Policy News: November 9, 2017

ESA Action Alert:
Contact your Members of Congress about tax legislation that impacts higher education institutions and students

We urge all ESA members and those in academia to contact their U.S. House Representative and Senators today about The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) legislation affecting students and higher education institutions. H.R. 1 would repeal Sec. 117 (d)(5), which provides graduate student teaching and research assistants a tax exemption for tuition waivers.

The American Council on Education (ACE) website is a comprehensive resource to use for following H.R. 1 and the companion Senate bill that will be introduced soon.

ACE has offered ESA the use of its online system to contact your congressional members, or you may call your Members of Congress. This issue is so critical to ESA members that we ask everyone to take action today.


In This Issue:

EPA Science Advisory Committees, Installs Many Industry-Linked Advocates

Out with the old, in with the new; new faces, new opinions; opposition and lawsuits loom

Government Scientists Muzzled on Climate and Fire

“unconscionable and serves no one”

NCA4 Climate Report Released, Contradicts Administration Positions

USGCRP is seeking public comments

Quick Reads

Energy independence reports, science committee chair not seeking reelection, USDA nominee withdraws, climate change conference and report, hearings for CEQ and EPA nominees, and more

Get Involved

Comment on NCA4, NSF seeking white papers on STEM education, nominate marine fishery advisory committee members, other opportunities to provide comments and input

Legislative Updates

Wildfire bills pass House, whistleblower protection bill enacted, other legislation of interest

Federal Register

Upcoming meetings and other opportunities for public involvement

ESA Correspondence to Policymakers


EPA Science Advisory Committees, Installs Many Industry-Linked Advocates

On Oct. 31, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced a directive to “ensure independence, geographic diversity and integrity in EPA science committees.” The new directive prohibits science advisors to the agency who also receive EPA grants, with Pruitt indicating the potential for conflicts of interest. “Whatever science comes out of EPA, shouldn’t be political science,” said Administrator Pruitt. “From this day forward, EPA advisory committee members will be financially independent from the Agency.” He first publicly mentioned this plan in remarks at a Heritage Foundation conference on Oct. 18.

EPA will not, however, prohibit those receiving funds for other outside sources, such as from industry associations, from serving on science committees. Nor will advisors from state, tribal, or local governments receiving EPA grants be barred. Instead, those prospective advisors will be subject to established ethics review standards already in place.

The directive will first affect members of three of twenty-two of EPA’s Federal Advisory Committees (FACs): the Science Advisory Board (SAB), Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) and the Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC). According to EPA calculations, members of those committees received approximately $77 million in the last three years. The new membership standards will eventually apply to all 22 of the EPAs FACs.

Out with the old, in with the new

On Nov. 3, EPA announced the first round of new appointments to the three targeted FACs. Those appointments include many more representatives of industry and state governments than had previously been the case. Included among those appointments were new chairmen for the SAB, CASAC, and BOSC. The SAB and CASC positions were already vacant; however, the BOSC chairmanship was opened by demoting its existing chairwoman, Deborah Swackhamer, emeritus professor in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs of the University of Minnesota.

Her appointed three-year term is set to expire in March 2018, though she will no longer serve as BOSC chairwoman. In comments to E&E News, Swackhamer noted that, “I don’t have any EPA funding, so they could not use that against me.” She did, however, question whether the administration was moving to politicize science in a May hearing of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

Swackhamer’s testimony came two weeks after the dismissal of nine of eighteen members of the BOSC, with the EPA not renewing their tenure for a second term as was customary. EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson had reportedly pressured Swackhamer to revise her testimony, asking her to downplay the dismissals and stick to the agency’s talking points. The BOSC had 68 members early in the year, but by late June it was down to 11. Following the BOSC dismissals, the EPA cancelled all remaining meetings of the committee for 2017.

Among the new appointments to the FACs announced on Nov. 3 are representatives of Phillips 66 Co., Southern Co., and the North Dakota Petroleum Council.

