Policy News: February 14, 2022

In this issue:

ESA Selects 2022 Graduate Student Policy Award Recipients
Over 40 ESA members to meet with Congressional staff Feb. 16-17.

House Passes Legislation Reauthorizing National Science Foundation
Legislation creates a new directorate and includes diversity and inclusion in STEM provisions.

Biden’s top science adviser, Eric Lander, resigns amid reports of bullying
The White House initially stood by him despite the president’s zero-tolerance policy and numerous credible reports of misconduct.

Forest scientists press counties to keep managed fire policy
Scientists write in a letter to the National Association of Counties that fire remains a critical forest management tool.

House passes measure keeping the government open through March 11.

Executive Branch
EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee recommends tighter soot air quality standards.

Judge restores protections for gray wolves.

Virginia State Senators reject Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R)’s nomination of former EPA administrator to natural resources post.

World leaders gather in France for ocean summit.

Scientific Community
Forest Service seeks nominations for the Collaborative Landscape Restoration Program.

Federal Register opportunities

ESA Selects 2022 Graduate Student Policy Award Recipients

ESA is honored to announce the Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA) 2022 cohort. This award provides graduate students with the opportunity to participate in a virtual Congressional Visits Day. Students will have over 40 meetings Feb. 16-17 with Members of Congress or their staff.

These students learn about the legislative process and federal science funding before meeting virtually with their Members of Congress to discuss the importance of federal investments in the biological and ecological sciences. Additionally, GSPA recipients will explore policy career options. Ecologists who work in federal agencies will share their career paths and how a scientific background can be applied to informing policy.

“It is very rewarding and encouraging to see our ESA graduate students interested in the science-policy interface and to hear directly from decision makers the importance of receiving critical information on the ecological systems that their constituents are interested in. The valuable, hands-on experience this ESA award provides these young ecologists in essential science communication and listening skills will enable them to successfully engage in the policy realm,” said ESA President Dennis Ojima. 

ESA selected 44 students to receive the award: Amanda Alva (Auburn University), Isabella Betancourt S. (Stony Brook University), Ian J. Brackett (Ohio State University), Jessica A. Bryzek (West Virginia University), Abigail J. Costigan (Stony Brook University), Amelia-Juliette C. Demery (Cornell University), Julie Donohue (Western Colorado University), Anastasia Dulskiy (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Sarah Gao (University of San Francisco), Benjamin Gerstner (University of New Mexico), Devon Gorbey (University at Buffalo), Jessica E. Griffin (University of California, Davis and San Diego State University), Elijah Hall (University of California, Riverside), Andrew M. Hoyt (Trent University), Kristen M. Jovanelly (Dartmouth College), Amanda L. Komasinski (University of Georgia), Katie LaPlante-Harris (University of Missouri), Abigail Lewis (Virginia Tech), Samuel A. Mahanes (University of California, Irvine), Zachary Malone (University of California, Merced), Claudia I. Mazur (Boston University), Kelly B. McCrum (University of Georgia), Cassandra Maria Luz Miller (University of New Mexico), Benjamin Moffat (University of Miami), Tim D. Morris (State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry), W. Kody Muhic (Old Dominion University), Jessica G. Murray (Utah State University), Laura P. Nicholson (University of Florida), Rounak Patra (University of Tennessee, Knoxville), Rachel E. Pausch (UC Santa Cruz), Samuel P. Reed (University of Minnesota), Mae Rennick (University of California, Santa Barbara), D’amy Steward (University of Guam), Colin P. Sweeney (The Ohio State University), Corinne Sweeney (University of Georgai), Krti Tallam (Stanford University), Tara Ursell (University of California, Davis), Leena L. Vilonen (Colorado State University), Lynn Von Hagen (Auburn University), Heidi R. Waite (University of California, Irvine), Matthew Walter (University of Delaware), Tanner A. Waters (University of California, Los Angeles), Nicholas Wright-Osment (University of Alabama), and Sophie Zhu (University of California, Davis).

To lead more about the 2022 GSPA cohort, read the full press release.

