Policy News: October 23, 2017

ESA Communications Workshop

We still have a few spaces available. Registration closes Tuesday, October 24. RSVP here.

ESA is holding an inaugural Communicating Science Workshop for members to address the needs of ecologists to communicate scientific information in a variety of public and professional interactions. The workshop will provide participants with skills to effectively communicate with the media, Congress, and the public.

When: Nov. 2, 1:00pm-5pm and Nov. 3, 8:00am-4pm
Where: Bowie State University, Bowie, MD
Cost to attend: None and ESA offers up to $200 in travel awards.


In This Issue:

EPA Cancels Its Ecologists’ Speaking Appearances

ESA Issues a Statement Condemning the Stifling of EPA Scientists

Statement in response to the EPA’s cancellation of its ecologists’ speaking appearances

Pruitt Suggests EPA Grants as Source of Conflict for Science Experts

EPA Announces Proposed Rule to Repeal the Clean Power Plan

Process of repeal begins, burden of new plan looms

EPA Announces Policy to End “Sue and Settle”

Is litigation okay to compel mandated agency performance?

CEQ Nominee Called Climate Change a “Kind of Paganism”

AccuWeather CEO Nominated to NOAA

Quick Reads

Senate budget passes, GAO probing scientific integrity, Senator targets federal research grants, sage-grouse plans under review, nominees already working at agencies, and more

Get Involved

NSF seeking white papers on STEM education, EPA draft strategic plan, Presidential Management Fellowship, other opportunities to provide comments and input

Legislative Updates

Whistleblower protection bill passes House, Antiquities Act reform bill introduced and advances, other legislation of interest

Federal Register

Upcoming meetings and other opportunities for public involvement

ESA Correspondence to Policymakers



EPA Cancels Its Ecologists’ Speaking Appearances

Read ESA’s statement in response to this cancellation in the article below.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cancelled the speaking appearances of three scientists at an event launching the “State of the Narragansett Bay and Watershed” report in Providence, RI. The report includes the effects of climate change on the bay.

EPA scientists contributed to the Narragansett Bay report. One EPA employee who will not be speaking about her research is Autumn Oczkowski, an ecologist at the EPA National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory Atlantic Ecology Division in Rhode Island. She was to give the keynote address. Rose Martin, a postdoctoral fellow at the same EPA lab, and Emily Shumchenia, an EPA consultant, will also not be presenting. They were to sit on a panel entitled, “The Present and Future Biological Implications of Climate Change.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said in a statement, “Narragansett Bay is one of Rhode Island’s most important economic assets, and the EPA won’t let its scientists talk with local leaders to plan for its future. Whatever you think about climate change, this kind of collaboration should be a no-brainer. Muzzling our leading scientists benefits no one.” Whitehouse is scheduled to speak at the event.

The EPA scientists’ participation was cancelled by Wayne Munns, director of the Atlantic ecology division of the EPA’s Environmental Effects Research Laboratory. John Konkus, a Trump political appointee and EPA spokesman, confirmed without explanation to the New York Times that the EPA scientists would not speak.

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ESA Issues a Statement Condemning the Stifling of EPA Scientists

The Ecological Society of America strongly condemns the decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to cancel the presentations of three ecologists in Rhode Island at an event to launch the 2017 State of Narragansett Bay and Its Watershed Summary Report that underwent extensive peer review and a public comment process. The report addresses many topics including management of climate change impacts to human and natural systems.

“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, Ecological Society of America.

Scientific research – and the free exchange of scientific knowledge, ideas, and data – must be valued and protected. Scientists, including scientists serving in the federal government, must be able to freely conduct their research, communicate their findings, publish their work, and ensure the accuracy of scientific information without fear of retaliation or restriction.

ESA and its members are committed to the integrity and availability of scientific research and we believe in the critical importance of the unrestricted sharing of scientific data and findings. Objective scientific findings play a crucial role in addressing a wide range of domestic and international challenges. Scientific knowledge is a critical element of decision-making, and unbiased scientific research is used to inform policies that serve the public interest. Without scientific integrity and independence, our nation will lose the benefits that science provides to the economy, policymaking, technological innovation, and society.