Paul Gilman, senior vice president at Covanta, a trash-to-energy concern, was announced as Swackhamer’s successor as BOSC chairman on Nov. 3. Also named were Michael Honeycutt, director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s toxicology division, as chairman of the Science Advisory Board; and Tony Cox, a Colorado-based consultant serving oil and chemical clients, to lead the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee.

New faces, new opinions

New CASC Chairman Cox has published research questioning whether reductions in levels of particulate pollutants and ozone results in health benefits, contrary to scientific consensus and the EPA’s current position. Robert Phalen of the University of California, Irvine, newly appointed to the SAB, goes further, arguing that “modern air is a little too clean for optimal health.” Honeycutt minimized the effects of mercury exposure in 2011 congressional testimony.

Not all the new faces come from industry and state interests, however. Jennifer McPartland, a scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, was appointed to the Board of Scientific Advisors chemical safety subcommittee; but has not yet accepted, citing her opposition to the new policies.

Congressional opposition

Sixty House Democrats and one Republican sent a Nov. 3 letter to Administrator Pruitt asking that his new policies be reversed. House Science Committee Democrats, in a Nov. 7 letter, asked committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) to call Administrator Pruitt to testify before the committee on a variety of issues, including the science advisory directive.

Wake Forest law professor Sidney Shapiro said that Pruitt “didn’t get rid of people from industry who have the same potential conflicts. So unless you justify that adequately, that only adds to the argument that it’s arbitrary and capricious.” The Federal Advisory Committee Act allows agencies wide discretion in picking their advisers; however, it requires that the advisory boards be balanced and transparent.

Committee Democrats in Congress scrutinize the EPA as it stonewalls requests 

House Energy and Commerce Committee Democratic Reps. Frank Pallone (NJ), Diana DeGette (CO), and Paul Tonko (NY) wrote a letter to committee Chair Greg Walden (R-OR) on Nov. 7 urging him to call an oversight hearing about the EPA’s management of toxic chemicals.  One issue in the letter concerns the EPA’s reversal on a draft rule to ban the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos in the spring of 2017. The letter charges that the decision was made on political grounds to favor Dow Chemical.

Other ethics concerns are raised in the letter. Dr. Nancy Beck is serving in a leadership position in the EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution. The EPA counsel issued an ethics waiver that allows Dr. Beck to “participate in specific party matters involving the American Chemistry Council, her former employer.”  Democrats on the committee have asked the EPA Inspector General to investigate the waiver decision. So far, Chairman Walden is silent on the requests from Democrats on the committee.

The House Democrats on the Science Committee penned a letter to Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) requesting a hearing calling on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to testify. The Science Committee has jurisdiction for oversight over the EPA science office and research.  At issue is Administrator Pruitt’s travel costs, meetings and appointments with industry representatives, the power given to political appointees to approve or deny research grants, the Scientific Advisory Board reshuffle, and the scrubbing of climate change from the EPA website.

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Government Scientists Muzzled on Climate and Fire

The federal government has recently prohibited agency scientists from making public presentations on impacts of climate change on coastal areas and western wildfires.

As reported in the last edition of Policy News, the Environmental Protection Agency, abruptly and without explanation, canceled speaking appearances by three agency scientists at the release of the 2017 State of Narragansett Bay and Its Watershed summary and technical report on Oct. 23 in Providence, Rhode Island. Much of that report focuses on the effects of climate change on temperatures, precipitation, sea level and ecosystems, and fisheries in and around the bay estuary.

The three EPA scientists, Autumn Oczkowski and Rose Martin, of the Atlantic Ecology Division (AED) of EPA’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, and Emily Shumchenia, a consultant to AED, each earned doctorates from the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography. Drs. Oczkowski, Martin, and Shumchenia each made substantial contributions to the 400-page report. Oczkowski was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the release, but was pulled by the agency in an Oct. 6 phone call from AED director Wayne Munns to Tom Borden, director of the event.

The summary of the Narragansett Bay report states that it “can be used to support decision-making related to infrastructure, public health, land development, habitat conservation, and other issues.” The cancellation of the EPA scientists’ participation came in the midst of the EPA removing materials helping local governments address climate change from its website. It is estimated that Narragansett Bay surface water temperatures have risen 4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1960 and sea levels by up to ten inches over the past century, with increases of up to 10 feet anticipated by 2100.

