Policy News: September 27, 2021

In this issue:

House passes stop-gap federal government funding measure, fate in the Senate remains unclear.

Executive Branch
President Biden appoints 30 members to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Judge orders U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider 2019 decision to not list Joshua Trees under the Endangered Species Act.

Illinois Governor signs climate legislation.

Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals report finds that 70% of protected species are hunted for wild meat.

Scientific Community
National Academies report finds NSF should create Next-Generation Earth Systems Science Initiative.

Federal Register opportunities


Appropriations: House Democrats approved a stop-gap spending measure to keep the government open after fiscal year ends Sept. 30. The bill includes $28.6 bill for natural disaster response, recovery and resiliency. NSF receives $25 million to million to cover unanticipated Hurricane Ida related costs associated with NSF Regional Class Research Vessel construction and NASA receives – $321.4 million to repair NASA facilities and equipment damaged by Hurricanes Zeta and Ida. This funding expires Dec. 3. The package faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, where Senate Republicans oppose tying the passage of this stop-gap measure to raising the country’s debt ceiling.

Meanwhile, negotiations about the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package are likely to extend into October. House Democrats had set a deadline of Sept. 27 to pass the Senate’s bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. House Progressives want to send over its version of the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill before passing the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, while moderates want to pass the $1.2 trillion bipartisan bill first and to reduce the overall size of the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill.

NDAA: The full House of Representatives debated the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4350), an annual bill that sets defense policy. During the floor debate, the full House approved several amendments relevant to public lands.

  • Lawmakers approved an amendment adding the text of Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO)’s Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act (H.R. 577) to the bill. The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act protects 400,000 acres of land in Colorado.
  • The House voted to approve a provision from House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raul Grijalva that permanently bans new mining claims near Grand Canyon National Park.
  • Member of Congress also approved parts of Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO)’s Protecting America’s Wildnerness and Public Lands Act (H.R. 803). This amendment protects more than 1 million acres in Colorado, California and Washington State.

Legislative updates:

  • The full Senate passed the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act (S. 273) which phases out large-mesh drift gillnets used in commercial fishing in the federal waters off the coast of California. The Senate also passed this bill last year before former President Donald Trump vetoed the bill.

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Executive Branch

White House: President Joe Biden appointed MIT’s Maria Zuber, Caltech’s Frances Arnold and Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Eric Lander to be the co-chairs of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and announced the 30 new members Sept. 22. The administration states that this is the most diverse PCAST in history. The membership includes former NOAA administrator Kathryn Sullivan.  This group advises the president on “policy that affects science, technology and innovation, as well as science and technology information that is needed to inform public policy.”

Shortly before this announcement, Biden issued an executive order expanding the size of the PCAST from 26 to 32 members.

The National Science and Technology Council released a report about increasing diversity in STEM education and research, targeted towards federal agencies and written by an STEM inclusion interagency working group. The report notes that while women and individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups comprise about 43% and 38% of the total federal workforce, respectively; they only comprise 29% and 10% of the federal STEM workforce.

Nominations: President Biden nominated Christopher Frey to be the Environmental Protection Agency’s assistant adminstrator for research and development. Frey is a former chair of the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) and was a member of the CASAC Particulate Manner Review Panel that former EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler dismissed in 2018. He was a prominent critic of the EPA during the Trump adminstation. This position requires Senate-confirmation.

NSF: Two new National Science Board indicators reports cover the status of the STEM labor force and academic research and development.

The STEM labor force report finds that the STEM workforce represented 23% of the U.S. workforce in 2019 and that unemployment was lower among the STEM labor force than the non-STEM labor force. This pattern persisted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The academic research and development report finds that biological and biomedical science and engineering have accounted for 60% of total research space growth from 2007 to 2019. The amount of institution support from universities for research and development has also increased over the past ten years — in 2019, institutional funds constituted more than a quarter of university R&D, up from less than a fifth in 2010. Overall, academic institutions perform about half of all U.S. basic research and federal agencies fund more than half of all academic research and development.

