Policy News: December 20, 2021

In this issue:

Senate committee holds hearing for the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.

Executive Branch
NOAA releases the annual Arctic Report Card.

California, Arizona, Nevada and the federal government reach agreement to reduce water consumption in the Colorado River basin.

A draft of IPBES’ thematic assessment of invasive alien species and their control is open for review.

Scientific Community
The National Academics seeks experts for the Strategic Group on COVID-19 and Ecosystem Services in the Built Environment.

Federal Register opportunities


Conservation: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing for the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (S. 2372). This bill provides a combined $1.4 billion annually to state and tribal fish and wildlife agencies for conservation and the implementation of state wildlife action plans. ESA and other scientific societies have endorsed previous versions of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. There is broad bipartisan support for the bill. The lead sponsors in the Senate are Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) and the lead sponsors in the House of Representatives are Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE).

The key difference between the Senate and House bill (H.R. 2773) is that the Senate bill funds the program through penalties paid for natural resources and environmental violations while the House bill does not specify a funding source. Previous versions of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act funded conservation through royalties paid to the federal government for mineral extraction. During the Senate hearing, Environment and Public Works Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) expressed concerns that the revenues from environmental penalties are unreliable.

NDAA: The full Senate voted to pass the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bill includes $514.3 million for PFAS clean-up. It also directs the Department of Defense to ensure that its core processes fully consider and make adjustments to account for climate change and ensure the climate resilience of DoD assets.  It also directs the secretaries of the military departments to conduct an assessment of climate risks to infrastructure under their jurisdiction.

The NDAA also includes a provision prohibiting DoD from providing funding to the EcoHealth Alliance. This nonprofit has been at the center of conspiracy theories that a lab in Wuhan, China allowed the novel coronavirus to emerge. The National Institutes of Health provided a grant to the EcoHealth Alliance to investigate the risk of bat coronavirus emergence. Some of the funding for this grant went to the Wuhan lab.

This year’s NDAA does not include research security provisions. Previous versions of the bill have included measures aiming to prevent foreign espionage in US research.

Reconciliation: The Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376), also known as the reconciliation bill, appears stalled in the Senate, with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) announcing that he cannot support the bill.

However, a draft version of the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee’s section of the bill published by Politico included important environmental and scientific provisions:

  • The Department of Energy Office of Science receives $866 million, including $274 million for Biological and Environmental Research.
  • The Department of Energy receives $5 billion for science and laboratory infrastructure.
  • Lawmakers propose increasing royalties for off- and on-shore oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters. Onshore royalties would increase to a minimum of 16.75% from 12.5%. Offshore royalties would increase to a minimum of 14% from 12.5%.
  • The bill retains a provision from the House bill repealing 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. However, Senators removed measures banning off-shore drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Scientific provisions in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee bill is largely similar to the House bill:

  • The Fish and Wildlife Service receives $200 million for Endangered Species Act recovery plans and $9.7 million for wildlife corridor programs.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency receives $100 million for air quality and climate research.
  • The White House Council on Environmental Quality receives $65 million for environmental and climate data collection.
  • Senators allocated $50 million to the U.S. Geological Survey for grants and other financial assistance to water resources research and technology institutes and centers.

Legislative updates:

  • The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee advanced the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act ( S. 46). This bill reauthorizes the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000 through 2024, directs NOAA to provide block grants to states to support state coral reef management and restoration and establishes a National Coral Reef Management Fellowship Program, among other provisions. A similar bill passed the Senate in 2020 but did not advance in the House of Representatives.
  • Matt Gaetz (R-FL) introduced a bill (H.R. 6180) to incentivize removing invasive lionfish from the oceans. This bill allows fishermen to exchange lionfish tails for fishing tags for other species.

Executive Branch

White House: President Biden issued an executive order setting a course for the federal government to become carbon neutral by 2050. The executive order requires the federal government to only purchase energy from renewable sources by 2030 and to exclusively buy zero-emissions vehicles by 2035.

NOAA: The Annual 2021 Arctic Report Card shows that the Arctic is transforming into a “dramatically different state” that is warmer, wetter and less icy than before due to climate change. The October-December 2020 period was the warmest Arctic autumn on record dating back to 1900 and 2021 was the Arctic’s seventh warmest year on record.