Read the statement on the ESA blog.

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Pruitt Suggests EPA Grants as Source of Conflict for Science Experts

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt suggests he will soon issue a directive to prohibit science advisors to the agency who also receive EPA grants, questioning their objectivity. It is noteworthy that Pruitt’s EPA has recently begun political vetting of all its research grants by former Trump campaign operative John Konkus. Interpretations of Pruitt’s comments before a Heritage Foundation conference Tuesday, Oct. 18, anticipate that researchers will have to choose between pro bono participation in EPA advisory boards or EPA funding for their work. Scientists employed in private industry, who do not typically rely on federal grants, would presumably be unaffected by this directive.

Academic research scientists such as Ana Diez Roux, a Drexel University epidemiologist, contend the directive would “significantly and adversely affect the quality of the scientific advice” provided to the EPA. “The top scientists, the ones most qualified to provide objective and transparent scientific advice to EPA, are of course the scientists who will likely be most successful at obtaining highly competitive federal grants,” she said in an email. “It would be a disservice to the American public to exclude those most qualified from serving on these panels.”

EPA’s science advisory boards are required by 1977 federal law. Yet the EPA science cadre, both within the agency and its volunteer advisory boards, has suffered from unexpected dismissals and a dearth of appointments under the Trump administration.

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EPA Announces Proposed Rule to Repeal the Clean Power Plan

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), proposing to repeal the Obama-era Clean Power Plan (CPP), Tuesday, Oct. 10, published in the Federal Register on Oct. 16. This notice follows a review of the CPP, initiated on April 4, in keeping with President Trump’s May Executive Order on Energy Independence. Pruitt’s announcement also asserts that “[r]epealing the CPP will also facilitate the development of U.S. energy resources and reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens associated with the development of those resources.”

In his time as Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times on environmental regulations. On the CPP, he argued that the EPA had exceeded its legal authority by including potential off-site carbon offsetting measures outside of the power plant itself, such as wind or solar farms. Previous pollution regulations had focused on modification of existing plants.

The CPP is subject to a US Supreme Court stay of enforcement of the plan pending a lower court ruling in a suit brought against the plan by 28 states. Administrator Pruitt was a co-plaintiff in that suit while Oklahoma attorney general. He officially recused himself from matters relating to that suit in a May 4 ethics memo.

The CPP was developed by the EPA under the Obama administration in response to its finding that greenhouse gases (GHGs) threaten public health and welfare, also known as the endangerment finding. That finding, which underlies the CPP, was compelled by a US Supreme Court ruling in a suit by 12 states and several cities against the EPA for failing to enforce elements of the Clean Air Act. The endangerment finding extensively documents climate change science and has twice been upheld by the US Supreme Court. The endangerment finding requires EPA to regulate GHGs, such as carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Therefore, in addition to unwinding CPP, the EPA must develop new regulation(s) to control these hazards.

Revoking the CPP does not relieve EPA of statutory responsibility to regulate GHGs. The NPRM for CPP repeal does not include a proposal for alternative regulations, worrying some power company executives. Unwinding a federal regulation must comply with the same procedures for hearing, review, and comment as it does to create one. Creating the CPP took six years, from 2009 to 2015.

Public comment on the EPA’s proposed “Repeal of Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units” is due on or before Dec. 15, 2017.

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EPA Announces Policy to End “Sue and Settle”

Administrator Pruitt announced his “Directive Promoting Transparency and Public Participation in Consent Decrees and Settlement Agreements” on Oct. 16.  Along with a supporting memo released that day, the directive intends to eliminate supposed use of “sue and settle” tactics by non-profit advocacy groups which, when successful, can win government actions that would be impossible to achieve politically.

Analysts note that these suits, though sometimes substantive, are most commonly procedural, resulting in “decision-forcing” settlements. Court-ordered settlements can compel agency actions, expenditures, and deadlines that might otherwise not be enforced within the agencies’ budget and discretion. A US Chamber of Commerce report found that 75 of 79 negotiated settlements were of the decision-forcing sort.