The week following the EPA cancellations, the U.S. Forest Service denied its scientists permission to participate in the Association for Fire Ecology’s (AFE’s) 7th International Fire Congress in Orlando, FL at the end of November. One of those scientists, ecologist William Jolly of the agency’s Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, MT, had been scheduled for a 30-minute presentation entitled “Climate-Induced Variations in Global Severe Fire Weather Conditions.” Another scientist whose travel request was denied was Karin Riley, a research ecologist studying relationships between climate and wildfire, who is also vice president of AFE’s board of directors.

Thirteen U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists are also awaiting approval of travel requests to the Fire Congress. Three of those scientists are scheduled to present, but still remain unconfirmed by USGS.

Timothy Ingalsbee, director of  Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology wondered, “While the number of acres burned, homes destroyed, civilians killed, and tax dollars spent on suppression are going way up, why is the number of Forest Service scientists and managers meeting at professional science conferences and technical training workshops going way down?”

The Ecological Society of America responded to the muzzling of EPA Narragansett scientists in an Oct. 23 statement. “Stifling ecologists who have valid research to inform management decisions affecting those living and working in the watershed is unconscionable and serves no one,” said Katherine McCarter, executive director.

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NCA4 Climate Report Released, Contradicts Administration Positions  

On Nov. 3, an extensive federal climate science report was released and found that human activities are the primary driver of observed global warming. This congressionally mandated Climate Science Special Report, volume one of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), assesses the science of climate change and its impacts. It was produced by the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) to serve as a foundation for efforts to assess climate risks and inform responses. It is the result of years of collaboration and contributions from over a dozen federal agencies, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The report’s executive summary identifies the unambiguous trend in warming, citing climate-related weather extremes, melting glaciers, diminishing snow cover, shrinking sea ice, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and increasing water vapor. It concludes that, “based on extensive evidence, [it] is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” It goes on to state that “for the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of observational evidence.”

This report, in its assertions about the severity of climate change and the role of human activity in driving it, directly contradicts many of the positions and statements of the Trump administration. Administration officials like Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry have both questioned the role of carbon dioxide in climate change and the extent to which human activity is driving observed changes.

Given the discrepancy between the climate science report and the administration’s positions on climate change, there were fears that the administration might stifle or suppress the report and its conclusions. As a result, federal scientists in August shared a draft version of the study with The New York Times in hopes of preventing the administration from undermining its findings. With the Nov. 3 release, fears of interference were alleviated. However, while the administration did not suppress the report’s conclusions, it is not likely to pay much attention to the report and its findings.

In addition to volume one of NCA4, the Nov. 3 release also included drafts of the second volume and the State of the Carbon Cycle Report. Volume two is a technical, scientific assessment of climate change impacts, risks, and adaptation across the US. The carbon cycle report assesses the state of the carbon cycle across North America. USGCRP is seeking public comments for both drafts. Comments on volume 2 of the NCA4 are due by Jan. 31, and comments on the carbon cycle report are due Jan. 8.

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Quick Reads

Energy Independence Reports Target “Burdens” to Energy Production
In March, President Trump signed an executive order titled “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth” that directed federal agencies to review existing regulations, policies, or other actions that burden the development or use of domestic energy resources. The order required agencies to submit reports detailing specific recommendations to lessen burdens on energy production. In compliance with the executive order, agencies released reports at the end of October identifying these potential burdens and outlining steps towards “energy independence.”

The Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service report called for a review of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) guidelines in the context of oil and gas leasing decisions. It also highlights increased geothermal production as a top priority. The Department of the Interior also identified the NEPA process as a source of energy project delays, in addition to the Endangered Species Act. Another policy identified for elimination is the Bureau of Land Management’s use of master leasing plans (MLPs), a leasing strategy to guide energy development away from environmentally sensitive areas or areas with high natural and cultural resource value. Individual resource management plans would be used instead.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Commerce were among other agencies releasing reports.

