Improving Public Policy


Ice packs in the Ross Sea

Beneath ice packs in Antarctica's Ross Sea lie fertile feeding grounds for penguins, seals, whales, and other creatures of the ocean. (Dale Lorna Jacobsen/Shutterstock)

Ross Sea designated as world’s largest marine protected area

In October, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) established the largest marine protected area on the planet in Antarctica’s Ross Sea. This marks the first time that CCAMLR’s 24 member countries and the European Union reached consensus to protect nearly 800 square miles of the Southern Ocean after similar proposals over the past five years failed. The area will provide critical habitats for penguins, seals, krill, whales, and other marine species. The decision, for which Pew advocated, also represents the first time that nations have agreed to protect a significant area of the ocean that lies beyond the jurisdiction of any individual country.

Department of the Interior protects 3.6 million acres

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in September signed the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, an effort by California and federal officials that seeks to balance development of renewable energy with land conservation across 11 million acres of Southern California managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The plan protects 3.6 million acres of BLM lands, including Silurian Valley and Centennial Flats. Pew has worked on the plan since 2012, seeking to ensure that wilderness-quality public lands and other ecologically important areas are conserved.

Arctic safeguards announced

In November, the Obama administration removed the U.S. Arctic Ocean from the 2017-22 Outer Continental Shelf Leasing Program. The decision means that the new oil and gas exploration leasing in the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea planning areas will not be considered until after 2022. Pew has been working to preserve wildlife migration routes, feeding grounds, and habitats in the Arctic since 2009.

Kiribati announces world’s second-largest shark sanctuary

The Pacific island nation of Kiribati created the world’s second-largest shark sanctuary in November. The move bans all commercial shark fishing within Kiribati’s 1.3- million-square-mile exclusive economic zone, an area larger than India. It also bans the possession, trade, and sale of sharks and shark products, as well as the use of wire leaders, the fishing gear often used to catch them. Kiribati’s sanctuary expands the Micronesia Regional Shark Sanctuary, completed in 2015, to more than 3.5 million square miles. In all, 15 sanctuaries now encompass more than 7.34 million square miles of ocean that are free of commercial shark fishing—an area bigger than South America.

21st Century Cures law targets major health concerns

The 21st Century Cures Act became law in December. The wide-ranging, bipartisan legislation makes important progress on two pressing public health issues, both targets of Pew’s research and advocacy work: the growing global threat of antibiotic resistance and limited availability of treatment for substance use disorder, a disease that takes the lives of dozens of Americans every day. The law creates a new approval pathway for much needed antibiotics to treat seriously ill patients and those with highly resistant infections, and includes $1 billion in funding for opioid use disorder treatment.

World Conservation Congress calls for protecting at least 30% of the ocean

Members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress voted in September to support increasing the highly protected area of the ocean to at least 30 percent, to help conserve biodiversity. Pew had supported a peer-reviewed study that found protecting at least 30 percent of the ocean is necessary for achieving fisheries and marine conservation goals. The IUCN also adopted motions calling for advancements on a new international treaty to protect the high seas, adoption of new measures to protect shark species from unsustainable international trade, and protection of the Southern Ocean.

Australia’s Great Kimberley Marine Park receives new protections

In October, Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett announced the creation of two protected areas to become part of the Great Kimberley Marine Park, an interconnected system of marine and terrestrial parks jointly managed by the land’s Traditional Owners and the state. One new park covers a 304-square-mile area of ecologically significant reefs and mangrove forests in Roebuck Bay, including some of the world’s most diverse mudflat communities and a population of threatened Australian snubfin dolphins. The second area is the 568,340-acre Walyarta Conservation Reserve, which will safeguard important freshwater wetlands and coastal woodlands. Pew has worked since 2008 to protect the pristine coastline of the Kimberley region in the northwest of Australia as a part of the long-term goal to obtain protection for half of the Outback.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau expands protections for prepaid card users

In October, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau finalized new protections for the 23 million Americans who each month use prepaid cards—which are essentially checkless checking accounts provided by a bank or other financial services provider. The new rule prohibits consumers from being charged overdraft penalty fees. Pew’s research, which informed the federal rule-making, showed that most prepaid card customers do not want to be charged for overdrawing their account, because they use the cards to avoid checking account overdraft fees, and instead prefer to have transactions declined when they don’t have sufficient funds.

First national standards on antibiotic use in long-term care facilities approved

In September, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services finalized a rule that will help counter the growing threat of antibiotic resistance—a long-standing Pew priority—and protect the health of the estimated 1.7 million patients who live in long-term care facilities in the United States. The rule updates standards of care that nursing homes and assisted-living facilities must meet in order to receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement and includes new requirements aimed at ensuring the appropriate use of antibiotics, minimizing adverse effects from their use, and slowing the spread of resistance.

States begin evaluations of their tax incentives

In November, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Oklahoma each published their first evaluations of economic development tax incentives. The evaluations, required by 2015 laws mandating their regular review, assessed the strengths and weaknesses of incentives that cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Based on these findings, lawmakers in each state are considering changes to incentives to improve their effectiveness, while ensuring that the programs do not become unaffordable and pose budget challenges. Pew staff assisted the evaluators in each of these states to help ensure their analyses were high quality, as well as helped design each of the evaluation laws and advocated for their passage.

New Medicare regulations include key Pew recommendations

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) updated its physician payment program in October to include two recommendations from Pew. CMS adopted new measures to assess the care received by people with serious illnesses. Pew worked with a coalition of provider and patient groups to push for increased use of these standardized metrics, which will help ensure that patients receive care consistent with their preferences as they near the end of life. The CMS rule also improves patient safety and care coordination, consistent with recommendations from Pew, by encouraging physicians and hospitals to share information about which medical device implants a patient has from the electronic health record.