Policy News: October 26, 2020

In This Issue:

Trump Administration Seeks to Restrict Student Visas
Comments on this proposed rule close today.

US Global Change Research Program Requests Nominations for Authors of the Fifth National Climate Assessment by Nov. 14
The request for author nominations is one of the first steps towards publishing a national climate assessment in 2022.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) introduces oceans-focused climate bill.

Executive Branch
President Donald Trump signs “Trillion Trees” executive order.

Federal judge invalidates land management plans approved by de facto Bureau of Land Management head William Perry Pendley.

The Columbia River Gorge Commission approves new management plan.

Scientific Community
NSF requests ideas for its convergence accelerator program.

Register to Vote and Request an Absentee Ballot
Early and vote-by-mail has already started across the country. Visit Vote.org for information about early voting.

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

Opportunities to Get Involved
Federal Register opportunities.

Trump Administration Seeks to Restrict Student Visas

A new proposed rule from the Department of Homeland Security would establish 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 every 2-3 years – even if, for example, they have not received their degree.

The comment period for this proposed rule closes today, Oct. 26. ESA members can leave their comments on this rule and its wide-ranging impact of the scientific enterprise, either directly on through the Federal Register or through a comment tool developed by the American Physical Society. Personalized responses will have a greater impact.

ESA submitted comments urging with the Department of Homeland Security to withdraw this proposed rule, stating that this proposed rule will degrade the quality of U.S. science.

US Global Change Research Program Requests Nominations for Authors of the Fifth National Climate Assessment by Nov. 14

The US Global Change Research Program (USGRP) issued a solicitation for authors and scientific/technical inputs for the fifth National Climate Assessment, which is scheduled to be released in 2022. The program is looking for experts in the natural and social sciences from all non-governmental sectors to be chapter lead authors and technical experts. For more information about the kinds of expertise sought, see the Federal Register Notice.

At the same time, USGRP is seeking scientific and technical climate science reports and studies to contribute to the National Climate Assessment. This includes information about societal drivers, vulnerability, impacts and responses.

Author nominations are due by 11:59pm on Saturday, Nov. 14. For best consideration, submit scientific and technical information by 11:59pm on Saturday, Nov. 14.

The announcement came after an E&E News report that the federal government is slow-walking the production of the next National Climate Assessment. Donald Wuebbles, a University of Illinois climate scientist and an author of the 2018 National Climate Assessment, 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 Trump administration moved the report’s release to the day after Thanksgiving to bury the report. The Global Change Research Act requires the government to issue an assessment every four years. The next assessment is due in 2022.

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


House Natural Resources Committee: Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis Chairwoman Kathy Castor (D-FL) introduced the Ocean Based Climate Solutions Act (H.R. 8682). This over 300-page sweeping bill bans new offshore oil and gas development and requires shipping vessels to report carbon emissions. Among other provisions, it also creates a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) blue carbon grant program for projects to protect and restore blue carbon ecosystems and sets a national policy to conserve 30% of the oceans by 2030. Grijalva hopes to hold a committee hearing for the bill before the end of the year, but he did not commit to passing this bill out of committee before the end of Congress’s current session.

Diversity and Inclusion: Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH) introduced a bill (H.R. 8595) to cancel President Donald Trump’s September executive order “Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping.” This order forbids federal agencies and contractors from holding diversity trainings featuring ‘divisive concepts’ or ‘stereotyping’ or ‘scapegoating’ based on race or sex. ESA and over 40 other scientific societies and organizations wrote to Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought in early October, urging the administration to rescind this order, citing the need for diverse perspectives and talents in the scientific enterprise. Beatty’s legislation has 26 co-sponsors, all Democrats. House Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) is a co-sponsor.

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

Executive Branch

White House: President Donald Trump signed an executive order establishing a One Trillion Trees Interagency Council. Under the order, the council would be tasked with coordinating US involvement in this effort and creating a methodology to track efforts under the initiative. The interagency council would be chaired by the secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior. The council would also include the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the secretaries of Energy and State and other agency heads.

President Trump announced that the US would join the World Economic Forum’s One Trillion Trees Initiative in January 2020. This executive order mirrors a part of Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR) ‘s Trillion Trees Act (H.R. 5859).

White House: A new executive order creates a “Schedule F” employment category that would give agency heads sweeping authority to fire career federal workers. The line between political and career employees would be blurred.

E&E News reports, “The order calls government management practice “inadequate” and directs agencies to review within 90 days employees who supervise attorneys, draft regulations or work on policy, and determine whether to classify them under a new “Schedule F” category.