Opposition to Higher Education Changes in Tax Reform Bill
House Republicans’ tax reform bill being marked up this week includes changes that would affect higher education, making it less affordable and less accessible by eliminating tax provisions and imposing an excise tax on nonprofit private university endowments. In response to the proposed changes, the Association of American Universities issued a statement opposing the proposed changes affecting higher education, in particular the proposed excise tax on university endowment income.

Science Committee Chairman Not Seeking Reelection
House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) announced that he will not seek reelection to the House of Representatives when his term ends in 2018. Smith, who will have completed his six-year term as chairman of the committee at the end of this Congress, is a controversial figure for the scientific community, having targeted federal research grants, climate science, the EPA, and the handling of scientific papers, among other topics.

USDA Nominee Withdraws
Sam Clovis, the president’s pick to be the Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist, withdrew from consideration for the position on Nov. 2. His nomination to be undersecretary for research, education, and economics had received criticism given Clovis’s lack of a hard science background and skepticism over climate change. The undersecretary position, which serves as USDA’s top scientist, has traditionally been held by people with advanced science or medical degrees. In the days before his announcement to withdraw from consideration, Clovis had been facing questions about his role supervising George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign adviser charged with lying to the FBI about contacts with Russia. While Clovis has withdrawn his nomination for the Senate-confirmed undersecretary post, he will continue to serve as a senior adviser at USDA.

UN Climate Change Conference
The UN Climate Change Conference, COP23, is being held in Bonn, Germany from Nov. 6-17. The conference, hosted by the secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), brings together world leaders to advance the goals and ambitions of the Paris Agreement and work towards implementation guidelines. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is not attending the conference, instead sending some of his top political aides. In addition, career officials from the State Department and other agencies are in attendance from the U.S.

US Alone in Rejecting Paris Accord
Nicaragua and Syria, the two other nations not participating in the Paris climate agreement, have both recently announced their intent to join the deal, leaving the US alone. Nicaragua, which had originally not joined the agreement over concerns that it did not go far enough, announced its decision to join on Oct. 23. Syria made its announcement during the UN climate talks on Nov. 6. After President Trump’s decision in June to withdraw from the Paris accord, the US is now the only country not participating.

Trump to Shrink Two Utah Monuments
E&E News is reporting that, according to Utah Senator Orrin Hatch (R), the president has decided to reduce the size of at least two national monuments, Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. This decision goes along with the recommendations that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke presented to the president in his report on Interior’s review of 27 national monuments. An official announcement will come during the president’s visit to the state in December. The specifics of the size reductions are unclear, as is the president’s legal authority to reduce national monuments. Any executive action to alter these sites or others will be met by legal challenges and what will likely be a protracted legal battle.

Senate Holds Up Interior Nominations
In a move to force Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to meet about the Trump administration’s controversial national monuments review, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) sent Zinke a letter saying, “Please let the secretary know that while my colleagues and I await his scheduling decision, my hold on Department of the Interior nominees will continue.”

GAO Releases Report on Costs of Climate Change
The Government Accountability Office released a report on Oct. 24 on the economic impacts of climate change. This report found that climate-related impacts have already cost the federal government billions of dollars and that these costs will likely rise in the future. Specifically, the report identifies over $350 billion spent by the federal government in the last decade on disaster assistance programs and losses from flood and crop insurance. It does not include the fiscal impacts of the recent hurricanes and wildfires. House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) raised concerns about the GAO’s reliance on a non-peer reviewed study and sent a letter to the head of GAO requesting an explanation for the report’s conclusions. A spokesperson for the group producing the study used in the GAO report said it had been subjected to thorough review.

US Withdraws from UNESCO
The Department of State announced in October that the US was withdrawing from the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN’s main cultural and educational agency and only specialized organization with a science mandate, at the end of 2018. In announcing the decision, the State Department cited financial concerns and an anti-Israel bias as justification for withdrawal but stated that the US wants to remain engaged as a non-member observer state. However, the decision has raised concerns among the scientific community that US withdrawal from UNESCO would negatively impact international scientific cooperation.

