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Public Policy Report for 28 May 2007

House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Proposes Increased Funding for Science and Environment Agencies

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies held a markup Wednesday, 23 May 2007, on the fiscal year (FY) 2008 appropriations legislation that would fund the US Geological Survey (USGS), other Interior Department bureaus, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), and portions of the US Forest Service (USFS).

The subcommittee, chaired by Representative Norman Dicks (D-WA), would provide increases over the FY 2007 enacted level for the Department of the Interior ($262 million additional), the Environmental Protection Agency ($361 million additional), and the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service ($102 million additional). The subcommittee recommended a $50 million increase for the USGS, which received roughly $983 million in FY 2007.

The subcommittee also proposed increases for the National Wildlife Refuge System, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Act. Under the subcommittee’s proposal, the National Wildlife Refuge System, which has experienced significant workforce reductions, would receive a $50 million increase; $55 million over the Administration’s FY 2008 request. As quoted by Congressional Quarterly, Chairman Dicks justified the proposed increases stating, “you can only reduce so far, and then you can’t do the job.”

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Congress Abuzz About Pollinators

As reports of honey bee colony disappearances increase and the underlying cause, Colony Collapse Disorder, continues to baffle and alarm scientists, farmers, and beekeepers (http://riley.nal.usda.gov/naldisplay/index.php?infocenter=8&taxlevel=1&taxsubject=7&wantid=1322&topicid=0&placement_default=0), Congress has begun to consider measures to benefit pollinators.

Senators Max Baucus (D-MT), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), and 29 others on both sides of the aisle have co-sponsored the Pollinator Protection Act of 2007. The proposed legislation would insert language into the Conservation Title of the existing Farm Bill to strengthen both native and managed pollinator habitat. Specifically, the legislation would acknowledge pollinator habitat as a conservation resource and would reward producers whose conservation practices are beneficial to pollinators through programs administered by the Conservation Reserve Program, the Conservation Security Program, and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Some reports indicate that the legislators hope the measure will find its way into the 2007 Farm Bill reauthorization being drafted by Congress.

“By helping to produce much of our food, natural fiber, medicine, and beverages, pollinating partners help generate an estimated $40 billion in income for American farmers and ranchers,” said Sen. Chambliss. “Pollinators also play a vital role in sustaining wildlife and ecosystem health, both as part of the complex food chain and in the reproduction of plants. This legislation calls for additional measures to ensure that our native and managed pollinator population is maintained and protected.”

In the House, Representative Alcee Hastings (D-FL) introduced the Pollinator Protection Act (H.R. 1709) on 27 March 2007. The legislation would authorize $7.25 million in appropriations for the Agricultural Research Service for bee-related research at the USDA Apicultural Research Laboratories and other USDA facilities in New York, Florida, California, and Texas as well as specific funds for a research program to identify causes and solutions for Colony Collapse Disorder. Additionally, H.R. 1709 would authorize $10 million in funds for the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, to provide extramural research grants to investigate honey bee immunology, genomics, biology, ecology, and bioinformatics; pollination biology; and the effects of genetically modified crops, insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides on honey bees and other beneficial insects and pollinators. The legislation has been referred to the House Agriculture Committee for further consideration.

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House Goes Omnibus on Innovation Bills

To ease potential conference difficulties in reconciling their smaller science and innovation bills with the Senate’s single America COMPETES legislation (S. 761), the House has re-packaged the text of five already-passed measures (H.R. 362, H.R. 363, H.R. 1867, H.R. 1868, H.R. 1068) into their own omnibus, “21st Century Competitiveness Act of 2007” (H.R. 2272). The bill, which passed by a voice vote on 21 May 2007, includes provisions to improve K-12 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education through teacher training and mentoring, to support and strengthen basic research, to reauthorize the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, and to improve high performance computing.

For more information about the House and Senate science and innovation bills, please see these previous Public Policy Reports: http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/20070430.html http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/20070319.html

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Massachusetts Joins States Advancing Bio Research

Hoping to compete with states like California and New York that already support cutting-edge biotechnology and life sciences research, Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick recently announced the Massachusetts Life Science Strategy. At the center of the strategy are plans to create a stem cell bank and to promote RNA interference (RNAi) research. The initiative proposes $1 billion over the next ten years, with $500 million to be spent on facilities and equipment, $250 million for research grants, fellowships, and training initiatives, and $250 million on tax incentives for biotechnology companies. The plan must first be approved by the Massachusetts legislature.

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New in BioScience: "Wildlife Triggers Change in Congressional Debate on Climate"

In the May 2007 issue of BioScience, Adrienne Froelich Sponberg explores how threats to wildlife may be adding additional momentum to the current congressional deliberations about climate change.

An excerpt from the column follows:

“The 110th Congress is taking a new approach to climate change. Rather than debating whether or not climate change is a “hoax,” the Democratic-majority Congress is moving full steam ahead. With the creation of a select House committee on climate change and a number of committees holding hearings and debating legislation, lawmakers are now discussing the possible consequences of climate change for, among other things, ecosystems and wildlife.”

“The impacts of climate change on wildlife are pulling more policymakers into the debate. Senator John Warner (R-VA) admits that his love of hunting and fishing sparked his interest in climate change. At a recent Environment and Public Works (EPW) subcommittee hearing on the link between climate change and wildlife, Warner noted, “The wildlife and the plant species are not represented by any lobbyists. And how they react to today’s climate is a pure, clear science and it could well provide the benchmarks, the early indicators, of what direction that our nation must move to solve this problem.”“

To continue reading this article for free, please go to www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2007_05.html.

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