Policy News: November 22, 2021

In this issue:

Apply for the 2022 Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award
Applications are due Dec. 10, 2021.

House Passes Reconciliation Bill, Biden Signs Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill
Bill includes $668 million for National Science Foundation (NSF) research and training grants and $500 million for NSF climate research.

Nations Agree to “Phase Down” Use of Coal at UN Climate Conference
COP26 concludes with the signing of the Glasgow Climate Pact.

Biden EPA Moves to Repeal Trump WOTUS Rule
Proposed rule will be open for public comment for 60 days.

Senate confirms Charles F. “Chuck” Sams III to be director of the National Park Service.

Executive Branch
White House establishes Interagency Working Group on Indigenous Ecological Knowledge.

Scientific Community
National Academies holds listening sessions with researchers and users of global change information.

Federal Register opportunities

Apply for the 2022 Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award

Are you a science graduate student interested in the intersection between policy and science? ESA invites you to apply for the virtual 2022 Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA).

Offered each year, this award gives graduate students hands-on training and science policy experience including interacting with congressional decision-makers, federal agency officials, and ecologists who work in the science and public policy arena.

Many past recipients are currently working in public policy and many view the ESA GSPA as a stepping-stone to policy fellowships such as the AAAS Fellowship or the NOAA Knauss fellowship. Other past recipients pursue a research career, but they find the public policy knowledge gained from the experience provides a foundation for interacting with policymakers.

Several 1-2 hour training and prep sessions will occur in late January and February 2022 over Zoom. Virtual Hill visits will be held Feb. 16-17. Participants are required to attend the trainings and must be available Feb. 16-17 for Hill meetings.

For more information and to apply, visit this page. Applications are due Dec. 10, 2021.

House Passes Reconciliation Bill, Biden Signs Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill

The full House voted to approve a $1.7 trillion spending bill, also known as the reconciliation bill and the Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376). The bill includes funding for science and environmental programs:

  • The bill provides $1.52 billion to the National Science Foundation to start a Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP). The directorate is tasked with accelerating use-inspired and translational research in technologies and innovations of national importance. It mirrors proposals in the Senate U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (S. 1260) and the House NSF for the Future Act (H.R. 2225) to create a new technology directorate. NSF also receives $668 million for research and training awards, $25 million to ensure broad demographic representation in NSF activities and $500 million for climate research.
  • Lawmakers also boost climate research at other agencies. The EPA receives $100 million for air quality and climate research and NASA gets $115 million for climate research.
  • Legislators provide $200 million to NOAA for weather, coasts, oceans and climate research, $100 million for NOAA competitive climate research grants and provides $100 million to NOAA for development and dissemination of climate science information products and services. NOAA also receives $20 million for climate change education activities.
  • The bill includes $985 million to support research at the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and $5 million to improve diversity across the Department of Energy’s research, development and demonstration activities.
  • The Corporation for National and Community Service receives $6.9 billion for national service programs to carry out projects related to climate resilience and mitigation.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service receives $180 million for developing and carrying out Endangered Species Act recovery plans and a combined $19.4 million for conserving pollinators, freshwater mussels, desert fish and Hawaiian Islands plants. Lawmakers also allocate $9.7 million for mapping and restoring wildlife corridors.
  • The bill repeals section 20001 of the 2017 Tax Act, which required the Bureau of Land Management to offer oil and gas lease sales in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and cancels the leases sold in January 2021.

The fate of the larger budget reconciliation package is unclear, with the Senate shifting its focus to passing the National Defense Reauthorization Act (NDAA). It will likely be at least two weeks before the Senate takes up the legislation and the Senate will likely make major changes to the bill before passing the legislation for political and parliamentary reasons. All 50 Senate Democrats will need to vote for the bill to pass the Senate. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has opposed major provisions of the bill, including expanding paid family leave.

Meanwhile, President Biden signed the Infrastructure and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684), commonly referred to as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework Nov 15. The bill includes $550 billion in new spending. The Senate passed the bill in June and House passed the bill in early November.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework includes some funding for environmental initiatives:

  • The Army Corps of Engineers receives $7 billion for flood mitigation projects.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gets $1.5 billion for coastal mapping, resilience and related projects.
  • The bill includes the Senate’s drinking water infrastructure reauthorization bill (S. 914). This bill’s drinking water provisions include $15 billion for lead service line replacement, $10 billion to fight per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination and $3.5 billion toward water infrastructure for Native American tribes.
  • Lawmakers include a Senate bill (S. 866) authorizing the US Forest Service to increase reforestation efforts.
  • The Bureau of Indian Affairs receives $216 million for tribal climate resilience programs, including climate adaptation planning and community relocations from climate-vulnerable areas.

