Policy News: June 14, 2021

In this issue:

Senate Passes U.S. Innovation and Competition Act
Bill increases authorized funding for the National Science Foundation to $29 billion by FY 2026.

Biden’s First Reg Agenda Lays Out Plan to Roll Back Trump Environmental Rules
Federal agencies plan to reverse National Environmental Policy Act rules and more.

Scientist Elected to Congress
Environmental policy expert is elected to the seat vacated by Interior Secretary Debra Haaland.

Senate holds confirmation hearing for Bureau of Land Management director nominee.

Executive Branch
EPA announced plans to repeal and replace the Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Rule. US Fish and Wildlife Service reverses Endangered Species Act rules.

Appeals court rules that US Fish and Wildlife Service improperly denied protections for Pacific walruses.


IPCC and IPBES released joint workshop report.

Scientific Community
Nobel Prize recipients urge G7 leaders to take transformative action to address climate change.

Federal Register opportunities

Senate Passes U.S. Innovation and Competition Act

After extensive floor debate and over 500 proposed amendments, the full Senate voted 68-32 to pass the  U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (S. 1260), formerly known as the Endless Frontier Act. The final bill includes just eight additional amendments, each of which added language to the bill but did not modify any of the initial provisions of the bill introduced by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in mid-May 2021. This bill creates a new technology directorate at the National Science Foundation and increases NSF’s overall authorized funding level to $29 billion by fiscal year (FY) 2026.

Before floor debate, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved amendments to the original bill that brought total funding for the proposed NSF  Technology Directorate from $100 billion by FY 2026 to $29 billion and redirected $17 billion from the NSF Technology Directorate to the Department of Energy Office of Science. The Committee also added several standalone STEM bills, including the Research Investment to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act (S. 289), the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act and the Rural STEM Act. The RISE Act authorizes additional funding to science agencies to cover research disruptions and delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Amendments approved on the Senate floor include an amendment from Sen. Christopher Coons (D-DE) creating a Foundation for Energy Security and Innovation. The Foundation would channel private investment into the Department of Energy’s research programs. This amendment mirrors Coons’ Partnerships for Energy Security and Innovation Act (S. 1359).

The updated authorization bill only increases approved funding levels for NSF. Congress would need to provide funding for NSF through the annual appropriations process or special legislation.

Now, it is up to the House of Representatives to pass their own NSF reauthorization bill. The House will likely consider the NSF for the Future Act (H.R. 2225) as a package with other reauthorization bills for science agencies, including the DOE Science for the Future Act (H.R. 3593). The House Science Committee will consider the NSF for the Future Act and the DOE Science for the Future Act June 15. The full House could consider these bills at the end of June. It is not yet clear when the entire House will consider these bills.

ESA has endorsed the NSF for the Future Act and issued an action alert encouraging individual members to sign on to a scientific community letter supporting the NSF for the Future Act.

See also:

Biden’s First Reg Agenda Lays Out Plans to Roll Back Trump Environmental Rules

by Annie Snider, Alex Gullien, Kelsey Tamborrino and Anthony Adragna, PoliticoPro, 6/11/2021

The Biden administration laid out its timeline for rolling back major Trump environmental rules, but acknowledged that the process of enacting more protective regulations on climate and air pollution and drinking water will take years — if they can estimate the timeline at all.

final drinking water regulation for the best-understood toxic “forever chemicals” isn’t expected until 2024, revisions to federal oil and gas leasing won’t be proposed by Interior until May 2022 and EPA wouldn’t even hazard a guess for how long it would take to craft a new definition of streams and wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act, a new rule limiting carbon emissions from existing power plants or a new regulation governing lead in drinking water.

The agenda’s deadlines are estimates and rules frequently take longer to advance, but the document offers a guide to upcoming rulemakings and shines a light on some major actions, even for those without rough timelines for completion.

Climate: The Environmental Protection Agency does not list a timetable to act on a new carbon dioxide rule for existing power plants. Several factors lend the rulemaking to a longer timeframe, including the D.C. Circuit’s January ruling striking down the Trump predecessor rule and Administrator Michael Regan’s stated desire for a “robust” engagement process with industry. For the time being, no regulation is on the books, and extended delay might prompt legal action from environmentalists.

The agenda reiterated Biden’s July deadline for EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to propose updates to the federal tailpipe emissions and fuel economy standards. EPA acting air chief Joe Goffman last week said EPA remains on track to meet the July deadline. EPA’s entry in the agenda projects December for a final rule; NHTSA’s entry  does not list a date for finalization.

