This issue of Policy News concludes ESA’s series of special editions covering the US Presidential Transition. With many vacant positions remaining in the new administration, we will continue to report on relevant updates in our regular Policy News and monitor them in the Federal Agency Transition Tracker.
In This Issue:
Modern record set for executive orders
Bipartisan omnibus appropriations bill removes uncertainty
Appointments not renewed, advisory panels suspended
Chief White House science advisor and other top science positions remain vacant
Would allow state-level regulation of intrastate threatened and endangered species, require congressional approval of species listings
Graduate Student Policy Award winners, other biologists and ecologists meet with members of Congress
Scientists and supporters of science marched in DC and 600 cities around the world
Provide your comments, input, and recommendations to federal agencies and the White House
Appropriations, EPA climate change webpage disappears, Congressional Review Act lawsuit, WOTUS under examination, climate talks in Bonn, DOE project funding
Congresswoman requests investigation into EPA, Climate Solutions Caucus adds new members and urges president to stay in Paris agreement, House Republicans request information on climate change programs
Weather forecasting bill becomes law, other legislation of interest
Upcoming meetings and other opportunities for public involvement
President Trump has made very heavy use of executive authority in his first 100 days, January 20 to April 29, 2017, signing 32 executive orders, 28 Presidential memoranda and 30 proclamations, more than any president since Truman. Executive orders are most commonly used to instruct the executive branch and its federal agencies on new policies or directives. They are numbered and published in the Federal Register, similar to laws. Presidential memoranda typically delegate tasks assigned by Congress to the executive branch. Memoranda often are not published or numbered, but can be. Proclamations are most commonly for ceremonial observances; some, like Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, are enormously consequential.
Trump’s proclamations were almost exclusively ceremonial. His memoranda have mostly focused on communicating within the administration – for example, on delegation of authority – or on communicating with congressional leadership – for instance, notification of the April 6 cruise missile strike in Syria.
The president’s executive orders have been the most controversial of the group. Orders on travel bans, offshore energy strategy, National Monuments review, Waters of the US rule, and climate policy have garnered the most attention from science and environmental organizations.
Following are the orders and memoranda of interest to the scientific and environmental communities, listed in chronological order:
Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, by Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, January 20, ordering agency heads not to forward new regulations until the administration has leadership personnel in place to approve them. Previous administrations have issued similar orders, but they have typically been phrased as a suggestion. Many people are concerned that this memorandum could presage reversal of Obama-era regulations, particularly on energy.
Executive Order on Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, January 27, was Trump’s most controversial order, barring travel to the US from seven majority-Muslim nations for a 120-day policy assessment period, and indefinitely prohibiting refugees from Syria entirely. A number of federal judges ruled the order unconstitutional, freeing many travelers from airport-limbo. Business and scientific organizations decried the chilling effect of the order. The Ecological Society of America (ESA) joined a coalition of 151 organizations in a letter to President Trump decrying the negative impact of the order on US science and engineering capacity. The order was subsequently struck down by the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on February 9, with a new administration travel order issued March 6.
Executive Order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs, January 30, states that each new regulation must be accompanied by two regulations identified for repeal and caps spending on new regulations at $0 for the remainder of fiscal year 2017. There is concern that this order could jeopardize regulations protecting natural resources.
Executive Order on Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda, February 24, established Regulatory Reform Officers within each federal agency. These officers are tasked with recommending existing regulations which the administration should seek to repeal, focusing on regulations that prevent job creation, are outdated, unnecessary, or cost too much.
Executive Order on Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the “Waters of the United States” Rule, February 28, directed federal agencies to revise the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule that seeks to clarify areas protected under the Clean Water Act. In 2015, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, then Oklahoma attorney general, called the rule “the greatest blow to private property rights the modern era has seen,” while leading a multi-state suit against the rule. Many ecologists and policy analysts suggest that repealing the rule will not help resolve confusion under the Clean Water Act. ESA and six other scientific organizations sent a letter to President Trump, congressional leaders, and Administrator Pruitt expressing support for the Clean Water Rule.
Executive Order on Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, March 6, is the Trump administration’s second attempt to enact a travel ban on people from six majority-Muslim countries while the administration completes a policy review. The new order was delayed ten days in its implementation and exempted existing visa holders from the ban. Two items caused particular concern: Iraq was dropped from the list, and it excluded all refugees from entering the US rather than only those from Syria. The order was stayed by an emergency order by US District Judge Derrick Watson for the District of Hawai’i, the day before it was to have taken effect. President Trump has indicated he will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court if necessary.