Nations Agree to “Phase Down” Use of Coal at UN Climate Conference

Diplomats representing nearly 200 counties agreed to the Glasgow Climate Pact at the end of the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). The pact recognizes that world’s countries would need to reduce global carbon emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 levels to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. For the first time, the pact calls for a “phase down” the use of coal and fossil fuel subsidies.

However, diplomats failed to agree about how to fulfill a decade-old pledge that was set to begin in 2020 to provide $100 billion in climate finance to help developing counties with climate adaptation and mitigation each year.

ESA received official observer status for COP26, and ten members attended COP26. ESA member Andy Barton posted daily observations from COP26 on his blog that ESA reposted on Ecotone. Barton is a forest and fire ecologist at the University of Maine at Farmington.

Leaders also announced a series of pacts to address aspects of climate change during the conference:

  • Seven countries, led by Denmark and Costa Rica, joined the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, which pledges to end their use of fossil fuels. Other countries in the agreement are France, Greenland, Ireland, Sweden, Wales and the Canadian province of Quebec. California and New Zealand associate members of the pact.
  • Almost 90 countries joined an agreement to cut their methane emissions by 30% by 2030 from 2020 levels. The U.S. and the European Union are leading the policy commitments to reduce methane emissions. Half of the top 30 methane emitters have signed on to this pledge.
  • More than 100 countries pledged to halt deforestation by 2030. The countries in this agreement represent 85% of the world’s forests, including Brazil and Colombia. In addition, countries in the agreement will provide $12 billion to developing countries to restore degraded lands and address wildfire. Wealthy countries and global charities also pledged $1.6 billion to support Indigenous conservation of forests.
  • The U.S., the U.K., Canada and other countries pledged to stop public financing of fossil fuel projects abroad by 2023. The pledge only includes new developments, so pipelines and other infrastructure currently being build would not be impacted. The agreement also allows countries to continue to export liquefied natural gas. Japan, South Korea and China have not signed on to this agreement.
  • Over 40 countries pledged to rapidly scale up technologies and policies to achieve a transition away from unabated coal power generation in the 2030s for major economies and in the 2040s globally. The pact does not include some of the world’s biggest coal consumers such as the China, India, the United States and Australia.

More News:

Biden EPA move to repeal Trump WOTUS rule

By Annie Snider, PoliticoPro, 11/18/2021

The Biden administration moved Thursday to formally repeal the Trump administration’s controversial rule that vastly restricted the scope of Clean Water Act protections.

EPA unveiled a proposed rule that would take the Navigable Waters Protection Rule off the books and reinstate long-standing regulations defining which streams and wetlands are subject to federal protection, a category known as “Waters of the U.S.,” or WOTUS.

“In recent years, the only constant with WOTUS has been change, creating a whiplash in how to best protect our waters in communities across America,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

The details: The move is largely procedural. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, which issues dredge and fill permits under the Clean Water Act, have not been implementing the Trump-era rule since late September, after an Arizona district court threw it out. That decision is on appeal, though, and could be reversed.

Thursday’s proposal is the first step in a two-step process that the Biden EPA has said it will take on the issue. The agency has begun a series of roundtable and stakeholder sessions as it prepares to craft a new, more protective definition of protected waterways.

The backstory: The question of which streams and wetlands are federally regulated under the Clean Water Act has been in limbo for the past decade and a half, since the Supreme Court issued a muddled decision in the 2006 case Rapanos v. United States.

The Obama administration finalized a rule in 2015 to enshrine a sweeping definition of protected waterways that included desert streams that flow only after rainfall, and some wetlands far from the larger tributary network.

But when the Trump administration took office, it repealed that rule and issued its own, far narrower definition. An analysis of Army Corps of Engineers data conducted by the Southern Environmental Law Center found that 91 percent of streams and wetlands adjudicated under the Trump definition fell outside of federal regulations. Those include controversial examples, like wetlands near Georgia’s Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge that are in the path of a planned heavy mineral sand strip mine.

What’s next: The proposed rule will be open for 60 days of public comment.

At the same time, Regan and his water chief, Radhika Fox, have said they want to craft a more “durable” definition of the scope of protections.

