Policy News: February 24, 2020
In This Issue:
Full House of Representatives passes wilderness bills.
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy requests information about oceans sciences partnerships, public access to peer-reviewed publications.
Groups challenge WOTUS rule, NEPA regulations in the courts.
Council of Graduate Schools finds that the number of international graduate students enrolled in institutions in the U.S. increased by 4% in 2019.
ESA In the News
View an up-to-date list of ESA’s media coverage.
Opportunities to Get Involved
Federal Register opportunities.
House: The full House passed a package of bills (H.R. 2546) extending federal wilderness protections to nearly 1.4 million acres of public lands in Colorado, California and Washington state and designating 1,000 river miles as wild and scenic rivers. The final legislation includes measures creating a California Public Lands Remediation Partnership to clean up public lands damaged by illegal marijuana farming and allowing the Interior and Agriculture Departments to manage fire, insects and diseases in the wilderness areas included in the bill.
House Republicans, led by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), introduced a package of bills that they are branding as the Republican response to climate change. The package includes Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR)’s Trillion Trees Act (H.R. 5859). Rep. Westerman’s bill requires the USDA to set a target for total domestic wood growth and modifies existing U.S. Forest Service state and private forestry programs to encourage carbon sequestration. It also requires the EPA, the USDA and the Interior Department to establish policies reflecting “carbon neutrality of forest bioenergy.” This bill follows a commitment from President Trump at the World Economic Forum and during his State of the Union to join the International Trillion Trees Initiative. The package also includes three bills to encourage and support carbon sequestration through tax incentives and a carbon sequestration research program at the Department of Energy. The House Natural Resources Committee plans a hearing to consider Rep. Westerman’s bill Feb. 26. Fellow House Republicans criticized the bills and the bills most likely will stagnant.
Science Committee: Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) sent a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler criticizing a draft memorandum from Wheeler that would limit the ability of the Science Advisory Board (SAB) to review proposed EPA regulations. Under the process outlined in the draft proposal, the SAB chair would have to determine within three business days “whether there are scientific aspects of the proposed rule that may merit SAB review.” Individual SAB members would not be able to request a review of proposed EPA regulations. Chairwoman Johnson states that Wheeler’s guidance “runs counter to the provision in the Environmental Research, Development and Demonstration Act, which established the SAB.”
- Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced legislation (H.R. 5920 – Agriculture, Natural Resources and Appropriations & S. 3304 – Environment and Public Works) to provide grants to local government, Native American tribes, research institutions and nonprofits for monarch butterfly conservation projects in the western states.
See ESA’s Legislative Tracker for more updates on legislation relevant to the ecological community.
Nominations: President Trump nominated Mark Menezes to serve as the deputy secretary of the Department of Energy and Douglas Benevento to serve as deputy EPA administrator. Both of these positions are the second most senior positions in their respective agencies. Before joining the Energy Department in 2017, Menezes was a lobbyist for Berkshire Hathaway Energy and a staffer for the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Benevento has worked for the EPA since 2017. Before that, he was an executive at the utility Xcel Energy.
White House: The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a request for information asking for “recommendations on approaches for ensuring broad public access to the peer-reviewed scholarly publications, data, and code that result from federally funded scientific research.”
Another request for information from OSTP and the National Science Foundation asks for “input from all interested parties on opportunities for and constraints on building and sustaining partnerships in ocean science and technology” to inform OSTP recommendations. This RFI follows a 2018 OSTP report “Science and Technology for America’s Oceans: A Decadal Vision” and a 2019 White House Summit on Partnerships in Ocean Science and Technology. Information and comments are due March 19, 2020.
Interior: President Trump signed a presidential memorandum, finalizing a water management plan permitting farmers in California’s Central Valley to use 600,000 additional acre-feet of water, potentially allowing farming on 240,000 additional acres of land. California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) and Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) said that they intend to challenge the plan in court to protect the threatened and endangered fish species it would harm.
