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Public Policy Report for 9 July 2007

President Bush Vetoes Another Stem Cell Bill, Congress and States Respond

On 20 June 2007 President Bush vetoed the most recent legislation passed by Congress to expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. If signed into law, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 (S. 5) would have authorized the use of federal funds for research on human embryonic stem cell lines derived from surplus embryos at in-vitro fertilization clinics.

Said President Bush of the vetoed legislation: “It would compel American taxpayers – for the first time in our history – to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos. I made it clear to Congress and the American people that I will not allow our nation to cross this moral line.”

Currently, federal funds only support research using embryonic stem cell lines created before 9 August 2001, the date that Bush signed an Executive Order establishing this policy.

On the same day Bush vetoed S. 5, he issued Executive Order 13435 encouraging federal agencies to support research on stem cells that does not involve the destruction of human embryos, and to rename the “Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry” the “Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Registry.” Critics and some advocacy groups have charged that the latest Executive Order is meaningless because scientists who study non-embryonic stem cells already have access to federal funding for research.

Although S. 5 passed both the Senate and House with votes of 63-34 and 247-176 respectively, neither chamber is expected to round up the two-thirds majority necessary to overturn the President’s veto. However, two stem cell supporters in the Senate, Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Arlen Specter (R-PA), sponsored a provision in the 2008 Labor-Health and Human Services-Education appropriations bill to make more embryonic stem cell lines available for federally funded research. The measure would extend the 9 August 2001 deadline President Bush set in his first Executive Order to 15 June 2007. According to Senator Harkin, this would increase the number of embryonic cell lines eligible for federal funding from the six currently viable to 400. The Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill passed the full Senate Appropriations Committee 26-3 on 21 June and will now head to the floor for full consideration by the Senate.

Despite difficulties advancing at the federal level, financial support for embryonic stem cell research continues to remain a priority in a number of individual states, including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, and New Jersey. The day after President Bush vetoed S. 5, the New Jersey legislature approved a bill that would allow the state to borrow $450 million over 10 years to support stem cell research. The measure, which comes in addition to the $270 million the state has already approved to build stem cell research facilities, will go before New Jersey voters this November.

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House Committee Approves Alternative Fuels Legislation

The House Science and Technology Committee approved four energy bills 27 June 2007 by voice vote. The Global Change Research and Data Management Act of 2007 (H.R. 906), if passed, establishes several goals. The Act would create an interagency committee on global change, an interagency working group on climate and other global change data management, a U.S. Global Change Research Program to identify vulnerabilities in the United States with regard to global change, a national plan for global change research, and an Office of Global Change Research Information.

The Department of Energy Carbon Capture and Storage Research, Development, and Demonstration Act of 2007 (H.R. 1933) would amend the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to further carbon capture and storage research and development. The Biofuels Research and Development Act (H.R. 2773) and the Solar Research and Development Act (H.R. 2774) would support research and development of alternative energy sources, biofuels and solar energy, respectively. Following Science and Technology Committee approval of the legislation, Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) said: “This Committee has responded with an aggressive energy agenda. In addition to the four bills we passed today, this Committee will contribute an even dozen pieces of legislation that make a vital contribution to the national strategy to put the U.S., and the world, on track to a more sustainable future.”

All four measures will likely be rolled into a House energy bill that Democratic leaders hope to pass following the Independence Day recess.

Bills likely to be included in the House package are:

-HR 364, Establishing the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) -HR 906, The Global Change Research and Data Management Act of 2007 -HR 1933, The Carbon Capture and Storage Research, Development and Demonstration Act of 2007 -HR 2304, The Advanced Geothermal Energy Research and Development Act of 2007 -HR 2313, The Marine Renewable Energy Research and Development Act of 2007 -HR 2773, The Biofuels Research and Development Enhancement Act -HR 2774, The Solar Energy Research and Advancement Act of 2007

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Science Appropriations Update: NSF, NOAA, NASA

As both chambers of Congress prepare to bring funding bills to the floor for consideration, the White House has issued several statements of administration policy (SAP) on funding bills. Recently, the White House issued an SAP regarding H.R. 2643, the House funding bill for Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, stating, “The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 2643 because, in combination with the other FY 2008 appropriations bills, it includes an irresponsible and excessive level of spending and includes other objectionable provisions.” Additional veto threats have been issued if appropriations bills continue in their current form. In a June 16 radio address, President Bush stated, “I put Democratic leaders on notice that I will veto bills with excessive levels of spending.”

