Policy News: September 14, 2020

In This Issue:

Action Alert: Scientific Societies, House Science Committee Push for Research Relief
The RISE Act would authorize $26 billion in emergency relief for federal science agencies.

Upcoming ESA Webinars
ESA will host a webinar with Engineers and Scientists Acting Locally Sept. 30.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) calls for $55 billion for a new Civilian Conservation Corps.

Executive Branch
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes new critical habitat rule.

State Attorneys General challenge the Trump administration’s plan to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Climate Science Legal Defense Fund releases a guide to political activities for federally employed scientists.

Register to Vote and Request an Absentee Ballot
The general election is happening in November. Visit Vote.org for information about requesting an absentee ballot.

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

Opportunities to Get Involved
Federal Register opportunities.

Action Alert: Scienctifc Societies, House Science Committee Push for Research Relief

The House Science Committee held a hearing Sept. 9 about the impacts of COVID-19 on the university research enterprise. Witnesses from the University of Illinois System, Purdue University, Oakland University in Michigan and Carnegie Mellon University urged Congress to pass the RISE Act (H.R. 7308S. 4286) and the Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act (H.R. 8044).

This Wednesday, Sept. 16, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing to consider advancing the RISE Act to the full Senate, among other legislation and nominations. If you have not yet reached out to your members of Congress – it is not too late to do so! See our Action Alert on the ESA website.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS), the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on the federal enterprise are far-reaching, resulting in lab and user facility closures, canceled conferences, equipment delays, and increased costs for ongoing R&D. The RISE Act authorizes $26 billion in emergency relief for federal science agencies, including the National Science Foundation, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy, to award to universities and other research organizations to continue working on federally funded research projects.

The Supporting Early Career Researchers Act authorizes $250 million to the National Science Foundation to award two-year postdoctoral fellowships to help keep researchers whose employment opportunities have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in the STEM pipeline.

Members of Congress from both parties, including Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) support both bills.

ESA joined 22 other professional societies in urging Congress to pass the RISE Act and urging members to contact their representatives about the RISE Act.

Upcoming ESA Webinars

Local engagement opportunities for scientists                                       

Sept 30, 2:00pm eastern time
Register here: https://esa.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJEufuqorDouHNNcEpqcDaM8OhxbX1W8nPsb

While federal policy and politics tends to dominate the national headlines, the importance of policy-making and implementation at the state and local government level often gets overlooked. Recent events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and discussions of racial justice and police reform, have highlighted the critical role of city, county and state governments. In this webinar, Engineers and Scientists Acting Locally (ESAL) scientists will discuss the ways in which ecologists can engage with local government and use their expertise and inquiry driven, evidence-based approaches to inform policy decisions. ESAL will highlight examples of scientists who have made substantive contributions to their communities, often without a major career shift. The presenters will also draw on their own experiences working in local government to share in-depth case studies. This workshop is intended for scientists at all stages of their careers, including students. ESAL and ESA hope that attendees will leave inspired with new ideas for how they can get more involved in their own communities.


Legislative Updates:

  • Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL) introduced the Restore Employment in Natural and Environmental Work (RENEW) Conservation Corps Act (S. 4538), which would create a new Civilian Conservation Corps and authorize over $55 billion over five years to employ young Americans to do conservation work. This bill follows legislation from Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) (H.R. 7264 and S. 3684) introduced in early summer that would, similarly, create a $9 billion fund for qualified land and conservation corps to provide job training and help to restore public lands and watersheds.
  • Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) introduced legislation (H.R. 8164) creating an office in the Federal Bureau of Investigation tasked with investigating suspected incidents of individuals participating in federally funded research as agents of a foreign government in institutions of higher education.

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

Executive Branch

White House: President Donald Trump signed an order prohibiting oil and gas exploration in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic coast of Florida and off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. This order reverses a 2017 Trump administration proposal to open much of the U.S. continental shelf to drilling. Coastal governors largely oppose offshore drilling, and Trump used his announcement of this order to campaign for re-election in Florida.