EPA lists an October target to propose first-time methane limits on existing oil and gas infrastructure, a companion rule to the methane rule for new oil and gas sources that Congress is expected to revive later this month via the Congressional Review Act. The agenda also lists an October 2022 target for finalizing the rule.

NEPA: The Council on Environmental Quality has a three-step plan related to the National Environmental Policy Act rules, which guide federal permitting decisions and other actions. The first two would reverse a Trump-era update to CEQ’s NEPA rules. Part one, slated to be proposed in July, would make “a narrow set of changes” to the Trump rule. Part two, scheduled for a November proposal, will make “broader changes,” according to the agenda.

CEQ is also planning to revive guidance on how to factor greenhouse gas emissions and climate change into NEPA reviews, after Obama-era guidance was yanked by the Trump administration. The agenda indicates action on new guidance will occur in September, though it is unclear whether that will be proposed or final guidance.

Meanwhile, at the Army Corps of Engineers the administration indicated it intends to follow through with the Trump administration’s plan to revise NEPA regulations from the 1980s laying out activities that are exempt from review, known as “categorical exclusions”. The Corps’ permits for oil and gas infrastructure have become a target for environmental groups seeking to stop new pipeline projects, but the agency will also play a key permitting role in boosting transmission infrastructure if the Biden administration is to realize its clean energy goals.

Big-ticket Interior rules: The Interior Department does not anticipate even providing advanced notice of a rule modifying the “fees, rents, royalties, and bonding requirements” for fossil fuel leasing until September and does not anticipate a proposed rule until May 2022. The Biden administration placed a temporary pause on all new oil and gas leasing while it reviewed the existing program, which has prompted outrage from Republicans.

In addition, the agency expects to propose an updated rule governing the venting and flaring of methane pollution from onshore oil and gas leases in October but did not estimate when it would finish work on that regulation.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said it anticipates issuing a proposed rule in September updating its regulations for renewable energy generation. The Biden administration has made it a priority to rapidly scale up the country’s offshore wind energy production.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement also says it will offer a proposed rule in September revising well control and blowout preventer systems rules for offshore oil and gas production. In 2019, the Trump administration rolled back standards put in place under the Obama administration following the 2010 BP oil catastrophe that killed 11 people and spewed oil for five months.

By October, Interior says it will complete its revocation of a controversial late Trump-era rule weakening protections for migratory birds.

PFAS: EPA stuck with its statutory deadlines for proposing and finalizing a drinking water regulation for the chemicals PFOA and PFOS — March 2023 and September 2024, respectively. The agency also said it’s “in discussions about how to proceed” with efforts to designate the same chemicals as hazardous for the purposes of Superfund — a step that is seen as critical to forcing polluters to pay for cleanups, but that was hindered under the Trump administration by the White House and Department of Defense, which faces massive liabilities at its installations. The agency offered no timeline for the process.

Energy Department: The Energy Department is moving ahead with rulemakings to potentially undo Trump-era energy efficiency rules, as well as set targets for updates to new standards.

The agenda lands after the department said earlier this year it would begin the process of rescinding, revising or suspending several separate Trump-era efficiency rules following President Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 executive order that called for a review of energy and environment-related rules across the federal government.

The agenda notes DOE is preparing a major rulemaking to reduce the use of fossil fuels in federal buildings — an implementation of a 2007 law. The rulemaking, in the proposed stage, addresses fossil fuel-generated energy in new federal buildings and buildings undergoing major renovations, with a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking slated for December.

It also lays out a string of rules in various stages to amend energy conservation standards for everything from refrigerators and freezersceiling fans to commercial and industrial pumps. In the near-term, the agenda expects a NPRM on the definition of showerhead — a top target of the Trump administration — next month and another for the test procedure interim waiver process also next month. A proposed rule for the short-cycle product classes for residential dishwashers, residential clothes washers and consumer clothes dryers is expected this month.

The agenda, notably, also slates a final rule for September for potential changes to the so-called process rule of the Trump era, which set a high bar for new energy efficiency requirements for appliances and equipment. DOE is also considering amending energy conservation standards for battery chargers, with a NPRM/proposed determination slated for early next year.

The agenda did not provide any further timeline for DOE’s recently published notice seeking comment on the effects of increasing energy efficiency for common light bulbs — a move that could undo the Trump administration’s decision to block the phase out of less-efficient bulbs.

