Policy News: December 3, 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:

Member Opportunities
Attend ESA Southeastern Chapter Communications Training geared toward policymakers in Knoxville, Feb. 3: Travel Awards Available.

Sign up for an ESA Policy Webinar: “Civic Engagement for Scientists: Getting Involved with Local Government”

White House Plans to Finalize WOTUS Rule, Release Additional “Transparency in Science” proposal and more
Plan previews final year of President Trump’s current term in office.

Senate report criticizes federal funding agencies for failing to combat the threat of Chinese government talent recruitment programs.

Executive Branch
PCAST holds its first meeting of the Trump administration, NOAA nominee withdraws from Senate consideration.

The United Nations COP 25 starts in Madrid.

Scientific Community
Editors of prominent scientific journals criticize the EPA’s “Transparency in Science” rule.

Opportunities to Get Involved
Federal Register opportunities.

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

Attend ESA Communications Training in Knoxville, Feb. 3: Travel Awards Available

The ESA Southeastern Chapter has an excellent opportunity for its members to attend a Communicating Science Workshop co-hosted with NIMBioS, University of Tennessee, Knoxville on Monday, Feb. 3, 2020.

The ESA Communicating Science workshop is designed to address the needs of ecologists to communicate scientific information in a variety of public and professional interactions. This workshop will build participants confidence and skill set for public engagement with media, Congress, and other audiences. It also provides a professional development opportunity to develop broader impact skills.

Up to a $200.00 travel award will be given to ESA members ($200.00 overnight award for those traveling more than 60 miles or a $100.00 commuter travel award for those who will travel between 45-60 miles from Knoxville.) Space is limited and preference will be given to Southeastern Chapter members.

Visit the ESA website for additional information.

ESA Policy Webinar: “Civic Engagement for Scientists: Getting Involved with Local Government”

December 16, 2019, 2pm EDT
Presenters: Drs. Arti Garg and Kendra Zamzow

Communities thrive when all members participate and meet challenges together, and democracies thrive when individuals are engaged with their local governments. Civic engagement can be an important and enriching experience for anyone, regardless of their background or career path. Scientists and engineers can offer unique contributions to their local communities and to city, county, and state governments, including inquiry-driven and evidence-based approaches to solving problems and technical expertise in specific subjects.

Many scientists and engineers want to be more involved in their local communities but don’t know where to begin. In this webinar, Engineers & Scientists Acting Locally will highlight opportunities for scientists to engage in their local communities such as advocating to change a local law, joining a local commission, advising a lawmaker, and serving in elected office. Drs. Garg and Zamzow will give examples from their own experience.

We will also discuss what hurdles scientists and engineers face to getting more involved and how to move beyond them. This webinar will contribute to an ongoing conversation on civic engagement by members of the scientific community, and we hope that attendees will leave inspired with new ideas for how they can get more involved in their own communities.

RSVP, Space is limited.

Presenter Bios

Dr. Arti Garg is an astrophysicist and the Founder and Chair of Engineers & Scientists Acting Locally, an all-volunteer non-profit with the mission of increasing local government and community engagement by people with backgrounds in STEM. She also serves on the Community Services Commission in the City of Hayward in California. When not working with her local government, she heads AI market and technology strategy at Cray supercomputers as Cray’s Emerging Market & Technology Director.

Dr. Kendra Zamzow is an environmental chemist who volunteers with Engineers & Scientists Acting Locally, is on the board of a small community group, and founded a local climate action group in her community in Alaska. She has also served on her community council. When she isn’t volunteering, she works with the non-profit Center for Science in Public Participation, which assists communities and tribes understand the environmental risks of mining projects.

White House Plans to Finalize WOTUS Rule, Release Additional “Transparency in Science” and more 

The White House Office of Management and Budget’s biannual Unified Agenda provides a preview of the administration’s upcoming new regulations and deregulatory actions. This year’s Unified Agenda is particularly significant because it details the administration’s plans for the last year of President Trump’s current term in office. Selected items in the Unified Agenda indicate that administration will advance a new Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act regulations and more:

  • In May 2020, the administration projects that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service will issue a notice of proposed rulemaking toward a regulation defining habitat under the Endangered Species Act.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may reclassify the status of nearly 40 species under the Endangered Species Act. It will also make listing determinations and designate critical habitat for close to 50 species.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency will release a supplementary proposal to its “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” rule in January 2020. In November 2019, The New York Times published a leaked version of this proposal – the EPA says this document is an outdated version.
  • A final revised definition of the “Waters of the U.S.” is also expected in January 2020.
  • The Forest Service will finalize its proposed changes to its National Environmental Policy Act regulations in April 2020. The proposed changes include exemptions that would allow up to 4,200 acres of commercial logging if the logging project is combined with ecological restoration activities. Other exceptions would enable the Forest Service to build up to five miles of roads and convert unauthorized, unofficial roads to official Forest Service roads without completing NEPA analysis.
  • A final determination regarding the administration’s proposal to eliminate the Roadless Rule on Alaska’s Tongass National Forest is expected in June 2020.
  • The administration has pushed back the timeline for a proposed new Bureau of Land Management (BLM) planning rule. A previous Unified Agenda indicated that the will BLM issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in November 2019, while the new agenda forecasts a February 2020 release. Congress overturned the BLM’s Planning 2.0 rule, which attempted to update the agency’s land management planning process in 2017.


