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Public Policy Report for 13 April 2009

Plan to Double U.S. Foreign Ag Aid Could Increase Research Funding

A proposal unveiled by President Obama on 2 April 2009 at the London G-20 Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy would increase funding for agriculture research in the United States. President Obama called on Congress to halve the number of people suffering from hunger worldwide by increasing U.S. aid to developing nations for food and agriculture to more than $1 billion dollars in 2010.

The President’s proposal seeks to modernize agriculture in developing countries through a number of measures, including expanding collaboration between U.S. land-grant universities and institutions in the developing world. Many U.S. land-grant universities conduct research that informs and benefits agriculture in poorer nations.

The Senate is considering a similar measure. On 31 March 2009, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a bill that would authorize increasing foreign aid to developing nations to $2.5 billion in 2014. The legislation would also authorize funding for U.S. land-grant universities and institutions for collaborative agriculture research with foreign institutions, and extension and education services.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is moving forward with research funding that will benefit farmers in developing nations. NSF has announced a $48 million partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fund research that addresses drought, pests, and disease, with the goal of boosting agricultural productivity in developing countries.

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House and Senate Approve FY 2010 Budget Resolutions

On 2 April 2009, on the eve of a two-week spring recess, the House and Senate each approved versions of a fiscal year (FY) 2010 budget resolution. The White House praised the approval of these roughly $3.5 billion budget blueprints and cited them as being a key step towards new climate and energy legislation, as well as other domestic matters.

The votes on passage of the resolutions fell largely along party lines in both chambers, with votes of 233-196 in the House and 55-43 in the Senate. In the House, 20 Democrats voted against the budget. Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Evan Bayh (D-IN) joined Senate Republicans to oppose the Senate’s budget plan.

Significantly, the House and Senate budget resolutions differ. Thus, the process must continue as both chambers seek to resolve differences and the White House.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that after lawmakers return from the recess, one of their first tasks will be to produce a budget conference report. House and Senate leaders say their budget closely resembles the outline released by the administration, but the two resolutions differ on spending levels and several budget deficit issues.

The White House has requested $540 billion. The House budget would provide for $533 billion in non-defense discretionary spending, but the Senate would provide $525 billion. The Senate version also contains policy provisions from midwestern Senators. These amendments, absent from the House plan, often address climate and energy policy and seek to offer protections for manufacturing industries and consumers. For example, an amendment from Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) would require a 60-vote majority for climate and energy legislation that would cause significant job loss in the manufacturing or coal-dependent regions of the United States. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) secured an amendment that would require that any climate change legislation include policies that protect domestic jobs and provides for green technology job training.

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Federal Court Strikes Down Patent of DNA Sequence

The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has upheld a ruling by the United States Patent and Trademark Office that rejects a patent of a DNA sequence derived from a known protein. Amgen, Inc. held a patent for a human DNA sequence that encodes a receptor protein that plays a role in activating immune response to tumors and viruses. On 3 April 2009, the Court found that the company’s claim was “the product not of innovation but of ordinary skill and common sense, leading us to conclude NAIL cDNA [the patented DNA sequence] is not patentable as it would have been obvious to isolate it.” Although the decision is limited to this particular patent, it does extend a precedent for the greater scrutiny of other DNA patents. There are currently thousands of patents held in the United States for human DNA sequences and proteins.

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Write to the President About Science Funding

The White House is finalizing the details for the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2010 budget request, which is now expected to be sent to Congress in early May. Thus, it is important that at this critical time, the President hear from scientists. AIBS members are encouraged to take a few moments to send a thank you letter to the President for the science funding that was included in the recently passed economic stimulus package and to encourage the President to sustain support for scientific research in the FY 2010 budget.

The new AIBS Legislative Action Center is an effective way to communicate with the President. A prepared letter can be sent from you to the President in just a couple of minutes and with just a few clicks of your mouse. Importantly, the AIBS Legislative Action Center also allows you to personalize a letter, just modify the sample text to reflect your interests and click send.

Consider writing the President today, go to http://capwiz.com/aibs/issues/alert/?alertid=13063546.

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Antarctic Tourism May Be Curtailed to Protect Environment, Research

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has called for a limit on tourism in Antarctica and stricter pollution limits for ships in the region as a means to protect visitors and the region’s environment. Her remarks on 6 April 2009 at a joint session of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting and the Arctic Council highlighted the value of scientific research, especially on climate change, at the Earth’s poles. Antarctica “is a land where science is the universal language and the highest priority,” Clinton said. “We also must push forward with research. There is still a lot more to learn about the polar regions.”