Odds and ends: EPA says it will reconsider a 2020 Trump regulation known as the Major MACT to Area, or MM2A, rule. It changed long-time agency policy to allow major sources of pollution to reclassify as area sources, a category with fewer regulatory requirements, once their emissions fell below a certain threshold.

NHTSA says it will propose in July a rule updating the civil penalty rate for automakers who miss their Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards. The Biden administration has been tangoing in court with automakers, states and environmentalists on precisely when the penalty increase will take effect.

EPA is planning a review under Section 610 of the Regulatory Flexibility Act to determine whether any parts of the Obama-era Mercury and Air Toxics Standards “should be rescinded or amended to minimize adverse economic impacts on small entities.”

The agency also said it plans to update rules relating to formaldehyde emissions from composite wood. The announcement comes after the agency revived a controversial health assessment of the carcinogenic gas that had been scuttled by the Trump administration. The study was poised to find it posed elevated health dangers at levels inhaled by most Americans in the course of daily life.

And EPA laid out plans for a handful of rules aimed at boosting tribal rights to clean water, including plans for a new rule to amend the agency’s water quality standards regulations to protect waters that tribes may have unadjudicated rights to.

Scientist Elected to Congress

Voters in New Mexico’s First Congressional District elected State Representative Melanie Stansbury (D) to fill the congressional seat Interior Secretary Debra Haaland vacated in March 2021. Stansbury’s undergraduate degree is in human ecology and natural science and her master’s degree is in developmental sociology. She has worked as an environmental policy expert in the White House and Congress, as well as an ecology instructor at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.

Stansbury was endorsed by environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, and 314 Action which supports scientists running for elected office. She has close ties with Haaland, who endorsed her run for Congress.


BLM: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a confirmation hearing for President Biden’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Land Management, Tracy Stone Manning. She faced criticism from Republicans for her past advocacy with the Montana Wildlife Foundation and her support for former Governor Steve Bullock (D-MT) in his run to unseat Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT). She also voiced support for the Obama administration’s 2015 sage grouse conservation plans and the Trump administration’s plans to remove wild horses and burros from public lands.

Stone-Manning is currently a senior advisor for conservation policy at the National Wildlife Federation and has been a top aide to former Montana Governor Steve Bullock (D) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT). The Bureau of Land Management has not had a Senate-confirmed director since the end of the Obama administration.

Legislative updates:

  • Mark Warner (D-VA) and Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) introduced the Chesapeake Bay Science, Education and Ecosystem Enhancement (SEEE) Act (S. 1816 & H.R. 3540), which reauthorizes NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Office through 2025.
  • Julia Brownley (D-CA) reintroduced the Marine Mammal Climate Change Protection Act (H.R. 3692), which requires the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to develop climate impact management plans for marine mammals that are at significant risk due to climate change.
  • Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Don Young (R-AK) reintroduced the Bolstering Long-term Understanding and Exploration of the Great Lakes, Oceans, Bays and Estuaries (BLUE GLOBE) Act (H.R. 3748). This bill directs the Interagency Ocean Observation Committee, the Federal Geographic Data Committee and the Interagency Committee on Ocean and Coastal Mapping to expand their ocean and Great Lakes monitoring and data collection collaboration and efforts. It also tasks the National Academy of Sciences with assessing the potential for an Advanced Research Project Agency–Oceans (ARPA-O). Similar legislation (S. 140) from Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) passed the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in May 2021.
  • House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) reintroduced a revised Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act (H.R. 3764). Among other provisions, this bill authorizes $50 million a year for an NOAA grants program for living shoreline projects and establishes a new grant program in the National Marine Sanctuary System to support climate research and resilience with Indigenous and local knowledge of marine and natural areas.

Executive Branch

White House: Office of Science and Technology Director Eric Lander and NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan announced that they have launched a National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Resource Task Force. It will create and implement a blueprint for the National AI Research Resource — a shared research infrastructure providing AI researchers across scientific disciplines with access to computational resources, high-quality data, educational tools and user support.

EPA: Administrator Michael Regan announced that that agency will repeal the Trump administration’s 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which replaced the Obama administration’s 2015 Clean Water Rule. The Navigable Waters Protection Rule removed Clean Water Act protections for ephemeral streams and wetlands that do not have surface connections to intermittent or perennial streams.

ESA and the Consortium of Aquatic Science Societies actively supported the 2015 Clean Water Rule and opposed the Trump administration’s rollback of the rule, citing the 2015 rule’s strong basis in the peer-reviewed science. In 2017, ESA joined the Society of Wetland Scientists, American Fisheries Society, American Institute of Biological Sciences, Phycological Society of America, Society for Ecological Restoration and Society for Freshwater Science to endorse a scientists’ Amici Curiae Brief in support of the 2015 Clean Water Rule.

