Policy News: January 13, 2020

In This Issue:

Congress Increases Funding for Ecological Science in FY2020 Appropriations
NSF receives a 2.5% increase, USGS funding boosted by nearly 10%.

EPA’s Science Advisory Board Criticizes the “Transparency Rule,” Waters of the U.S repeal and more
ESA, aquatic science societies resubmit comments ahead of January SAB meetings.

NSF Issues Solicitation for NEON Operations and Maintenance
BIO will issue a single five-year award worth $65 million annually.

News to Note
Trump aims to weaken prime environmental law.

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

ESA webinars: “Communicating Science with the Media” and “FutureProofing Natural History Collections: Creating Sustainable Financial Models for Research Resources.”

Full Senate passes conservation legislation. House Energy and Commerce Committee releases draft climate framework.

Executive Branch
Trump nominates new NSF director, NOAA administrator.

States files lawsuit challenging WOTUS repeal.

Colorado will vote on wolf reintroduction ballot measure in November.

Scientific Community
National Academies will release new bioeconomy report.

Opportunities to Get Involved
Federal Register opportunities.

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

Congress Increases Funding For Ecological Science in FY2020 Appropriations

The president signed into law the appropriation bills passed by Congress for fiscal year (FY) 2020 ensuring there will be no government shutdowns looming into an election year. The bills provide funding boosts for ecological science programs and agencies, with the National Science Foundation receiving a 2.5% increase and the Department of Energy Office of Science and the U.S. Geological Survey receiving larger increases.

Lawmakers included a handful of policy measures of interest in the final bills. The reports accompanying the appropriation bills directs the EPA to consult with the agency’s scientific advisory board before finalizing its proposed “Transparency in Science” rule. The Office of Science and Technology Policy is directed to apply the findings of a recent JASON study to maintain a balance between openness and security of scientific research. Lawmakers incorporated a provision allowing graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to contribute stipend income to Individual Retirement Accounts.


The National Science Foundation as a whole receives $8.278 billion, a 2.5% increase. Congress does not set funding levels for NSF individual directorates, including the BIO directorate. NSF’s research and related activities account, which funds the majority of NSF grants, receives $6.762 billion, a 3.33% increase.

Appropriators provide $10 million to NSF to launch a pilot program providing partial support for operation of new facilities and divestment from lower-priority facilities. Of this $10 million, $8 million will go to the National Ecological Observatory Network, the Ocean Observatories Initiative and the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope. Congress also allocates $65 million to NSF to support “mid-scale research infrastructure,” which NSF defines as infrastructure costing between $20 million and $70 million.

Congressional appropriators note that that this increase will allow NSF to support approximately 350 additional research and education grants and 7,800 more scientists, technicians, teachers and students, compared FY 2019.

Department of Energy

Following several years of budget increases, the Department of Energy Office of Science received a 6.3% increase in FY 2020.

Within the Office of Science, Biological and Environmental Research receives $750 million, a 6.38% increase. Appropriators direct the Department of Energy to allocate $100 million to the Bioenergy Research Centers. Terrestrial Ecosystems is given $38.2 million, with $10 million going to the Next Generation Ecosystem Experiments Arctic; $8.3 million to the SPRUCE field site; $7 million to Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments Tropics; $5.1 million to AmeriFLUX Long-Term Earth System Observations; and, $5 million for pilot studies for new Terrestrial Ecosystem Science manipulation experiments.

Department of Agriculture

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture receives $1.537 billion, a 3.8% increase, while the agency’s competitive grants program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, received $425 million, a 2.4% increase.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) receives $1.607 billion, a 4.59% cut. The agency’s salaries and expenses account receives an 8.55% increase.

The appropriations bill report notes that it provides funding increases for the Center for Pollinator Health, harmful algal blooms research, pollinator recovery research and long-term agroecosystem research among other priorities.

Appropriators instruct the ARS to provide equal funding to all Long-Term Agroecosystem Research network sites and to fill vacant positions.

The U.S. Forest Service as a whole receives $7.433 billion, or a 22% increase, with the agency’s nonfire programs receiving $3.313 billion, a $50 million boost. Funding for Forest Service Research and Development increased from $300 million to $305 million. The Forest Inventory and Analysis program receives $77 million.

