Policy News: December 7, 2020

 The Katherine S. McCarter

Graduate Student Policy Award

Applications are now being accepted.

ESA is now accepting applications for its 2021 Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award. Offered each year, this award gives graduate students science policy training and opportunities to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Visit the ESA website for more information and details on application requirements. The deadline to apply is Jan. 15, 2020.

In This Issue:

Biden Names Top Advisors in the New Administration
Agency review teams include many Obama administration alumni.

Inform Science Policy Recommendation for President-elect Biden’s Administration
ESA asks for your assistance in creating a list of federal science-related priorities.

Committee leadership shuffles for the 117th Congress.

Executive Branch
Army Corps of Engineers rejects permit for the Pebble Mine.

World Meteorological Organization issues State of the Global Climate report.

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

Opportunities to Get Involved
Federal Register opportunities.

Biden Names Tops Advisors in the New Administration

President-elect Joe Biden started to announce his nominees for top positions in his cabinet and in his administration.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry will serve as the administration’s climate envoy within the National Security Council. Kerry will be the first person to hold in this position – he will lead U.S. climate diplomacy efforts. The Biden team has suggested that it will appoint another high-profile individual to lead domestic climate efforts. Kerry’s position does not require Senate confirmation.

Biden nominated Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden to be the White House Office of Management and Budget Director. Among other responsibilities, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) prepares the annual President’s Budget Request and reviews all new federal regulations through the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Along with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, OMB issues a yearly memo to the agency heads outlining research and development budget priorities. Tanden’s confirmation is expected to be contentious, with Senate Republicans already opposing her nomination.

The Public Affairs Office is also continually updating the federal agency transition tracker as President-elect Biden announces his nominees for positions of interest.

Meanwhile, the incoming administration continues to lay out its plans for the first days of Biden’s term. After the General Services Administration formally recognized Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 election, Biden’s transition team started meeting with agency officials. Former Obama and Clinton advisor John Podesta told the attendees at the American Geophysical Union meeting that Biden will issue an executive order about scientific integrity and science-based decision making immediately after the inauguration.

See also: Graphic: Tracking Biden’s picks for Cabinet-level and high ranking posts.

Inform Science Policy Recommendations for President-elect Biden’s Administration

ESA asks for your assistance in creating a list of federal science-related priorities that require attention to restore science to its proper place in President-elect Biden’s administration.

Over the past four years, many federal science reports, programs, regulations or data sets have been diminished, discounted, underfunded or discontinued. Complete the form below and tell us what needs to be restored under a Biden administration and what you envision as high priority policies. ESA will share the information with President-elect Biden’s Office of Science Technology and Policy Transition Team.

View and Complete the Science Policy Recommendation form.

Be as specific as possible.

Many thanks,

ESA Public Affairs Office


Senate: The full Senate sent the Save our Seas 2.0 Act (S. 1982) to the president for his signature. This bill creates a Marine Debris Foundation to support NOAA’s marine debris efforts. It encourages partnerships between federal agencies and foreign governments to address marine debris and plastic waste mitigation. The bill’s lead sponsors are Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

NDAA: A provision in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 6395requires federal research agencies to ask potential grantees to disclose all sources of current funding for key personnel on grant applications. This requirement comes amid bipartisan concerns about foreign espionage in federally-funded research. Researchers who fail to disclose funding sources could lose their grant funding. The National Defense Authorization Act sets policy for the Defense Department and is considered a “must pass” bill for Congress. Both chambers of Congress are expected to vote on the bill this week.

House Committees: Democratic and Republican Steering Committees nominated new leaders for committees with jurisdiction over environmental policy for the 117th Congress, which begins in January:

  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) will chair the House Appropriations Committee. DeLauro currently chairs the House Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Subcommittee and is expected to retain that role in the 117th Congress.
  • Rep. David Scott (D-GA) will be the next chair of the House Agriculture Committee. Scott will be the first African American to hold this position. He pledged to focus on addressing racial equities in agriculture and upholding food safety net programs. He replaces Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) who lost re-election. Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) will lead Republicans on this Committee.
  • Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) will be the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, replacing retiring ranking member Greg Walden (R-OR). Among other responsibilities, the Energy and Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over environmental protection, energy and climate change policy. McMorris Rodgers strongly supports hydropower energy.
  • Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR) will be the ranking member for the House Natural Resources Committee. Current Ranking Member Rob Bishop (R-UT) did not seek re-election this year. Westerman is the lead sponsor of the Trillion Trees Act (H.R. 5859), which sets a goal of planting a trillion trees by 2050.

