Policy News: June 2, 2020

In This Issue:

Letter to the community
Racism and prejudice continue to harm scientists, future scientists, and the communities we serve. ESA leaders echo the message of these protests: Black lives matter.

Webinar: Invasive Species Policy and COVID-19
Webinar recording and related resources posted online.

Ecology of COVID-19 blog series
ESA guest blogs explore the evolutionary biology of the coronavirus, the use of technology to fill data gaps and more.

Bipartisan lawmakers introduce bill to create a new technology directorate in the National Science Foundation and change NSF’s name to the National Science and Technology Foundation.

Executive Branch
EPA Inspector General report finds that employees are dissatisfied with the agency’s culture of scientific integrity.

Federal judge overturns oil and gas leases in sage grouse habitat.

Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia intend to sue the EPA for failing to enforce multistate Chesapeake Bay agreement.

United Nations postpones COP26 until November 2021.

Scientific Community
Nobel laureates condemn the National Institutes of Health’s decision to suspend a grant to the EcoHealth Alliance.

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

Opportunities to Get Involved
Federal Register opportunities.

Letter to the Community

Dear ecological community,

We reach out to you today in sadness and solidarity. Recent acts of violence against the Black community as seen in the horrific killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, have sparked protests across the United States. They underscore the long history of racism and discrimination in our country. Racism and prejudice continue to harm scientists, future scientists, and the communities they serve. We echo the message of these protests: Black lives matter.

Read the letter from ESA leaders to the community here.

Webinar: Invasive Species Policy and COVID-19

ESA welcomed an esteemed panel to discuss a short history of policy and responses to previous invasive species May 21. The speakers discussed pathogens and how ecological research can inform policy and contribute knowledge to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species.

See the webinar recording and related resources on the ESA website.

The webinar featured ESA eminent ecologist Dan Simberloff (University of Tennessee, Knoxville), Laura Meyerson (University of Rhode Island), Nina Fefferman (University of Tennessee, Knoxville) and Jim Carlton (Williams College).

Ecology of COVID-19 Blog Series

How is COVID-19 affecting your science and work? What are the broader implications for the science, and society? ESA launched this blog series in April to invite the perspective of guest writers who are confronting unique questions during this pandemic.

If you’re interested in submitting a piece, read these instructions and tips to submit.


NSF: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) and Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Mike Gallagher (R-WI) introduced the Endless Frontier Act (S. 3832 and H.R. 6978). This bill changes the name of the National Science Foundation to the National Science and Technology Foundation and creates a new Directorate of Technology. The new directorate would address ten “key technology focus areas”:

  • artificial intelligence and machine learning
  • high-performance computing, semiconductors and advanced computer hardware
  • quantum computing and information systems
  • robotics, automation and advanced manufacturing
  • natural or anthropogenic disaster prevention
  • advanced communications technology
  • biotechnology, genomics and synthetic biology
  • cybersecurity, data storage and data management technologies
  • advanced energy
  • materials science, engineering, and exploration relevant to the other key technology focus areas

The list of key technology areas would be updated periodically by a panel of outside experts appointed by Congress. This panel would also oversee the technology directorate’s activities. The legislation recommends that the directorate’s budget increase from $2 billion in FY2021 to $35 billion by 2024. The bill prohibits lawmakers from funding the new directorate if funding other directorates is decreased. The bill sponsors hope that this provision will prevent the legislation from taking funding from other directorates. NSF’s fiscal year 2020 budget is $8.3 billion.

Coronavirus Recovery Bills: Seventy-nine House Democrats asked Congressional leaders to include “Restoration and Resilience Jobs” measures in future pandemic recovery legislation. Their request includes $10 billion for ecological restoration in watersheds across the country, $9 billion for implementing the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 3742) and $750 million for wildlife disease research and management. ESA supports the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act and requested funds for wildlife disease programs like the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center and USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service National Wildlife Research Center in coronavirus response legislation.

Overall, the status of a future pandemic response bill is stalled. The full House passed the Heroes Act (H.R. 6800) May 15 and passed another measure easing rules for the Paycheck Protection Program (H.R. 7010). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been resistant to passing another relief bill but indicated that there will likely be another bill. However, this bill will likely be smaller than the Heroes Act.

House Natural Resources Committee: Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) held a virtual roundtable about wildlife disease and limiting the spread of wildlife-borne diseases to humans. Grijalva highlighted provisions in the latest coronavirus response bill (H.R. 6800) that provide funding for wildlife disease research and strengthen the Lacey Act to prevent the import and transportation of species that are hazardous to human health (see ESA Policy News, May 18, 2020).

