Policy News: November 4, 2019

In This Issue:

Senate Advances Spending Bills, Status of Appropriations Uncertain
Bills fund the Departments of Interior and Agriculture, National Science Foundation and more.

House passes bills banning mining and drilling the Grand Canyon and Chaco National Historical Park.

Executive Branch
White House revives President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Conservation groups challenge the EPA’s repeal of the Waters of the U.S. rule.

Energy company Exelon pledges $200 million for Chesapeake Bay restoration.

Chilean president cancels planned U.N. climate conference in Santiago. Spain to host conference in Madrid.

Scientific Community
NSF reports 16 sexual harassment cases in first year of new policy.

Opportunities to Get Involved
Federal Register opportunities.

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

Senate Passes Bills Funding Science Programs, Status of Appropriations Uncertain

The full U.S. senate easily passed a package of four domestic spending bills Oct. 31 that includes funding for the Departments of Agriculture and Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Nevertheless, it remains unclear when lawmakers will resolve differences between the House and Senate bills and pass final spending bills for fiscal year (FY) 2020, which began Oct. 1. House and Senate leaders have not yet reached an agreement on 302(b) allocations – the top-line numbers for each of the 12 spending bills. The House passed ten of the 12 required spending bills during summer 2019. The federal government is currently funded through a stop-gap measure that expires Nov. 21.

Agencies that use, fund and/or conduct ecological science receive modest increases in the Senate bills (see ESA budget tracker):

  • NSF receives $8.317 billion in total, a 3% increase. This amount includes $6.732 billion, a 3.7% increase for NSF’s Research and Related Activities account, which funds most NSF grants.
  • The EPA is funded at $9.011 billion, a nearly 12% increase. Science and technology programs are funded at $713 million, around a 1% increase.
  • NOAA receives $5.337 billion, a 1.62% decrease.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey is allocated $1.209 billion, a 4.22% increase.
  • The Forest Service receives $7.471 billion in total. Forest Service Research and Development receives around a $6 million increase.
  • The National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s funding is increased by less than one percent. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative receives $425 million, a $10 million increase.

Senators approved a few non-controversial amendments of interest by unanimous consent:

  • An amendment, proposed by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), increases funding for the EPA’s geographic programs by three percent. The EPA’s geographic programs include the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay Program and other regional clean-up programs.
  • Another amendment from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) reserves $3 million for an ocean aquaculture working group.
  • Senators agreed to Sen. Jacky Rosen’s (D-NV) amendment to increase funding for Lake Tahoe restoration activities by $4 million.
  • An amendment from Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) allocates $1 million of the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s funding towards surveillance, testing, prevention, and research relating to Eastern equine encephalitis, a rare cause of brain infections spread by infected mosquitoes.


Senate: Sens. Mike Braun (R-IN) and Chris Coons (D-DE) launched a bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus whose members will work to identify common ground on climate policy and introduce corresponding legislation. The group is similar to the House Climate Solution Caucus and will aim for an equal number of Democrat and Republican members. Sen. Coons cited energy efficiency and funding for research and development as areas of agreement. Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Environment and Public Works Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) plan to join the caucus.

House: The full House passed three natural resources bills. House Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva’s (D-AZ) Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act (H.R. 1373permanently bans new mining claims on around a million acres of public land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park. Mining companies have long been interested in extracting uranium near the Grand Canyon. These lands are currently protected under a 20-year mining withdrawal, finalized in 2012. Rep. Ben Lujan’s (D-NM) Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act (H.R. 2181prohibits oil and gas development on public lands within a ten-mile radius of Chaco Canyon National Historical Park in New Mexico. This area is culturally and spiritually significant to the Navajo and Pueblo people. The third bill is the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act (H.R. 823), sponsored by Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO), which designates 73,000 acres of public lands in Colorado as wilderness and around 80,000 acres as recreation and conservation areas. The bill also withdraws 200,000 acres from oil and gas leasing. President Trump has threatened to veto the Grand Canyon and Colorado bills, but he has not made a statement regarding the proposed Chaco legislation.