 House Passes Legislation Reauthorizing National Science Foundation

The full House of Representatives passed the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 4521). Among other provisions, the bill reauthorizes the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE). This bill is the House version of the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA, S. 1260), which passed the full Senate during summer 2021. The NSF and DOE science provisions in the new COMPETES bill are largely similar to the NSF for the Future Act and Department of Energy Science for the Future Act, which passed the House this past summer.

The NSF provisions of the America COMPETES Act creates a new NSF Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions. This bill tasks the new directorate with accelerating research and development to advance solutions to pressing societal challenges, including climate change and sustainability, global competitiveness, STEM education and workforce and social and economic inequality. This work includes but is not limited to work on strategic technologies. In contrast, USICA Creates a Technology and Innovation Directorate focused on “key technology focus areas.”

According to a summary from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the House bill takes a “do no harm” approach to NSF’s existing directorates and structures the new directorate so that NSF’s current work is not put at risk. The bill also includes the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act (H.R. 2695), the STEM Opportunities Act (H.R. 204), the MSI STEM Achievement Act (H.R. 2027) and Rural STEM Education Research Act (H.R. 210).

The Department of Energy provisions authorizes up to six bioenergy research centers and research in earth and environment systems science, including new initiatives in coastal zone research and engineered ecosystems.

Other environmental provisions in the bill include $150 million annually in authorized spending for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to combat illegal wildlife tracking and $52 million annually for coral reef conservation. The bill also establishes a U.S. Coral Reef Task Force.

For more information about the bill, see the summary of the bill and the section-by-section overview.

Next, the House and Senate will reconcile the differences between the America COMPETES Act and the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act.

See also:


Biden’s top science adviser, Eric Lander, resigns amid reports of bullying

The White House initially stood by him despite the president’s zero-tolerance policy and numerous credible reports of misconduct. 

by Alex Thompson, PolitcoPro, 2/7/2022

President Joe Biden’s top science adviser, Eric Lander, resigned on Monday evening following reports of his bullying and mistreatment of subordinates.

The resignation came despite initial insistence from the White House that Lander would remain in his post while corrective actions and remediations were applied to assure a better workplace environment at the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“It has been a great honor to serve as your Science Advisor and to work with the extraordinarily talented career and non-career colleagues at the Office of Science and Technology Policy,” Lander wrote in a letter to the president. “I am writing to submit my resignation, to be effective no later than February 18 in order to permit an orderly transfer.”

“I am devastated that I caused hurt to past and present colleagues by the way in which I have spoken to them,” he added.

Lander’s resignation constitutes the highest-profile departure from the president’s team to date — his office has Cabinet-level status — and a black eye for Biden, who had pledged early on that he would have a zero-tolerance policy when it came to bullying.

“The President accepted Dr. Eric Lander’s resignation letter this evening, with gratitude for his work at OSTP on the pandemic, the cancer moonshot, climate change, and other key priorities,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “He knows that Dr. Lander will continue to make important contributions to the scientific community in the years ahead.”

POLITICO was first to report that the White House had launched a two month investigation into Lander that found “credible evidence” that he bullied his then-general counsel, Rachel Wallace. The investigation also concluded that there was “credible evidence of disrespectful interactions with staff by Dr. Lander and OSTP leadership,” according to a recording of a January White House briefing on the investigation’s findings. In addition, 14 current and former OSTP staffers shared descriptions of a toxic work environment under Lander where they say Lander frequently bullied, cut off and dismissed subordinates. Several shared specific accusations that he belittled and demeaned women subordinates in particular.

On Monday, Psaki told reporters the administration was implementing changes to assure a better workplace culture at OSTP and that they’d be monitoring Lander’s conduct more closely.

“The president has been crystal clear with all of us about his high expectations of how he and his staff should be creating a respectful work environment,” Psaki said.

But behind the scenes, senior staff at OSTP were struggling with how to move forward after the news of the internal White House investigation and litany of complaints from fellow staffers became public. The office’s chief of staff, Marc Aidinoff, kicked off a Monday morning meeting with other senior OSTP officials by addressing the POLITICO article.

