Policy News: October 8, 2021

In this issue:

White House revisiting Trump-era NEPA rule to consider all climate impacts
Proposed changes would require developers to more carefully consider how their projects contribute to climate change and pollution.

Senate confirms Tracy Stone-Manning as the director of the Bureau of Land Management.

Executive Branch
President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology meets for the first time in the Biden administration.

California Governor vetoes tropical deforestation bill.

European countries agree to protects parts of the North Atlantic to conserve seabird species.

Scientific Community
Landscape ecologist Lisa Schulte Moore receives 2021 MacArthur fellowship.

Federal Register opportunities

White House floats revising Trump-era NEPA rule to consider all climate impacts

by Zack Colman, PoliticoPro, 10/6/2021

The Biden administration proposed Wednesday reviving portions of a regulation underpinning federal environmental reviews, reversing Trump administration changes that limited consideration of climate impacts in agency project evaluations.

The changes, if adopted, would require developers to more carefully consider how their projects contribute to climate change and pollution.

The news: The White House Council on Environmental Quality proposed reversing Trump administration changes to the National Environmental Policy Act regulation, which carries implications for environmental reviews on everything from highway projects and fossil fuel lease sales to pipelines and electric transmission lines.

“The basic community safeguards we are proposing to restore would help ensure that American infrastructure gets built right the first time, and delivers real benefits — not harms — to people who live nearby,” CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory said in a statement. “Patching these holes in the environmental review process will help reduce conflict and litigation and help clear up some of the uncertainty that the previous administration’s rule caused.”

The details: CEQ said it would once again direct federal agencies to consider all “direct,” “indirect” and “cumulative” impacts from projects and decisions.

Trump-era changes did away with cumulative considerations, meaning agencies only needed to calculate the effects from siting, building and operating a project.

Assessing cumulative impacts means agencies would analyze the ramifications for climate change by weighing how many greenhouse gases projects and decisions unleash at the end of the value chain. That means, for example, including the emissions from constructing a natural gas pipeline along with the emissions from burning the fuel it would transport for generating electric power.

The changes also encouraged greater communication with and input from affected communities — including an emphasis on developing alternative plans for projects that could limit harms — and would offer federal agencies flexibility to alter procedures that exceed the NEPA guidelines.

Context: Reducing permitting time has been a priority for both Republican and Democratic administrations. But environmental groups and environmental justice groups made nixing some of former President Donald Trump’s NEPA revisions a top early target and challenged the revisions in court.

“This is a necessary first step to restoring these critically important environmental rules, but we have a long way to go and not much time,” Randi Spivak, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s public lands program, said in a statement. “The Biden administration must move urgently and go much further to begin breaking down systemic environmental injustice and addressing climate chaos and the extinction crisis. Otherwise the catastrophic oil spills, wildfires and mass extinctions that appall us today will become frighteningly commonplace.”

Environmental justice groups have said Trump alterations removed opportunities for them to comment on projects that would affect their communities’ public health and quality of life. Environmental justice communities already face a disproportionate amount of pollution emanating from political disenfranchisement and racist policies like redlining.

But Trump’s changes also sought to speed permitting for major projects. The Trump administration and allies in the business community contended project opponents and environmental groups had weaponized NEPA to slow development with lawsuits and cumbersome environmental reviews.

What’s next: CEQ said it would propose another set of guidelines over the coming months that would “help ensure full and fair public involvement in the environmental review process; meet the nation’s environmental, climate change, and environmental justice challenges; provide regulatory certainty to stakeholders; and promote better decision-making consistent with NEPA’s goals and requirements.”

Read the proposed rule here, comments are due Nov. 22, 2021.


Nominations: The full Senate confirmed Tracy Stone-Manning to be the director of the Bureau of Land Management along a strict party-line vote. All Senate Republicans opposed Stone-Manning’s nomination due to her involvement in a tree-spiking case in 1980s and 1990s.

