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Public Policy Report for 26 November 2007

Appropriations Hit a Wall

After adopting the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill (H.R. 3093) 16 October, the Senate named conferees to work with House conferees on resolving differences between the two versions of the bill. However, concerns raised by House members about immigration and English-only language policies have postponed the conference committee meeting until after the Thanksgiving Day recess.

The final Senate version of the spending measure would provide $54.4 billion in discretionary funding for CJS programs, including the National Science Foundation. The Senate CJS level is just above the $53.6 billion approved by the House and roughly $3 billion above the President’s request.

Of the $54.4 billion in the Senate CJS bill, the National Science Foundation would receive $6.6 billion for FY 2008, which is $124 million above the President’s request, $636 million above the FY 2007 enacted level, and $44 million more than the House version of the bill.

The Bush Administration has indicated its opposition to the funding legislation stating, “…In combination with the other FY 2008 appropriations bills, it [CJS] includes an irresponsible and excessive level of spending and includes other objectionable provisions.”

The Senate approved the FY 2008 Appropriations for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and related agencies on 23 October 2007. The bill, containing only FY 2008 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations (H.R. 3043), (Military Construction-Veterans Affairs appropriations were removed by the Senate) was vetoed by the President on 13 November and failed to receive the requisite two-thirds of the votes in the House.

The only spending measure to become law thus far has been FY 2008 Appropriations for the Department of Defense (H.R. 3222) that was signed by the President on 13 November. A second “continuing resolution” was passed on the same day to provide funding for federal agencies through 14 December.

With several outstanding presidential veto threats and just three weeks in December to enact the remaining 11 spending bills, the Democrats recently announced a new appropriations strategy. They plan to cut overall discretionary spending by $10.6 billion – initially the Democratic budget would have spent $21.2 billion more than the President’s $932.8 billion request. It is unclear how exactly these cuts would impact each specific spending bill.

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AIBS Launches Web Resource on the Budget Process

The AIBS Public Policy Office recently launched a web resource that will provide interested parties with a better understanding of the federal budget and appropriations process. The information may be viewed at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/budget_source.html. The website will host links to AIBS testimony and letters in support of science funding.

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UN Warns of Emissions Growth

The United Nations’ (UN) International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a draft copy of the “Summary for Policymakers” on 16 November as part of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report. The panel warned that if action is not taken to curb emissions and if the world “does not stabilize carbon dioxide emissions until 2030,” the temperature could increase by as much as 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit above 2000 temperatures. “That level of warming could result in widespread extinctions of species, a slowing of the global currents, decreased food production, loss of 30 percent of global wetlands, flooding for millions of people and higher deaths from heat waves.”

The summary included sections on observed changes in climate and their effects, causes of change, projected climate change and its impacts, adaptation and mitigation options, and a section on the long-term perspective. Without indicating how much warming would be too much, the summary report stated, “it is very likely that: heat waves have become more frequent over most land areas, the frequency of heavy precipitation events has increased over most areas, and since 1975 the incidence of extreme high sea level has increased worldwide.”

The summary report incorporated examples of projected regional impacts on Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Europe, Latin America, North America, polar regions, and small islands. Examples of potential North American impact include:

  • Warming in western mountains is projected to causes decreased snow pack, more winter flooding, and reduced summer flows, exacerbating competition for over-allocated water resources;
  • In the early decades of the century, moderate climate change is projected to increase aggregate yields of rain-fed agriculture by 5-20 percent, but with important variability among regions. Major challenges are projected for crops that are near the warm end of their suitable range or which depend on highly utilized water resources;
  • During the course of this century, cities that currently experience heat waves are expected to be further challenged by an increased number, intensity and duration of heat waves during the course of the century, with potential for adverse health impacts;
  • Coastal communities and habitats will be increasingly stressed by climate change impacts interacting with development and pollution.

Additionally, the summary report listed examples of possible impacts of climate change on various sectors including agricultures, forestry, and ecosystems; water resources; human health; and industry, settlement, and society. Scientists are “virtually certain” that over most land areas there will be warmer and fewer cold days and nights and warmer and more frequent hot days and nights, which will likely impact agriculture by increasing yields in colder environments, decreasing yields in warmer environments, and increasing insect outbreaks. Other likely trends include heat waves in warmer regions that create water availability and quality problems and heavy precipitation events that increase soil erosion.

The “Summary for Policymakers” provided a variety of adaptation options, organized by sector. Some examples include: expanded rainwater harvesting; water storage and conservation techniques; water re-use; desalination; water-use and irrigation efficiency created by national water policies and integrated water resources management and water-related hazards management. The report also listed potential constraints to these options being implemented. A full list of those examples and the summary report in its entirety can be downloaded by visiting the IPCC website, http://www.ipcc.ch/.

The panel is hopeful that given these options, action will be taken. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) remarked, “This will be viewed by all as a definitive report. It is a blueprint for the Bali talks.” Other U.S. Senators will join Kerry at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Indonesia beginning 3 December.

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House Member Calls for Changes to Smithsonian Governance

On 6 November 2007, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) introduced HR 4098, “The Smithsonian Modernization Act of 2007.” The legislation, if passed, would completely restructure the Smithsonian Institution’s governing board. Currently, the Board of Regents consists of 17 members, including three Senators, three Representatives, the Vice President, and the Chief Justice of the United States. Norton proposes increasing the board to 21 members - all private citizens, rather than public officials, appointed by the President.

According to Norton, “The present governance places immense responsibility on dedicated but overextended members of the House and Senate, the Vice President of the United States, and the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, fully half of the board, who must perform their fiduciary duties as board members while giving first priority to the sworn responsibilities as public officials.”

Norton asserts that changing the governance structure will allow the board to better lead fundraising efforts, necessary for renovating the declining physical infrastructure of the Institution. Although SI receives 70 percent of its budget from the federal government, there are not sufficient funds to pay for the $2.5 billion backlog of facilities maintenance issues.

A June 2007 report from the Independent Review Committee (IRC), formed by the regents following the Small scandal, also recommended a significant reorganization of the Board. Former Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small resigned in March 2007 amid allegations of misusing public funds for his compensation and expenditures. The IRC chastised the Board of Regents for poor governance and inadequate oversight of Small. They suggested more regents be added to the board, specifically those with expertise in financial as well as facilities and museum management.

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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 http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2007_11.html

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