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Public Policy Report for 13 October 2009

Congress Continues Work on FY 2010 Appropriations

Congress continues to work through its appropriations processes in an effort to pass all 12 fiscal year (FY) 2010 spending bills, including the various measures that fund biological science research. As of 9 October 2009, 8 days after the end of FY 2009, all 12 appropriations bills had been passed by the House of Representatives and 7 of 12 bills had cleared by the Senate. Only the Legislative Branch, Energy and Water, and Agriculture bills have made it through the conference process, and only the Legislative Branch appropriations have been completed.

Both House and Senate bills contain significant spending increases for most science agencies. The Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Act (HR 3183) has been approved by the House and Senate, but still requires Senate approval of the Conference Committee’s final report before it can be sent to the President. Although the final numbers fall short of the President’s $34.9 billion request, the $33.9 billion bill would provide $604.3 million for biological and environmental research and $20.7 million for the Science Workforce Development Program, both of which would be increases from FY 2009 funding levels.

Both chambers have approved the Conference Report for the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Act (HR 2997). This is the only bill with funding for scientific research to make it this far through the appropriations process. The $121.2 billion bill is less than the President’s request of $123.9 billion. It designates $262.5 million for competitive agricultural research grants through the Agricultural and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which would be a significant increase from the $201.5 million FY 2009 appropriation. The Conference Report would also provide $983,000 for rangeland research grants, and $3.85 million for graduate research grants.

The House appropriations bill (HR 2996) for the Interior Department, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Forest Service and Related Agencies has been approved and would provide $32.3 billion for these agencies. Within this amount, $849.6 million would be directed to science and technology within EPA, $308.6 million for forest and rangeland research within the Forest Service, $1.105 billion for the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and $1.249 billion for resource management within the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The Senate recently passed a $32.1 billion version of this bill, which would provide $842.8 million for science and technology within EPA, $307 million for forest and rangeland research within the Forest Service, $1.104 billion for USGS, and $1.244 billion for resource management within FWS. During deliberations on this measure, several amendments were offered in an attempt to limit EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Ultimately, these amendments were defeated.

The Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriation bill has not been approved by the Senate. The President’s request for CJS, which includes the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other science agencies, was $64.6 billion. At $64.5 billion, the House-passed bill falls just short of the President’s request. The measure would include $13.8 billion for the Department of Commerce, $6.936 billion for NSF ($108 million below the President’s request, but $446 million above FY 2009), and $4.6 billion ($129 million above the level sought by the President, but $187 million above FY 2009) for NOAA. The House bill also includes $1.4 billion for NASA to launch space-based and suborbital sensors to study climate change and the global environment. The bill includes $1 billion for science education, and over $2 billion to study global climate change. In the Senate, the CJS bill has been approved by the Appropriations Committee and full Senate debate started during the week of 5-8 October 2009. The Senate version currently totals $67.49 billion and would include $6.916 billion for NSF and $4.77 billion for NOAA. An amendment proposed by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), which is still pending, would block funding for NSF’s competitive grant program for political science research. Coburn was reported to say that the political science projects are wasteful and the foundation should focus its research on “true science.” NSF political science research has, among other things, improved understanding of village democracy in China, international conflict forecasting, and ethnic politics in Africa.

The Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies appropriations bill (HR 3293) would provide funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). HR 3293 has been passed by the House, which recommended an appropriation of $31.3 billion for NIH, $941.7 million above the FY 2009 appropriation and $500 million above the President’s budget request. Included in these amounts would be $520 million for the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) and $695 million for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), both of which are above the budget request. The Senate version of the bill has been approved by the Appropriations Committee and would provide the President’s request of $30.8 billion for NIH.

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Climate Legislation Introduced in Senate

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and John Kerry (D-MA) finally introduced climate change legislation on 30 September 2009, weeks after the anticipated release. Similar to HR 2454, legislation passed by the House of Representatives in June, the Kerry-Boxer bill (S 1733) would seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy efficiency, promote renewable energy, transition to a green economy, and adapt to the impacts of climate change. One notable difference between the Waxman-Markey and Kerry-Boxer is the short-term target for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The House bill would require a reduction of 17 percent below 2005 emissions by 2020, whereas the Senate bill would require a 20 percent reduction. Although the Senate target was sought by many environmental groups, the political reality of passing the stricter standard in the Senate is uncertain. Some moderate Democrats have already denounced the more ambitious goal, including Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). “Requiring 20 percent emission reductions by 2020 is unrealistic and harmful,” Rockefeller said. “It is simply not enough time to deploy the carbon capture and storage and energy efficiency technologies we need. Period.”