ConservationSens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced a nonbinding resolution (S.Res.372) calling for protecting 30 percent of the United States’ oceans and lands by 2030. Udall and Bennet cited the May 2019 International Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Global Assessment Report that found a million species are at risk of extinction. The Senators also reference a Science Advances article calling for a ‘Global Deal for Nature.’ The resolution calls for improved access to nature for communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities.

Legislative updates:

  • The full Senate approved Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC)’s Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency Act (H.R. 150). This bill requires federal agencies to establish governmentwide data standards for information reported by grant recipients, to issue guidance directing federal agencies to apply those standards and to require the publication of recipient-reported data collected from all agencies on a single public website. The House approved this bill in January 2019.
  • The full Senate passed the Rescuing Animals with Rewards Act (S. 1590), which authorizes the State Department to provide rewards for information that leads to the disruption of wildlife trafficking networks.
  • The House Natural Resources Committee approved a bill (H.R. 2579) that would modernize hardrock mining leasing laws and regulate copper and gold mining similarly to coal, oil and gas extraction activities.
  • Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) introduced the Ocean, Coastal and Estuarine Acidification Necessitates (OCEAN) Research Act (S. 2699), which would reauthorize ocean acidification research funding for NOAA and NSF. This funding program lapsed in 2012.
  • Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced legislation (S. 2714) reauthorizing the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. The bill increases the program’s authorized funding level by up to $750 million in FY 2024. The House Science Committee approved similar legislation in October.

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

Executive Branch

White HousePresident Trump reactivated the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and named seven new PCAST members. This group advises the president on “policy that affects science, technology and innovation, as well as science and technology information that is needed to inform public policy.” Six out of the seven new members are chief technology officers and executives from major corporations, including S.C. Johnson & Son, IBM and Dow Chemical. The sole academic researcher is Brigitta Whaley, a professor of chemistry and co-director of the Berkeley Quantum Information and Computation Center at the University of California, Berkeley. The Office of Science and Technology will eventually expand the PCAST to include 16 members. The PCAST has been dormant since the beginning of the Trump administration. The group will hold its first meeting Nov. 18, 2019.

EPA: The agency released a five-year action plan for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), a requirement of 2015 and 2016 amendments to the Clean Water Act. The plan touts the benefits of GLRI funding and identifies objectives for GLRI’s five focus areas – toxic substances, invasive species, nonpoint source pollution, habitats and species and foundations for future restoration actions (i.e., environmental education and research).

The Trump administration has proposed reducing GLRI funding by 90 percent in its President’s Budget Request, but in a change of tune, Trump and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler promoted the program in recent months to boost political support in the region. Wheeler acclaimed the action plan and recent grants for Great Lakes restoration funded by the GLRI in a press release and a speech he gave in Detroit. In March 2019, Trump promised to fully fund the GLRI in a rally in Grand Rapids, MI. Congress has funded the GLRI at $300 million in recent years, rejecting the president’s requests to cut funding. Trump narrowly won the Great Lakes states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin in the 2016 election.

The EPA confirmed that it terminated the Environmental Laboratory Advisory Board (ELAB) and the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEP) to comply with President Trump’s June 2019 executive order directing agencies to eliminate one-third of their advisory committees. ELAB members included representatives of environmental testing labs, environmental regulatory agencies and scientists with relevant expertise. The group advised the EPA on its measurement programs and its environmental laboratory accreditation program. The NACEP provided advice to the EPA on general environment management issues.

InteriorSecretary David Bernhardt issued an order grounding the department’s drone fleet, citing potential cybersecurity risks. Nearly all of the agency’s 810 drones are either manufactured by Chinese companies or contain Chinese parts. The Interior Department uses drones for fighting wildfires, monitoring dams and wildlife and other purposes. The agency’s use of drones has increased from 750 drone flights in 2016 to 10,342 flights in 2018. The order allows drones in emergency situations, including responses to natural disasters.