Stone-Manning most recently was 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). She is the first Senate-confirmed director since the end of the Obama administration.

The full Senate also confirmed Monica Medina to be assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs by a 61-36 vote. Medina worked for NOAA during the Obama and Clinton administrations and published a sustainability newsletter, Our Daily Planet. During her confirmation hearing, Medina pledged to prioritize addressing biodiversity loss, ocean protection and space policy.

Legislative updates:

  • The full Senate approved Sen. Roger Wicker’s (R-MS) Flood Level Observation, Operations, and Decision Support Act (S. 558). Among other provisions, this bill directs NOAA to establish a National Integrated Flood Information System to better inform and provide for more timely decision-making to reduce flood-related effects and costs and establishes partnerships with institutions of higher education and federal agencies to improve total water predictions.
  • Rep. Blake Moore (R-UT) introduced the Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act (H.R. 5345). This bill authorizes a Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Assessment and Monitoring Program which would include scientific monitoring and assessments to establish effective management and conservation efforts to preserve Saline Lake habitats within the Great Basin network. The bill authorizes the U.S. Geological Survey to receive $5 million each year through FY2027. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), who a senior member of the House Natural Resources Committee, is a co-sponsor of this bill.
  • Senate Natural Resources Chairman Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced the America’s Revegetation and Carbon Sequestration Act (S. 2836). Among other provisions, the bill directs the Forest Service to create a voluntary carbon credit system in which non-federal entities can provide funds to the Forest Service to contract and implement projects designed to increase carbon sequestration or avoid carbon emissions. The bill also formally authorizes the experimental forest program and directs the Forest Service to conduct additional climate resiliency research within the experimental forest network and requires all data and research findings developed from projects undertaken on the network to be made available to the public. Sens. Angus King (I-ME) and Roger Marshall (R-KS) are also co-sponsoring this legislation.

More News:

Executive Branch

White House: President Biden’s President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) met for the first time during the current administration Sept. 28-29. The meeting featured panels about U.S. competitiveness and leadership and public health and preparedness. The PCAST’s next public virtual meeting will be held  Oct. 18-19, 2021 and will focus on “combatting and adapting to climate change, including ongoing work within individual federal agencies, implications for national security, and achieving net zero emissions by 2050.” Additional information about the upcoming meeting and PCAST’s future meetings can be found at here.

The White House released climate adaptation and resilence plans from over 20 federal agencies, as part of the Biden adminstration’s whole-of-government approach climate change. The plans are available at www.sustainability.gov/adaptation.

USFWS: The agency finalized a rule revoking a January 2021 final rule codifying a Trump administration legal opinion which determined that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act does not apply to the accidental killing of birds. This legal opinion contradicted decades of precedent under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Most notably, the US Fish and Wildlife Service fined BP $100 million under the Migratory Bird Treaty after the 2009 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Along with this rule, USFWS issued a notice of proposed rulemaking announcing the agency’s intent to draft new rules regulating the incidental take of migratory birds. USFWS is accepting public comments through Dec. 3, 2021.

Department of Energy: Secretary of Jennifer Granholm announced the membership of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board. Stanford University engineer Arjun Majumdar is the chair of the board and Madelyn Creedon is the vice-chair. Majumdar was the director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy during the Obama Administration. Creedon was the deputy director of the National Nuclear Security Administration under the Obama Administration.

ARPH-H: The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Institutes of Health released a summary report from stakeholder listening sessions held this summer about a potential Advanced Research Project Agency – Health. Stakeholders advised that advised ARPA-H to avoid areas that are already well-resourced by NIH or the private sector. They suggested that ARPA-H should focus on ambitious, large-scale research topics that complement and do not overlap with various NIH programs, especially those research problems that are not compatible with traditional academic or commercial research funding structures. OSTP and NIH will continue to seek perspectives from stakeholders on ARPA-H. Public comments can be submitted to ARPAHcomments@nullnih.gov.

NSF: The agencies announced a $75 million investment to establish five new Harnessing the Data Revolution Institutes.

