Policy News: March 9, 2020

In This Issue:

ESA Selects 2020 Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award Recipients
Twelve ecology graduate students will receive policy and communications training and discuss the importance of federal funding for science with lawmakers.

State Department Seeks Comments about whether Digital Sequence Information Should be Included in the Nagoya Protocol
Public meeting will be held March 12, with a call-in option.

EPA Releases New “Transparency in Science” Rule, Rumors of Similar Rule from the Interior Department
Supplement to the EPA’s proposed “Transparency in Science” rule expands the rule to cover “influential scientific information.”

Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Don McEachin (D-VA) introduce environmental justice legislation.

Executive Branch
NSF responds to JASON report.

Supreme Court takes up endangered species case.

Scientific Community
Climate Science Legal Defense Fund releases guides to scientific integrity policies in the federal agencies.

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

Opportunities to Get Involved
Federal Register opportunities.

ESA Selects 2020 Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award Recipients

The Ecological Society of America is honored to announce this year’s Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA) recipients. This award provides graduate students with the opportunity to receive policy and communication training in Washington, DC before they meet lawmakers.

ESA selected twelve students to receive the award: Tiffany L. Betras (University of Pittsburgh), Callie R. Chappell (Stanford University), Claire E. Couch (Oregon State University), Ayo Andra J. Deas (The Graduate Center, City University of New York), Ed Higgins (University of Oklahoma), Renata Poulton Kamakura (Duke University), Alexander K. Killion (University of Michigan), Mayda Nathan (University of Maryland), Vasavi Prakash (Auburn University), Natali R. Ramirez-Bullon (Florida State University), Bradley A. Strickland (Florida International University) and Harrison R. Watson (Princeton University).

Students will travel to DC March 25-26 to learn about the federal legislative process and science funding, to hear from ecologists working in federal agencies, and to meet with their Members of Congress on Capitol Hill. This Congressional Visit Day, organized and sponsored by ESA, offers GSPA recipients the chance to interact with policymakers and discuss the importance of federal funding for science, in particular the biological and ecological sciences.

“ESA is pleased to bring a record number of early-career ecologists from across the country and around the world to DC to hone their communication skills and engage in science policy,” said ESA President Osvaldo Sala, “Scientists who are confident in their ability to communicate can foster a dialogue with decision-makers that is now needed more than ever.”

Click here to see a Flickr album with photos of this year’s award winners.

Read more here about the award winners on ESA’s Ecotone blog.

State Department Seeks Comments about whether Digital Sequence Information Should be Included in the Nagoya Protocol

The State Department is seeking comments from the scientific community on whether researchers would need to comply with the Nagoya Protocol if digital sequence information (DSI) is used in research. The Nagoya Protocol is a multilateral treaty that outlines the legal framework to promote fair sharing of benefits that arise from the use of genetic resources and traditional knowledge associated with those resources. While the United States is not a party to the Nagoya Protocol, U.S. researchers are still required to comply with Nagoya regulations when conducting research involving genetic materials or traditional knowledge in countries where Nagoya has been ratified. The Nagoya Protocol defines a genetic resource as a physical object of biological origin and the intellectual information associated with it (such as traditional knowledge). This definition currently excludes DSI from being regulated by the Nagoya Protocol. The expansion of the Nagoya Protocol to include DSI is a prominent debate in the international arena. Scientists are encouraged to comment directly to the State Department as jurisdiction of the Nagoya Protocol over DSI could have dramatic effects on both private and public research.

The U.S. State Department is hosting a Public Meeting Concerning the Use of Digital Sequence Information of Genetic Resources March 12, 2020, from 10:00-12 p.m. E.T. at the U.S. Department of State’s Harry S. Truman Building. The meeting will open with a quick summary of the current U.S. Government position on Digital Sequence Information and where the international discussion on DSI and Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) is going. After this brief introduction, the meeting will be open to comments, questions and suggestions. Registration to attend the public meeting is available by submitting your full name and organization to Patrick Reilly at ReillyPK2@nullstate.gov and copy RSVP-ECW@nullstate.gov at least three days before the meeting.

UPDATE 3/9, 1:30pm: The State Department has canceled the public meeting. Agency employees are working to reschedule the meeting for mid-April and will conduct it entirely over the phone (with no in-person option).  They will send out the update information and post another Federal Register Notice once logistics are confirmed. The State Department will also extend the deadline for the submission of electronic comments.

The State Department is also offering a call-in option for public participation:

Call in (U.S. toll-free #): 888-684-8852

Call in (international tool): 215-446-0155

Access code: 9980402

If you cannot attend in person, you can still submit comments electronically on regulations.gov, which will also be sent to the United States Government negotiating team. Electronic submissions are due by April 30.

EPA Releases New “Transparency in Science” Rule, Rumors of Similar Interior Department Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking to the Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science proposed rule March 3. The proposed rule, initially released in April 2018, prohibits the EPA from using scientific studies where the underlying data are not publicly available. The supplement expands the original rule so that it covers “influential scientific information,” in addition to significant regulatory actions. The agency defines influential scientific information as “information the agency reasonably can determine will have or does have a clear and substantial impact on important public policies or private sector decisions.”

The supplementary proposal will be open for public comments for 30 days after it is published on the Federal Register. Politico reports that EPA is hoping to finalize the rule by mid-May to prevent Congressional Democrats from overturning the rule through the Congressional Review Act, should the balance of power in Congress change after the 2020 election.

