ESA Policy News: January 9, 2023

In this issue:

White House Seeks Comments About the Scope of the National Nature Assessment, ESA Seeks Member Input for Comments
Join ESA today at 12 noon eastern for a water cooler chat about the National Nature Assessment. Register here.

Fiscal Year 2023 Spending Bill Increases Funding for Environmental and Scientific Programs
Bill includes a 12% increase for the National Science Foundation.

Biden Finalizes “Waters of US” Rule
Bill includes a 12% increase for the National Science Foundation.

Comments about the draft Fifth National Climate Assessment Due Jan. 27
ESA webinar recording is available.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) named the ranking member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee in the 118th Congress.

Executive Branch
Biden administration releases fall 2022 Unified Agenda, previewing regulations to come.

Massachusetts Governor-elect names state climate chief.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announces cabinet.

Federal Register opportunities

White House Seeks Comments About the Scope of the National Nature Assessment, ESA Seeks Member Input for Comment

Today, Monday, Jan. 9 at 12:00 ET, come to the Water Cooler Chat to discuss options for contributing to the National Nature Assessment (NNA) framework. This is an informal Zoom meeting to hear thoughts from the ecological community. Register here.

ESA is seeking feedback from the ecological community to inform its response to the White House Office of Science Technology and Policy (OSTP) recent Request for Information (RFI), entitled Framing the National Nature Assessment published in the Federal Register.

As a member of the ecological community, your feedback is essential to shape the NNA.  We encourage everyone to participate by providing feedback to ESA to inform its comments. Additionally, we strongly encourage all ecologists to submit individual responses to the NNA RFI.

OSTP requests a limit of 3500 words and/or seven pages for each RFI submission. The formal deadline to submit comments about shaping the NNA to OSTP is March 31, 2023.

The opportunity to help inform ESA comments closes Jan. 23, 2023. Use this link to provide input into ESA comments. You may choose to answer all or just one of the questions and replies can be anonymous,

Fiscal Year 2023 Spending Bill Increases Funding for Environmental and Scientific Programs

President Joe Biden signed a $1.7 trillion government spending bill for fiscal year (FY) 2023 Dec. 29, keeping the government funded through the end of September 2023 and providing increases to most ecologically relevant science agencies.

The bill includes $9.9 billion total for the National Science Foundation, an 12% increase. This includes $1.04 billion in supplemental funding for NSF, including $335 million for implementation of the CHIPS and Science Act. The Senate bill summary notes that this is the largest dollar increase for NSF of all time and the largest percentage increase for the agency in more than two decades. The increase will allow NSF to support approximately 2,300 additional research and education grants and 35,000 more scientists, technicians, teachers and students, compared to FY 2022. NSF’s Research and Related Activities account, which funds most NSF grants, receives $7.8 billion, a 9.5% increase.

In the Interior Department, the US Geological Survey receives $1.497 billion, a 7.7% increase. This includes $307 million for the Ecosystems Mission Area, a 10.5% increase. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is funded at $1.8 million, sees an increase of almost 7.5%. Lawmakers allocated $3.475 billion to the National Park Service, a 6.44% increase. The Bureau of Land Management receives $1.493 billion, a 5.89% increase.

In the Agriculture Department, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture receives a nearly 4% increase to $1.7 billion. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative receives $455 million, a 2.25% increase. The Agricultural Research Service is funded at $1.818 billion, a 3.27% increase. ARS’ salaries and expenses account receives $1.744 billion, a 6.78% increase. The US Forest Service’s budget for activities other than wildfire management is increased by $222 million. This includes $307.2 million for Forest and Rangeland Research, a 3.59% increase and $32.2 million for Forest Inventory and Analysis, a 45% increase.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s topline budget is $10.13 billion, a 6% increase over FY 2022 levels. The EPA’s Science and Technology budget increases to $802.27 million, a nearly 7% increase. The EPA’s Geographic Programs budget, which funds the restoration of nationally significant bodies of water, such as the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay, is increased to $681.7 million, a $94.5 million increase.

Appropriators increase the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget $6.2 billion, a nearly 5.5% increase. This includes a $761 million for NOAA research, a 17.5% increase and $80 million for the National Sea Grant College program, a 5% increase.

The Department of Energy Office of Science receives $8.1 billion, an 8% increase. This is in addition to $1.55 billion that the Office of Science received through the Inflation Reduction Act. Overall, the Department of Energy receives $46.1 billion, including a $260 million increase for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Lawmakers allocate $7.8 billion to NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. This includes $2.2 billion for the Earth Science Directorate, a 6% increase, which will allow the agency to address climate research priorities and launch new observations of earth, as recommended in the Earth Science decadal survey.

