ESA Policy News: March 6, 2023

In this issue:

Comment Period for the National Nature Assessment Closes March 31, 2023
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy leaders appeal for input from ecologists in a Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment editorial.

Call for Nominations for 2023 ESA Regional Policy Award
ESA seeks nominations for its annual Regional Policy Award to recognize a local or regional policymaker who has integrated environmental science and policy in initiatives that foster more sustainable communities.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee votes to nullify Clean Water Act rule using the Congressional Review Act.

Executive Branch
USFWS proposes listing two populations of California spotted owl under the Endangered Species Act.

Washington state holds carbon allowance auction.

United Nations report cautions against solar radiation management and calls for international regulations for the use of this technology.

Scientific Community
Polar researchers criticize the National Science Foundation’s physical qualification program.

Federal Register

Comment Period for the National Nature Assessment Closes March 31, 2023

In April 2022, the Biden administration announced the launch of the first-ever U.S. National Nature Assessment (NNA). Led by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, this report will assess the state of the U.S.’s lands, waters and wildlife and the specific benefits that they provide. The assessment will also allow the country to look ahead at how nature might change in the future and identify opportunities for investments in nature to help achieve climate, health, environmental justice and economic goals.

In October 2023, the White House Office of Science Technology and Policy (OSTP) issued a Request for Information (RFI), entitled Framing the National Nature Assessment, to inform the development of the NNA. The comment period ends March 31, 2023.

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for ecologists to provide input to the US government on how nature, biodiversity and ecosystems will be measured to provide the information needed to manage ecosystems and biodiversity within the United States.

In an editorial in ESA journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, Heather Tallis, Allison Crimmins and Jane Lubchenco write: “We invite you to help shape it and ensure strong, diverse, relevant content. You can start by telling us: What questions should the NNA answer? What needs should it fill? How can we ensure strong collaboration with users and incorporate diverse ways of knowing nature? What form should the final product(s) take to be most accessible and useful to you, your community, and the government?”

Tallis is the acting director of the National Nature Assessment and the assistant director for biodiversity and conservation sciences in the White House OSTP. Crimmins is the director of the National Climate Assessment and Lubchenco is the OSTP deputy director for climate and the environment.

OSTP requests a limit of 3500 words and/or seven pages for each RFI submission. Submit a comment here.

Call for Nominations for 2023 ESA Regional Policy Award

Do you know someone who has made positive efforts toward environmental sustainability in Portland, Oregon?  ESA seeks nominations for its annual Regional Policy Award to recognize a local or regional policymaker who has integrated environmental science and policy in initiatives that foster more sustainable communities.

ESA has honored past award recipients for policy work that included:

  • wildlife conservation
  • green urban renewal initiatives
  • stream, river, lake restoration

ESA’s 2023 Annual Meeting will take place in Portland, Oregon. The annual Regional Policy Award honors policymakers from the region in which the Society holds its conference that year. Nominees should be from the Portland area and likely to accept the award in person at the Society’s Opening Plenary.

Award Criteria

Candidates to receive the Policy Award be a current or recently former elected or appointed official located in the city, state or region where the ESA Annual Meeting is held that particular year and must meet at least 3 out of the 5 criteria below:

  1. Has a proven track record of applying ecological science to their decision-making;
  2. Seeks the best available science when making environmental policy decisions;
  3. Demonstrates a commitment to communicating ecological understanding to the general public;
  4. Demonstrates a commitment to enhancing communication between policymakers and the ecological community; and
  5. Strives to involve the local community in his or her environmental policy initiatives (e.g. implement volunteering programs, outreach efforts, or education programs related to environmental policies).

