Policy News: March 23, 2020

In This Issue:

ESA Requests Research Funding in Pandemic Response Legislation, Extension for NSF Grant Deadlines
Congress considers third COVID-19 bill. White House instructs federal agencies to provide short-term administrative relief for grantees.

Webinar: What You Need to Know about the Nagoya Protocol, Access, and Benefit-sharing When Planning Your Research
Webinar will be held on March 26 at 2:00 PM eastern.

Senate holds confirmation hearings for NOAA and EPA nominees.

Executive Branch
EPA publishes supplement to the “Transparency in Science” rule, comments are due April 17.

Federal judge halts timber harvest in the Tongass National Forest.

Florida establishes new aquatic preserve in the Gulf of Mexico.

Scientific Community
NAS releases new report “Promising Practices for Addressing the Underrepresentation of Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine.”

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

Opportunities to Get Involved
Federal Register opportunities.

ESA Requests Research Funding in Pandemic Response Legislation, Extension for NSF Grant Deadlines

Stimulus Bills

The third, most recent COVID-19 bill is currently being negotiated in Congress. In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, ESA asked Congress to include up to $500 million in funding in the coronavirus (COVID-19) response funding bills for research, illegal wildlife trade prevention, trade monitoring, zoonotic disease monitoring, and wildlife disease prevention and response. The request included at least $150 million to the National Science Foundation (NSF) for biological and ecological research to prevent further outbreaks and pandemics. ESA noted that the majority of infectious diseases in people are spread from animals and that viruses similar to the COVID-19 virus were detected in the intermediate horseshoe bat and pangolins, although the exact source and mode of transmission to humans is still unclear. The letter also requested that the federal government establish and zoonotic disease taskforce and increase funding for key programs in the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had requested $50 million in additional funding for NSF for research related to the COVID-19 pandemic to support near real-time research at molecular, cellular, physiological and ecological levels to better understand coronavirus characteristics such as genetics, modes of action, transmission, virulence and population dynamics. Senate Republicans’ proposal includes $75 million in additional funding for NSF’s research and related activities account, which funds the majority of NSF grants.

Joining other associations and non-profits, ESA urged Congressional leaders to include tax-exempt organizations within any federal aid packages or supplemental appropriations measures, as many have been and will be harmed by event cancellations and reduced meeting attendance as a result of COVID-19.

Federal Grants

ESA also joined 22 other organizations and scientific societies in requesting that NSF delay current grant deadlines for 30 days and automatically provide a one-year no cost extensions to any grant that was set to terminate between March 1 and Sept. 30, 2020. A March 19, 2020 OMB memo instructs federal agencies to provide short-term administrative relief for grantees, including additional flexibility for no-cost extensions of grants and allowing grantees to charge costs related to the cancellation of event to grants. Agencies are now working to interpret and implement this guidance. NSF detailed how it plans to implement the OMB memo March 23.

NSF Director France Córdova also issued a letter to the scientific community regarding COVID-19.

Webinar: What You Need to Know about the Nagoya Protocol, Access, and Benefit-sharing When Planning Your Research
March 26 at 2:00 PM eastern

Whether or not you conduct international research, the Nagoya Protocol, along with issues of access and benefit-sharing, should be a part of every researcher’s thinking. The Nagoya Protocol is a multilateral treaty that sets up the legal framework for utilizing genetic resources. This treaty has important implications on research and should be considered when thinking about how to conduct research, manage collections, and work with partners. Learn more about the Nagoya Protocol, what it says (and what it doesn’t), how it impacts scientists’ work presently, and in the future, and how the US government can help. Patrick Reilly, the US Nagoya Focal Point based at the US State Department will join us to explain what the Nagoya Protocol is, how to productively engage with it and what resources are available to you. Following the presentation, Reilly will be taking questions.

Register for the webinar here.


Nominations: The Senate held a confirmation hearing for Neil Jacobs, the administration’s pick to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Jacobs vowed to “do my absolute best to ensure this team of 12,000 professionals have the resources and leadership needed to produce transparent, objective and defendable science.” Responding to a question from Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) regarding the agency’s “Sharpiegate” incident during Hurricane Durian, Jacobs said NOAA has examined their scientific integrity policy. Agency leaders are now working to make the scientific integrity policy more robust, as it was mainly geared toward the peer review process and failed to take into consideration social media. Jacobs currently leads NOAA on a temporary basis. He would be the first Senate-confirmed NOAA administrator since 2017.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a confirmation hearing for Douglas Benevento’s nomination to become the Environmental Protection Agency’s deputy administrator under Administrator Andrew Wheeler. He currently serves as the EPA associate deputy administrator. Discussion at Benevento’s confirmation hearing mostly centered on the EPA’s small refinery exemption for biofuel requirements, following a late January Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that determined that the EPA cannot issue new waivers. Committee Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) suggested that he may block Benevento’s nomination from advancing if the EPA does not provide an economic analysis of the impacts of phasing out of potent greenhouse gases hydrofluorocarbons (HFC). Carper said the EPA has refused to release this document to the Senate, despite reports that agency staff have completed their analysis and found that phasing out HFC would yield around $4 billion in savings to consumers.

