Policy News: March 26, 2018
ESA Policy News
In This Issue:
Ten students receive the 2018 Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award
Omnibus rejects the president’s proposed cuts to science, provides largest increase to research spending in almost a decade
Administrator Pruitt would further restrict science used in agency decisions and rule making, modeled on the legislatively stalled HONEST Act
Fiscal year 2019 budget hearings, off-shore drilling, March for Science and more
Upcoming NSF advisory committee meetings, EPA environmental justice and clean air advisory committee nominations, provide input on CITES, and other opportunities to provide comments and input
House passes endangered fish funding bill, committee advances public lands bills, and legislation of interest introduced
Upcoming meetings and other opportunities for public involvement
2018 midterm elections are happening in November. Register to vote and learn more about voting policies and rights in your state at Rock the Vote.
View an up-to-date list of ESA’s media coverage
ESA has announced the winners of this year’s Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA). This award provides graduate students with the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. for policy experience and training. Ten recipients were selected for this year’s award: Aaron W. Baumgardner (California State University, Bakersfield), Stephen R. Elser (Arizona State University), Ann Marie Gawel (Iowa State University), Emily E. Graves (University of California, Davis), Chelsea L. Merriman (Boise State University), Steffanie M. Munguía (Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey), Vera W. Pfeiffer (University of Wisconsin–Madison), Johnny J. Quispe (Rutgers University), Urooj S. Raja (University of Colorado Boulder), and Jenna M. Sullivan (Oregon State University).
These students will travel to D.C. in April to learn about the legislative process and federal science funding, to hear from ecologists working in federal agencies, and to meet with their Members of Congress on Capitol Hill. This Congressional Visits Day, organized and sponsored by ESA, offers GSPA recipients the chance to interact with policymakers and discuss the importance of federal funding for science, in particular the biological and ecological sciences.
Read the press release, with photos of the students, online.
Congress passed, and the president signed, a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending package on Friday, March 23, completing appropriations for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 and averting what would have been the third government shutdown since October. The bill passed in advance of the midnight deadline, when the most recent short-term continuing resolution that had been funding the government was set to expire.
The bill largely rejects the deep cuts to science and research that had been proposed in the president’s budget. In fact, it provides the largest increase to research spending since the 2009 economic stimulus package. Budget increases were the result of Congress passing a two-year budget deal in February that raised the spending caps for military and discretionary spending. It also does not include several harmful policy riders that would have rolled back environmental protections and Endangered Species Act requirements and paved the way for repeal of the Clean Water Rule.
The bill, which funds the government through September 30, provides $1.21 trillion in base discretionary budget authority and $78 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funding. Defense spending received a 14 percent increase over FY 2017, while the other eleven appropriations bills receive a combined 12 percent increase.
The House released the bill text on March 21 and easily passed the package the next day. The Senate, after late-night partisan delays, passed the bill early in the morning of March 26, sending it to President Trump’s desk. Despite a veto threat from the president that morning, he eventually signed it, citing increases in national defense and military spending as justification for his support.
National Science Foundation (NSF):
The omnibus funds NSF at $7.77 billion, $295 million above FY 2017.
- Research and Related Activities: $6.33 billion, $301 million above FY 2017. Details on how funding will be allocated among directorates are not yet available.
- Major Research Equipment and Construction: $182.8 million
- Education and Human Resources: $902 million
- Agency Operations and Award Management: $328.5 million
- National Science Board: $4.370 million
- Office of Inspector General: $15.2 million
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
The EPA, which had been targeted for some of the most severe budget cuts in the president’s proposal, receives flat funding of $8.1 billion in FY 2018. While the operational budget remains about the same, EPA regulatory programs would be reduced, and grant programs would be increased. Science and Technology within EPA is flat funded for a net discretionary appropriation of $706 million, rejecting the president’s proposal to cut S&T funding by more than a third.
Department of Energy (DOE):
DOE fared among the best in terms of FY 2018 funding. DOE research programs received particularly high funding. DOE Science research programs are funded at $6.26 billion, $868 million above FY 2017. The Biological and Environmental Research program is increased by $61 million for a total of $673 million. DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy gets $2.3 billion, about $200 million above current funding. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), targeted for elimination in the president’s budget, received record funding of $353.3 million, a $47 million increase above FY 2017.
Department of the Interior:
The overall budget for the Department of the Interior remains near $13.1 billion.
Bureau of Land Management: $1.3 billion, an increase of $80 million above FY 2017.
Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.6 billion, an increase of $75 million above FY 2017. The bill directs the agency to prioritize funding to reduce the endangered species delisting backlog and refuge maintenance backlog, to fight invasive species, to prevent illegal wildlife trafficking, and to prevent the closure of fish hatcheries. It continues a one-year delay on Endangered Species Act reviews, determinations, and rulemakings for the greater sage-grouse.
