Policy News: September 28, 2020

In This Issue:

Connecting with Congressional Committees to Inform Hearings
Webinar recording is available online.

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

House and Senate pass bill keeping the federal government through Dec. 11.

Executive Branch
Forest Service releases final environmental impact statement for exempting the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule.

A federal judge finds that William Perry Pendley’s temporary appointment at the Bureau of Land Management is illegal.

Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) signs executive order banning the sale of gas-powered cars and trucks by 2035.

UN report finds that the global community has failed to achieve most biodiversity goals.

Scientific Community
Report finds that the National Academies of Sciences has not expelled any harassers, despite new policies.

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.

Connecting with Congressional Committees to Inform Hearings

Federation of American Scientists (FAS) President Ali Nouri spoke with ESA members about his organization’s Congressional Science Policy Initiative (CSPI). This program seeks to bring scientific expertise into Congressional hearings. The CSPI team tracks Legislative Branch activity and when key hearings are announced, after which the team solicits the CSPI community for questions and ideas that Members of Congress could raise during the hearing. This data-driven information and these questions are then communicated to Congress for use in the hearings to promote a rich discussion of the issues.

To see the webinar recording, click here.

To receive notices of the Congressional hearings that the FAS team is tracking – or to connect with FAS about scientific topics that could benefit from Congressional oversight, email sciencepolicy@nullfas.org.

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.


Appropriations: The House passed a continuing resolution keeping the government funded through Dec. 11. The Senate is expected to approve this continuing resolution Sept. 29.

The House approved a set of bills funding the government for fiscal year (FY) 2021, which starts Oct. 1, earlier this year. The Senate has not yet released its own spending bills. Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby told reporters that the Senate should be able to craft its own spending bills before the December deadline.

For more details about the House bills and the FY 2021 President’s Budget Request, see ESA’s budget tracker.

Research Relief: The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee advanced the RISE Act (S. 4286) to the full Senate. The RISE Act would authorize $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.

House: The full House passed a sprawling clean energy package, titled the Clean Economy and Innovation Act (H.R. 4447), largely along party lines. Among other provisions, the package reauthorizes the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and provides environmental justice grants. The bill requires the EPA to identify 100 communities most impacted by environmental justice issues and requires the Interior Department to track emissions from energy production on public lands.

The Senate considered legislation (S. 2657) earlier this year, but that bill stalled over a disagreement about hydrofluorocarbon policy. It is not clear if the Senate will finish consideration of that bill before the end of the year. President Donald Trump threated to veto the House bill.

Endangered Species: Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced legislation (S. 4589) to reform the Endangered Species Act. The legislation builds on draft legislation released by Barrasso in summer 2018 (see ESA Policy News, Jul. 23. 2018). The bill emphasizes giving more power and responsibilities to state wildlife agencies in endangered species listing and recovery. For example, states would be able to lead endangered species recovery teams and USFWS would be required to invite states to participate in creating species recovery plans. The bill would also prevent courts from overturning agency decisions to delist a species until a post-delisting monitoring period expires.

The Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing about Barrasso’s legislation Sept. 23 with Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon (R) and Defenders of Wildlife CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark.

NEPA: House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) introduced a bill (H.R. 8333) to codify President Donald Trump’s changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations. These rules set pages limits for NEPA analysis and prohibit agencies from considering indirect environmental impacts of a project, among other changes. The White House finalized these regulations in July 2020, with the rule becoming effective Sept. 14 (see ESA Policy News, Jul. 29, 2020). California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and attorney generals representing 20 other states, Guam and the District of Columbia are challenging these rules in the courts. This coalition of state attorneys general also modified their lawsuit Sept. 24 to add an additional claim that the new NEPA regulations violate the Endangered Species Act.

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

Executive Branch

White House: The Environmental Protection Agency sent its ‘transparency in science’ proposed rule to the Office of Management and Budget for a final review before the agency can publish a final rule. ESA and the scientific community have opposed this proposed rule since former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt released the first proposed rule in spring 2018 as well as legislative predecessors of this rule. This proposed rule would prohibit the EPA from using scientific studies where the underlying data are not publicly available.

Forest Service: The agency issued a final environmental impact statement for its plan to exempt Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from the 2001 Roadless Rule. The EIS states that agency’s “preferred alternative” would be to fully exempt the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule, opening up over 9 million acres to logging and road construction. The agency says that this alternative would revert 168,000 acres of old-growth forest and 20,000 acres of young-growth forest to suitable timber lands. Now, the Forest Service must wait another 30 days to make a final decision.

The State of Alaska petitioned the Department of Agriculture to exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule in 2018, and in late 2019, the Forest Service released the draft version of this environmental impact statement.

In December 2019, ESA submitted comments opposing the Forest Service’s proposal to exempt the Tongass National Forest from Roadless Rule. The comments note that the Tongass stores a large amount of carbon and fuels productive and commercially important marine ecosystems.

Interior: The agency developed a draft invasive species plan, as required by the 2019 public lands bill. The Department is soliciting comments on this draft plan through Oct. 9, 2020.

The plan identifies five invasive species management goals for the agency:

  1. Collaborate across Interior and with others to optimize operations through leveraging partnerships, educational efforts, and funding.
  2. Cost-effectively prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species into and within the United States.
  3. Implement early detection and rapid response efforts in coordination with other federal agencies, states, tribes, territories and other partners to reduce potential damage and costs from new infestations becoming established.
  4. Cost-effectively control established invasive species populations to reduce impacts and restore native species and ecosystems.
  5. Improve invasive species data management for decision-making.

