Policy News: October 13, 2020

In This Issue:

ESA Condemns the Recent White House Directives to End DEI Training Sessions
Scientific societies urge the administration to rescind this order.

New ESA DEIJ Survey Requests Member Input for Recommendations
Task Force Requests Feedback from Members by Oct. 19.

House and Congress Keeps Government Open, Fate of Coronavirus Relief Bill Uncertain
The House of Representatives passes bill including $2.9 billion in research relief for the National Science Foundation.

House of Representatives passes conservation bill.

Executive Branch
The Department of Homeland Security proposes four-year terms for student visas.

Governor Gavin Newsom (D) commits California to conserving 30% of lands and waters by 2030.

Scientific Community
Survey finds widespread, bipartisan support for scientific research in the United States.

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.

ESA Condemns the Recent White House Directives to end DEI Training Sessions

An executive order issued Sept. 22 from President Donald Trump forbids federal agencies and contractors from holding diversity trainings featuring ‘divisive concepts’ or ‘stereotyping’ or ‘scapegoating’ based on race or sex. OPM issued a memo Sept. 22 that outlines how the government intends to implement the directives for federal agency workers. Earlier in the month, on Sept. 4, OMB released a short memo denouncing the federal workforce diversity trainings calling them “un-American propaganda training session,” and specifically forbids trainings that use the terms “white privilege” or “critical race theory.”

The Office of Personnel Management is now requiring that it sign off on any diversity and inclusion training at federal agencies.

ESA and over 40 other scientific societies and organizations wrote to Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought, urging the administration to rescind this order, citing the need for diverse perspectives and talents in the scientific enterprise.

New ESA DEIJ Survey Requests Member Input for Recommendations

(excerpt from blogpost authored by Pamela Templer and Anjali Boyd)

The Task Force on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) formed by the Ecological Society of America (ESA) Governing Board last month hosted a listening session Oct. 7, 2020 to receive feedback from the ESA community.

The priority of the Task Force is to address barriers that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) face to full participation in the Society and we are charged to bring the first set of recommendations to the ESA Governing Board at its November meeting. To follow up after the listening session and to get broader community input to develop recommendations, the Task Force is requesting feedback from all members to have your voices heard by completing this form to ensure that your ideas are considered in time for the Governing Board meeting, please submit your feedback by Oct. 19, 2020.

Congress Keeps Government Open, Fate of Coronavirus Relief Bill Uncertain

The full Senate passed a stopgap measure to avert a federal government shutdown after the federal fiscal year ended Sept. 30. This measure keeps the government open through Dec. 11. The continuing resolution keeps the agencies funded at fiscal year 2020 levels, but agencies are generally cautious about spending and distributing funds without knowing what their full year budget will be.

The full House passed two set of spending bills covering most agencies in July 2020. The Senate has not released their own funding proposals for FY 2020. For more details about the House bill, see the ESA Federal Budget Tracker.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives approved a new version of the Heroes Act (H.R. 6800). The bill is a narrower version of the $3.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill that the House passed in May 2020. The bill includes $2.9 billion for the National Science Foundation, with $2.6 billion going to the agency’s research and related activities account, which funds most research grants. Lawmakers also include $300 million to NSF’s Education and Human Resources Directorate for extensions of existing research grants, cooperative agreements, scholarships, fellowships, and apprenticeships.

The new version of the bill does not include the Wildlife-Borne Disease Prevention Act. This provision in the May version of the Heroes Act amended the Lacey Act to allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list species that pose a biohazard risk to human health as “injurious species” (see ESA Policy News, May 18, 2020). However, the bill does include $15 million for wildlife trafficking programs.

The Environmental Protection Agency receives $50 million for grants to investigate links between pollution exposure and the transmission and health outcomes of coronavirus in environmental justice communities.

The overall status of a relief package remains unclear with the White House and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi unable to agree on an overall price tag for a bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that it is unlikely that the Senate will pass a coronavirus relief bill before the election.


House: The full chamber passed the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act (ACE Act, S. 3051), a package of conservation measures. The bill reauthorizes the Chesapeake Bay Program, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through 2025. The North American Wetlands Conservation Act provides matching grants to wetlands conservation projects across North American which increase wetland habitats. The ACE Act also creates a Theodore Roosevelt Genus Prize for the development of new non-lethal technologies to reduce human-predator conflicts.

The ACE Act initially passed the Senate in January 2020. The bill now goes to President Donald Trump for his signature. Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) and Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) are the original sponsors of the ACE Act.

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

Executive Branch

Climate: Donald Wuebbles, a University of Illinois climate scientist and an author of the 2018 National Climate Assessment, reports that the federal government is slow walking the production of the next National Climate Assessment. Wuebbles told E&E News that the administration has delayed issuing a call for scientific contributors to the assessments.

The federal government issued the most recent National Climate Assessment in late 2018. At the last minute, the administration moved the release of the report to the day after Thanksgiving in order to bury the report. The Global Change Research Act requires the government to issue an assessment every four years. The next report is due in 2022.

The U.S. Global Change Research Program released the proposed themes and framework for the next national climate assessment in July 2020.

Immigration: A new proposed rule from the Department of Homeland Security establishes fixed terms of four years for student visas. Under current rules, student visas are issued for the duration of a student’s degree program. If this proposed rule is finalized, students would have to re-apply for a visa after four years – even if, for example, they have not completed their Ph.D.

House Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Subcommittee Chair Bill Foster (D-IL) condemned the proposed rule, stating that the proposed rule “is not a genuine strategy for enhancing either academic security or national security.” Reps. Johnson and Foster also urged the Department of Homeland Security to extend the comment period for the proposed current. Currently, the comment period ends Oct. 26.