Former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe echoed support for these provisions. Retired U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center Director Leslie Dierauf advocated for investment in the center to enhance its work, including $125 million for a new biosafety laboratory. Dave Jessup, a wildlife veterinarian and the former executive director of the Wildlife Disease Association, warned that roadside zoos, exotic animal auctions and other situations in the United States have the potential to lead to outbreaks like COVID-19Christine Kreuder Johnson, a professor of epidemiology and ecosystem health at the University of California, Davis, emphasized the importance of early detection of viruses with the potential to infect humans. Johnson directs animal and human surveillance activities for USAID’s PREDICT project. PREDICT was designed to strengthen global capacity for the detection and discovery of zoonotic viruses with pandemic potential.

Nominations: The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee voted to advance the nomination of Neil Jacobs to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Three Democratic Senators voted against Jacobs’ nomination. Committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) warned that she is still awaiting a Commerce Department inspector general report about Jacobs’ role in the “Sharpiegate” incident last fall during Hurricane Dorian. Cantwell’s concerns could delay a full Senate vote on Jacobs’ nomination. Jacobs currently leads NOAA on a temporary basis and he would be the first Senate-confirmed NOAA administrator since 2017.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a confirmation hearing for Mark Menezes to be deputy secretary of the Department of Energy May 20. If confirmed, Menezes would fill the position vacated by Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette when he was promoted in December 2019. Senators from both parties expressed support for Menezes’ nomination and stressed the importance of the work of the Department of Energy Office of Science.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will vote on Sethuraman “Paunch” Panchanathan’s nomination lead the National Science Foundation June 3. Senators did not hold a confirmation hearing for Panchanathan. President Donald Trump nominated Panchanathan in December 2019. Former NSF director France Cordova’s six-year term leading the agency ended in March 2020. Panchanathan is an Arizona State University computer scientist and a former member of the National Science Board.

CBC: Former Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) announced a resolution creating a Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Commission to examine the impacts of slavery on the United States, leading to potential policies to address modern racial injustices.

Last week, current Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Karen Bass (D-CA), Lee and Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) introduced a resolution condemning police brutality and calling for “the end of militarized policing practices.”

Climate: The Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis is soliciting information from stakeholders about how climate change is impacting communities, businesses and families across the country, as well as policy ideas for tackling climate change. This Committee consists of only Democratic Senators and is the Senate counterpart to the House Committee on the Climate Crisis. The Committee issued a separate request for information seeking input from agricultural and rural stakeholders about the challenges of climate change in rural communities. For both requests for information, the Committee is requesting responses by June 19, 2020.

Immigration: Rep. David Kustoff (R-TN) introduced a bill (H.R. 7033) to bar Chinese nationals from receiving student or research visas to the United States for graduate or postgraduate studies in STEM fields. The bill also prohibits Chinese nationals from receiving or working on U.S. federal research grants in STEM fields. Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) plan to introduced companion legislation in the Senate. Similarly, Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) and six other Senate Republicans introduced a bill (S. 3837) requiring State Department, FBI and Department of Homeland Security clearance before a Chinese student visa holder can work on COVID-19 vaccine research.

Separately, the White House issued a proclamation May 29 barring Chinese nationals from receiving a student or research visa if they have past or present ties to Chinese institutions deemed to contribute to the Chinese government’s “military-civil fusion” strategy. The State Department defines military-civil fusion (MCF ) as “an aggressive, national strategy of the Chinese Communist Party with the goal to enable China to develop the most technologically advanced military in the world… a key part of MCF is the elimination of barriers between China’s civilian research and commercial sectors, and its military and defense industrial sectors.” The White House proclamation does not determine which institutions meet this criteria.

The scientific community, including ESA, has vehemently opposed efforts to restrict immigration, citing the importance of international students and scholars to the U.S. scientific enterprise. Most recently, 36 scientific societies sent a letter to the White House, opposing immigration restrictions tied to coronavirus pandemic and urging President Donald Trump to prioritize the immigration of science and technology talent.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) released a statement commemorating Immigrant Heritage Month in June and condemning the administration’s on-going efforts to restrict immigration. Hoyer also highlighted House Democrats’ response to these efforts, including the passage of the American Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6) in the House last year.

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

Executive Branch

EPA: final rule limits states’ use of section 401 of the Clean Water Act to block pipelines and coal export facilities and allows the EPA to override a state permit denial. Blue states and environmental groups will likely challenge this rule in the courts. In October 2019, ESA joined other aquatic science societies in opposing this rule.

