Policy News: July 15, 2019

In This Issue:

Foreign Influence and Collaborations Under Scrutiny in Agencies and in the House National Defense Authorization Act
NSF issues ‘Dear Colleague’ letter addressing foreign interference in research.

House passes 2020 National Defense Authorization Act including and foreign interference in science provision.

Executive Branch
A White House plan to critically review climate science in on indefinite hold.

Federal government settles dusky gopher frog case that reached the Supreme Court.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R-AK) vetoes funding for the University of Alaska system, cutting state funding by 41%.

Scientific Community
Universities and higher education networks sign on to letter declaring a climate emergency.

Federal Register Opportunities
Upcoming meetings and other opportunities for public involvement.

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

Member Opportunities
Apply to join the Rapid Response Team.

Foreign Influence and Collaborations under Scrutiny in Agencies and in the House National Defense Authorization Act

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is banning its personnel and rotators from participation in foreign talent recruitment programs such as China’s Thousand Talents program to prevent foreign government espionage to steal intellectual property. NSF Director France Cordova announced the new policy Friday, July 12, in a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter and a press release. The Department of Energy recently issued a similar announcement barring employees from such programs.

Highlights of the Cordova’s letter include these points:

  • NSF has required since April 2018 that all rotators working on-site at NSF must be U.S. citizens or have applied for U.S. citizenship.
  • NSF staff must adhere to government ethics regulations that require accurate and timely financial disclosure reports
  • NSF restated that senior project personnel on grant proposals must disclose all foreign and domestic sources of support. NSF’s draft Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide clarifies the policy, including reporting on pending support and professional appointments. It is open for public comment until July 29.
  • NSF personnel and IPAs detailed to NSF cannot participate in foreign government talent recruitment programs.
  • NSF is proposing an electronic format for submission that includes biographical sketches.
  • NSF commissioned the independent scientific advisory group JASON to conduct a study to assess risks and recommend possible practices for NSF and its awardee organizations to achieve the best balance between openness and security of science.

This letter comes as members of Congress and the administration are increasingly concerned about foreign interference in research. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), major defense policy legislation passed each year by Congress, is nearing completion with both the House and Senate versions finalized. The legislation will now be crafted into one final bill by a conference committee. The House version of the NDAA includes another bill, Securing American Science and Technology Act (H.R. 3038) that would create a working group led by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a policy framework to address the security needs of agencies and federal grant recipients. The House NDAA bill also calls for a National Academies roundtable designed to increase dialogue to balance security measures with the benefits of openness in science. Multiple societies and universities including ESA signed a letter in support of the House bill. The Senate version of the bill contains more aggressive clauses that would be restrictive. American Association of Universities President Mary Sue Coleman published an op-ed in Science in support of SASTA.

MIT, Yale University, Stanford and other academic institutions are issuing open statement concerning the government’s attempts to restrict foreign collaboration.

The National Science Board is meeting Jul 17-18. Research Security Initiatives will be the topic of the plenary session. NSB Member Maria Zuber will discuss MIT’s new review process for international research collaborations that pose an “elevated risk,” and Association of American Universities’ Toby Smith will speak about efforts underway to encourage best practices for research security.


NDAAThe House passed its version of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, an annual ‘must pass’ bill that sets defense policy for the next year. The final House bill includes Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ)’s Securing American Science and Technology Act (H.R. 3038(see above),which creates a working group, led by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, to develop a policy framework to address the security needs of agencies and federal grant recipients. Lawmakers also approved climate and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) amendments to the bill:

  • Amendments from Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) make an Obama-era executive order removing barriers to military climate resiliency permanent and require the military to better take sea-level fluctuations into account during flood risk reviews.
  • Another amendment included in the bill requires the Defense Department to include climate mitigation costs in its budget requests.
  • PFAS amendments require the Environmental Protection Agency to set discharge limits for the toxic chemical under the Clean Water Act and authorize $5 million to the U.S. Geological Survey to monitor PFAS contamination over the next five years.

The Senate passed its version of the NDAA in late June.

Flooding: Assistant Secretary of the Army for Public Works R.D. James told lawmakers that continued flooding in the Mississippi river basin prevents the agency from fully assessing flood damage and completing repairs to levees. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO) questioned the Army Corps of Engineers’ spending on wildlife habitat restoration, compared to spending on levee maintenance. Democrats on the committee expressed concerns about current infrastructure’s ability to adapt to climate change and increased floods.

House Natural Resources Committee: The Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands held a hearing to consider seven public lands bills that would collectively designate 1.5 million acres of federal wilderness areas and 1.1 million acres of conservation, recreation and restoration areas. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA)’s Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation and Working Forests Act (H.R. 2250) creates eight new wilderness areas in California and expands nine existing wilderness areas. It also creates the Northwest California Public Lands Remediation Partnership to restore lands damaged by illegal marijuana growing sites. Rep. Derek Kilmer’s (D-WA) Olympics Wilderness & Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (H.R. 2642) designates more than 126,500 acres of the Olympic Peninsula as wilderness and 464 river miles in the peninsula as Wild and Scenic Rivers. After the bills’ sponsors testified, a panel of representatives from the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, affected local governments and other stakeholders joined the hearing.