Memorandum for the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security, March 6, instructs the department heads to establish “enhanced vetting of applications for visas and all other immigration benefits, so as to increase the safety and security of the American people.” This memorandum is related to the new travel ban ordered that same day.
Executive Order on a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch, March 13, directs the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to “eliminate or reorganize unnecessary or redundant federal agencies” identified in a 180-day review to be conducted by the head of each agency. The order explicitly seeks to shrink the size of federal agencies, raising concern about having enough staff for normal, regular function.
Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth, March 28, directly rescinds Obama executive actions on climate policy and those regulations that “unduly burden the development of domestic energy resources.” Due to the complexity of Obama-era actions, it may be difficult to unwind them.
Executive Order on Buy American and Hire American, April 18, aligns with the president’s “America First” focus and intends to favor American companies for federal contracts and restrict guest worker visas in favor of American workers. Part of the order targets the H-1B visa program. While it simply calls for studies and review of the program, it could lead to curbs on foreign workers through H-1B.
Executive Order on the Review of Designations under the Antiquities Act, April 26, directs the Secretary of the Interior to review national monument designations made since 1996 that are over 100,000 acres, potentially jeopardizing many designations. The recently designated Bears Ears National Monument is singled out for a 45-day review that will help provide a template for reviewing other monument designations. Interior announced a list of 27 monuments under review as part of the order on May 5. Presidential designations made under the Antiquities Act of 1906 have only rarely been modified and never reversed. National monuments may only be created from land already managed by the federal government and typically do not change how the land is used. Many see this order as part of an ongoing strategy to open federal lands to new, intrusive activities and potentially facilitate the transfer of some federal lands to state, local, and tribal authorities.
Following on Trump’s order, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands, chaired by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), continued this strategy with an oversight hearing on “Consequences of Executive Branch Overreach of the Antiquities Act.” The hearing focused on reviewing national monuments that the majority party believes were designated without significant local input or support, or that have excessively large or restrictive designations.
Executive Order Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy, April 28, directs the Interior Department to review offshore oil and gas leasing plans, regulations, and permitting standards. It directs consideration of expanded oil and gas lease sales in the Western Gulf of Mexico, Central Gulf of Mexico, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, Cook Inlet, Mid-Atlantic, and South Atlantic. It also directs “a streamlined permitting approach for privately funded seismic data research and collection aimed at expeditiously determining the offshore energy resource potential of the United States” and consideration of relaxing drilling safety and environmental protection regulations enacted following the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill.
Surprisingly, this executive order also revokes the Obama executive order on Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience that seeks “to confront the challenges of a changing Arctic by working to conserve Arctic biodiversity; support and engage Alaska Native tribes; incorporate traditional knowledge into decision-making; and build a sustainable Arctic economy that relies on the highest safety and environmental standards, including adherence to national climate goals.” Many Alaska Native tribal leaders decry the Trump order as effectively silencing Native input.
This order prompted several legislative responses in opposition, with many bills introduced in Congress aimed at Arctic and Outer Continental Shelf drilling. S.985 and H.R.2248 would prohibit the Trump administration from opening new areas to drilling under the oil and gas leasing program approved for 2017-2022. H.R.2242, the “Keep It in the Ground Act of 2017,” would prohibit drilling in the outer Continental Shelf, as well as coal leasing on federal lands, and S.991, the “Stop Arctic Ocean Drilling Act of 2017,” would prohibit drilling in the Arctic Ocean. H.R.2252, the “Coastal Economies Protection Act,” would place a ten-year moratorium on leasing off the East Coast, and the “Clean Ocean and Safe Tourism (COAST) Anti-Drilling Act” (S.999 and H.R.2272) would permanently prohibit drilling in parts of the Atlantic. Finally, S.1041 would extend a moratorium on leasing in parts of the Gulf of Mexico.
One bill, on the other hand, targets the previous administration’s efforts to protect areas from oil and gas leasing. The “Outer Continental Shelf Energy Access Now (OCEAN) Act” (H.R.2157 and S.956) would limit the authority of the president to withdraw areas from leasing.
Congress passed a relatively clean Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 omnibus spending bill that keeps the federal government operating through Sept. 30, 2017. For the past seven months, agencies have been operating under a continuing budget resolution that froze spending at FY 2016 levels and stalled new programs. President Trump’s release of his FY 2018 “Skinny Budget” in March that drastically cut federal spending caused considerable anxiety about potential FY 2017 funding cuts for science. Fears proved to be for naught as a bipartisan, bicameral Congress rejected severe cuts to the federal budget.