Department of the Interior

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) receives $1.27 billion, a 9.5% increase, with the Ecosystems Mission Area receiving an 8.71% increase. Appropriators reject a proposal from the agency to restructure its mission areas.

Funding for the ecosystem mission area includes $22 million for the fisheries program; $45.9 million for wildlife programs; $38 million for the environmental program; and, $23.3 million for invasive species. The USGS Cooperative Units receive $24 million, a nearly $6 million increase and congressional appropriators direct the agency to use this funding to fill vacant positions. The Trump administration proposed eliminating these units in previous budget requests.

The National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers receive $38.33 million and lawmakers direct USGS to establish a Midwest Climate Adaptation Science Center.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) receives $1.37 billion, a less than 2% increase.

Lawmakers criticize the agency’s plan to relocate its headquarters away from Washington, DC to Grand Junction, CO with most DC-based positions going to other locations across the western U.S. Members of Congress expressed concern that the loss of senior staff will lead to decreased agency efficiency and require the Interior Department to brief the House and Senate Appropriations Committees monthly on its reorganization efforts.

Appropriators direct the BLM to not conduct any oil or gas leasing activities with a ten-mile radius of New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon National Historical Park.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service receives $1.64 billion, a 4% increase, with all divisions of the agency receiving increases.

Lawmakers question USFWS’s use of money allocated for the Landscape Scale Cooperatives (LCCs) and require a report detailing how USFWS will engage previous stakeholders and ensure collaborative conservation efforts on a landscape scale. This report should include how USFWS will engage in areas where LCCs have been diminished or dismantled. The appropriations bill also retains a policy rider from previous spending deals prohibiting USFWS from listing the greater sage grouse as an endangered species.

The National Park Service receives $3.37 billion, a 4.8% increase.


Overall, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration receives $5.35 billion, a 1.34% cut. The National Sea Grant College Program, which the Trump administration has proposed eliminating in its President’s Budget Requests, receives an 8.8% increase. Major divisions of NOAA, including the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, receive significant funding boosts.


Overall, the Environmental Protection Agency receives $9.06 billion, a 12.4% increase, with a more modest 1.4% increase for the agency’s Science and Technology programs. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative gets a $20 million increase. The Trump administration has proposed eliminating the program in its President’s Budget Requests.


NASA as a whole receives $22.629 billion, a 5.25% increase, while the Earth Science Directorate’s funding is increased by 2.1% to $1.971 billion. This includes $131 million for the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud Ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission and $26 million for the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) mission.

EPA’s Science Advisory Board Criticizes “Transparency Rule,” Waters of the U.S repeal and more

The Environmental Protection Agency’s top science advisers, the Science Advisory Board (SAB), released draft reports and commentary criticizing several high profile agency initiatives. The SAB said that the proposed “transparency in science” rule does not fully identify what problem the rule addresses and “may not add transparency, and even may make some kinds of research more difficult.” This rule would require the underlying data from scientific studies to be made publicly available before the EPA can use those studies in crafting new regulations. The SAB commentary on WOTUS notes that “the proposed revised definition of WOTUS decreases protection for our Nation’s waters and does not support the objective of restoring and maintaining ‘the chemical, physical and biological integrity’ of these waters.”

The SAB will meet four times in January to finalize these reports. The topics of discussion are 1) the agency’s proposed “Waters of the U.S.” repeal and replacement rule, 2) the proposed “transparency in science” rule, 3) the proposal to weaken vehicle fuel economy standards and 4) the agency’s planned repeal of the underlying legal basis for regulations limiting the release of pollutants from coal and oil-fired power plants, known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

Ahead of the meetings, ESA submitted comments to the SAB thanking the SAB for its review of the “transparency in science” rule and reiterating its opposition to the rule. The Consortium of Aquatic Science Societies and ESA sent the SAB their previous comments in support of the 2015 Waters of the U.S. rule.

The SAB’s criticism of the proposed rules is particularly notable because the majority of current SAB members were appointed by either former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt or current Administrator Andrew Wheeler. In 2017, Pruitt expelled many academic SAB members because they received EPA grants.

