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Public Policy Report for 10 December 2007

Appropriations Update: Omnibus on the Way

With the current Continuing Resolution (PL 110-116) funding government operations set to expire 14 December and the holiday recess looming, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are scrambling to pass the 11 spending bills that remain for Fiscal Year (FY) 2008. The only spending measure to become law thus far has been the FY 2008 Appropriations for the Department of Defense (H.R. 3222) that was signed by the President on 13 November.

Today (10 December 2007) House leaders intend to introduce an omnibus spending bill that wraps all 11 remaining FY 2008 appropriations bills into one piece of legislation. The proposed bill would essentially split the difference between the Democrats’ total proposed spending and the President’s request, cutting 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. The omnibus measure is expected to pass the House on Tuesday (11 December 2007) and then head to the Senate, where the timing for a vote remains unclear.

Before congressional leaders introduced the omnibus bill, the White House Office of Management and Budget Director, Jim Nussle, issued a statement threatening a presidential veto. With respect to the omnibus, Nussle said, “This is not fiscally responsible. Our economic growth and job creation cannot be taken for granted, and Congress should not burden taxpayers with billions of dollars in additional wasteful spending.”

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E-mails Stir Up Evolution Controversy in Texas, Florida

In Texas, the current state high school biology standards require that “the student knows the theory of biological evolution.” However, the latest actions by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) suggest that Texas will become the next battleground for evolution education.

Christine Castillo Comer, with nearly three decades of experience as a science teacher, was recently pressured to resign from her post after forwarding an e-mail about an upcoming talk in Austin by Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University, and coauthor of “Creationism’s Trojan Horse,” a scholarly work that chronicles how creationist politics are behind the movement to insert intelligent design into the public-school science curriculum. Forrest was an expert witness in the landmark 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case that ruled against the teaching of intelligent design in the local Dover, Pennsylvania, public schools. The e-mail, originating from the National Center for Science Education, was titled “FYI” by Comer and distributed to a few people and members of a local online community.

According to a memo from TEA officials calling for Comer’s dismissal that was obtained by The Austin American-Statesman through the Texas Public Information Act, “Ms. Comer’s e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker’s position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.”

Biologists and evolution education advocates across the United States have expressed outrage that the TEA requires, as agency policy, neutrality when talking about evolution and creationism. They are particularly concerned by the TEA policy given the upcoming 10-year review of the science portion of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills to be undertaken by the State Board of Education. The chairman of the State Board, Don McLeroy, has spoken favorably about intelligent design in the past and voted against the state’s current high school biology textbook because it did not include discussions of the weaknesses of evolution.

A statement from AIBS President Douglas Futuyma about the Texas evolution controversy can be found at: http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20071206aibspresident_1.html

A similar situation - yet with a much different final outcome - recently came to light in Florida. The St. Petersburg Times reported 8 December that Selena “Charlie” Carraway, program manager for the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Instructional Materials, recently sent a message from her personal e-mail account urging fellow Christians to oppose newly proposed Florida science standards that prominently include evolution.

In the e-mail, widely distributed across Florida, Carraway invoked her official position in order “to give this email credibility.” She further stated, “Districts will not have a choice in teaching evolution as a theory, but will be expected to teach it as stated in these standards, big ideas, and benchmarks… Whose agenda is this and will the Christians in Florida care enough to do something about it?”

Carraway was reprimanded for her actions by the Department of Education, but remains on the job.

Florida’s draft standards have been applauded by science education advocates and are considered a significant improvement over the deficient 1999 standards. Public comments on the new draft standards are welcome until 19 December 2007 (http://tools.fcit.usf.edu/ScienceReview/). The Florida Board of Education is expected to vote on adopting the new standards sometime in January 2008.

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Members of Congress on the Move

Whether from new lobbying laws, for health reasons, or because of the leadership change in the 110th Congress, there has been substantial movement among lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) is the most recent to announce his resignation from the Senate, and he is just one of six Republican senators retiring at the end of the 110th Congress, with rumors that more may be on the way out. In addition to Senator Lott, other Senators retiring include Senators Wayne Allard (R-CO), Larry E. Craig (R-ID), Pete V. Domenici (R-NM), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), and John W. Warner (R-VA).

Twenty-four members of the House of Representatives plan to leave their positions. Several will run for another office, including Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), who are running for President, and Reps. Tom Allen (D-ME), Steve Pearce (R-NM), Mark Udall (D-CO), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Heather Wilson (R-NM), all of whom are running for the Senate. Other Representatives either resigning before their term ends or retiring include Julia Carson (D-IN), Barbara Cubin (R-WY), Terry Everett (R-AL), Mike Ferguson (R-NJ), J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL), David Hobson (R-OH), Ray LaHood (R-IL), Jim McCrery (R-LA), Mike McNulty (D-NY), Marty Meehan (D-MA), Chip Pickering (R-MS), Deborah Pryce (R-OH), Jim Ramstad (R-MN), Ralph Regula (R-OH), Rick Renzi (R-AZ), Jim Saxton, (R-NJ), and Jerry Weller (R-IL).

