Policy News: November 18, 2019

The Katherine S. McCarter

Graduate Student Policy Award

Applications are now being accepted.

ESA is now accepting applications for its 2020 Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award. Offered each year, this award gives graduate students an all-expense paid trip to Washington, DC for science policy training with opportunities to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Visit the ESA website for more information and details on application requirements. The deadline to apply is Jan. 8, 2020.

In This Issue:

Lawmakers Question Rumored “Transparency in Science” Proposal
EPA proposed rule would prohibit the agency from using scientific studies where the underlying data are not publicly available in regulations.

Senate Considers Nominees for Top Energy, Public Lands Posts
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds confirmation hearing for President Trump’s pick to replace Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee advances NASA authorization bill.

Executive Branch
Office of Science and Technology Policy holds Joint Committee on the Research Enterprise Summit.

Supreme Court hears oral arguments in groundwater case.

Wisconsin State Assembly passes wetlands bill.

Italy plans to make climate change education mandatory.

Scientific Community
Over 11,000 scientists sign letter warning of a climate emergency.

Opportunities to Get Involved
Federal Register opportunities.

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

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Lawmakers Question Rumored “Transparency in Science” Proposal

The New York Times reported that the Environmental Protection Agency is expanding its proposed “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” rule. This proposed rule, initially released in April 2018, prohibits the EPA from using scientific studies where the underlying data are not publicly available in regulation. A leaked proposal obtained by The New York Times modifies the proposed rule so that it applies to broader section of research used by the EPA in decision-making and makes the rule retroactive and would apply to both existing and future regulations.

The EPA declined to provide comment for The New York Times’ story and later disputed the article’s claims in a press release. Principal Deputy Administrator for Science Jennifer Orme-Zavelta told the House Science Committee that the proposal shared by The New York Times is not the most current version of the proposed regulation and a rule submitted to the White House for review would not allow the rule to be applied retroactively. Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL), however, pointed out that the EPA could apply the rule while completing periodic required reviews of regulations.

The scientific community, including ESA, have long pushed back against the transparency in science rule and its legislative predecessors, the HONEST Act and the Secret Science Reform Act, stating that the rule would prevent the EPA from using the best available science in decision-making. Environmental and public health groups also widely oppose the policy, citing concerns that the rule will be used to weaken clean air and water regulations.

Linda Birnbaum, who recently retired from her post as the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, testified that the rule would “practically lead to the elimination of science from decision-making.” Witnesses representing the American Thoracic Society, a National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine “Reproducibility and Replicability in Science” Committee, the Center for Open Science and the Michael J. Fox Foundation also participated in the House Science Committee hearing.

Coinciding with the Science Committee hearing and The New York Times report, Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) asked the National Academies of Science to review the proposed rule in a letter.

Senate Considers Nominees for Top Energy, Public Lands Posts

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held confirmation hearings for Dan Brouillette, Trump’s replacement for Energy Secretary Rick Perry and also for Katharine MacGregor who is the administration’s nominee for the number two spot in the Interior Department.

Brouillette currently serves as deputy secretary of energy and previously worked as an executive at Ford and USAA. Senators overwhelmingly confirmed Brouillette to this post in April 2017. Brouillette received bipartisan praise at his confirmation hearing. He signaled his support for mining for “critical minerals” like lithium and cobalt in the Arctic and touted the agency’s leadership in science and computing during his tenure at the Department of Energy.

MacGregor has been a political appointee in the Interior Department since 2017 and previously worked as a Republican staffer for the House Natural Resources Committee.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) asked MacGregor about the National Invasive Species Council (NISC) and the Invasive Species Advisory Council (ISAC) and steps that the Interior Department should take to coordinate on invasive species management. The Interior Department cut funding for NISC by 50% in FY 2019 and ISAC was placed on indefinite administrative hold in May 2019. MacGregor mentioned working with states to combat invasive species. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) questioned MacGregor about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and reports that the Interior Department rushed and suppressed scientific input into environmental reviews. MacGregor declined to answer Cantwell’s question about any potential harm to polar bear from drilling, stating that the US Fish and Wildlife Service is finalizing a biological opinion addressing that topic.