While the bill is good news and provides optimism for the FY 2018 federal budget, there are still some provisions in the bill that do not bode well for scientific research and programs. The bill states that all federal agencies must report to Congress “…describing in detail all Federal agency funding, domestic and international for climate change programs, projects, and activities in FYs 2016 and 2017…” Additionally, a provision in the bill stipulates that policies across agencies must count all biomass energy as carbon neutral.
ESA is in the process of updating its online federal budget tracker that will have greater detail about the FY 2017 budget.
Here are topline FY 2017 funding levels for certain federal agencies, with additional information below:
- NSF: $7.5 billion, 0.1% increase above FY 2016 enacted funding
- DOE Office of Science: $5.4 billion, 0.8% increase
- NOAA: $5.7 billion, 1.6% decrease
- USDA/AFRI: $375 million, 7.1% increase
- USDA/ARS: $1.2 billion, 2.3 % increase
- USDA/USFS: $5.6 billion (reorganizes wildland fire spending)
- DOI/ USFWS: $1.5 billion, less than a 1% increase
- DOI/USGS: $1.1 billion, 2.2% increase
- DOI/NPS: $2.9 billion; 1% increase
- DOD S&T: $14 billion, 7.8% increase
- NASA Science: $5.765 billion, 3.1% increase
- White House OSTP: $5.5 million, equal to FY16
- White House CEQ: $3 million, equal to FY16
** Numbers are rounded.
National Science Foundation (NSF)
Funding for NSF saw a minute increase of $9 million for its Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account to begin construction of three regional-class research vessels. Otherwise, the overall funding for the remainder of FY 2017 is flat when compared with FY 2016 levels at $7.47 billion. This includes the research account, which is funded for a total of $5.97 billion.
Department of Energy: Office of Science and Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)
For FY 2017, the Office of Science receives $5.4 billion for science research – an increase of $42 million above the FY 2016 enacted level. This funding supports basic energy research, the development of high-performance computing systems, and research into the next generation of energy sources. For the Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program, the omnibus bill provides $75 million for the three BioEnergy Research Centers and $10 million for exascale computing. DOE is urged to give priority to optimizing the operation of BER user facilities.
DOE’s EERE Office FY 2017 funding provides $20 million to support the development of the Synthetic Biology Foundry and $30 million for algal biofuels. DOE is also directed to sustain the investment in development of algal biofuels.
Department of Commerce: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
The FY 2017 $5.675 billion appropriation is a slight decrease in overall spending. Most of the decrease is within the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service. Programs of particular importance to the ecological community are NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR), the National Ocean Service (NOS), and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). These offices support intramural and extramural research critical to NOAA’s mission of managing marine and coastal resources to meet the nation’s environmental, economic, and social needs.
Funding for NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, which supports critical climate change research across the country, was increased by 3.5 percent, from $462 million to $478 million. This office supports laboratories and programs across the U.S. and collaborates with external partners, including 16 NOAA-funded Cooperative Institutes and 33 Sea Grant Institutions, which is funded at $63 million for FY 2017. OAR climate research for FY 2017 is funded at $158 million, which is exactly the same as FY 2016 funding. Ocean, Coastal, and Great Lakes Research is funded at $192.8 million, which is a 2.2 percent increase over FY 2016.
NOS is funded at $517.4 million for FY 2017. The NOS account for Coastal Science and Assessment is funded at $82.6 million. NMFS is funded at $851.5 million, which includes funds for protected resources science and management such as marine mammals and salmon populations.
USDA: AFRI and ARS
USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which provides funding for basic science, received a 7.1 percent increase over FY 2016 levels for a total of $375 million in FY 2017. The Agricultural Research Service received $1.17 billion, which is a 2.3 percent increase over last year’s funding.
USDA: US Forest Service (USFS)
The omnibus bill includes $5.6 billion for the Forest Service. More than half of this funding – $3.2 billion – is targeted to wildland fire prevention and suppression. In total and across agency budgets, the bill funds wildland firefighting and prevention programs at $4.2 billion, including $407 million in emergency funding. It fully funds the 10-year average for wildland fire suppression costs for both the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service.
USFS FY 2017 funding without wildland fire management funds is $2.42 billion, which is a $27.8 million cut from FY 2016.
The Forest and Rangeland Research program is funded at $288.5 million, which is a decrease of $2.486 million. Additionally, $3 million of this funding must now be used for the USFS contribution to the Joint Fire Science Program.
DOI: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
The FWS is funded at $1.5 billion in FY 2017, an $11 million increase above the FY 2016 enacted level. Within this amount, the legislation prioritizes funding to reduce the endangered species delisting backlog and maintenance backlog, to fight invasive species, to prevent illegal wildlife trafficking, and to prevent the closure of fish hatcheries.
