaking to media on scientific matters.

Forest Service: The Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest and Pacific Southwest Research Stations have published the final Northwest Forest Plan Science (NWFP) science synthesis June 11. This report aims to tie together scientific developments relevant to managing forests in the Pacific Northwest since the Northwest Forest Plan was created to protect old growth forests and spotted owl habitat in the 1990s. The science synthesis will provide a scientific foundation for forest plan revisions in western Oregon, western Washington and northern California. The ESA Science Office facilitated an independent peer review of this report and ESA members contributed as co-authors. The research stations will hold a forum on the science synthesis June 26 in Portland, OR – a remote connection will be available.

Congress

Rescissions: The Senate failed to pass a $15 billion recission package proposed by the White House June 20. All 48 Democrats and two Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) voted against the package. Burr refused to support the bill after Senate leaders refused to hold a vote on an amendment to remove a $16 million cut from Forest Service Land and Water Conservation Fund projects.

Farm Bill: The House narrowly voted to approve its version of the 2018 Farm Bill (H.R. 2) June 21. The House’s farm bill elimates the Conservation Stewardship Program and reduces funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. House lawmakers also included new ‘categorical exclusions’ from the National Environmental Policy Act for forest thinning projects on federal lands and restrictions on the amount of consultation the US Forest Service must do with the US Fish and Wildlife Service on forest management projects. Another amendment excludes national forests in Alaska from the “roadless rule” that limits logging in roadless areas of national forests.

The Senate Agriculture Committee introduced and approved its version of the Farm Bill (S. 3080). Both the House and Senate bills boost the acreage caps for the Conservation Reserve Program, but by different amounts. The Senate bill expands the sodsaver program, which limits crop insurance subsidies for lands converted to crops from native grasslands. Both chambers of Congress hope to pass a farm bill by July 11.

BudgetThe House Budget Committee released its draft Fiscal Year 2019 budget blueprint. The plan sets overall levels for government spending and proposes reducing federal government spending from $597 billion in FY 2019 to $555 billion by FY 2028. House Republicans also propose selling 100 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and call on the House Natural Resources Committee to find $5 billion in budget savings.

Offshore Drilling: House Republicans have proposed imposing fees on states that reject offshore drilling on their coasts. Under the legislation discussed by the House Natural Resources Committee, states that put more than 50 percent of their shoreline off-limits would be required to pay a fee of one-tenth of the revenue that the government would receive for oil and gas drilling in the area.

Climate Research: Four Republican Senators – Sen. Ted Crux (R-TX), Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) – sent a letter to the NSF inspector general asking the IG to investigate some NSF grants that they allege support a political agenda and may violate the Hatch Act. The law prohibits federal agencies and employees from participating in political activities. One of the projects highlighted in the letter investigates the ways that TV meteorologists communicate climate science.

Other legislative updates of interest:

  • The Senate voted to approve the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2019 (S. 2987). The final bill includes an amendment that codifies a land exchange between PolyMet Mining Corp. and the U.S. Forest Service, allowing a copper-nickel mine near the Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota. The bill does not include riders to prevent listing the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act or to streamline permitting for ‘critical minerals’ mining – two provisions in the House version of the bill. Both the House and Senate versions include provisions requiring military bases to include climate resilience in their master plans.
  • The House Natural Resources Committee passed the Strengthening Coastal Communities Act (H.R. 5787), introduced by Rep. Neal Dunn (R-FL), which updates maps of high-risk coastal barrier areas within the John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System.
  • The House Natural Resources Committee also passed the Common Sense Permitting Act (H.R. 6106). This bill, introduced by Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM), streamlines the permitting process for oil and gas development and creates new categorical exclusions from National Environmental Policy Act reviews.
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), along with seven other Democratic senators, introduced The Living Shorelines Act (S. 3087). This bill directs NOAA to create a grant program for ‘nature-based shoreline protection projects’ or living shorelines. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) introduced a House version (H.R. 4525) of this bill in December 2017.
  • Rep. David Rouzer (R-NC) introduced a bill (H.R. 6119) to remove Endangered Species Act protections for red wolves in North Carolina.

Executive Branch

Nominations and Personnel: President Trump has nominated Mary Neumayr to be the head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Neumayr currently serves as the chief of staff at CEQ and previously worked for the House Energy and Commerce Committee and as counsel for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and the Energy Department during the George W. Bush administration. Trump’s previous nominee, Kathleen Harnett White, withdrew her nomination for the CEQ job earlier in 2018.

Richard Cardinale will serve as Interiors’ Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) deputy director of operations on an acting basis. This position serves as the BLM’s second-in-command. Cardinale is a longtime Department of the Interior employee, who most recently served as the director of business operations in Interior’s Office of the Chief Information Officer, but he has never worked for the BLM.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a confirmation hearing for two EPA nominees. Peter Wright, a lawyer for Dow Chemical, has been nominated to lead the Office of Land and Emergency Management. William McIntosh, a former vice present of environmental compliance and policy at Ford has been nominated to lead EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs. The hearing largely focused on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s on-going scandals. Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) told Wright and McIntosh that their “paths to nominations will be troubled, at best” as a result of Pruitt’s actions. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), a Pruitt ally who has criticized Pruitt in recent weeks, defended Pruitt.