Some sue and settle suits are more subtle still, argue fossil-fuel interests such as the Western Energy Alliance, with “legal collusion” between federal agencies and non-profit environmental groups. The Wall Street Journal editorial board argues that EPA insiders have invited suits that result in consent decree settlements advancing agendas within the agency.

Pruitt’s directive will require public notice of proposed consent decisions for a period of public comment, similar to a new or modified regulation. It will also expand the role of affected states and industries, which will now be directly invited to comment by the EPA.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) praised the sue and settle initiative, saying, “The Environmental Protection Agency should not make regulations by settling lawsuits behind closed doors. Under the last administration, the EPA advanced its political agenda by abusing its authority and leaving states and Congress in the dark. The public deserves to know how its government is operating.”

While some environmentalists argue sue and settle is a myth, some legal scholars argue that sue and settle is an effective and appropriate tool. Settlements can, for example, require an agency to fulfill congressionally mandated deadlines that are often badly missed. Others argue that Pruitt’s directive newly increases the impact of affected industries and states in prospective settlements. Ironically, some suggest that binding, negotiated judicial settlements can benefit an agency’s regulatory responsibility, shielding it from political pressure for delay and inaction.

Still others note that the EPA negotiates similar settlements with industry interests, who are also able to petition and sue the agency. It is thought that those agreements would be unaffected by a possible directive.

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CEQ Nominee Called Climate Change a “Kind of Paganism”

Kathleen Hartnett White, President Trump’s nominee to lead the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), called belief in climate change a “kind of paganism” for “secular elites,” in an August 2016 appearance on the online show “The Right Perspective.” White has long expressed skepticism over climate change, calling carbon dioxide “the gas of life on this planet.”

In various essays and in “Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy,” a 2016 book Hartnett White co-authored with economist Stephen Moore, founder of the Club for Growth, she has called President Barack Obama’s efforts to slow global warming by reducing carbon emissions “deluded and illegitimate.” She has described efforts to stem climate change as simply attacks on the fossil fuel industry and characterized the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as “not validated and politically corrupt.”

The CEQ coordinates federal environmental efforts and works with agencies and White House offices in development of environmental policies and initiatives. This includes a central role in implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), requiring environmental reviews before federal actions. This role is of particular significance with the prospect of a large infrastructure spending bill that could have cascading requirements for environmental review. As CEQ chair, Hartnett White would have wide influence in proactively cutting delays due to environmental requirements.

“The new chair has wide latitude to weaken NEPA in an effort to speed oil and gas and other project approvals, which could undermine a key tool to understand and potentially mitigate environmental harms,” noted Jason Bordoff, a former Obama-era CEQ staffer, now director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.

Hartnett White will face confirmation hearings by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. In separate statements, committee Chair Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) called Hartnett White “an excellent choice to head the council,” while Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) said he would have “serious questions if and when her nomination gets to the Senate.”  “Her record clearly shows that she has taken extreme stances on matters of basic science, like the dangers of smog and contaminated drinking water, not to mention climate change,” Carper’s statement continued.

Once considered as nominee for EPA administrator, Kathleen Hartnett White is thought to be an ally of former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. Her appointment to CEQ is seen by some as a move to appease the president’s conservative climate-skeptic allies and that it may presage a move against the EPA’s endangerment finding, which identifies global warming and greenhouse gases as a public health threat. While Pruitt still has not indicated an appetite to confront the endangerment finding, he continues to tout an adversarial “red team vs. blue team” examination of climate science sponsored by the EPA, most recently in an Oct. 17 speech to the Heritage Foundation. Other recent Trump EPA nominees, such as Matthew Leopold for general counsel and William Wehrum for director of air and radiation, are both lawyers who have represented utilities, mining, and oil and gas interests in Clean Air Act regulation and are opponents of the endangerment finding.

Kathleen Hartnett White is currently a senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative free-market think tank funded by fossil-fuel interests, and was formerly on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

A hearing schedule for Hartnett White has not yet been announced by the Senate Environment Committee.