Before the confirmation hearing, Reveal published an article finding MacGregor personally helped oil company Cimarex obtain a permit for fracking in Oklahoma, despite a previous finding that the permit application was “incomplete” and “deficient.”

Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Member Joe Manchin (D-WV) support both nominees. The committee plans to vote on the nominations Nov. 19 and the full Senate could confirm Brouillette before the end of the year.


Appropriations:  Congressional leaders are finalizing a deal to extend the current continuing resolution through Dec. 23. The current continuing resolution, or stop-gap measure, funds the government through Nov. 21. The federal government will shut down if President Trump does not sign an extension by then. House and Senate leaders are also close to an agreement on top-line numbers for each of the 12 appropriations bills.

NASA: The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee advanced legislation reauthorizing funding for NASA and setting policy for the agency for 2020. The bill (S. 2800) directs the Earth Science Division to follow the priorities identified by the scientific community in the 2017 National Academies decadal survey. An amended version of the legislation requires NASA to make earth sciences data accessible to the research community to facilitate collaboration. Amendments approved by the committee require NASA to develop procedures for identifying and addressing violations of the agency’s scientific integrity policy and to review any NASA contracts that would require the transfer of intellectual property to China.

Senate Commerce Committee: In addition to the NASA bill, the Committee advanced a handful of other bills of interest:

  • The SAVE Right Whales Act (S. 2453), sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), provides grants for North Atlantic right whale conservation. The House version of this bill (H.R. 1568) passed the House Natural Resources Committee in May 2019.
  • The Restoring Resilient Reefs Act (S. 2429), from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), reauthorizes the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000, which expired in 2005. The bill authorizes five years of federal funding and assistance to states for coral reef restoration and management and encourages Coral Reef Stewardship Partnerships among resource management agencies, research centers and stakeholders. The legislation also codifies the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, which was established by executive order during the Clinton administration.
  • South Florida Clean Coastal Waters Act (S.10), also from Rubio, requires the Inter-Agency Task Force on Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia to develop an action plan to address harmful algal blooms in south Florida. The full House passed similar legislation (H.R. 335) in October 2019.
  • The Digital Coast Act (S. 1069), sponsored by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), authorizes NOAA to begin a comprehensive mapping process of American shorelines and share related products online for use by coastal managers and communities. The House Natural Resources Committee approved the House version of this bill in September 2019.

Rural STEM: House Science Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) introduced the Rural STEM Education Act (H.R. 4979). This bill directs the National Science Foundation to fund STEM education research focused on rural areas and recommends that NSF dedicate $12 million annually toward efforts to increase participation of rural students in STEM.

Tongass: The House Natural Resources Committee held an oversight hearing for the Forest Service’s proposal to exempt the Tongass National Forest in Alaska from the Roadless Rule, opening up the forest to increased logging, mining and other extractive activities. Those testifying were Jim Furnish, a top Forest Service official during the development of the Roadless Rule; President of the Organized Village of Kake Tribal Council Joel Jackson; Austin Williams of Trout Unlimited; and, Autumn Hanna of Taxpayers for Commonsense. All of them testified against the proposal, citing insufficient tribal consultation and adverse environmental and economic consequences. The proposed rule is open for public comment on the Federal Register through Dec. 16, 2019.

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

Executive Branch

White House: The Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) held a Joint Committee on the Research Enterprise Summit to provide an update to the scientific community on the efforts of the National Science and Technology Council Joint Committee on the Research Environment (JCORE). OSTP Director Kelvin Droegmeier stressed the need for research environments to reflect and promote American values and research values, which he described as including integrity, honesty, openness, mutual respect, transparency and accountability and empathized the importance of these values to the research enterprise. Discussions at the summit centered around four cross-cutting themes: transparency and reproducibility in science, integrity, administrative burdens for research and coordination across the research enterprise. OSTP’s summary of the event and a transcript of Droegemier’s speech is posted online.

President Trump nominated Shannon Blunt and Dorota Grejner-Brzezinska to serve on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Both are academics – Blunt is a professor and director of the Radar Systems & Remote Sensing Lab at the University of Kansas and Grejner-Brzezinska is the associate dean for research at the Ohio State University’s College of Engineering. Trump revived the PCAST in October 2019, which had been dormant since the end of the Obama administration, and the PCAST held its first meeting Nov. 18.

