Policy News: July 13, 2020

In This Issue:

– House Appropriators Release Fiscal Year 2021 Spending Bills for Science Agencies
– House Democrats Outline Climate Action Plan
– Full House Passes Infrastructure Bill

Executive Branch
ICE regulations suspend visas for international students attending universities that become online-only amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Dominion Energy and Duke Energy cancel Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

U.N. Environment Program warns that future outbreaks of zoonotic disease like COVID-19 are likely.

Scientific Community
JASON provides recommendations to universities resuming research activities during COVID-19.

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

Opportunities to Get Involved
Federal Register opportunities.


House Appropriators Release Fiscal Year 2021 Spending Bills for Science Agencies

The House Appropriations Committee began releasing their fiscal year (FY) 2021 funding bills the week of July 13. The bills mainly provide small increases for ecological science agencies, in line with an agreement that capped spending for non-discretionary, non-defense spending at a one percent increase for FY 2021. The full House Appropriations Committee plans to approve all 12 spending bills by the end of next week. House leaders are expected to bring most of the spending bills to the full House for a vote by the end of July.

The full House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to the Interior and Environment spending bill prohibiting the Environmental Protection Agency from finalizing, implementing or enforcing its “Transparency in Science” rule. This proposed rule would prohibit the EPA from using scientific studies where the underlying data are not publicly available. ESA has opposed the ‘Transparency’ rule since the administration first released this rule in 2018.

It is not clear when the Senate will release its spending bills. Lawmakers are likely to resort to a short-term stopgap spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, to avoid a government shutdown when the fiscal year starts Oct. 1, 2020.

Highlights of the House bills for agencies of interest are below and will be added to the ESA federal budget tracker:

  • The National Science Foundation receives $8.55 billion overall, a 3.3% increase and the agency’s research and related activities account, which funds most NSF grants, receives $6.97 billion, a 3.5% increase. A summary from the House Appropriations Committee says that these funds will cover research several of the administration’s priority areas, such as artificial intelligence, quantum information science, advanced manufacturing and STEM education. The bill also includes funding for scientific infrastructure improvements, including the modernization of Antarctica facilities, as well as telescopes and research vessels.
  • The Agricultural Research Service receives $1.45 billion, an around one percent decrease from FY2020.
  • The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is funded at $1.575 billion, a three percent increase, with the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative receiving $435 million, a $10 million increase. Appropriators also require the USDA to work with the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine to provide a report about how the relocation of NIFA from Washington, DC to Kansas City has affected the agency’s work.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration receives $5.45 billion, a $102 million increase.
  • Lawmakers keep funding for NASA and the Earth Sciences Division flat at $22.6 billion and $2 billion, respectively.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency receives $9.38 billion total, a 3.5% boost. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative receives an additional $10 million, increasing the programs budget to $335 million.
  • The US Geological Survey receives $1.292 billion, a less than 2 percent increase. This budget includes $3 million in additional funding for the Regional and National Climate Adaptation Centers and a $1 million increase for the Cooperative Research Units. Previous President’s Budget Requests have targeted these programs for severe cuts.
  • Lawmakers provide $7.55 billion to the US Forest Service, a 1.6% increase. Within this amount, Forest Service Research and Development receive $311.83 million, a 2.24% increase. In an accompanying report, lawmakers reject the Forest Service’s proposal to eliminate the Pacific Southwest Research Station and the International Institute of Tropical Forestry in Puerto. ESA requested similar report language.
  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service receives $1.579 billion, a 4% cut, while the National Park Service receives a 4.5% cut for a total budget of $3.22 billion. The Bureau of Land Management also gets a 5.4% cut to $1.295 billion for FY 2021.
  • Appropriators provide $7.05 billion, a less than 1% increase, to the Department of Energy Office of Science. Lawmakers also included $6.5 billion in stimulus funding to the Office of Science, mainly for infrastructure upgrades at the National Laboratories.

House Democrats Outline Climate Action Plan

House Democrats and the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released a staff report outlining their policy recommendations for addressing climate change. It is unlikely that any of the major elements of the report will become law during the current session of Congress. Still, House Democratic leaders say that the plan represents their aspirations if Democrats gain control of the White House or the Senate.