EPA Nominees Advance
On Oct. 25, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved four nominees for EPA positions, including Michael Dourson to lead EPA’s chemical safety program, Bill Wehrum as assistant administrator for air and radiation, Matthew Leopold for general counsel, and David Ross to lead the office of water. Dourson’s nomination especially has met opposition because of his existing ties to industry. In addition, it was revealed last month that Dourson, as well as other nominees, has already been working at the EPA as an advisor. In response to this revelation, committee Democrats sent a letter to Dourson expressing concern about the work that he is doing at the agency and asking for additional information.                           

House Committee Explores Geoengineering
On Nov. 8, the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittees on Environment and Energy held a hearing titled “Geoengineering: Innovation, Research, and Technology” to assess the status of geoengineering research and explore potential innovation. The hearing stayed away from arguments over whether human activity is the driver of global warming and instead focused on emerging technologies that could make geoengineering a tool to curb impacts. Several committee members, including Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), emphasized that geoengineering should not be viewed as the only solution, and mitigation and adaptation strategies should be the priority.

Alaska Governor Signs Climate Change Strategy
On Oct. 31, Alaska Governor Bill Walker signed an order establishing a climate change strategy and climate change leadership team to prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change on Alaska. The Alaska Climate Change Strategy creates a framework for a climate change response informed by science, local knowledge, and consideration of Alaska’s interests. The Climate Action for Alaska Leadership Team, made up of stakeholders from across the state, will focus on the effects of climate change within Alaska to recommend changes to mitigate impacts and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Applications for the 15-person team are being accepted until Nov. 14.

Hearing for CEQ and EPA Nominees
On Nov. 8, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing to examine the nominations of Kathleen Hartnett White to lead the Council on Environmental Quality and Andrew Wheeler to be deputy administrator of the EPA. Hartnett White has expressed skepticism over climate change and has made inflammatory comments questioning the harm of increased carbon dioxide atmospheric concentrations. Wheeler’s nomination has been met with concern given his role as a coal lobbyist. Both nominees, Hartnett White in particular, faced questioning from committee Democrats over their comments and positions on climate change and whether they would follow guidance from scientists. The nominees expressed the often-repeated position that, while they acknowledge the climate is changing, they question the impacts and the extent to which human activity is driving it.

Hearing for Homeland Security Secretary
Kirstjen Nielsen, nominee to lead Homeland Security, faced pressing questions about climate change, among other topics, in her nomination hearing. Homeland Security has jurisdiction over FEMA and the Coast Guard. Falling in line with other Trump appointees, Nielsen said, “I do absolutely believe that the climate is changing. I can’t unequivocally state that it’s only caused by humans.” “There are many contributions to it,” she continued. Democrats grilled her about this statement and she responded by agreeing to relook at the science behind climate change if confirmed.

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Get Involved

Provide Input on National Climate Assessment
On Nov. 3, the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) released volume one of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), as well as drafts of volume two and the State of the Carbon Cycle Report. The congressionally mandated climate science report assesses the science of climate change and its impacts. Volume two is a technical, scientific assessment of climate change impacts, risks, and adaptation across the US. The carbon cycle report assesses the state of the carbon cycle across North America. USGCRP is seeking public comments for both drafts. Comments on volume 2 of the NCA4 are due by Jan. 31, and comments on the carbon cycle report are due Jan. 8. All comments must be submitted via the USGCRP Review and Comment System.

NSF Seeking White Papers on Science, Engineering, STEM Education for Collaboration
The National Science Foundation Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE) is inviting white papers from the U.S. research community on topics in science, engineering, and/or STEM education that are ripe for international network-to-network collaboration. Topics should hold the potential to accelerate discovery and advance research outcomes. OISE will use the white papers to inform planning. Read the Sept. 14 Dear Colleague letter inviting white papers here. The deadline for submissions is Nov. 30.

Nominate Members to the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee
NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service is seeking nominations to fill vacancies on the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee (MAFAC) that are open or will be pending in Feb. 2018. MAFAC advises the Secretary of Commerce on matters concerning living marine resources that are the responsibility of the Department of Commerce. Nominees should possess expertise in a field related to the management of living marine resources. Nominations are due by Nov. 27 and should be submitted by email or mail.

