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Public Policy Report for 29 September 2008

National Science Board Nominees Senate Bound

President Bush has nominated seven scientists to serve on the National Science Board (NSB), a group of advisors to the President and Congress on science, engineering, and education policy issues. The names were sent to the Senate for confirmation. After confirmation, board members will serve a six-year term. The NSB consists of 24 members who serve six-year terms, with one-third of the board being appointed every two years.

Of the seven nominees, three members are reappointments. The seven nominees include Barry C. Barish of California (reappointment), Ray M. Bowen of Texas (reappointment), and Douglas D. Randall of Missouri (reappointment), France A. Córdova of Indiana, Esin Gulari of South Carolina, G. P. "Bud" Peterson of Colorado, and Diane L. Souvaine of Massachusetts.

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House Passes No Child Left Inside

In an effort to prepare students for the workforce of the 21st century and combat "nature-deficit disorder," the House passed the No Child Left Inside Act of 2008 (H.R. 3036) on 18 September by a vote of 293-109. The legislation, if passed by the Senate, would reauthorize the National Environmental Education Act (NEAA) of 1990 at a level of $14 million for fiscal year (FY) 2009. Current amendments call for the enhancement of teacher training and professional development, the encouragement of minorities to pursue environmental careers, and the recruitment of mid-career environmental professionals to consider employment in environmental education.

Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD), the bill's sponsor, stated, "Through the passage of this legislation, we've made real progress in ensuring that environmental education becomes a priority in our schools."

No Child Left Inside would establish a "national capacity environmental education grant program" to encourage the development of programs which "help the field of environmental education become more effective and widely practiced." If passed by the Senate and signed by the President, these environmental education grants could be used for the development of state environmental literacy plans, implementing academic standards and curricula, evaluating the effectiveness of environmental education programs in improving student's scores in other academic areas, and increasing the number of environmental educators in elementary and secondary schools. Although this grant program would supplement other sources of environmental education funding, the act would not authorize a specific funding level for these grants for the next fiscal year.

The NEEA of 1990 authorized funding for environmental education by way of the Environmental Protection Agency through the 1996 fiscal year. Since FY 1996, Congress has continued to fund this program without passing reauthorization legislation. Beginning with FY 2003, the presidential budget request has continually eliminated this program because it was no longer authorized, only to have it restored by Congress. Funding levels for the program have ranged from $5.3 to 9.1 million during the FY 2003-2008. The FY 2009 budget request did not include funds for environmental education.

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Bad Water, How to Clean It?

A recent series on tap and bottled water by the Associated Press has helped place water quality under the media spotlight. However, it was in 2002 that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) provided the first national investigation forewarning of emerging contaminants.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment held a hearing 18 September entitled, "Emerging Contaminants in U.S. Waters." The subcommittee received testimony from representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), USGS, the state of Maine, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies and academic researchers.

Testimony from expert witnesses expressed the urgency to determine the identity and current levels of contaminants, and to assess the exact threshold of their ecological and human health impact. Dr. Peter deFur of the Center for Environmental Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University voiced a common sentiment that "pollution prevention remains as the most cost effective way to deal with this issue." Testimony suggested following current state models that foster product stewardship from both private and industrial contamination sources, with the basic message "stop treating the toilet like a trash can."

The hearing may serve to inform future action on legislation, such as the "WATER Study Act of 2008," which would direct the EPA to conduct a study on surface water contamination. Also bubbling in Congress is the not yet introduced "Bottled Water Right to Know Act," which would provide consumers with information about the source of bottled water -- a related issue as 40% of bottled water is tap water and is less regulated than tap water.

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New in BioScience: "Sweating the Small Stuff"

In the Washington Watch article in the September 2008 issue of the BioScience, Natalie Dawson explores environmental risk and Nanotechnology in the United States.

An excerpt from the article follows:

Nanoscience, or nanotechnology, is science or technology that creates functional materials from atomic particles. Once considered to be little more than science fiction, nanotechnology is now a well-established field, as evidenced by various new journals and federally funded research programs, as well as myriad new products ranging from industrial materials to cosmetics. According to the Woodrow Wilson Center's Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN), more than $60 billion in nanorelated products were sold in 2007, and this number could more than double by the end of 2008. Estimates are that by 2014, more than 15 percent of all products on the global market will have some kind of nanotechnology incorporated into their manufacturing process. This technology boom raises an important question: what is being done to address the environmental risks associated with nanotechnology?

As companies, federal laboratories, and international unions call for more research funding for nanotechnology, emerging scientific investigations into the effects of nanorelated materials on the environment and human health reveal potential problems…

Continue reading this article for free at

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Now In the AIBS Webstore: "Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media"

Evolution, climate change, stem cell research -- Scientists are frequently called upon to provide expert information on hot button issues that pervade the daily news headlines, yet most find themselves woefully unprepared for the bright lights of the television studio or leading questions from a newspaper journalist. A new publication from AIBS, "Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media," by Holly Menninger and Robert Gropp in the Public Policy Office, will prepare scientists for successful and effective media interviews.

Recognizing that many scientists are reluctant to engage in media outreach, "Communicating Science" outlines compelling reasons for scientists to interact with the media and describes key differences between journalism and science that may not be apparent to practicing scientists. Step-by-step, Menninger and Gropp walk scientists through the entire interview process - from appropriate questions to ask when a reporter calls to practical advice for looking and sounding one's best on-air or on-camera.

The information and advice in "Communicating Science" is presented in eight easy-to-read chapters that provide vital information for scientists new to media outreach, as well as a quick refresher for seasoned experts - an ideal text for a graduate course on science communication or a professional development course for students and faculty. The primer's authors speak from their own experiences as PhD scientists in the biological sciences with years of experience in media outreach.

The concise, user-friendly volume has several unique features that set it apart from other media guides for scientists. "Communicating Science" includes first-person interviews with nearly a dozen scientists who have successfully navigated print, radio, and television interviews. The scientists-including the "Island Snake Lady," Kristin Stanford, recently featured on the Discovery Channel show, "Dirty Jobs" - share advice and experiences on a number of topics, including safely speaking on behalf of an organization, avoiding trouble when discussing socially or politically controversial topics, and reflections on first interviews.

"Communicating Science" also provides worksheets to assist readers with interview preparation: building a message framework with talking points and transition phrases, developing analogies, and using illustrative props or images. It includes pages for readers to organize contact information of journalists with whom they have worked directly and those who have reported on stories related to their own research to keep as potential contacts for future story pitches.

"Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media" is available now in the AIBS Webstore.

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