The report calls for a 45% reduction in carbon dioxide levels from 2010 levels by 2030 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This goal includes a Clean Energy Standard requiring net-zero emissions in the electricity sector by 2040. The plan also calls for protecting 30% of the countries’ lands and water by 2030 and net-zero emissions on public lands by 2040.

Other recommendations include sustained and increased funding for climate science and education programs across the federal agencies and dedicated US funding for International Panel on Climate Change assessments. Committee staff recommend codifying the US Global Change Research Program’s authority to include the full range of scientifically derived climate scenarios in its National Climate Assessments. This recommendation comes in response to reports that the Trump administration directed federal agencies not to include 100-year climate projections in the next National Climate Assessment. The report also endorses reinstating the Office of Technology Assessment, which advised Congress on science and technology issues until Congress disbanded it until in the 1990s.

The plan urges Congress to make environmental justice a cornerstone of climate and environmental policy. It endorses House Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ)’s Environmental Justice for All Act (H.R. 5986).

On the climate adaptation side, the report recommends that Congress create and fund a National Climate Adaptation Program to “help states, tribes, and localities prepare for the effects of climate change.”Congress also should re-establish the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps and create a ‘Climate Resilience Service Corps’ to complete ecosystem restoration work and help communities adapt to climate change. Other recommendations include establishing an interagency working group to develop and implement a national landscape conservation strategy and increase the funding for states, tribes, and territories to manage and recover Species of Greatest Conservation Need.

House Passes Infrastructure Bill

The Moving Forward Act (H.R. 2) passed the full House. It is an omnibus infrastructure bill that includes watershed restoration programs, a wildlife corridor program, climate programs and more (see ESA Policy News, June 29, 2020). Lawmakers included amendments adding the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 3742) and the Bird-Safe Buildings Act (H.R. 919) to the infrastructure bill.The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act provides an additional $1.4 billion in dedicated funding to state and tribal fish and wildlife agencies to implement state wildlife action plans and conserve at-risk species. The Bird-Safe Buildings Act requires the federal government to incorporate bird-safe building materials and design features, to the maximum extent possible into public buildings constructed, acquired, or significantly altered by the General Services Administration.

Other amendments allow federal agencies to consider the threat of invasive species before ordering a fish ladder to be constructed into a dam and authorize a US Fish and Wildlife Service grant program for fish and wildlife habitat restoration projects in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Legislative updates:

  • Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL) and Don Young (R-AK) introduced the Shovel-Ready Restoration Grants for Coastlines and Fisheries Act (H.R. 7387). This bill which would set aside around $3 billion funding for projects that restore or improve coastal habitats, resiliency, and the economy, mirroring a similar program in the 2009 stimulus bill.
  • Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Mitt Romney (R-UT) introduced the Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act (S. 4191). The Senator’s legislation authorizes the US Geological Survey to establish a regional program to study the ecology and hydrology of saline lakes in the Great Basin, leading to multi-year assessment, monitoring and conservation action plan.

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

Executive Branch

Immigration: New regulations from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prohibit international students in the US under F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant student visas from staying in the country if their universities become online-only in the fall in response to the coronavirus pandemic. A statement from ICE says that students will be subject to “removal proceedings” if they do not transfer to an institution with in-person classes or leave the country voluntarily.

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit challenging the policy in the courts. The universities say that the policy is designed to pressure universities to hold in-person in the fall, regardless of public health risks and the regulations violate the Administrative Procedures Act. Cornell University, Stanford University, the University of California system and other universities are supporting Harvard and MIT’s lawsuit through friend of the court briefs. Johns Hopkins University filed a similar lawsuit in another district court.

ESA and over 60 scientific societies requested that ICE withdraw the regulation immediately. The American Association of Universities and the American Council on Education both condemned the regulations, calling them “cruel and misguided” and doing “more harm than good.”

On Capitol Hill, 130 House Democrats signed on to a Dear Colleague letter opposing the regulation. The US Chamber of Commerce also denounced the policy, citing the impact on businesses and the economy.