The ecological services account receives a slight increase for a total of $240 million. Funding is flat for multinational species conservation, while migratory bird management received a slight increase. Adaptive and service science support is flat funded at $16.9 million.
The omnibus bill also continues a one-year delay on any further Endangered Species Act status reviews, determinations, and rulemakings for the greater sage-grouse. The BLM budget, which is a separate agency within DOI with its own budget, provides a total of $68.9 million for greater sage-grouse conservation activities, including the implementation of the National Seed Strategy, which is an increase of $8.9 million above the FY 2016 enacted level.
DOI: U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
The bill includes $1.1 billion for the USGS, $23 million above the FY 2016 enacted level. Funding is targeted to programs dealing with natural hazards, stream gages, the groundwater monitoring network, and mapping activities. Also, within the total, the bill includes $10 million and fully funds “Landsat 9” – a satellite program that provides land use measurements that are important to local communities for agriculture, forestry, energy, and water resource decisions.
The USGS Ecosystems account is funded for FY 2017 at $159.7 million, which is a $500,000 cut from FY 2016.
The Climate and Land Use Change account is funded at $149.27 million, which is a $9.3 million increase over FY 2016, mainly for land remote sensing. However, the climate variability account within this program is cut by $3.7 million down to $53.58 million in FY 2017.
DOI: National Park Service (NPS)
The legislation provides $2.9 billion for NPS, an increase of $81 million above the FY 2016 level. This funding provides targeted increases for park operations and maintenance to help reduce the maintenance backlog and addresses other priorities related to the Park Service’s centennial anniversary.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
EPA’s overall funding saw a small increase of 1 percent, to $8.06 billion for FY 2017. Congress stipulated in the bill that within one month the EPA must provide in detail its operating plan of how the agency plans to allocate funds at the program project level. The bill also notes that workforce levels are below the FY 2016 level; therefore, the agreement includes rescissions in the Science and Technology and Environmental Programs and Management accounts that capture expected savings associated with such changes. A rescission allows Congress to revoke budget authority previously enacted by law.
Even with the rescission, the Science and Technology Program (S&T) is cut by just under 3.8 percent to $706 million for FY 2017. The $28.2 million in cuts are primarily to research accounts for national priorities, water resources, and sustainable and healthy communities. The S&T Clean Air and Climate program is flat funded at $116.5 million.
The Environmental Programs and Management account receives $2.597 billion in FY 2017, which is a $15.68 million cut from FY 2016 funding, primarily from rescission. FY 2017 spending includes $435.8 million for Geographic Programs, which is an $8.1 million increase over FY 2016 for the Gulf of Mexico and the Long Island Sound. It also flat funds the Brownfields program at $25.59. This program’s Clean Air and Climate account receives $273.1 million, flat funded when compared with FY 2016 funding. The Water Ecosystems: Estuary and Wetlands account receives $47.78 million, equal to FY 2016 funding.
At a time when the Trump administration is considering changes to land use practices and management, the Interior Department suspended more than 200 advisory panels assisting with the management of federal lands. The timing of the Interior suspension means that some land management recommendations, such as the reviews of national monuments and federal energy leases mandated by President Trump’s executive orders, will be done without input from the advisory panels.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has postponed scheduled meetings of its 38 resource advisory councils (RACs) until at least September. BLM’s RACs typically have 10 to 15 members representing local residents, state government agencies, industry, and conservation leaders.
Greg Zimmerman, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, observed that cancelling BLM RAC meetings “sends a clear signal that Secretary Zinke intends to make decisions behind closed doors and not through an open and transparent public process.”
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has fired half of the members of its 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors. The board reviews the scientific work of the EPA and often helps shape agency research.
EPA spokesman J.P. Freire noted that the 12 Board of Scientific Counselors members had been dismissed at the end of their three-year terms. However, it has previously been the practice to routinely reappoint board members to a second term. Furthermore, according to one of the scientists dismissed, EPA leaders had told the members of the board just weeks before that their appointments would be renewed.
There has been growing backlash in response to this abrupt dismissal of scientists from the board, and several top Democrats in Congress have criticized the move. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, sent a letter to Administrator Pruitt on May 9 expressing his concern and requesting information from the EPA about this dismissal.
In addition to the Board of Scientific Counselors, EPA’s 47-member Science Advisory Board (SAB), also comprised almost entirely of academic research scientists, has been a long-time target of political attacks. The Trump administration, in its “Skinny Budget” proposal obtained by The Washington Post, suggested reducing funding for EPA’s SAB by 84 percent, or $542,000, effectively crippling the board. That funding is typically used for travel and expenses related to the board’s public meetings.