NSF Issues Solicitation for NEON Operations and Maintenance

The National Science Foundation’s Biological Sciences Directorate (NSF BIO) issued a solicitation for the operations and maintenance of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), starting November 2021. NSF will issue a single five-year award worth $65 million annually. Colleges, universities and nonprofit organizations are eligible to apply for the award, with letters of intent due Feb. 21, 2020.

Separately, BIO issued a Dear Colleague letter reiterating its interest in developing and supporting the NEON user community. The letter details NSF’s plans issue awards supporting the use of NEON data, including NEON user workshops and conferences, research coordination network awards, and support through the Macrosystems Biology and NEON-Enabled Science Program and other existing programs.

NEON completed construction and became fully operational in early 2019.  In 2016, NSF changed NEON’s management from NEON, Inc. to Battelle.

News to Note

In the Headlines:

  • 2019 Was the 2nd Wettest Year on Record for the U.S. Read the NOAA press release.
  • More Than One Billion Animals Have Been Killed in Australia’s Wildfires, Scientist Estimates. Find out more in this Smithsonian article.
  • The Great Dismantling of America’s National Parks is Under Way, Op-ed by former National Park Service Chief John Jarvis and Destry Jarvis. Read more in the Guardian.
  • UN Draft Plan Sets 2030 Targets to Avert Earth’s Six Mass Extinction. Read more in the Guardian.

Trump aims to weaken prime environmental law
by Zack Colman, PoliticoPro, 1/9/2020

The Trump administration is proposing scaling back a bedrock federal environmental law to make it easier to build infrastructure like roads and pipelines by sidestepping concerns about climate change and imposing strict deadlines on federal agencies.

The National Environmental Policy Act requires agencies to conduct detailed environmental reviews for major projects that receive federal funding or permits and could significantly affect the environment, such as by increasing air pollution or bulldozing wildlife habitat. In a proposed rule announced by President Donald Trump today, the federal government would narrow its interpretation of the 50-year-old law, a move he said would help businesses avoid government red tape.

“This is just the beginning. We will not stop until our nation’s gleaming new infrastructure has made America the envy of the world again,” Trump said at a White House event. “It used to be the envy of the world and now we’re like a third-world country. It’s really sad. You get approval, they even get financing for jobs and then they can’t build them for 15 years and then it ends up costing five times more than it was supposed to cost.”

The White House did not say how soon the proposal would be implemented; it first must go through a 60-day comment period. And expected lawsuits from environmental groups and Democratic state attorneys general could keep the rule tied up in court until after the election.

The proposal delivers a major wish list item for industry and conservatives who complain the permitting process takes too long, adding years of delay and unforeseen costs. Industry advocates said environmentalists and liberal activists have weaponized the law to sideline capital-intensive projects like oil and gas pipelines and highways.

“The Administration’s modernization of NEPA removes bureaucratic barriers that were stifling construction of key infrastructure projects needed for U.S. producers to deliver energy in a safe and environmentally protective way,” American Exploration and Production Council CEO Anne Bradbury said in a statement.

The proposal would impose a two-year deadline for environmental impact statements that agencies must conduct before approving activities that could significantly affect the environment, and one year for less rigorous environmental assessments. It would also expand the number of projects that could be excluded from NEPA reviews altogether, such as those that receive little federal funding.

For projects that require approvals from multiple agencies, the new proposal would assign one lead agency to oversee NEPA reviews, rather than having each agency conduct its own, as happens now.

Among the most significant changes in the new proposal is language that would eliminate “cumulative” effects from the factors agencies must consider – something agencies have previously used to incorporate considerations of climate change into their reviews. The new proposal says effects must be “reasonably foreseeable” and have a direct, causal relationship to the project.

Environmentalists said the proposal ignores the mounting evidence of climate change and will endanger the public.

“We live in a democracy, not a dictatorship. Americans deserve to have their voices heard before their families’ health and well-being are put at risk by projects that bring unwanted and unnecessary pollution and disruption into their communities,” said Gina McCarthy, who was EPA administrator in the Obama administration and now runs the Natural Resources Defense Council. “While our world is burning, President Trump is adding fuel to the fire by taking away our right to be informed and to protect ourselves from irreparable harm.

