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Public Policy Report for 16 March 2009

AIBS Comments on Scientific Integrity in Federal Regulatory Process

On 12 March 2009, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) provided comments to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regarding a proposed Presidential Executive Order on the federal regulatory review process. AIBS called on the President to include provisions in a proposed Executive Order that preserve scientific integrity during the review process for federal rules and regulations. Specifically, the President was encouraged to:

-identity the preservation of scientific integrity as a fundamental principle of Federal Regulatory Review;

-ensure transparency of the process to make certain that the conclusions drawn by federal agency scientists have not been changed for political reasons; and,

-specify that any substantial changes made to regulations that contradict the underlying science are subject to review by an independent party.

These comments were submitted in response to a request for comments from OMB published in the Federal Register on 26 February (http://www.aibs.org/federal-register-resource/20090227.html#009030). Although Presidential Executive Orders are not subject to public comment, the Director of OMB sought public input due to “the unusually high level of public interest”.

To read AIBS’ comments, go to http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20090312aibscommentso4.html.

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FY 2009 Appropriations: Finally Done

After nearly a week of debate, the Senate passed a spending bill for fiscal year (FY) 2009 on 10 March. Although more than 20 amendments were debated and voted on in the Senate, the legislation emerged unchanged from the version that the House of Representatives passed on 25 February. President Obama signed the bill into law on 11 March, just hours before the deadline set in the Continuing Resolution (CR) passed by Congress the previous week. The CR provided stop-gap funding to federal programs until the appropriations legislation was completed.

Passage of this final FY 2009 spending measure provides funding for all non-defense and homeland security agencies until 30 September 2009. The bill includes $6.5 billion for National Science Foundation, $1.0 billion for U.S. Geological Survey, $4.4 billion for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), $7.8 billion for NASA, and $30.3 billion for National Institutes of Health.

Also included in the legislation was language that allows for the withdrawal of two controversial endangered species rules finalized by the Bush Administration in December 2008. One rule limited the requirements for federal agencies to consult agency scientists in the Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA about the impacts of federal actions on listed species (AIBS opposed the proposed rule change, please see http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20080819aibssubmits_co.html). The other rule limited protections for polar bears and prohibited the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions as a means of saving melting polar bear habitat. Both rules may now be revoked by the Obama Administration without a public comment period.

For more information on science funding in 2009, please see the last AIBS Public Policy Report at (http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/20090302.html#009885).

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Universities Trying to Cope with Bad Budgets

From California to Maine and Florida, colleges and universities continue to feel the pinch from shrinking endowments and state budget cuts. Recently, Arizona’s public universities have proposed to collectively cut $100 million from their budgets by July to appease state lawmakers. Other colleges are cutting their costs in anticipation of budget shortfalls in 2010. For instance, the University of California at Berkeley anticipates a $60-70 million budget gap next year. Although other universities are not facing as large of a deficit, they may still need to find millions of dollars in expenses to cut.

Layoffs have already occurred on campuses across the nation. Utah State University fired 20 employees in the last six months, the University of Maine plans to layoff 44 people as part of a plan to close campus child-care and fitness centers, and Tufts University anticipates firing more than a dozen people in response to the 30 percent decline in the value of the institution’s endowment.

As an alternative to layoffs, some universities are considering mandatory unpaid time off for employees. The potential savings are high. By furloughing all 12,000 of its employees for a period ranging from ten days to three weeks, Arizona State University will save $24 million. Utah State University will furlough all university employees for five days to offset a $5.65 million budget cut. Furloughs may be on the horizon for next year at some universities. The University of Georgia is considering a clause in faculty contracts for 2009-2010 that would require professors to take furloughs.

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EPA Proposes Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting

On 10 March 2009, United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson has announced plans for the nation’s first comprehensive reporting system for greenhouse gas emissions. The proposed system would require major sources of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, such as suppliers of fossil fuels, energy producers, and manufacturers of automobiles and engines, steel, iron, and cement, monitor and report their emissions to the EPA each year.

