Policy News: May 18, 2020

In This Issue:

Pandemic Response House Legislation Includes Funding for Science, Wildlife Disease
The latest coronavirus bill includes $125 million for NSF.

Webinar: Invasive Species Policy and COVID-19
Speakers will explore how ecological research can inform policy and contribute knowledge to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species.

National Science Board Unveils Visions 2030 Report, Charts Impacts of COVID-19 on the National Science Foundation
Report urges action to retain America’s lead in fundamental research and to increase STEM skills and opportunities for all Americans.

NSF Biological Sciences Advisory Committee Meets Amid Pandemic, Discuss COVID-19 impacts, switch to no-deadlines and more.
Number of grants proposals submitted to the BIO directorate declines with the switch to no-deadlines,

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approves water infrastructure bill.

Executive Branch
President Trump issues aquaculture executive order.

Attorney Generals challenge EPA suspension of enforcement activities.

Scientific Community
Scientific organizations oppose the EPA’s proposed “Transparency in Science” rule.

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

Opportunities to Get Involved
Federal Register opportunities.

Pandemic Response Legislation Includes Funding for Science, Wildlife Disease

House Democrats’ latest coronavirus pandemic response bill, the Heroes Act (H.R. 6800), provides additional funding for science and includes new provisions funding wildlife disease work and addressing invasive species policy. The full House voted to approve the legislation May 15. The bill’s fate in the Senate remains unclear – House Democrats still need to negotiate with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), other Senate leaders and the White House.

The $3 trillion bill includes $125 million for the National Science Foundation “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” Lawmakers direct NSF to allocate $1 million of that funding toward a study of “the spread of COVID-19 related disinformation.” NSF may use two percent of this funding for award management and oversight. The agency received $76 million in the CARES Act for research related to COVID-19. As of May 12, NSF awarded 400 RAPID grants for coronavirus research across the scientific disciplines, totaling $52 million.

The EPA receives $50 million for environmental justice grants, including money for research investigating links between pollution exposure and the transmission and health outcomes of coronavirus in environmental justice communities.

The U.S. Geological Survey receives $40 million for technical assistance, biosurveillance of wildlife and environmental persistence studies and related research. The bill directs the USGS National Wildlife Health Center to “establish and maintain a national database of wildlife disease, including diseases that cause a human health risk.”  Lawmakers instruct the National Wildlife Health Center to create, validate and deploy wildlife disease diagnostic tests and develop strategies for mitigating wildlife disease, including a framework for risk assessments.

Furthermore, lawmakers authorize the USGS to collaborate with the U.S. Agency for International Development and strengthen global capacity for wildlife health monitoring. It directs funds for projects to build wildlife disease diagnostic capacity, to create monitoring systems, and to provide technical assistance in countries that have a high risk for disease pathogen spillover.

In March, ESA asked lawmakers to include funding for wildlife disease research programs such as the National Wildlife Health Center in the coronavirus response legislation.

A section in the bill requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service, in consultation with the Center for Disease Control and the USGS, to draft a list of “injurious species” that could pose a biohazard risk to human health. An “injurious species” listing would prohibit the import and transport of those species, including transportation of injurious species across state lines. This section titled the Wildlife-Borne Disease Prevention Act amends the Lacey Act, which allows USFWS to determine that some species are injurious to the interests of human beings, agriculture, horticulture, forestry or wildlife of the United States and prohibit their importation.

USFWS receives $71 million in the Heroes Act with $21 million going to the implementation of the Wildlife-Borne Disease Prevention Act and $50 million to be distributed to states and tribes for surveillance, research, management, and education relating to emerging wildlife disease.

The final version of the Heroes Act approved by the full House includes the Scientific Integrity Act (H.R. 1709), which codifies a 2010 memorandum on scientific integrity issued by former Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren. This bill requires agencies to train employees on scientific integrity and to report on their progress in implementing scientific integrity policies.

Webinar: Invasive Species Policy and COVID-19

ESA is pleased to welcome an esteemed panel to discuss a short history of policy and responses to previous invasive species. Speakers will discuss pathogens and how ecological research can inform policy and contribute knowledge to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species.

Thursday, May 21 at  2:00 PM – 3:00 PM EDT

Moderated by Jim Carlton, Williams College, Emeritus


Dan Simberloff, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Laura Meyerson, University of Rhode Island
Nina Fefferman, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Click to register.

National Science Board Unveils Visions 2030 Report, Charts Impacts of COVID-19 on the National Science Foundation

The National Science Board (NSB), the oversight body for all of NSF who serve as independent science advisors to the president and Congress, met May 5 and 6. The meeting marked the full board’s first meeting held during the coronavirus pandemic. The marquee item on the agency was the release of the NSB Visions 2030 report, which charts a path for the U.S. to remain preeminent in science and engineering.

At the conclusion of the meeting, several NSB members rotated off the board, including Board Chair Diane Souvaine. The board elected Ellen Ochoa to replace Souvaine as chair and Victor McCray to serve vice chair. Previously, Ochoa served as the vice-chair of the NSB and she is the former director of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. McCray is a chemist and the vice president for research and graduate programs at the University of the District of Columbia.

To see the full post and highlights of interest to the ecological science community, click here.

