Policy News: May 4, 2020

In This Issue:

National Science Board to Convene, Discuss NSF’s COVID-19 Response
Agencies release guidance for grantees and grant opportunities for COVID-19-related research.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee introduces draft water infrastructure bill.

Executive Branch
EPA finalizes WOTUS rule, Science Advisory Board finalizes review of “Transparency in Science” rule

Supreme Court creates new test for Clean Water Act applicability.

IPBES launches stakeholder survey.

Scientific Community
National Academies seeks experts for a study developing a systems approach to studying the earth.

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

Opportunities to Get Involved
Federal Register opportunities.

National Science Board to Convene, Discuss NSF’s COVID-19 Response

The implications of the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are far-reaching for those in academia and those who receive funding for research from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which provides approximately 67 percent of all non-medical biological and ecological research in the United States.

We are publishing the full announcement and agenda for the May meeting of the National Science Board, the oversight body for the National Science Foundation. We urge ESA members to watch some or all of the open sessions to find out how NSF is supporting the scientific community during the pandemic and also its limitations in providing support.

Many NSF grant awards are currently paying the salaries those who work on experiments in the lab or field to keep them employed even though they are not able to work due to shelter in place orders. This grant money will run out and affect the quality and quantity of research data that is not being collected during this time. Currently, NSF, to the best of our knowledge, is not able to grant additional funding to replace funds being used now for current awards to complete the research. Joanne Tornow, assistant director for the Biological Sciences Directorate, reported during a virtual BIO Advisory Committee meeting April 30 that NSF in a “back of the envelope estimate” would need roughly $2 billion in additional funding to make up for the funds being used now and that the extra money is not there. In order to extend additional grant funds, Congress must appropriate more funds in the next stimulus bill to make the research community whole.

ESA and many other scientific societies and universities are advocating hard for more federal funding for these purposes, but Congress has yet to make firm commitments. ESA supported letters to Congress asking for relief in the next stimulus bill are posted on the ESA website.

The NSB meeting will take place this week May 5 and 6. Agenda items include planning for upcoming NSB reports, updates from NSF’s Office of Polar Programs and a briefing about the impacts of COVID-19 on NSF research infrastructure. The majority of the meeting will be live-streamed on YouTube.

During closed sessions, the NSB will hear from Acting NSF Director Kelvin Droegemeier, elect a new NSB chair and vice-chair and receive budget updates from the NSF’s budget office.

The full NSB agenda, as posted to its website, is below:

Note: the YouTube streaming links are different for May 5 and May 6.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020
Live-stream YouTube link: https://youtu.be/0Wu1pi6fDYc 

NSB Plenary (11:00 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.)

The Board will welcome Acting NSF Director Kelvin Droegemeier to his new role, NSB will unveil its new Vision 2030 report, and NSF will highlight the agency’s response to COVID-19.   

Committee on External Engagement (1:15 – 2:00 p.m.)

Members will discuss the NSB Alumni listserv and Science and Engineering Indicators engagement activities. Focus of the committee’s agenda will be discussion of engagement plans on NSB’s Vision 2030 report.

Committee on National Science and Engineering Policy (2:30 – 3:45 p.m.)

The agenda will feature updates on the end of the 2020 Indicators cycle and the start of the 2022 cycle. It will also include an overview of the recent Science and Engineering Policy retreat and a discussion to prioritize new policy products drawn from Indicators 2020.

Task Force on Vision 2030 (4:00 – 4:45 p.m.)

Discussion will focus on implementation of and next steps for NSB’s Vision 2030.

Committee on Strategy (5:00 – 6:00 p.m.)

NSF’s Budget Office will provide updates and the Office of Polar Programs will discuss America’s geopolitical role in the polar regions.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020
Live-stream YouTube link: https://youtu.be/agxFF9JB5pM

Committee on Oversight (11:00 – 11:45 a.m.)