House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) argued in a February hearing that the SAB should include more non-academics, commenting that “The EPA routinely stacks this board with friendly scientists who receive millions of dollars in grants from the federal government.” He continued, “The conflict of interest here is clear.”
Similarly to Interior, EPA is currently reviewing policy and regulations as directed in executive orders on energy and climate policy and regulatory reforms. This review will be happening without significant input from its outside science advisors.
The Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the chief science advisor to the president, remains unfilled and without a nominee over 100 days into the Trump administration. OSTP staff has been severely depleted by departures of scientists and technology experts. The staff of the White House chief technology officer was down to one at the end of March, from 24 last year. OSTP does not regularly participate in Trump’s daily briefings, as they did during the previous administration.
There are roughly 1,200 executive branch positions requiring Senate confirmation. An ongoing study by The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service tracking 556 key positions requiring confirmation currently finds 465 positions without a nominee, 24 awaiting formal nomination, 41 formally nominated, and only 26 confirmed, primarily at the cabinet level. Eleven science-related positions are being tracked and all are currently without nominees. A New York Times editorial board March 27 opinion, “The Trump Administration’s War on Science,” noted that 40 top government science positions are still vacant. Many see the science vacancies as indicating the president’s values, though others suggest the vacancies result from the pending review, nomination, and confirmation of an OSTP director.
A group of senators, led by Maggie Hassan (D-NH), sent an April 21 letter to President Trump urging him to fill key science posts throughout his administration, noting that, “Science and technology are central to both the challenges and opportunities America faces in the 21st century.” Other senators signing the letter included Bill Nelson (D-FL), Ed Markey (D-MA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Brian Schatz (D-HI).
The Ecological Society of America joined with 28 other scientific, engineering, and higher education organizations in a November 23 letter to then President-elect Trump, urging him to quickly appoint a senior-level science and technology policy advisor who could also coordinate science and technology policy and personnel decisions within the executive branch of government.
Senate Republicans, led by Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and co-sponsor Dean Heller (R-NV), reintroduced the “Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act,” S.935, on April 25. A companion bill, H.R.2134, was introduced that same day in the House by Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) and cosponsored by Pete Sessions (R-TX). The legislation would “permit Governors of States to regulate intrastate endangered species and intrastate threatened species” within their states. By requiring the Interior Secretary to gain the consent of governors of affected states, it would significantly limit the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s ability to protect threatened and endangered species.
Further, the bill would require congressional approval of endangered and threatened species lists, automatically remove listed species after five years, and require federal power marketing administrations to assess and include the direct and indirect costs of complying with the Endangered Species Act on monthly consumer electric bills.
“We can better protect endangered species by empowering state leaders to implement a strategy more tailored to their specific circumstances,” Senator Paul said in a statement. “Instead of continuing Washington’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to regulation, this bill puts local needs first and guards against bureaucratic overreach.”
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) held a hearing examining states’ perspectives on the Endangered Species Act on Wednesday, May 10. “The purpose of this hearing is to hear from state officials on their roles and capacities in species conservation,” Mike Danylak, a spokesman for Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY), said in an email to E&E News. “The hearing will also examine states’ views on the need to strengthen and modernize the Endangered Species Act, including its effectiveness in incentivizing conservation, facilitating federal-state consultation, and ensuring adequate capacity.”
Witnesses for the hearing were Nick Wiley, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and president of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies; Larry Voyles, director of the Arizona Game and Fish Department; and Janet Coit, director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.
An earlier EPW April 26 closed door hearing on the Endangered Species Act included testimony from Lisa Reynolds, Colorado’s assistant attorney general, who is representing the state on Endangered Species Act issues, and David Willms, a policy adviser to Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R), who is leading a related reform effort of the Act for the Western Governors’ Association.
Jamie Rappaport Clark, formerly President Clinton’s Fish and Wildlife Service director and now president of Defenders of Wildlife, observed “I don’t see a reform effort strengthening the law” in this Congress, “I can only see a reform effort that will undermine and weaken the law’s ability to achieve its purposes.”
Nearly identical bills were introduced in the previous, Republican-controlled 114th Congress, but neither made it out of committee. Sweeping differences on the extent of species extinction rates exposed in a February 15 EPW hearing signal that the Senate bill could prove difficult to pass.
More information: the ESA Office of Science published an Issues in Ecology: “Species Recovery in the United States: Increasing the Effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act” in 2016.