An inspector general report found that agency employees are broadly concerned with scientific integrity at the agency. Fifty-nine percent of survey respondents indicated that they are dissatisfied with the Environmental Protection Agency’s culture of scientific integrity and 57 percent noted dissatisfaction with agency procedures for the release of scientific information to the public. The inspector general report is based on a 2018 survey of all agency employees. The survey results also indicated that 56 percent of respondents were satisfied with the overall implementation of the EPA’s scientific integrity policy. Most respondents were satisfied with the agency’s use of peer review, advice from federal advisory committees and professional development.

Pebble Mine: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it selected a preferred route for transporting copper and gold out of the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, AK and delivering supplies to the mine. The route would include an 82-mile, two-lane access road running along the north shore of Lake Iliama. Previously, the Army Corps of Engineers and the mining company, Pebble Limited Partnership, indicated that they preferred the ‘southern route,’ which involved ferrying materials across Lake Iliama to another port. Environmental advocates called this change a ‘bait and switch,’ noting that many of the public comments on the mine’s draft environmental impact statement focused on the impacts of the southern route.

Separately, the EPA notified the Army Corps of Engineers May 28 that it will not formally elevate its prior concerns about the mine’s environmental impacts, a sign that the EPA will not exercise its veto power once the Army Corps of Engineers issues a permit.

The Army Corps of Engineers plans to release a final environmental impact statement and a final decision about whether to permit the project this summer. The Bristol Bay watershed is home to the world’s most productive sockeye salmon fishery.

USFWS: The Interior Department is seeking experts in wildlife and habitat conservation technology to advise the the agency as part of the newly formed Theodore Roosevelt Genius Prize Advisory Council. This group will administer $500,000 in prizes for innovation in conservation and advise competition winners on opportunities to pilot and implement their nascent technologies, helping them develop partnerships with conservation organizations, federal or state agencies, federally recognized tribes, private entities and research institutions with relevant expertise or interest. This council is being established as part of the 2019 omnibus public lands law (S. 47). Nominations for the council and related advisory boards must be submitted no later than June 10, 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. Nominations should be sent to noaa.sab.newmembers@nullnoaa.gov and must be received by June 22, 2020.

USDA: The National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board is seeking new board members and members for its subcommittees. The subcommittee with vacancies are the National Genetic Resources Advisory Council, the Specialty Crop Committee and the Citrus Disease Subcommittee. Nominations must be submitted by July 31, 2020.


Sage Grouse: A federal judge in Montana overturned 440 oil and gas leases covering 336,000 acres in Montana and Wyoming. The judge found that the Bureau of Land Management failed to prioritize issuing oil and gas leases in areas that are not sage grouse habitat, as required by the 2015 sage grouse conservation plans.


Chesapeake Bay: The Attorneys General of Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia filed a notice of intent to the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to enforce a court-ordered multistate agreement to reduce pollution into the Chesapeake Bay. The Attorneys General said that upstream states like Pennsylvania and New York have not met their end of the agreement.

Ohio: The Ohio Power Siting Board approved a wind energy project in Lake Erie. If completed, this project would be the first freshwater offshore wind energy farm in North America. The board’s approval includes a condition that wind turbines cannot run at night between March and November to minimize the project’s harm to birds and bats. The project developer, Lake Erie Energy Development Corp, says that this condition makes the project nonviable.

In December 2019, the American Bird Conservancy and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory sued the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Energy to stop this wind energy project. The groups argue that the agencies did not adequately analyze the environmental impacts of the wind farm as required by the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act.


U.N.:  The United Kingdom, the host country for the COP26 international climate negotiations, formally announced the climate conference will be delayed by a full year to November 2021. The conference was originally scheduled for November 2020 and postponed in early April. United Nations officials initially hoped to hold the meeting in early 2021.

Scientific Community

NSF: The Biological Science Directorate’s Division of Environmental Biology posted the slides and answers to frequently asked questions from its May virtual office hours. This session focused on the CAREER program. The Division of Environmental Biology will be hosting these office hours 1-2pm EDT on the 2nd Monday of every month. There will be a designated theme for each office hour, but attendees are welcome to ask about other NSF-related topics. Program Officers from each of the division clusters will be present at every virtual office hour.

FAS: The Federation of American Scientists launched a coronavirus rapid response task force consisting of experts across the scientific disciplines. Policymakers can submit questions and choose to either receive a written answer from the experts or be connected with an expert for a one-on-one consultation.

NIH: Seventy-seven Nobel laureates wrote to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Francis Collins, condemning an NIH decision to cancel a grant to the EcoHealth Alliance. The NIH grant provided around $600,000 a year to EcoHealth Alliance to study bat coronaviruses in China, with around ten percent of the grant going to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for their on-the-ground work analyzing and collecting virus samples. The Wuhan lab is at the center of a conspiracy theory that the lab either intentionally or inadvertently allowed the SARS-COV-2 virus to emerge.

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:

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.