Whenever possible, the nominations process should address the following:

  • Does the candidate have a science advisor or consult with scientists?
  • Does the nominee refer to scientific resources, such as peer-reviewed studies, etc.?
  • How would awarding this nominee be received at the local/regional level?
  • What are specific activities that this individual has accomplished informed by ecological science?
  • Is the nominee likely to appear in person to accept the award (currently set for 5 PM on Sunday, August 6, 2023)

Send nominations and direct inquiries to Nicole Zimmerman, public affairs manager,


Clean Water Act: Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted to use the Congressional Review Act to nullify the Biden administration’s latest rule aimed at defining regulated waterways under the Clean Water Act. The definition in the rule includes ‘navigable waters’, wetlands and other bodies of water adjacent to them if they are connected with ‘relatively permanent’ waters. Waterways are only included if they will ‘virtually always significantly affect’ traditional navigable waters or if waters they have a ‘significant nexus’ to larger downstream waters. The Biden administration said that rule aims to create a ‘durable’ definition of the Waters of the U.S. using the best available science after the rules finalized by the Obama and Trump administrations have been challenged in the courts. The Biden Clean Water Act rule was released in late December and is set to take effect in late March.

At the same hearing, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted to advance a bill (H.R. 1152) that narrows the ability of states and tribes to veto federal permits under the Clean Water Act. In recent years, coastal states have used their authority under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act to veto fossil fuel export facilities, angering politicians in landlocked fossil fuel-producing states. Even if this bill passed the full House, it faces an unclear fate in the Senate.

During the Trump administration, the EPA proposed overhauling states’ ability to block projects under Section 401. ESA joined other aquatic science societies in opposing the Trump administration’s Section 401 proposed rule in October 2019.

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 the EPA vs Sackett case, which pertains to the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. 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.

House Science Committee: For its first hearing of the new session of Congress, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee focused on developing a U.S. science and technology strategy and research and development competitiveness with China. Witnesses including former White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Kelvin Droegemeier, Deborah Wince-Smith, the CEO of the Council on Competitiveness, Director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Kim Bundil and Klon Kitchen of the American Enterprise Institute. A provision of the Chips and Science Act requires the White House to create quadrennial Science and Technology Review and develop a National Science and Technology Strategy. Members of Congress asked questions about diversifying the STEM workforce, research security and espionage in the US research enterprise.

House Science Committee: Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) announced that Reps. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) and Ryan Zinke (R-MT) will join the committee for the 118th Congress. Fleischman is the House Appropriations Committee Energy and Water Subcommittee chair and represents the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Congress. Zinke served as Interior Secretary during the Trump administration and recently secured a spot on the House Appropriations Committee Interior and Environment Subcommittee.

Legislative updates:

  • House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced a bill (H.R.1213) reversing a provision of the Fiscal Year 2023 omnibus spending bill preventing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from drafting new protections for the North Atlantic right whale. There are currently 340 North Atlantic right whales left. NOAA has previously sought to protect the whales from vessel strikes and fishing gear entanglements, drawing ire from the fishing industry. The bill has seven co-sponsors, all Democrats who sit on the House Natural Resources Committee.
  • Stacy Plaskett (D-VI) and Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL) introduced a bill (H.R. 1196) authorizing a $10 billion National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration program for coastal restoration, including ecological infrastructure projects and climate adaptation and coastal resiliency projects.

More News:

Executive Branch

White House: The Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) is holding a series of virtual listening sessions to inform the development of the 2023- 2028 Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Strategic Plan, starting March 15. Listening session topics include STEM education, workforce, engagement and research and innovation capacity. For the full list of sessions, dates and RSVP information, see the OSTP website.

OSTP is also hosting a forum about campus and community-scale climate change solutions with leaders from universities and officials from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and more. See the full agenda and RSVP for the virtual forum here.

USFWS: The agency is proposing listing two distinct population segments of California spotted owl (Strix occidentalis occidentalis) under the Endangered Species Act. If finalized, the rule would list the Coastal-Southern California distinct population segment as endangered and list the Sierra Nevada distinct population segment as threatened. The rule notes that the Sierra Nevada population is impacted by high-severity fire, tree mortality, drought and barred owls, which outcompete with spotted owls for habitat, but still has some resilient populations in stable condition. Meanwhile, all the range of the Coastal-Southern population is at extremely high risk of fire and available habitat is fragmented. After USFWS finalizes the rule, the agency will likely designate critical habitat for the species, a likely contentious process.

