Special Policy News 3: The Transition

In This Issue:

White House National Climate Task Forces Meets for the First Time
New Climate Innovation Working Group will work towards an Advanced Research Projects Agency – Climate

House Science Committee and House Natural Resource Committee announces Committee leadership.

Executive Branch
Acting U.S. Geological Survey Director rescinded memo restricting how agency scientists use climate change models and data.

Federal judge upholds sage grouse habitat protections.

Scientific Community
Congressional Research Service hiring for 12 new science and technology positions.

Upcoming Events
ESA webinar: Connecting with the 117th Congress on March 11 at 12:00pm.

What We’re Reading

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.

White House National Climate Task Force Meets for the First Time

The administration launched a Climate Innovation Working Group, as part of the first meeting of Biden’s National Climate Task Force. This group is co-chaired by the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget and will work to coordinate and strengthen efforts to develop climate change mitigation technologies and reach Biden’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

Part of this work will include advancing the President Biden’s campaign promise to start an Advanced Research Projects Agency – Climate (ARPA-C). This agency would be similar to the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), which provides grants for high-risk, high reward research projects that the private sector will not support. Coinciding with this announcement, ARPA-E issued a $100 million grant program for low carbon energy projects.

Separately, Biden’s White House Council on Environmental Quality withdrew issued by the previous administration a draft guidance document that instructed federal agencies to downplay the impacts of federal projects on greenhouse gas emissions during National Environmental Policy Act analysis. The Trump administration never finalized this guidance after repealing an Obama White House guidance document by issuing a executive order titled “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.”

Senate Committee to Hold Confirmation Hearing for Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM)

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources will hold a  for Rep. Deb Haaland’s (D-NM) nomination to be secretary of the Interior Department tomorrow at 9:30 am. If confirmed, Haaland would be the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary. Before the hearing, Committee Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY) indicated that he is likely to oppose Haaland’s nomination. Committee member Steve Daines (R-MT) vowed to block Haaland’s nomination, citing her support for President Biden’s executive order pausing new oil and gas leases on federal lands.

President Joe Biden nominated David Turk to be deputy secretary of the Department of Energy. Turk worked for the Energy and State Departments during the Obama administration. He is currently the deputy executive director for the International Energy Agency, which advises Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries about energy policy. Previously, Biden nominated former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm to serve as the secretary of Energy.

The full Senate is expected to consider Tom Vilsack’s nomination to be the secretary of Agriculture this week. Senate Committees approved the nominations of Jennifer Granholm (D) as Energy secretary, Michael Regan to be EPA administrator and Gina Raimondo to be Commerce secretary. The full Senate has not scheduled votes for these nominations. For more details on the nominations process, see the 


Stimulus: Congress is expected to advance a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package this week. The spending package includes $130 billion for schools, including $40 billion for higher education institutions. Colleges and universities are expected to use at least half of this funding for emergency financial aid for students. The package does not include research relief provisions that the scientific community, including ESA, have requested.

After Congress completes stimulus talks, Congress and the administration are expected to take up an infrastructure package. The infrastructure bill could have a price tag of up $4 trillion and is expected to include climate provisions.

Public lands: The full House is expected to consider the Protecting America’s Wilderness Act this week. This bill contains eight natural resources bills, all of which were previously introduced during the previous 116th Congress. Most of these bills passed the House of Representatives in the 116th Congress but did not advance in the Senate.

  • Diana Degette (D-CO) ‘s Colorado Wilderness Act would designate 660,000 acres of federal lands in the state as wilderness – ensuing permanent protections for these lands.
  • Joe Neguse (D-CO) ‘s Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act (H.R. 577) protects about 73,000 acres of new wilderness areas and around 80,000 acres as recreation and conservation management areas.
  • Derek Kilmer (D-WA) ‘s Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (H.R. 999) would permanently protect more than 126,000 acres of public land on the Olympic Peninsula as wilderness. It would also designate 19 rivers and their major tributaries as Wild and Scenic Rivers.
  • The Central Coast Heritage Protection Act (R. 973), from Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA), would designate around 250,000 acres of public land in California’s Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument as wilderness.
  • House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) ‘s Grand Canyon Protection Act (R. 1052) permanently withdraws around a million acres of land near the Grand Canyon from mining exploration. The mining industry has been interested in mining for uranium in the area since 2007. The area is currently protected by a 20-year mining moratorium issued by former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in 2012.
  • Jared Huffman (D-CA) ‘s Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation and Working Forests Act creates eight new wilderness areas in California and expands nine existing wilderness areas. It also creates the Northwest California Public Lands Remediation Partnership to restore lands damaged by illegal marijuana growing sites.
  • The Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act, sponsored by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), would double the size of California’s Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Pacific Northwest: Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) unveiled a plan to remove four dams on the Lower Snake River to restore salmon populations. The Lower Snake River through Idaho into the Columbia River in eastern Washington. Simpson estimated that the plan has a $33.5 billion price tag, but he noted that the federal government has already spent $17 billion on salmon recovery. The fish is at risk of extinction despite these efforts. The congressman plans to craft legislative language for inclusion in a larger infrastructure package. He is the first Republican to endorse dam removal in the region.