National Park Service: $3.2 billion, an increase of $255 million above FY 2017.
U.S. Geological Survey: $1.1 billion, $63 million above FY 2017. It directs USGS to target critical infrastructure investments in natural hazards programs, stream gages, the groundwater monitoring network, and mapping activities. Congress accepted the president’s budget proposal to restructure USGS’s Climate and Land Use Change mission area and rename it Land Resources. All programs within this area are still fully funded, including all eight Climate Science Centers, which the president had proposed to cut by half.
U.S. Forest Service (USFS):
The bill provides $6 billion for the Forest Service, with $2.8 billion directed to wildland fire prevention and suppression.
The spending bill also includes a deal to fix the way that wildland firefighting and forest management are funded by creating an emergency pot of money for the Forest Service to use when it exceeds its fire-suppression budget. Currently, USFS must borrow from other agency accounts and use funds intended for forest management, research, and other purposes when the cost of fighting wildfire exceeds the amount budgeted for the fiscal year. The omnibus creates a $2.19 billion disaster fund for wildfires in order to end this practice. A broad coalition of forest policy groups and lawmakers applauded the measure. The deal includes a provision to reverse some of the effects of the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center v. Forest Service case which required additional Endangered Species Act consultation for some forest management projects and another provision to create categorical exclusions from the National Environmental Policy Act for hazardous fuel reduction projects in national forests in areas of up to 3,000 acres.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):
NOAA is funded at $5.9 billion, $234 million above FY 2017 levels. Funding targets priorities including the National Weather Service, fisheries management, weather research, and ocean exploration. Climate research remains flat funded at $158 million, while ocean, coastal, and great lakes research is increased by $12 million for a total of $206 million.
The omnibus provides $3.03 billion, an increase of $138.8 million, for agricultural research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). ARS is funded at $1.202 billion, a $32 million increase from FY 2017. The omnibus also rejects the president’s budget proposal to close 17 ARS research facilities.
Agency Reorganizations and Programs:
The omnibus includes language that restricts agencies or departments from carrying out major reorganizations and that protects agency programs and offices from elimination. The bill states that agencies cannot use appropriations to eliminate or reduce funding for a program, project, or office without congressional authorization. In addition, the omnibus does not provide funding for EPA reorganization, and it prevents the agency from spending more than $1 million on reorganization, a move that ensures regional offices will not be consolidated or closed. This bill language also slows the reorganization of Interior that Secretary Zinke has proposed, which will require congressional oversight and approval of proposed changes.
The bill includes $21 billion in infrastructure funding, including funding for energy and water projects, in a move that rejects proposed cuts to infrastructure in the president’s budget and ignores new grant programs proposed in the Trump administration’s infrastructure plan, targeting existing programs instead. The infrastructure funding includes an increase of $1.4 billion for water infrastructure and an additional $1 billion for Commerce, Justice, and NASA facilities and infrastructure across the country.
The omnibus bill included additional positive news for conservation and endangered species. It preserves conservation programs supported by the Farm Bill, it fully funds the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, and it provides $425 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, an increase of $25 million.
Check ESA’s Federal Budget Tracker for updates on appropriations. This page will continue to be updated in the coming days.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is talking up a plan to further restrict science used in the agency’s decisions and rule making. First in a private meeting Monday, March 12, at the Heritage Foundation, as originally reported in E&E News. Later that week in an exclusive March 19 interview with Michael Bastasch of The Daily Caller, Pruitt described a plan very similar to the goals of the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act of 2017 (HONEST Act), sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee.
The HONEST Act of 2017 (H.R.1430) is summarized as, “an act to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible.” It would require online publication of the raw data of studies used in EPA decision-making. The HONEST Act passed the House by an almost entirely party-line vote of 228-194 on March 28, 2017. There has been no substantive legislative action on it in the year since its passage. The companion bill in the Senate (S.794), introduced September 12, 2017, was promptly referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works, chaired by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), but has seen no further action.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), ranking member of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, in her opening statement in the committee’s mark-up session, speculated on the origin of the bill,
“Several years ago a tobacco industry consultant attempted to obtain access to the American Cancer Society’s epidemiology data. He was denied access to that data due to his extensive prior connections with the tobacco industry and prior misuse of American Cancer Society data. Then the Chairman came to his aid, by subpoenaing the EPA to provide the Committee with the data used in two seminal health studies conducted by Harvard and the American Cancer Society. This data contained the personal health histories of tens of thousands of American citizens. Thankfully, since EPA did not possess this data, they were unable to provide it to the Committee. I say this because the Chairman had indicated his intent to publicly distribute these tens of thousands of people’s health histories over the internet—a horrifying prospect.”