On April 26, ecologists and biologists from across the country spent the day on Capitol Hill, visiting over 60 congressional offices to request $8 billion in federal funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) in FY 2018. Participants met with congressional staff – as well as some members of Congress – and highlighted how federal investments in scientific research benefit the communities the lawmakers represent.
This annual event is sponsored by the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) and is organized by ESA and the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), coalition co-chairs. Participants in the congressional visits were Ph.D. scientists and graduate students affiliated with the two organizations. ESA was represented by this year’s six ESA Graduate Student Policy Award winners: Jason M. Aloisio (Fordham University), Tyler C. Coverdale (Princeton University), Anna M. Groves (Michigan State University), Christine J. Pardo (University of Miami), Jessica M. Rudnick (University of California, Davis), and Benton N. Taylor (Columbia University).
The day before the Hill visits, the graduate students heard from several ESA members working in policy-related positions in Washington, DC about ecological career options. Speakers included Sarah Anderson (NOAA Knauss Fellow assigned to the office of Sen. Gary Peters, [D-MI]), Emily Cloyd (AAAS Project Director), Laura Petes (NOAA Ecosystem Science Advisor), and Adam Rosenblatt (AAAS Fellow assigned to US DOE, Office of Science). That afternoon, all BESC participants received communication and congressional meeting protocol training and were briefed on the federal budget process.
During the meetings with the offices of their representatives in Congress, the graduate students and other participants shared their stories of how federal funding aids their research, discussed the importance of federal funding for their institutions, and described how federal investments in scientific research benefit their states or the constituents of the members of Congress. While offices varied in their commitments to support science funding, the meetings were generally positive, and the participants’ messages were mostly well-received.
Photos from the event can be viewed on ESA’s Flickr page.
On April 22, Earth Day, scientists and supporters of science gathered in more than 600 cities around the world to march in defense of science and its critical role in policy and society. Despite the cool, rainy weather in Washington, DC, thousands – including many ESA members – gathered near the Washington Monument, where the day began with teach-ins and a pre-march rally that included four hours of speeches and musical performances.
The co-hosts of the rally were Derek Muller, the physicist creator of educational YouTube science channel Veritasium, and Questlove, a musician. Speakers included the March’s three honorary national co-chairs – Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician who exposed Flint, Michigan’s dangerous lead poisoning, Lydia Villa-Komaroff, a biologist who made critical contributions to producing insulin from bacteria, and Bill Nye, the famous science educator. Among the dozens of other speakers at the rally were Christy Goldfuss, former chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Rush Holt, CEO of AAAS, as well as many other leaders, scientists, authors, and voices for science. Following the rally, demonstrators marched along Constitution Avenue towards the Capitol.
ESA endorsed the March for Science and joined other scientific societies in applauding the March and pledging to keep the March momentum going, to remain at the forefront of public engagement with science, and to redouble collective efforts to serve science and society.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, released a statement in response to the March for Science in which he said, “I support the right of science supporters to gather and march this weekend. Opening new frontiers of scientific knowledge, on earth and beyond, will pave the way to a better, more secure future for the next generation.”
House Science Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), who participated in the March for Science in Dallas, TX, issued her own statement: “Though I am disheartened by the fact that there currently is a need to defend the ‘vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies, and governments,’ I am thrilled to see such a large and diverse group of people passionate about science, invested in the future of scientific discovery, and committed to the need for science-based policy making.” She went on to state, “Science shouldn’t be a partisan issue. I hope that Members on both sides of the aisle are supporting all of the goals of today’s march.”
Provide Input on EPA Regulations
The EPA is asking for public comments providing input on regulations for repeal, replacement, or modification. The February executive order titled “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda” directed federal agencies to establish task forces to evaluate regulations and make recommendations on rules to modify, replace, or repeal. The EPA is soliciting public comments to inform this task force evaluation. Comment here by May 15.
Submit Ideas to the White House
The White House is soliciting public input on which agencies should be reformed or eliminated. The administration is also asking for public feedback on management reform and other ideas for reorganizing the federal government. If you have thoughts on agencies to reform, want to express support for certain agencies, or have other suggestions on ways the government can be better organized, comment by June 12.
Comment on Monument Designations
The Department of the Interior released a list of monuments under review under the April 26 executive order and announced a public comment period for the review process. The list of sites under review includes 22 national monuments and 5 marine national monuments. The public comment period will open on May 12. Written comments related to Bears Ears National Monument must be submitted within 15 days; comments on other designations must be submitted within 60 days.
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.
