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Feb. 22, 2021 by Dan Rohlf

Biden Elevates Science Advisor to Cabinet-Level Job

As the U.S. Senate considers President Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees, one stands out as much for the position he was appointed to as for his impressive qualifications.

Two days before his inauguration, Biden announced that he planned to elevate the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), often referred to as the president’s science advisor, to Cabinet rank. The move underlines Biden’s break with the previous administration’s de-emphasis and politicization of science, which downplayed climate change, sought to slash climate-related research spending, and crafted rules designed to limit the influence of science in agency decisionmaking.

Created by Congress in 1976 to help the president and White House staff steer the country in an increasingly complex world, OSTP leads cross-government efforts to incorporate scientific and technological developments into policy and budgetary decisions. During the Trump administration, OSTP staff dropped by two-thirds, and its director position remained vacant for over two years.

Biden tapped geneticist Eric Lander, who holds a doctorate in mathematics, to lead OSTP into new prominence. Lander is president and founding director of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, which uses genomics to advance human health, and has been a …

Dec. 12, 2017 by Dan Rohlf
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This op-ed originally ran in the Reno Gazette-Journal.

During the holiday season, many people put significant effort into plans for getting along with one another at family gatherings. Seating plans are carefully strategized and touchy subjects avoided. We’ve learned that enjoying our shared holiday demands that we all compromise a little.

Plans for cooperation in managing the vast shrub-steppe plains of the American West – including thousands of acres in Nevada – are no different.

A few years ago, conflict there seemed inevitable. Environmental organizations asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list sage grouse – a bellwether for declining ecological conditions of the Intermountain West – as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. On the other hand, private landowners, industry groups and grazing permittees on federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management worried that protections for the birds could eliminate their already-thin profit …

Jan. 17, 2013 by Dan Rohlf
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Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar will leave a decidedly mixed legacy from his four years at the helm of the federal department responsible for protecting many of America’s vast open spaces, treasured parks, and disappearing wildlife. 

Salazar’s Interior Department enjoyed some high-profile successes and on occasion took action to better protect important resources. It reached a multi-billion dollar settlement in the long-running and contentious Cobell litigation, a massive class action suit by Indian tribal members over government mismanagement of revenue from tribal resources. The Department under Salazar established seven new national parks and 10 new wildlife refuges.

But in many areas, while Interior took steps to respond to crises and restore some of the protections for land and wildlife that had languished for nearly a decade, it missed important opportunities to keep pace with twenty-first century threats to natural resources.

Salazar’s record on oil …

Dec. 13, 2011 by Dan Rohlf
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A draft policy released for comment last week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service took on the challenging question of defining the circumstances under which only a portion of an ailing species may be eligible for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. Unfortunately, the Services’ proposal continued the agencies’ trend toward restrictively interpreting the ESA’s listing provisions. If finalized, the new policy will likely result in fewer protections for formerly widespread species, such as gray wolves, that now inhabit only a fraction of their former range.

The ESA defines “endangered species” as species in danger of extinction “throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” Litigation over the past decade raised a host of questions as to exactly what Congress meant by the latter phrase: Can the Services list a species as threatened or endangered in only …

June 3, 2011 by Dan Rohlf
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Few things in politics are certain, but it’s a safe bet that Barak Obama will not carry the state of Utah in his 2012 re-election bid. But despite its dismal electoral prospects in the state, the Obama Administration knuckled under to pressure from Utah and other western Republicans this week when Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar did an about-face on the Bureau of Land Management’s “Wild Lands” policy. The policy, announced by the Secretary less than six months ago, allowed BLM to designate specific lands with wilderness characteristics for protection under agency management plans. Specific protections would have been identified in the planning process open to public participation.