As passed by the House, the Honest Act would amend Section 6(b) of the Environmental Research, Development, and Demonstration Authorization Act of 1978 (P.L. 95-477) to read:
6(b) (1) The Administrator shall not propose, finalize, or disseminate a covered action unless all scientific and technical information relied on to support such covered action is “(A) the best available science; (B) specifically identified; and (C) publicly available online in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results, except that any personally identifiable information, trade secrets, or commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential, shall be redacted prior to public availability.
(2) The redacted information described in paragraph (1) (C) shall be disclosed to a person only after such person signs a written confidentiality agreement with the Administrator, subject to guidance to be developed by the Administrator.
Echoing some of Rep. Johnson’s concerns about privacy and confidentiality, a March 28, 2017 letter signed by 23 leading scientific and academic organizations, joined by the Ecological Society of America (ESA), observes:
“In addition, H.R. 1430 [the HONEST Act] would give the EPA administrator sole authority to disclose private information gathered in research studies, which might include confidential health and proprietary business information, to anyone who signs a confidentiality agreement with the EPA. It is unclear whether the EPA has this authority, and very clear this would deter individuals and businesses from participating in studies used by the EPA. This would again constrain the EPA from making a proposal based on the best available science. “
Concluding her March 9 comments on the HONEST Act, Rep. Johnson summarized, “The groups that endorsed the Majority’s bill are a ‘who’s who’ of toxic chemical manufacturers. On the other hand, groups that opposed the bill included the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Lung Association, the American Association for Justice, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and a host of other public health and environmental groups. The differences in those two groups underscore the real intent of this legislation.”
[See also, ESA Policy News, April 12, 2017, “House Targets EPA’s Use of Science.”]
Pruitt Picks Up the Flag
With no substantive action taken in nearly a year and Chairman Smith retiring from Congress, the HONEST Act seems to be dead legislatively, even with strong anti-EPA sentiment among Republicans and supportive White House officials. Previous versions of the bill, each originating in the House and named the “Secret Science Reform Act” in the two previous Congresses (H.R.4012 of 2014 and H.R.1030 of 2015), passed the House by similarly partisan votes only to die in the Senate in nearly identical fashion. Chairman Smith attempted to revive the initiative in the 2018 budget, also without success.
Nonetheless, Administrator Pruitt has picked up the initiative, similar to his recent action on EPA’s science advisory panels, following the lead of the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2015 (H.R.1029), which failed along with the 2015 HONEST Act predecessor and sought many of the same changes Pruitt later mandated.
Though the EPA has not publicly disclosed details, attendees at the March 12 Heritage Foundation meeting told E&E News that the plan will largely resemble the HONEST Act. Steve Milloy, a member of the administration’s EPA transition team, publisher of JunkScience.com and the tobacco lobbyist mentioned by Rep. Johnson, attended the Monday meeting and later commented that the plan could emerge “sooner rather than later,” as reported in E&E News.
“We need to make sure their data and methodology are published as part of the record,” Pruitt said in his Daily Caller interview. “Otherwise, it’s not transparent. It’s not objectively measured, and that’s important.” In addition to limiting EPA regulators to only those scientific studies that make their data available, Pruitt would impose those requirements on EPA’s contracted and grant-funded studies.
“If we use a third party to engage in scientific review or inquiry, and that’s the basis of rulemaking, you and every American citizen across the country deserve to know what’s the data, what’s the methodology that was used to reach that conclusion that was the underpinning of what—rules that were adopted by this agency,” Pruitt added.
Commenting in the Daily Caller article, Thea McDonald, House Science Committee press secretary, said, “The chairman has long worked toward a more open and transparent rule-making process at EPA, and he looks forward to any announcement from Administrator Pruitt that would achieve that goal.”
Concerns About Privacy and Cost
“A lot of the data that EPA uses to protect public health and ensure that we have clean air and clean water relies on data that cannot be publicly released,” said Yogin Kothari, of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “If EPA doesn’t have data to move forward with a public protection for a safeguard, it doesn’t have to do that at all,” Kothari continued. “It really hamstrings the ability of the EPA to do anything, to fulfill its mission.”
A senior EPA official, speaking on background for this article, indicated that there is little awareness or involvement by career staff in Pruitt’s emerging plan. The official observed, “It will paralyze anything human health related.”
