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Public Policy Report for 10 November 2008

Washington Prepares for Transition

On 4 November 2008, the United States elected Senator Barack Obama the nation's 44th President. President-elect Obama has established a transition team and chosen Illinois Representative and Washington, DC, power broker Rahm Emanuel to be his White House Chief of Staff. The Obama camp has now announced that it has begun to look at what changes President-elect Obama would make in his first days as president. Transition team leader John Podesta has indicated that the President-elect is working toward building a diverse Cabinet, to include reaching out to Republicans and Independents. Podesta has also stated that President-elect Obama is expected to overturn several of President Bush's executive orders including those on stem cell research, oil and gas drilling, among others.

As the President-elect works to identify his Cabinet, members of the Bush Administration are packing up. Assistant Secretary of Environmental Management at the Department of Energy, James Rispoli, has announced that he will leave the Department at the end of November. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman in a 5 November statement, said, "Jim provided strong leadership and achieved significant success as the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management (EM) for the past three years. He enhanced the credibility of the EM program by instituting rigorous management practices during both the project planning and execution phases, and greatly improved the daily operations of the organization."

Post-election change in Washington, DC, is not limited to the White House. In Congress, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) has volunteered to step down as chairman of the Senate's powerful Appropriations Committee. Senator Byrd, 90, released a statement 5 November saying, "I have been blessed to have had the honor to represent the people of West Virginia in the United States Senate for 50 years. I have been honored to lead the Senate as its Majority Leader for 12 years. A new day has dawned in Washington, and that is a good thing. For my part, I believe that it is time for a new day at the top of the Senate Appropriations Committee. I will step away from the Chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee effective January 6, 2009." Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) is slated to take the reigns as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Senator Byrd said of Inouye, he "has stood in line for many years and now his time has come. He is my friend. He is a genuine American hero. He will be a skillful and fair Chairman of the Appropriations Committee because he is a man of outstanding character and great wisdom."

On the other side of Capitol Hill, the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party have already begun to skirmish over control of the House's powerful committees. Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) is challenging Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman, Representative John Dingell (D-MI), the Dean of the House, for control of the powerful committee. Some liberal Democrats and environmentalists have seen Dingell as an ally of automakers and electric utilities and thus an obstruction to moving climate change legislation through the House. However, Dingell and Representative Rick Boucher (D-VA) released a draft discussion on climate change legislation on 7 October. The plan would reportedly reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. This would be in line with President-elect Obama's proposal. Neither the House Majority nor the Obama team has taken sides on the issue. It remains to be seen if the battle between Waxman and Dingell is an isolated fight or the first in what some believe might be internal Democratic squabbles between the progressive and moderate wings of the party.

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Election Trends from Across the Nation

Most of the country is now aware of the major national results of the November elections. Fewer people may be aware of the state-level changes that have altered the balance of power between Democrats and Republicans in several state legislatures.

Democrats gained control of chambers in New York, Wisconsin, Ohio, Delaware, and Nevada. The historically Republican Alaska senate is now equally split. However, Republicans took control of state legislatures in Tennessee, Montana and, for the first time ever, Oklahoma.

Oklahoma State Senate President, Senator Glenn Coffee (R) stressed in recent media interviews that state Republicans are "ready to fight for lawsuit reform, education reform and pro-family issues." Of concern, Republican sponsored HB 2633 ("Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act of 2008"), required teachers to accept non-scientific explanations for natural phenomena in schoolwork.

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Graduate Student Opportunity: 2009 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS, www.aibs.org) is pleased to announce that applications are being accepted for the 2009 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award (EPPLA). The EPPLA program enables graduate students in the biological sciences to receive first-hand experience in the science policy arena.

Recipients receive:

  • A trip to Washington, DC, during spring 2009 to participate in a Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day (target dates are 21-22 April 2009). The BESC CVD is an annual event that brings scientists to Washington, DC, to advocate for federal funding for the biological sciences.
  • The EPPLA will attend briefings by key officials from the White House and Congress and a Capitol Hill reception honoring a member of Congress.
  • The EPPLA will meet with their Representative and Senators.
  • A certificate and 1-year AIBS membership, including subscription to BioScience and a copy of Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media.