Government Overhaul: The Trump Administration released its plan for reforming and reorganizing the federal government, entitled “Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century: Reform Plan and Reorganization Recommendations” June 21. The plan suggests moving NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and folding portions of the Department of Interior’s Central Hazardous Program and USDA’s Hazardous Materials Management Program into the EPA’s Superfund program. The administration also suggests consolidating the administration of government graduate fellowships to NSF. The changes in the plan will need to be approved by Congress, which is unlikely.

EPA: The EPA has released a list of candidates for its Clean Air Scientific Advisory Council (CASAC) and is asking for public comments on the candidates by July 2, 2018. Candidates include former Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-NY); Dean Waldman, the director of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Healthcare Policy; and James Enstrom, a researcher who has published work funded by the tobacco industry downplaying the health risks of secondhand smoke. Candidates with ecological expertise include Timothy Lewis, a research ecologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Ivan Fernandez, a professor and forest soil scientist at the University of Maine; and Judith Chow, a professor and atmospheric scientist at the Desert Research Institute. Both Chow and Hernandez are current CSAC members whose terms end in September 2018.

Gray Wolves: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told The Associated Press that it has begun a ‘science-based’ review of the status of the gray wolf in the lower 48 states. USFWS will publish a proposed rule to remove the species from the endangered species list in the Federal Register by the end of 2018 if it decides to move forward with removing protections for the wolves.

Sage Grouse: The Forest Service published a notice of intent in the Federal Register announcing that the agency plans to follow the lead of the BLM and revise its 2015 sage-grouse land management plan amendments. The agency manages sage grouse habitat in national forests in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming and Utah. Details provided by the Forest Service explain that the agency is considering proposed changes to better align its plans with BLM and state plans and among other considerations, clarify the processes for allowing habitat disturbance and minerals development. Public comments are due July 20, 2018.

     

Courts

Salmon: A 4-4 Supreme Court ruling upheld a lower court ruling that requires the state of Washington to fix or replace culverts that block salmon and other fish from migrating upstream. The federal government initiated the lawsuit in 2001, along with 21 tribes, arguing that the culverts violated the tribe’s fishing rights under 1850s treaties between tribes and settlers. The ruling was evenly split because Justice Anthony Kennedy recused himself from the case. Kennedy was involved with the case a judge on the ninth circuit court.

National Parks in Alaska: The Supreme Court decided June 18 to rehear a decade old-case involving a moose hunter who was prohibited from using a hovercraft in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve in Alaska by National Park Service rangers. The hunter, businessman John Sturgeon, and his lawyers argue that National Park Service rules banning hovercraft do not apply to Alaska under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The Supreme Court’s ruling on this case could have larger implications on state-federal relations and federal land management in Alaska, which contains 222 million acres of federal lands.

States

Hawaii: Governor David Ige (D) signed a bill banning the use of the pesticide Chlorpyrifos in the state by 2023. The bill also bans the use of restricted pesticides within a 100 feet of a school during school hours starting in 2019. Hawaii is the first state to ban Chlorpyrifos, which has been linked to severe health risks. In March 2017, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt denied a petition from environmental groups to ban the pesticide.

Michigan: Michigan’s State Legislature approved a bill to weaken the state’s regulations for ballast water discharge in the state’s portion of the Great Lakes to match less strict federal regulations. The state’s ballast water regulations were intended to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes, such as zebra mussels and sea lamprey. Governor Rick Snyder (R) has previously opposed this legislation, and it’s unclear if he will sign the bill.

Scientific Community

National Academies: The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine released a ‘sweeping’ 300-page report of sexual harassment in science June 12. The report notes that academic workplaces have the second highest rate of sexual harassment when compared to other industries and that academic institutions are more concerned about avoiding liability than preventing sexual harassment. Another takeaway point is that female scientists face persistent “gender harassment” – for example, exclusion and belittlement – in addition to unwanted sexual advances and coercion. An additional conclusion is that efforts to recruit women into the sciences are ineffective if women are bullied out of career pathways in the sciences.

Report: The Union for Concerned Scientists released: “Underwater: Rising Seas, Chronic Floods, and the Implications for U.S. Coastal Real Estate (2018).” The report reviews the risks for US coastal real estate from sea level rise, its economic impact, and state specific information.

Chinese Students’ Visas Shortened: Citing national security concerns, Science is reporting that Chinese graduate students entering the U.S. to study aviation, robotics and advanced manufacturing will only be issued a one-year visa rather than a five-year visa as was issued under the Obama administration. The length of stay for students has varied in the past with different administrations.

Federal Register Opportunities

Opportunity for comment: The EPA has extended the comment period for its proposed rule “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” to August 17, 2018. The EPA will also hold a public hearing on this rule in Washington, DC July 17. ESA submitted a public comment requesting that the agency extend the comment period and issued a press release expressing concern about this proposed rule.

Public Meetings, many of which are live-streamed: 

Opportunities for Public Comment and Nominations:

Visit this page on ESA’s blog for updates on opportunities from the Federal Register, including upcoming meetings and regulations open for public comment. 

 

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