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Public Policy Report for 17 September 2007

Reports Question Federal Management of Climate Change

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report exposing the federal government’s inability to plan for and respond to climate change. The report was requested by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ).

In conjunction with the National Academies, the GAO convened a meeting of scientists, economists, and resource managers representing various agencies within the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Interior. The GAO report, a product of the meeting, underscored a lack of guidance for resource managers on how to integrate climate change into management plans and further reported that several federal resource agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Forest Service (FS), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Park Service NPS) have not incorporated climate change into their strategic plans. The GAO further indicated that, “resource managers do not have sufficient site-specific information to plan for and manage the effects of climate change on the federal resources they manage.” Hindering the ability of federal resource managers to make timely decisions about managing climate change, are a lack of computational models, detailed inventories, and monitoring systems.

According to the GAO, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Interior should work in conjunction with the Directors of FS, BLM, FWS, NPS and the Administrator of NOAA, to cultivate guidance for resource managers on how to address the effects of climate change.

Additionally, the National Academies released a report outlining the Academies’ findings from a review of the federal Climate Change Science Program. The report, “Evaluating Progress of the US Climate Change Science Program: Methods and Preliminary Results” notes that although research on recording and comprehending trends and changes has been good, “efforts to understand the impact of such changes on society and analyze mitigation and adaptation strategies are still relatively immature.” The report asserts that the US Climate Change Science Program has “made inadequate progress in supporting decision making, studying regional impacts, and communication with a wider group of stakeholders” and should present that information to policymakers.

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Appropriations Update

Once again this year, it appears likely that the new fiscal year will start with a Continuing Resolution. As the current fiscal year (FY 2007) ends on 30 September, none of the FY 2008 appropriations legislation has been signed into law.

Currently, the House has passed all twelve of its appropriations measures. The Senate has approved its version of spending bills for Homeland Security, Military and Veterans, State and Foreign Operations, and Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

President Bush has threatened to veto several of the Congressional spending plans, including the recently passed Departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (S. 1789). The Administration asserts that the legislation “exceeds the President’s request for programs funded in this bill by $3.1 billion, part of the $22 billion increase above the President’s request for FY 2008 appropriations.”

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Census Bureau Launches New S&E Workforce Database

A new database produced by the Population Reference Bureau of the U.S. Census Bureau provides insights into the geographic differences in the characteristics of people working in the science and engineering (S&E) labor force in the United States. The data, from the Census Bureau’s 2005 American Community Survey, highlight state differences in earnings, education, and the participation of minorities, women, and foreign-born workers in the high-tech economy.

Selected findings from this data include:

-Nationwide, there were 7.4 million scientists and engineers in the United States in 2005, representing 5 percent of the total labor force.

-In 2005, states with the highest proportions of scientists and engineers were Maryland (8 percent), Colorado, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Washington (7 percent each).

-The median annual earnings for people in S&E occupations were $59,000, compared with $28,000 for people in all occupations nationwide. Maryland and New Jersey had the highest median science and engineering earnings, at $70,000 each.

Detailed estimates of scientists and engineers for states are available on the PRB website at http://www.prb.org/Articles/2007/NewDatabaseRevealsStateVariations.aspx.

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Court Rejects Creationist Lawsuit, Again

As avid followers of threats to evolution education will recall, several years Larry Caldwell, a lawyer and parent in the Sacramento, California suburb of Roseville, sought to have the local school board adopt what he described as a “Quality Science Education” policy. Caldwell’s policy, according to advocates for science-based science education, would have called for teaching, “the scientific strengths and weaknesses” of evolution.

Two years ago, after his proposal was rejected by the local school board, Caldwell filed a lawsuit in federal court asserting that the school district, a number of its employees, and two members of the board of education had violated his civil rights during the controversy.

According to the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), Judge Damrell emphasized in his decision that, “this case is not about how biology, including discussions of evolutionary theory can or should be taught in public schools. … Rather, this case is about whether Larry Caldwell was denied access to speak in various fora or participate in certain processes because of his actual or perceived religious beliefs.” Although Caldwell alleged that he was denied such access, in violation of his rights to free speech, due process, and equal protection under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, Judge Damrell found otherwise: “the court has found that plaintiff has failed to proffer evidence sufficient to demonstrate a triable issue of fact as to any of his constitutional claims based upon this alleged discrimination.”

As reported by the NCSE, “the legal defeat in Caldwell v. Roseville Joint Union High School District is not Caldwell’s first; in 2005 and 2006, he represented his wife Jeanne Caldwell in Caldwell v. Caldwell et alia, in which she alleged that the Understanding Evolution website endorsed a number of religious doctrines, thereby violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by favoring certain religious groups over others. In that case, the presiding judge ruled that the plaintiff failed to allege that she had federal taxpayer standing, failed to sufficiently allege state taxpayer standing, and failed to establish that she suffered a concrete “injury in fact,” which sufficed to justify the defendants’ motion for dismissal.”

For other reports about threats to evolution instruction, visit NCSE online at http://www.ncseweb.org/pressroom.asp?state=CA

AIBS news and resources for evolution educators is available at http://www.aibs.org/evolution-initiatives/.

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Report Calls for Great Lakes Clean-Up

On 5 September 2007, the Brookings Institution released a report suggesting that the ecological restoration of the Great Lakes would create $50 billion in economic benefit for the region. The report, “Healthy Waters, Strong Economy: The Benefits of Restoring the Great Lakes Ecosystem,” written by a team of scientists and economists provides a cost-benefit analysis of cleaning up the Great Lakes. They concluded that a $26 billion investment in restoration would result in at least a $24 billion net long-term economic gain from tourism, fishing, recreation and home values. “That’s a solid return on investment that’s good for the Great Lakes, good for the economy, and good for the millions of people and businesses that rely on the lakes,” said co-author Paul N. Courant, professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan. “The cost-benefit analysis re-affirms that the health of the Great Lakes powerfully affects the health and prosperity of our communities.”

The restoration funds would be used for activities including modernizing wastewater treatment systems, halting the spread of invasive species, restoring wildlife habitat, and removing contaminated sediment. As noted in the press release accompanying the report, the House of Representatives and Senate each have legislation addressing Great Lakes clean-up pending in committee.

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New in BioScience: "Congress Advances Multi-Year Science and Education Plan"

In the September 2007 issue of the journal BioScience, Robert Gropp reports on the latest national effort to invigorate U.S. competitiveness through science, technology, engineering and mathematics research and education. An excerpt from this Washington Watch article follows:

“Before leaving Washington, DC, for the August district work period, the Senate and the House of Representatives passed legislation authorizing $43.3 billion for science and science education programs at various federal agencies, and President George W. Bush signed the act into law on 9 August. The passage of HR 2272, the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act (America COMPETES), marks the culmination of one and a half years of legislative wrangling in both chambers of Congress.”

“The stated purpose of the act is…”

To continue reading this article, please go to http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2007_09.html.

To read any previous Washington Watch article dating back to September 2002, please visit http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/.

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