Approximately 13,000 facilities nationwide would be subject to the reporting requirement, with first reports to the EPA due in 2011 for the calendar year 2010. For more information on the proposed rule, go to http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/ghgrulemaking.html.

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Obama Science Appointments Still Moving Through Process

On 23 February 2009, President Obama named Jon Cannon, Tom Strickland, and Kathleen Merrigan as nominees for three more major federal posts.

First, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) veteran Jon Cannon was selected to fill the deputy administrator post at EPA. Cannon, a University of Virginia law professor, served as a member of Obama’s EPA transition team. Cannon is known for authoring a controversial, six-page “Cannon memo” on greenhouse gas regulation while serving as general counsel for EPA during the Clinton administration. This memo prompted a petition requesting that the EPA use its authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases. This petition resulted in a court battle culminating with the 2007 Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts vs. EPA.

The President has nominated Tom Strickland as the assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks within the Department of the Interior. Strickland was formerly United Health Group’s chief legal officer, as well as a managing partner at a Denver law office. In 2000, Strickland was involved in a water rights settlement that provided protection for the watersheds in the Rio Grande and Gunnison national forests. Strickland has been serving as chief of Staff for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and will continue in this role after confirmation.

For deputy secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, President Obama has chosen Dr. Kathleen Merrigan. An assistant professor and director of the agriculture, food and environment graduate program at Tufts University, Merrigan served as administrator of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service during the Clinton Administration. Merrigan received a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in environmental planning and policy, and a Masters degree in public affairs from the University of Texas.

Former Governor Gary Locke (D-WA) is the latest candidate to take the top spot at the Department of Commerce. Locke has a long resume on trade with China, energy, and technology policy. As the Governor of a coastal state, Locke is also familiar with fisheries and coastal environmental policy issues - many of which are administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency within the Department of Commerce.

On 3 March 2009, Obama selected Sherburne Abbott as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) associate director for environment. Abbott is currently director of the University of Texas at Austin Center for Science and Practice of Sustainability, and Senior Lecturer in the College of Natural Sciences. At the University of Texas, Abbott has worked on developing university-wide, interdisciplinary research and education programs focused on sustainability challenges.

Dr. Margaret Hamburg is the President’s choice to serve as Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Hamburg received undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard University, and later conducted neuroscience research at Rockefeller University and the National Institutes of Health, as well as AIDS research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

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Obama Repeals Stem Cell Ban, Calls for Scientific Integrity

On 9 March 2009, President Obama signed an executive order reversing the controversial ban on federal funding for stem cell research signed by President Bush in an August 2001 directive. Bush’s order blocked federal dollars from supporting not only the creation of stem cell lines, but also prevented money from being allocated towards lines that were independently created after the 9 August 2001. Scientists and medical research advocates were pleased with the change in policy, as it opens up new avenues for research.

Along with the executive order, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum on Scientific Integrity. According to the memo “Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues…the public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions. Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions.”

The memo specifically directs the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy to draft a detailed plan over the next 120 days to make sure that administration and agency officials who deal with science policy are selected because of their scientific expertise rather than their politics. The plan would also ensure that the science behind policy decisions would be transparent and publicly available, and it would also provide protection for scientific “whistleblowers” who have disagreements with the science behind administration decisions.

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Congress, Hearings, and Science

On 3 March 2009, the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies in the House of Representatives received testimony during a hearing entitled “Science Overview.” Dr. Ralph Cicerone, President of the National Academy of Sciences, answered questions from lawmakers about the state of science education in the United States, international scientific competitiveness, and scientific research budgets. Cicerone highlighted the importance of K-12 science education in building a larger pool of future scientists, discussed the potential for cooperative scientific endeavors between nations, and recommended large increases in many science budgets. Among Cicerone’s recommendations were to increase funding for the NASA science budget, provide funds for the immediate repair and replacement of NOAA climate satellites, and there is a need for a standardized national science curriculum for K-12 students.