USFWS: A final biological opinion allows more water to be sent from the San Joaquin Delta to farmers in California’s Central Valley and weakens protections for the federally endangered Chinook salmon and threatened delta smelt. In July 2019, the Los Angeles Times reported that career scientists working on an earlier version of this biological opinion were reassigned and replaced when they wrote that removing protections for delta smelt would harm the salmon fishery and Southern Resident Killer Whales on the Pacific coast. A New York Times investigation found that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt personally asked U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) officials to modify the biological opinion. Bernhardt’s biggest former lobbying client, the Westlands Water District, stands to benefit from the new biological opinion.

USFWS is proposing removing the interior least tern from the federal endangered species list. Its populations were decimated by hunting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Their feathers were widely used in women’s hats. Then, the species’ recovery was thwarted by new dams built across the species’ range, which includes the Great Plains and the lower Mississippi River Valley. USFWS listed the bird as an endangered species in 1985. Successful, collaborative conservation efforts by state, federal and tribal agencies and nongovernmental organizations brought the species to a population of around 10,000 today. A public comment period on this proposed rule is open through Dec. 23, 2019.

USAID: The international aid agency ended funding for the Predict program that collected biological samples to detect diseases that domestic and wild animals may transmit to humans. A U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) representative told The New York Times that the program had reached the end of its funding cycle. Dennis Carroll, a former USAID official who oversaw Predict, said that the program ended because of “the ascension of risk-averse bureaucrats.”

NSF: The Biological Sciences Directorate issued a Biology Integration Institutes solicitation for proposals. These institutes will support collaborative teams of researchers at a level not feasible in most existing core programs and exist over a greater timeframe than standard NSF awards. NSF’s goal is to stimulate creative integration of diverse biological disciplines using innovative experimental, theoretical and computational approaches to discover underlying principles operating across all levels of life — from biomolecules to organisms, species, ecosystems and biomes. Letters of intent are due Dec. 20, 2019, and full proposals are due Feb. 6, 2020.


Waters of the U.S.A coalition of conservation groups filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s repeal of the 2015 Waters of the U.S. rule. The lawsuit alleges the repeal violates the Administrative Procedures Act and “betrays an extraordinary disregard for federal rulemaking requirements and the views of the American public.” The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers finalized the repeal of the WOTUS rule in a Federal Register notice Oct. 22, 2019. The repeal goes into effect Dec. 23, 2019. The EPA is expected to finalize its new Waters of the U.S. rule in December 2019, which will trigger a new round of lawsuits.

Pesticides: The EPA agreed in a court settlement to analyze the impacts of eight frequently used pesticides and rodenticides. The substances include the pesticides atrazine, carbaryl, methomyl and simazine and rodenticides bromadiolone, warfarin, zinc phosphide and brodifacoum. This settlement comes in response to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Pesticide Action Network North America. Atrazine is the second most used pesticide in the United States and harms aquatic animals and plants’ reproduction.

Exxon: Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued ExxonMobil for deceiving consumers and investors on the risks of climate change. This lawsuit follows similar cases filed by the states of New York and Rhode Island and several cities. The trial for New York state’s case began Oct. 22, with former Exxon CEO and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testifying Oct. 30. That case alleges that ExxonMobil violated New York’s anti-fraud law by keeping two separate sets of books – one internal and one external – accounting for the cost of greenhouse gas regulations to the company.

Coinciding with the start of the New York trial, former Exxon scientists Martin Hoffert and Ed Garvey told the House Oversight Committee that their research in the 1980s confirmed that carbon dioxide levels were increasing as a result of fossil fuels and that the corporation was aware of the threat of climate change.

North Atlantic Right Whales: A federal district judge ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the Endangered Species Act when it allowed the use of gillnets in two of the North Atlantic right whale’s feeding grounds in April 2019. Only around 400 North Atlantic right whales exist and fishing gear entanglement accounted for the vast majority of the species’ deaths between 2010 and 2016.


