Special Policy News #6: The Transition

In this issue:


Biden Infrastructure Plan Includes Funding for Natural Infrastructure, Scientific Infrastructure
$2 trillion plan includes $50 billion to create a new technology directorate for NSF.

Lawmakers Introduce Competing Proposals to Increase Science Funding
House Science Committee bill crease a new Science and Engineering Solutions directorate at NSF.

Senate Confirms Biden’s Pick for Deputy Secretary of Energy, Biden Establishes Environmental Justice Advisory Council
Environmental Justice Advisory Council includes prominent scholars, advocates and representatives of environmental justice communities.

Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Mazie Hirono introduce a resolution condemning anti-Asian sentiment, racism and discrimination. 

Executive Branch
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy forms Interagency Task Force on Scientific Integrity. 

Scientific Community
National Academies recommends that the U.S. start a solar geoengineering research program.

Upcoming Events
The first Nobel Prize Summit will focus on sustainability.

Science Policy Opportunities
EPA seeks new members of the Scientific Advisory Board and Clean Air Advisory Committee.

What We’re Reading
DOT halts Texas highway project in test of Biden’s promises on race.

Federal Register opportunities.

Biden Infrastructure Plan Includes Funding for Natural Infrastructure, Scientific Infrastructure

President Joe Biden unveiled a sweeping $2 trillion infrastructure plan.  This plan, which the administration is framing as a jobs plan, aims to improve the country’s infrastructure while creating millions of jobs and positioning the U.S. to “out-compete China.” There is $180 billion pegged overall in the plan for investment in research and development and “technologies of the future.”

The plan includes $10 billion to establish a Civilian Climate Corps, which would put young Americans to work conserving public lands and waters and advancing environmental justice. Biden’s plan calls for protecting and restoring nature-based infrastructure including forests and wetlands. The plan requests that Congress fund wildfire protection and coastal resilience projects, support climate-smart agriculture and major land and water restoration projects like those in the Everglades and the Great Lakes.

Echoing the contents of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Todd Young’s (R-IN) Endless Frontiers Act from the last Congress, Biden endorses investing $50 billion to create a new technology directorate in the National Science Foundation to fund research on topics like semiconductors and advanced computing, advanced communications technology, advanced energy technologies and biotechnology. Biden also calls for $40 billion for upgrading research infrastructure, with half of this funding going to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). A new climate-focused national lab will be affiliated with an HBCU.

Another $35 billion goes towards climate solutions research and developing clean energy technologies and jobs. This includes launching an Advanced Research Projects Agency – Climate (ARPA-C), which will develop new methods for reducing emissions and building climate resilience. Biden vows to expand funding across the board for climate research.

The plan also includes another $10 billion for R&D at HBCU and MSIs and $15 billion to create centers of excellence that serve as research incubators at HBCUs and other MSIs to provide graduate fellowships and other opportunities for underserved populations. All of these programs aim to eliminate racial and gender inequities in STEM.

Meanwhile, progressives, led by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI) are promoting a separate $10 trillion decade-spanning green infrastructure plan, which sets a goal of 100% zero-carbon electricity by 2035, while creating 15.5 million jobs a year.

See graphic: Breaking down Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan

Lawmakers Introduce Competing Proposals to Increase Science Funding

House Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) introduced the National Science Foundation for the Future Act (H.R. 2225). This bill creates a new Science and Engineering Solutions Directorate within NSF and authorizes funding for this directorate at $1 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2022. Lawmakers recommend increasing funding for this directorate by 50 percent each year. The directorate’s budget reaches $5 billion in FY 2026.  This total funding amount is less than the amount proposed in Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) authorizing Endless Frontiers Act, from the last Congress, and soon to be reintroduced in the current Congress, that proposes creating a technology directorate within NSF, which would be funded at $34 billion by FY 2024.

Another key difference between the Senate Endless Frontiers Act and the House National Science Foundation for the Future Act is that the House Science Committee bill does not name specific technology research areas. The Endless Frontiers Act emphasizes the “Industries of the Future,” a term that typically refers to artificial intelligence, quantum information science, advanced manufacturing, 5G and biotechnology.

The House Science Committee bill authorizes a six percent increase each year through 2026 to existing NSF programs, with the agency receiving $10.5 billion for these programs in FY 2022. The bill also provides a 50% increase for specific programs, including the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), the Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure Program and the NSF Research Traineeship Program.

House Science Committee Subcommittee on Research and Technology Chairwoman Haley Stevens (D-MI) and Ranking Member Michael Waltz (R-FL) are also original co-sponsors of the National Science Foundation for the Future Act.