Aside from concerns about the HONEST Act, or Pruitt’s emerging plan, and the availability of quality science in EPA rule making, there is considerable debate on its cost. Bill text reads, “The Administrator shall carry out this subsection in a manner that does not exceed $1,000,000 per fiscal year, to be derived from amounts otherwise authorized to be appropriated.” EPA staff analysis, however, estimated that the Act would cost the agency $250 million/year or more. Administrator Pruitt did not forward his staff’s analysis of the earlier bill to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
In preparation for the current HONEST Act, the EPA received on March 9, 2017, a request: “CBO Questions for EPA Regarding H.R. 1430, the HONEST Act of 2017.” CBO immediately addressed the question of costs. Referring to a previous budget estimate for the legislation, the CBO asked, “does the EPA still estimate that implementation would require ‘$250 million a year for the next few years,’ as estimated by CBO for S. 544?” The EPA response stated, “This plan will begin to achieve many of the stated goals of The HONEST Act while incurring no additional costs to taxpayers, protecting PII and CBI [personally identifying information and confidential business information], and ensuring that EPA uses the best available science to protect human health and the environment.”
In an environment with the Trump administration continually recommending EPA budget cuts, proposing a nearly $2 billion or 23% budget decrease for FY 2019, the costs of Pruitt’s “HONEST” plan would tighten already limited funds. (Pruitt will defend Trump’s proposed FY 2019 budget in an upcoming appearance before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on April 26.) Even at $250 million per year, the lower CBO estimate for an earlier edition of HONEST, implementation would consume almost half of EPA’s annual research budget. Importantly, CBO’s latest estimate projects minimal costs, based on EPA assurances that significantly fewer studies will be used in decision and rule making.
Dr. Bernard Goldstein, a member of the National Academy of Medicine and an EPA assistant administrator for research and development in the Reagan Administration commented April 29, 2017 in an op-ed appearing in The Hill:
“The idea that throwing out the web of peer-reviewed science underlying regulation has no cost in dollars, or in EPA’s scientific integrity, is ludicrous. The HONEST Act also could affect EPA’s timely response to the controversial determination of the dispersant to be used for the next oil spill, or EPA’s risk determinations for difficult and costly clean up decisions after a terrorist attack that left behind an infectious agent or radiation. Similarly, much of the peer-reviewed science underlying past EPA regulations could not be used when decisions that have improved our environment were reconsidered, such as the required review of air pollution standards every five years.”
Pruitt has not yet released a document outlining his plan for HONEST-like “transparency,” so it is difficult to fully anticipate what that might be. EPA has many defenders in Congress. There has been repeated push-back by members against many previously proposed budget cuts to EPA’s budget and programs. Additionally, Congress rejected the president’s EPA budget cuts and is funding the EPA for FY 2018 equal to FY 2017 funding. Pruitt is apparently one of the Trump administration’s favorites of cabinet rank, recently mentioned as a possible successor to Attorney General Sessions. Other Pruitt initiatives have quietly died, however, such as his proposed “red-team/blue-team” climate debate which was apparently quashed by more senior administration officials. Regardless, industry and advocacy interests, identified by Rep. Johnson, are already energized on the topic and conservative media is broadly supportive. Like Pruitt’s “red-team/blue-team” proposal, which also never saw a public plan, his HONEST-like plan will probably remain in play for some time.
Tillerson out as Secretary of State, Pompeo nominated
President Trump ousted former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state March 13. Trump then nominated CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace Tillerson. Climate change doubters have described Pompeo as “a great climate skeptic.” Pompeo strongly opposed the Paris climate agreement and received funding from the oil and gas industry as a member of Congress. Tillerson’s outing indicates that it is increasingly unlikely that the U.S. will rejoin the Paris agreement. Tillerson and recently departed White House advisors Gary Cohn and George David Banks all argued for keeping the U.S. in the agreement. Newly appointed White House national security advisor John Bolton has also criticized the Paris agreement, calling it ‘dangerous’ and ‘meaningless.’
Acting NASA Administrator to Retire, Permanent Administrator Position Remains Vacant
Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot announced that he would retire April 30. Lightfoot is a career NASA employee and has served as the agency’s temporary leader since the end of the Obama administration. President Trump nominated Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to be the next NASA administrator in September. The Senate has not scheduled a vote to confirm Bridenstine. All 49 Senate Democrats oppose Bridenstine’s nomination in part because of his denial of mainstream climate science. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) also expressed concerns about Bridenstine’s nomination. 60 members of the House sent a letter urging Senate leaders to confirm Bridenstine.
National Climate Assessment Nearing Completion
The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine released its peer review of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA) March 12. The NCA is a congressionally required report produced every four years by the U.S Global Change Research Program, a part of the federal government. The report finds that temperatures in the U.S. will increase significantly and details the effects and impacts of climate change on states, regions, and sectors of the economy. The National Academies review found that the draft report is an accurate, comprehensive, and valuable document. The final version of the report will be released later in 2018.
