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Public Policy Report for 8 January 2007

New Year, New Congress

As 2006 came to a close, members of the Senate and U.S. House of Representatives returned to Washington, DC to participate in the funeral ceremonies of former President Gerald R. Ford and to prepare for the start of the new 110th Congress. Sworn in on 4 January 2007, the 110th Congress is officially underway under the director of Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

Within the House, some additional leadership positions have now been filed. Taking charge of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science is Representative Alan Mollohan (D-WV). Representative Norman Dicks (D-WA) will now serve as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment.

Also shifting in the House is the name and leadership of the Resources Committee, which is now the Committee on Natural Resources. West Virginia's Nick Rahall II replaces Richard Pombo (R-CA) as chairman of the committee. Pombo was defeated in the November mid-term elections and is no longer a member of Congress.

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Public Policy Office Welcomes New Staff

As the Public Policy Office prepares for a busy 2007, marked initially by the start of the 110th Congress, it is with great pleasure that AIBS welcomes two new public policy associates: Megan Kelhart and Dr. Holly Menninger.

Kelhart joined the public policy office in August 2006, after completing her Masters of Natural Resources degree at Virginia Tech. Kelhart's graduate study focused on amphibian conservation in northern Virginia. Prior to joining AIBS, Kehhart worked on Capitol Hill for members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Menninger joined the Public Policy Office in January 2007. A past AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award finalist, Menninger successfully defended her dissertation, "Terrestrial-Aquatic Linkages in Human–Altered Landscapes," in December 2006. Her doctoral research was completed with Dr. Margaret Palmer in the Behavior, Ecology, Evolution and Systematics (BEES) program at the University of Maryland. Menninger has a number of years' experience in scientific outreach and communication with a variety of audiences, including national electronic news media outlets.

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Cobb County Evolution Case Finally Resolved

On 19 December 2006, a settlement was announced in Selman v. Cobb County, Georgia, that was lauded by both science education and civil liberties groups and eliminated the need for a retrial. In the agreement, the Cobb County Board of Education and School District agreed not to restore the warning sticker (in any form) that described evolution as "a theory, not a fact" to science textbooks. Additionally, the Board and District were enjoined to not take any number of actions that "would prevent or hinder the teaching of evolution" and must reimburse $166,659 of the plaintiffs' legal fees. This settlement follows the 25 May 2006 Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision that sent the case back to the District Court over concerns about evidence. The Cobb County Board of Education had appealed a 13 January 2005 federal court ruling where the textbook warning stickers were considered a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and were immediately ordered to be removed. The initial trial of Selman v. Cobb County took place in late 2004 after eleven parents filed suit against the Cobb County Board who, under pressure from local creationists, originally adopted the stickers in 2002.

This settlement has been hailed by the science education community as a real victory for Cobb County students who now "will be free to learn about evolution — the central principle of the biological sciences — without the distortions of a narrow religious agenda," according to Eugenie Scott, the executive director of the National Center for Science Education.

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Climate Change and the White House

In a 27 December 2006 press release, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is proposing to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Fish and Wildlife intends to review and compile scientific information in order to determine the fate of the species. The Bush Administration is attributing climate change to the melting of the species habitat. However, administration officials do not anticipate tightening regulations on drilling or greenhouse gas emissions.

The proposal to list the polar bear is a result of a legal agreement the government made with a group of environmental organizations that claim the Administration is not sufficiently protecting the species. Secretary Kempthorne stated in a telephone news conference, "We are making this proposal because a scientific review of the species by the Fish and Wildlife Service found that populations may be threatened by receding sea ice, which polar bears use as a platform for many activities essential to their life cycle, including hunting for their main prey, Arctic seals."

The FWS also stated, "recent scientific studies of adult polar bears in Canada and in Alaska's Southern Beaufort Sea have shown weight loss and reduced cub survival." Secretary Kempthorne stated in a radio news release that the Fish and Wildlife Service "extensively analyzed impact of both onshore and offshore oil and gas development on polar bear populations and determined the development does not pose a threat to the species." However, Letters of Authorization have recently been given to six oil and gas development and exploration companies "to take polar bears incidental to oil and gas industry exploration activities in the Beaufort Sea and adjacent northern coast of Alaska."

In other climate change news, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) has circulated draft global warming legislation to environmental groups, businesses, and economists, to help foster a bipartisan effort on how to address greenhouse gases and global warming. The draft, labeled as "still a work in progress" is not expected to be finalized for several months.

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EPA Requests Nominations for Ecosystems and Resources Advisory Committee

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is requesting nominations for membership on the proposed Adaptation for Climate Sensitive Ecosystems and Resources Advisory Committee (ACSERAC). The Advisory Committee is a direct result of goal number four of the five goals set forth by the Climate Change Science Program, which states directs the CCSP to "understand the sensitivity and adaptability of different natural and managed ecosystems and human systems to climate and related global changes."