  • The NSF Institute for a New Frontier of Biological Information Powered by Knowledge-Guided Machine Learning, led by the Ohio State University, will establish a new field of Imageomics, in which biologists use machine learning to analyze vast stores of existing image data, such as publicly funded digital collections from field stations, museums and individual laboratories. The institute will characterize patterns and gain insights into how function follows form in all areas of biology and will expand public understanding of the rules of life on Earth and how life evolves.
  • The NSF Institute for Harnessing Data and Model Revolution in the Polar Regions, based at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County,  will serve as a research hub where experts in data science, Arctic and Antarctic science and cyberinfrastructure come together to address challenges related to climate change, sea-level rise and the rapidly changing Arctic.
  • The NSF Institute for Geospatial Understanding through an Integrative Discovery Environment, led by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, will create an integrative geospatial discovery environment that harnesses geospatial data to understand interconnected interactions across diverse socioeconomic-environmental systems — to enhance community resilience and environmental sustainability.

The two other Harnessing the Data Revolution Institutes are the NSF Institute for Accelerated AI Algorithms for Data-Driven Discovery and the NSF Institute for Data-Driven Dynamical Design.

More News:



Scientific Community

NSF: The Biological Sciences Directorate’s Advisory Committee (BIO AC) will meet virtually Nov. 3-4. Agenda items will include an update on BIO’s broadening participation portfolio, a joint session with the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Advisory Committee to discuss their report on “MPS and the Living World”, updates from the BIO AC liaisons to the Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering and to the AC for Environmental Research and Education and discussion with the NSF Director. Livestreaming will be accessible through this page.

NSF Assistant Director for Biological Sciences Joanne Tornow notes in a letter to the scientific community that the directorate made $12 million in awards under the the Research Experience for Post-Baccalaureate Students (REPS) program to provide research expereinces for students whose research opportunities were cut short by the pandemic. The directorate also extended post-doctorate fellowships for 156 reseachers and increased the number of new fellowships in the past two years over previous years. Read the full newsletter here.

NEON: The Science, Technology and Education Advisory Committee (STEAC) announced three new committee members. Dr. Karen Lips is a professor of Biology at the University of Maryland College Park and a member of ESA’s Public Affairs Committee.  Dr. Steve Petruzza is an assistant professor at Utah State University and a research associate at the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute of the University of Utah. Dr. Shawn Serbin is a scientist in the Environmental and Climate Sciences Department at Brookhaven National Laboratory. The STEAC provides strategic advice to Battelle, the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) Chief Scientist and Observatory Director and NEON program staff on the planning and operation of the Observatory. Members serve three-year terms.

Awards: Iowa State University landscape ecologist Dr. Lisa Schulte Moore is one of 25 recipients of this year’s MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the “genius” grants. Schulte Moore received the fellowship for her work implementing locally relevant approaches to build soil, improve water quality, protect biodiversity and strengthen the resilience of row crop agriculture. She is an ESA fellow and a member of ESA’s Rapid Response Team.

SEJ: Ahead of the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity, the Society of Environmental Journalists and the UN Foundation are bringing together biodiversity experts and journalists to discuss what to watch for as the international science community seeks to protect and repair damaged ecosystems as the climate changes. A webinar titled ‘All Life, Great and Small: Covering Biodiversity and Climate’ is the third in a series providing journalists with background, tools and tips on covering the latest in climate change science and its connections to other global priorities. Join the webinar  Oct. 13 from 3-4 p.m. ET. Register here.

Columbia University: Climate School Founding Dean Alex Halliday will lead a conversation about global hazards and the path to resilence with Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory climate scientist Suzana Camargo; Director, National Center for Disaster Preparedness at the Columbia Climate School Jeff Schlegelmilch; and former New York City Chief Climate Policy Advisor Daniel Zarrilli on Oct. 18. Register here.

More News

Federal Register Opportuntiies

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

Visit the ESA website to learn more about our activities and membership.