On 4 March, the committee heard testimony regarding “The Place of NOAA Science and the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the Overall Science Enterprise.” Dr. Susan Avery, President of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, testified about the importance of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in climate modeling, weather prediction, natural resource management, and collaboration on extramural research. She highlighted the limited funding available for research in NOAA, only14 percent of the agency’s total budget, and recommended that the agency prepare a comprehensive strategy for allocating research inside the agency and externally with partner organizations.

On 5 March the committee heard testimony from Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Dr. Harold Pratt, former President of the National Science Teachers Association, on the subject of Science Education. Some of the general recommendations were that investing in teacher training and support is the best way to improve early science education, early childhood parental involvement is key to keeping kids interested in science, and there is a need for non-burdensome national science education standards.

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Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center Today

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has launched the AIBS Legislative Action Center. The online resource allows biologists and science educators to quickly and effectively influence policy and public opinion. The AIBS Legislative Action Center is located at www.aibs.org/public-policy/legislativeactioncenter.html.

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the Society for the Study of Evolution, American Society for Limnology and Oceanography, Association of Ecosystem Research Centers, and the Botanical Society of America.

Each day lawmakers must make tough decisions about science policy. For example, what investments to make in federal research programs, biodiversity conservation, how to mitigate climate change, or under what circumstances to permit stem cell research. Scientists now have the opportunity to help elected officials understand these issues.

This exciting new advocacy tool allows individuals to quickly and easily communicate with members of Congress, executive branch officials, and selected media outlets.

AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become a policy advocate today. Simply go to http://capwiz.com/aibs/home/ to send a prepared letter or to sign up to receive periodic Action Alerts.

For additional information about the AIBS Legislative Action Center, please visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/legislativeactioncenter.html. To further help AIBS advance biology and science education, consider joining AIBS. To learn about other membership benefits and to join AIBS online, please visit www.aibs.org.

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In the AIBS Webstore

PREORDER YOUR COPY OF THE AIBS CONGRESSIONAL DIRECTORY

AIBS Congressional Directory - 111th Congress, 2009

A valuable primer on Capitol Hill and the legislative process, the Congressional Directory contains biographies, photographs, and contact information for all members of Congress. Contact information and assignments for all Congressional Standing Committees, Select Committees, and Joint Committees are included. This pocket-sized resource (9” x 4”, 190 pp., spiral bound) also includes Executive Branch and Supreme Court data, a glossary of legislative terms, and maps of Washington, DC, and Capitol Hill.

To pre-order your copy today, please go to https://ssl4.westserver.net/birenheide.com/secure/aibs/cart/. This publication is expected to be available for shipping after 16 April 2009.

“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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New in BioScience - "US Struggles to Clear up Confusion Left in Wake of Rapanos"

In the Washington Watch article in the March issue of the AIBS journal, BioScience, Adrienne Sponberg reports on recent machinations related to the Clean Water Act. To read this and other Washington Watch columns online for free, visit http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/. An excerpt from the March article is below.

For two decades, Michigan developer John Rapanos battled the US government over the extent of protection for wetlands and streams under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Now, more than two years after the Supreme Court issued its 4-1-4 split decision, Rapanos and the government have reached a settlement: Rapanos will pay a $150,000 civil fine and about $750,000 more to mitigate 54 acres of wetlands that were filled without authorization. While Rapanos may finally have some closure, confusion over CWA protections remains, leaving all three branches of the federal government struggling to provide clarity for CWA implementation and enforcement.

The main source of confusion? The three opinions the Supreme Court issued in the Rapanos case set forth different tests for whether a body of water is protected. Lower courts have interpreted the Rapanos decision inconsistently. Some circuit courts have cited Justice Kennedy’s “significant nexus” test as the controlling law; others have employed Justice Scalia’s stricter interpretation in the plurality opinion: waters must be continuously flowing and have a surface connection to navigable waters. These conflicting jurisdictional tests led the Department of Justice (DOJ) to petition the Supreme Court for a clarification of Rapanos. In arguing for the review, the DOJ warned that confusion caused by different interpretations of Rapanos will “inevitably hinder the [government’s] ability to implement the Act in a uniform and workable fashion.” Nevertheless, the Supreme Court denied the DOJ’s request.

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