House Science Committee: Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) announced the House Science, Space and Technology Committee’s leadership for their respective parties.

Freshman Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) chairs the Subcommittee on Energy and promised to prioritize environmental justice and the Green New Deal in this position. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI) is now the vice chair of the full committee and the chairwoman of the Research and Technology Subcommittee. Stevens’ subcommittee oversees the National Science Foundation, as wells as STEM education and innovation policy. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) will remain the chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Environment. This subcommittee oversees climate change research and research programs at the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among other responsibilities.  Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL), a Ph.D. physicist, retained his position as chairman of the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight.

On the Republican side, Rep. Michael Walz (R-FL) is the new ranking member for the Research and Technology Subcommittee, replacing Rep. Jim Baird (R-IN). He is one of few Ph.D. scientists in Congress andremains on the Science Committee, but he also assumed a new position as the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research. Freshman Rep. Stephanie (R-OK) replaces Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS) as the Environmental Subcommittee ranking member.

House Natural Resources Committee: Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-AR) released new committee leadership assignments for the 117th Congress. Rep. Jesús Chuy García (D-IL) replaces Rep. Debra Haaland (D-NM) as the vice-chair of the full committee.  Rep. Joe Neguse replaced Haaland as the chair of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. Both García and Neguse were first elected to Congress in 2018. García has focused on environmental justice issues in Congress and Neguse has championed public lands protections in Colorado. Neguse is the first Black lawmaker to lead this subcommittee. Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) will lead the Oversight Subcommittee. Reps. Jared Huffman (D-CA) retains his leadership position as the chair of the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife and Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) will retain his spot as chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. Freshman Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández (D-NM) chairs the Subcommittee for Indigenous People of the United States.

On the Republican side, Rep. Russ Fulcher (R-ID) is now the ranking member of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, replacing Rep. Don Young (R-AK), who is now the ranking member of the Subcommittee for Indigenous People of the United States. Freshman Rep. Cliff Bentz (R-OR) is the ranking member of the Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee. Rep. Louie Gohmert is the vice ranking member of the full committee and the ranking member of the oversight and investigations subcommittee. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) leads Republicans on the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

Appropriations: Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) named the subcommittee chairs for the 117th Congress. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) will lead the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which controls spending for the Interior Department, the USGS, the EPA and the US Forest Service. Former Ranking Member Tom Udall (D-NM) retired at the end of the 116th Congress. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will remain the top Republican on the subcommittee. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) remain the leaders of the Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee. Shaheen took the subcommittee chair spot as a result of Democrats taking the Senate majority. This subcommittee determines the funding for the National Science Foundation and NOAA among other agencies. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) will be the Ranking Member of the Energy and Water Development after former Subcommittee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) retired last year. Alexander oversaw record funding increases for the Department of Energy Office of Science.

Executive Branch

EPA: The agency retracted a toxicity assessment for the chemical PFBS citing concerns that the document was “compromised by political interference” during the Trump administration. PFBS is as per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substance, which are frequently referred to as “forever chemicals.” The EPA has been considering regulating PFAS chemicals for several years – most recently, the Trump administration proposed regulating PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act in Jan. 2021.

USGS: Acting Director David Applegate rescinded a memo limiting how agency scientists use climate change models and data. Former USGS Director James Reilly suggested that researchers should focus on short-term climate projections – i.e., within the 20 to 30 years – and not make longer-term predictions. Applegate’s decision to rescind this memo comes after several senior career officials filed a complaint about the policy.