The Senate bill does attempt to avoid some of the challenges experienced by the House bill. Senator Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, was quick to point out that S. 1733 “does not raise the federal deficit by one single dime.” She also announced plans to offset rising energy costs for consumers by allocating 70 percent of initial greenhouse gas emission allowances to this cause. Despite these proactive measures, certain provisions in the bill are expected to generate vigorous debate. The use of carbon offsets and emission allocations are likely to be contentious provisions in the Senate.

For science, the House and Senate bills lay out very similar provisions. Both bills would create a National Climate Service to serve as a central clearinghouse of climate data and models for end users. The Senate bill would establish this new program within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, while the House bill would allow the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to decide where the program should reside.

The bills would also establish a Natural Resources Climate Change Adaptation Panel, consisting of the heads of all natural resource agencies. This panel would create a national adaptation strategy for our nation’s natural resources. Federal agencies would be required to implement this strategy by helping natural resources “to become more resilient, adapt to, and withstand the ongoing and expected impacts of climate change” and ocean acidification. The Senate bill is slightly stronger than the House bill, requiring agencies to plan for drought, flooding, and wildfire related to climate change. States would also develop natural resource adaptation plans, which would be eligible for federal funding generated by emission allocations auctions.

Several provisions in the legislation are directed specifically at helping wildlife adapt to climate change. Like the House bill, the Senate bill would establish a National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center within the United States Geological Survey. The Center would be responsible for conducting climate impact research and providing technical assistance to federal and state agencies. Additionally, both bills would create a National Fish and Wildlife Habitat and Corridors Information Program to help states develop GIS databases of fish and wildlife habitats and corridors.

The Senate climate bill faces an uphill battle, as several Senate Committees plan on crafting climate provisions in a process similar to that used to develop health care legislation. Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) is still planning on marking up key components of climate legislation in his committee, including emissions allowance allocations and international trade. The Agriculture and Commerce Committees are reported to be working on legislative language which could be added to either the Boxer or Baucus bills. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Kerry-Boxer bill, has announced that they will “mark-up” the legislation in early November.

In a significant development on the climate change legislation front, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham (R) has broken ranks with the GOP. In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Graham and Kerry wrote: “We refuse to accept the argument that the United States cannot lead the world in addressing global climate change. We are also convinced that we have found both a framework for climate legislation to pass Congress and the blueprint for a clean-energy future.”

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Federal Agencies Take Action on Climate

Even though Congress has not enacted legislation to address climate change, President Obama and the federal agencies are nonetheless pressing forward with initiatives to respond to climate change. In an Executive Order signed on 5 October 2009, President Obama directed all federal agencies to set targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions for 2020 and to become more sustainable. “As the largest consumer of energy in the U.S. economy, the Federal government can and should lead by example when it comes to creating innovative ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency, conserve water, reduce waste, and use environmentally-responsible products and technologies,” said the President.

The Executive Order creates requirements for agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to targets set by the agency and to recycle or divert 50 percent of all waste by 2015. Other aspects of the Executive Order are an extension of measures ordered by President Bush in 2007: The requirement for agencies to reduce water and gasoline consumption by 2 percent annually will be extended through 2020. To read the Executive Order, visit http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/E9-24518.htm.

Additionally, several federal agencies are moving forward with plans to better prepare for the impacts of climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it will track greenhouse gas emissions from 10,000 industrial facilities starting in 2010, which collectively represent 85 percent of U.S. emissions. Although the new permits, issued under the Clean Air Act, will not reduce carbon emissions, they could be used in the future for that purpose. Although some from the industrial sector have criticized the move, EPA Air Chief Gina McCarthy defended the agency’s actions. “I can’t imagine that it makes sense for EPA to stand still while debates are happening on rules for reducing greenhouse gases,” McCarthy said.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service released a draft report which outlines the agency’s plans for responding to climate change. Landscape Conservation Cooperatives will be established to create strategies for managing climate impacts, and the agency also plans to become carbon neutral by 2020. With respect to science, the report calls for a national biological inventory, species and habitat vulnerability assessments, management of genetic resources, and regional climate partnerships for modeling and monitoring. The report is available at http://www.fws.gov/home/climatechange/pdf/CCDraftStratPlan92209.pdf.

