Policy News: August 31, 2020

In This Issue:

Register to Vote & Request an Absentee Ballot
The general election is less than 70 days away. Visit Vote.org for information about requesting an absentee ballot.

Upcoming ESA Webinars
ESA will host two webinars with the Federation of American Scientists and Engineers and Scientists Acting Locally.

House Science Committee proposes a new postdoctoral fellowship program for early-career scientists impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Executive Branch
Interior Department finalizes an oil and gas leasing plan for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Louisiana governor signs climate change executive orders.

Scientific Community
Climate Science Legal Defense Fund releases a guide to political activities for federally employed scientists.

ESA In the News
View an up-to-date list of ESA’s media coverage.

Opportunities to Get Involved
Federal Register opportunities.

Register to Vote & Request an Absentee Ballot

The 2020 general elections is less than 70 days away. Many will vote using an absentee ballot and each state has unique requirements, so do not delay in requesting or mailing your ballot in.

A report, Democracy Counts 2018, from Tufts University’s Institute for Democracy and Higher Education found that college students in STEM fields are less likely to vote than students in the humanities, social sciences and education. On a national level, the presidency, all seats in the House of Representatives and a third of Senate seats will be contested. Several state governorships and many other state and local elections will also be contested. Be sure you are registered to vote in time to participate!  Learn more about voting policies and rights in your state and register to vote at Rock the Vote, a nonprofit dedicated to engaging young people in politics.

Voting procedures and requirements requesting an absentee ballot during the coronavirus pandemic vary by state. Visit your state board of elections website or Vote.org for deadlines and to request a ballot.

The Science Debate is asking the presidential candidates a series of science and technology policy questions. State-level coalitions are working with Science Debate and the National Science Policy Network to develop regionally tailored, nonpartisan questions for all candidates related to science, technology and health policy priorities. Check their website to see the candidate’s responses.

Upcoming ESA Webinars

Connecting with Congressional Committees to Inform Hearings
Sept. 10, 2:00 pm eastern time
Register here:  https://esa.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJEocu-srzsuEtV2sn_KNTJFyonT5PR-ZE6s

The Federation of American Scientists’ Congressional Science Policy Initiative (CSPI) seeks to bring scientific expertise into Congressional hearings. The CSPI team tracks Legislative Branch activity, and when key hearings are announced after which the team solicits the CSPI community for questions and ideas that Members of Congress could raise during the hearing. This data-driven information and questions are then communicated to Congress for use in the hearings to promote a rich discussion of the issues. In this webinar, Federation of American Scientist Executive Director Ali Nouri will introduce ESA members to the CSPI program and describe how ecologists can contribute to Congressional hearings.

Local engagement opportunities for scientists                                      
Sept 30, 2:00pm eastern time
Register here: https://esa.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJEufuqorDouHNNcEpqcDaM8OhxbX1W8nPsb

While federal policy and politics tends to dominate the national headlines, the importance of policy-making and implementation at the state and local government level often gets overlooked. Recent events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and discussions of racial justice and police reform, have highlighted the critical role of city, county and state governments. In this webinar, Engineers and Scientists Acting Locally (ESAL) scientists will discuss the ways in which ecologists can engage with local government and use their expertise and inquiry driven, evidence-based approaches to inform policy decisions. ESAL will highlight examples of scientists who have made substantive contributions to their communities, often without a major career shift. The presenters will also draw on their own experiences working in local government to share in-depth case studies. This workshop is intended for scientists at all stages of their careers, including students. ESAL and ESA hope that attendees will leave inspired with new ideas for how they can get more involved in their own communities.


Senate: The Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis released a “Case for Climate Action,” mirroring the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis’ report released in July (see ESA Policy News, July 13, 2020). The report follows months of committee hearings and meetings with climate activists, business and labor leaders and more. The Senate Special Committee on the Climate Crisis only has Democratic members. The plan represents Senate Democrats’ intentions if they retake the Senate after the 2020 election. The Senate report sets the overarching goal of reducing U.S. emissions to help achieve 100 percent global net-zero emissions no later than 2050. It endorses providing incentives for natural carbon storage, increasing funding for conservation and protecting coastal wetlands and forests from development and creating a new Civilian Conservation Corps.

See also: Graphic: Senate Democrats outline plans for tackling the climate crisis

House Science Committee: Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) and a bipartisan group of committee members introduced the Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act (H.R. 8044). This bill authorizes $250 million to the National Science Foundation to award two-year postdoctoral fellowships to help keep researchers whose employment opportunities have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in the STEM pipeline.

See ESA’s Legislative Tracker for more updates on legislation relevant to the ecological community.

Executive Branch

White House: The Office of Science and Technology Policy’s (OSTP) annual R&D funding priorities memorandum repeats the administration’s focus on the Industries of the Future and carries over other budget priorities from past years, including earth system predictability, the bioeconomy and ocean research. The document gives guidance to executive branch agencies heads as they prepare their fiscal year 2022. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2022 priorities include infectious disease modeling, predictions and forecasting. Another new priority identified is arctic research.

Consistent with the administration’s focus on the Industries of the Future, OSTP, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energythe National Institute of Food and Agriculture and other federal agencies announced over $1 billion in awards for the establishment of 12 artificial intelligence and quantum information science research institutes. Quantum information science and artificial intelligence are two of the ‘Industries of the Future.’