Next, the Biden Administration will craft its own version of the Clean Water Rule, which will likely face challenges in the courts.

Interior: The Biden administration suspended oil and gas leasing in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Trump administration approved an oil and gas lease sale in January 2021, as directed by the 2017 Tax and Jobs Act. The January lease auction attracted scant attention due to low oil prices at the time and the likelihood that the Biden administration would cancel the leases.

Forest Service: Chief Vicki Christiansen announced that she will retire from the agency in August 2021. Christiansen became the Forest Service chief in March 2018, after former Chief Tony Tooke resigned amid allegations of misconduct. Christiansen’s position is a career federal service position, but top officials often leave with the change in administration.

USFWS: The Biden administration moved to repeal and revise several Endangered Species Act regulations finalized by the Trump administration.

  • The Biden administration will rescind a rule that defined habitat as “the abiotic and biotic setting that currently or periodically contains the resources and conditions necessary to support one or more life processes of a species.” This definition prohibits the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from designating areas that are not currently occupied by the species as habitat and would further ecosystem restoration improvements to become suitable habitat. The rule also prohibited federal agencies from protecting areas that could become important habitat for rare species under climate change. The definition came after the Supreme Court case Weyerhaeuser v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Biden administration argues that the court case does not require USFWS to define habitat. The Trump administration finalized this rule in December 2020 (see ESA Policy News, Dec. 21, 2020).
  • The administration will also repeal another rule finalized in December 2020 that allows USFWS to exclude areas from critical habitat designations for endangered species if the critical habitat designation would cause negative economic impacts or harm national security or outdoor recreation opportunities.
  • The administration is also proposing reinstating the blanket section 4(d) rule, which automatically gave threatened species similar protections as endangered species. The Trump administration ended this rule in a 2019 regulation (see ESA Policy News, Sept. 9, 2019).
  • Federal agencies will also revise proposed regulations about inter-agency consultation under the Endangered Species Act and when land management agencies are required to consult the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Trump Administration issued this proposed rule in January 2021.

USFWS made a 12-month determination that the Endangered Species Act protections for the rare flower Tiehm’s buckewheat (Eriogonum tiehmii) are warranted. The determination could jeopardize plans to mine lithium in rural Nevada, about 200 miles southeast of Reno.

The agency also finalized a rule listing the Neuse River waterdog (Necturus lewisi) as an endangered species and the Carolina madtom (Noturus furiosus) as a threatened species. The Neuse River waterdog is an aquatic salamander and the Caroline madtom is a fish. USFWS notes that the threats to the species are habitat degradation from stressors influencing water quality, water quantity, instream habitat and habitat connectivity.

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Endangered Species: A federal appeals court ruled that the Trump administration improperly denied Endangered Species Act protections for Pacific walruses. The Obama administration determined that listing the walrus as a threatened species was warranted in 2011 and that the species’ population had declined due to sea ice losses. In 2017, the Trump administration change course and determined that the walruses had adapted to sea ice losses and did not warrant protections. The court determined that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to sufficiently explain why the findings underlying its 2011 decision no longer apply.



UN: The Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and the International Panel on Climate Change released their first-ever joint workshop report. The report authors conclude that biodiversity loss and climate change are both driven by human economic activities and mutually reinforce each other. Neither of these crises will be successfully resolved unless both are tackled together. This report follows a four-day virtual workshop held in December 2020.

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Scientific Community

NAS:  Over 100 Nobel Prize recipients sent a statement to G-7 leaders and the UN Secretary General, urging leaders to take transformational action this decade to avoid risk large-scale, irreversible changes to Earth’s biosphere and human lives as part of it. This statement follows an April Nobel Prize Summit 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 Nobel Summit leaders asked that the statement’s conclusions and proposals about climate change and biodiversity, inequality, and technological transformation be used to inform international deliberations, particularly during the upcoming G-7 Summit to be hosted by the U.K.

NAS: The Division of Behavioral and Social Science and Education will convene a two-day national summit Addressing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in 21st Century STEMM Organizations June 29-30. The summit will highlight how racism operates at different levels in science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine (STEMM) settings. The summit will discuss policies, strategies, and practices for confronting systemic racism, identify ways to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEMM settings and recognize the effect of systemic racism on the careers of individuals belonging to racial and ethnic groups historically underrepresented in the STEMM workforce.

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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.

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