Legislative updates:

  • Rep. John Katko (R-NY) introduced a bill (H.R. 6113) to establish an Advanced Research Projects Agency-Water (ARPA-H2O) within the EPA. Similar to the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, ARPA-H2O would invest in research and development related to water treatment and management that ultimately make clean water more accessible and affordable.

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

Executive Branch

EPA: The agency published a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking to its Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science proposed rule in the Federal Register due before April 17. ESA is working with other scientific societies to request that the comment deadline be extended. Previously, the EPA announced the supplemental notice and published the supplement on its website in early March. 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.” ESA has previously objected to the proposed rule.

Attorneys General from 13 states, the District of Columbia, six cities and King County, WA asked the EPA to extent the comment period for the EPA transparency rule. The group also questioned the legal underpinning of the proposed rule and asked the EPA to consult with the National Academy of Sciences before finalizing the rule.

NASA: The agency finalized a new policy regarding harassment. The new policy requires NASA grantees to report to NASA if a Principle Investigator (PI) or any co-investigator is placed on administrative leave or if the grantee institution has imposed any administrative action on the P.I. or co-investigators. Grantee institutions must also report any determination or investigation of an alleged violation of the institution’s policies or codes of conduct relating to sexual harassment, other forms of harassment, or sexual assault.

Interior: Secretary David Bernhardt issued a secretarial order directing Interior agencies to track the costs of producing documents such as scientific reports and environmental impact statements. For the purposes of this order, the cost includes personnel hours and contractor costs. The memo also requires agencies to include the cost on the front page of the final document.


Tongass National Forest: A federal judge in Alaska ruled that the U.S. Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other environmental laws when it approved a logging plan for Prince of Wales Island, part of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Environmental groups challenged the logging plan in May 2019. The judge agreed with environmental groups and found that the agency did not sufficiently analyze the site-specific environmental impacts of logging. ESA has opposed logging in the Tongass.


NEPA: Attorneys Generals from 18 states, the District of Columbia and Guam urged the White House Council on Environmental Quality to withdraw its proposal to revise the regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The comments argue that proposed regulations could lead to an increase in litigation filed under NEPA, because documents completed under these regulations could not meet the requirements of the actual law.

ESA and nine other scientific societies recently submitted separate comments to the Council on Environmental Quality regarding the proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act. The societies write “the proposed changes would arbitrarily limit the geographic and temporal scope of environmental reviews, shift the burden of assessing the adequacy of alternatives considered from the agency to the public, remove the original environmental protection purpose of the Act [NEPA], ignore the interconnectedness of environmental processes, and fail to consider the long-term implications of federal decisions.”

Arizona: Governor Steve Dulcey (R) signed a bill prohibiting state agencies from sharing the results of endangered species surveys on private property with federal agencies and the public. The measure is intended to protect private property rights.

Florida: The state legislature passed a bill requiring state agencies to assess the impact of future sea-level rise on state-financed construction projects before construction can begin.

State lawmakers also approved a bill creating an aquatic preserve in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties, north of Tampa. The Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve would preserve 400,000 acres of seagrass and connect with several over existing protected areas in surrounding areas.

Both bills are currently awaiting Governor Ron DeSantis (R)’s signature.

Scientific Community

NAS: A new report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine examines best practices for improving the recruitment, retention, and sustained advancement into leadership roles of women in STEM. The report also makes recommendations to leverage change and drive swift, coordinated improvements to the systems of education, research, and employment in order to improve both the representation and leadership of women.

Fellowships: The Idaho Science & Technology Policy Fellowship program is currently accepting applications for the 2020-2021 fellowship class. This program will place scientists in yearlong assignments across state agencies. Fellows address challenges facing Idaho such as water, energy, fire, public health and economic development. Ph.D and master’s level scientists with three years of professional experience are eligible to apply. Applications are due April 20, 2020.

NOAA: The agency is soliciting nominations for members of the NOAA Science Advisory Board. NOAA is looking for individuals with expertise in tsunami science; social sciences; Great Lakes research; `omics science and eDNA; weather modeling and data assimilation; and ocean ecosystem science.

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.

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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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