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AccuWeather CEO Nominated to NOAA

President Trump nominated Barry Meyer to be Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), on Wednesday, Oct. 11, to some decidedly mixed reviews. Barry Meyer has been chief executive of AccuWeather since 2007, and is the younger brother to company founder Joel Meyer.

Some have suggested AccuWeather as a competitor to NOAA and that Myers would face conflicts of interest as its administrator. Barry Meyer himself advocates eliminating the role of the National Weather Service (NWS) in routine weather forecasting, favoring privatization.

Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) characterized Barry Meyer as “in the vanguard of corporate business interests that seek to undermine the National Weather Service’s ability to do anything other than provide free data and weather models to private companies like his, which then turn around and sell their forecasts.” Schatz, representing Hawai’i, is a senior Democratic member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee that will hear Meyer’s nomination.

Meyer is not a trained meteorologist, despite his experience with AccuWeather. He was, however, a leading advocate for the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017, signed by President Trump on April 18.  If approved as NOAA administrator, implementing the new weather services mandate will be among Meyer’s first responsibilities.

A hearing schedule for Meyer has not yet been announced by the Senate Commerce Committee.

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Quick Reads

GAO Probing Scientific Integrity at EPA
After Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) asked the Government Accountability Office to look into whether the administration is protecting scientific integrity at the agencies, GAO responded that it would accept his request to investigate. Nelson’s request followed reports that administration officials at the EPA were screening grant solicitations and other communications. GAO, however, will not begin investigating until early next year.

AAAS Adopts Statement on Scientific Freedom and Scientific Responsibility
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Board of Directors recently adopted a Statement on Scientific Freedom and Scientific Responsibility. The statement, announced by the AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program, declares that the freedom to engage in science goes hand in hand with the duty to apply science with integrity and respect for human rights. Specifically, “Scientific freedom and scientific responsibility are essential to the advancement of human knowledge for the benefit of all. Scientific freedom is the freedom to engage in scientific inquiry, pursue and apply knowledge, and communicate openly. This freedom is inextricably linked to and must be exercised in accordance with scientific responsibility. Scientific responsibility is the duty to conduct and apply science with integrity, in the interest of humanity, in a spirit of stewardship for the environment and respect for human rights.” ESA has participated in AAAS’s efforts on science and human rights since the founding of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition in 2009. Dr. Clifford Duke, ESA’s Director of Science Programs, represents ESA at Coalition meetings and serves on the Coalition’s Project Review Panel. For more information, see the webinar “Ecology and Human Rights—What are the Connections?” and the ESA Bulletin article “Science as a Human Right: ESA and the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition.”

Senate Passes Budget Blueprint, ANWR Drilling Provision Remains
Late on Thursday, Oct. 19, the Senate passed their budget for FY 2018, a blueprint that outlines spending for the fiscal year. The measure passed 51-49, almost entirely along party lines. It leaves funding for nondefense discretionary spending flat in FY 2018, but cuts it by over $100 billion by 2027. Passing the measure was key to Republicans’ tax reform efforts and allows the tax reform package to increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion over ten years.

This budget plan would pave the way for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), a protected area that includes much of the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd. It directs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to find $1 billion in savings over a decade, which Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is expected to achieve through revenue from ANWR drilling. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Committee’s ranking member, filed an amendment to the budget measure that would have removed this provision. In the hours-long voting session on budget amendments, this amendment failed 48-52, largely along party lines.

Interior to Overhaul Sage Grouse Plans
In a Federal Register notice published on Oct. 11, the Department of the Interior formally 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. The 2015 plans 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.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke signed a secretarial order in June establishing an internal review team to review the sage-grouse plans. This team sent a report on the results of its review to Zinke on Aug. 7, recommending plan and policy changes.

The Oct. 11 notice initiates the public scoping process for Interior’s review of the plans. Public comments on proposed changes are being accepted until Nov. 27.