But, many legal experts say the legal tug of war over the foundational water law is likely to continue until the Supreme Court weighs in again. That could happen as soon as this term; an Idaho couple represented by a powerhouse property rights group has a request pending before the justices to review a ruling by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that found wetlands on their property to be jurisdictional.


NSF:  The Senate and House are set to negotiate a final NSF authorizing bill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Speaker of the House Nancy Peolsi (D-CA) agreed to form a conference committee to resolve differences between the House and the Senate regarding the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA, S. 1260), which would create a new NSF Technology and Innovation Directorate and increase the NSF authorized funding level to $29 billion by fiscal year (FY) 2026. The House also passed its NSF authorizing bill entitled NSF for the Future Act (H.R. 2225) this past summer. The Conference Committee members from the Senate and House will look at both bills and develop one NSF authorizing bill to be passed by Congress and signed into law if lawmakers can agree on its contents. 

Nominations: The full Senate voted to confirm Charles F. “Chuck” Sams III to be director of the National Park Service. Sams is the first Native American to lead the agency and the first Senate-confirmed National Park Service director since the Obama administration. He has held a variety of roles with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, most recently as their Executive Director. He has also had roles as the President/Chief Executive Officer of the Indian Country Conservancy, Executive Director for the Umatilla Tribal Community Foundation, National Director of the Tribal & Native Lands Program for the Trust for Public Land, Executive Director for the Columbia Slough Watershed Council, Executive Director for the Community Energy Project, and President/Chief Executive Officer for the Earth Conservation Corps. Sams is an enrolled member, Cayuse and Walla Walla, of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

The Senate also confirmed Robert Bonnie as the U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for farm production and conservation, overseeing the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Farm Service Agency and the Risk Management Agency. Bonnie has been a senior adviser for USDA climate policy since the start of the Biden administration. He served as the USDA undersecretary for nature resources and the environment in the Obama administration.

The Senate confirmed Geraldine Richmond as the Department of Energy undersecretary of science and energy in early November. This position oversees the Department of Energy Office of Science.  Richmond is the Presidential Chair in Science and a professor of chemistry at the University of Oregon and has been a member of the National Science Board since 2012.

House Natural Resources Committee: The Committee advanced over a dozen bills, including several conservation measures:

  • The Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act (H.R. 5345), sponsored by Rep. Blake Moore (R-UT), authorizes a Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Assessment and Monitoring Program, led by the U.S. Geological Survey, which would conduct scientific monitoring and assessments to establish effective management and conservation efforts to preserve Saline Lake habitats within the Great Basin network. The program is authorized to receive $5 million each year through FY2027. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) has introduced companion legislation (S. 1466) in the Senate.
  • The Global Amphibian Protection Act (H.R. 2026), sponsored by Rep. Hakeen Jeffries (D-NY), re-establishes 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 foreign countries.
  • The Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act (H.R. 404), sponsored by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), phases out large-mesh drift gillnets used in commercial fishing in federal waters off California’s coast. The Senate version of this bill (S. 273) passed the full Senate in September 2021.
  • The Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act (H.R. 3326), from Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA), requires the Interior Department to establish priority area to wind, solar and geothermal energy development and directs revenues from renewable energy projects on public lands into a fund for conservation and recreation projects. These funds would be distributed to federal, state, local and tribal agencies.

Executive Branch

White House: The Biden administration established an Interagency Working Group on Indigenous Ecological Knowledge. With Tribal consultation and other stakeholder input, this group will develop a guidance document for federal agencies on how the collection and application of Traditional Ecological Knowledge can be mutually beneficial to tribes, Native communities and federal agencies and can strengthen evidence-based analysis and informed decision-making across the federal government.

Interior: The administration announced that they are considering a 20-year ban on oil and gas drilling in the areas surrounding Chaco Canyon National Historical Park. The area is sacred for Indigenous people in the southwestern United States. The Interior Department will seek input from tribes and the public about the possible moratorium over the next two years. During that time, the agency will pause all new oil and gas leasing in the area.

USFWS: The agency withdrew a rule issued late in the Trump administration that removed 3.4 million acres of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest. The new final rule removes around 200,000 acres of critical habitat. Agency biologists warned  Trump administration appointees that removing a large amount of critical habitat for the species would result in the eventual extinction of the Northern Spotted Owl.