NOAA: Climate science denier Daniel Legates has been appointed to one of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s top positions. Legates will serve as NOAA’s deputy assistant secretary of commerce for observation and prediction. This role reports director to acting NOAA administrator Neil Jacobs. Legate is a professor of geographic and spatial sciences at the University of Delaware. In 2014, he told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that the International Panel on Climate Change’s consensus on climate change is “contrived.” He is also an affiliate of the Heartland Institute, a think tank that questions mainstream climate science

USFWS: A new proposed rule would allow the Secretary of the Interior to exclude areas from critical habitat designations for endangered species, if the critical habitat designation would cause negative economic impacts or harm national security or outdoor recreation opportunities. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service defines critical habitat as specific areas that contain the physical or biological features that are essential to the conservation of endangered and threatened species. The new proposed rule would overturn an Obama administration policy barred USFWS from excluding federal lands from critical habitat designations. This proposed rule is open for public comment on the Federal Register through Oct. 8, 2020.

CFTC: A new report from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission warns that wreak havoc on the nation’s financial system and economy. The CFTC subcommittee tasked with writing the report warns that if significant action is not taken to mitigate climate change, it could impair the productive capacity of the economy and undermine the economy’s ability to generate employment, income, and opportunity.

USDA: Four former Animal and Plant Health and Inspection Service (APHIS) administrators warn that the sharp drop in international travel and imports tied to the coronavirus pandemic has led to a drop in user fees that fund agricultural inspections. APHIS has also nearly depleted an emergency fund reserve fund. If Congress does not act to replenish this fund, the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection could be forced to lay off inspectors, weakening efforts to prevent imports of animal and plant diseases.


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) and attorneys general from 15 other blue states are challenging the Trump administration’s decision to permit drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Healey said that drilling in the refuge will contribute to climate change, harming coastal states’ economies. The lawsuit alleges that the Interior Department violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and the Administrative Procedure Act while finalizing its drilling plan.

Climate: Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings sued 31 oil and gas companies, including BP, ExxonMobil and Shell, for intentionally deceiving the public about the risk and costs of climate change. The lawsuit seeks monetary compensation to pay for land loss due to sea-level rise and the loss of farmland to saltwater encroachment.

The Delaware lawsuit follows two similar lawsuits filed by the cities of Charleston, SC and Hoboken, NJ.Lawyers representing the city of Charleston, SC are suing major oil and gas companies in South Carolina state courts for damages associated with climate change. The suit notes that city has experienced more frequent flooding in recent decades and is vulnerable to extreme climate events like hurricanes, drought and heatwaves.

Hoboken, NJ Mayor Ravi Bhalla launched a lawsuit against oil and gas companies under the state’s consumer protection, negligence and public nuisance laws.

Chesapeake Bay: The Attorneys General for Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia are suing the EPA for approving Chesapeake Bay clean up plans from New York and Pennsylvania that the EPA has said will lead to the states failing to meet cleanup goals. The lawsuit alleges that the EPA violated the Clean Water Act and the Administrative Procedures Act when approving these plans.


Climate: The latest report from the United Nations Secretary-General and the World Meteorological Organization, United in Science 2020warns that there is 25 percent chance that the world will exceed 1.5 C (2.7 degrees F) of warming since the industrial revolution in the next five years. A 2018 U.N. report, Global Warming of 1.5 Degrees C, found that more than 1.5 C degrees of warming will result in widespread flooding, droughts and poverty. Parties to the Paris Climate Agreement vowed to keep increases in global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in this century and “to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.” The 2018 report found that absent unprecedented actions to slow greenhouse gas emissions, the atmosphere will warm 1.5 C degrees by 2040.

Register to Vote and Request an Absentee Ballot

The 2020 elections are happening this November. On a national level, the presidency, all seats in the House of Representatives and a third of the seats in the Senate will be contested. Several state governorships and many other state and local elections will also be contested. Be sure you are registered to vote in time to participate!  Learn more about voting policies and rights in your state and register to vote at Rock the Vote, a nonprofit dedicated to engaging young people in politics.

Voting procedures and requirements for requesting an absentee ballot during the coronavirus pandemic vary by state. Visit your state board of elections website or Vote.org for deadlines and to request a ballot.

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.