Special Policy News 1: The Transition

Special Policy News 1: The Transition

In This Issue:

ESA Statement on Science in the Biden Administration
“The ecological community stands ready to work together with the Biden administration by providing scientific expertise to further inform equitable and evidence-based policy decisions.”

President Biden Takes Office, Orders Review of Trump Environmental Regulations
Biden’s first actions as president include rejoining the Paris climate agreement and canceling the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.

President Biden Unveils Top Science Advisor, Climate Policy Team and More
Biden nominates biologist Dr. Eric Lander to be the White House Director of Science and Technology Policy and elevates this position to cabinet rank.

Senate begins confirmation hearings for Biden’s cabinet nominees, including a hearing for Energy Secretary nominee Jennifer Granholm this week.

Executive Branch
Financial regulator approves rule prohibiting banks from discriminating against certain business categories.

States challenge EPA’s decision to retain air quality standards.

Scientific Community
National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine seeks experts to serve on a study committee about addressing inaccurate and misleading information about biological threats.

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

ESA Correspondence to Policymakers

Opportunities to Get Involved
Federal Register opportunities.

ESA Statement on Science in the Biden Administration

Jan. 25, 2021

“The Ecological Society of America is in full support of President Joe Biden’s bold actions to restore the central role of science in guiding policy and decision making that is research and evidence-based. As a country, we face many challenges: the COVID-19 pandemic, accelerating impacts of climate change, and racial, economic and environmental injustice to name but a few. Confronting these and other crises simultaneously and ensuring a better quality of life for all Americans requires national leadership that is grounded in facts and truth and advised by stellar scientific minds. The Biden administration is ensuring just that.

By historically elevating the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology to the Cabinet-level, President Biden is putting science at the forefront of his administration. ESA applauds the nomination of Dr. Eric Lander to fill both this role and the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) role. Dr. Lander’s contributions to the Human Genome Project, his leadership at the Broad Institute, and his experience as the former co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) uniquely positions him to ensure that strong science guides sound policy. We also applaud the appointments of Dr. Alondra Nelson as the Deputy Director for Science and Society, Dr. Maria Zuber and Dr. Frances Arnold as PCAST co-chairs, and Kei Koizumi as OSTP Chief of Staff.

These appointments are outstanding, as are this administration’s initial actions. President Biden’s first days in office have been spent signing Executive Orders (EO) to advance science-based federal leadership in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, protecting sacred and ecologically important national monuments, suspending oil leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, rejoining the World Health Organization, and rolling back dozens of poorly conceived attacks on essential environmental protections. These, and numerous other EOs, signal the value that the administration places on science-informed policy and decision making. Furthermore, the Biden administration’s leadership in racial justice and commitment to diversity across government are beacons of hope for a stronger society.

The ecological community stands ready to work together with the Biden administration by providing scientific expertise to further inform equitable and evidence-based policy decisions.”

Kathleen C. Weathers, President, Ecological Society of America

President Biden Takes Office, Orders Review of Trump Environmental Regulations and More

Upon taking office Jan. 20, President Joe Biden quickly signed a series of climate and environment-related orders directing the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, canceling the permit for the KeystoneXL pipeline and pausing oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Biden also vowed to re-establish and improve an Obama-era process to determine the social cost of carbon and methane.

The administration is planning a ‘Climate Day’ for Jan. 27 and is expected to issue an executive order about “science and evidence based decision-making” in the federal agencies then.

President Biden also revoked Trump executive orders that elimated diversity, equity and inclusion training programs for federal employees and reversed a plan to create a “Schedule F” category for federal employees. Scientific societies, including ESA, were concerned that creating a “Schedule F” category would lead to career professionals – including scientists – being removed from their positions for political reasons. The scientific community, including ESA, widely denounced the training executive orders as well.

Biden ordered a review of all agency actions during the Trump administration, including several high-profile environmental regulations and other administrative actions:

  • The executive order directs the Secretary of the Interior to review the Trump administration’s orders shrinking the Bear Ears, Grand Staircase Escalante and the Northeast Canyons and Seamonts National Monuments and determine whether restoring the previous monument boundaries would be appropriate. ESA opposed the Trump administration’s efforts to shrink these national monuments.
  • Biden’s team is also likely to re-examine the recent rewrite of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations. This Trump rule was supposedly intended to ‘streamline’ and ‘modernize’ NEPA and speed approval of infrastructure projects like pipelines and highways. Environmental justice group have pushed for a repeal of the Trump regulations by arguing that the changes muted the voices of communities who use the NEPA process to draw attention to the impacts of new industrial projects on their air and water. ESA and other scientific societies also opposed this rule.
  • The Trump EPA’s ‘transparency in science’ rule which rule limits its use of science where the underlying data is not publicly available. The scientific community, including ESA, has opposed this rule since it was first proposed in 2018, as well as its legislative predecessors the HONEST Act and the Secret Science Act. Scientific and public health groups said that it will limit the wide swaths of research and data that the EPA could use to make informed policy decisions and fulfill their mission to protect the public health and environment.
  • Another executive order freezes an Interior Department effort to ease sage grouse habitat protections. The Trump administration had reversed parts of a landmark Obama-era plan to protect sage grouse habitat across 10 western states, preventing the need to list the bird as an endangered species.
  • The Biden administration is also revaluating the Trump administration’s changes to the Endangered Species Act regulation, as well as recently finalize regulations that removed endangered species protections for gray wolves and shrunk critical habitat for northern spotted owls.
  • Biden order the US Department of Agriculture to review a 2020 Forest Service decision to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the 2001 Roadless Rule. This decision opened up more areas of the forest to logging. ESA opposed the Forest Service’s proposal exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule.

The Washington Post has started a tracker detailing the status of Trump’s environmental actions and Biden’s efforts to overturn these actions.

Biden Chief of Staff Ron Klain also issued a memo freezing all new or pending regulations, so that the new administration can review any last-minute Trump initiatives. Another order signed by acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega suspends new fossil fuel leasing and permitting on federal lands for 60 days. Top Interior officials may approve new projects on a case-by-case basis.

With Democrats holding the White House and slim majorities in the U.S. House and the Senate, Congress could use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn these rules. The 1996 Congressional Review Act only requires a simple majority vote in both the House and Senate, with the president’s consent, to cancel a regulation finalized within the final 60 congressional legislative days, which would most likely include any regulation finalized after Aug. 2. In 2017, Republicans used the CRA to kill the Bureau of Land Management’s revisions to its land management planning regulations among other Obama-era regulations.

President Biden Unveils Top Science Advisor, Climate Policy Team and More

President Joe Biden nominated Dr. Eric Lander to serve as the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and elevated this position to Cabinet-rank. “For the first time in history, I’m going to be elevating the presidential science adviser to a Cabinet rank, because we think it’s that important,” Biden said. Lander will simultaneously serve as the director of the White House of Office of Science and Technology (OSTP). His nomination will need to be confirmed by the Senate. Lander is a geneticist who played a key role in the Human Genome Project.

Under President Barack Obama, he was the co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Lander most recently led the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard as president and founding director. He is a recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship and the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. He is a professor of biology at MIT and a professor of systems biology at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Alondra Nelson is slated to be Biden’s OSTP deputy director for science and society. She is president of the Social Science Research Council and Harold F. Linder Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study. She is a scholar of science, technology, and social inequality, according to her website. Her latest book is entitled “The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome.”

Kei Koizumi was named as Lander’s OSTP chief of staff. Most recently, Koizumi was a Visiting Scholar in Science Policy at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He joined AAAS in February 2017 after eight years as Assistant Director for Federal Research and Development and Senior Advisor to the Director for the National Science and Technology Council at OSTP. Before joining OSTP in February 2009, he served as the Director of the R&D Budget and Policy Program at AAAS. He received his M.A. from the Center for International Science, Technology, and Public Policy program at George Washington University. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Dr. Frances H. Arnold and Dr. Maria Zuber will serve as the external Co-Chairs of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Arnold is a California Institute of Technology chemical engineer and a Nobel Laureate in Chemistry. Zuber is an astrophysicist and the vice president for research at MIT. She is a current member and former chair of the National Science Board. Former President Donald Trump did not reconstitute the PCAST until over two years into his term.

Biden nominated a trio of three deputies to environmental agencies. All of these positions are Senate confirmed. Janet McCabe has been nominated to be the Environmental Protection Agency’s deputy administrator. McCabe worked for the EPA during the Obama administration, leading the EPA’s air office. She also served as the air director for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. Elizabeth Kline, a former Interior official during the Obama and Clinton administration, is Biden’s nominee to be deputy secretary of the Interior. Biden nominated Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service Commissioner Jewel Bronaugh to be the deputy of secretary of Agriculture. Bronaugh is the former dean of the College of Agriculture at Virginia State University. She would be the first Black woman to hold this position.

President Joe Biden announced more top White House climate advisors. This announcement follows the appointment of former Secretary of State John Kerry to be the administration’s climate envoy and former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to be the White House Climate Czar. McCarthy will coordinate climate policy across the federal agencies. Kerry will lead U.S. climate diplomacy efforts. The Biden White House has more people with ‘climate’ in their titles than any other administration.