Submit Applications for NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Councils
NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) within the National Ocean Service (NOS) is seeking applications for vacant seats on 7 of its 13 national marine sanctuary advisory councils and an ecosystem reserve advisory council. Advisory councils are community-based advisory groups that provide advice and recommendations on issues related to management, science, service, and stewardship of national marine sanctuaries and serve as liaisons between constituents and the sanctuary. Applications are due by May 31.
For more opportunities to get involved, go to the Federal Register section.
ESA and Multisociety Letters on Appropriations
ESA is continuing to submit Fiscal Year 2018 funding requests for agencies and programs relevant to ESA members. So far letters and testimony have been sent to Congress requesting robust funding for NSF, USGS, and USDA programs, as well as House testimony for NOAA and the DOE Office of Science, and others are in progress. In addition, ESA is signing on to several joint letters sent by various coalitions of which we are a part. View the letters on the ESA Correspondence to Policymakers page, which will be updated as letters are completed.
Agriculture Secretary Confirmed
The Senate confirmed Sonny Perdue as secretary of the Department of Agriculture on April 24 on an 87-11 vote. Perdue’s confirmation, a relatively uncontroversial one, put in place one of the president’s last Cabinet appointees. Perdue’s nomination hearing is posted on the Senate Agriculture Committee website.
EPA Takes Down Climate Change Webpage
On April 28, the EPA removed the climate information page on its website and issued a press release saying the agency is “undergoing changes that reflect the agency’s new direction under President Trump and Administrator Scott Pruitt.” An archived version of the page is available under the agency’s website of historical material. The city of Chicago has also published the information on a new section of the city’s official website.
Administration Sued over Congressional Review Act
The Trump administration has been sued over the constitutionality of the Congressional Review Act, the act that lets Congress, with a simple majority, overturn regulations within 60 legislative days of the date they were issued. The Center for Biological Diversity filed the lawsuit on April 20 and is targeting the CRA resolution the president signed in March to overturn an Obama-era Fish and Wildlife Service rule limiting how certain animals can be killed in Alaska wildlife refuges.
WOTUS Challenged in Congress, Process of Rescinding Rule Begins
In February, the president issued an executive order instructing the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to review and rescind or revise the Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) Rule. In response to this order, EPA officials have said they plan to use two separate rulemaking processes – one to repeal, and one to replace the rule. The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers took an important first step towards repealing the regulation by sending a proposal to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) on May 2, E&E News reports. The proposed regulation appears to recodify previous regulations and guidance to define “waters of the U.S.” and will be reviewed by OIRA before being published for public notice and comment.
WOTUS is also facing congressional challenges. On April 26, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, led by Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY), held a full committee hearing titled “A Review of the Technical, Scientific, and Legal Basis of the WOTUS Rule.” At the hearing, which challenged the foundation of the Clean Water Rule, Chairman Barrasso described the rule as “fundamentally flawed” and called for its withdrawal.
Bonn Climate Talks Begin
Talks on developing the rules and specifics for implementing the Paris Agreement began on May 8 in Bonn, Germany. Only seven delegates are representing the U.S. at this two-week session. Meanwhile, the administration has yet to decide whether the U.S. will stay in or withdraw from the climate deal. A final decision, previously expected before the Group of Seven summit in Italy later this month, has been delayed until after that meeting.
DOE Signals That All Previously Obligated DOE Projects Will Be Funded
E&E News is reporting that Secretary of Energy Rick Perry released a memo last week saying that the Department of Energy will honor all funding commitments for “previously obligated” grants and agreements. The omnibus appropriations bill passed last week included increased funding for ARPA-E and the Office of Science, which oversees the majority of the national laboratories. The DOE memo goes on to state that all pending and future funding announcements will be reviewed by DOE’s Office of Management to ensure alignment with the administration’s priorities.
House Science Committee Ranking Member Requests Investigation into EPA
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, wrote a letter to Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) on April 13 requesting that the Committee investigate reports that political appointees at EPA ignored staff comments and misled the Congressional Budget Office on the costs of implementing H.R.1430, the HONEST Act.
Climate Solutions Caucus Adds New Members and Urges Trump to Stay in Paris Agreement
The bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus continues to add new members, with membership split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Most recently, two freshmen representatives, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA), have joined. On April 26, 21 members of the caucus sent a letter to the president urging him to stay in the Paris Agreement and “maintain our seat at the table in global discussions of how to address the threats posed by climate change.”