Senator Targets Federal Research Grants
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is launching a renewed focus on federal spending on scientific research, targeting what he sees as frivolous spending. At a hearing on Oct. 18 titled “Broken Beakers: Federal Support for Research,” the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management, which Sen. Paul chairs, examined the federal government’s support for basic research. Sen. Paul believes that the current system promotes low-quality research and awards grants to frivolous studies that do not benefit society. Subcommittee Democrats, however, pointed out that “silly grants” have often led to important advances and significant broader impacts.

The same week of the hearing, Sen. Paul introduced the BASIC Research Act (S.1973), a bill to increase oversight for how grants proposals are reviewed and grant decisions made. It would establish an office to monitor and report on grants and would require that each review panel include at least one public member from an unrelated field and at least one “taxpayer advocate.”

An article in Science discusses the hearing and Sen. Paul’s legislation.                                                                    

Ocean Conference Raises Billions for Marine Protection
The first week of October, the European Union organized a conference, called Our Ocean, focused on better protecting marine life. Attended by representatives from businesses and nearly 100 countries, the conference raised over $7 billion to invest in innovative solutions and sustainable action to protect marine environments. The financial commitments included pledges from the EU, its Member States, the European Investment Bank, and the corporate sector. In addition, the conference resulted in commitments to add an additional 2.5 million square kilometers of Marine Protected Areas.

Senate Holds Hearing for Agriculture Nominee
The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held a hearing on Oct. 5 on the nomination of two USDA nominees, Gregory Ibach to be Under Secretary of Agriculture for Marketing and Regulatory Programs and William Northey to be Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services. Ibach would be in charge of APHIS, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service within USDA. Ibach is a fourth-generation farmer whose nomination was supported by 60 organizations. Read more about the hearing here.

Global Treaty to Halt Invasive Species Enters into Force
The International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM Convention), an international measure for environmental protection, entered into force in September. This global treaty seeks to stop the spread of invasive aquatic species by requiring ships to manage their ballast water so as to avoid introduction of potentially alien species. The BWM Convention was adopted in 2004. Its entry into force will help address the threat of invasive species by providing clear standards for ballast water management.

EPA Science Advisor Retiring
Robert Kavlock, the EPA’s acting science advisor and assistant administrator for the office of Research and Development, is retiring on Nov. 3 after more than 40 years at the agency. Kavlock, who joined the EPA in 1977, says it is the right time to leave for a variety of reasons and that he is leaving the agency in good hands due to the strong team of scientists and managers in the research office. Kavlock was the EPA official responsible for emailing members of the EPA science advisory board whose terms were expiring in August to notify them that their appointments would not be renewed. Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, a career employee, will replace Richard Kavlock as acting assistant administrator for the Office of Research and Development. Orme-Zavaleta has been with the EPA for 30 years, working in the offices of toxic substances, water, and research and development. The position of head of EPA’s research office is a Senate-confirmed position. The president has not yet announced a nominee.

Administration Nominees Already Working at Agencies
E&E News is reporting that multiple agency nominees who have yet to be confirmed by the Senate are already working at agencies as “advisors.” It first became public last week that Michael Dourson, the president’s pick to lead the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, is working at the agency as an advisor to the administrator. Dourson’s nomination has met opposition from environmental groups and Senate Democrats because of his existing ties to industry. Other nominees are also working at agencies before being approved, including Susan Bodine, the pick for assistant administrator of enforcement and compliance assurance at EPA, and at least three nominees at the Department of Energy.

While this practice is not new, and other nominees have served in advisor roles under previous presidents, ethics watchdogs say it is difficult to figure out who has been hired and how influential they truly are. Furthermore, ethics pledges that nominees agree to abide by do not apply until, and unless, they are approved for the job for which they were nominated.

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Get Involved

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.

EU Launches Next Phase of Horizon 2020 Research Initiative
The US launch of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Work Programme will be Oct. 27. Horizon 2020 is the EU’s Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, a €77 billion research intitiative to support scientific research, innovation, and technological development through collaborative research projects. The 2018-2020 work program is open to the world. Learn more about the program at the Oct. 27 launch, which will be webcast.