For application details and requirements, go to: http://www.aibs.org/announcements/081031aibsacceptingapplications2009.html

Applications must be received by 5:00 PM eastern, 6 February 2009.

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Arachnologists Join AIBS Public Policy Office

The American Arachnological Society (AAS) is the most recent scientific society to join the AIBS Public Policy Office at the Supporter level. "We sincerely appreciate the financial contribution that AAS is making. This funding helps us further increase our web of influence in the nation's science policy discussions," said Dr. Robert Gropp, AIBS Director of Public Policy.

The AAS was founded in 1972 to promote the study of arachnids, to achieve closer cooperation and understanding between amateur and professional arachnologists, and to publish the Journal of Arachnology. The Society sponsors annual meetings and cooperates with other professional societies. Membership is open to all individuals interested in the Society's objectives.

AAS joins the Mycological Society of America and the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry-North America as Supporters of the AIBS Public Policy Office. Other AIBS member societies and organizations are welcome to become a Supporter of the Public Policy Office and its many science policy and media affairs initiatives. To learn more about how your society or organization can join this effort, please visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/funding_contributors.html.

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EPA Reopens Libraries

Two years ago the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans to close its regional libraries. Following widespread criticism of the plan and congressional inquiries, EPA reopened five of the closed libraries on 30 September. EPA's planned closure of the libraries drew quick and sharp criticism from members of Congress, scientific organizations, and other stakeholders concerned about the public's ability to access EPA documents.

As reported in the 25 September 2006 AIBS Public Policy Report (http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/20060925.html#002482), EPA closed the doors of its headquarters library to the public in response to a $2 million cut to the agency's operating budget. The closure of the headquarters library followed closures in Chicago, Dallas, and Kansas City. House Democrats, led by Representatives Bart Gordon (D-TN), Henry Waxman (D-CA), and John Dingell (D-MI), then requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigate EPA's plan to close the libraries.

EPA published a Federal Register notice announcing that it was "enhancing access to library services for the public and Agency staff. EPA will open previously closed libraries in its National Library Network, with walk-in access for the public and EPA staff. Other library locations will expand staffing, operating hours, or services. This notice provides information regarding how members of the public can access the libraries and services beginning September 30, 2008," and indicated which libraries would be reopened.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Associate Director Carol Goldberg stated, "While we are happy that EPA is re-opening its libraries, we are disturbed that the minds which plotted their closure remain in charge." The American Library Association (ALA) also commented on the reopening of the libraries, stating, "We are glad to see that the EPA has reopened these five libraries. We hope that the federal government has obtained a better understanding of the importance of federal libraries through this difficult battle," said ALA President Jim Rettig.

The EPA has responded to public criticism over the library issue by announcing a new Library Strategic Plan, "National Dialogue on Access to Environmental Information" which is still available for comment until 14 November.

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New in BioScience: "The Sound of Silence at the Environmental Protection Agency"

In the Washington Watch column in the November 2009 issue of the journal BioScience, Megan Kelhart explores recent practices at the Environmental Protection Agency that have silenced scientists and devastated morale. To read the full article for free, please go to http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2008_11.html.

The following is a short excerpt from the article.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created on 2 December 1970 to "establish and enforce environmental protection standards, conduct environmental research, provide support to others combating environmental pollution, and assist the White House Council on Environmental Quality in developing and recommending to the President new policies for environmental protection." In its early years, the EPA made sweeping changes to improve the environment and health of the United States and its citizens. In the 1970s, the EPA, among numerous other accomplishments, banned the use of DDT, set the first national standards limiting industrial water pollution, and banned the use of chlorofluoro­carbons in most aerosol cans.

Yet 38 years after the inception of the agency, its funding and morale have under­gone severe declines, and its administrator has been accused of allowing partisan politics to overshadow science. Some interested observers go so far as to say that instead of the EPA advising the president, the White House is advising the EPA.

To continue reading, please go to http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2008_11.html

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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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