House Republicans Request Information on DOI Climate Change Adaptation Programs
On May 3, two Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee – Chairman Rob Bishop (UT) and Rep. Raúl Labrador (ID), chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke expressing concern and requesting information on two climate change adaptation programs at the Department of the Interior. The lawmakers questioned the effectiveness of Climate Science Centers, led by the USGS, and Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Weather Forecasting Bill Becomes Law
On April 18, the president signed the bipartisan Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017, H.R.353. This bill was designed to improve NOAA’s weather research and support improvements in weather forecasting and prediction of high-impact weather events. The first comprehensive weather policy update since 1992, it was introduced in the House by Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), with an identical Senate version sponsored by Sen. John Thune (R-SD). It passed Congress on April 4.
Congressional Review Act Resolution Fails
On May 10, an effort by congressional Republicans to overturn an Obama-era rule regulating methane waste on public lands failed in the Senate. H.J.Res.36 expressed disapproval of the Bureau of Land Management’s rule regulating methane emissions from oil and gas operations on federal lands. It had previously passed the House on February 3. A motion in the Senate to proceed with the resolution failed 49 to 51, with three Republicans joining Democrats to vote against it. The failure of this resolution represents the first loss for Republicans in their effort to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn Obama-era regulations.
- Climate Change Adapt America Fund Act of 2017 (S.922, H.R.2129). Introduced April 24 in the Senate by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and April 25 in the House by Rep. Theodore Deutch (D-FL), this bill would establish the Climate Change Advisory Commission to develop recommendations, frameworks, and guidelines for projects to respond to the impacts of climate change, and to issue federal obligations, the proceeds of which shall be used to fund projects that aid in adaptation to climate change.
- Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (S.936, H.R.2135). Introduced April 25 in the Senate by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and in the House by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), this bill would designate certain National Forest System lands and certain public lands under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Interior in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming as wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, wildland recovery areas, and biological connecting corridors.
- Acre In, Acre Out Act (H.R.2167). Introduced April 26 by Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), this bill would provide for no net increase in the total acreage of certain federal land under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, or the Forest Service.
- Coral Reef Sustainability Through Innovation Act of 2017 (S.958, H.R.2203). Introduced April 27 in the Senate by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and in the House by Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI), this bill would authorize federal agencies to establish prize competitions for innovation or adaptation management development relating to coral reef ecosystems.
- Preserving Data in Government Act of 2017 (S.960). Introduced April 27 by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), this bill would amend title 44, United States Code, to protect open, machine-readable databases.
- Real EPA Impact Reviews (REPAIR) Act (S.971). Introduced April 27 by Sen. John Thune (R-SD), this bill would require the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to include in each regulatory impact analysis for a proposed or final rule an analysis that does not include any other proposed or unimplemented rule.
- 100 by ’50 Act (S.987). Introduced April 27 by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), this bill would transition away from fossil fuel sources of energy to 100 percent clean and renewable energy by 2050.
- Marine Oil Spill Prevention Act (H.R.2261). Introduced May 1 by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), this bill would improve the ability of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Coast Guard, and coastal states to sustain healthy ocean and coastal ecosystems by maintaining and sustaining their capabilities relating to oil spill preparedness, prevention, and response.
- National Monument Designation Transparency and Accountability Act (H.R.2284). Introduced May 2 by Rep. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), this bill would amend title 54, United States Code, to provide for congressional and state approval of national monuments and restrictions on the use of national monuments.
- Climate Solutions Commission Act (H.R.2326). Introduced May 3 by Rep. John Delaney (D-MD) and Rep. John Faso (R-NY), this bipartisan bill would accelerate reductions in climate pollution in order to leave a better planet for future generations, and create a bipartisan commission to develop economically viable policies to achieve science-based emissions reduction targets.
- NOAA – Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment (May 15)
- NSF – Advisory Committee for International Science and Engineering (May 15-16)
- NOAA – Sanctuary System Business Advisory Council(May 18)
- NOAA – Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee (May 23-24)
Opportunities for Public Comment and Recommendations:
- Fish and Wildlife Service – Initiation of 5-Year Status Reviews of Eight Endangered Animal Species
The Fish and Wildlife Service is initiating 5-year status reviews under the Endangered Species Act for eight animal species and is requesting submission of scientific and commercial data that has become available since the last review for the species. The eight species are the Iowa Pleistocene snail, Karner blue butterfly, Kirtland’s warbler, Ozark hellbender, rayed bean, sheepnose, snuffbox, and spectaclecase. The agency is requesting new information from all sources by June 16.
- EPA – Re-opening of Comment Period on Ecological Risk Assessment for Certain Pesticide Chemicals
In response to requests for extensions, the EPA is re-opening comment periods on the ecological risk assessment for pyrethroid chemicals (comment by July 7) and the human health and ecological risk assessments for the chemical linuron (comment by June 7).
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