See also:

Biden Administration Finalizes “Waters of the US” Rule

The EPA announced a new Clean Water Rule in Dec. 2022 in an agency press release, “This rule establishes a durable definition of “waters of the United States” that is grounded in the authority provided by Congress in the Clean Water Act, the best available science, and extensive implementation experience stewarding the nation’s waters. The rule returns to a reasonable and familiar framework founded on the pre-2015 definition with updates to reflect existing Supreme Court decisions, the latest science, and the agencies’ technical expertise.” The new rule covers ‘navigable waters’, wetlands and other bodies of water adjacent to them if they are connected with ‘relatively permanent’ waters that will ‘virtually always significantly affect’ traditional navigable waters as well as waters with a ‘significant nexus’ to larger downstream waters.

Radhika Fox, the EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Water, told The Hill that this rule is a “middle of the road” rule. The rule largely restores the pre-2015 status quo. The Trump administration replaced the Obama administration’s 2015 Clean Water Rule with the Navigable Waters Protections Rule. Both rules were challenged in the courts, and it is likely that agricultural groups, developers and business will challenge the new Biden administration rule.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV) told E&E News that she will file a Congressional Review Act resolution to overturn the regulation. The Congressional Review Act allows Congress to challenge regulations within 60 legislative days of the executive branch finalizing the regulation. The resolution is likely to pass the House, but less likely to pass the Senate, where Democrats hold a narrow majority and is subject to a veto from the President.

The rule comes ahead of a Supreme Court ruling in Sackett vs. EPA case. The Supreme Court heard this case last fall and is expected to release an opinion by summer 2023. In this case, Chantell and Michael Sackett sought a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit to develop wetlands on their Idaho property that was denied. The Sacketts are represented by the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation and backed by business and agricultural groups.

The Supreme Court failed to reach a consensus in the 2006 Rapanos v. United States case and created two legal tests for determining the applicability of the Clean Water Act – Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s “significant nexus” test and the Justice Antonin Scalia’s “continuous surface connection” test. The significant nexus test determines that the Clean Water Act applies if wetlands have a “significant nexus” to regulated waters. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals used Kennedy’s “significant nexus” test when they sided with the EPA in a 2021 ruling in this case.

Now that this rule is finalized, the Biden administration plans to move on to “step two,” which is to craft another definition of the Waters of the U.S. taking into account the experience of implementing the newly finalized rule and additional stakeholder engagement and implementation considerations, scientific developments, litigation and environmental justice values. The White House’s Unified Agenda, which previews regulatory actions to come, notes that the administration will issue a notice of proposed rulemaking in November 2023 and issue a final rule in July 2024. This timeframe will also allow the administration to take the Sackett ruling into account.

Last summer, twelve scientific societies, including ESA and the members of the Consortium of Aquatic Science Societies, filed an amici curiae (friends of the court) brief with the US Supreme Court in this case. The scientific societies’ brief argues that the Clean Water Act’s mandate to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters is inherently founded on science and thus can only be achieved through the consideration of science. Meanwhile, the Sackett’s proposed framework rejects hydrological reality, ignoring the science behind the ways in which wetlands and streams affect traditional navigable waters.

Comments about the draft Fifth National Climate Assessment Due Jan. 27

The White House US Global Change Research Program released a draft version of the Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5), which is now available for a 12-week public review and comment period.

Director of the National Climate Assessment Allison Crimmins joined a webinar hosted by ESA and moderated by ESA Past President Dennis Ojima to give an overview of the fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5) status and how ESA members can submit feedback regarding the draft NCA5. The webinar recording is posted online.

Additional information about the NCA5 draft can be found in the Federal Register Notice and in the USGCRP Open Notice. All comments must be submitted by 11:59 PM ET on January 27, 2023 via the USGCRP Review and Comment System.


House Science Committee: Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) is the new top Democrat on the committee during the 118th session of Congress. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) served as the committee’s top Democrat from 2010 to 2023 before retiring at the end of the previous session of Congress. Lofgren served on the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics during the 117th Congress.

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) is the panel’s new chairman. Lucas and Johnson had a strong bi-partisan partnership after Democrats retook the House in 2018. Lucas has said his focus as chair will be oversight of the implementation of the Chips and Science Act which sets funding levels for NSF among other provisions in the bill.

Executive Branch

White House: The Office of Management and Budget released the fall 2022 unified agenda Jan. 4. This document previews regulatory actions to come. A few highlights of the document include that the administration is likely finalized a proposed rule strengthening air quality standards for soot pollution in August 2023. The White House Council on Environmental Quality plans to release a proposed rule revising the National Environmental Policy Act regulations to better conform with Biden’s “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis” executive order this month. The US Fish and Wildlife Service will issue a rule proposing a system for permitting the “incidental take” or accidental killing of migratory birds in March 2023.

White House: The Biden administration released a Fifth U.S. Open Government National Action Plan. Among other commitments, the plan commits the government to creating feedback mechanisms through which members of the public can request and access data and developing and sharing effective equitable data practices.

White House: The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology will meet Jan. 19 to discuss and consider for approval a report from the Wildfires Subcommittee. The meeting will be held virtually and live-streamed.

More News:



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.

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