The Wild Lands policy filled a gap in BLM’s land management authority created when Gale Norton, one of Salazar’s predecessors during the George W. Bush Administration, entered into a legal settlement with Utah under which …

May 10, 2011 by Dan Rohlf
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In an impressive effort to demonstrate that crafting bad environmental legislation knows no partisan boundaries, Democratic Senator John Tester of  Montana – who recently spearheaded a successful effort to remove wolves from the endangered species list through a budget maneuver – last month introduced legislation to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating lead ammunition under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Several environmental organizations last year petitioned EPA to mandate the use of non-lead bullets and shot, noting that traditional bullets used by hunters spread lead fragments throughout the environment, poisoning a wide variety of non-target birds and other wildlife, including critically imperiled species such as California condors.

Tester claims that his legislation would protect hunters when “Washington DC’s rules get in the way of common sense.” But it’s actually the status quo that’s a nonsensical health hazard for hunters and their friends and families …

April 8, 2011 by Dan Rohlf
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A student-run environmental group operating out of a 150-square-foot office at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon has an important lesson to teach congressional Republicans.

In 2004, the Northwest Environmental Defense Center – a small group with an annual budget of a few thousand dollars and a single staff member – secured more fines for violations of pollution control laws than the collective efforts of 110 enforcement personnel at the State of Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality. NEDC student volunteers investigate illegal polluters – as well as actions by state and federal agencies that violate environmental laws – and turn over worthwhile cases to local attorneys who work for the group on a pro bono basis. The attorneys recruited by NEDC, many of whom are recent law school grads still paying off their own student loans, are able to spend the long hours necessary to press the group …

Jan. 28, 2011 by Dan Rohlf
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In his State of the Union speech to Congress Tuesday night, President Obama suggested that reducing inefficient federal bureaucracy can help reduce federal spending and promote economic growth. Stretching to find a lighthearted example of government ineptness, the President quipped that “the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they're in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked."

This remark may have elicited chuckles in the Capitol building, but really it's not so funny for the parts of the country where salmon conservation raises significant environmental and economic issues.

Critics have rightly jumped on the line (see Earthjustice, Slate). First, the President got his bureaucratic story mostly wrong. On the west coast, Pacific salmon are under the jurisdiction of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA …

Dec. 7, 2010 by Dan Rohlf
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Apparently feeling their oats after the Republicans captured control of the U.S. House in November’s elections, several GOP representatives from western states are already galloping out of the gates to attempt to roll back species protections in the West. They’ve initially set their sights on gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains, which were returned to the Endangered Species Act’s protected list by a court decision in August.

A leader of the anti-wolf posse is Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, who introduced bills last week to delist wolves in Utah – and everywhere else for good measure. Riding flank for Bishop is Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), who declared that "returning wolf management to the states isn't a partisan issue that pits Republicans against Democrats. It's about states' rights." However, so far no House Democrats have joined the group of Republican gunslingers in …

Nov. 30, 2010 by Dan Rohlf
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First the good news: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) last week designated a huge expanse of barrier islands, denning areas, and sea ice in the Arctic as “critical habitat” for polar bears under the federal Endangered Species Act. The largest such protected area in the ESA’s history, the new critical habitat covers an area larger than the states of Oregon and Washington combined.

FWS listed polar bears as “threatened” in 2008, after a petition from environmental organizations and a study by the U.S. Geological Survey indicated that shrinking sea ice caused by climate change could reduce the polar bear population by two-thirds within fifty years. Polar bears have since become a powerful symbol of the overwhelming threats to species and ecosystems posed by global warming.

Critical habitat under the ESA refers to the area containing the biological and physical features essential to …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Feb. 22, 2021

Biden Elevates Science Advisor to Cabinet-Level Job

Dec. 12, 2017

Reno Gazette-Journal Op-Ed: Don't Toss Out Cooperation in the West's Sage Country

Jan. 17, 2013

Ken Salazar's Mixed Legacy

Dec. 13, 2011

Draft ESA Listing Policy Suggests 'Museum Piece' Approach to Species Conservation

June 3, 2011

Score: Utah 2, BLM Wilderness Protection 0

May 10, 2011

Tester: Don't Get the (Toxic) Lead Out

April 8, 2011

Vitter and Bishop Bills Aim to Weaken Enforcement of Existing Environmental Protections