Sage Grouse: A federal judge in Idaho overturned a Trump administration decision to remove protections for sage grouse on 10 million acres. This decision would have opened these areas to mining. Judge B. Lynn Winmill, determined that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) did not “provide a reasoned explanation for the BLM’s change in position regarding whether the withdrawal was needed for sage grouse conservation,” violating the Administrative Procedures Act. In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to list the sage grouse as an endangered species, citing landmark conservation agreements to protect sage grouse habitat on public lands from the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

Clean Power Plan: A court filing from the Environmental Protection Agency indicates that the Biden administration will propose a new rule regulating greenhouse gases from power plants. The Trump administration issued the Affordable Clean Act, replacing the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. Both rules were subjected to extensive litigation.

NEPA: The Biden administration asked a federal court in West Virginia to pause litgation over the Trump adminstration’s revisions to the National Environmetnal Policy Act regulations. A pause in litigation would give the new administration time to review environmental rules issued during the Trump adminstation. This is part of the larger Biden policy to undo the Trump era policy concerning National Environmental Policy Act analysis and regulation.

ESA and other scientific societies opposed the changes to the NEPA regulations. A multi-society comment from March 2020 stated that the proposed rule would reduce the range of alternatives evaluated, exclude the consideration of critical types of impacts, place arbitrary time and page limits on NEPA documents and reduce public opportunities to review and comment on proposed projects.


UN: The Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights has issued a call for submissions for its upcoming report on the right to science, which will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2021. The report will address the right to science “in the context of examining the dynamics of the interface between scientific progress, availability of scientific information, and science-policy as regards the risks associated with the life cycle of hazardous substances and wastes.” This is an important step forward for applying the right to science to real-world situations. Submissions are due March 15.

Scientific Community


National Academies: The Gulf Research Program (GRP) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine today is accepting applications for the 2021-2022 Science Policy Fellowship. Applications must be submitted by March 3, 2021.To learn more about the Gulf Research Program’s Science Policy Fellowships, visit this page.

Invasive Species: The North American Invasive Species Management Association will hold a week of advocacy and educational webinars for National Invasive Species Awareness Week. The National Envioronementl Coalition on Invasive Species, which ESA participates in, will present its policy recommendations to the Biden adminstration at 2pm eastern on Feb. 22.  

CRS: The Congressional Research Service (CRS) serves as shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress. CRS experts assist at every stage of the legislative process — from the early considerations that precede bill drafting, through committee hearings and floor debate, to the oversight of enacted laws and various agency activities. CRS is a unit within the Library of Congress and is independent of the congressional election cycles. Its employees serve as technical, nonpartisan experts.

CRS approaches complex topics from a variety of perspectives and examines all sides of an issue. Staff members analyze current policies and present the impact of proposed policy alternatives.

The CRS is looking to fill twelve (12) GS-13 Research Analysts positions across a spectrum of current and emerging legislative issues related to science and technology such as: cybersecurity, natural resources, renewable fuels, climate change, and federal uses and oversight of science and technology. Three of the positions are currently posted on the CRS Career Page. The remaining positions will be announced over the course of the next several weeks.

Upcoming Events

Connecting with the 117th Congress

March 11, 12:00pm eastern time

Learn about opportunities to share your science with policy makers. The new 117th Congress shifted the Senate to a Democratic majority and a new president brings new priorities for Congress to consider for legislation.  to identify opportunities to engage with Congress.

The National Science Board will  Feb. 23-24. Agenda topics for the open sessions include a discussion of broader impacts in National Science Foundation grants and NSB’s planned Indicators 2022 report. The NSB will discuss the National Ecological Observatory Network in a closed session. The open sessions will be livestreamed via YouTube.

The House Oversight Committee Subcommittee on Government Operations will hold a Feb. 23 about revitalizing the federal workforce after the Trump administration. The witnesses include a representative from the American Geophysical Union.

The House Science Committee will hold a  about the impacts of coronavirus on the research enterprise at 10:00am on Feb. 25. Dr. Sudip Parikh, the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and other research leaders will testify about the need for research relief.

The Advisory Committee for the Directorate for Biological Sciences will  virtually April 15 and 16. The meeting will be live-streamed via YouTube. More details, including a meeting agenda, will be released soon.

What We’re Reading


Opportunities to Get Involved

Upcoming Public Meetings:

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

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