International Wildlife Conservation Council Meets; Hunting Interests Well-Represented
The International Wildlife Conservation Council, a new advisory board, charged with advising Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on the benefits of US citizens traveling to foreign nations to hunt and barriers to the importation of wildlife into the U.S. met for the first time March 15. At least 10 of the group’s 16 members are affiliated with Safari Club International, a group that represents the interests of international trophy hunters. The committee’s members include former Rep. Bill Brewster (D-OK), Ivan Carter, a safari hunting guide who hosts TV shows on the Outdoor Channel and Erica Rhoad, the director of hunting policy at the National Rifle Association. The committee’s first meeting largely consisted of introductory business. The committee will meet twice annually. The committee does not contain any scientific experts in wildlife conservation or ecology.
March for Science – April 14, 2018
The second annual March for Science event will take place April 14, 2018, in Washington, DC. The March seeks to unite science advocates and hold elected and appointed officials accountable for equitable evidence-based policy. Organizers have planned 175 satellite events on six continents. Go to MarchForScience.com to find an event near you.
Potential Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy Floated
White House sources have told the Washington Post that Kelvin Droegemeier may be named director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). OSTP advises the President and the White House on all matters related to science and technology and coordinates the federal research budget. Droegemeier is a professor of meteorology and the vice president for research at the University of Oklahoma. He serves as Oklahoma’s secretary of science and technology and was a member of the National Science Board, the governing body of the National Science Foundation, during the Bush and Obama administrations. Drogemeier has supported federal research spending and defended President Trump’s nominee for NASA administrator, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK).
Wyoming and Idaho Consider Grizzly Bear Hunt
The states of Wyoming and Idaho may allow the first grizzly bear hunt in the continental U.S. in over 40 years after the grizzly bear was removed from the endangered species list in June 2017. Wyoming has proposed allowing hunters to take a total of 12 bears – including two female bears. The Wyoming Department of Fish and Game will hold a series of public meetings on the proposed hunt and make a final decision May 23. Interested parties can also submit comments online. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted March 22 to direct the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to collect public comments on allowing one male grizzly bear to be killed. The commission will make a final decision on allowing a grizzly bear hunting season in May. The state wildlife agencies of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho manage grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem outside of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Montana has opted to not allow a grizzly bear hunt in 2018.
House Committee Reviews NSF FY2019 Budget Request
National Science Foundation leaders presented the agency’s fiscal year 2019 budget request to the House Science Committee March 15. The budget request keeps the agency’s overall budget flat at $7.5 billion but requests dedicated funding for each of NSF’s “10 Big Ideas.” The 10 Big Ideas are intended to be cross-disciplinary and involve more than one of the agency’s six directorates. In order to provide dedicated funding for these ideas, the agency has proposed taking decreasing funding for disciplinary research funding accounts. The agency has requested 30 million for each of its research Big Ideas – these ideas include “Navigating the New Arctic”, “Understanding the Rules of Life: Predicting Phenotype”, and “Harnessing the Data Revolution for 21st-Century Science and Engineering” and varying levels of funding for ‘process’ ideas such as broadening participating in STEM and mid-scale research infrastructure.
Tepid Industry Response to Gulf of Mexico Offshore Drilling Auction
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management opened 77.3 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico for off-shore drilling leasing March 21. This sale is the largest off-shore lease sale in U.S. history. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told lawmakers that this lease sale would serve as a ‘bellwether’ for industry interest in offshore drilling when asked about his plan to open 90% of federal waters to drilling. Drilling companies submitted slightly higher bids that they did during the last lease sale in August 2017, but only around 1% of the 14,474 tracts available for leases received any bids. 98% of the 148 tracts sold received only one bid.
Western Governors’ Association Releases List of 50 Worst Invasive Species
The Western Governors’ Association (WGA) released its first list of the worst invasive species in the West during a meeting in Denver. WGA compiled the list using input from invasive species coordinators in 15 Western states. The list is intended to help land managers across the West better understand risks at the regional level. The list includes 25 terrestrial species and 25 aquatic species. Species named include cheatgrass, feral domestic cats, feral hogs, and white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungal disease that has killed millions of bats in North America since 2006.
