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Public Policy Report for 12 November 2007

National Academies to Host Symposium on the Interaction of Physical and Life Sciences Research

The National Academies will host a symposium 19 December 2007 to explore ways that physical and life scientists, working together, can promote transformative advances in scientific understanding. The symposium will address research challenges in biomedicine, the origin of life and evolution, cognition and learning, energy security, climate change and environment, safety and national security, biologically-inspired materials, questions at levels from molecules to organisms and from organisms to ecosystems, and tools necessary to conduct this research. The symposium is being organized by the National Research Council who is conducting a study on the intersection of the physical and life sciences.

Registration is open until Friday 7 December 2007 and can be completed online at:

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AIBS, Member Societies Are Core Participants in New Collections Initiative

As articles in BioScience, other scientific journals, and the popular news media have reported in recent years, natural history collections and the researchers that utilize them have faced some tough times due to constricting budgets. According to many in the natural history community, responding to this challenge has been hindered by the lack of a cohesive natural history collections community in the United States.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a Research Coordination Network (RCN) grant to contribute to the development of the natural history collections community in the United States. “A stronger community will facilitate research by providing better lines of communication between collections managers and researchers, and establishing improved mechanisms for access to specimens and specimen data,” said L. Alan Prather, curator of the herbarium at Michigan State University and one of the principal investigators for the grant. To achieve the goals of the RCN, the funding will provide a number of web resources for the collections community, a series of workshops and symposia dealing with issues of importance relating to collections, and several student internships.

To share information and facilitate the work of the RCN, a new web site,, has recently been launched. The site provides an overview of the project, will announce upcoming workshops and symposia, and will provide a link to community-wide resources.

The initial members of the steering committee guiding the RCN’s efforts, are Henry L. Bart (Tulane University, vertebrate systematics), Meredith Blackwell (Louisiana State University, fungal systematics), L. Alan Prather (Michigan State University, plant systematics) and James B. Woolley (Texas A&M University, invertebrate systematics). These individuals represent an array of institutions, taxonomic specialties and methodologies and bring together a diverse set of skills to help facilitate this RCN. Thirteen additional core participants have been added and more will be chosen in the near future.

Three Partner Societies have been involved with the RCN since the planning stages. These societies are the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), the Natural Science Collections Alliance (NSC Alliance), and the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC).

As described on the site, AIBS will “help organize the Stakeholders workshop, where their formal ties to other societies, as well as their role in policy and connections with governmental and non-governmental agencies will prove especially valuable.” The NSC Alliance “is an association that supports natural science collections, their human resources, the institutions that house them, and their research activities for the benefit of science and society. The role of the NSCA in the RCN is to co-organize the Databases Workshop, host a symposium at an annual meeting, and help design and implement some of the online resources that the RCN will develop.” Finally, SPNHC will host a symposium at an annual meeting dealing with best practices, establish a Best Practices Working Group, and oversee the best practices student interns.”

Other Participating Societies, mostly taxon-based professional societies, also play an important role in bringing together people involved with natural history collections across many disciplines. These organizations include: American Malacological Society; American Ornithologists’ Union; American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists; American Society of Parasitologists; American Society of Plant Taxonomists; Botanical Society of America; Entomology Collections Network; Entomological Society of America; Mycological Society of America; North American Benthological Society; Phycological Society of America; and the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

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New Agriculture Secretary Nominated, Farm Bill Stalled in Senate

On 31 October, much to the surprise of farm lobbyists and lawmakers, President Bush nominated former North Dakota Governor Ed Schafer (R) to be Secretary of Agriculture. If confirmed by the Senate, Schafer would replace Mike Johanns, who resigned from the post in September to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by retiring Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. Bush’s nomination of Schafer surprised many Washington, DC-insiders who assumed Acting Secretary Charles F. Conner would continue to hold the post. In his capacity as Deputy Secretary under Johanns, Conner played an instrumental role in constructing the Administration’s farm bill proposal.

Schafer served as North Dakota governor from 1992-2000 where, according to President Bush, “He was a leader on agricultural issues.” Schafer is currently the chief executive of a startup wireless communications company, Extend America.

Agriculture Committee leaders in both the House and Senate appeared to welcome Schafer’s nomination. According to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA), “I look forward to working with him and to learning his views on the new farm bill.”

The Senate will continue its deliberations of the 2007 farm bill following the Veterans Day holiday. Progress on the measure stalled during the first scheduled week of floor debate (5-9 November 2007) over partisan disagreements about the amendment process. The five-year $288 billion measure covers programs including nutrition, research, energy, conservation, rural development, and crop commodity payments. Agricultural producers are anxious for passage of the 2007 legislation since the previous farm bill (PL 107-171) expired in September.

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Federal Agencies Invite Input: Human Exposure Studies, Ecological Economics, and Energy

The Environmental Protection Agency has filed federal register requests for comments on the Scientific and Ethical Approaches for Observational Exposure Studies. The 30-day public comment period began 4 October 2007, and is scheduled to end 19 November 2007.