The Office of the Inspector General will brief the NSB on audit and investigative activities and the agency’s Chief Financial Officer will provide a budget update to the Board.

Committee on Awards and Facilities (11:45 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.)

The agenda includes a briefing on impacts of COVID-19 on NSF-funded Research Infrastructure and discussion of a written update on the operations of the Ocean Observatories Initiative.

National Science Board Plenary (3:45 – 4:35 p.m.)

The Board will vote on the Executive Committee’s Annual Report and NSF Chief Operating Officer Fleming Crim will provide staff updates. NSB will also say farewell to outgoing Board members (the 2014 – 2020 cohort).


Senate Environment and Public Works Committee: Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) and Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) introduced two draft water bills – the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 and the Drinking Water Infrastructure Act of 2020. The water infrastructure bill allows the EPA to provide technical to assistance to states, tribes and local governments in eradicating invasive species in waterways. It also directs the Army Corps of Engineers’ Research and Development Center to include invasive species prevention research in its work and directs the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish a pilot program to address invasive species in alpine lakes. Elsewhere, the draft legislation reauthorizes the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and increases authorized funding to $375 million a year. The bill also creates Environmental Protection Agency national program offices covering restoration programs in the San Francisco Bay, the Puget Sound and Lake Tahoe.

House Science Committee: Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) and eight other Republican members of the House Science Committee introduced the COVID Research Act (H.R. 6599). This bill creates a White House interagency working group on Emerging Infectious Disease Prediction and Forecasting and directs this group to develop a national strategy to address infectious diseases. It also creates a Department of Energy Infectious Disease Research Program, tasked with leveraging the federal government’s analytical tools and advanced computational and networking capabilities to prevent, prepare for, and respond to emerging infectious diseases, including COVID-19. The bill authorizes $50 million in funding for this program over the next two years.

Environmental Justice: House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and other committee Democrats held a virtual roundtable about environmental justice and economic inequality in coronavirus response. Environmental justice leaders and other experts highlighted the inequal distribution of air pollution, the impacts of coronavirus on minority communities and the need for further legislation such as Grijalva’s Environmental Justice for All Act (H.R. 5986). Cecilia Martinez of the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy called for further investments in community science to improve air quality monitoring.

Eighty-four House Democrats, led by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) wrote to EPA Administer Andrew Wheeler criticizing the agency’s rollbacks of environmental regulations, amid “staggering COVID-19 deaths within minority and low-income communities.” The letter cites higher pollution in those communities and emerging research finding that that COVID-19 patients in areas with high air pollution levels have a greater likelihood of dying from the illness.

Executive Branch

White House: President Trump announced the appointments of two new members of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and four members to the National Science Board (NSB) for six-year terms. The new PCAST members are Harvard University astronomer Avi Loeb and Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer scientist Daniela Rus. The administration reactivated the PCAST in fall 2019 after it was dormant for the first three years of Trump’s presidency. The NSB members are Catholic University physicist Aaron Dominquez, University of Tennessee Knoxville engineer Sudarsanam Babu and IBM Director of Research Dario Gill and plant biologist Roger Beachy, a professor emeritus at Washington University, St. Louis. Gill is a current member of the PCAST and Beachy is a current member of the NSB.