NSF: The National Science Board will hold its fall meeting Nov-19, 2019. Droegemeir will update the board on JCORE activities. The board will also receive an update on the Mid-scale Research Infrastructure program and the Education and Human Resources assistant director will present a portfolio update. Open portions of the meeting will be live-streamed.

USFWS: The agency is proposing listing the West Coast population of fishers (Pekania pennanti) as a threatened species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first proposed listing fishers in 2014, then withdrew the rule, prompting legal challenges from conservation groups. The new proposed rule includes a section 4(d) rule which allows the incidental take, or killing, of individual fishers during certain forest management activities and toxic cleanup activities. The proposed rule requests any additional information from the public regarding the fisher’s population trends; the impacts of widespread tree mortality on fishers; and, information on wildfire risk and vegetation management in the fisher’s habitat and more.

USFWS removed the Colorado butterfly plant from the endangered species list. The agency originally listed the plant in 2000. USFWS attributes the plant’s recovery to conservation agreements with private landowners, the city of Fort Collins, CO and Warren Air Force Base near Cheyenne, WY.

Commerce Department: In accordance with the Foundation for Evidence Policymaking Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-435), the department is soliciting nominations for the Advisory Committee on Data for Evidence Building. The mission of the Advisory Committee is to review, analyze, and make recommendations on how to promote the use of federal data for evidence building. Nominations must be received on or before Dec. 4, 2019.


Groundwater: The Supreme Court heard oral arguments for County of Maui. Hawai’i Wildlife Fund. At issue in the case is whether Clean Water Act requirements apply to pollutants that flow from groundwater to navigable surface waters. Environmental groups sued Maui County in 2012 after a tracer dye study found that contaminants from a wastewater injection wells ended up in the Pacific oceans, harming coral reefs and marine ecosystems. Supreme Court justices debated how broadly the Clean Water Act should be interpreted. Before the oral arguments, former EPA administrators from the George H.W. Bush, Clinton and Obama administrations submitted an amici curiae stating that the Clean Water Act “charges EPA with protecting the navigable waters of the United States from pollutants discharged from point sources that travel to surface waters through groundwater.” A final court decision is expected before July 2020.


Wisconsin: The state Assembly passed a bill requiring developers that receive a permit to purchase wetland mitigation credits from the same watershed where they intend to discharge dredged material. Under current law, developers can obtain a wetland discharge permit by purchasing credits from a mitigation bank located anywhere in Wisconsin. Next, the bill goes to Gov. Tony Evers’ (D) desk for his signature to be enacted into law.


Italy: Beginning next year, Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti announced that public schools in the country will dedicate 33 hours a year of classroom time to climate change and sustainability topics. This announcement makes Italy the first country to require climate change education in schools.

IEA: The International Energy Agency’s 2019 World Energy Outlook finds that existing and announced policy commitments are insufficient to reduce carbon emissions from the energy sector and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Even with these commitments, the international body finds that pollution-related premature deaths will remain around the same as they are 2019 in 2040 and CO2 emissions would lock in severe impacts from climate change. The report also projects the changes needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement in its Sustainable Development Scenario.

U.N.: A new Food and Agriculture Organization and Global Environment Facility initiative will upgrade the Global Forest Resources Assessment reporting platform and improve forest and land-use change monitoring data, with a focus on improving data from developing countries. Improved forestry data will help countries to report their achievements under the Paris Agreement and to advance the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

New Zealand: The Parliament passed a bill committing the nation to net-zero emissions of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The legislation requires the New Zealand to reduce methane emissions by 10% by 2030 and by 24 to 47% by 2050. A new Climate Change Commission will advise the government on meeting these targets.

Scientific Community


Climate: Over 11,000 scientists signed on to a letter, published in Bioscience, warning of a climate emergency and suggesting six general policy goals to address climate change. The goals include transitioning to clean, low carbon energy, quickly reducing emissions of short-lived pollutants like methane and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and a carbon-free economy.

OCTO: Open Communication for the Ocean will host webinar, “Improving your impact: Guidelines for doing science that influences policy and management” presented by a Pew Charitable Trusts conservation scientist Dec. 3.

NAS: The Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education will hold its first annual summit Nov. 19 at the University of Washington. A virtual attendance option is available.

Opportunities to get involved

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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