James Goodwin, an analyst at the Center for Progressive Reform, noted that the order would give agency heads “mammoth power” – seemingly a shift from the status quo that relies on the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs to ensure that policymaking aligns with the president’s priorities.”

Coast Guard: A new report, Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing Strategic Outlook, from the U.S. Coast Guard calls on the international community, distant water fleet (DWF) states, coastal nations and the fishing industry to collectively improve transparency and accountability for DWF fleets that fish on an industrial scale far from their home country. China and Taiwan DWF fleets account for 60 percent of the IUU fishing done in other countries’ waters.

NOAA collects and provides information to the Coast Guard about the sustainability of harvested and farmed fish around the globe. Its Fish Watch website reports, “NOAA Fisheries estimates that the United States imports more than 80 percent of the seafood we eat. A significant portion of imported seafood is caught by American fishermen, exported overseas for processing, and then reimported to the United States. Because of our interests both as a seafood-consuming nation and a fishing nation, it is critical that NOAA take an active role in shaping the conservation and management of international fisheries.”

EPA: Administrator Andrew Wheeler appointed John Graham to be the chairman of the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB). Graham is a professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University and served as the head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs during the George W. Bush administration. This office oversees federal regulations. Former SAB Chairman Michael Honeycutt stepped down from the board. Under Honeycutt’s leadership, the SAB often clashed with the administration over EPA rules such as the new Waters of the US rule and the proposed Transparency in Science rule.

Wheeler and his predecessor at the EPA, Scott Pruitt, have shifted the SAB’s membership to include more industry scientists. Pruitt also appointed Barbara Beck, a toxicologist for the environmental and risk sciences consulting company, to be the SAB’s vice chair. Pruitt also added Kenneth Mundy to the SAB. Mundy is an epidemiologist who has conducted research funded by the American Chemistry Council and appeared as Republican witness before the House Science Committee. The American Chemistry Council represents chemical companies.

During a trip to Florida, Wheeler announced that the EPA is moving towards banning the use of iragol in boat paints. An EPA ecological risk assessment found that this chemical is harmful to freshwater and marine plants and causes coral bleaching. This interim decision is open for public comment on Regulations.gov through Dec. 22, 2020.



BLM: A federal judge in Montana invalidated three Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land management plans covering federal lands in Montana. This ruling comes after a judge determined that William Perry Pendley has been illegally heading the Bureau of Land Management and that his term exercising the authority of the director of the BLM violates the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. Montana Governor Steve Bullock (D) challenged land management plans approved by Pendley in his state after this decision. Conservation groups say this decision could lead to further challenges around recent BLM decisions. Pendley remains at the BLM despite the legal challenges to his appointment.

Supreme Court: The high court will consider a lawsuit from the Sierra Club and other organizations, alleging that the Trump administration illegally used funds appropriated to the Department of Defense to build a wall on the US Mexico border. Congress allocated $1.375 billion to the Defense Department to build the wall, but the agency spent $2.5 billion on the wall.


Pacific Northwest: Columbia River Gorge Commission approved a revised management plan for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The new plan expands requirements for stream buffers to protect salmon and includes a new chapter about climate change.

Scientific Community

NSF: The Fall 2020 BIO Advisory Committee meeting will be held on October 29 – 30, 2020 and available for viewing on YouTube. Agenda items will include a directorate business update, status update on the research community’s adaptations to the COVID-19 pandemic, BIO’s recent investments in integration across the biological sciences, a joint session on strategies for broadening participation with the Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering, discussion with the NSF Director, and BIO’s investments in collections. For more information and the YouTube links, visit the BIO AC event page,

The NSF Convergence Accelerator issued a Dear Colleague Letter (NSF-21-012): Request for Information (RFI) on Future Topics for the NSF Convergence Accelerator program to capture national-scale societal impact ideas from the global community for fiscal year 2022. The RFI is the kickoff of the Convergence Accelerator’s ideation process. Selected ideas will be asked to submit a conference proposal to further develop the proposed idea and gather insights into a final report to help NSF determine convergence research topics for 2022.

NAS: The Committee on Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine will hold a series of webinars examining the impact of COVID-19 on women in STEM fields Nov. 2-9. These webinars will be based on papers commissioned as part of a National Academies report. For more information and to register, visit the event page.

Register to Vote

The 2020 elections are happening this November, with early voting and vote by mail already happening now. 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 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.