Trump's Environmental Nominees Advancing through Senate

Several nominations for key environmental posts within the Trump Administration are moving through the confirmation process in the Senate.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the nomination of Kathleen Harnett White to chair the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) along a party-line vote of 11 to 10.

The ranking Democrat, Senator Tom Carper (DE) said that “it was painful to watch” White’s testimony during her confirmation hearing. “It was painful to hear. And we should not inflict this pain on the people of this country.”

James Connaughton, former Chair of the CEQ under President George W. Bush, said, “she is clearly highly qualified, adept, and has a breath of experience.”

White has been a vocal defender of fossil fuels and has questioned the science underlying climate change on numerous occasions. She has argued that “carbon dioxide has none of the characteristics of a pollutant that could harm human health” and that we do not know the extent that humans are contributing to climate change, but “it’s not likely to be very much.”

Barry Myers, the nominee to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), was questioned by the Senate Commerce Committee in late November.

“I am not a scientist, but I have a passion for science and I am a leader of scientists,” Myers told the committee.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) expressed concerns with the nomination. “While NOAA has always put protecting the lives and properties of Americans ahead of making a buck off forecasts and warnings, your past history … suggests you might do otherwise.”

Myers is CEO of AccuWeather Inc. and has previously sought to privatize the National Weather Service, which is part of NOAA.

Myers responded to Nelson that he would resign from AccuWeather if confirmed by the Senate.

President Trump nominated Dr. Tim Petty to serve as Assistant Secretary of Interior for Water and Science, a position he filled in an acting role during the George W. Bush Administration. The Assistant Secretary is responsible for the U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Reclamation. Dr. Petty has a Ph.D. in water science and policy and a M.S in geoscience. He has worked on Capitol Hill for Senator James Risch (R-ID) and two other Senators.

Unlike some nominees who sidestepped questions about climate change, Dr. Petty said that “climate change is real.” He also stressed the importance of openly sharing the work of Interior scientists with decision-makers because the “science community needs to be heard and that their research is heard.”

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Scientists File Lawsuit Against National Monument Reductions

The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) is suing to block the downsizing of two national monuments in Utah ordered by President Trump. The lawsuit claims that only Congress can change the boundaries of monuments.

Protections would be lifted from 85 percent of Bears Ears National Monument and 50 percent of Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument. Trump called the creation of these national monuments “abuses” of power by his predecessors.

According to P. David Polly, president of SVP, “There were multiple reasons for making them monuments, but in both cases paleontology was one… After the [Grand Staircase] monument was established, a lot of the dinosaur material was discovered.”

Approximately 10 percent of SVP members have conducted long-term research in these national monuments or made short-term research visits to the sites.

SVP decided to pursue a lawsuit because “the damage to the science and the damage to the legal protections that we fought for is potentially so great here that, given that we can make a good case, it was a no-brainer,” said Polly.

The society subsequently joined a second lawsuit filed by a broad coalition of Native American, conservation, and historic preservation organizations.

The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology is a member organization of the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

Learn more at,-Press-Releases/Grand-Staircase-Escalante-and-Bears-Ears-National.aspx.

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Representatives Oppose End of Tuition Waivers

Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX) and thirty other lawmakers sent a letter to House leadership urging them to keep existing tax policies in place regarding tuition waivers for graduate students.

The tax reform bill passed by the House of Representatives, H.R. 1, would increase taxes for many graduate students because tuition waivers would be taxed as income, even though students do not directly receive the money.

As the letter from lawmakers points out, 57 percent of waiver recipients are graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and math.

“A repeal of the income exclusion for graduate tuition waivers would harm our nation’s students, undermine our competitive position, and hold back economic growth,” states the letter. “We strongly urge you to ensure that this harmful provision is not in the final version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.”

A separate letter on this subject is being prepared by Representative Daniel Lipinski (D-IL).

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Participate in the 2018 AIBS Congressional Visits Day

Join the American Institute of Biological Sciences for our annual Congressional Visits Day in Washington, DC.

This event is an opportunity for scientists to meet with their members of Congress about the importance of federal support for biological research and education. Event participants advocate for federal funding for biological, life, and environmental sciences research. This event builds support federal research funding agencies, including the National Science Foundation.

This year’s event will be held on April 17-18, 2018 in Washington, DC. During the afternoon of April 17, individuals will participate in an advocacy-training program that provides the information required to effectively advocate for their science. On April 18, scientists participate in AIBS organized meetings with their Representative and Senators.

Supplemental training program: In addition to the core event, AIBS is offering a one-day short course version of the popular AIBS Communications Boot Camp for Scientists. This eight-hour professional development program will train scientists to translate scientific information for non-technical audiences and to engage with the news media. The course includes formal instruction as well as hands-on and interactive exercises. This professional development training will begin on the afternoon of April 16 and be completed during the morning of April 17. We are pleased to announce that participants in the Congressional Visits Day event may register for this training program at the reduced rate of $150.

Scientists and graduate students interested in communicating the importance of federal investments in scientific research and education to lawmakers are encouraged to participate in this important event.

Registration will close on March 4, 2018. Register at

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Apply for the 2018 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award

Are you a graduate student looking to make a difference in science policy and funding? Applications are now being accepted for the 2018 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award. This award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who have demonstrated initiative and leadership in science policy. Recipients receive first-hand experience at the interface of science and public policy.

Winners receive:

  • A trip to Washington, DC, to participate in the AIBS Congressional Visits Day, an annual event that brings scientists to the nation’s capital to advocate for federal investment in the biological sciences, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation. The event will be held on April 16-18, 2018. Domestic travel and hotel expenses will be paid for the winners.
    • Policy and communications training, including information on how to communicate science to policymakers, the legislative process, and trends in federal science funding.
    • Meetings with congressional policymakers to discuss the importance of federal investment in the biological sciences.
    • A one-year AIBS membership, including a subscription to the journal BioScience and a copy of “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media.”

The 2018 award is open to U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents enrolled in a graduate degree program in the biological sciences, science education, or a closely allied field. Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in and commitment to science policy and/or science education policy.

Applications are due by 11:59 PM Eastern Time on January 17, 2018. The application guidelines can be downloaded at

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Short Takes

  • Congress has extended its deadline to finalize fiscal year 2017 spending plans. Lawmakers now have until 22 December to continue their negotiations. Another stopgap spending bill is anticipated.

  • Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt says that agency scientists won't be barred from discussing their work, as happened this fall when the EPA cancelled talks by two agency scientists and an EPA contractor at a workshop on the Narragansett Bay. "Procedures have been put in place to prevent such an occurrence in the future," Pruitt wrote in a letter to Congress. "I have assured Office of Research and Development ('ORD') political and career senior leadership that they have the authority to make decisions about event participation going forward."

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Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center.

The Legislative Action Center is a one-stop shop for learning about and influencing science policy. Through the website, users can contact elected officials and sign-up to interact with lawmakers.

The website offers tools and resources to inform researchers about recent policy developments. The site also announces opportunities to serve on federal advisory boards and to comment on federal regulations.

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the Society for the Study of Evolution, Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, and the Botanical Society of America.

AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become policy advocates today. Simply go to to get started.

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