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Public Policy Report for 22 January 2007

Science Community Asks New Congress to Support Federal Research Funding

As the 110th Congress began earlier this month, the scientific community has re-energized its efforts to secure congressional support for increased funding for basic research. Earlier this month, various scientific groups joined forces to secure signatures from members of the House for a "Dear Colleague" letter that Science Committee chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) and Representatives Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and Rush Holt (D-NJ) sent to leaders of the House Appropriations Committee. The letter encouraged appropriators to support funding for the National Science Foundation. A similar letter has been circulated in the Senate.

Additionally, on 19 January 2007, USGS Coalition co-chairs Robert Gropp (AIBS) and Craig Schiffries (National Council for Science and the Environment) sent letters to House and Senate Interior and Environment subcommittee leaders requesting that they do all they can to provide increased funding for the United State Geological Survey.

As always, it is important for members of Congress to hear from scientists in their home districts and states. Please consider sending a short e-mail or fax to your member of Congress to ask that they support increased federal funding for competitive, peer-reviewed research. Letters supporting the NSF would be helpful, but support for other agencies (e.g., USGS, EPA, NOAA, USFS) is also important.

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Pelosi Calls for Increased Federal Funding for R&D

In anticipation of President Bush's 2007 State of the Union address on Tuesday 23 January 2007, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) held a press conference at the National Press Club on Friday 19 January to present the "Report to the American People on the State of Our Union." Speaker Pelosi began the press conference by talking about the House Democrats' 100-hour agenda in which the House of Representatives passed ethics reform legislation creating what she described as the "most open and honest Congress in history."

In keeping with the recent national call to reinvigorate innovation and competitiveness, Speaker Pelosi stated that this goal "requires federal grants to our universities, which have long been the spark for great breakthroughs: from the Internet, to biosciences, to fiber optics, to nanotechnology. We must commit to doubling federal funding for basic research and development in the physical sciences and modernize and expand the research and development tax credit. And we will bring broadband access to every American within five years, creating millions of jobs."

Speaker Pelosi also discussed energy policy, stating that "energy independence is a national security issue. It is also an environmental issue, and an economic issue for our country and for America's families. We must also promote energy efficiency, standards, and effective conservation." She indicated a willingness to work with President Bush on issues such as global warming. "We want to work with President Bush on this important issue in a bipartisan way. But we cannot afford to wait."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid focused on the war in Iraq, but also discussed the importance of energy independence, reducing global warming, and promoting renewable fuels. He ended the press conference by stating that "in Congress, we'll continue working with Republicans to keep America safe, and we'll listen to President Bush Tuesday night. Together, we must move in a new direction, and build a safer, stronger nation."

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Congress Revisits Stem Cell Research

On 11 January 2007, the House of Representatives passed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act (HR 3) by a vote of 253-174. The legislation, sponsored by Representatives DeGette (D-CO) and Castle (R-DE) would allow the use of federal funds for research on human embryonic stem cell lines derived from surplus embryos at in-vitro fertilization clinics. Currently, federal funds only support research using embryonic stem cell lines created before 9 August 2001. The limitations on stem cell research were established by a Presidential Executive Order. The Senate is expected to take up its version of the legislation (S 5), sponsored by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), in the near future. The President has promised to veto embryonic stem cell legislation, and the House was short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto when it passed the bill. Thus, the issue of stem cell research will likely remain active throughout the 2008 presidential election.

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Scientists and Evangelicals Unite to Protect the Environment

At a news conference on 17 January 2007, a group of prominent scientists and evangelical Christian leaders announced a newly formed coalition to combat global climate change and biodiversity loss. The group, organized by the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School and the National Association of Evangelicals, met for a retreat in December 2006. The group released an urgent call to action for a "fundamental change in values, lifestyles, and public policies required to address these worsening problems before it is too late."

The coalition of pastors and scientists, including Drs. Rita Colwell (AIBS president-elect), James Hansen, Peter Raven, and E.O. Wilson, sent letters to President George Bush and congressional leaders informing them of the new environmental initiative and organized meetings with members of Congress, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Representatives John Dingell (D-MI) and Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL), and Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Richard Lugar (R-IN), and Barack Obama (D-IL). Additionally, the group is organizing a large public meeting to occur later this year.

The group acknowledged that although they may seem like an odd pairing due to fundamental disagreements about the origins of life, they are united by a shared concern for the protection of the environment. According to Dr. Eric Chivian, Nobel laureate and co-organizer of the coalition, "There is no such thing as a Republican or Democrat, a liberal or a conservative, a religious or secular environment. We all breathe the same air and drink the same water. Scientists and evangelicals share a deep moral commitment to preserve this precious gift we have all been given."

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Climate Change Takes Congress by Storm

Climate change has been a hot topic among Washington lawmakers during the early days of the new Congress. On 12 January 2007 Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), joined by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Barack Obama (D-IL), introduced S. 280, legislation to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds by 2050. The plan would provide for a 2 percent reduction per year. On 16 January Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced legislation (S. 309) that would freeze greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 and reduce emissions annually to achieve a 2050 level that is 83 percent below current levels. One day later, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) joined the debate when she announced plans, co-sponsored by Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), for legislation that would cut carbon dioxide emitted from power plants. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is currently circulating draft global warming legislation to environmental groups, businesses, and economists with plans to hold hearings later this month. All of these introduced or proposed Senate bills include some form of a free-market cap-and-trade program in which limits would be set on carbon dioxide emissions and companies could buy or sell emission allowances based on whether they exceed or fall below the set cap.