OPM: A proposed rule would allow the federal government to hire employees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields temporarily for up to ten years. The Office of Personnel Management argues that this change will help agencies fill temporary needs for specialized technical roles and assist agencies in recruiting STEM professionals who prefer the opportunity to work on a project-by-project basis to build their resumes and maintain current skills. Current federal employment rules allow agencies to hire employees on a ‘term’ basis for up to four years and a ‘temporary’ basis for less than a year. Federal employee unions say that this change could allow agencies to keep more employees in limbo, without the job security or benefits of permanent employment. The proposed rule is open for public comment through Nov. 10, 2020.

EPA: Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced that the agency will continue to allow the use of the herbicide atrazine, with some new restrictions. This herbicide is widely used in agriculture and applied to residential lawns. The new rules lower the amount of atrazine that can be applied to residential lawns and prohibit spraying atrazine under windy conditions and during temperature inversions. The EPA is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine the risks of atrazine to endangered species. The agencies will complete that review in 2021.

An EPA human-health risk assessment concludes that the science about the impacts of the pesticide chlorpyrifos on neurological development is ‘unresolved.’ A separate ecological risk analysis found that the risk of chlopyrifos to mammals, bird, fish and terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates exceed the agency’s level of concern. In 2015, the Obama administration proposed a national ban for chlorpyrifos.

NOAA: The administration appointed Ryan Maue to serve as the agency’s chief scientist. Maue is a meteorologist and a former adjunct scholar at the libertarian think-tank the Cato Institute. He frequently criticizes climate projections as alarmist, and in 2018, he co-authored a Wall Street Journal op-ed arguing that NASA scientist James Hansen’s 1988 climate projections were overly dire. NOAA’s chief scientist oversees scientific integrity and research programs at the agency.

This appointment comes a week after the administration appointed David Legates to serve as NOAA’s deputy assistant secretary of commerce for observation and prediction. Legates is a professor at the University of Delaware and another prominent climate science denier.


BLM: A federal judge in Montana determined Friday that William Perry Pendley has been illegally heading the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and that his term exercising the authority of the director of the BLM violates the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. The court finds that any “function or duty” performed by Pendley “have no force and effect and must be set aside as arbitrary and capricious.”

Pendley joined the BLM in July 2019. President Donald Trump nominated Pendley to lead the BLM on a permanent basis in June and then withdrew the nomination in August after all Senate Democrats and some western Senate Republicans opposed Pendley’s nomination. Montana Governor Steve Bullock (D) challeged Pendley’s appointment at the BLM in the courts in July.

The Interior Department said that they will appeal this decision. The Friday court order directs both parties to file briefs within 10 days to address what acts under Pendley should be set aside.


California: Governor Gavin Newsom (D) signed an executive order banning the sale of gas-fueled cars after 2035 to mitigate climate change. The California Air Resources Board is working on a regulation that would require all new cars and trucks sold in California to be zero-emission by 2035. Historically, California has set its own vehicle emissions and mileage standards – driving changes in car manufacturing across the country. The Trump administration moved to revoke California’s ability to set its own standard in winter 2020, but the state is challenging that decision in the courts.

New Mexico: Attorney General Hector Balderas (D) created an Equity Advisory Council that will advise the attorney general about the impact of environmental regulations, conservation and land management efforts on marginalized communities. This group and the Office of the Attorney General plan to develop an inclusive and broad-based environmental agenda that centers the needs and views of marginalized communities.

Michigan: Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) committed the state to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. Whitmer’s executive order creates a Council on Climate Solutions comprised of state agency heads and residents representing different economic sectors and areas of expertise. This Council will draft a climate plan with the state’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and present this plan to the governor by September 2021.

New Jersey: Both Houses of the state’s legislature passed a bill banning plastic bags and polystyrene foam containers. The legislation also requires restaurants to provide plastic straws only upon request. The bill now goes to Governor Phil Murphy (D) for his signature.


U.N.: The Convention on Biological Diversity’s Global Diversity Outlook 5 report finds that the world has only “partially achieved” six out of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, which were set by the international community in 2010 with a 2020 deadline. The report calls for a shift away from “business as usual” with shifts to sustainable food systems, green infrastructure and spaces for nature in cities, climate action and more. Countries are currently negotiating a framework for a set of new global biodiversity targets for 2021-2030. Countries will consider these goals during the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 15th meeting of the Conference of Parties. This meeting was delayed from October 2020 to October 2021 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

China: President Xi Jinping vowed that his country would reach carbon neutrality by 2060 during the 45th session of the United Nations. Jinping also said that China will reach peak emissions by 2030. European officials urged China to reach carbon neutrality by 2060 or risk European Union tariffs during a recent European Union-China summit.

FAO: ESA and 127 other international civil society organizations are urging the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to designate 2026 as the International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists. Twelve countries also joined in supporting this request before the FAO’s Committee on Agriculture meeting this week. ESA’s letter of support is posted online.

Scientific Community

Climate: Major corporations made another set of climate-related pledges during the annual Climate Week event, hosted by New York City and the United Nations. Those pledges and announcements include Amazon’s first round of funding from its $2 billion venture fund for climate-friendly technology. Google vowed to run its data centers and corporate campuses on carbon-neutral energy by 2030. Morgan Stanley said that it plans to reach net-zero emissions from projects that it finances by 2050.

NAS: Nature reports that no members of the National Academies of Sciences have been removed from the Academy for harassment or misconduct, despite a 2019 policy that allowed the National Academies to do so. No one has used the system established to report harassers. Several current NAS members have been removed from their university posts for harassment.

Register to Vote and Request and 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.