EPA: The agency published the final version of the Navigable Waters Protection rule, which replaces the Obama administration’s 2015 Clean Water Rule. The EPA first announced the final version of this rule in January 2020. The rule removes protections for ephemeral streams, which it defines as streams that are often dry. These streams account for more than 18% of waterways in the U.S and are more commonly found in the arid parts of the country. The new regulation also removes protections for wetlands that do not have surface connections to intermittent or perennial streams. More than half of the country’s wetlands – 51% – fall into this category. This rule is effective June 22. The publication of the final rule allows states and other organizations to challenge the regulation in the courts. Democratic Attorneys Generals from 16 states and the District of Columbia challenged the final rule, claiming that the rule contradicts the objective of the Clean Water Act’s objectives. Environmental groups also filed lawsuits in district courts in Massachusetts and South Carolina, arguing that the new rule relies on an “unreasonably narrow” interpretation of the Clean Water Act. Another legal challenge comes from the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative property rights group, which argues that the rule is too broad. Congressional Democrats vowed to challenge the final regulation using the Congressional Review Act, although it is unlikely that this challenge will pass the Republican-controlled Senate. ESA does not support the science used in the new interpretation and joined with other societies to oppose the new rule. It advocated for the 2015 Clean Water Rule because it was soundly based in science.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) finalized its review of the agency’s proposed “transparency in science” rule. If finalized, this rule would prohibit the EPA from using scientific studies where the underlying data are not publicly available. The SAB report finds that the proposed rule does not provide enough information about what studies the rule applies to and recommends the final rule describe “in greater detail and clarity how the requirement can be met.” The advisors also recommend that the agency develop clearer guidelines for protecting personally identifiable information and confidential business information and suggest that that the rule should not apply to studies published before the rule was finalized. The SAB also criticizes the EPA for failing to justify why existing norms in the scientific community are insufficient and how the rule will improve transparency and the scientific integrity of the regulatory outcomes in an effective and efficient manner, warning that the rule could “decrease efficiency and reduce scientific integrity.”  ESA supports the findings of the SAB and opposes the EPA rule.

Separately, at the request of the EPA, the SAB formed a COVID-19 review panel to provide rapid expert advice to the EPA to assist the agency in developing and implementing timely and scientifically appropriate responses to the pandemic. Topics to be discussed include environmental disinfection, sample collection methods and analysis and environmental factors affecting the transmission and severity of COVID-19. During the panel’s first meeting, members recommended that EPA further investigate antibacterial technology to help stop the spread of the virus and reusable personal protective equipment.

NIH: The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) suspended a research grant investigating the risk of bat coronavirus emergence awarded to the EcoHealth Alliance, amid conspiracy theories that a lab in Wuhan, China allowed the novel coronavirus to emerge. The EcoHealth Alliance says that around ten percent of the grant went to the Wuhan lab for their on-the-ground work analyzing and collecting virus samples. NIAID provided around $600,000 a year to Ecohealth Alliance a year to study bat coronaviruses since 2014. Other NIH-funded Ecohealth Alliance projects include projects about the Nipah virus in Bangladesh, avian influenza and henipaviruses in South Asia.

USFWS: A proposed rule decreases critical habitat for the threatened northern Mexican garter snake and the narrow-headed garter snake by 90%, compared to proposed critical habitat designations published, but not finalized in 2014. Both of these species are native to Arizona and New Mexico. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that the snakes are primarily threatened by interactions with invasive, non-native species. The rule is open for public comments through June 29, 2020.

State Department: A public meeting concerning the use of digital sequence information of genetic resources is rescheduled for May 14, 2020 as a teleconference. This meeting was initially scheduled for March 12 but was canceled in response to COVID-19 (see Policy News, March 9, 2020). For this meeting, 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. ESA held a webinar about the Nagoya Protocol with Patrick Reilly of the State Department and Rachel Meyer of the University of California, Santa Cruz in March. The webinar recording is online.


Clean Water Act: In County of Maui vs. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, the Supreme Court ruled, 6-3, that the Clean Water Act requires a permit if a point source of pollution adds pollutants to navigable waters through groundwater, when the pollutants added are “the functional equivalent of a direct discharge” from the source into navigable waters. The action establishes a new legal test that all lower courts must use.  Because the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit applied a different legal test in determining whether a permit was required for a Maui County sewage treatment facility, the Supreme Court ruling sends the case back to the lower court and instructs it to apply the new standard. In this case, a conservation group sued the Maui county government for violating the Clean Water Act after they found that pollution from a wastewater injection facility was reaching the Pacific Ocean. The new test may require Maui county to stop the sewage waste from seeping into the Pacific and causing pollution.