Comment on Sage-Grouse Plan Review
The Department of the Interior announced its plans to reconsider greater sage-grouse conservation land use plans across ten states. The plans, finalized in 2015, amended BLM and Forest Service land use plans in Western states over the sage-grouse’s 173-million acre range. They were designed to keep the bird off of the endangered species list. The decision to reconsider the plans could lead to amendments that would increase resource extraction and commercial activities across the bird’s habitat. Public comments on the review of the plans or on proposed changes are being accepted until Nov. 27.

Provide Information on Research Infrastructure Projects
The National Science Foundation is requesting information on existing and future needs for mid-scale research infrastructure projects from the US-based NSF science and engineering community. The input will be used to assess the needs for mid-scale research infrastructure and to develop a strategy to address these needs. Submissions must be received by Dec. 8.

Recommend Members for NSF Directorate and Office Advisory Committees
The National Science Foundation is requesting recommendations for membership on its scientific and technical federal advisory committees, including the Advisory Committee for Biological Sciences. These external advisory committees provide advice on program management, discuss current issues, and review and provide advice on the impact of policies, programs, and activities of the directorate or office of NSF.

DOE Office of Science Graduate Student Research Program Accepting Applications
The Department of Energy Office of Science is accepting applications for the Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) program. The program prepares graduate students for STEM careers critically important to the DOE Office of Science mission by providing graduate thesis research opportunities at DOE laboratories. Applicants must be pursuing graduate research in an area that is aligned with one or more of the priority research areas of the Office of Science’s six research program offices (including Biological and Environmental Research). Applications are due Nov. 16.

Provide Input on DOI Regulations
The Department of the Interior is seeking public comments on regulations for repeal, replacement, or modification. The president’s February executive order on reducing regulatory burdens directed federal agencies to address outdated or unnecessary policies. DOI is seeking input from the public on policies of Interior agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Geological Survey. Submit comments online or by mail.

Apply for an OSTP Internship
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is accepting applications for the OSTP Internship Program. OSTP offers both policy internships and legal internships. Read more on the White House website.

For more opportunities to get involved, go to the Federal Register section.

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Legislative Updates

Wildfire Bills Pass the House
Amid a particularly destructive wildfire season in the West, the House passed two separate pieces of legislation related to forest management and wildfire. The National Forest System Vegetation Management Pilot Program Act of 2017 (H.R.2921), introduced by Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), would establish a vegetation management pilot program on National Forest System land to better protect utility infrastructure from passing wildfire, allowing for greater thinning on and along infrastructure rights of way. The Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017 (H.R.2936), introduced by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR), would expedite the National Environmental Policy Act for forest management activities on National Forest System lands, on public lands under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management, and on tribal lands to return resilience to overgrown, fire-prone forested lands. Critics object to the legislation, in particular H.R.2936, over its loosening of environmental regulations. H.R.2921 passed the House on Oct. 31, and H.R.2936 passed on Nov. 1.

Whistleblower Protection Bill Enacted
On Oct. 26, the president signed the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act (S.585), enacting into law this legislation that seeks to provide greater whistleblower protections for federal employees. The bill is specifically targeted at the Department of Veterans Affairs but extends to all federal agencies. It increases awareness of whistleblower protections and increases accountability and discipline for supervisors who retaliate against whistleblowers. It was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Joni Ernst (R-IA).