Fisheries: House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife Chairman Jared Huffman (D-CA) announced that he plans a listening tour over the next year to consider changes and improvements to the Magnuson-Stevens Act before Congress reauthorizes the law in spring 2020. The Magnusson-Stevens Act is the primary U.S. law governing fisheries management. Potential topics to be covered in the listening tour include the impacts of climate change on fisheries management, ecosystem-based fisheries management and data collection.

Rep. Don Young (R-AK) and Rep. Jefferson van Drew (D-NJ) introducedtheir own bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Young and van Drew’s legislation includes changes to give state and local governments more power in managing fisheries. Similar legislation passed the House in 2018, largely with Republican support.

Climate: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced a resolution declaring a climate emergency, which “demands a massive-scale mobilization to halt, reverse, and address its consequences and causes.” National legislatures in Canada, the United Kingdom and 14 other countries, as well as 740 local governments, have passed similar measures declaring a climate emergency. The resolution is nonbinding and, if passed, it would not require the government to take any specific actions on climate change.

Separately, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and 15 Democratic co-sponsors in the Senate reintroduced the Climate Risk Disclosure Act (S. 2075 – Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs). This bill would require publicly traded companies to disclose information to investors and the public about the climate-related risks the company faces and how the company contributes to climate change. Warren introduced similar legislation in fall 2018. Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL), Rep. Matthew Cartwright (D-PA) and Ocasio-Cortez introduced the House version of the bill (H.R. 3623 – Financial Services & Energy and Commerce). The House Financial Services Committee discussed a draft version of the bill in a subcommittee hearing July 10.

House Science Committee: The Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight and the Subcommittee on Environment will hold a hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s advisory committees Tuesday, July 16. Witnesses include a representative of the Government Accountability Office and three former members of EPA advisory committees.

Republican Party: Members of Congress formed the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus, a group dedicated to conservative approaches to environmental issues. Leaders said during a news conference that the group would focus on nonregulatory solutions and mentioned issues such as ocean pollution, public lands protection, clean air and clean water. The group’s Senate co-chairs are Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT). Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) lead the group in the House.

Legislative updates:

  • The Senate Science, Transportation and Commerce Committee advanced a bill (S. 1342) from Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) and Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) requiring NOAA to update the environmental sensitivity index maps for the Great Lakes every seven years. These maps assess the potential ecological and social impacts of oil spills and natural disasters. Current maps for the Great Lakes have not been updated in over 20 years.
  • Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-IN) introduced legislation (H.R. 3655 – Natural Resources) to allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue farmers permits to kill black vultures to proactively protect newborn calves. Currently, black vultures are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and farmers can only apply for a permit to kill the vultures after the birds have damaged their livestock.
  • Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) reintroduced the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 3742 – Natural Resources & Budget), which provides a combined $1.4 billion annually to state and tribal fish and wildlife agencies to implement state wildlife action plans and conserve at-risk species. Dingell and Fortenberry introduced similar legislation in 2017.

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

Executive Branch

White House: President Donald Trump gave a speech highlighting his environmental record in the lead up to the official launch of his 2020 presidential campaign. The Trump campaign said that polling data suggested that the environment was a weak area for the administration and could cause the President to lose support from some key demographics and voters in Florida. Trump touted his administration’s record in clean air, clean water and marine debris and did not mention climate change or efforts to roll back environmental regulations, such as the Clean Power Plan and the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule. A fact check by the New York Times found that many of the president’s statements were misleading and recent progress on environmental quality could largely be attributed to efforts predating the Trump administration.

Meanwhile, a National Security Council plan to critically review climate science is on indefinite hold, due to internal opposition to the plan and reelection concerns. William Happer, a National Security Council adviser and retired Princeton physicist, has been pushing to revive former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s idea for a “red team, blue team” climate debate since March 2019.

EPA: Two letters from the Pacific Northwest Regional Office to the Army Corps of Engineers conclude that the Corps’ draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, AK likely “underestimates impacts and risks to… water quality, wetlands, aquatic resources and air quality” and that the project will likely not comply with the Clean Water Act. The letter addressing the Clean Water Act declares the Bristol Bay watershed “aquatic resources of national importance,” meaning that the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps will need to negotiate further before the EPA will allow the project to proceed under the Clean Water Act. In particular, the EPA highlights the potential impact of the project on the region’s salmon fishery.

It is unclear how these letters will impact the mine’s construction. In June, the EPA announced that it is reconsidering 2014 restrictions on mining waste discharge in the Bristol Bay watershed. Around the same time, the House approved an amendment to a 2020 spending bill that would prohibit the Army Corps of Engineers from completing an environmental impact statement for Pebble Mine. This would effectively stop the agency from issuing a permit to build the mine if this provision is included in the final FY 2020 spending bill passed by both the House and the Senate.

