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Public Policy Report for 9 November 2009

Climate Change Debate Heats Up in the Senate

The United States Senate has made some progress on climate change legislation. On 5 November 2009, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee approved legislation, known as the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (S.1733) on by an 11-1 vote, with Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and 10 other Committee Democrats signing off on the legislation. The bill, sponsored by Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Senator Boxer, would seek to improve America’s energy efficiency, promote renewable energy, transition to a green economy, adapt to climate change, and would require a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. However, while many cheer the passage out of committee as a victory, the win was not without political cost.

Passage came without the consent of any EPW Republicans, who led a three-day long boycott of the legislative markup, referencing a need for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct a more thorough analysis of the costs of climate change legislation before the committee vote. The boycott prevented any formal debate on amendments or reporting of the bill, forcing EPW Democrats to use a procedural move to pass the legislation. Some fear this will undermine support from moderates when the bill reaches the Senate floor, however, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has requested that the EPA conduct a five week study of whatever version of the bill reaches the Senate floor.

Now that climate legislation has left the EPW Committee, the Senate-wide debate will begin to heat up. Five more committees are planning to mark up their portions of the legislation, including the Agriculture, Commerce, Energy and Natural Resources, Finance, and Foreign Relations Committees. Chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee Max Baucus (D-MT) — the lone Democrat on the EPW committee to vote against the Kerry-Boxer legislation — has cited several issues he will address when his committee considers the legislation. Baucus has announced that his panel will study the implications of global warming legislation on jobs by listening to testimony from labor unionists and energy industry experts, and is likely to also hold a markup on the international trade provisions of a climate bill. As chairman, Baucus may also use his position to lower the 2020 emissions standards and could attempt to change the distribution of greenhouse gas emission allowances among regulated industries. Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) will also consider the legislation with a wide-ranging discussion on options for tackling climate change. The remaining committees have not yet announced formal plans for legislative hearings or markups.

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AIBS Comments on Interior Strategic Plan Framework

On 9 November 2009, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) asked Secretary of the Interior Salazar to elevate the profile of science in the new Department of the Interiors (DOI) strategic plan, which will guide Interior through 2015. The recommendation was provided in response to a request for information to inform the development of the Department’s Strategic Plan Framework.

On 11 September 2009, DOI issued a Federal Register Notice requesting public comments on its Strategic Plan. Each bureau within DOI is expected to integrate operational plans into their budgets that link directly to and align with the larger DOI Strategic Plan.

In the proposed framework, many of the priorities of the Obama Administration were addressed as priority mission areas. However, “science” was only a second tier priority, included in the larger mission areas of “protecting natural, cultural and heritage resources,” and “sustainably using energy, water and natural resources.”

The comments recommend that DOI consider how science can inform natural resource management decisions, help prepare for climate change, and aid in the development of the natural resource management workforce. The new strategic plan should also prioritize the preservation and development of scientific collections held by Interior bureaus. Additionally, the plan should incorporate recommendations from recent National Science Foundation and National Research Council reports on 21st century science.

The complete AIBS comments are available at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20091109_DOIcomments.html.

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Congress Increases Funding for Some Science Programs

Although slow, Congress has been making steady progress on appropriations for fiscal year (FY) 2010. In the last two weeks, three funding bills have been enacted, bringing the total number of enacted bills to five. Increases to science funding were included in two of the recently passed appropriations bills: the Interior and Environment, and Energy and Water appropriations acts. Additionally, a Continuing Resolution, which will keep the government funded through 18 December, was included in the Interior bill.

The Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (HR 2996), enacted on 30 October 2009, will increase funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 35 percent over FY 2009 and will increase funding for the United States Geological Survey (USGS) by $68 million, putting the agency above the level requested by the President. The Biological Resources Discipline within USGS will receive $205 million, with much of the approximately $20 million increase going toward climate change research, Arctic ecosystem research, and research partnerships at Cooperative Research Units. Science at EPA will receive a $56 million increase from last year’s level, with $248 million for human health and environmental research and a 13 percent increase for research fellowships. The Interior and Environment bill also includes more than $400 million for climate change science and adaptation, including $15 million for wildlife climate adaptation science.

The Energy, Water Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (HR 3183) was enacted on 28 October 2009. The $33.5 billion bill includes $4.9 billion for the Department of Energy Office of Science, a $131 million increase above FY 2009, but $38 million less than the President’s request. Of these funds, $604 million will be directed for biological and environmental research, a $2.6 million increase above FY 2009.

After weeks of delay, the Senate has passed the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (HR 2847). The bill had been considered on the Senate floor in mid-October, but a vote to limit debate failed by 4 votes. On 5 November 2009, the Senate successfully passed this measure, allowing final passage of the $64.8 billion bill. The Senate version includes $6.9 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF), a 6.5 percent increase over FY 2009, but $19 million less than the House bill. The bill would provide $5.6 billion for research at NSF (a $435 million increase over FY 2009), $122 million for Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (a $30 million decrease), and $858 million for the Education and Human Resources directorate (a $12.5 million increase). An amendment offered by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) that would have stripped funding for NSF-funded political science research was soundly defeated by a vote of 36-62. The Senate measure would fund the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at $4.77 billion, a 9 percent increase over FY 2009 and $170 million more than the House bill. Differences between the House and Senate versions must be resolved.

