Policy News: December 3, 2018

The Katherine S. McCarter

Graduate Student Policy Award

ESA is now accepting applications for its 2019 Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award. Offered each year, this award gives graduate students an all-expense paid trip to Washington, DC for science policy training with opportunities to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Visit the ESA website for more information and details on application requirements. The deadline to apply is Jan. 13, 2019.

ESA Policy News

In This Issue:

Federal Government Releases National Climate Assessment, Warns of Dire Ongoing Impacts of Climate Change 
Report synthesizes the latest scientific knowledge on the current and projected impacts of climate change on the U.S..

Congress
House and Senate leaders reach agreement on the 2018 Farm Bills; lawmakers introduce carbon fee legislation.

Executive Branch
BLM moves toward opening parts of the National Petroleum Reserve to drilling; USGS releases report on carbon emissions from public lands.

Courts
Supreme Court returns dusky gopher frog case to lower court.

States and Cities
DC City Council passes ambitious renewable energy bill.

International
UN says the world is not on track to meet climate targets; European agencies release more details on ‘Plan S’ for scientific publishing.

Scientific Community
Organizations release report on protecting scientific integrity in the federal government.

Federal Register Opportunities
Upcoming meetings and other opportunities for public involvement.

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

Federal Government Releases National Climate Assessment, Warns of Dire Ongoing Impacts of Climate Change


On the Friday after Thanksgiving, the federal government released its fourth National Climate Assessment. Altogether, the report is a grim warning of the on-going and anticipated impacts of climate change in the U.S.

The full report is over 1,600 pages long and includes chapters on the sectoral impacts of climate change – i.e., impacts to agriculture, coasts and oceans and forests – and the impacts in each region of the U.S. Around 1,000 scientists from across the federal government, state governments, academia and industry contributed to the report.

Some of the overarching findings show the impacts of climate change are already being felt across the country, and these impacts threaten quality of life and exacerbate existing social and economic inequalities. Without significant mitigation and adaption efforts, climate change could cause the U.S. economy to shrink by 10 percent by 2100. Extreme weather associated with climate change could cause thousands of deaths a year, and climate change will facilitate the spread of pests and insect-borne diseases. Regionally, climate change will bring increased flooding in coastal areas, stronger hurricanes to the eastern states, and drought and larger wildfires to the western U.S.

The report chapter on ecosystems, ecosystem services, and biodiversity notes that climate change is “reconfiguring ecosystems in unprecedented ways,” allowing invasive species to spread and forcing species to adapt to new conditions or go extinct if they cannot.

The 2018 report contains much of the same information as the last National Climate Assessment, released in May 2014, with a few significant differences. Many of the impacts predicted in previous climate assessments are now a reality. The 2018 report features a chapter on the interconnected impacts of climate change on multiple sectors and systems. For example, the report points to Hurricane Harvey as an example of a situation where an extreme weather event caused cascading impacts on infrastructure and public health. Furthermore, development patterns in the Houston area worsened the flooding impacts of Hurricane Harvey. The report also notes that the implementation of climate adaption measures have increased but are not yet “commonplace.” One such adaption project is the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild by Design Program, which awarded $930 million to green infrastructure projects that addressed vulnerabilities exposed by Hurricane Sandy.

Federal agencies initially scheduled the report’s release for early December. Critics suggested that the Trump administration released the report on Black Friday to ‘bury’ its findings. This strategy was largely unsuccessful – national newspapers, including The Washington Post and The New York Times,featured stories about the report on their front pages Saturday and many local papers wrote articles about the regional impacts of climate change described in the report.

President Donald Trump renounced the report. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the report is “not based on facts.” Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler accused the Obama administration of directing the report’s authors to focus on “the worst case scenario.”

Outside of the administration, some Republican senators said that the report highlighted the need for ‘innovation,’ and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) took to Twitter to endorse a “market-driven strategy to combat the impacts of climate change.” House Democrats said that the report reinforces the need for a revived select committee on climate change.

The National Climate Assessment is mandated by law – the Global Change Research Act of 1990 requires the federal government to submit a report to Congress and the White House on the current state of climate science, the impacts of climate change, trends in climate change and projected trends for the next 25-100 years. The National Climate Assessment is intended for a non-scientific audience and does not recommend specific policy changes. The intent is that policymakers can use the information in the National Climate Assessment in decision-making.

Congress


Farm Bill: The chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees announced Nov. 29 that they have reached an “agreement in principle” on the 2018 Farm Bill and that they are still working to finalize “legal and report language.” Both the House and Senate passed versions of the farm bill this past summer, and negotiators from both houses have been working to resolve differences between the House and Senate bills since then. Most recently, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue pressed lawmakers to include National Environmental Policy Act exemptions for some forest management projects in the final farm bill. Senate Agriculture Chair Pat Roberts (R-KS) told reporters that the final bill would not include these provisions.

USDA Confirmation Hearing: The Senate Agriculture Committee held a confirmation hearing for Scott Hutchins, President Trump’s nominee for undersecretary for research, economics, and education and chief scientist of the Department of Agriculture. This position oversees the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Hutchins is an entomologist who recently retired from the agricultural section of DowDuPont Inc. When asked about climate change and the National Climate Assessment, Hutchins told Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) that he accepts the report’s findings and believes that agriculture can play a role in sequestering carbon. He also told senators that he supports the goals of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s plan to move the NIFA headquarters away from Washington, DC but does not want the move to impact scientific work. Fourteen organizations and scientific societies, including ESA, sent a letter of support for Hutchins’ nomination to Senate leaders in October.