The Environmental Protection Agency is conducting four teleconferences of the Science Advisory Board Committee on Valuing the Protection of Ecological Systems and Services (C-VPESS) to give the public the opportunity to discuss components of a draft report on the value of ecological systems and services. The public teleconferences will occur on 19 November 2007, 20 November 2007, 3 December 2007, and 10 December 2007. All calls will begin at 1 p.m. and end at 3 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time).

On 5 February 2008, the Department of Commerce will host a conference, “Charting our Energy Future,” for experts from the federal government, U.S. industry, academia, and public interest groups to explore and discuss strategies to promote the rapid uptake of clean energy technologies in the United States, as set forth in the President’s Advanced Energy Initiative.

Further information regarding the reports and how to submit comments and participate in events can be found through AIBS’ Federal Register Resource webpage,

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GAO and NAS Report on Environmental Accounting

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently convened a forum to discuss the development of national environmental accounts. Attending the forum were scientists, economists, and statisticians representing the private sector, universities, and non-governmental organizations as well as officials from the Department of the Interior, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Comptroller General David Walker, addressing the need for environmental accounts, stated in the report’s introduction, “Currently, policymakers lack the information needed to understand the potential environmental impacts of their decisions and the economic implications of changes to the environment and our natural resources.” Further emphasizing the need for the accounting, Walker noted that had better information regarding wetland economic value been available, damage caused by Hurricane Katrina may have been less severe.

This is not the government’s first foray into environmental accounting; the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) began developing a set of environmental accounts in 1992 called the Integrated Economic and Environmental Satellite Accounts. However, between FY 1995 and FY 2002, congressional appropriators directed the BEA to stop working on these accounts. Although this restriction has since been lifted, no funding to date has been appropriated to BEA to continue the work. Yet in 1999 and again in 2005, two National Academy of Science panels concluded that the development of environmental accounts should be a priority for the U.S.

The report from the NAS/GAO forum identified the following challenges for developing environmental accounts:

  • Gaining support from policymakers
  • Institutional differences
  • Resource requirements
  • Data availability, compatibility, and reliability
  • Methodology uncertainties

Forum participants and also provided numerous strategies for overcoming challenges to the development of environmental accounts:

  • Understand and learn from other countries’ experiences
  • Develop an economic case for environmental accounting
  • Focus on accountability and performance
  • Identify policymakers, technical experts, and other supporters
  • Identify and solicit help of environmental experts
  • Use an incremental approach
  • Take the time to develop quality accounts

Participants agreed that developing environmental accounts is vital to US environmental and economic sustainability and believed that BEA should lead the efforts in developing the accounts. Many offered to partner in the development of environmental accounts, but requested congressional support and the designation of a federal agency to lead the effort.

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Senate Confirms FWS Head

On 29 October 2007, the Senate confirmed Lyle Laverty as Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks. Prior to confirmation, Laverty served as Director of Colorado Parks. Before this position in Colorado, Laverty was employed by the U.S. Forest Service in several capacities, including Regional Forester and Associate Deputy Chief of the agency. He received a bachelor of science degree in Forest Management from Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA; a master’s degree in Public Administration from George Mason University, Fairfax, VA; and is a graduate of the Executive Leadership Program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne applauded the Senate’s confirmation saying, “Lyle Laverty has vast experience in park and natural resource management that will enable him to do an outstanding job as assistant secretary overseeing the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

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New in BioScience: "Ocean Acidification: The Biggest Threat to Our Oceans?"

In the November 2007 Washington Watch article in BioScience, Adrienne Froelich Sponberg reports on recent congressional actions related to ocean acidification.

An excerpt from this article follows:

When it comes to the oceans and carbon dioxide, there’s good news and bad news. To date, the world’s oceans have absorbed nearly a third of the excess carbon dioxide emitted as a result of anthropogenic activities. That may be good news for the atmosphere, but scientists and policymakers are increasingly concerned about the side effect of carbon dioxide absorption: ocean acidification.

Since the industrial revolution, ocean pH has gone down by 0.1 units, which translates into a 30 percent surge in acidity. Scientists predict that pH will go down another 0.14 to 0.35 units by the end of this century. Accompanying the lower pH are lower saturation points of minerals such as calcium carbonate, the primary skeletal material of marine organisms that form the basis of ocean food webs, such as phytoplankton and coral reefs. As the ocean becomes more acidic, calcium carbonate begins to dissolve. The shift in ocean chemistry is so profound that the shells will literally dissolve off the backs of some organisms under the ocean conditions predicted for 2100, according to experiments conducted by Victoria Fabry, of California State University in San Marcos.

The rapid change in seawater acidity is almost unprecedented. At a Senate Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee hearing on ocean acidification, Scott Doney, of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, testified…

To continue reading the entire article for free, please visit

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