Affordable Clean Energy Rule: Over 70 Congressional Democrats signed on to an amicus brief supporting a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Clean Energy rule, the administration’s replacement for the Clean Power Plan.


IPBES: The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is inviting governments and other stakeholders to nominate experts to participate a virtual platform workshop on the link between biodiversity and pandemics July 27-31, 2020. Nominated experts should have recognized expertise related to biodiversity and pandemics, including in ecology and evolution of infectious diseases, epidemiology, public health, political science, economics and behavioral science. All nominated experts will need to be available for the full duration of the virtual workshop.

Update 5/6: US scientists interested in participating should first send Sarah Weiskopf (sweiskopf@nullusgs.gov), US IPBES Focal Point, their CV and a short supporting statement (300 words maximum) about why they are interested in contributing to this workshop/report and what contribution they would like to make. This is due by May 26th

IPBES launched its second stakeholder survey. This survey will be used to evaluate overall stakeholder engagement in its activities and solicit suggestions for improving IPBES stakeholder engagement. Interested parties must register to join IPBES’ stakeholder registry to receive a custom survey link.

Scientific Community

ASEM: The National Academies is seeking experts for a new study that will develop a vision for the National Science Foundation for using an interdisciplinary, systems approach to studying the Earth. The study will identify facilities, infrastructure, coordinating mechanisms, computing, and workforce development needed to support that vision. NASEM is looking for committee members with expertise in a host of relevant fields, including biology and ecology, climate science, complex systems and biogeochemistry. For more information, see the statement of task and form to submit nominations – the deadline for nominations is May 13, 2020.

NAS and the Royal Society released an updated version of their climate Q&A resource: Climate Change: Evidence and Causes with new climate data and scientific analyses published since the resource was originally published in 2014. The booklet answers 20 questions about the evidence for and causes of climate change.

FAS: The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) is soliciting questions from the scientific community before a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing about the US response to the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic. These questions could be used by lawmakers during the hearing. FAS notes that the Committee is interested in scientists’ thoughts on diagnostic tests, public health infrastructure, vaccine development, antivirals, or medical supply stockpiles, among other issues. Questions must be submitted by Tuesday, May 5 at 10 AM ET. For more information, see the FAS announcement.

Awards: This year, the Golden Goose awards will recognize individuals or teams whose federally funded research has had a significant and demonstrable impact in responding to COVID-19. The event aims to demonstrate the benefits of federally funded scientific research that has contributed to global understanding, breakthroughs in treatment, and innovative and science-based responses to the human and/or economic impact of the virus. Each year, the Golden Goose Awards highlight and honor examples of scientific studies or research that may have seemed obscure, sounded “funny,” or for which the results were totally unforeseen at the outset, but which ultimately led, often serendipitously, to major breakthroughs that have had significant societal impact. Nominations for this year’s awards are due May 22, 2020.

Discrimination: Fifty scientific societies and organizations, including ESA, endorsed a resolution (H.Res 908) from Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) condemning anti-Asian sentiment caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. The letter from scientific societies writes that physical attacks and increased stigmas and suspicions of individuals of Asian descent “run counter to the core values of the scientific community and the members we represent.” Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) plan to introduce a companion resolution in the Senate.

Peer Review: The Wildlife Society criticized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for opening up a peer-reviewed article about the impact of oil and gas exploration on polar bears to public comment, arguing that this public comment process politicizes and discredits science.

Scientific Integrity: The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund published a guide to the scientific integrity policies of U.S. universities, state agencies and international research institutions. The guide describes how these entities generally structure their scientific integrity policies, what the policies cover, and the processes for enforcing them. This guide follows a series of guides to scientific integrity at nine federal agencies, including the Interior Department, the EPA, NOAA and the USDA published in March 2020.

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 for Public Comment and Nominations:

Virtual public meetings and conference calls:

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’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.