Other report highlights include the cascading impacts of warming on Arctic ecosystems:

  • The Arctic is experiencing high rates of ocean acidification, with implications for marine food chains. For example, studies indicate a high occurrence of severe dissolution of shells in natural populations of sea snails, an important forage species, in the Bering Sea and Amundsen Gulf.
  • Beavers are colonizing the Arctic tundra of western Alaska, transforming lowland tundra ecosystems and degrading permafrost by increasing the amount of unfrozen surface water on the landscape in winter.
  • Satellites provide evidence of widespread tundra greening, but extreme events and other drivers of local-scale “browning” have also become more frequent, highlighting regional disruption as an increasing component of Arctic change.

After the release of the Arctic Report Card, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy published the Arctic Research Plan for 2022-2026. The plan outlines steps for the federal government to obtain the information that will enable effective response to the rapid social, environmental, cultural, and geopolitical changes happening in the Arctic.

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Colorado River: California, Arizona, Nevada, the Central Arizona Project and the federal government reached an agreement to voluntarily reduce water consumption to avoid mandatory cuts. The plan requires the states to reduce their consumption by 500,000-acre feet in 2022 and 2023. The parties also agreed to contribute a combined $200 million for water conservation, efficiency and reduction measures.

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IPBES: A draft of the chapters and the summary for policymakers of the thematic assessment of invasive alien species and their control is open for review. This second external review is addressed to governments and interested and qualified experts, including scientists, decision-makers, practitioners and other knowledge holders. To ensure this assessment’s highest scientific quality and policy relevance, the Multidisciplinary Expert Panel seeks the widest possible participation from experts from all relevant disciplines and backgrounds. Expet reviwers can register on the IPBES website. The draft is open for review through Feb. 15, 2022, and IPBES will hold an online workshop for reviewers Jan. 20, 2022.

IPBES is also seeking external reviewers of the draft deliverables for sections of the IPBES rolling work program up to 2030 and the workplans for IPBES task forces for the intersessional period 2022–2023. Comments are due Jan. 17, 2022.

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Scientific Community

ESA: The society issued a statement expressing concern about the recent news report on sexual misconduct associated with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and commend the courageous women who came forward to share their experiences and hold the perpetrators accountable. For ecologists, this situation hits us close to home because many of the women targeted are colleagues. In the short term, ESA calls on Smithsonian Secretary Bunch, Undersecretary Stofan, and Deputy Secretary Park to immediately address the sexual misconduct reports and implement new policies so that researchers, visitors and residents of the field station are safe. ESA will be seeking member input through a listening session on how we can further contribute to changing the culture of ecology so that all ecologists can help stop sexual harassment and misconduct in the classroom, in the lab and in the field.

NASEM: The National Academies is seeking experts to serve on the Strategy Group on COVID-19 and Ecosystem Services in the Built Environment. This group of 15-20 experts will garner information on the physical and mental health benefits of interacting with natural spaces and the consequences of disparities in accessing these natural spaces during the pandemic. The group will also use scenario planning to propose interventions that maximize the health, social, and economic benefits of access to natural spaces and the ecosystem services they provide. This new activity is part of the National Academies Response and Resilient Recovery Strategic Science Initiative which aims to inform policymakers and community leaders across the U.S on critical decision-making for crisis response and future recovery related to COVID-19. Nominations are Dec. 30, 2021.

The National Academies will hold a webinar about Ocean Carbon Dioxide Removal (Ocean CDR) Jan 20 as part of a monthly climate webinar series. Ocean CDR is a set of strategies to sequester carbon dioxide in ocean waters. Speakers will discuss social acceptance, environmental governance, and other issues around ocean CDR strategies. The webinar will include a discussion of the new National Academies report, A Research Strategy for Ocean-based Carbon Dioxide Removal and Sequestration. The conversation will be webcast on the Climate Conversations: Ocean Carbon Dioxide Removal webpage on from 3-4 pm ET.

NSF: The annual 2020 Survey of Earned Doctorates, compiled by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, finds that the number of doctorate recipients in the life sciences decreased slightly from 12,753 in 2019 to 12,561 in 2020. However, longer term trends show that number of doctorates awarded in the life sciences is increasing. In 2010, 11,319 people earned a doctorate in the life sciences. The number of earned doctorates awarded is increased in the geosciences, atmospheric sciences and ocean sciences from 862 degrees in 2010 to 1,243 degrees in 2020. This data does not yet reflect the impact of the coronavirus pandemic – the 2021 survey will include questions about the pandemic’s impact.

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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.