Foreign Influence in Science: The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs released a bipartisan staff report criticizing the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and the FBI for failing to combat the threat of Chinese government talent recruitment programs to U.S.-funded research.

During a related committee hearingsenators suggested that funding agencies should adopt a standard grant application to combat espionage in scientific research. A uniform application would make it easier to identify potential bad actors and help standardize how agencies understand the threats of financial conflicts of interest and foreign funding. Subcommittee on Investigations Chairman Rob Portman (R-OH) plans to draft legislation on the topic.

House: Rep. Don McEachin (D-VA) introduced the 100 Percent Clean Economy Act (H.R. 5221), the first piece of legislation tied to the House Democrats’ goal of a “100% clean economy by 2050” which they define as net-zero climate pollution across all sectors. The bill tasks the EPA with leading this effort. The bill also identifies principles for agency actions, including enhancing job creation and improving public health and environmental outcomes in low-income and rural communities and communities of color. Democrats plan to release further legislation tied to these goals and principles. McEachin’s bill has 155 co-sponsors, all Democrats. The House Energy and Commerce Committee plans a subcommittee hearing on this topic Dec. 5, the seventh committee hearing on this goal.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee: The committee advanced several public lands and science bills in a legislative hearing Nov. 19.

  • The ARPA-E Reauthorization Act (S. 2714), sponsored by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), increases the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy authorized funding level to $750 million by 2024. The House Science Committee approved similar legislation in October 2019. ARPA-E received $366 billion in funding in Fiscal Year 2019. The Energy Sciences Coalition, which ESA participates in, has endorsed a $750 million authorization level.
  • Another bill (S. 1081), sponsored by Committee Ranking Member Joe Manchin (D-WV), provides permanent funding of $900 million annually for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The bill allows money from offshore oil and gas royalties to be allocated to the fund without annual approval from Congress through the appropriations process. The LWCF provides funds to federal agencies and state and local governments to purchase lands for conservation and recreation opportunities.
  • The Restore Our Parks Act (S. 500), from Sen. Rob Porter (R-OH), transfers unallocated funds from on- and offshore oil and gas production to a fund for infrastructure improvements in national parks. The House version of this bill is broader – the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act (H.R. 1255) provides funds for infrastructure improvements on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lands in addition to National Park Service lands. The House Natural Resources Committee advanced the House bill in June 2019.

Other legislative updates:

  • The full House passed legislation (H.R. 925) extending the North American Wetlands Conservation Act through 2024 and reauthorizing the program’s funding level a $60 million annually. This USFWS program provides grants for wetland habitat restoration and improvement projects.
  • The full House also passed the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (H.R. 737) which would outlaw the possession, sale and distribution of shark fins. Shark finning – which refers to cutting a shark’s fins and then leaving the rest of the carcass in the ocean – is already illegal in the U.S. However, the trade of shark fins, including the fins of sharks where the entire animal was harvested, is legal.
  • Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the Monarch and Pollinator Highway Act (S. 2918 – Environment and Public Works), which creates a federal grant program for pollinator-friendly projects on roadsides and highway rights of way.
  • Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) introduced the Tribal Wildlife Corridors Act (S. 2891 – Indian Affairs and H.R. 5179 – Natural ResourcesAgriculture), which would provide federal grants and technical assistance to tribes for native wildlife corridors. This legislation complements the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act (H.R. 2795 and S. 1499).

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

Executive Branch

White House: The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) held its first meeting of the Trump administration Nov. 18. Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Kelvin Droegmeier said that the group will focus on short term policy recommendations and actions. During the Obama administration, the PCAST drafted major reports on topics from ranging from nanotechnology to STEM education. Droegmeier also announced that the PCAST will work with a subcommittee of early-career scientists, which will include students and post-docs.

JCORE: The OSTP is soliciting information and public comments regarding actions that federal agencies can take, working in partnership with private industry, academia, and nonprofit organizations, “to maximize the quality and effectiveness of the American research environment.” The request for information “emphasizes ensuring that the research environment is welcoming to all individuals and enables them to work safely, efficiently, ethically and with mutual respect.” The comment period closes Dec. 23, 2019.

Nominations: The full Senate voted to confirm Dan Brouillette as secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy. Brouillette replaces former Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, who officially departed Dec. 1 (see ESA Policy News Nov. 18, 2019).

President Trump’s pick to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Barry Lee Meyers withdrew his nomination citing ongoing health issues. Trump originally nominated Meyers in 2017, but his nomination never advanced to a full Senate vote. Meyers is the former CEO of Accuweather. In May 2019, former ESA president and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco published an op-ed in The New York Times, arguing that Meyers is the wrong person to lead NOAA because of his lack of scientific credentials and business conflicts of interest.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee advanced the nomination of Katharine MacGregor, who is the administration’s nominee for the number two spot in the Interior Department.