EPA Draft Strategic Plan for Review and Comment
The EPA released its draft Strategic Plan for FY 2018-2022. This long-term plan, drafted to advance Administrator Pruitt’s priorities, identifies three strategic goals that include core mission, cooperative federalism, and rule of law and process. The document does not reference climate change. It emphasizes a need to streamline environmental permitting, rebalance the distribution of power between Washington and the states, and downsize the agency with the aim of creating a leaner, more efficient organization. EPA is accepting public feedback on the draft plan until Oct. 31. Submit comments here.

Presidential Management Fellows Program
The Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program is a leadership development program that matches graduate students with opportunities at federal agencies. The program, administered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), is designed to develop potential government leaders from advanced degree candidates. The application process for the 2018 cohort opens on Oct. 23 and closes on Nov. 1. For graduate students interested in applying, the Guide to Managing the PMF Application Process can be a helpful resource.

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

Congress Passes Whistleblower Protection Bill
On Oct. 12, the House passed the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act (S.585), 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) and passed the Senate in May.

Antiquities Act Legislation Introduced, Advances
On Oct. 6, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) introduced the National Monument Creation and Protection Act (H.R.3990), a bill that would reform the Antiquities Act by putting limits on the size of new monuments and restricting the features that new designations can protect. Rep. Bishop has been a vocal critic of the Antiquities Act, the bipartisan tool that allows presidents to designate public lands as national monuments. His legislation would limit new national monuments to 85,000 acres and would restrict their scope to protecting relics, cultural artifacts, and fossils, eliminating geographic features and submerged lands and waters.

The House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on Oct. 11 to mark up the bill. At the same hearing, it reviewed a resolution of inquiry, H.Res.555, from Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) that would require the administration to release the official report that Secretary Zinke submitted to the president with recommendations for national monuments under review, as well as full details of the ongoing review. H.R.3990 was reported favorably out of committee; H.Res.555 was reported unfavorably, likely keeping it from a full House vote.

Other Legislation Introduced

  • H.R.4003. Introduced Oct. 10 by Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), this bill would require that in a notice of proposed rulemaking for a new rule, the notice shall identify two rules which the agency intends to repeal.
  • National Geologic Mapping Act Reauthorization Act (H.R.4033). Introduced Oct. 12 by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), this bill would reauthorize the National Geologic Mapping Act of 1992.
  • Digital Coast Act (H.R.4062). Introduced Oct. 12 by Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), this bill would require the Secretary of Commerce, acting through the Administrator of NOAA, to establish a constituent-driven program to provide a digital information platform capable of efficiently integrating coastal data with decision-support tools, training, and best practices and to support collection of priority coastal geospatial data to inform and improve local, state, regional, and federal capacities to manage the coastal region.
  • Central Coast Heritage Protection Act (S.1959 and H.R.4072). Introduced Oct. 16 by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) in the Senate and Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA) in the House, this bill would designate certain federal land in the state of California as wilderness.
  • Allowing Alaska to Improve Vital Opportunities in the Rural Economy (IVORY) Act (S.1965). Introduced Oct. 17 by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), this bill would amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 to protect the cultural practices and livelihoods of producers of Alaska Native handicrafts and traditional mammoth ivory products.
  • Code Like a Girl Act (S.1968). Introduced Oct. 17 by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), this bill would direct the National Science Foundation to award grants to encourage young girls to participate in computer science and other STEM activities.
  • BASIC Research Act (S.1973). Introduced Oct. 17 by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), this bill would provide for federal research grant reform.
  • Wildland Fires Act of 2017 (S.1991). Introduced Oct. 19 by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), this bill would reduce the risk posed by wildfires to communities and the most at-risk federally owned forests.

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From the Federal Register

Public Meetings:

Opportunities for Public Comment:

  • Fish and Wildlife Service – Extension of Comment Period on Louisiana Pinesnake Status
    The Fish and Wildlife Service is extending the deadline for the final determination on whether to list the Louisiana pinesnake as a threatened species. Along with a six-month extension, the agency is reopening the comment period on the proposed rule to list the species for an additional 30 days. Comments must be received by Nov. 6.
  • 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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