“I really struggle with what to say here,” Aidinoff said, according to an audio recording of the meeting shared with POLITICO. “There were some things in the article that were surprises to me, and some that, you know, weren’t.”

“I think one of the many, many troubling pieces is, is the way in which … the current work culture at OSTP prevents the work from happening,” he continued, adding, “I don’t want there to be any sense that that the behavior of the staff talking to reporters when things [come] to a boiling point is the problem or that, you know, there’s anger from me in any way towards those who sort of felt this got to the point that talking to the press was the appropriate next step.”

By Monday evening, Aidinoff had sent an all-staff email acknowledging that the “behavior described” in the article was “not acceptable” and the office would communicate further with employees about steps being taken to “move forward as a community.”

But in the face of growing criticism over its decision to keep Lander in the job, the White House gradually realized that the situation was untenable, said one person with knowledge of the matter, who characterized the resignation as a mutual decision.

Later that evening, the White House informed Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) that Lander would no longer be testifying before her Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health regarding biomedical research, which had been scheduled for Tuesday. The hearing is focused on a Biden proposal to establish a $6.5 billion health agency dubbed the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health. The widely popular proposal has stalled amid budget battles and sparring over the president’s Build Back Better initiative.

Lander was also dropped as a speaker before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where he was to appear for the nonprofit group’s annual meeting next week.

A luminary in the scientific community, Lander won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant at the age 30, served on the board of the cancer organization Biden spearheaded, and earned numerous accolades for his work mapping the human genome. But he also was a controversial figure, owing to a reputation for having a nasty streak and not giving proper credit to women in his field.

Adam Cancryn and Sarah Owermohle contributed to this report.

Forest scientists press counties to keep managed fire policy

The scientists wrote in a letter to the National Association of Counties that fire remains a critical forest management tool and that it should reject a resolution on the issue this weekend.

by Marc Heller, E&E News/Greenwire, 2/11/2022

A group of scientists defended the Forest Service’s use of managed wildland fire, urging county officials to reject a resolution on the subject at a national conference this weekend.

The scientists, mainly representing universities in Western states, said they are “gravely concerned” by a proposal the National Association of Counties is set to debate urging the Forest Service to immediately extinguish all wildfires and temporarily stop allowing fires in remote areas to burn themselves out.

“Attempting to extinguish all fires is a losing proposition that is based on a misunderstanding of current policy and an outdated notion of what is operationally feasible,” they wrote in the Tuesday letter to Joel Bousman, chair of the association’s Public Lands Steering Committee.

“It takes tools out of the management toolbox at a time when we need them the most, and it disregards local knowledge, ecology, needs, and opportunities,” the scientists said.

The resolution to be debated at a National Association of Counties legislative conference Saturday calls on the Forest Service to immediately extinguish “all fires for the pending fire season and throughout the year,” including any prescribed burns that escape intended containment. A similar version was first floated a few weeks ago.

The policy should remain in place, the resolution says, until the Forest Service drafts and completes new regulations that would establish a revised wildfire strategy. Any rulemaking would require analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act, the resolution says, suggesting a time frame that would extend well into 2023 or beyond.

A strategy of putting out all wildfires would return the Forest Service, at least in part, to the approach the agency took a generation ago. Many forest policy groups and researchers say the old policy — putting out wildfires by 10 a.m. the day after they’re reported — was a mistake because it removed a natural way of clearing potential wildfire fuel — trees and brush — from forests that evolved with fire. The result has been overly dense forests in need of thinning through logging or fire or both, most researchers and forest groups say.

Climate change has added to the problem, extending the wildfire season by weeks or, in the view of the Forest Service, to a year-round phenomenon.

But the resolution proposed by Western county commissioners paints a more complicated picture. It doesn’t mention climate change or past forest management strategies but points to increasingly damaging wildfires and their economic and health-related toll. The government could save money through a new approach and put the funds toward forest restoration, the sponsors said.