The California spotted owl is one of three subspecies of spotted owl, the other subspecies are the Mexican spotted owl and the northern spotted owl, both of which are listed as threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The northern spotted owl was the subject of extensive litigation and inspired the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan.

USFWS is accepting public comment on this proposed rule through April 24, 2023.

Emissions: The Biden administration’s Greenhouse Gas Monitoring & Measurement Interagency Working Group (GHG IWG) issued a request for information (RFI) seeking feedback from researchers, greenhouse gas data users, the private sector and others on the draft Federal Strategy to Advance an Integrated U.S. Greenhouse Gas Monitoring & Information SystemThe draft strategy outlines an approach for enhancing greenhouse gas data and information, near-term strategies and areas of interest for demonstration projects.

Responses to the RFI will inform the final version of the federal strategy and discussions on potential partnerships related to demonstration project areas.

The draft federal GHG strategy, Request for Information (RFI) instructions and access to the RFI comment system can be found on NASA NSPIRES website here:

A separate RFI regarding forestry and agriculture will be issued at a later date by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

NSF: The National Science Board voted to form a commission to review the merit review and broader impacts criteria that the National Science Foundation uses to review grant applications during a board meeting. The National Science Board and National Science Foundation has not reviewed the merit review criteria since 2011, although the NSB’s Vision 2030 report recommended strengthening the broader impacts criteria. The commission will share its findings by the NSB’s May 2024 meeting.

USDA: L’Tonya Davis will be the Agriculture Department’s first permanent chief diversity and inclusion officer, Politico reports. Davis is a veteran of the Food and Drug Administration, where she served as director of the Office of Regulatory Affairs’ Office of Communications and Project Management as well as ORA’s executive DEIA champion. She’ll oversee USDA’s first strategic plan for diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility.

More News:



UN: A report from the United Nations Environment Program reviews the state of the scientific research on Solar Radiation Modification and concludes that near and mid-term large-scale SRM deployment is not warranted and would be unwise at this time. The panel writes that SRM is no substitute for a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, which must remain the global priority. However, the panel calls to explore the potential governance and international regulations for the use of this technology.

More News:

Scientific Community

NSF: Polar researchers issued an open letter to the National Science Foundation, criticizing the agency’s physical qualification program. Researchers are criticizing this system for disqualifying scientists from going to Arctic or Antarctic field sites for minor, managed health conditions, hampering diverse participation in the polar sciences. For example, E&E News reported that researchers had been disqualified for seeing a mental health therapist or having wisdom teeth. The letter calls on NSF to increase transparency around this process by publishing anonymized statistics about pass/fail rates in this program, with information about race, gender and disability status. Scientists are also calling for opportunities for researchers to provide feedback during the physical qualification process and an independent review of the program by a medical ethics board.

USGS: ESA is hosting a webinar about the USGS Climate Research & Development program entitled, “Introducing the USGS Climate Research & Development Program” to hear how researchers at the USGS are studying glacier mass balance change, or about how scientists are incorporating indigenous knowledge with paleodata to develop a more robust understanding of the past. Topics include learning more about how land cover affects urban temperatures and nature-based solutions to climate warming, and about what the future of coastal wetlands in the U.S. may look like.

Dr. Ariana Sutton-Grier, the program coordinator for the Climate R&D program, will introduce the broad variety of climate and environmental change research supported by the program followed by lightning talks from four program scientists, Drs. Caitlyn Florentine, Clarke Knight, Peter Ibsen, and Glenn Guntenspergen, about their respective research.

Register here,

NASEM: The National Academies is seeking nominations for a committee of experts to advise the National Science Foundation about forward-looking investments in research, infrastructure and workforce development in ocean sciences. This committee will develop a research strategy to advance understanding of the ocean’s role in the Earth system and the sustainable blue economy. This study will be carried out by a committee of approximately 20 expert volunteers with broad knowledge of ocean sciences, engineering and technology, including marine ecosystems. Nominations are due March 13, 2023.

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.

Send questions or comments to Alison Mize, director of public affairs, or Nicole Zimmerman, public affairs manager,

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