Other Legislation Introduced

  • Carbon Capture Prize Act (H.R.4096). Introduced Oct. 23 by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), this bill would authorize the Secretary of Energy to establish a prize competition for the research, development, or commercialization of technology that would reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, including by capturing or sequestering carbon dioxide or reducing the emission of carbon dioxide.
  • Environmental Justice Act of 2017 (S.1996 and H.R.4114). Introduced Oct. 24 by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) in the Senate and Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA) in the House, this bill would require federal agencies to address environmental justice and to require consideration of cumulative impacts in certain permitting decisions.
  • Transparency in Energy Production Act of 2017 (H.R.4126). Introduced Oct. 25 by Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), this bill would provide for the accurate reporting of fossil fuel production and emissions from public lands.
  • Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2017 (S.2046 and H.R.4174). Introduced Oct. 31 by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) in the Senate and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) in the House, this bill would amend titles 5 and 44, United States Code, to require federal evaluation activities and improve federal data management.
  • Preparedness and Risk Management for Extreme Weather Patterns Assuring Resilience and Effectiveness (PREPARE) Act of 2017 (H.R.4177). Introduced Oct. 31 by Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA), this bill would enhance the federal government’s planning and preparation for extreme weather and the federal government’s dissemination of best practices to respond to extreme weather, thereby increasing resilience, improving regional coordination, and mitigating the financial risk to the federal government from such extreme weather.
  • Wildland Fires Act of 2017 (H.R.4208). Introduced Nov. 1 by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), this bill would reduce the risk posed by wildfires to communities and the most at-risk federally owned forests.
  • America Wins Act (H.R.4209). Introduced Nov. 1 by Rep. John Larson (D-CT), this bill would establish a carbon tax to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, provide a consumer rebate to the American people, assist coal country, and reduce harmful pollution.
  • S.2068. Introduced Nov. 2 by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), this bill would discourage litigation against the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management relating to land management projects, require the Secretary of the Interior to develop a categorical exclusion for covered vegetative management activities carried out to establish or improve habitat for greater sage-grouse and mule deer, address the forest health crisis on National Forest System land, and expedite and prioritize forest management activities to achieve ecosystem restoration objectives.
  • Comprehensive Listing of Evidence for Assessments of Regulations (CLEAR) Act (H.R.4230). Introduced Nov. 2 by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), this bill would require the timely publication of any research source code and data used by a federal agency in assessing the costs and benefits of new regulations.
  • Better Evaluation of Science and Technology (BEST) Act (H.R.4231). Introduced Nov. 2 by Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC), this bill would amend title 5, United States Code, to provide requirements for agency decision making based on science.

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From the Federal Register

Public Meetings:

Opportunities for Public Comment and Nominations:

  • NOAA – National Marine Fisheries Service Advisory Panel Nominations
    The National Marine Fisheries Service is soliciting nominations for the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Advisory Panel (AP). The HMS AP assists in the collection and evaluation of information relevant to the development of Fishery Management Plans. Nominations are being sought to fill eleven seats on the panel for a 3-year appointment. Submit nominations by email or mail by Nov. 22.
  • FWS – Establishment of Wildlife Conservation Council
    The Fish and Wildlife Service is establishing an International Wildlife Conservation Council to advise the government on the benefits of international hunting on foreign wildlife and habitat conservation, illegal wildlife trafficking programs, and benefits for human populations. The Department of the Interior is seeking comments on the establishment of the Council as well as nominations for members. Submit comments by Nov. 24 and nominations by Dec. 8.
  • BLM – Resource Advisory Council Nominations
    The Bureau of Land Management issued a second call for public nominations for Resource Advisory Councils (RAC) with members whose terms have expired or are scheduled to expire. RACs provide advice and recommendations on land use planning and management of public lands within their area. A list of RACs with openings can be found here. Submit nominations by Dec. 1.
  • NIFA – Stakeholder Listening Opportunity for Priorities
    The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture is holding stakeholder listening sessions to collect stakeholder input on NIFA’s science priorities to inform the research, extension, and education priorities of the agency. NIFA has the mission of investing in and advancing agricultural research, education, and extension to solve societal challenges. (Listening Session dates are above; first is Oct. 19). In addition to the listening sessions, NIFA is accepting stakeholder input online to inform the science priority-setting process. Online input is due by Dec. 1.
  • Fish and Wildlife Service – Proposal to List Species of Darters as Threatened
    The Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to list two species of darters as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. After a 12-month review of scientific and commercial information, the agency is proposing to list the trispot darter and the candy darter as threatened. Public comments on the separate findings and proposed rules for the two species are being accepted until Dec. 4.

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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 Julia Marsh, public affairs officer, Julia@esa.org.

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

Author: Julia Marsh

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