EPA: A draft inventory of greenhouse gases finds that greenhouse gases in the U.S. increased 3.1% between 2017 and 2018. Transportation accounts for the most substantial percentage of greenhouse gas emissions (29%), followed by electricity (28%) and industry (22%). The EPA is seeking recommendations for improving the draft inventory before the agency submits the report to the U.N. as part of the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Comments on the draft inventory are due March 13, 2020.
USDA: Secretary Sonny Perdue announced new department goals to reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture by 50% and reduce farm runoff by 30% by 2050, while still increasing agricultural productivity. Perdue also told stakeholders that the department will aim to reduce food waste by 50% and encourage farming practices that limit carbon emissions. The agency has not set a specific, numeric goal for carbon emissions. During a question and answer session after the announcement, Perdue said that “legitimate, measurable carbon trading” could motivate farmers to sequester carbon.
This announcement follows the release of the USDA’s Science Blueprint earlier this month. The Science Blueprint determines research priorities for 2020 through 2025. Research themes identified include sustainable agricultural intensification (i.e., meeting growing consumer demands for food and forest products in a sustainable matter) and climate adaptation. Cross-cutting “macro movements in science” highlighted as relevant to agriculture are open data, big data, gene editing, the science of the microbiome, artificial intelligence, technology, automation and remote sensing and the public’s perception of science.
WOTUS: The Center for Biological Diversity, the Waterkeeper Alliance and the Center for Food Safety announced that they plan to challenge the administration’s “Navigable Waters Protection Rule” in the courts. The groups challenge that the new Waters of the U.S. rule will harm federally protected species and therefore, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers should have consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before finalizing the rule. The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers released a final rule in January 2020 (see ESA Policy News, Jan. 27, 2020). The final rule has not yet been published in the Federal Register, a requirement of the federal rulemaking process.
EPA: A federal judge in New York overturned an EPA policy that prohibited agency grantees from serving on its advisory boards. In 2017, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt used this policy to remove several scientists from advisory committees. The Natural Resources Defense Council and others, including former advisory committee members, have challenged the policy in the courts. This lawsuit is one of many cases challenging this EPA policy.
NEPA: The Southern Environmental Law Center asked a federal court to stop the White House Council on Environmental Quality from further advancing its proposal to change the rules implementing the National Environmental Policy Act. Attorneys from the Southern Environmental Law Center say that the agency never provided documents related to the proposal requested under the Freedom of Information Act in 2018. The organization is asking the courts to keep the public comment period open until the public can review the requested documents. The current public comment period for the proposed rule is open through March 10. ESA and 13 other scientific societies asked the Council on Environmental Quality to extend the public comment period to allow for at least a 120-day comment period.
A new podcast episode from the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) explains the Council on Environmental Quality’s proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act regulations. ELI has also published a Practitioners Guide to the Proposed NEPA Regulations to help potential commentators understand the proposal.
Education: The Council of Graduate School’s International Graduate Admission Survey found that the number of international graduate students enrolled in institutions in the U.S. increased 4% in 2019, after experiencing declines in 2017 and 2018. International student enrollments in the biological and agricultural sciences increased 10% between fall 2018 and fall 2019 and enrollments in the physical and earth sciences increased 6%.
Philanthropy: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced that he plans to start a $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund that will fund scientists, activists, non-governmental organizations and “any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world.” It is not yet clear how the funds will be distributed, but Bezos said that the fund will begin issuing grants in summer 2020. In the meantime, The Verge asked scientists and activists how they would like to see the funds used.
NSF: The Biological Sciences Advisory Committee will hold its spring meeting April 29-30.
NASEM: The National Academy of Sciences, the Kavli Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation are sponsoring a symposium reflecting on the legacy of Vannevar Bush’s report Science – The Endless Frontier and exploring new approaches for addressing the challenges and opportunities of the next 75 years in science Feb 26. The event will be live-streamed for remote attendees, registration is available here.