Interior: Secretary Deb Haaland told Bureau of Land Management staffers that the administration will move the agency’s headquarters back to Washington, DC. The Trump administration moved the BLM headquarters to Grand Junction, CO and relocated positions previously with a Washington, DC duty station to locations across the west. Almost 90 percent of headquarters employees chose to leave the agency instead of relocating. The Grand Junction office will remain the agency’s “western headquarters.”

USFWS: The agency announced that it is initiating an endangered species status review for the gray wolf in the western U.S., in response to a petition filed by environmental groups. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concludes that the petition presents credible and substantial information that human-caused mortality may be a potential threat to the species in Idaho and Montana, due to new state laws that permit increased wolf hunting. The Trump administration removed gray wolves from the endangered species list in November 2020. The species status review will likely take over a year and USFWS will accept new scientific information about the species throughout the review.

EPA: The Biden administration rescinded a guidance document issued late in the Trump administration applying the Supreme Couty case County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund. The court ruling found that the Clean Water Act requires a permit if a point source of pollution adds pollutants to navigable waters through groundwater, when the pollutants added are “the functional equivalent of a direct discharge” from the source into navigable waters. Environmental groups argued that the Trump administration’s guidance created a loophole for polluters and was inconsistent with the Supreme Court ruling. In a statement, the EPA agreed with this analysis, writing that the previous guidance reduced clean water protections by creating a new factor for determining if a discharge of pollution from a point source through groundwater that reaches a water of the United States is the “functional equivalent” of a direct discharge to such water. This factor skewed the “functional equivalent” analysis in a way that could reduce the number of discharges requiring a permit.

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UN: During the annual United Nations General Assembly, President Joe Biden pledged $11.4 billion by 2024 in aid for developing counties to address climate change. Allocating this funding would require approval from Congress. Biden previously pledged to increase the US contribution up to $5.7 billion by 2024 from its current $2 billion contribution.

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to end Chinese financing of new coal-fired powerplants outside of China and increase funding for renewable energy. China, South Korea and Japan provide 95% of foreign financing for coal-fired power plants. South Korea and Japan pledged to end their support earlier this year.

CMS: A new report from the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals finds that 70% of species protected by the convention are hunted for wild meat. The authors find that that the vast majority of taking of species for wild meat consumption is driven by direct use or domestic trade, rather than international trade. The report finds strong evidence that zoonotic disease outbreaks are linked to human activities. Human encroachment into remaining intact habitats through infrastructure and economic activities have made vast new areas accessible for wild meat taking, thus increasing the zoonotic risk by bringing humans in contact with new hosts and pathogens.

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Scientific Community

NAS: According to the press announcement for the new report, Next-Generation Earth Systems Science at the National Science Foundation, NSF needs to place and emphasis on research inspired by real world problems and it outlines six characteristics for the effort:

  • Advance research that is driven by curiosity, as well as research that is driven by real-world needs and uses, across a range of locations and time spans.
  • Facilitate the convergence of social, natural, computational, and engineering sciences to inform solutions to problems related to Earth systems — such as how to implement plans that avoid the worst impacts of flooding, by studying and understanding how human activities and climate change impact the water cycle.
  • Ensure diverse, inclusive, equitable, and just approaches to Earth systems science.
  • Prioritize engagement and partnerships with diverse stakeholders so that they are better included in the research process.
  • Synergize observational, computational, and modeling capabilities to accelerate discoveries.
  • Educate and support a workforce with the skills and knowledge needed to participate in an integrated research approach.

Read the entire press announcement.

Committee on Independent Scientific Review of Everglades Restoration: As part of the ninth biennial review, the committee will hold a meeting Oct. 7 to discuss stormwater treatment area performance in support of Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan progress. Register for the virtual meeting here.

EESI: The Environment and Energy Study Institute will hold a briefing series for Congress ahead of the COP26 UN climate change conference. The first briefing is titled Creating Policies, Coalitions, and Actions for Global Sustainable Development and will take place Oct. 8. This briefing will feature Sir Robert Watson, the chair of both the former Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and former U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres. Register here.

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