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Another Blow for Evolution Education in Louisiana

Science education took another step backwards in Louisiana on 16 September 2009 when the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) ignored education professionals in the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) and allowed a religious lobbying group, the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF), to dictate procedures for complaints on creationist supplementary materials used in school science classes.

The Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), enacted in June 2008, provided that “[a] teacher shall teach the material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system and thereafter may use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.” A subsequent January 2009 provision adopted by the BESE prohibited the promotion of religious views, but still allowed teachers to introduce supplementary material on creation and intelligent design into the classroom.

The state DOE had provided recommendations to the BESE stating that when a complaint about supplementary materials is filed, “the DOE will select three reviewers” who “should be experts” who can determine if contested materials meet criteria for use in public school science classes. However, the 16 September 2009 meeting of the BESE Committee was dominated by the testimony of numerous creationists, including University of Louisiana-Lafayette linguistics professor John W. Oller, Jr., a member of the “Technical Advisory Board” of the Institute for Creation Research in Dallas, Texas, and Charles Voss, vice-president of the creationist Origins Resource Association. Based on this testimony, the procedures for addressing complaints were modified.

As currently written, the reviewers are not chosen by the Louisiana DOE, but rather by the challenger, the publisher of the material, and the school district. For both the publisher and a school district that allows the use of creationist materials, it is unlikely that a reviewer who does not have a bias towards teaching creationism will be chosen, rendering a fair evaluation impossible. This allows the BESE to essentially rubber stamp any materials that the LFF and other creationist reviewers recommend.

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Short Takes

  • AIBS and the Natural Science Collections Alliance (NSC Alliance) are pleased to announce the availability of five new fact sheets that help to highlight the importance of scientific collections to: Science, Climate change and biodiversity, Education, Human health, and Funding

  • During an address at the National Institutes of Health on 30 September 2009, President Obama announced that $5 billion of the $10.4 billion the agency had received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has been awarded in over 12,000 research grants.

  • The Department of Energy will award up to $12.5 million in stimulus funding in 2010 for new graduate fellowships in science, math, and engineering. First or second year graduate students studying the biological, physical, engineering or computational sciences are eligible to apply at http://www.scied.science.doe.gov/SCGF.html.

  • The Senate confirmed Jon Jarvis to be director of the National Park Service on 25 September 2009. The biologist is a 33-year veteran of the agency and was most recently the regional director for the Pacific Northwest.

  • During his speech to the National Medal of Science and the Medal of Technology and Innovation recipients on 7 October 2009, President Obama linked scientific discovery to helping the struggling economy, and pledged to spend 3 percent of the gross domestic product on scientific education. For the full report, see www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33217694/ns/technologyandscience-science/.

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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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Now in BioScience - "Stem Cells: Growth and Development...in Policy"

In the October 2009 issue of BioScience, Jenna Jadin reports on the new NIH guidelines on stem human embryonic cell research and the resulting changes in policy issues regarding stem cells. An excerpt from the article follows, but the complete article (along with prior Washington Watch columns) may be viewed for free at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/.

Many scientists and patient advocates cheered earlier this summer when the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released new guidelines for human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research. The guidelines came after President Obama’s March 2009 executive order lifting the restrictions on federal support for research using embryonic stem cells.

Obama’s directive revoked the Bush administration’s restrictions and funding ban on hESC research, which had limited scientists to using only 21 approved cell lines out of about 700 in existence. The directive also ordered the NIH to issue new guidelines for hESC research, which were released in July 2009. These new guidelines specify that NIH funding can be provided for research on hESCs derived from human embryos “that were created using in vitro fertilization for reproductive purposes [but] were no longer needed for this purpose,” and were donated by individuals who were fully informed about embryo treatment and gave their voluntary, written consent to use the embryos for research. The guidelines also stipulate that there can be no financial inducements for embryo donations, and that NIH-funded research must remain separate from privately funded research. Additionally, the NIH will establish a working group of scientists and ethicists to review existing cell lines, determine their eligibility for federal funding, and post those hESCs eligible for federal funds in an online registry. To continue reading this article for free, visit http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2009_10.html.

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