USFWS also finalized a rule listing the Atlantic pigtoe, a freshwater mussel native to Virginia and North Carolina, as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The agency designated 563 river miles as critical habitat for the species. The final rule determines that the primary threat to the species is habitat degradation resulting from impacts of land-use change and effects on water quality, water quantity, habitat connectivity, and instream habitat suitability.

USAID: The agency released a draft climate strategy for public comment, which will shape USAID’s agency-wide approach to climate change for the next nine years. Comments must be submitted by Nov. 24, 2021.

More News:

Scientific Community

White House: The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) will meet Nov. 29.  The PCAST will hear from invited speakers on and discuss aspects of biomanufacturing, the federal science and technology workforce and the National Nanotechnology Initiative. The meeting will be livestreamed on the PCAST meeting.

NSF: The National Science Board will meet Dec. 8-9. The meeting will be virtual and livestreamed to the NSF YouTube channel. Meeting details will be posted to the NSB website.

Diversity: New data from Green 2.0 shows that environmental nonprofits have made modest progress in employing people of color. The number of people of color among senior staff increased 25% last year and the number of people of color on boards increased 28%. However, foundations are disproportionately funding more white-led organizations than groups led by people of color. Groups are also led mainly by white executive directors and CEOs—73% of the groups who responded to Green 2.0’s survey have a white head of the organization.

ESA: In a recent blog post, ESA President Dennis Ojima, Executive Director Catherine O’Riordan, and Chair of ESA TEK Section James Rattling Leaf write to honor National Native American Heritage Month. ESA invites you to join a Forum on Enhancing ESA and Tribal Nations’ Engagement Nov. 30, 11 AM ET.

The ESA Traditional Ecological Knowledge Section is hosting a webinar series to facilitate a virtual space to welcome and hear from Indigenous voices who work to help sustain and nurture TEK within their communities. Below are links to register for upcoming webinars:

Upcoming TEK Webinars

If you have missed any of the past webinars from the TEK Webinar Series, be sure to watch them here!

NASEM: The National Academies isssued a call for nominations for a upcoming workship about public and ecosystem health.  From the project website, “The National Academies seeks nominations for committee members to organize a workshop, Integrating Public and Ecosystem Health Systems to Foster Resilience: A Workshop to Identify Research to Bridge the Knowledge-To-Action Gap. Ecosystems form the foundation upon which society can survive and thrive, providing food, clean water, clean air, materials, and recreation. These connections between people and their environments are being stressed by human-driven actions (e.g. climate change, pollution, resource exploitation, and others) that can alter ecosystems and the services they can provide. If ecosystems are not resilient in the face of these stressors, the subsequent ecological changes may affect human health.”

The National Academies is seeking nominations for members of the Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology (BEST). The Board strongly encourages nominations of individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, women, and early- and mid-career professionals. They anticipate selecting 2-3 nominees to serve on BEST for a three-year term, beginning by the end of 2021. The mission of BEST is to provide our nation with independent, objective advice and dialog on matters related to the impacts of human activities and environmental exposures on environmental quality, human health, and ecosystems. BEST addresses questions about air and water pollution; ecology; solid and hazardous waste; toxicology; epidemiology; risk assessment; and environmental engineering, economics, law and policy.  The Board welcomes nominations in any area of knowledge related to their mission but they are particularly interested at this time in nominees with relevant expertise in science policy, environmental justice, or science communication. Nominations are due Nov. 26, 2021.

USGCRP: The National Academies Committee to Advise the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) is using its convening authority to support USGCRP’s engagement with a wide range of potential users in its work designed to begin new conversations with researchers and users of global change information and for the development of long-term engagement strategies with USGCRP.

The Committee is holding a series of listening sessions in November and December to help the USGCRP hear directly from groups and individuals who use or produce global change information. At these public sessions, participants will be able to learn about USGCRP, comment on how global change information is used or could be more useful and suggest forms of future long-term engagement with USGCRP. No previous knowledge of USGCRP is expected for participants.

The Committee seeks to connect with personally and professionally diverse groups at these sessions, in particular global change information users and researchers who may not have interacted with USGCRP before. This can include individuals from boundary organizations, government, professional societies, academia, industry, nonprofits, and more.

Each session is focused on one major theme: water, health, energy, food, and transportation and infrastructure.

Register to attend USGCRP Pilot Listening Session – Food on Monday, Dec. 6 from 3:30 pm -5:00 pm E.T. and click here to learn more about the series. 

ESA Correspondence to Policymakers

View more letters and testimony from ESA here.

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

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