NSF Biological Sciences Advisory Committee Meets Amid Pandemic, Discuss COVID-19 impacts, Switch to No-Deadlines and more

The National Science Foundation’s Biological Science’s Advisory Committee (BIO AC) held a virtual, abbreviated meeting April 30 amid the coronavirus pandemic. The committee, composed of biological and ecological scientists from across the research enterprise, typically meets twice a year for a two-day in-person meeting.

To see the full post and highlights of interest to the ecological science community, click here.


Senate Environment and Public Works Committee: The full committee advanced the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 (S. 3591). The sweeping legislation allows the Environmental Protection Agency 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. It directs the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish a pilot program to address invasive species in alpine lakes. Lawmakers included a provision from Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rick Scott (R-FL) directing the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force to develop technologies and approaches to identify, target, and eliminate invasive species that threaten Everglades restoration.

Elsewhere, the 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, Puget Sound and Lake Tahoe.

The bill includes a provision codifying the EPA’s “EJScreen” environmental justice mapping screening tool.

Legislative updates:

  • Rep. Ed Case (D-HI) introduced the Coral Reef Conservation Reauthorization Act (H.R. 6738). This bill expands federal responses to coral reef emergencies and grants for coral reef conservation and research projects, authorizes the Interior Department to research and conserve coral resources and authorizes the U.S. Coral Reef Taskforce and the Coral Reef Management Fellowship.
  • House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced the Murder Hornet Eradication Act (H.R. 6761), which directs the Interior Department to establish a grant program to provide financial assistance to states to eradicate the Asian giant hornet. Grijalva modeled the legislation after the Nutria Eradication and Control Act of 2003, which is credited for removing the invasive nutria from the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
  • House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter Defazio (D-OR) and Subcommittee Chairwoman Grace Napolitano (D-CA) introduced legislation (H.R. 6745) to block the Navigable Waters Protection rule from taking effect. The Navigable Waters Protection rule is also known as the Trump administration’s replacement to the 2015 Clean Water Rule. 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.

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

Executive Branch

White House: President Trump issued an executive order aimed at reducing regulatory roadblocks to marine aquaculture in federal waters and promoting American seafood. The order tasks the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with leading federal permitting for aquaculture and instructs NOAA to complete reviews required under the National Environmental Policy Act within two years.

NIFA: Director J. Scott Angle announced that he will leave the agency to lead the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science, which includes the university’s agricultural extension service, the Florida Agricultural Experimental Station and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Angle joined the USDA in October 2018 and saw the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)’s move from Washington, DC to Kansas City, MO. The president appoints NIFA directors for six-year terms.

The Union of Concerned Scientists and American Oversight filed a lawsuit May 13 seeking documents related to the USDA’s decision to move NIFA and the Economic Research Service to Kansas City. The lawsuit alleges that the USDA failed to release some documents as required under the Freedom of Information Act.

NASA: Karen St. Germain will join the agency as the director of its Earth Science Division in June. St. Germain is currently the deputy assistant administrator for NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service. She has also worked for the Department of Defense and as a researcher at the University of Massachusetts, the University of Nebraska, and the Naval Research Laboratory. Michael Freilich, the longtime director of NASA’s Earth Science Division, retired in 2019.

NOAA: The agency’s research branch launched an effort to examine the impacts of coronavirus on the environment. This effort includes detecting changes in air pollution, determining the effects of reduced airline traffic on cloud formation and running aerial sampling flights to understand changes in greenhouse gas emissions.

USFWS: The agency added the island marbled butterfly to the federal list of endangered species and designated 812 acres of critical habitat for the butterfly. The new critical habitat is almost exclusively within Washington state’s San Juan Island National Historical Park. Threats to the species include insecticides applications within its habitat and potential roadkill, as the butterflies are attracted to white stripes on roads.

Another USFWS final rule lists the southern Sierra Nevada population of fisher as a threatened species while declining to extend Endangered Species Act protections for the Northern California/Southern Oregon fisher population. Fishers are small forest carnivores.


Environmental Enforcement: Nine states’ Attorneys General, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, filed a lawsuit challenging the EPA’s decision to suspend enforcement of environmental laws amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Scientific Community

Policy Briefs: The Stanford Woods Institute of the Environment released two new research briefs Climate Change Increases California Wildfire Risk and Forest Loss and Human Activity Leads to Disease Transmission. The wildfire brief examines how hotter, drier weather driven by climate change has noticeably increased across California, leading to conditions conducive to a longer, more intense wildfire season. The disease brief discusses how human expansion into forests and natural lands increases the chances for wild animal contact, which then provides opportunities for infectious disease transmission.

ELI: A May 21 webinar will explore how state, local and federal stakeholders can collaborate with tribes to return prescribed burning practices to indigenous communities. Participants must register by May 19.

NASEM: A new report from the National Academies, A Vision for NSF Earth Sciences 2020-2030: Earth in Time highlights new initiatives, infrastructure, and partnerships needed to answer priority earth science research questions in the next decade. The National Academies will hold a webinar to discuss the report and its recommendations May 19.

EPA: ESA and 37 other scientific, engineering and academic organizations submitted comments opposing the EPA’s proposed “Transparency in Science” rule. The organizations find that “this rule and supplemental are not about strengthening science, but about undermining the ability of the EPA to use the best available science in setting policies and regulations.”

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

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.