White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Mary Neumayr said the proposal would also take comments on whether to codify parts of a separate draft guidance on how to assess greenhouse gas emissions.

The Trump administration repealed an Obama era guidance in 2017, which implored consideration of “indirect” effects from projects, and replaced it with a leaner version last year. The attorneys general from 18 states and the District of Columbia slammed that draft Trump administration proposal in regulatory comments.

Neumayr said an update was overdue, noting the rule had been amended just once over its history. She said it takes an average of 4.5 years to process federal environmental impact statements.

“Over time, implementation of NEPA has become increasingly complex and time-consuming,” she said in a press call.

Administration critics contend slow permitting, which administrations from both parties have called problematic, stems from threadbare federal funding and staffing rather than onerous rules.

“This isn’t about ‘permitting reform,’ ‘modernizing,’ or ‘streamlining,'” said Christy Goldfuss, who chaired the Council on Environmental Quality under President Barack Obama. “This is about allowing pipelines and dirty fossil fuel projects to bulldoze communities with less public input, and less disclosure of potentially harmful public health, environmental, and notably: climate change impacts.”

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

The Public Affairs Office has an excellent opportunity for ESA 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 Webinars

Communicating Your Science with the Media
Thursday, Jan 23, 2020
2pm EST

Have you ever wanted to see your research in the news? Ever been contacted by a reporter about your exciting study, but didn’t know the next steps or how to communicate effectively?

The ESA Public Affairs Office is hosting a webinar to help you learn the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of communicating with journalists, press officers, and other media. Participants will get an overview of how to talk about your science in clear and concise language, the importance of communicating for greater public awareness, and best practices for engaging and even establishing relationships with science writers.

Register today at this link: https://tinyurl.com/yfa2pmfk

FutureProofing Natural History Collections: Creating Sustainable Financial Models for Research Resources
Wednesday, January 22, 2020
2pm EST

Who values collections, and why? How can museums build productive partnerships and income streams around these values? Join ESA’s webinar, in collaboration with the American Alliance of Museums to explore emerging mission-related income streams and sustainable financial models for research resources.

Learn more here: https://esa.org/sbi/about/futureproofing-natural-history-collections/

ESA Members in the News

Members of ESA’s Rapid Response Team appeared in the media several times over the last few weeks:

  • Patrick Gonzalez told the New York Times that he received a ‘cease and desist’ letter from the National Park Service after he testified about the impact of climate change on national parks to the House Natural Resources Committee. Gonzalez is the National Park Service’s principal climate scientist, but he testified in his capacity as an associate adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
  • Jeffery Dukes (Purdue University) helped the New York Times contextualize and explain a tumbleweed incident that closed highways and stranded drivers in their cars on new year’s day in eastern Washington State.
  • Judith Weis (Rutgers University) lent her expertise to an E&E News article exploring the potential benefits of invasive phragmites to coastal wetlands threatened by sea-level rise.


Senate: The full Senate passed the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act (ACE Act, S. 3051), which combines several pieces of conservation legislation already introduced during the 116th Congress into one bill. The legislation includes measures to reauthorize the Chesapeake Bay Program and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and to create a chronic wasting disease taskforce.

House Natural Resources Committee: Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and other committee leaders introduced the American Public Lands and Waters Climate Solution Act (H.R. 5435), which would require the Interior Department and the U.S. Forest Service to achieve net-zero emissions on public lands and waters by 2040. Agencies would have to pause all new fossil fuel leases until they can demonstrate that new drilling activities are consistent with meeting the 2040 goal and their strategic climate plans. A 2018 USGS study found that public lands account for 23% of all carbon emissions in the United States.

House Energy and Commerce: Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and subcommittee leaders released a legislative framework for their goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The draft framework includes a clean energy standard requiring utilities to provide 100% of their energy from clean electricity sources, requirements for states to draft and submit climate plans for reaching net-zero emissions and a national climate bank to invest in low carbon technologies and climate resiliency projects.