Clinton announced that the United States would be pursue mandatory limits on the size of cruise ships and the number of tourists allowed on shore. The Obama Administration is concerned with the environmental impacts of the booming tourism industry in Antarctica. Over 45,000 people visited the region in 2008-2009, a 575 percent increase from five years ago.

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Climate Change Legislation Released

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) released the “American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009” (ACESA). The 648-page climate change legislation would seek to cut emissions by 2020 to a level 20 percent below 2005 emissions. By the middle of the century, the goal would be a 50 percent reduction. Supporters of the plan assert that it is a comprehensive approach to America’s energy policy that will create millions of new clean energy sector jobs, save consumers billions in energy costs, help end dependence on foreign oil, and combat climate change.

Title one of the ACESA promotes renewable energy and carbon sequestration technologies, establishes low-carbon fuel standards, and facilitates smart electrical grid technologies. The second title addresses energy efficiency by promoting energy efficient building, efficient appliance standards, and calls for new fuel and utility efficiency standards. The third title tackles global climate change through the establishment of a market-based program for cutting carbon emissions and directs the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate other greenhouse gases. The final section, title four, addresses transitioning. The legislation would authorize the government to provide climate rebates to American manufacturers, calls for the promotion of green jobs, and establishes an interagency council to coordinate the federal response to climate change.

Critics of the legislation argue that it does not address whether emissions credits would be given away free to fossil-fuel-burning businesses or auctioned off to raise money for green transit and/or taxpayer rebates. The Obama administration originally proposed auctioning off all of the credits. However, the administration recently suggested that it may only auction off a portion of them, a move that officials from the electric industry sector commend as necessary to successfully transition our energy portfolio.

Reports suggest that Waxman and Markey hope to move the legislation forward quickly. Some indications are that the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, chaired by Representative Markey, will begin holding legislative hearings as early as the week of 20 April. Reports are that House leadership would like to have the package reported from the full Energy and Commerce Committee by Memorial Day, with full House consideration to follow.

Meanwhile, Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has introduced his own legislation, the “Cap and Dividend Act of 2009.” This 20-page plan calls for virtually identical emissions reductions as the ACESA. The Cap and Dividend Act would require the auctioning of 100 percent of carbon permits, and would return the money to every American, every month, through an energy security dividend.

The Van Hollen plan sets a deadline for capping emissions, after which companies would then have to purchase permits to cover 100 percent of the carbon. The proceeds from these permits will go towards a “Healthy Climate Trust Fund.” Not more than 50 percent of the proceeds would be used for administrative costs, and the remainder would be paid to the public as “consumer dividend payments.”

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President Nominates Assistant Secretary of Interior

President Obama announced on 2 April 2009 his intent to nominate Anne Castle to the post of Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science. Castle has more than 25 years of experience in water rights, water quality and natural resources law. She is currently a partner in the Denver, Colorado office of Holland and Hart LLP, where she practices water rights and water quality law. According to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Castle “will be an invaluable addition to our team as we work to address the water challenges facing our country and as we restore the role of science in decision-making at the Department of the Interior.” The Bureau of Reclamation and the United States Geological Survey are housed within the Office of Water and Science.

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New in BioScience - "Grand Theories: How Far Have We Come and Where Will We Go?

In the April 2009 issue of the AIBS journal, BioScience, Jenna Jadin reports on a recent National Science Foundation effort to stimulate theoretical research in biology. The Washington Watch article is available in the print edition of BioScience or may be read online at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2009_04.html.

A short excerpt from the article follows:

President Obama’s call for science to be “restored to its proper place” excites science policy advocates. Science, it appears, may play an important role in informing societal decisions and restarting the country’s economic engines. Lawmakers heeded his call during the construction of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009: upon passage, the act included more than $17 billion for scientific research and infrastructure, intended in part to “secure America’s role as a world leader in a competitive global economy…[by] renewing America’s investments in basic research and development.”

But can these investments spur the innovations necessary for the country to find good alternatives to fossil fuels, help stem climate change, and lead the world in finding solutions to other catastrophic problems? It depends. Innovation comes from transformative, integrative, and often risky research, say influential reports from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Research Council (NRC), among others. The question is, then, has such transformative, integrative, and risky research become part of the culture and practice of biologists?

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Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! 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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