NOAA: The Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary will become the first new national marine sanctuary since 2000. The 18-square mile area 40 miles south of Washington, DC features around 200 shipwrecks dating as far back as the Civil War, including about 100 wood steamships built during World War I.

State Department: Rod Schoonover, an analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, resigned from the agency, a month after White House officials intervened to censure his testimony about the national security implications of climate change before the House Intelligence Committee. Ultimately, the White House allowed Schoonover to testify at the committee hearing but blocked the State Department from submitting his written testimony. The Washington Post reports that Schoonover left voluntarily. Schoonover worked for the State Department for around 10 years and is a former professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

USDA: The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) will not collect quarterly data for its Honey Bee Colonies report. An agency notice announcing the change says that this decision was “necessary given available fiscal and program resources.” NASS began collecting data in 2015 and was a part of the Obama administration’s efforts to protect pollinators. CNN reports that this is the third bee-related USDA survey stopped since the beginning of the Trump administration. A USDA representative said that the suspension is temporary.

USFS: A new report, “Green Readiness, Response and Recovery: A Collaborative Synthesis,” from Forest Service scientists offers accounts of environmental stewardship that served as a springboard to collective recovery and resilience after destruction caused by anything from hurricanes to violence to invasive insects.

USGS: E&E News reports that officials at the U.S. Geological Survey removed mentions of climate change from a March 2019 press release publicizing a study about flooding, sea level rise and climate change in California. Scientists told E&E that press releases about climate science are often altered and can take up to six months to be approved.


California Gnatcatcher: A federal judge upheld federal threatened species protections for the coastal California gnatcatcher and rejected a lawsuit from a coalition of property rights and homebuilder organizations contending that the birds do not constitute a separate species. The judge determined that the groups did not have sufficient standing to make this challenge. Coastal California gnatcatchers are found in coastal sage scrub habitats in southern California and Baja California.

Dusky Gopher Frog: The federal government and private landowners, including timber company Weyerhauser, settled a yearslong lawsuit over protections for the endangered dusky gopher frog. In the settlement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to reverse its 2012 decision to designate a 1,500-acre area as critical habitat for the species. The parties to the lawsuit also agreed that the case cannot be used as legal precedent in any future court cases. The dusky gopher frog does not currently live in this area, but USFWS previously argued that the area would be important if the frog’s population recovers. The Supreme Court considered this case and returned it to a lower court in fall 2018.


Alaska: Governor Mike Dunleavy (R) vetoed a provision in the state government’s budget, cutting state funding to the University of Alaska System by 41%. University administrators said that the cuts will lead to the elimination of academic programs and mass layoffs of employees, including tenured faculty members and imperil universities’ accreditation status.  Already, thousands of students were notified that they will no longer receive state scholarships. An effort to override Dunleavy’s veto failed.

Great Lakes: The governors of the Great Lakes states, as well as the premiers of Ontario and Quebec, approved a resolution supporting the Army Corps of Engineers’ Brandon Road Lock and Dam project, which aims to prevent invasive Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes. The resolution urges Congress to authorize and appropriate funding for the $778 million dollar project as soon as possible.

Montana: Governor Steve Bullock (D) signed an executive order creating a Montana Climate Solutions Council. This group is tasked with drafting a plan for the state to reach net greenhouse gas neutrality for average annual electric loads by 2035 and issuing a “Montana Climate Solutions Plan.” At an event announcing the council’s formation, Bullock also announced that the state will join the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group of U.S. states and cities committed to meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Montana is the 25th state to join this group.

Scientific Community

Europe: The European Union Commission increased funding for Horizon 2020, the continent’s flagship research funding program, by 6.4%.If the budget is approved by EU member states, as much as 21% of the EU’s research budget could be directed towards climate change research.

Climate Emergency: Sixty-three colleges and universities from across the world and 27 higher education networks signed on to a letter declaring a climate emergency. The letter commits the institutions to reaching carbon neutrality by 2030 or 2050 at the latest, mobilizing resources for “action-oriented climate change research and skills creation” and increasing the delivery of environmental and sustainability education. The U.N. Environment Program’s Youth and Education Alliance, the U.K.’s Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education and the U.S-based organization Second Nature organized the letter. Over 400 colleges and universities in the U.S. participate in Second Nature’s Climate Leadership Network.

Federal Register Opportunities

Public Meetings, many of which are live-streamed: 

Opportunities for Public Comment and Nominations:

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

ESA In the News

ESA regularly issues press releases to the media about journal articles and other Society news. Press coverage is kept up-to-date on our “In the News” page. Check out news stories here.

ESA Correspondence to Policymakers

View more letters and testimony from ESA here.

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, Alison@nullesa.org or Nicole Zimmerman, public affairs manager, Nicole@nullesa.org

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