As reported in the 11 June 2007 AIBS Public Policy Report, the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) have held a “mark up” for the fiscal year (FY) 2008 appropriations bill. The legislation, which still must be passed by the full committee and House, would allocate $53.6 billion to the agencies that fall within the Committee’s jurisdiction. It would fund $1.9 billion in climate change initiatives and activities, $171 million over the President’s FY 2008 request. The House CJS legislation would allocate $6.509 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF). Of this amount, Research and Related Activities (R&RA) would receive about $5.14 billion and Education and Human Resources (EHR) would receive $822.6 million. The House Committee on Appropriations has announced plans to resume consideration of the CJS bill on 11 July.

On 28 June, the Senate Committee on Appropriations approved its FY 2008 funding legislation for Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies. According to committee documents, the measure funds “…scientific research and technology that will improve America’s ability to compete in a global economy.” If adopted, the Senate legislation would provide NSF with $6.55 billion. This is $636 million over the FY 2007 enacted amount and $124 million more than proposed in the President’s budget.

The Senate CJS appropriations bill, in its current form, allocates $44 million more than its counterpart in the House for the NSF including an additional $28 million for EHR and $16.4 million more for R&RA. Both appropriations bills (House and Senate) are above the President’s request of $6.429 billion for the NSF, including $8 million more in the House subcommittee-passed bill and $24.4 million more in the Senate committee-passed bill.

NASA would receive $17.46 billion, including $5.66 billion for science programs. The Senate Committee on Appropriations mark is $1.2 billion above the FY 2007 enacted amount, less than the current House level of $17.6 billion, and $150 million more than the President’s budget request. Additionally, science would receive $408 million more than the FY 2007 enacted level.

The current Senate proposal would provide $4.215 billion to NOAA, which is $137 million more than the FY 2007 enacted level, slightly more than the House level of $4 billion and $405 million over the President’s budget request. Within this funding, $636 million would be provided to the National Ocean Service; $927 million to the National Weather Service, $765 million to the National Marine Fisheries Service; $1 billion for satellite programs, and $439 million for research. The committee also allotted $795 million for the recommendations set forth by the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative.

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Senate Committee Calls for EPA to Reopen Libraries

As reported in the 25 June 2007 AIBS Public Policy Report, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies would provide $7.77 billion to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The appropriations legislation includes language directing $2 million to be used to reopen five EPA libraries that the Administration has closed. The House is presently recommending $8.066 billion for the agency.

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Employment Opportunity: AIBS Public Affairs Representative

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) anticipates hiring (contingent upon the expected receipt of federal grant funds) an individual with experience working at the interface of science, communications, and public policy to serve as a Public Affairs Representative (PAR). The PAR will be a full-time AIBS employee, reporting to the AIBS Director of Public Policy.

For more information about this position, including application procedures, go to http://www.aibs.org/classifieds/aibspositionsavailable.html#3657

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New in BioScience: "National Wildlife Refuges: Death by a Thousand Cuts?"

In the July/August issue of BioScience, freelance writer Noreen Parks reports on the ramifications of continued budget cuts for the National Wildlife Refuge System.

An excerpt from the article follows:

There’s no other wildlife conservation network like it in the world—547 reserves covering nearly 100 million acres (40.5 million hectares) of wetlands, forests, grasslands, islands, and deserts that support thousands of plant and animal species, including 260 listed as endangered or threatened. Once a crown jewel of our national heritage, now the National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) system itself is under threat because of severe budget shortfalls, dwindling personnel numbers, and a staggering backlog in maintenance and operations. For years, refuge managers have tightened their belts and made do with less, and now some observers fear that a hundred years’ worth of conservation efforts are crumbling.

Michael Woodbridge, of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, testified before a House of Representatives subcommittee on 20 July 2006 that, on average, the refuges get less than $4 per acre ($10 per hectare) to manage and restore essential wildlife habitat, conduct research and monitoring, maintain facilities and equipment, and oversee recreational and educational activities for their 40 million-plus annual visitors. Funding for the refuge system within the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) budget has in recent years approached only about $400 million, a figure well below the amount refuge advocates believe adequate. At the same time, USFWS estimates show that operations costs such as salaries, fuel, and supplies are inflating by roughly $15 million a year, says USFWS spokesman David Eisenhauer. “Unfortunately, it appears these tight budgets are not going away soon,” he adds.

One dire consequence of the budget shortfalls has been the steady erosion in staff. By 2009, 565 positions—including 475 permanent field staff—will be eliminated, according to Eisenhauer. The number of unstaffed refuges will increase from 188 in 2004 to 221 in 2009, when they will make up 40 percent of all refuges. In the Pacific region alone, the reductions will eliminate almost a quarter of the positions held by biologists at the refuges, and only six full-time law enforcement staff will remain to cover the region’s 64 refuges.

To read the complete report for free, please visit http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2007_07.html.

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