“From a USFS budget perspective, the cost to fight mega fires is enormous while the cost of Initial Fire Attack (to extinguish immediately) is comparatively reasonable,” they said in the resolution. “The monies saved by such an interim policy could and should be invested in updated firefighting technology to address challenges in access and safety while restoring the forest mosaic.”

The National Association of Counties Public Lands Committee is scheduled to meet Saturday and to hear from Brian Ferebee, chief executive of intergovernmental relations for the Forest Service, as well as from Bureau of Land Management Director Tracy Stone-Manning, according to the publicly posted agenda.

At the heart of the debate is whether allowing certain naturally ignited fires to burn — particularly in wilderness settings far from homes and developments — is the proper strategy. The Forest Service has said doing so can have “resource benefits,” a notion the resolution appears to reject.

But the scientists took the Forest Service’s side on that point.

“Similar to how important thinning and prescribed burning are around our communities, the ability to manage wildland fires at appropriate times is equally important for reducing fuels in the wildland environment,” they said. “We will never be able to reduce fire risk to communities with thinning or prescribed fire alone — we need all hands on deck, and all the tools in the toolbox.”

In addition to the scientists’ letter, county officials are likely to hear from the National Association of Forest Service Retirees, which has said the Forest Service should keep the discretion to use managed fire.

The retiree group’s chair, Steve Ellis, told E&E News that the use of fire as a management tool may require new ways of developing public trust in affected communities.

“NAFSR supports and promotes the maintenance and implementation of a balanced fire management program, including the use of ‘managed fire,'” Ellis said. “The role of managed fire is both sensitive and important in today’s ever changing environment.”


Appropriations: The House passed a stop-gap measure, known as a continuing resolution, to keep the government open through March. 11. The Senate is working to pass a similar measure this week.  Top House and Senate Appropriators also announced that they have reached an agreement on a framework for domestic and defense spending, setting the stage for Congress to complete appropriations for fiscal year (FY) 2022. The federal government has been operating under a continuing resolution since October 2021. Congress has not passed appropriations bills since December 2020.

Nominations: The full Senate voted to confirm Homer Wilkes as the U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for natural resources and the environment. Wilkes is a career USDA employee who previously led the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Restoration Team. This position oversees the US Forest Service.

Legislative updates:

  • House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) introduced a bill (H.R. 6654 & S. 3621) to permanently reauthorize the U.S. Geological Survey’s National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers. The bill increases the authorized funding level for the Climate Adaptation Science Centers from $97 million in FY 2023 to $145 million in FY $145 million in FY 2027. Congress has never formally authorized this program. The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing for this bill Feb. 17.

More News:

Executive Branch


States and Tribes


Scientific Community

Forest Service: The agency has announced a call for nominations for individuals to serve on the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) Federal Advisory Committee, charged with evaluating CFLRP proposals and providing recommendations to the Department of Agriculture on proposal selection.

Congress created CFLRP in 2009 to invest in landscape-scale restoration to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, enhance forest health, and support rural economies. CFLRP project proposals are developed collaboratively with USDA Forest Service staff and partners and are selected through a competitive process. Program funding supports up to 50% of the costs of implementing and monitoring the proposal on National Forest System lands.

Committee members will be appointed on their expertise in serval areas, including ecological restoration, fire ecology, ecological adaption to climate change and fish and wildlife ecology. Nominations must be received by March 7, see the Federal Register Notice for more information.

Department of Energy: The Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) program is now accepting applications for the 2022 Solicitation 1 cycle. Applications are due 5:00pm Eastern Time Wed., May 4, 2022. The SCGSR program supports awards to outstanding U.S. graduate students to conduct part of their graduate thesis research at a DOE national laboratory or host site in collaboration with a DOE laboratory scientist.

Sustainability:  A new report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) issues a call to action to policymakers seeking to develop sustainable and equitable solutions to urgent global challenges. “Ten Facts about Land Systems for Sustainability” was co-authored by 50 leading land use scientists from 20 countries. A companion report offers specific examples to help policymakers and the public understand what is at stake at this critical moment in global development.

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

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