Policy News: December 16, 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:

ESA Supports Roadless Areas in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest
ESA submits comments in response to the Forest Service’s plan to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the 2001 Roadless Rule.

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

House passes a set of ocean and coastal policy bills. Annual defense policy bill includes science and security provisions.

Executive Branch
Senate confirms USFWS director. NOAA releases Arctic Report Card and launches coral reef restoration project in the Florida Keys. Majority of BLM employees in Washington, DC decline reassignments.

New York judge rules in favor of Exxon. Trump appoints one-third of 9th Circuit Court judges.

States and Cities
New York city council approves bill requiring bird-friendly glass.

COP25 ends in Madrid.

Scientific Community
JASON releases foreign interference in science report. NEON names new chief scientist.

Opportunities to Get Involved
Federal Register opportunities.

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

ESA Supports Roadless Areas in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest

ESA submitted comments opposing the Forest Service’s proposal to exempt the Tongass National Forest in Alaska from the 2001 Roadless Rule and open 9.2 million acres of temperate rainforest to development. The comments note that the Tongass stores a large amount of carbon and fuels productive and commercially important marine ecosystems.

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.


Appropriations: Leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committee announced Dec. 12 that they have reached an agreement to keep the government open and complete appropriations for fiscal year (FY) 2020. Details about the spending bills, including funding for science programs, have not yet be released. Congressional leaders said that they plan to pass all 12 required spending bills before the holidays. ESA will update the Federal Budget Tracker as information emerges.

House: The full House of Representatives passed a package of coastal and ocean bills combined into Coastal and Great Lakes Communities Enhancement Act (H.R. 729):

  • The National Sea Grant Program Amendment Act (H.R. 2405) reauthorizes the Sea Grant program and increases authorized funding levels for the program to $111.7 million by fiscal year 2025. The program received $68 million in FY 2019.
  • The Digital Coast Act (H.R. 2189) authorizes NOAA to begin a comprehensive mapping process of American shorelines and share related products online for use by coastal managers and communities.
  • The Great Lakes Fishery Research Authorization Act (H.R. 1023) reauthorizes the activities of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Great Lakes Science Center.
  • The National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships Act (H.R. 1747) codifies the National Fish Habitat Partnerships program. This is an existing voluntary fish habitat conservation program that brings together state and federal agencies and the private sector to identify and implement habitat restoration projects.
  • The Coastal State Climate Preparedness Act (H.R. 3541) establishes an NOAA coastal climate adaption preparedness and response program.
  • The Living Shorelines Act (H.R. 3115) creates an NOAA grant program to assist states, localities and NGOs in constructing living shorelines.

Lawmakers approved an amendment directing NOAA to work with the National Academy of Sciences to assess the feasibility of establishing an Advanced Research Projects Agency-Oceans (ARPA-O). Another amendment directs USGS to research the impacts of harmful algal blooms, nutrient pollution and dead zones on Great Lakes fisheries.

NDAA: The final version of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act includes provisions addressing concerns about espionage in science. One section creates a White House task force to coordinate federal government efforts addressing the security needs of federal agencies and research grant recipients. Another provision creates a National Academies roundtable to advise the government on balancing national security concerns and international scientific collaborations. This language largely mirrors the Securing American Science and Technology Act (H.R. 3038), which is supported by a wide swath of universities and scientific societies, including ESA.

Conservation Funding: The House Natural Resources Committee advanced the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 3742). This bill would provide an additional $1.4 billion in dedicated funding to state and tribal fish and wildlife agencies to implement state wildlife action plans and conserve at-risk species. All committee Democrats and seven Republicans voted for the bill. Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) are the lead sponsors. In October 2019, ESA joined members of the Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife and other scientific and conservation organization to urge the Natural Resources Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee to advance this legislation.

Harassment in STEM: Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) reintroduced the Federal Funding Accountability for Sexual Harassers Act (H.R. 5328). This bill would require academic institutions to report “substantiated” findings of discrimination on the basis of sex to all federal agencies that awarded grants to the institution over the past 10 years. The legislation also directs federal agencies to take these reports of sexual harassment and discrimination into consideration when making funding decisions. Agencies would be allowed to condition a grant on the removal of a principal investigator who has engaged in discrimination on the basis of sex.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee: The committee advanced 19 bills to the full Senate, including bills to expand wind energy research at the Department of Energy (S. 2660), create new wilderness and recreation areas in Oregon (S. 1262) and block oil and gas leasing in Nevada’s Ruby Mountains (S. 258).

House Science Committee: Committee members considered ways to improve scientific advice to Congress in a Dec. 5 hearing. Bipartisan members of Congress, led by Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL), have been pushing to reestablish the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), which advised Congress on science and technology issues until it was defended in 1995. However, a recent report from the National Academy of Public Administration recommended against reestablishing the OTA, instead recommending that Congress bolster the capacity of Congressional Research Service and Government Accountability Office scientific advice programs.

Higher Education Funding: Both chambers of Congress approved legislation (H.R. 5363) providing $255 million in dedicated, permanent funding annually to Minority Serving Institutions, such as historically black colleges and universities and tribal colleges and universities. The authorization for this program expired on Sept. 30, 2019.

Other legislative updates:

  • The House Natural Resources Committee passed the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (H.R. 2642), from Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), which designates more than 126,500 acres of the Olympic National Forest as wilderness and 19 rivers and their major tributaries, 464 river miles, as Wild and Scenic Rivers.