Lawmakers direct NSF to increase the number of Graduate Research Fellowships (GRF) awarded each year to 3,000. In recent years, NSF has awarded 2,000 Graduate Research Fellowships a year. The bill also directs the GRF program to support “critical STEM fields” and conduct outreach to solicit GRFP applications from underrepresented groups in STEM.

Shortly before introducing the National Science for the Future Act, House Science Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) and other Republican Committee members introduced the Securing American Leadership in Science and Technology Act (H.R. 2153, SALSTA). The bill doubles funding for basic science agencies, including the National Science Foundation, to increase U.S. competitiveness in science and technology with China and to develop clean energy technologies to reduce emissions.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Science Committee member Bill Foster (D-IL) reintroduced the American Innovation Act (S. 961 & H.R. 2140). This bill provides annual budget increases of five percent plus inflation to NSF, the Department of Energy Office of Science and the research arms of NASA, the Department of Defense and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other Senate Democrats are most likely preparing to reintroduce the Endless Frontiers Act as part of a larger legislation package (see ESA Policy News, March 22, 2021). The version of the bill from the last Congress proposes to rename NSF the National Science and Technology Foundation and would authorize up to $100 billion spread over five years to create a new technology-focused directorate. The Endless Frontier Act that will be introduced in the 117th Congress will most likely have some significant changes from the last version introduced in the 116th Congress.

President Biden is expected to release his first president’s budget request which will outline the administration’s budget priorities shortly.

See also: Science Committee Makes Counterproposal to Endless Frontier Act

Senate Confirms Biden’s Pick for Deputy Secretary of Energy, Biden Establishes Environmental Justice Advisory Council

The full Senate overwhelmingly voted to confirm David Turk as the deputy secretary for the Department of Energy. Turk worked for the Energy and State Departments during the Obama administration. Most recently, he was the deputy executive director for the International Energy Agency, which advises Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries about energy policy.

The Biden administration withdrew Elizabeth Klein’s nomination to be deputy secretary for the Department of the Interior. Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-WV) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) raised objections to her nomination because of her opposition to fossil fuels. Klein’s name was withdrawn for the job before Debra Haaland was confirmed to be the Interior secretary. Although she expressed concerns about Interior Secretary Haaland’s opposition to fossil fuels, Murkowski voted for Haaland’s confirmation and recognized the historical significance of Haaland’s nomination to be the first Native American cabinet secretary.

Advisory Councils

President Joe Biden announced the membership of the White House Council Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC). Members include Robert Bullard, a Texas Southern University professor often credited as the “father of environmental justice,” as well as scholars, advocates and representatives of environmental justice communities from across the country. The White House created the council under Biden’s Jan. 22 executive order, “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.” The advisory council is tasked with providing advice and recommendations to the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality and the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council on a whole-of-government approach to environmental justice.

During the first meeting of the WHEJAC, the group received an overview of how the administration plans to invest 40% of clean energy spending in marginalized communities.


Discrimination: Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) introduced a resolution (S.Res. 133) that condemns anti-Asian sentiment, racism and discrimination and calls on federal officials, in collaboration with state and local agencies and Asian American and Pacific Islander community organizations, to address the rise in COVID-19-related hate crimes. ESA and other scientific organizations endorsed a similar resolution from Duckworth, Hirono and Vice President Kamala Harris introduced during the 116th Congress in April 2020.

Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) introduced a similar resolution (H.Res. 151) in the House of Representatives in February 2021. Meng’s resolution has 146 co-sponsors.

ESA issued a statement calling on ESA members to demonstrate support for ecologists and students of Asian heritage in their places of work, including on campus and in the field, in March 2021.

Legislative updates:

  • Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) introduced the Global Amphibians Protection Act (H.R. 2026), which would re-establish the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Amphibians in Decline Conservation Fund. This program provided competitive grants for amphibian conservation to wildlife management authorities in forging countries. The grant program ended in 2016 due to a lack of funding.
  • The House Transportation and Infrastructure approved the Promoting United Government Efforts to Save Our Sound (PUGET SOS) Act (R. 1144) from by Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA). This bill would create an EPA office to coordinate efforts to protect and restore the Puget Sound and authorize $250 million in funding over five years for these efforts.