Similarly, the Hill reports that the Interior Department is preparing its own “Promoting Open Science” rule. This yet-to-be-released rule would prohibit the agency from using scientific studies where the underlying data is not publicly available in decisions such as endangered species listings and oil and gas permitting.

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.

House Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) criticized the proposal and asked EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to extend the comment period on the supplemental rule and hold public meetings.


Nominations: The full Senate voted to confirm Katharine MacGregor as deputy secretary of the Interior, the second most senior position in the department. All Senate Republicans and five Democratic members supported the nomination. MacGregor has been a political appointee in the Interior Department since 2017 and previously served as a staffer on the House Natural Resources Committee.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Neil Jacob’s nomination lead NOAA March 11. If confirmed, Jacobs would be the first permanent NOAA director since 2017.

Climate: The House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to consider Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ)’s American Public Lands and Waters Climate Solution Act (H.R. 5435) and Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR)’s Trillion Trees Act (H.R. 5859). Dr. Carla Staver, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University, testified about the risks and challenges of reforestation, concluding that “the illusion that tree planting is a silver-bullet solution to the climate crisis is a distraction from real action.” Committee Democrats mostly used the hearing to criticize Rep. Westerman’s bill for not going far enough to address climate change, while acknowledging their support for nature-based climate solutions. Chairman Grijalva said that he will not hold a vote for the Trillion Trees bill.

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.” The American Public Lands and Waters Climate Solution Act would require the Interior Department and the U.S. Forest Service to achieve net-zero emissions on public lands and waters by 2040.

Environmental Justice: House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA) introduced the Environmental Justice for All Act (H.R. 6024). Provisions in the legislation require federal agencies to consider cumulative health impacts under the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act while making permitting decisions and creates a fund to assist communities and workers as they transition away from “greenhouse gas-dependent economies.” The bill also provides $75 million annually to research and development to reduce health disparities and improve public health in environmental justice communities.

Legislative updates:

  • The full House approved a bill (H.R. 3399) from Rep. Josh Harder (D-CA) reauthorizing the Nutria Eradication and Control Act of 2003 and expanding programs to allow any state to receive federal grants for efforts to remove nutria from wetlands and agricultural lands. The nutria is an invasive aquatic rat native to South America.
  • Reps. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Collin Peterson (D-MN) introduced a bill (H.R. 6035 – Natural Resources) to require the Interior Department to remove gray wolves from the list of endangered species. This bill follows similar legislation (S. 3140) introduced to the Senate by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) in December 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 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.” OSTP has extended the comment period for this request through April 6, 2020.

EPA: A new memo issued by Administrator Andrew Wheeler prevents individual members of the Science Advisory Board (SAB) from requesting SAB review of EPA policies. Instead, the SAB chair will decide which policies merit SAB review after monthly meetings with SAB staff. Current SAB Chair Michael Honeycutt has opposed this new policy and said he will rely on other member’s expertise to guide his decisions. According to the memo, the chair is allowed to include up to eight SAB members to meet with EPA staff.

The Science Advisory Board has criticized several EPA proposals during the Trump administration. Most recently, the EPA finalized a commentary regarding the administration’s Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule. The commentary writes that “the proposed revised definition of WOTUS decreases protection for our Nation’s waters and does not provide a scientific basis in support of its consistency with the objective of restoring and maintaining ‘the chemical, physical and biological integrity’ of these waters.”

DOE Holds AI for Science Town Halls, Report Issued: As reported by Kate Bannan on the behalf of the DOE Office of Science, Argonne, Oak Ridge, and Berkeley national laboratories hosted four AI for Science town halls attended by more than a thousand scientists and engineers from the DOE national labs. The goal of the town hall series was to examine scientific opportunities in the areas of artificial intelligence (AI), big data, and high-performance computing in the next decade, and to capture the big ideas, grand challenges, and next steps to realizing these opportunities.

Sixteen topical expert teams summarized the state of the art, outlined challenges, developed an AI roadmap for the coming decade, and explored opportunities for accelerating progress on that roadmap. Following the town halls, an AI for Science Report was compiled, which captures and highlights the important themes that emerged for AI applications in science and outlines the research and infrastructure needed to advance AI methods and techniques for science applications.

NSF: The agency issued a formal response to a December 2019 JASON report about science and security. The response notes that NSF has created a new position to address science and security issues, the Chief of Research Security Strategy and Policy. NSF notes that agency staff are coordinating with counterparts in Japan, Canada, the UK, Germany, France, Sweden and Australia to address and discuss science and security issues.


Endangered Species: The Supreme Court agreed to review a case, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service v. Sierra Club, about which Endangered Species Act documents agencies are required to release under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In this case, the Sierra Club requested U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service’s analysis of the impact of a 2011 EPA proposed power plant rule on fish and aquatic species under FOIA. The agencies declined to release their draft biological opinions, and the Sierra Club sued, arguing that an FOIA exemption that allows agencies to withhold information about the agency’s “deliberative process” does not apply because, in this case, the draft opinions functioned as final documents. In 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ordered the agencies to release the draft biological opinions. Environmental groups say that releasing the full documents will allow the public to understand how science is used in decision-making.

Scientific Community

Scientific Integrity: The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund released guides to scientific integrity at nine federal agencies, including the Interior Department, the EPA, NOAA and the USDA. The organization hopes that these guides will help researchers understand their employer’s policy and navigate the process of filing a scientific integrity complaint.

What We’re Reading

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

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.

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

Visit the ESA website to learn more about our activities and membership.