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Creationism on Rise Around the World

Two recent news items report that creationism is on the rise around the world. The first, a survey conducted by a UK-based market research company, asked 11,768 adults from 10 countries if they thought evolutionary theories should be taught in science lessons in schools together with other possible perspectives, such as intelligent design and creationism. Overall, 54 percent of British, 68 percent of Argentinians, and 51 percent of Americans believed that other perspectives should be taught in science classes; across the 10 countries, the average was 43 percent. India had the highest proportion of evolution supporters, with 49 percent of the population stating that only evolutionary theory should taught in science classes. Many prominent scientists and teachers in the UK have expressed shock at the poll’s findings, and some have said that these results come about due to the polarization of science and religion.

In addition, international academics meeting in Amherst, Massachusetts last month reported that belief in creationism is growing in the Muslim world. However, while creationism is growing, young-earth creationists remain almost non-existent among Muslims, likely because of the clearly metaphorical nature of the creation story in the Koran. However, not all Muslims easily accept the findings of modern biology. Many seem to be joining the ranks of old-Earth creationists, who believe that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, but insist that life is the creation of God, not the chance consequence of random occurrences. The evolution debate, which has not existed in Islamic countries until recently, is growing as education improves and more students are exposed to the ideas of modern biology. Experts have noted that growing rejection of evolution may be in part a result of the rejection of western values. Additionally, the debate varies from country to country, as the quality of science education and religious stringency can differ drastically.

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AIBS Publishes Darwin Articles Open Access

To celebrate the 150th anniversary this month of the publication of On the Origin of Species, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is publishing open access two peer-reviewed articles about Charles Darwin and his historic insights into evolution. The two articles are by Kevin Padian of the University of California, Berkeley, and James T. Costa of Western Carolina University. Padian’s article, “Ten Myths About Charles Darwin,” appeared in the October issue of the AIBS journal BioScience and can be read at http://caliber.ucpress.net/doi/full/10.1525/bio.2009.59.9.10. Costa’s article, “The Darwinian Revelation: Tracing the Origin and Evolution of an Idea” is published in the November issue of BioScience and can be read at http://caliber.ucpress.net/doi/full/10.1525/bio.2009.59.10.10.

Padian explores some common inaccuracies and untruths about Darwin and his life’s work, painting in the process a clear portrait of the man and his struggles to develop a theory to explain the diversity of nature. Costa draws on Darwin’s letters and notebooks and other sources to trace the origins of Darwin’s key insights, which came to him over many years. Costa suggests that biology teachers can use Darwin’s reasoning as a superb example of creative scientific thinking.

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New Vertebrate Genome Project Announced

A group of scientists recently published in the Journal of Heredity a proposal to sequence the genome of over 10,000 vertebrate species. The project, Genome 10K, supporters argue, should be possible to complete in five years at a cost of $50 million. The Genome 10K project would provide comparative information on molecular, developmental, and evolutionary biological processes across all vertebrate species. Because the study would include endangered species and species in threatened habitats, this initiative could provide valuable insights into climate change, emerging diseases, population structure, and conservation tactics. Thus far, the project has identified 16,203 species for sequencing, with nearly 60 of those species already completed.

According to the project website (http://genome10k.soe.ucsc.edu/home), “The Genome 10K project aims to assemble a genomic zoo—a collection of DNA sequences representing the genomes of 10,000 vertebrate species, approximately one for every vertebrate genus. The growing Genome 10K Community of Scientists (G10KCOS), made up of leading scientists representing major zoos, museums, research centers, and universities around the world, is dedicated to coordinating efforts in tissue specimen collection that will lay the groundwork for a large-scale sequencing and analysis project.”

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Short Takes

  • Thank Congress for increasing funding for scientific research. Please send a letter to your members of Congress today to express your appreciation for recently enacted appropriations legislation that increases funding for the United States Geological Survey, Environmental Protection Agency, and other agencies included in the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (HR 2996). With a few clicks of your mouse, you can quickly and easily show your support for continued federal investments in scientific research. Go to http://capwiz.com/aibs/issues/alert/?alertid=14295006 today to let your members of Congress know how important their support for science is to you.

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has announced the names of the first United States science envoys: former National Academy of Sciences president Dr. Bruce Alberts, former National Institutes of Health director Dr. Elias Zerhouni, and Nobel Prize-winning chemist Dr. Ahmed Zewail. The science and technology envoys program was created by President Obama in June 2009 to enhance international science and technology partnerships and to jointly combat world challenges in the areas of health, energy, environment, and water.

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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 - "Turning the Tide on Aquatic Invaders"

In the November 2009 issue of BioScience, Julie Palakovich Carr reports on the current state of ballast water discharge policy in our ports and the role that the US Coast Guard is playing in regulation. 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/.

Ports in the United States are among the busiest in the world—ships made more than 60,000 port calls here in 2008. Along with the 2.3 billion metric tons of goods moved through these ports were untold numbers of aquatic hitchhikers, transported in ballast water and residual sediment in ballast tanks. Ballast water, loaded aboard to improve ship stability during a voyage, transports as many as 3000 to 10,000 different species, including invasive species such as zebra mussels, green crabs, algae, and plankton, as well as disease-causing bacteria and viruses. When ships reach their destinations and release this ballast water, they also release nonnative species in ports around the world. Beyond the ecological impacts of these aquatic invaders are the costs they inflict on the economy: Every year these hitchhikers are responsible for the loss of billions of dollars. Zebra mussels alone cause $1 billion in damages each year in the United States. Although the scientific community, environmentalists, policymakers, port managers, and shippers agree that the discharge of ballast water should be regulated, a consensus about which agency should be granted regulatory authority has proven elusive.

To continue reading this article for free, go to http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2009_11.html

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Become an 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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