According to the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), global warming continues to be a priority issue as all House Democratic committee chairmen were informed last week that they need to produce legislation ready for the floor by June. Further, on 18 January, Pelosi announced plans to form a select committee on climate change comprised of members who serve on the nine different committees with jurisdiction over global warming. The new Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming will not have any legislative authority, but will be charged with advising and making recommendations on climate change bills proposed by various House committees. Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), chairman of the Telecommunications and the Internet subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, is expected to lead the new committee.

President Bush is also expected to address global warming and U.S. climate change policy when he presents his State of the Union address on 23 January.

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Year of Science 2009 and COPUS to Promote Public Understanding of Science

AIBS is working with National Academy of Sciences staff, the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS), and the National Science Teachers Association to make the year 2009 a focal point for a nationwide effort to engage the American public in activities that will stimulate their interest in and appreciation of the processes and nature of science. A growing number of other national science and education groups are starting to join from across the disciplinary spectrum. To participate, please go to the planning website at www.yearofscience2009.org/how-to-participate.html and send in your organization's information. Year of Science 2009 activities will include:

  • Participating organizations sharing information and collaborating as they develop programs for 2009, such as making the public understanding of science the theme of their 2009 annual meetings, free public lectures and hands-on experiences in science, K-12 classroom activities, roundtable discussions, editorials, radio spots, online resources, dedicated programs at museums and science centers, or starting a local Café Scientifique.

  • Creation of a Year of Science 2009 website by the project's organizers to coordinate the listing of 2009 activities for use by participating organizations as well as by teachers, media, potential funders, and the general public. The website will include suggested activities and templates, a searchable database of events, an interactive map of events, a blog, a press room, and links to content in the Understanding Science website that is being developed at the University of California, Berkeley by members of the COPUS project for launch later in 2007.

Participating organizations will have access to the brands, logos, media coverage, other publicity materials and databases that are developed for this project; they will receive regular updates on what organizations will be doing for this year-long celebration and will receive assistance in planning events to conform to the overall themes and branding that will be used throughout 2009; and they will have the opportunity to expand their collaborations before and after 2009 as part of the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS).

Contacts: American Institute of Biological Sciences: Kent Holsinger and Richard O'Grady / National Academy of Sciences: Jay Labov and Barbara Kline Pope / Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science: Lee Allison and Judy Scotchmoor / National Science Teachers Association: Gerry Wheeler. Email:

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Congress Update

The House of Representatives continues to fill committee positions. Chairman Collin C. Peterson (D-MN) announced that the Democratic Members of the House Agriculture Committee met to select the subcommittee chairmen and members. The committee members and chairmen are as follows:

Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Energy, and Research
Subcommittee chairman: Representative Tim Holden (PA)
Subcommittee members (majority only): Representatives Stephanie Herseth (SD), Henry Cuellar (TX), Jim Costa (CA), Brad Ellsworth (IN), Zack Space (OH), Tim Walz (MN), David Scott (GA), John Salazar (CO), Nancy Boyda (KS), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Dennis Cardoza (CA), Leonard Boswell (IA), and Steve Kagen (WI).

Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry
Subcommittee chairman: Representative Joe Baca (CA)
Subcommittee members (majority only): Representatives Earl Pomeroy (ND), Lincoln Davis (TN), Nick Lampson (TX), Steve Kagen (WI), and Nancy Boyda (KS)

Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management
Subcommittee chairman: Representative Bob Etheridge (NC)
Subcommittee members (majority only): Representatives David Scott (GA), Jim Marshall (GA), John Salazar (CO), Nancy Boyda (KS), Stephanie Herseth (SD), Brad Ellsworth (IN), Zack Space (OH), Tim Walz (MN), and Earl Pomeroy (ND).

Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture
Subcommittee chairman: Representative Dennis Cardoza (CA)
Subcommittee members (majority only): Representatives Bob Etheridge (NC), Lincoln Davis (TN), Tim Mahoney (FL), John Barrow (GA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY).

Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry
Subcommittee chairman: Representative Leonard Boswell (IA)
Subcommittee members (majority only): Representatives Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Steve Kagen (WI), Tim Holden (PA), Joe Baca (CA), Dennis Cardoza (CA), Nick Lampson (TX), Joe Donnelly (IN), Jim Costa (CA), and Tim Mahoney (FL).

Subcommittee on Specialty Crops, Rural Development and Foreign Agriculture
Subcommittee chairman: Representative Mike McIntyre (NC)
Subcommittee members (majority only): Representatives Jim Marshall (GA), Henry Cuellar (TX), John Salazar (CO), John Barrow (GA), and Earl Pomeroy (ND)

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GAO Report Recommends Improvements for USDA Management of Key Conservation Programs

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report entitled, "USDA Should Improve Its Management of Key Conservation Programs to Ensure Payments Promote Conservation Goals." The GAO found that the Natural Resources Conservation Service's (NRCS) process for awarding Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funds does not have a clear connection to the program's benefits. The GAO recommended that the NRCS make certain that "factors and weights used in EQIP's general financial assistance formula are documented and linked to program priorities and data sources are accurate and current" as well as provide continued analyses to revise the assistance formula, and finally GAO recommended that NRCS devise a plan to preempt duplicate payments.

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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…"

To continue reading this article for free, please go to http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washington_watch_2007_01.html.

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

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 publicpolicy@aibs.org 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 publicpolicy@aibs.org 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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