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

Executive Branch

Nominations: The full Senate narrowly confirmed Aurelia Skipwith as the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Dec. 12. Sens. Joe Machin (D-WV), Doug Jones (D-AL) and Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) and all Senate Republicans voted for Skipwith’s confirmation. Once sworn-in, Skipwith will be the first Senate-confirmed USFWS director since the end of the Obama administration and the first African American to serve in that post. Senate Democrats criticized Skipwith’s experience working for Monsanto and associated potential conflicts of interest and her lack of experience in fish and wildlife management.

USFWS: A new rule proposes listing the beardless chinchweed as endangered and the Bartram’s stonecrop as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Both plants are found southern Arizona and northern Mexico and the proposal could impact the construction of the proposed Rosemont Copper Mine in the region. Public comments on the proposed rule will be accepted through Feb. 4, 2020.

USFWS finalized a rule downgrading the status of the Nene (Hawaiian goose) from endangered to threatened, citing successful captive breeding efforts that brought the species’ population from 30 individuals in the 1950s to 2,855 individuals in 2018.

BLM: Up to 80% employees in the Bureau of Land Management’s Washington, DC office declined new assignments in Grand Junction, CO and other offices across the western U.S. The Interior Department announced its intentions to move agency’s headquarters to Grand Junction in September 2019 and a November notice gave 159 Employees 30 days to accept or decline relocation. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) said that he will subpoena information about the headquarters relocation, the associated costs and the agency’s justification for the move after Interior officials did not provide satisfactory answers to committee inquiries. Retired senior BLM officials have told Grijalva and other key congressional leaders that the move could lead to the loss of experienced senior career employees and an agency ‘leadership vacuum.’

NOAA: The 2019 Arctic Report Card concludes that “Arctic ecosystems and communities are increasingly at risk due to continued warming and declining sea ice.” The release of carbon stored in frozen soils has made the region into a net carbon emitter, potentially releasing an estimated 300 to 600 million tons of carbon per year. Sea ice extent and snow cover in the region are near record lows while average annual air temperatures reached near record highs.

NOAA announced a new project, ‘Iconic Coral Reefs’, to restore and preserve seven coral reef sites in the Florida Keys Dec. 9. NOAA and its partners hope to restore 3 million square feet of coral reefs in the area over the next 15 years.


Climate: A New York state judge ruled in favor of ExxonMobil, dropping a lawsuit against the company from the New York Attorney General’s office. The court concluded that the attorney general’s office did not adequately prove that the company intentionally misled investors about the financial risk of climate change. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey still plans to pursue a similar case against Exxon in her state. The Massachusetts case alleges that Exxon misled investors and consumers through its marketing campaigns.

Federal Judges: The Senate confirmed Lawrence VanDyke 51-44 yesterday to a lifetime position on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. His confirmation brings the number of judges to one-third in the 9th Circuit Court, which covers the west coast.

As reported by E&E News, “The 9th Circuit covers about two-thirds of our nation’s public lands, about half of our endangered species and national parks, and the majority of our coastlines,” said Ben Driscoll, judiciary director for the League of Conservation Voters.

“The Supreme Court gets a lot of attention, but 99% of the environmental cases that the 9th Circuit decides are going to stay right there,” he added.

Wind Energy: The American Bird Conservancy and Ohio’s Black Swamp Bird Observatory sued the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Energy to stop a planned wind turbine farm in Lake Erie near Cleveland. The groups argue that the agencies did not adequately analyze the environmental impacts of the wind farm as required by the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act. The wind farm will impact migratory songbirds and waterfowl.

States and Cities

New York City: The city council passed a bill requiring new construction and buildings undergoing major renovations to use bird-friendly glass to prevent bird-strike deaths. The legislation is similar to local laws in San Francisco and Oakland, CA.

Scientific Community

Research Security: A new report by JASON, a group of scientific advisers to U.S. government that largely works on national security issues, finds that scientists who fail to disclose foreign funding should be sanctioned for research misconduct. However, the report notes that the scope and scale of the problem of foreign influence in science remains “poorly defined” with federal agencies and academia lacking a common understanding of the problem and potential risks. The authors warn against implementing new restrictions on basic research due to national security concerns. JASON supports current U.S. policy of keeping most areas of fundamental research open and warns against adopting new categories of classified research information.

Awards: The Environmental Law Institute is accepting nominations for its annual National Wetlands Awards through Dec. 20, 2019. Award categories include scientific research, local stewardship and a new category, youth leadership. The National Wetlands Awards are supported by the EPA, the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, USFWS, the U.S. Forest Service, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Federal Highway Administration.

NEON: Paula Mabee, the Nolop distinguished professor in the department of biology at the University of South Dakota, will start as National Ecological Observatory Network’s chief scientist and observatory director in February 2020. Mabee replaces Sharon Collinge, who resigned in January 2019.

NASEM: The Nobel Foundation, in partnership with the National Academies of Science, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the Stockholm Resilience Center, will host the first “Nobel Prize Summit” in May 2020 in Washington, DC. The event will bring together Nobel Prize winners and other experts to “advance new insights into global sustainable development” with a particular focus on the issues of climate change and biodiversity loss and rising inequality.

California: Applications are now open for the California Council on Science and Technology fellowships. This program gives Ph.D. level scientists a year of science-policy experience in the state’s legislative or executive branch. Applications are due March 1, 2020. For more information, see the program website.

Opportunities to Get Involved:

The Senate Environmental Justice Caucus is soliciting feedback and information from the environmental justice community on policies to mitigate the impacts of climate change in low-income communities and communities of color.

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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