Infrastructure Hearing: Democratic members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee pushed for legislation that incorporates climate concerns during a committee hearing on surface transportation. Citing the 2018 National Climate Assessment, Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) said that lawmakers should take projected climate risks into account to ensure that infrastructure projects are useful and resilient in the long-term. Rising sea levels, severe storms, and extreme temperatures have already put bridges, airports, tunnels, and roads at risk. Republican committee members largely focused on how to finance an infrastructure package.

Carbon Fee Legislation: A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation (H.R. 7173) that would impose a $15 per ton carbon fee on the oil, gas, and coal industries. The bill would then redistribute the revenue from this fee to households. The fee would increase $10 a year until the country reduces its emissions by 90 percent of 2015 levels. Supporters of the bill say that the bill is intended to be a starting point for climate policy in the 116th Congress.

Executive Branch


BLM: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is working toward abandoning its current management plan for the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska to allow oil and gas leases in areas that are off-limits. The plan, developed during the Obama administration, prohibits drilling in 11 million acres of the reserve, including areas of important habitat for migratory birds, caribou, bears, and wolves. The agency has posted a notice of intent to prepare a new plan in the Federal Register and is accepting preliminary, scoping comments through Jan. 7, 2019.

USFWS: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed the candy darter (Etheostoma osburni), a brightly colored freshwater fish, as an endangered species. The candy darter is found in three watersheds in West Virginia and Virginia. In the final rule, USFWS writes that the primary threat to the species is hybridization – or cross-breeding – with the variegate darter, a non-native species. USFWS has also proposed designating 370 miles of streams as critical habitat for the species. That rule is open for comment on the Federal Register through Jan. 22, 2019.

USGS: Another report released on Black Friday concludes that about one-quarter of U.S. carbon emissions come from oil, gas, and coal extraction on public lands and waters. The Obama administration asked the U.S. Geological Survey to create the report and a publicly available database of greenhouse gas emissions associated with fossil fuel production on public lands in January 2016.

Courts


Dusky Gopher Frog: The Supreme Court ruled unanimously to return a case about habitat protections for the endangered dusky gopher frog to the 5thCircuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. In this case, timber company Weyhauser and other landowners sued after USFWS after designated 1,500 acres of their land as ‘critical habitat’ for the dusky gopher frog under the Endangered Species Act in 2012. Dusky gopher frogs do not currently live in this area, but USFWS determined that the area would be essential if the species recovers. Plaintiffs argued that the land does not qualify as habitat because it would need modifications to support a population of frogs. In the ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts writes that the Endangered Species Act defines the term ‘critical,’ but does not provide a ‘baseline definition’ of habitat. Roberts directs the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to consider the definition of habitat.

States and Cities


District of Columbia: The City Council unanimously approved to advance legislation that would require the city to receive 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2032. If this bill passes a second vote in late December and is signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), it would put the District on the nation’s fastest timeline for adopting fully renewable energy.

New York City: City Councilman Costa Constaninides (D-Queens) introduced a bill that would require large buildings in the city to reduce their carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030. The legislation also creates an Office of Building Energy Performance and an advisory board to recommend further carbon emissions. Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) and Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) support the legislation.

International


Europe: Officials from science funding agencies released more details on their open access initiative for scientific publishing, called ‘Plan S.’ A guidance document from the funders, known as cOAlition S, says researchers funded by their organizations will be in compliance if they 1) publish their work in an open access journal, 2) upload their papers to an open access repository, or 3) publish in journals working towards becoming open access. Authors may publish their work in hybrid journals – that is, journals that contain a blend of open access and non-open access articles — but the cOAlition S organizations will not cover the cost of publishing these articles. The group is soliciting feedback on the plan through Feb. 1, 2019 via its website.

Iran: Over 300 scientists and conservationists, including Jane Goodall, sent a letter to the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemning the arrests of nine individuals employed by the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation and calling for a fair and transparent trial for the conservationists. The Iranian government accused the group of using camera traps, intended to monitor the country’s wildlife, as a pretext to spy on military activities.

U.N. Environment Program: The United Nations released its 2018 Emissions Gap Report. The report finds that global carbon emissions increased in 2017, after staying flat for three years between 2014 and 2016. Only 57 countries are on track to reduce their carbon emissions by 2030. It is unlikely that the world be able to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement if countries do not close the ’emissions gap’ by 2030. The U.N. defines the emissions gap as the gap between “where we are likely to be and where we need to be” in order to limit emissions to 2 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, one of the overarching goals of the Paris Agreement.

Separately, the United Nations’ environment chief, Erik Solheim, resigned after an internal audit found that he had spent $500,000 of U.N. money on travel and hotels over 22 months. Several donor counties, including the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden halted their funding for UNEP until Solheim’s ethics issues could be resolved.

Scientific Community


‘Protecting Science at Federal Agencies’: A coalition of 16 organizations, including the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Environmental Protection Network, have released a report entitled “Protecting Science at Federal Agencies.” The report details how Congress can protect scientific integrity in the federal government and ensure that agencies meet their legal responsibilities.

Federal Register Opportunities


Public Meetings, many of which are live-streamed: 

Opportunities for Public Comment and Nominations:

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 letters and testimony from ESA here.

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

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