Nominations: President Donald Trump withdrew the nomination of William Perry Pendley to lead the Bureau of Land Management. All Senate Democrats opposed Pendley’s confirmation and Senators Steve Daines (R-MT) and Cory Garner (R-CO), who are both up for re-election, faced widespread pressure to oppose the nomination. Before joining the Trump administration, Pendley led the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which advocates for selling federal lands. Pendley remains the agency’s de facto leader in a non-Senate confirmed position. Senate Democrats are still calling on Interior Secretary to remove Pendley from the BLM. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) said that he is planning oversight hearings to examine the legality of an order keeping Pendley in charge of the BLM. The agency has not had a Senate-confirmed director since the end of the Obama administration.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Western Watersheds Project are challenging Pendley’s current appointment and Acting National Park Service Director Margaret Evenson’s appointment in the courts under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.

Interior: The Department finalized an oil and gas leasing plan for the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, clearing the way for the agency to auction off drilling leases by the end of the year. A provision in the 2017 tax reform law lifted a prohibition on oil and gas drilling in the coastal plain and requires the BLM to hold at least two oil and gas lease sales by December 2024, with each sale offering at least 400,000 acres.

Environmental groups and the Gwich’in Steering Committee have filed lawsuits challenging the drilling plans. Representatives of the Gwich’in Steering Committee say that the Bureau of Land Management failed to give Gwich’in Nation members adequate opportunities to express their views and that allowing drilling would harm Porcupine caribou, an important subsidence hunting species.

Army Corps of Engineers: The proposed Pebble gold and copper mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska is facing a last-minute hurdle, after the agency determined that the project “cannot be permitted as proposed.” The Army Corps of Engineers wrote in a letter that it “would likely result in significant degradation of the environment” under the Clean Water Act and that it would have significant adverse effects on the aquatic system. Now the mine operator, Pebble Partnership, has 90 days to submit a mitigation plan to offset “unavoidable adverse impacts” to wetlands within the pristine Koktuli River watershed. Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R) and Dan Sullivan (R) both oppose the mine. Most of the land surrounding Pebble mine is owned by the state making any mitigation efforts difficult unless the state sold surrounding land to the Pebble Mine Limited Partnership.

This latest development is in stark contrast to a previous announcement. Last month, the Army Corps of Engineers released a final environmental impact statement for the mine concludes that it would not have a significant impact on the region’s salmon fishery. The Bristol Bay watershed is home to the world’s most productive sockeye salmon fishery. In 2014, the EPA vetoed the mine, citing the impacts of the mine on fisheries. Environmental groups and Alaska Native communities have strongly opposed the mine for years.

USFWS: The agency is proposing reclassifying the status of the Stephen’s kangaroo rat from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The species was first added to the list of endangered species in 1988, and habitat loss and urbanization within its range in Southern California are the primary threats to the species. USFWS credits the creation of new reserves in Riverside and San Diego counties for the species and conservation efforts on Department of Defense lands for the species recovery. USFWS is also proposing implementing a 4(d) rule which would allow the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and other permitted entities to incidentally harm kangaroo rats during activities intended to maintain, enhance or restore open habitat areas used by the rat. USFWS says that the activities include livestock grazing, wildfire management and suppression, prescribed fire activities, or nonnative, invasive, or noxious plant removal. The proposed rule is open for public comments through Oct. 19, 2020.

USFWS is also proposing listing the marron bacora, a plant native to the U.S. Virgin Islands, as an endangered species and designating 2,500 acres on St. John as critical habitat. The plant’s current range is largely with the Virgin Islands National Park. This proposed rule is open for public comment through Oct. 26, 2020.


Louisiana: Governor John Bel Edwards (D) signed two climate change executive orders. One order creates a task force that will provide recommendations to Edwards about how the state can reach a goal of net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2050 as well as interim emissions reduction targets of 26-28 percent by 2025 and 40-50 percent by 2030. The other executive order creates the position of a state chief resilience officer that will coordinate adaptation efforts across agencies.

North Carolina: Attorney General Josh Stein (D) filed a lawsuit challenging the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s decision to permit offshore seismic exploration for oil and gas off the state’s coast. North Carolina denied a permit for seismic exploration, but the federal government overrode the state’s objections. Stein says that seismic exploration will harm the state’s fishing and tourism industries and coastal communities overwhelmingly oppose offshore drilling in the state.

NEPA: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and attorneys generals representing 19 states, Guam and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit challenging the administration’s new National Environmental Policy Act regulations. The coalition argues that the regulations violate the Administrative Procedures Act and the National Environmental Policy Act because the final rule is contrary to NEPA’s statutory language and arbitrary and capricious.

Scientific Community

AAAS: The National Science Policy Network and the American Association for the Advancement of Science will hold the 45th AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy Oct. 13-14. Registration for this event is free and the event will be held virtually.

The group will gather to discuss major current challenges affecting science, policy and society, as well as their intersectionality:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic crisis is demanding unprecedented research speed, resources, collaboration, and results from the scientific community. At the same time, it is deeply disrupting the scientific research enterprise, educators, students, and academic institutions. The pandemic has exposed strengths and weaknesses within the scientific enterprise, as well as persistent societal inequities.
  • Ongoing worldwide demonstrations against racial injustice and police violence have emphasized the tragically persistent scourge of racism in our society. Mirroring the broader society, progress on racial justice and equity in science has been slow and insufficient. We strive for science to lead here, to provide pathways towards greater equity and justice in society, and a clear example of a just and inclusive enterprise.

Register here.

What We’re Reading

ESA In the News

ESA regularly issues press releases to the media about journal articles and other Society news. Press coverage is kept up-to-date on our “In the News” page. Check out news stories here.

ESA Correspondence to Policymakers

View more letters and testimony from ESA here

Opportunities to get involved 

Virtual public meetings and conference calls:

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@esa.org or Nicole Zimmerman, public affairs manager, Nicole@esa.org

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



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