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

Executive Branch

White House: Office of Science and Technology Policy Deputy Director for Science and Society Alondra Nelson and Deputy Director for Climate and the Environment Jane Lubchenco issued a letter to federal agencies announcing the formation of an Interagency Task Force on Scientific Integrity of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). Under a Biden memorandum, this NSTC task force will be charged with examining federal scientific integrity policies and specifically whether existing federal scientific integrity policies:

  • Prevent improper political interference in the conduct of scientific research and the collection of scientific or technological data.
  • Prevent the suppression or distortion of scientific or technological findings, data, information, conclusions, or technical results.
  • Support scientists and researchers of all genders, races, ethnicities, and backgrounds.
  • Advance the equitable delivery of federal government’s programs.

EPA: Administrator Michael Regan disbanded the membership of both the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) and the Scientific Advisory Board. During the Trump administrator, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt instituted a policy that banned EPA grantees from serving on agency advisory committees. The courts eventually threw out this rule. Former EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler suddenly disbanded two advisory panels to the CASAC in 2018. Pruitt and Wheeler stacked the Scientific Advisory Board with industry-friendly scientists. However, the SAB repeatedly came out in opposition to major Trump administration rules, including the ‘Transparency in Science’ rule and the Trump administration revisions to the Waters of the U.S. rule.

Separately, Regan told agency staff that, under Biden’s memo on scientific integrity, a team led by the agency’s science advisor and the scientific integrity official are reviewing the membership of the EPA’s advisory boards and any policies that impede the use of science in agency activities.

USFWS: The agency is proposing downlisting the status of the Hawaiian stilt (Himantopus mexicanus knudseni, also known as  ae`o) from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife credits wetland protections for helping stilt’s populations recover since the bird was first listed as endangered species in 1970. This proposed rule is open for public comment through May 24, 2021.

A new species status assessment for the grizzly bear in the lower 48 states finds that grizzly bear populations have recovered since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first listed the species under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. However, grizzly bears still only occupy 6% of their historic range.

Scientific Community

NASEM: The National Academies is accepting applications for the 2021 Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program. Fellows will spend 12 weeks working at the National Academies in Washington, D.C. between from Aug. 30 to Nov. 19, 2021. Interested individuals who have earned a graduate degree in a STEM-related field within the last five years are encouraged to apply. Applications are due April 30.

A report entitled Reflecting Sunlight recommends that the U.S. start a solar geoengineering research program. The U.S. Global Change Research Program would lead oversight of geoengineering research efforts across the federal agencies. The report recommends that the government would provide $100 to $200 million for geoengineering research over five years. This research program would help determine if solar geoengineering should be considered further as a part of a “robust portfolio” of options to adapt and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Upcoming Events

  • Cornell University’s Atkinson Center for Sustainability and Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering will hold a series of seminars this spring about climate change with topics ranging from implications for agriculture, ecosystems and food systems and economic, ethical, and policy insights on the issue.
  • The Advisory Committee for the Directorate for Biological Sciences will meet virtually April 15 and 16. The meeting will be live-streamed via YouTube. More details, including a meeting agenda, will be released soon
  • The first Nobel Prize Summit will bring together Nobel Prize laureates, scientists, policymakers, business leaders and youth leaders to explore the question: What can be achieved in this decade to put the world on a path to a more sustainable, more prosperous future for all of humanity?” The Nobel Prize Summit is hosted by the Nobel Foundation and organized by the National Academy of Sciences in partnership with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and the Stockholm Resilience Centre/Beijer Institute. The virtual event takes place April 26-28. Register here.
  • The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the French government have agreed to hold the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2020 September 3-11, 2021 in Marseille, France. The event, originally scheduled for June 2020, was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This event IUCN brings together the global nature conservation community, including top international experts in conservation science, policy and practice. Held every four years, the Congress allows IUCN’s 1,400 Member organizations, including states, civil society and indigenous peoples, to democratically determine the most pressing issues in nature conservation and actions to address them.

Science Policy Opportunities

The EPA is seeking new members of the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) and Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC).

For the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, the SAB Staff Office is seeking nominations of experts to serve on the CASAC with expertise in air quality, biostatistics, ecology, environmental economics, environmental engineering, epidemiology, exposure assessment, medicine, risk assessment and toxicology. The SAB Staff Office is especially interested in scientists with the expertise described above who have knowledge and experience relating to criteria pollutants (carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen oxides, ozone, particulate matter and sulfur oxides). Nominations are due May 3, 2021.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is seeking expert nominations to serve on the Committee on Independent Scientific Review of Everglades Restoration Progress.  They are seeking experts in hydrology; hydrologic and ecological modeling; aquatic, estuarine, wetland, and terrestrial ecology; wildlife biology; ecosystem restoration planning and management; water resources planning and management; systems engineering; water quality; geography; economics; monitoring; and data management.

What We’re Reading


ESA Correspondence to Lawmakers 

Federal Register Opportunities

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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