The strategic plan for the Climate Change Science Program is a response to the President's direction that climate change research activities provide the best possible scientific information to foster public discussion and as well as informed decision making on climate-related issues.

The purpose of this proposed Committee is to provide advice on the conduct of a study titled, "Preliminary Review of Adaptation Options for Climate-Sensitive Ecosystems and Resources,'' to be conducted as part of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP). The proposed ACSERAC will advise on the specific issues that should be addressed in the assessment, appropriate technical approaches, the type and usefulness of information to decision makers, the content of the final assessment report, compliance with the Information Quality Act, and other matters important to the successful achievement of the objectives of the study. EPA has determined that this proposed federal advisory committee is in the public interest and will assist the Agency in performing its duties under the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and the Global Climate Protection Act. The draft prospectus for the study is on the CCSP Website.

Proposed committee membership will comprise total approximately ten (10) persons, who will serve as Special Government Employees or Regular Government Employees. The membership of the proposed committee will include a balanced representation of interested persons with professional and personal qualifications and experience to contribute to the functions of the proposed committee. In selecting members EPA will consider individuals from the Federal Government, State and/or local governments, Tribes, the scientific community, non-governmental organizations and the private sector with expertise, experience, knowledge and interests essential to, or affected by, the successful completion of the study. Any interested person or organization may submit a nomination. Nominations should be identified by name, occupation, organization, position, address, and telephone number, and must include a complete resume of the nominee's background, experience and expertise, and any other information considered relevant.

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New in BioScience: "Post Post-Doc: Are New Scientists Prepared for the Real World?"

In the January 2007 Washington Watch article in BioScience, 2006 American Society of Mammalogists/AIBS graduate student science policy fellow, Natalie Gwen-Dawson, explores the training and employment policy issues impacting post-doctoral scholars in the twenty-first century.

Following is a brief excerpt from the column. "Postdoctoral researchers are an essential part of the scientific community, yet their status in the academic community often fails to reflect their significant role in advancing the nation's scientific research programs. Postdoctoral scholars often spend long periods of time in academic appointments that give them little opportunity for career development, training, and research independence, they assert. Several recent reports corroborating their claims, the federal government's pledge to secure US scientific competitiveness, and the formation of groups like the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) have alerted funding agencies to the postdoc issue and spurred efforts in some circles to revitalize the postdoctoral research experience.

Graduate students and recent recipients of PhD degrees in the sciences often say..."

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Graduate Student Opportunuty: Applications for the 2007 Emerging Public Policy Leader Award avaiable

The American Institute of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce that applications for the 2007 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award are now available. The EPPLA was established by AIBS in 2003 as a way to recognize and further the science policy interests of graduate students in the biological sciences and science education.

More information about prior EPPLA recipients is available online at

Application information is below and available online at /061106_graduate_student_policy_training.html.

AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award

Applications Due by 5 p.m. Friday, 16 February 2007

As part of its focus on engaging scientists in the public policy process, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is pleased to offer the AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award (EPPLA). The EPPLA is an opportunity for graduate students in the biological sciences to receive first-hand experience in the policy arena. AIBS pays travel costs and expenses for 1-2 EPPLA recipients to participate in a Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition Congressional Visits Day (CVD) in Washington, D.C. on April 17-18, 2007 (dates subject to change). This is an annual event that brings scientists and science educators to Washington, D.C. to raise visibility and support for the biological sciences. The EPPLA recipient(s) will attend briefings by key officials from the White House and Congress and a reception honoring members of Congress for their work on behalf of biology. Participants will also meet with members of Congress and their staff to explain the importance of federal support for scientific research.

AIBS is now accepting applications for the 2007 Emerging Public Policy Leader Award from graduate students (master's or doctoral) in the biological sciences with a demonstrated interest in and commitment to biological science and/or science education policy. Submit applications electronically to NO LATER than 5 p.m. on Friday, 16 February 2006.

Applications should include the following materials:

  • Cover letter. Applicants should describe their interest in science policy issues and how participation in this CVD event would further their career goals. Applicants should also confirm their availability to attend the April 18-19 event.

  • Statement on the importance of biological research (max. 500 words). The objective of CVD is to communicate to decision makers the long-term importance of the biological sciences to the nation. How would you convince your congressional delegation of the importance of biological research? Prepare a statement that emphasizes the benefits of biological research, drawing on your own experience and/or research area, and referencing local issues that may be of interest to your congressional delegation as appropriate.

  • Resume (1 page). Your resume should emphasize leadership and communication experience - this may include graduate, undergraduate, or non-academic activities. Please include the following items: education (including relevant law or policy courses), work experience, honors and awards, and memberships. Please do not list conference presentations, abstracts or scientific manuscripts.

  • Letter of reference. Ask an individual who can attest to your leadership, interpersonal and communication skills to send a letter on your behalf to by the stated deadline. This individual should also be familiar with your interest in or experience with science or education policy issues.

For more information, please go to 061106_graduate_student_policy_training.html

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