Zinke Defends Offshore Royalty Rates, Personal Spending on Capitol Hill
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee March 13. Senate Democrats questioned government spending on Zinke’s travel and a $139,000 contract to replace doors in Zinke’s office. Zinke told Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) that he never took a “private jet anywhere”; rather, he took a “prop plane” to tour parts of Alaska with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). A bipartisan group of senators also questioned Zinke about the Interior Department’s Royalty Policy Committee’s recommendation to reduce offshore royalty rates from 18.75 percent to 12.5 percent. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) expressed concern that reduced royalties rates would mean less funding for coastal restoration projects on the Gulf of Mexico. Senators asked Zinke to provide data to support his claim that reducing royalty rates would increase overall revenue and for evidence that the 18.75 percent royalty rate has impeded leasing. Zinke was unable to provide further information, but an Interior Department spokeswoman responded that all of the documents from the Royalty Policy Committee meeting where the committee voted to decrease royalties will be posted online.
Perry Defends Cuts to Renewable Energy Research
Energy Secretary Rick Perry appeared on the Hill March 22 to defend the Department of Energy’s 2019 budget request. Perry supported cut a 65 percent cut to the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, arguing that renewable energy technologies are no longer early-stage technology and that private sector research and development should be sufficient.
EPA Deputy Administrator Nominee Closer to Confirmation
The Senate voted to advance the nomination of Andrew Wheeler to be U.S. EPA deputy administrator in the early morning March 22. The Senate will vote on Wheeler’s nomination after it returns from a recess in April. President Trump nominated Wheeler last October. Wheeler worked for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK). Wheeler left the Senate in 2009 to work as a lobbyist for fossil fuel companies. Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Natural Resource Defense Council, oppose his nomination.
Water Infrastructure & Conservation Bills Introduced
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee reviewed three bills related to water management and drought March 22. Democratic and Republican Senators agreed that water conservation projects and improved water storage infrastructure are key to drought resilience. All three bills came from western senators. S.2539, introduced by Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) reauthorizes the Colorado River System Conservation Program. This program pays consumers for reducing their water use. S. 2563 from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) increases access to the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART program, a program that works cooperatively with states, tribes and localities to increase water supply through improving existing water infrastructure. S.2560, introduced by Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), streamlines a process for irrigation districts to obtain title on Bureau of Reclamation projects.
Interior Department Reorganization Plan Criticized
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s plan to reorganize the Department of the Interior around major watersheds has been met by opposition from members of Congress as well as former Interior officials. The reorganzation plan drew criticism from a bipartisan group of Interior officials from the Bush and Clinton administrations at an event at the University of Utah. Rebecca Watson, who served as the assistant secretary for lands and minerals management during the George W. Bush administration commented that the effort would waste limited time and distract the Department from dealing with higher priority issues.
BLM Holds Lease Sale for Western Land Despite NPS Concerns
The Bureau of Land Management sold 54,000 acres of public land in Utah and Colorado as part of a March 20 oil and gas lease sale. The land sold included parcels near three national monuments—Bears Ears and Hovenweep in Utah and Canyons of the Ancients in Colorado. In October, the Southeast Utah Group of National Park Service sent a letter to the BLM outlining concerns with the resource impacts of oil and gas drilling on sites under its jurisdiction and asked the BLM to delay leasing 17,000 of the acres. According to the letter, “the parcels that will be offered for lease have the potential to affect resources such as air quality, dark night sky, scenic value, soundscapes and groundwater quality important to all the parks in the Southeast Utah Group.” BLM officials claimed they worked with the NPS to address concerns, and went ahead with the lease sale for these areas.
Oversight Hearing on Infrastructure Permitting Focuses on NEPA, Clean Water Act
On March 15, the House Oversight Committee Subcommittee on the Interior, Energy, and Environment held a hearing titled “An Examination of Federal Permitting Processes.” This hearing probed federal permitting in the context of infrastructure, prompted by the release of the Trump administration’s proposed infrastructure plan in February. The subcommittee focused on permitting under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Clean Water Act. Subcommittee members were divided largely along party lines, with Republicans calling for reforms of the laws in order to streamline permitting and eliminate lengthy delays, and Democrats warning of the importance of environmental reviews under these acts.
Interior Renews Advisory Council Charters
The Interior Department has renewed the charters of 21 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) resource advisory councils (RACs), an action announced in a March 12 press release. The agency says the move demonstrates its commitment to the panels after they were temporarily suspended in May 2017 for a department-wide review of advisory councils and boards. However, advisory panel members have expressed concern with the renewed charters, which include revisions that focus on the administration’s agenda. For instance, the new charters direct the RACs to provide recommendations for implementation of executive and secretarial orders, identify regulations for repeal or replacement, or streamline oil and gas development.