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Climate Talks Get Underway in Bali

The United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference began on 3 December in Bali, Indonesia. With the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol set to expire in 2012, the two-week conference - the 13th Conference of the 192 Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 3rd meeting of the 176 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol - is expected to result in negotiations for a post-2012 climate change plan. However, Indonesian Environmental Minister and Conference President Rachmat Witoelar pointed out that the conference in Bali would not deliver a “fully negotiated climate change deal.” He further stated, “Countries now have to agree on the agenda for the negotiations. This will cover the key areas for the new climate change deal and what the organizational and procedural arrangements are to get to this result.” The conference will cover the future climate change process as well as climate change acclimatization, technology transfer, and reducing emissions from deforestation.

On 7 December, China’s top government climate expert attending the Bali meeting, Su Wei, stated, “China is in the process of industrialization and there is a need for economic growth to meet the basic needs of the people and fight against poverty.” He went on to say that the job of curbing emissions belongs to the wealthy countries of the world.

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New Green Schools Caucus in Congress

To raise awareness about the benefits of sustainable schools among their colleagues, three members of Congress, Representatives Darlene Hooley (D-OR), Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Jim Matheson (D-UT), recently founded the Green Schools Caucus. According to Caucus cofounder Matheson, whose district encompasses parts of Salt Lake City and southern Utah, “Schools are vulnerable to the skyrocketing costs of energy. When their energy budgets take a hit, kids’ education suffers.”

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, “Sixty-eight K-12 and higher education buildings have earned the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, which is a tiered rating system based on points for using energy- and water-efficient windows, lights, insulation and fixtures, as well as alternatives to toxic chemicals in interior paints and glues.”

Following the launch of the new caucus, the AIBS Public Policy Office provided the caucus co-chairs with copies of the November issue of BioScience, which includes the article “Green Roofs as Urban Ecosystems: Ecological Structures, Functions, and Services.” The article articulates the benefits of having roofs with a vegetated surface, including, but not limited to, providing improved storm water management, temperature regulation in buildings, and urban wildlife habitat.

The seven other members of the Green Schools Caucus are Representatives Joe Courtney (D-CT), Jay Inslee (D-WA) Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Steve Kagen (D-WI), David Wu (D-OR), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Michael Honda (D-CA).

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Climate Legislation Proceeds in Senate

Soon-to-retire Senator John Warner (R-VA) is working diligently with Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) to pass legislation that would mandate limitations on greenhouse gas emissions. The two introduced America’s Climate Security Act of 2007 (S. 2191) on 18 October.

The measure would mandate that major polluters cut their emissions to 2005 levels by 2012, and then again to 70 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. Drawing criticism from both sides, the bill would implement a cap and trade system, “in which the government allocates most major polluters a share of a shrinking national emissions limit. Those that seek to pollute more could buy unused emissions credits from others, or from a government auction.”

S. 2191 was approved by the Committee on Environment and Public Works on 5 December after nine hours of debate, and remains the only greenhouse gas bill to have done so. During the committee debate, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) won the right to help electric companies in his state, many of which burn coal to produce electricity.

Warner was the only Republican to vote for the bill in the committee; however, the legislation does have a few Republican co-sponsors, including Senators Norm Coleman (R-MN), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Elizabeth Dole (R-NC). Lieberman and Warner are trying to secure the 60 votes needed to prevent a filibuster on the Senate floor, likely to come from Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK).

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New in BioScience: "Feds Seeks to Ignite Bioenergy Research"

In the Washington Watch article in the December issue of BioScience, Megan Kelhart reports on recent federal initiatives intended to promote bioenergy research and development.

An excerpt from the article follows:

Whether from a desire to reduce dependency on foreign oil, to develop new rural economies, or to reap potential environmental benefits, bioenergy-related research has captured enormous national attention in the last couple of years. In June 2007, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it would spend $375 million over the next five years on three bioenergy research centers in Wisconsin, Tennessee, and California. The centers’ mission is to investigate various aspects of bioenergy development, including the conversion of cellulosic biomass to sugars, the biological and chemical processes associated with conversion, and the economic and environmental sustainability of converting biomass to energy.

“The collaborations of academic, corporate, and national laboratory researchers represented by these centers are truly impressive, and I am very encouraged by the potential they hold for advancing America’s energy security,” said DOE Secretary Samuel W. Bodman.

To continue reading the complete article for free, visit: http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2007_12.html .

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