ESA Policy News: May 30, 2023

In this issue:

Biden administration must now rework recent Clean Water Act regulations.
This June 8 workshop will provide the resources to help scientists and engineers bridge the gap between science and policy
Webinar covers how science and policy intersect to protect waterways.
Bill includes slight increases for the Agricultural Research Service and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

House Natural Resources Committee passes Save Our Sequoias Act and legislation to allow mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Executive Branch
White House to hold open science listening sessions.

Supreme Court decision about California’s pork regulations could impact state climate regulations.

Colorado River states reach water rights agreement.

United Nations panel questions carbon removal schemes.

Scientific Community
Scientific evidence shows that protecting and restoring wild animals and their functional roles can enhance natural carbon capture and storage.

Federal Register

Supreme Court dramatically shrinks Clean Water Act’s reach

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 Sackett v. EPA case. In this case, Chantell and Michael Sackett sought a CWA 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 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.

On May 25, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case, largely siding with the Sacketts and the Pacific Legal Foundation. The below article from PoliticoPro provides more details on the ruling.

By Annie Snider, PoliticoPro, 5/25/2023

The Supreme Court on Thursday significantly shrank the reach of federal clean water protections, dealing a major blow to President Joe Biden’s efforts to restore protections to millions of acres of wetlands and delivering a victory to multiple powerful industries.

The ruling from the court’s conservative majority vastly narrowing the federal government’s authority over marshes and bogs is a win for industries such as homebuilding and oil and gas, which must seek Clean Water Act permits to damage federally protected wetlands. Those industries have fought for decades to limit the law’s reach.

The Biden administration this year finalized a rule to cement broad protections for wetlands, which trap pollution, provide wildlife habitat, and act as sponges that soak up flood waters. That regulation must now be reworked in light of the Supreme Court ruling.

The 5-4 ruling in Sackett v. EPA creates a far narrower test than what has been used for more than half a century to determine when bogs and marshes fall under the scope of the 1972 law. Under the majority’s definition, only those wetlands with a continuous surface water connection to larger streams, lakes and rivers should get federal protections.

Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett, wrote in the majority opinion that only those wetlands that are “indistinguishable” from those larger waters should be covered.

“Wetlands that are separate from traditional navigable waters cannot be considered part of those waters, even if they are located nearby,” Alito wrote.

The court’s liberals, joined by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, disagreed with that test, arguing that it cuts out a broad swath of wetlands that are important to Clean Water Act’s goal of protecting the nation’s waters.

“Put simply, the Court’s atextual test — rewriting ‘adjacent’ to mean ‘adjoining’ — will produce real-world consequences for the waters of the United States and will generate regulatory uncertainty,” Kavanaugh wrote in his concurring opinion.

The case centers on a patch of wetlands on an Idaho couple’s property. The justices agreed that their specific wetlands should not be subject to Clean Water Act regulation, and that the court’s prior test, stemming from the 2006 case Rapanos v. United States, should no longer determine the scope of the law. For this reason, Kavanaugh’s opinion and a separate opinion from the court’s liberals, are considered to be concurring opinions.

Alex Guillén contributed to this report.

Webinar Recording Available: Protecting Wetlands for Healthy Communities and Ecosystems

On May 8, ESA and Engineers and Scientists Acting Locally held a webinar to learn how science and policy intersect to protect waterways, hear from local advocates for ecologically sound practices and discuss the potential impact of the Sackett v EPA Supreme Court ruling, which had not been released at the time of the webinar. Panelist Royal Garner served as the counsel of record on the scientific societies’ amici curiae in this case.

The webinar recording is now available on YouTube.


Erika Harris- Senior Planner, Puget Sound Regional Council
Royal C. Gardner, JD– Professor of Law and Co-Director, Institute for Biodiversity Law and Policy, Stetson University College of Law

Join ESAL and ESA June 8 at noon for a workshop on local policy and community engagement

Local communities are increasingly forced to deal with challenges presented by natural resource management, biodiversity, climate change, and other pressing issues that benefit from scientific expertise. However, scientists are often not trained to navigate local decision-making processes or provided with the tools to translate their scientific expertise and collaborate with local policymakers and community leaders.

In this workshop, co-hosted by Engineers and Scientists Acting Locally and the Ecological Society of America, we will provide the resources to help scientists and engineers bridge that gap. Attendees will have the opportunity to dive into case studies of scientists and engineers engaging locally across all career stages. Attendees will also receive information and hands-on practice with step-by-step guides for activities such as delivering public comments and joining a local board or commission, with the opportunity to begin identifying opportunities in their own communities.

Register to attend the webinar June 8, 12:00pm eastern here:

House Appropriations Committee Releases Agriculture Spending Bill Amid Debt Ceiling Negotiations

The House Appropriations Committee began releasing its Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 spending bills the week of May 15. The House Appropriations Committee plans to release the least controversial bills this year.

These bills are being released while Congress and the White House are in negotiations over raising the debt ceiling. The White House and House Republicans have reached a tenative agreement to hold federal spending flat for two years and plan to vote on the deal the week of May 30. This agreement means that science programs will have to compete with other non-defense federal programs for any spending increases. The US is projected to reach the debt ceiling in June, forcing either Congress to raise the debt ceiling or the country to default on its debts.

Nevertheless, the House Appropriations Committee already released the details of the House Agriculture spending bill. Overall, the bill decreases funding for agriculture programs by around 2%. House appropriators propose $1.746 billion for the Agricultural Research Service, a slight increase of $1.2 million over FY 2023 levels. The summary from the Republican majority notes that this includes increases for high-priority initiatives and reduces funding for climate hubs and climate change research. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture receives $1.692 billion for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a decrease of $9.5 million. This includes an increase of $5 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, the USDA’s main competitive research grants program. House appropriators also propose cutting climate and equity programs in the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

On the Senate side, Appropriations Chair Patty Murry (D-WA) and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME) announced that their committee will start releasing spending bills in June.

Read more:


  • The House Natural Resources Committee passed the Save Our Sequoias Act (R 2989). The bill passed by a voice vote, despite concerns from Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and other Democrats that the bill would limit reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act. Among other provisions, this bill codifies the already existing Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition, provides the National Park Service with authority to expedite projects that make sequoia groves more resilient to wildfire, insects or disease and creates an Interior Department grant program to support sequoia nurseries.
  • The House Natural Resources Committee also approved legislation ( Con. Res 34 & H.R. 3195) from Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN) to overturn Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s recent decision to withdraw the area near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota from mining and open the area to mining.

More News:

Executive Branch

White House: The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is hosting a series of virtual public listening sessions to explore perspectives from the early career researcher community on the challenges and opportunities for advancing open science in the United States.  OSTP is seeking input from undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows from a diverse range of backgrounds and disciplines, as well as those involved in training and capacity building, including librarians, educators, and administrators. Learn more about the listening sessions and RSVP on OSTP’s Events & Webinars webpage.

If you would like to provide information in addition to or in lieu of participating in the listening session, you may send a brief message to

More News:

States and Tribes


Scientific Community

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.