BLM: A draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for development in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A) could open the area to additional oil and gas development. The current management plan for the area, finalized in 2013, leaves 11.8 million acres of the 23 million-acre reserve open for development. The Obama administration protected 11.2 million acres of the NPR-A, citing the importance of the area to migratory birds and caribou. The EIS identifies three alternatives to the current management plan. One alternative decreases the area open to development to 11.4 million acres. The other two alternatives increase the land available to oil and gas leasing and new infrastructure to 17.1 million acres and 18.3 acres. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) prepared the EIS in response to a 2017 Secretarial Order, signed by former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, intended to ‘jump-start’ energy production in Alaska. The document is available for public comment via the BLM website through Jan. 21, 2020.

USDA APHIS: For the third time since 2011, the USDA is proposing to ban the import of two sets of plants pending further pest risk assessment. The lists include plant species that could transport pests and plants that are suspected of being invasive species. The list includes Austropuccinia psidii, an invasive pathogen from South America that damages native ‘Ōhi’a forests in Hawaii. The public comment period for this proposal is open through Jan. 24, 2020.

USFWS: The western glacier stonefly and the meltwater lednian stonefly have both been listed as threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Both species of stonefly live in high elevation, coldwater streams in Montana and Wyoming. USFWS found that climate change and the associated disappearance of these habitats is the primary threat to these species.

Separately, USFWS is proposing delisting or downgrading the endangered species status of three species:

  • The Nashville crayfish. USFWS cites increased crayfish populations, individuals found in impaired waters and the removal of two dams on the Nashville Zoo’s property its justification for removing this species from the endangered species list.
  • The June sucker. The listing document finds that the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources’ successful breeding and stocking efforts have led to a tenfold increase in spawning fish since 1999. These efforts justify upgrading the fish’s status from endangered to threatened.
  • Bradshaw’s lomotium, a wetland prairie plant found in Oregon and Washington state. USFWS attributes increased plant populations to protections on public lands and conservation easements on private lands.


Climate: The United Nations began its 2019 Climate Change Conference (COP 25) Dec. 2. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is leading a delegation of 14 Congressional Democrats to the meeting. The delegation includes the leaders of relevant Congressional committees such as Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and several other members that are active on environmental issues. A U.S. subnational delegation of 70 representatives of American businesses, states, cities, tribes and academic institutions will also participate in COP 25.

The United Nations’ 2019 Emissions Gap Reportfinds that global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and, even if countries meet commitments made under the Paris Climate Agreement, global temperatures will rise by 3.2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. The temperature increase will lead to “wider-ranging and more destructive climate impacts.” The report concludes that the world will not meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of 1.5 degrees of warming unless the world cuts carbon emissions by 7.6% each year between 2020 and 2030. Meanwhile, the U.N. also finds that global emissions are showing no signs of peaking.

Iran: The Tehran Revolutionary Court found six conservationists employed by the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation guilty of spying and sentenced the individuals to prison terms ranging from six to 10 years in prison. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard accused the conservationists of collecting classified information about the country’s military using camera traps manufactured in the U.S. The group’s camera traps were placed to monitor endangered Asiatic cheetahs. Some of the conservationists were originally charged with “sowing corruption on Earth,” a charge punishable by death, but the court dropped that charge in October 2019 for unclear reasons. Two additional individuals are still awaiting trial. The Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation’s Managing Director Kaveous Seyed-Emami died in prison in 2018. Over 300 scientists, conservationists and researchers, including Jane Goodall and the director-general of WWF International, denounced the charges in a September 2018 letter.

Critical Minerals: U.S. Geological Survey Director James Reilly and his Australian counterpart Geoscience Australia CEO James Johnson signed a memorandum of understanding agreeing to conduct joint critical minerals mapping research. The USGS’ list of critical minerals includes minerals used in renewable energy technologies, cell phones and other electronics.

IPBES: Two new countries, Myanmar and Sierra Leone, joined the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in November 2019, bringing the international body to 134 member countries.

Scientific Community

“Transparency in Science”: The top editors of Science, Nature, the Public Library of Science (PLoS), the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, Cell and the Lancet published a joint statement expressing their continued concerns with the EPA’s proposed “Transparency in Science” rule. This rule would limit the EPA’s use of scientific information where the underlying data are not publicly available. The editors urge the EPA to “continue to adopt an approach that ensures the data used in decision-making are the best available” and that a shift will “will harm decision-making that claims to protect our health.” Most of the same editors published a similar statement opposing the rule in May 2018, after the EPA released the proposed regulation.

EPA: Two-time Environmental Protection Agency Administrator William Ruckelshaus died Nov. 27 at the age of 87. Ruckelshaus served as the agency’s first leader during the Nixon administration and again in the Reagan administration. Under his leadership, the agency established the country’s first clean air regulations and banned DDT.

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.

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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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