Zinke Endorses Plan to Reintroduce Grizzly Bears to the North Cascades
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced March 23 that the Interior Department will restart a study of reintroducing grizzly bears into the North Cascades Ecosystem in Washington state. The Interior Department previously completed a draft Environmental Impact Statement and Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan in January 2017, but the Trump administration paused the project. The last confirmed sighting of a grizzly bear in the U.S. section of the North Cascades was in 1996. The plan will likely involve capturing bears from Montana or British Columbia and releasing the bears into the backcountry. Conservation and environmental groups applauded the announcement while ranching groups opposed the decision.
National Science Foundation Meetings and Nominations
NSF Advisory Committee for Biological Sciences Meeting
The National Science Foundation’s Advisory Committee for Biological Sciences will meet at the NSF headquarters in Alexandria, VA on April 2-3. The committee provides advice, recommendations, and oversight concerning major program emphases, directions, and goals for the research-related activities of the divisions that make up the Directorate for Biological Sciences. The meeting agenda will include Directorate updates, review of the committee’s function and responsibilities, discussion of potential future activities and partnership opportunities, and other matters relevant to BIO.
NSF Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education Meeting
The National Science Foundation’s Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education (AC-ERE) will hold an open meeting in Alexandria, VA on April 18-19. The purpose of AC-ERE is to provide advice, recommendations, and oversight concerning support for NSF’s environmental research and education portfolio, be a base of contact with the scientific community, serve as a forum for consideration of environmental topics, provide input into plans and partnerships, and perform oversight of program management and performance. The meeting agenda will include updates on agency support for environmental research and education activities, discussions with the NSF director and assistant directors, and planning for future advisory committee activities. The agenda can be found here once available.
Recommend Members for NSF Directorate and Office Advisory Committees
The National Science Foundation is requesting recommendations for membership on its scientific and technical federal advisory committees, including the Advisory Committee for Biological Sciences. These external advisory committees provide advice on program management, discuss current issues, and review and provide advice on the impact of policies, programs, and activities of the directorate or office of NSF.
Environmental Protection Agency Nominations and Comments
Nominate Experts to EPA Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee
The EPA is requesting nominations of scientific experts to be considered for appointment to the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC). The panel is charged with providing outside advice, information, and recommendations to the EPA on the scientific and technical aspects of air quality criteria and National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The CASAC is made up of seven members but currently has three vacancies. These vacancies resulted from the resignation of one member following the end of her second three-year term and the removal of two other members as a result of Pruitt’s policy banning current recipients of EPA grants from serving on panels. Nominations should be submitted by April 20.
EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Committee Nominations
The EPA is requesting nominations to the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC). There are two vacancies for academia representation, one for business and industry, and one for state and local government. NEJAC is a federal advisory committee that provides independent consensus advice to the EPA about a range of environmental issues related to environmental justice. Nominations should be submitted by April 13, via mail or email.
Comment on Clean Power Plan Repeal and Replacement
On Dec. 18, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signed an advance notice of proposed rulemaking initiating the first step toward replacing the Obama-era Clean Power Plan (CPP). The document asks for public comment on what a replacement rule should look like. The Clean Power Plan sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, cutting them 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. In a separate but related action, the EPA had previously proposed to repeal the rule. The agency held one public hearing in November on CPP repeal and announced three additional public listening sessions in San Francisco, CA, Kansas City, MO, and Gillette, WY. The EPA is accepting public comments on CPP repeal until April 26.
Provide Input to Inform Utah National Monument Management Plans
In January, the Bureau of Land Management announced its intent to prepare management plans and environmental impact for units of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Bears Ears National Monument. These notices initiated the public scoping process to solicit public comments and identify issues and planning criteria relevant to the planning process. Comments can be submitted online, and the deadlines for comments are April 11 for Bears Ears and April 13 for Grand Staircase-Escalante. The agency will also hold a series of public hearings across Utah. Areas of the two sites that the president removed from monument designation with the president’s Dec. 4 proclamation are not covered in the notice.
Provide Public Input for Meeting of Conference of the Parties to CITES
The Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking information and recommendations on items that the United States might consider submitting for discussion at the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) Conference of Parties meeting in Sri Lanka in May and June 2019. The public comment period is open until May 11, 2018.
For more opportunities to get involved, go to the Federal Register section.
House Passes Endangered Fish Funding Bill
On March 13, the House passed the Endangered Fish Recovery Programs Extension Act of 2017, H.R.4465. Introduced by Rep. John Curtis (R-UT), the bill provides funding for programs to conserve four species of endangered fishes — the Colorado Pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucks and bonytail chub — on the Colorado and San Juan Rivers. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) introduced a Senate companion version of the bill, S.2166.