What We’re Reading
- Red-state Utah embraces plan to tackle climate crisis in surprising shift
- Key findings about Americans confidence in science and their views on scientists role in society
- Graphic: White House supports aquatic ecosystem projects in swing states
- China set to clamp down permanently on wildlife trade in wake of coronavirus
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
- Energy Sciences Coalition – Office of Science FY 2021 Funding Statement (Feb. 19, 2020)
- Multi-society Letter to the EPA Science Advisory Board – Waters of the U.S. Rule (Jan. 10, 2020)
- ESA Letter to the EPA Science Advisory Board – Consideration of the Scientific and Technical Basis of EPA’s Proposed Rule Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science (Jan. 10, 2020)
View more letters and testimony from ESA here.
Opportunities to get involved
- BLM – Bears Ears National Monument Advisory Committee (Feb. 25-26)
- BLM – Sierra Front-Northwestern Great Basin Resource Advisory Council Meeting (Nevada) (March 5)
- BLM – Utah Resource Advisory Council Meeting (March 9-10)
- Department of Education – National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity Meeting (Feb. 27)
- EPA – National Environmental Justice Advisory Council; Public Meeting With Teleconference Option and Public Comment (Feb. 25-27)
- Forest Service – Allegheny Resource Advisory Committee Meeting (Feb. 28)
- Forest Service – Lincoln Resource Advisory Committee Meeting (March 9)
- Forest Service – Gallatin Resource Advisory Committee Meeting (Feb. 28)
- Forest Service & USWFS – Subsistence Management Regulations for Public Lands in Alaska-2021-22 and 2022-23 Subsistence Taking of Fish and Shellfish Regulations (March 2-26)
- Interior Department – Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Public Advisory Committee Meeting (Feb. 25)
- NASA – Earth Science Advisory Committee Meeting (March 10-11)
- NASA – NASA Advisory Council Science Committee Meeting (March 12-13)
- NOAA – National Sea Grant Advisory Board Meeting (March 9-10)
- NOAA – Review of Management Plan for Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary; Intent To Conduct Scoping and Prepare Draft Environmental Analysis and Management Plan (March 11, 12, 18)
- NOAA NMFS – Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) Public Meetings (Feb. 25, 26, & 27; March 2 & 3) (comments due March 17)
- NOAA NMFS – South Atlantic Fishery Management Council Public Meeting (March 2, 6)
- NOAA NMFS – Pacific Fishery Management Council Public Meetings (March 3-9)
- NOAA NMFS – Western Pacific Fishery Management Council Public Meetings (March 3-5, 9-12)
- NOAA NMFS – Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council Public Meeting (March 10-11)
- NOAA NMFS – Fisheries of the Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic; Southeast Data, Assessment and Review (SEDAR); Public Meeting (March 16-20)
- NPS – Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument Advisory Council Notice of Public Meeting (March 2)
Opportunities for Public Comment and Nominations:
- BLM – Call for Nominations for the San Rafael Swell Recreation Area Advisory Council. A completed nomination form and accompanying nomination/recommendation letters must be received by Feb. 27, 2020.
- BLM – Notice of Availability of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Competitive Mineral Materials Sale at Parkdale, Fremont County, CO. Public comments must be received by March 23, 2020.
- Bureau of Indian Affairs -Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Arrow Canyon Solar Project on the Moapa River Indian Reservation, Clark County, Nevada. Public comment on the scope of the project or implementation of the proposal must be submitted by March 2, 2020.
- FERC – Port Arthur Pipeline, LLC; Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Assessment for the Proposed Louisiana Connector Amendment Project. Comments must be received on or before March 6, 2020.
- FERC -Notice of Availability of the Environmental Assessment for the Proposed Fm100 and Leidy South Projects. Comments must be received on or before March 9, 2020.
- FERC -Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Assessment for the Proposed Middlesex Extension Project . Comments must be received on or before March 9, 2020.