Interior: A Washington Post report found that that U.S. Geological Survey Director James Reilly delayed the publication of a study finding that oil and gas and drilling in the Arctic will harm denning habitats for female polar bears.

The Bureau of Land Management proposed opening millions of acres of Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve to drilling in late 2019. Before federal officials can formally approve drilling in the area, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to determine that oil and gas exploration will not cause too much harm to the area’s polar bears. USFWS must cite the USGS study about the impact of drilling on polar bears in this determination. Polar bears are protected species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. After the Washington Post report about the polar bear study, the USGS published the study online.

The Interior Department is also moving forward with drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Politico reports that the Bureau of Land Management is fast-tracking an application to conduct seismic surveys in the area as soon as December.

USFWS: The agency finalized rules listing a population of Pacific marten and the Eastern black rail as threated species under the Endangered Species Act. The Pacific marten is a small forest carnivore. The new threatened species status applies to a genetically distinct population (distinct population segment) found on the California and Oregon coast. The Eastern black rail is a bird that is found in saltwater, brackish and freshwater marshes, mostly along the east coast and the gulf coast. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) notes in the rule that the species is threatened by sea-level rise.

USFWS also issued a proposed rule reclassifying the Red-cockaded woodpecker as a threatened species. This bird has been listed as an endangered species since 1970. The agency estimates that the number of ‘clusters’ of woodpeckers, which includes breeding pairs and off-spring, has increased from between 1,500 and 3,500 clusters in 1970 to 7,800 clusters today. The public comment period on this proposed rule is open through Dec. 7, 2020.

EPA: The agency released new proposed regulations for ballast water discharges in the Great Lakes. Among other changes, the proposed rule removes a current requirement for vessels to minimize or avoid taking in ballast water in areas with known problems such as toxic algae blooms or sewage outfalls. These proposed new rules come after the 2018 Coast Guard authorization bill required the EPA to develop pollution standards vessel discharges and tasked the Coast Guard with enforcing these regulations. That 2018 bill also revoked Great Lakes states’ ability to set their own standards for ballast water discharges.

NSF: A request for information from the National Science Foundation and the National Science and Technology Council asks for community input related to the implementation of the Federal STEM Education Strategic Plan. Responses are due Oct. 19, 2020.

NSF’s Biological Sciences Advisory Committee will meet virtually Oct. 29 and Oct. 30. The committee will discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the research community, the Directorate for Biological Science’s (BIO) integration institutes initiative, strategies for broadening participation and BIO’s investments in collections.

The Advisory Committee for Education and Human Resources will also meet Oct. 28 and 29.  Agenda items for the meeting include enhancing broadening participation and preparing the future STEM workforce.


California: Governor Gavin Newsom (D) signed an executive order committing the state to conserving 30% of its lands and waters by 2030 to mitigate biodiversity loss and climate change. The order directs California’s Natural Resources Agency to create a “California Biodiversity Collaborative” to develop strategies to meet this target. Newsom’s order follows similar pledges made by 38 countries as part of an effort led by the Wyss Campaign for Nature and the National Geographic Society. California is the first state in the United States to join this pledge.

Last year, Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Michael Bennett (D-CO) introduced a resolution (S.Res 372) to the Senate, setting a national goal of conserving 30% of lands and waters by 2030. Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) introduced a companion resolution (H.Res 835) in the House of Representatives in February 2020. Neither resolution has received a vote or a hearing.

Oklahoma: The EPA granted a request from Governor Kevin Stitt (R) to give the state government oversight of environmental regulations on tribal lands. Stitt requested this authority days after a July 2020 Supreme Court determined that millions of acres in eastern Oklahoma are still a part of the Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole nations’ reservations. A provision of a 2005 transportation law, sponsored by Sen. Jim Infofe (R-OK), allows the EPA to grant this authority to the state of Oklahoma.

Scientific Community

Civic Engagement: Research!America is offering microgrants for graduate students and postdoc-led science policy groups for the 2020-2021 calendar year. This year’s request for proposals provides funding to student groups for virtual activities that focus on civic engagement and spark dialogue with public officials, local community leaders, and the public around science and health research. These activities include virtual events, podcasts and start up funding for new science policy groups.

Popular Opinion: A survey commissioned by Research!America found that science funding has wide, bipartisan support. Most survey respondents said that they believe that research benefits them personally (88%) and that the U.S. should maintain its global leadership in science (89%). These findings were largely consistent across racial and ethnic groups. However, Research!America notes that the survey results show that adults ages 18-29 appear to see science as less consequential to the nation’s future.

Issues in Ecology: ESA is surveying the attitudes, interests, and habits of those interested in up-to-date ecological and environmental trends, innovations, science, and information. This survey should take 10-15 minutes. Responses are anonymous and are being used to help ESA determine programmatic goals and priorities. If you complete the survey, you will be entered for a chance to win one of five $100 Visa Gift Cards.

NASEM: The National Academies’ Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate is seeking community input for a study about expanding systems approaches for Earth science research at the National Science Foundation. The goal of this study is to develop a vision for a systems approach to studying the earth and identifying facilities, infrastructure, coordinating mechanisms, computing, and workforce development needed to support that vision. The survey is open through the end of December 2020, although the Board is requesting responses as soon as possible.

The Board on Earth Sciences and Resource’s fall meeting will explore the challenges and opportunities for increasing diversity, equity and inclusion in the Earth science community, register here.

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.