Legislative updates:

  • Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) introduced the Migratory Bird Protection Act (H.R. 5552), which would reverse a Trump administration legal opinion which concludes that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act only applies to the intentional killing of migratory birds. Previous administrations used the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to fine companies for ‘incidental take’ or accidentally killing birds.
  • Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced the Native Plant Species Pilot Program Act (S. 3150), which would establish a National Park Service pilot program to give preference to native plant materials in federal land management. The legislation would also authorize the Interior Department to conduct a study to determine the cost-effectiveness of using native plants.

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

Executive Branch

Nominations: President Donald Trump nominated Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan to replace National Science Foundation Director France Cordova. Her six-year term expires in March 2020. Panchanathan is a member of the National Science Board, NSF’s top advisory board. He is a computer scientist and executive vice president for Arizona State University’s Knowledge Enterprise and Chief Research and Innovation Officer.

Trump also nominated Neil Jacobs to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Jacobs has served as NOAA Administrator on an acting basis since early 2019 and joined the agency in 2018 as assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction. Before joining NOAA, Jacobs was the chief atmospheric scientist at Panasonic Avonics Corporation. Trump’s original pick to lead NOAA, Barry Lee Meyers, withdrew his nomination in November 2019, citing health issues.

NOAA: The National Marine Fisheries Service issued an order stopping menhaden harvest in the Chesapeake Bay starting June 17, 2020. Governors from across the East Coast urged NMFS to halt fishing and accused Virginia-based company Omega Protein of “brazenly exceeding the Chesapeake Bay harvest quota by more than 35 million pounds.” Menhaden are an important prey species for other fish, marine mammals and birds.


WOTUS: Fourteen state attorneys generals, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James (D), filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s rollback of the 2015 waters of the U.S. The suit argues the WOTUS repeal fails to uphold the requirements of the Clean Water Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.

Dams: A panel of federal judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the EPA to set a total maximum daily load for temperature under the Clean Water Act in the Columbia and Snake Rivers in the Pacific Northwest. Water temperatures above 68 degrees harm endangered salmon and steelhead and prevent fish from migrating upstream to spawn. Dams and other point sources of pollution contribute to higher water temperatures in these rivers.


Colorado: The Secretary of State confirmed that a petition submitted by the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund contained the mandatory number of valid signatures and that voters will consider a ballot measure requiring state wildlife commissioners to reintroduce gray wolves to western Colorado in November 2020.

Chesapeake Bay: Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) directed his attorney general, Brian Frosh (D), to sue the EPA and Pennsylvania for failing to meet pollution reduction goals for the Chesapeake Bay watershed. EPA officials have declined to take action against Pennsylvania, despite the agency’s findings that the state’s plans would only meet 75% of its nitrogen pollution reduction goals.

Scientific Community

Bioeconomy: The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) will release its new report “Safeguarding the Bioeconomy” with an inperson and livestreamed briefing on the report Jan. 14. NASEM defines the bioeconomy as research and innovation in the life sciences.

Reintegrating Biology: A series of nearly sixty vision papers resulting from NSF BIO’s ‘reintegrating biology’ jumpstart meetings held this past fall are now posted on the project’s website.

NSB: The latest Science & Engineering Indicators 2020 report analyzes U.S. and international global research output as measured by peer-reviewed science and engineering journal articles and conference papers. The report finds that the number of peer-reviewed papers grew about 4% annually between 2008 and 2018.

Opportunities to get involved 

Spirit Lake Tunnel Intake Gate Replacement and Geotechnical Drilling Project #57259
The US Forest Service, which manages the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, is proposing to build a road across the volcano. The road would be a 16-foot wide, gravel road, meant for the transport of tracked drilling rigs across the sensitive primary successional landscape. The road would cross about 15 small streams that are part of 5 newly formed watersheds (formed following the 1980 eruption). Comments on this environmental assessment are due January 16, 2020.

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.

Help Us Understand the Impact of Policy News

Have you applied to join an advisory committee, submitted a public comment, contacted your lawmakers or taken another action as a result of reading about an issue or opportunity in Policy News?

If so, ESA’s Public Affairs Office would like to know. Please fill out this form so that we can better understand the impact of Policy News.

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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