Maryland: Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced that the state government and energy company Exelon Generation reached an agreement in which Exelon will pay contribute $200 million to Chesapeake Bay restoration to continue operations of the Conowingo Dam. Exelon needs state approval to renew the permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to operate the dam, which is located near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Hogan and other state officials argue that increased sediment buildup around the dam has allowed increased levels of pollutants to enter the bay. The funds will go toward improved fish passage around the dam, aquatic habitat restoration and debris management.


Climate: Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced that Chile will not host the United Nations’ annual climate meeting scheduled for December 2019, amid ongoing unrest in the country. Instead, Spain will host the Conference of Parties 25 meeting in Madrid.

The Green Climate Fund announced that 27 countries, led by the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan and Sweden, pledged $9.78 billion for climate change mitigation and adaption in developing countries. The United National Framework on Climate Change established the Green Climate Fund to direct climate finance to developing countries in 2010. The United States and Australia are not participating in this round of funding.

Convention on Biological DiversityExecutive Secretary Cristiana Pasça Palmer, the U.N.’s top biodiversity official, will leave her position Nov. 30. Pasça Palmer cited health reasons in her announcement, but there are reports suggesting that allegations of discrimination against African staff members and high staff turnover at the U.N. secretariat may have contributed to her departure. The Convention on Biodiversity is set to determine new global biodiversity targets at the U.N. Biodiversity Conference in China in October 2020.

Oceans: Governments, businesses and nongovernmental organizations made 370 commitments worth more than $63 billion toward improving ocean health and productivity at the annual Our Ocean conference in Norway. The United States announced 23 commitments worth $1.21 billion toward sustainable fisheries, combating marine debris and marine science and exploration.

China: The Ministry of Science and Technology issued a new draft research misconduct law, which would make plagiarism, fabrication, embezzlement of research funds and other acts illegal.

Australia: Environment Minister Sussan Ley announced that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government will launch a review of country’s environmental laws, with a goal of reducing “green tape” and accelerating project approvals. An expert panel will lead the review that includes several independent environmental policy experts, but there are no representatives of conservation groups. Before the announcement, 240 conservation scientists and ecologists sent a letter to the prime minister urging the government to strengthen species protections, writing that 17 native Australian species could go extinct in the next 20 years.

Scientific Community


NSF: Sixteen grantees have been reported to NSF under a policy that requires universities to report when they have taken “administrative action” toward grantees accused of sexual harassment. The policy only applies to researchers who received an award after October 2018. NSF officials said that this number represents more cases than they anticipated when they announced the policy.

NAS: A new National Academies report recommends that colleges and universities in the U.S. should take a “more intentional, inclusive, and evidence-based approach” towards mentoring students in the STEM fields, and that this shift would help retain and support students from underrepresented backgrounds. An online, interactive guide accompanies the report.

Opportunities to get involved

The Forest Service’s Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program is looking for new Advisory Panel members, including individuals with expertise in ecological restoration, fire ecology, ecological adaption to climate change and fish and wildlife ecology. This panel evaluates and provides recommendations on potential restoration programs to the Secretary of Agriculture. The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program funds and promotes collaborative, large scale ecosystem restoration on priority forest landscapes. See the Forest Service website and the Federal Register notice; nominations must be received by Nov. 15, 2019.

The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis is seeking stakeholder input on how Congress and the U.S. government should respond to the climate crisis and “lead an ambitious transition to clean energy and resilience that puts Americans to work, builds a just economy, unleashes American ingenuity and prepares communities for the impacts of climate change.” Questions from the committee ask about community climate resilience, forests, oceans and climate information needs. To inform the policy recommendations of the committee, provide responses to the questions by Nov. 22, 2019 by emailing ClimateCrisisRFI@nullmail.house.gov

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 Members in the News

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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