White House: The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology issued a set of recommendations to federal government and the scientific enterprise related to the “Industries of the Future” and STEM education:

  • The federal government should create national AI testbeds, expand ongoing NSF programs and task agencies to curate, manage, and disseminate AI-ready large data sets.
  • Employers, academic institutions, professional societies, and other partners should develop programs to provide non-STEM workers with professional skills that will grant them a role in the STEM workforce of the future.
  • The government should establish a grant program to create and pilot multi-sector STEM Retraining Boards as a component of creating the Workforce of the Future.

EPA: An agency policy suspending enforcement of environmental laws during the coronavirus pandemic will end Aug. 31. The EPA announced this directive in March 2020, the end date for the policy was not determined at the time. According to documents acquired by the Hill, around 350 facilities have used this policy to forgo water pollution monitoring requirements during the pandemic.

NOAA: The U.S. Global Change Research Program is seeking public comment on the proposed themes and framework of the Fifth National Climate Assessment as presented in a Federal Register notice. The Global Research Change Act, passed in 1990, requires the U.S. Global Change Research Program to complete a National Climate Assessment every four year. The most recent assessment was released in November 2018. Comments can be submitted on GlobalChange.gov through Aug. 10, 2020.


Pipelines: A spate of decisions canceled or delayed the Keystone XL, Dakota Access and Atlantic Coast pipelines.

Dominion Energy and Duke Energy announced July 5 that it will no longer pursue the Atlantic Coast pipeline, which would have carried natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina due to legal ambiguities. The decision comes after the US Supreme Court overturned a 4th US Circuit Court Appeals decisions blocking the company from building the pipeline underneath the Appalachian Trail. The companies cited other court challenges, including a US District Court for the District of Montana decision that put a nationwide freeze on new Army Corps of Engineers wetland dredge-and-fill permits for pipeline projects and public opposition to the project in its announcement.

In response to the Montana District Court decision, the Supreme Court allowed the Army Corps of Engineers to resume its wetland dredge and fill permit programs for new pipeline projects while the high court reviews the district court’s decision. However, in the same decision, the Supreme Court blocked the Keystone XL pipeline from receiving a dredge-and-fill permit.

Separately, a judge on the US District Court for the District of Columbia shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline and required Energy Access to empty the pipeline. This follows March ruling that the Army Corps of Engineers must complete an environmental impact statement for the pipeline.

Grizzly Bears: A ruling by the 9th Circuit of Appeals upheld Endangered Species Act protections for Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears. This decision affirms a 2018 federal court decision that stopped the US Fish and Wildlife Service from removing grizzly bears from the federal list of endangered species. In this case, the Northern Cheyenne and Crow tribes and environmental groups argued that the USFWS failed to analyze the impact of delisting Yellowstone grizzly bears on the entire population of the species.



IPBES: A draft scoping report for the international organization’s thematic assessment of the underlying causes of biodiversity loss and the determinants of transformative change and options for achieving the 2050 vision for biodiversity (transformative change assessment) is open for external review through Aug. 28, 2020. The aim of opening the scoping report to review is to increase the report’s relevance to policy by engaging governments and stakeholders early in the process of defining the policy questions that the assessment will address. Reviewers can register online here.

UN: A new report from the Environment Program and the International Livestock Research Institute warns that future outbreaks of zoonotic disease like COVID-19 are likely, identifies the causes of this trend and makes recommendations to prevent outbreaks. The trends driving the emergence of zoonotic diseases include increased demand for animal protein, a rise in unsustainable farming, higher use and exploitation of wildlife and the climate crisis.

Scientific Community

COVID-19: JASON, a group of top scientific advisors to government agencies, released a self-initiated report Managing the Risk From COVID-19 During a Return to On-Site University Research. The report recommendations include that universities provide high quality masks to research personnel, implement extensive contact tracing procedures and test personnel daily once inexpensive, rapid virus testing becomes available.

NASEM: The Polar Research Board is looking for experts to contribute to a “mid-term assessment” determining the National Science Foundation and the scientific community’s progress is meeting research goals identified in a 2015 report “A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research.” The board is looking for individuals with expertise in, among other subjects, cryospheric science, oceanic, atmospheric, and climate sciences and biology and life sciences. Nominations will be accepted July 20, 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

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.