House Committee Passes Public Lands Bill
The House Committee on Natural Resources passed a bill to reauthorize the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act. If passed by the House and Senate, the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act Reauthorization of 2018 (H.R.5133) would allow the Bureau of Land Management to sell unneeded, isolated or scattered public lands deemed appropriate for disposal and to use the funds from those sales to purchase lands adjacent to federal lands managed by the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the BLM. The Federal Land Transaction Act was previously authorized by Congress in 2000 but expired in 2011.
- Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act (H.R.5248). Introduced March 13 by Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) and Ted Lieu (D-CA), this bill would amend and enhance the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act to improve the conservation of sharks. This bill aims to reduce shark overfishing by requiring that shark, ray and skate parts and products imported into the U.S. must come from countries with comparable standards to the U.S., as determined by NOAA.
- Clean Water Partnership Act (H.R.5264). Introduced March 13 by Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA), this bill would direct the secretary of the Interior, in consultation with the administrator of the EPA, to provide grants to states to facilitate the acquisition of land, water, and interests therein, made to substantially improve, preserve, or maintain water quality for an area in perpetuity.
- State and Territorial Approval for Restriction of Fishing Act (H.R.5269). Introduced March 14 by Rep. Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS-At Large), this bill would require state or territorial approval of restriction by the secretary of the Interior and the secretary of Commerce of recreational or commercial fishing access to certain state or territorial waters, respectively.
- Give our Resources the Opportunity to Work Act (S.2557). Introduced by Sens Joni Ernst (R-IA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Bob Casey (D-PA) on March 15, this bill would shift resources within the Conservation Reserve, Conservation Stewardship and Environmental Quality Incentives programs administered by the USDA. The bill would double the grasslands acreage enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program and empathizes cover crops, crop rotation and rotational grazing.
- S.2587. Introduced March 21 by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), this bill would amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to establish a program to allow states to assume certain federal responsibilities under that Act with respect to agency actions applicable to highway projects within the states.
- S.2602. Introduced March 22 by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), this bill would support carbon dioxide utilization and direct air capture research and facilitate the permitting and development of carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration projects and carbon dioxide pipelines.
- NASA – Advisory Council Meeting (March 28-29)
- NSF- Biological Sciences Advisory Committee Meeting (April 2-3)
- USGS – National Geospatial Advisory Committee Meeting (April 3-4)
- NOAA – Science Advisory Board Meeting (April 9-10)
- NSF – Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education Meeting (April 18-19)
- NSF – Advisory Committee for Polar Programs Meeting (April 18-19)
- U.S. Arctic Research Commission 109th Meeting (April 21)
- NSF – Advisory Committee for Geosciences Meeting (April 25-26)
Opportunities for Public Comment:
- NMFS – Framework Adjustment 57 to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan
The National Marine Fisheries Service is proposing a framework adjustment to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan that would set catch limits for 20 multispecies (groundfish) stocks, adjust allocations for several fisheries, revise accountability measures, and make other minor changes to groundfish management measures. Comments on the proposed adjustments will be accepted until April 6, 2018.
- BLM – Revisions to Obama-Era Restrictions on Gas Venting and Leakage from Energy Operations on Public Lands
The Bureau of Land Management is proposing to revise a rule passed by the Obama administration that forced energy companies to capture methane that’s burned off at drilling sites due to its environmental impact. This action aims to reduce unnecessary compliance burdens but would allow for a greater amount of methane to be released into the environment. Comments on the proposed revisions and on ways that the BLM can reduce the waste of gas by incentivizing the capture, reinjection, or beneficial use of the gas are requested on or before April 23, via mail or online.
- EPA– Clean Water Act Coverage of Discharges of Pollutants
Comment on whether or not the Environmental Protection Agency should offer clarification or revision of previous statements regarding the Clean Water Act, more specifically, whether pollutants that are discharged at point sources, but are then introduced to jurisdictional waters via connection to the hydrologic cycle may be subject to regulation by the Clean Water Act. Comments are due by May 21, 2018 online.
Visit this page on ESA’s blog for updates on opportunities from the Federal Register, including upcoming meetings and regulations open for public comment.
2018 midterm elections are happening this November, with primaries starting in some states this month. On a national level, all seats in the House of Representatives and a third of the seats in the Senate will be contested. Several state governorships and many other state and local elections will also be contested. Be sure you are registered to vote in time to participate! Learn more about voting policies and rights in your state and register to vote at Rock the Vote, a nonprofit dedicated to engaging young people in politics.
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.
View letters and testimony from ESA here.
- Friends of ARS Letter on FY 2019 ARS Appropriations(March 16, 2018)
- CNSF Letter on FY 2018 Appropriations(February 21, 2018)
- Energy Sciences Coalition FY 2018 Appropriations Statement(February 16, 2018)
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.
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