Legislative Updates:

  • The full House passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 1380), which bans private ownership and the sale of big cat species, such as tigers, lions, leopards and cheetahs.
  • Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA) introduced the Marine Mammal Climate Change Protection Act (H.R. 8795), which directs NOAA to develop climate impact management plans for marine mammals.

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

Executive Branch

NSF: President Donald Trump appointed Scott Stanley and Matthew Malkan to the National Science Board (NSB). Stanley is a mechanical engineer and a vice president at Techno Planet, Inc., an aerospace company and Malkan is a University of California, Los Angeles astrophysicist. Both will serve six-year terms on the board. The National Science Board is the oversight body for all the National Science Foundation. The NSB also serves as independent science advisors to the President and Congress.

Army Corps of Engineers: The agency denied a Clean Water Act permit for the proposed Pebble gold and copper mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Alaska Commander Col. Damon Delarosa said in a statement that the mine is “contrary to the public interest.” In August 2020, the agency determined that the project “cannot be permitted as proposed” and gave the mining company 90 days to submit a mitigation plan.

These developments are in stark contrast to the Trump administration’s previous approach to the Pebble Mine. In July 2020, the Army Corps of Engineers released a final environmental impact statement for the mine concluding that it would not have a significant impact on the region’s salmon fishery. The Bristol Bay watershed is home to the world’s most productive sockeye salmon fishery. In 2014, the EPA vetoed the mine, citing the impacts of the mine on fisheries. Environmental groups and Alaska Native communities have vehemently opposed the mine for years.

BLM: The Interior Department will hold a lease auction for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Jan. 6. Industry interest in these leases is low due to the high cost of building infrastructure for drilling, the low oil price and the potential that the Biden administration could block drilling. All major U.S. banks have pledged not to finance development in the refuge. A provision in the 2017 tax bill directs the Bureau of Land Management to hold an oil and gas lease auction for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by December 2021.

EPA: The agency revived a long-shelved flood control project along the Mississippi River by overturning a veto of the Yazoo Backwater Area Pumps project. The EPA vetoed this project under the Clean Water Act in 2008, citing the adverse impacts project on 67,000 acres of wetlands and wildlife habitat. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) and her predecessor, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), have been pressuring the Trump administration to revisit this decision. American Rivers and other conservation groups will challenge this decision in the courts.

A new draft biological evaluation for glyphosate finds that this herbicide harms nearly all threatened and endangered species. If the EPA’s final evaluation includes the same conclusion, the EPA will have to consult with USFWS and NOAA to develop a plan to protect the affected species.

The EPA celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this month. An EPA website celebrates the agency’s history and accomplishments over the years.

USFWS: The administration released a final environmental impact statement for the agency’s proposed rule codifying a 2017 legal memo declaring that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act only applies to the intentional killing of birds. This environmental impact statement clears the way for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to finalize the proposed rule before the inauguration. Previous administrations have prosecuted and fined companies for violations of the MBTA that harm protected birds. Notably, BP paid a $100 million fine under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act after the Deepwater Horizon spill.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes listing the whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) and pepper chub (Macrhybopsis tetranema) under the Endangered Species Act.

Whitebark pine is a tree found in high elevations across the western US and Canada. Most of the tree’s habitat is on U.S. Forest Service lands, with some populations on National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management lands. The tree’s seeds are a key food source for grizzly bears. The agency notes that the species faces four threats: white pine blister rust (an invasive fungus), invasive mountain pine beetle, altered wildfire regimes and climate change. The proposed rule would list the tree as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The rule is open for public comment through Feb. 1, 2021.

The peppered chub is a freshwater fish historically found in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. It is now found only in a small portion of its historical range. USFWS finds that habitat degradation and fragmentation are the primary drivers of the fish’s decline. The agency is accepting public comments on this proposed rule through Feb. 1, 2021.


UN: The latest World Meteorological Organization State of the Global Climate report finds that 2020 will be one of the three warmest years on record, with the past six years being the six warmest years on record. The report notes that this year included the largest number of named tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic ever recorded and severe drought in parts of South America.

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.