- NOAA – Efficient Permitting of Ocean Research, Mapping and Characterizing Activities. Interested persons are invited to submit comments on or before March 12, 2020.
- NOAA – Strategy for Mapping, Exploring and Characterizing the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone. Interested persons are invited to submit comments on or before March 12, 2020.
- NOAA NMFS – Pacific Island Fisheries; 2019-2021 Annual Catch Limits and Accountability Measures. NMFS must receive comments by March 2, 2020.
- NOAA NMFS – Fisheries Off West Coast States; West Coast Salmon Fisheries; Rebuilding Chinook Salmon Stocks. Public comments must be received by March 5, 2020.
- NOAA NMFS – Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Northeast Skate Complex; Framework Adjustment 8 and 2020-2021 Specifications. Comments must be received by March 6, 2020.
- NOAA NMFS – Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Atlantic Deep-Sea Red Crab Fishery; 2020-2023 Atlantic Deep-Sea Red Crab Specifications. Comments must be received on or before March 6, 2020.
- NOAA NMFS – Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Framework Adjustment 32 to the Atlantic Sea Scallop Fishery Management Plan. Comments must be received by March 6, 2020.
- NOAA NMFS – Pacific Halibut Fisheries; Catch Sharing Plan. Comments must be received on or before March 9, 2020.
- NOAA NMFS – Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to the U.S. Navy Training and Testing Activities in the Mariana Islands Training and Testing (MITT) Study Area. Comments must be received by March 16, 2020.
- NOAA NMFS – Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Bluefish Fishery; Scoping Process. Written comments must be received on or before March 17, 2020.
- NOAA NMFS – Pacific Island Fisheries; Sea Turtle Limits in the Hawaii Shallow-Set Pelagic Longline Fishery. Comments must be submitted by March 20, 2020.
- Office of Management and Budget – Guidance for Grants and Agreements. Comments are due on or before March 23, 2020.
- OSTP – Request for Public Comment on Draft Desirable Characteristics of Repositories for Managing and Sharing Data Resulting From Federally Funded Research. To ensure that your comments will be considered, please submit your response on or before March 6, 2020.
- State Department – Fargo, ND Hearing International Red River Board Report on Nutrient Targets. Comments will be accepted by mail, email and online until Feb. 28, 2020.
- State Department – Winnipeg, MB, Canada Hearing International Red River Board Report on Nutrient Targets. Comments are due by Feb. 28, 2020.
- USFWS – Removing the Kanab Ambersnail From the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.The agency will accept comments received or postmarked on or before March 6, 2020.
- USFWS – Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council; Call for Nominations. Submissions must be postmarked on or before March 6, 2020.
- USFWS – Endangered Status for the Sierra Nevada Distinct Population Segment of the Sierra Nevada Red Fox. USFWS will accept comments received or postmarked on or before March 9, 2020.
- USFWS – Migratory Bird Permits; Management of Double-Crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) Throughout the United States. Public comments will be considered through March 9, 2020.
- USFWS – Threatened Species Status for the Hermes Copper Butterfly With 4(d) Rule and Designation of Critical Habitat. The agency will accept comments received or postmarked on or before March 9, 2020.
- USFWS – Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Draft Recovery Plan for the Topeka Shiner. Comments on the draft recovery plan must be received on or before March 17, 2020.
- USFWS – Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Initiation of 5-Year Status Review of Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis).The USFWS is requesting submission of new information no later than March 16, 2020. However, they will continue to accept new information about the species at any time.
- USFWS – Migratory Bird Permits; Regulations Governing Take of Migratory Birds; Environmental Impact Statement. Comments must be submitted before March 19, 2020.
- USFWS – Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Reclassification of the Humpback Chub From Endangered to Threatened With a Section 4(d) Rule. Public comments must be received on or before March 23, 2020.
Visit this page on ESA’s website for updates on opportunities from the Federal Register, including upcoming meetings and regulations open for public comment.
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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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