  • David Hayes is the special assistant to the president for climate policy. Hayes was deputy Interior Secretary during the Obama and Clinton administrations and the director of New York University Law School’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center.
  • Cecilia Martinez, a top environmental justice and climate surrogate for the Biden campaign is the senior director for environmental justice at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Martinez is the co-founder and executive director of the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy.
  • Maggie Thomas is the chief of staff for the Office of Domestic Climate Policy. Thomas was a climate advisor to former presidential candidates Governor Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
  • Sonia Aggarwal is senior adviser for climate policy and innovation. Aggarwal is co-founder of a think tank, Energy Innovation.
  • Jahi Wise is senior adviser for climate policy and finance. Wise was the policy director for the Coalition for Green Capital.
  • Jeff Maroothian is special assistant to the president for climate and science agency personnel. Maroothian previously worked for the District of Columbia Department of Transportation and the federal Department of Transportation during the Obama administration.

The administration also announced lists of top political appointees at the Interior Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Agricultural Department and the Energy Department. None of these position are Senate confirmed. Shannon Estenoz, the 2016 recipient of ESA’s Regional Policy Award, will be the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Fish and Wildlife and Parks in the Interior Department. Estenoz led Everglades restoration initiatives in the Interior Department during the Obama administration. Former Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Martha Williams will serve as second-in-command at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and as the acting USFWS director until the Senate confirms a nominee for that position. Biden has not yet nominated a USFWS director.

Former USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources and the Environment Robert Bonnie will lead the USDA’s climate efforts in the Biden administration. Bonnie was the top political appointee overseeing the US Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service during the Obama administration.

The Washington Post reported a handful of political appointees to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Karen Hyun is the chief of staff for NOAA. Hyun most recently worked for the National Audubon Society as the vice president for coastal conservation and has worked for NOAA, the Department of Commerce and the Department of the Interior.


Senate Confirmation Hearings

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to consider former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm’s nomination to be Energy secretary Jan. 29 at 9:30 am eastern.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing to consider Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo’s nomination to be Commerce secretary Jan. 26 at 10:00 am eastern. The Commerce Department includes NOAA.

NDAA: The Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act requires the Department of Defense to update its Climate Change Roadmap and issue reports on its climate adaptation and resiliency efforts and greenhouse gas emissions. The bill also requires the agency to fund research and development of advanced water harvesting technologies to address water security issues in areas impacted by drought due to climate change.

Legislative updates:

  • Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) reintroduced the Roadless Area Conservation Act (H.R 279). This bill permanently codifies the U.S. Forest Service’s 2001 Roadless Rule, effectively prohibiting logging in 60 million acres of environmentally important areas of the National Forest System. Cantwell and Gallego introduced similar legislation during previous session of Congress. In late 2020, the Trump administration finalized a rule removing 9.4 million acres in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule. The Biden administration is likely to revisit this decision. Rep. Gallego’s bill has 64 co-sponsors, all Democrats.
  • Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-WI) introduced a bill (H.R. 286) to prohibit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the gray wolf as an endangered species. The Trump administration finalized a rule removing the gray wolf from the endangered species list. Environmental groups are challenging this rule in the courts.

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

Executive Branch

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: The Office of the Comptroller of Currency issued a final rule prohibiting financial institutions from refusing to finance entire business categories, assuming that those business activities are legal. The rule comes after all major U.S. bank pledged not to finance development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The rule’s fate is unclear – Democrats could use the Congressional Review Act to overturn the rule. President Joe Biden will also need to appoint a new Comptroller of the Currency. Biden moved to pause drilling in the Arctic shortly after taking office.


EPA: Seventeen states and New York City, led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, are challenging the Trump administration’s decision to retain current air quality standards for particulate matter. The lawsuit argues that the EPA’s review of the science in this decision was “flawed and unlawfully biased.” The EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee was split on maintaining air quality standards.

Florida: Environmental groups are challenging the EPA’s decision to allow Florida to take over Clean Water Act dredge-and-fill permitting. Florida became the third state to manage it own Clean Water Act permitting in December 2020.

Scientific Community

Diversity: A report from Green 2.0 finds that diversity among the staff and board members of environmental nonprofits remained about the same in 2020, when compared to 2019.

Climate: The National Academies of Science is seeking approximately 10 new members for the Committee to Advise the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Areas of expertise needed include climate variability and change; adaptation; ecosystem impacts and interactions; water cycle; carbon cycle; atmospheric composition; climate modeling; land use and land cover change; decision support tools; and risk characterization and communication. Nominations are due Feb. 12, 2021.

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.